The archive of Billboard issues at Google Books doesn't include the December 6, 1975 edition. So, I'll once again point out (shamelessly) that I write another music blog related to the hits of the 1980s called 80s Music Mayhem. For the next week, we focus on five songs that peaked during 1980, including the one that went to #1 in the wake of the tragic death of John Lennon.
Donna Summer - "Love To Love You Baby"
(Debuted #55, Peaked #2, 18 Weeks on chart)
Donna Summer seemingly came out of nowhere in 1975, and "Love To Love You Baby" was the song that introduced her to American audiences. At the time, it raised some eyebrows due to its simulated sexual content and heavy breathing. The full song took up the entire first side of the album of the same name, clocking in at over 18 minutes, which incidentally is about all the time people need to perform the act that Summer was suggesting.
On the single, though, the song was edited down to a more radio-friendly three and a half minutes. As a corollary to the length of the original, that might be seen as a premature ending. As always, there are links to digital copies of the song here. The iTunes link above is the full-length LP version, while the Amazon link below is the truncated single version.
John Denver - "Fly Away"
(Debuted #58, Peaked #13, 11 Weeks on chart)
The tile of "Fly Away" is ironic due to the way John Denver died in a plane crash, but at the time it was recorded it was a song about getting away from the city and away from the noise and hectic pace. The idea of returning to a more pristine scenery is a common element of Denver's music, which places the song squarely within the context of much of his work.
Olivia Newton-John contributes on backing vocal. She's uncredited, but there is little doubt it's her as her voice is mixed louder as the song goes on until her voice is at the same level as Denver's. Like many of his songs, it was a hit across several formats, missing the pop and country Top 10 but "gliding" its way to #1 on the adult contemporary chart.
Olivia Newton- John - "Let It Shine" b/w " He Ain't Heavy... He's My Brother" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #75, Peaked #30, 9 Weeks on chart)
Despite the fact that the B-side isn't available digitally, it's on YouTube:
Speaking of Olivia Newton-John and crossover success, here's a two-sided hit she recorded. The A-side was another one of the songs Olivia performed that was given a country treatment, including the instruments used behind her. "Let it Shine" was written by Florida-born Linda Hargrove, who charted a handful of songs on the country chart during the 1970s but gained more success as a songwriter. Among her songs was Johnny Rodriguez' "Just Get Up and Close the Door" and George Jones' "Tennessee Whiskey." Despite reaching #30 on the pop chart, "Let it Shine" hit #5 country and topped the adult contemporary survey.
"He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" had already been a hit single twice. The first version by The Hollies was one the chart just as 1969 switched to '70, and a cover by Neil Diamond (reviewed in this blog last month) appeared later in 1970. I explained the background info about the song when I reviewed Diamond's version, so follow the link if you'd like to read about it.
C.W. McCall - "Convoy"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #1, 16 Weeks on chart)
A little more than a month ago, Adrian over at the blog 7 Inches of 70s Pop featured this song. He gives it a humorous spin and divulges a lot of the background info there, so all I really need to do is suggest you check it out. That blog is one of the links I keep in my Blogroll and should be regular reading for anybody who's interested in the material presented in this blog.
"Convoy" is a song that definitely marks the time it was made. Filled with CB lingo, it tells a story of a coast-to-coast drive drive featuring an entire fleet of trucks (incluidng a logger, pig hauler and a Hazmat truck pulling dynamite) and some assorted hangers-on in a chartreuse Microbus. My own father had a CB in his car at the time and later drove trucks for a living, so I was no stranger to the sometimes creative language used in the song. There is one glaring error in the lyrics, however. When McCall delivers the line "We were headin' for bear on I-1-o about a mile out of Shakeytown..." he says he's leaving San Francisco, but Interstate 10 goes to Los Angeles, a four-plus hour drive down I-5.
"Convoy" was one of the biggest hits of the year, spending six weeks at #1 on the country chart in addition to its week at #1 on the pop chart. It also topped the chart in Canada and Australia and was a #2 hit in the U.K. Its success, along with the CB fad, even led to a film called Convoy in 1978 with Kris Kristofferson playing the fabled Rubber Duck.
Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "Down to the Line"
(Debuted #83, Peaked #43, 7 Weeks on chart)
Occasionally, the audio in YouTube videos exhibits the pops and cracks from the original vinyl record. While some people consider it to be annoying, it can be a familiar sound to those of us who grew up before the age of CDs and just knew those sounds as something that happened to records when they got played a lot.
"Down To the Line" was a single-only song that appeared just ahead of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Head On LP (it would be added as an extra track on the CD in a later release, however). It was exactly what you'd expect from a BTO song: a straightforward beat, guitar-driven rock and Randy Bachman's vocal added with the backing vocals of the other group members.
At the time, BTO was slowly running out of gas. "Down to the Line" would miss the Top 40 despite the fact that the song was assured of airplay on album-oriented and rock stations.
Helen Reddy - "Somewhere In The Night"
(Debuted #85, Peaked #19, 13 Weeks on chart)
"Somewhere in the Night" is probably best-known for its version sung by Barry Manilow, which was a #9 hit in 1979. However, he wasn't the first to record it. Written by Richard Kerr and Will Jennings, it first appeared on Kim Carnes' debut album. It was a single by Batdorf and Rodney that was a minor adult contemporary hit in 1975, but that would be overshadowed when Helen Reddy recorded it for her LP No Way to Treat a Lady. Not only did her version surpass it on the AC chart (it reached #2), but it made the Top 40 as well.
Reddy gives the song the full-throat, made-for-Vegas treatment you'd expect from a record with her name on it. However, that's nothing compared to the bombast that Manilow gave it in his own version. Perhaps that's why he had a bigger hit with it.
Kenny Starr - "The Blind Man In The Bleachers" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #86, Peaked #58, 5 Weeks on chart)
Pop fans were already familiar with a different version of "The Blind Man in the Bleachers," as David Geddes' rendition had already been on the chart for a few weeks before Kenny Starr entered with his own country-infused reading of the song.
The words of the song follow a football player who doesn't get much playing time but whose father sits in the stands at every game. His father is blind, but still sits there every week. When he doesn't show up the last week, the kid disappears around halftime and shows up late demanding to get in the game. When I played football in high school, that type of behavior got you sent to the locker room...but in the song, he comes in and leads the team to victory. As it turns out, the kid had just found out that his father had died and played his heart out, because "it's the first time that my father's seen me play."
Starr's version was a #2 country hit. Compared to the Geddes hit, it's more subtle (but not much more). The country arrangement is more low-key than the over-the-top histrionics of Geddes' hit. It still pulls at the same emotions without sounding like the subject of an Afterschool Special.
Tavares - "Free Ride"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #52, 6 Weeks on chart)
As you may have guessed, "Free Ride" is a version of the song made famous by The Edgar Winter Group. For most of the fans who know Tavares from their disco-era hits "It Only Takes a Minute," "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel," "Whodunit" and "More Than a Woman," this version may be a pleasant surprise. Rather than giving it the disco treatment, the brother act from New Bedford, Massachusetts do a very faithful rendition that follows the original closely. It's either a reminder that Tavares was influenced by rock acts as well, or simply that songwriter Dan Hartman was also influenced by R&B.
The Soul Train Gang - "Soul Train "75""
(Debuted #89, Peaked #75, 5 Weeks on chart)
The Soul Train Gang was assembled by impresario Don Cornelius in conjunction with Dick Griffey, who wanted to capitalize on the popularity of Cornelius' TV show. They group produced two LPs, with the first produced by Norman Harris in Philadelphia, but failed to make much of an impact on either the pop or R&B charts.
"Soul Train "75"" was a new version for the show's theme song, after MFSB's "The Sound of Philadelphia" had run its course. It wouldn't be the last theme song, which changed every couple of years as public tastes evolved.
The Ritchie Family - "I Want To Dance With You (Dance With Me)" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #90, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on chart)
Before he put together The Village People, producer Jacques Morali created a group called The Ritchie Family that was made up of studio vocalists who weren't related at all despite the "family" name. Among the early disco acts, their first four albums were all loosely-based concept LPs. The first of those was Brazil, which provided their first two chart singles.
"I Want to Dance With You (Dance With Me)" follows the lead of the earlier hit "Brazil" by sounding (in places) like it's accompanied by a big band. However, it lacks the same melodic grace that propelled that song into the Top 40. Frankly, there might have been other moments on the LP that might have been better for single release; however, since Disco was just getting started, those songs might have been less hit-ready material than they would have been a year or two down the road.
The Stylistics - "Funky Weekend"
(Debuted #96, Peaked #76, 9 Weeks on chart)
The Stylistics split from their longtime producer Thom Bell in 1974. They soldiered on with Van McCoy running the console, but they clearly lost a step in the transition. Though they continued to score on the R&B charts as well as in the U.K., their days as major hitmakers were numbered.On the pop chart, "Funky Weekend" would be their second-to-last hit.
The title of the single pretty much says what you can expect from the sound. However, it's a rather generic brand of funk. Yes, there's a clavinet and horns in the mix, but the group is a long way down the road from the brighter, more shimmering work that had marked their output earlier in the decade.
The Four Tops - "We All Gotta Stick Together"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #97, 1 Week on chart)
The Four Tops are mainly remembered as a Motown act, even though they recorded some great-sounding records for ABC during the 1970s. Among those songs is "We All Gotta Stick Together," a song about brotherhood that is sung by Lawrence Payton rather than usual lead Levi Stubbs.
Not only does "We All Gotta Stick Together" feature a solid harmony from the group that appears to be influenced by gospel -- right down to an organ featuring prominently in the arrangement -- but also has a brass section. The different lead vocal gives it a unique perspective, because it doesn't sound like the "same old song" (to borrow from the title of one of those Motown hits) from the Tops at all. Unfortunately, it only stuck around on the pop chart for a single week.
Crown Heights Affair - "Every Beat Of My Heart" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #100, Peaked #83, 8 Weeks on chart)
Crown Heights is a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York as well as the source of the name of this band. Like Earth, Wind & Fire, they were one of the groups that was part of R&B's transition between the 1960s soul sound to the Disco era. Unlike that band, however, their pop success was rather limited.
"Every Beat of My Heart" features an upbeat tempo, plenty of vocal interplay and a solid brass section. There is also a clavinet solo that lends it a 1970s feel, even if the phasing effect accompanying the high-hat percussion distracts from the composition.