While there are several past issues of Billboard in the archive over at Google Books, they don't have the January 3, 1970 edition there. So once again, I'll plug my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. Last week, the focus was on 1984, so the spotlight falls on 1985 in the coming week, and two of the songs remember a fallen legend who had died the previous year.
One last thing...the banner ad below shows an actress whose mother appeared in one of the songs in this week's list.
Joe South - "Walk A Mile In My Shoes"
(Debuted #54, Peaked #12, 11 Weeks on chart)
The highest-charting debut single of the new decade's first week had a timely message. The 1960s were marked by racial strife, war and political assassinations, which made many Americans hopeful that the 1970s would somehow bring a fresh start. "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" echoes this optimism, with lyrics reminding that you'll never know what somebody else is thinking or feeling unless you've been in their positions. While statements of brotherhood sometimes come off as too utopian or far-reaching, Joe South keeps his point close to his own heart.
South was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, which was also the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. He lived through the Civil Rights movement and was moved to write a song calling for compassion, respect and perspective, and infused it with a gospel-styled choir. Beginning the previous year, South had delved into more personal issues with his songs, perhaps with a similar optimism that things would be better with a little bit of work. However, his personal life would soon hand him some twists that caused him to back away from his musical career; the 1970s quickly weren't the happier time his songs hoped for.
South's version of "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" peaked just short of the Top 10, reached #3 on teh adult contemporary chart and was a minor country hit. Willie Hightower took a version onto the R&B chart later in the year. It was also a song that Elvis Presley would incorporate into his live act for several years.
Sly & the Family Stone - "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" b/w "Everybody Is A Star"
(Debuted #59, Peaked #1, 13 Weeks on chart)
Since this was a two-sided hit, here's a video of the B-side as well:
Sly and the Family Stone was another act that showed a great deal of promise as the new decade began, yet found that the "fresh start" the new decade promised wasn't going to be found. Some of the blame is their own, as many of the group's members were descending a little too much into the "sex, drugs and Rock & Roll" lifestyle. As the party raged on, the recordings halted; this double-sided single was their only new material released between mid-1969 and late '71.
"Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)" was a tune that definitely pointed the direction of funk in the 1970s. Larry Graham's slap bass line that led off the tune and then carried it along is memorable and has reappeared in other songs as well (most notably Janet Jackson's 1989 hit "Rhythm Nation"). The lyrics are both a summation of the band's career -- as evidenced by the use of the titles of several songs -- and a hope for the continuation of the ride."Everybody is a Star" also echoed the confidence and optimism of the band's earlier material. A reminder that every person is special in his or her own way, it featured alternating lead turns by Sly, his siblings Rose and Freddie, and Graham. It also features the bright brass and hopeful spirit the band had usually infused into their records.
The two songs (as well as "Hot Fun in the Summertime") were originally intended to be included on an album that never got off the ground, so they ended up on a greatest hits compilation that bridged the gap between the group's albums. When they finally did release a new album (1971's There's a Riot Goin' On), the group took a major change in direction. One of the biggest signs was a radical reworking of "Thank You." On the album, the same words, music and singers were used, but the song was slowed down considerably. On the single, it was a celebration; on the album, the version (called "Thank You For Talkin' to Me Africa") was just sinister.
The 5th Dimension - "Blowing Away"
(Debuted #77, Peaked #21, 9 Weeks on chart)
While Sly & the Family Stone was a group that celebrated its interracial membership, The Fifth Dimension was a group that proved that an all-black membership can put out adult contemporary music just as easily as an all-white group. And they did that very well in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their similarity to The Mamas and Papas was obvious, even after the fact that they used the same studio players (Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Joe Osbourne) is mentioned.
"Blowing Away" was one of several Laura Nyro-penned tunes the group released. It was taken from an album that had already scored two #1 singles ("Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Wedding Bell Blues"), which gives it a "now" sound that was unique to its era. While the instruments seem to be mixed a little high in the mix, you can definitely pick up that the group had a superb sense of harmony.
The Rascals - "Hold On"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #51, 7 Weeks on chart)
While we're on the subject of the new decade and its effect on the past, there were several acts who didn't cope well once 1970 rolled around. One of those acts was The Rascals, who put out some of the most memorable songs of the last half of the 1960s. By 1970, however, the group was beginning to wind down. Eddie Brigati, who had been a co-writer with Felix Caviliere during much of the group's glory years, was relegated to a backup player and would leave the band during the year. Gene Cornish followed in '71. There were some more LPs with new members, but the spark was gone and the band split up in 1973.
"Hold On" would be the first single by The Rascals to miss the Top 40 since 1966. It was a song that sounded more like a garage band had recorded it than the lineup that did pop classics like "Groovin'" and "Lonely Too Long." There is an instrumental break with a guitar solo and organ break that doesn't really sound like anything they'd have put on their earlier hits. However, you have to give them credit for seeing that music was changing and for having the courage to chart their own path.
The Street People - "Jennifer Tompkins" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #87, Peaked #36, 15 Weeks on chart)
At first, "Jennifer Tompkins" sounds like a mix between Tommy James and the Shondells and Tommy Roe with a female backing chorus. With that kind of description...it's a bubblegum song, and sounds like a hundred other songs of its era.
The Street People was a studio group that was formed when Ron Dante was contractually unable to continue singing with The Cuff Links due to his duties with The Archies. The Cuff Links had begun work on their second album, so fellow member Rupert Holmes (who later became a solo star later in the decade) contributed his own vocals to the existing instrumental track.
One thing that needs to be pointed out: the entire song clocks in at just under two minutes. And it's not even the shortest-running song among this week's debuts.
The New Hope - "Won't Find Better (Than Me)" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #89, Peaked #57, 9 Weeks on chart)
At first listen, "Won't Find Better Than Me" sounds like a song from the mid-to-late 1960s rather than a song from early 1970. The production value, piano opening, instrumentation and harmonies sound dated even for 1970. As it turns out, the song had already been recorded and released twice by the group under its old name -- The Kit Kats -- and was a local hit in the Philadelphia area in 1966-'67. In fact, many of the songs they recorded as The New Hope were remakes of songs they'd already recorded as The Kit Kats, which may have been confusing even to their fans who remembered them in their former guise.
"Won't Find Better Than Me" would be the group's only Hot 100 single under any of their identities.
Gene Pitney - "She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In the Morning)"
(Debuted #93, Peaked #89, 4 Weeks on chart)
Another artist whose career took a different trajectory in the 1970s when compared to the previous decade was Gene Pitney. From 1961 onward, Pitney was a multi-tasking artist. Not only did he have 24 singles hit the Hot 100, he was a session performer on many other hits as well as a songwriter. In 1962, his biggest hit "Only Love Can Break a Heart" was kept out of the #1 spot by The Crystals' "He's a Rebel," a song he had written and featured his unique backing vocals.
Pitney's 24th chart single was "She Lets Her Hair Down (Early in the Morning)," which had hit the chart late in 1969 but fell off for a couple of weeks. It was given a second chance in the new decade but only reached #89 before falling off the chart for the final time. It would be his final hit in the U.S., even though he'd later have sporadic hits in the U.K. and in Europe. In 1970, Pitney decided to limit his time on the road and slowed down the pace of new recordings he'd been doing for more than a decade. It cost him additional hits, but he'd earned the right to go out on his own terms.
The Berlin Philharmonic - "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #94, Peaked #90, 4 Weeks on chart)
The opening sequence for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey is definitely iconic, and the classical music score that Stanley Kubrick placed in the movie is memorable. However, when the original soundtrack album was recorded, Kubrick was forced to use alternate versions of the music because the executives at Decca were reluctant to have their recordings "cheapened" by association with a film score (at the time, classical music was considered to be high art and not something that should be placed at the feet of the masses). Therefore, the original soundtrack LP used a different recording that what was on the actual film and the orchestra wasn't named in the credits.
And then something amazing happened. The movie was a huge hit, and the music score actually heightened the scenes that didn't have dialogue. Realizing they had made a huge mistake, Decca put out a second soundtrack LP and the Berlin Philharmonic was given credit for the song. The theme song was "Also Sprach Zarathustra," a song composed in 1896 by Richard Strauss. Even though it was made famous by the film, it has become a theme song for many others ever since. Elvis Presley used it for his entrance before his stage show, it returned to the charts in 1973 in a jazzed-up version by Deodato, and its permanent connection to the space program has caused it to be used in conjunction with BBC and CTV coverage of the Apollo program.
Rotary Connection - "I Want You To Know"
(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)
Rotary Connection was a racially-integrated band like Sly & the Family Stone, and like that group, their influences rand from psychedelic rock to soul to gospel. Unlike the Stones, they were never quite able to break out form their Chicago base and the Midwest. The band was the concept of Marshall Chess (Leonard Chess's son) and signed to the Chess subsidiary Cadet Concept. Their history was marked by poor management and bad timing -- they were invited to play at Woodstock but declined -- but are still looked upon fondly by those who remember them.
Two associates of the group went on to later success. The string arrangements were done by producer and co-founder Charles Stepney, who was instrumental in guiding Earth, Wind & Fire in their early days (that band was founded by Maurice White, who also was an occasional session player for Rotary Connection). The other member was Minnie Riperton, whose five-ocatve range is prominent in "Want You to Know." Sadly, both members died far too young: a heart attack took Stepney in 1976 and cancer claimed Riperton three years later.
Candi Staton - "I'm Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin')"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #56, 8 Weeks on chart)
When she recorded "I'm Just a Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin')," Candi Staton was still twenty-nine years old, but her voice sounds like she's a lot older. That's not a knock in any way, not in the Southern-smoked R&B she sang.
I'm Just a Prisoner was Staton's first solo LP, cut at Rick Hall's legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The tile song was also the first track on the album. She benefits from the house band and brass section, but especially from the guitar lick that sounds like the muddy waters of the Mississippi rolling by.
Joe Simon - "Moon Walk (Part 1)"
(Debuted #100, Peaked #54, 8 Weeks on chart)
This was no premonition of Michael Jackson. Rather, only a few months after the Apollo 11 mission and a real "Moon walk," Joe Simon came out with a song that expressed the feeling of being in love. It was also a "dance" song -- with Simon helping listeners through the steps during the bridge -- that were so prevalent during the 1960s but would soon dry up in the new decade.
As for Joe Simon, his own career would get a boost later on when he recorded more songs that were straight R&B and eased up on the novelty "dance" songs.