Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 26, 1975

There were eleven new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week. Only three of those would reach the Top 40, and one made the Top 10. While that might seem like there's not a lot to pay attention to, this week's list holds some surprises. In fact, one of the song this week that peaked in the 90s was (in my opinion) robbed of its chance to become a much bigger hit because of circumstances outside of its control. Another group in the list was forced to change its name because of an established American artist. One brother act appears with its biggest hit, and another shows up in the Top 40 for the last time. While there are artists here who put out better material, some of the songs here are worth a listen. 

This week's Billboard edition is missing from the archive over at Google Books, so I'll take a minute to once again point out the tabs that appear above (under the 8-track image). Each one links to a particular year, which is where I'm keeping track of the songs that get reviewed here. If you have a favorite year, check it out and see what else has been featured here.

Wolfgang's Vault

Paul Anka with Odia Coates - "(I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger Than Our Love" (I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger Than Our Love (feat. Odia Coates) - Feelings

(Debuted #68, Peaked #15, 13 Weeks on chart)

"(I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger Than Our Love" was the fourth of the run of duets between Paul Anka and Odia Coates -- though the first, "(You're) Having My Baby," didn't credit her -- and was also the last to reach the Hot 100. It was also the final appearance for Coates on the pop chart. Though she would continue to record with Anka and solo in the future, her further singles went nowhere. Sadly, breast cancer claimed her in 1991.

Anka wrote "(I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger Than Our Love" with his wife Anne in mind. She was also the inspiration of the polarizing "(You're Having My Baby)," which was both lauded and vilified for its embrace of the role of a mother. Unfortunately, the outpouring of love failed to keep the couple from eventually divorcing; the end of the line came in 2000, after 37 years and five daughters.

Linda Ronstadt - "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" It Doesn't Matter Anymore - Heart Like a Wheel

(Debuted #73, Peaked #47, 4 Weeks on chart)

Here's the second song written by Paul Anka in this week's slate of new songs. Though it's remembered as a Buddy Holly recording that was released shortly after his death, Anka has a much different perspective than the one he used on the song above. The lyrics here express the desire for two people to walk their own separate ways after reaching the end of their personal road together.

With Linda Ronstadt's remake, it was reworked from Holly's pop-flavored treatment for a country-rock feel. Originally the B-side of "When Will I Be Loved," the record was flipped over when that song fell out of the Hot 100 and reached #47 on its own strength.It also charted on the country and adult contemporary surveys.

The Osmonds - "The Proud One" The Proud One - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #75, Peaked #22, 11 Weeks on chart)

The performance in the video above is short (at one minute and 28 seconds), but the single version of "The Proud One" was three minutes long. However, the length of the clip was a metaphor because the song was the final appearance in the pop Top 40 for the brother act.

Despite some rather edgy songs recorded by The Osmonds in the past, "The Proud One" is a ballad where Merrill Osmond sings that -- despite the title -- he's not too proud to get on his knees and plead with his woman not to leave. A symphony provides the accompaniment while his brothers back him on vocals. For what turned out to be a curtain call, it's a safe single, considering what the brothers were capable of (and by that I'm thinking of "Crazy Horses" and "Yo-Yo").

Tavares - "It Only Takes A Minute" It Only Takes a Minute Girl - Anthology

(Debuted #82, Peaked #10, 18 Weeks on chart)

Following up one brother act with another, "It Only Takes a Minute" would be the biggest chart hit by the five Tavares brothers of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It would be their only Top 10 pop single and one of the three #1 R&B singles they would notch. Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter (who also produced it), the song led off the group's In the City LP and was the first single from it. While Saturday Night Fever has held out "More Than a Woman" in the public's memory of the group, that single wasn't as big a hit for them.

From the memorable opening instrumental to the funky beat, "It Only Takes a Minute" is a song that is meant to get people moving. Ironically, while the lyrics state that "it only takes a minute to fall in love," it still takes four of them to listen to the song all the way through.

Carly Simon - "Waterfall" Waterfall - Playing Possum

(Debuted #84, Peaked #78, 3 Weeks on chart)

Carly Simon's career was still going strong in 1975, and her LP that year, Playing Possum, continued her string of Top 10 albums. As usual, Richard Perry took the helm as producer and gave it his signature pop sheen, and the cream of the Los Angeles-based studio musicians were on hand to help perfect the music behind the words (largely written by Simon herself). However, the singles from that album told a different story. Out of three singles taken from the LP, only one ("Attitude Dancing") made the Top 40, and the album is better remembered today for its cover shot than for anything that is inside.

"Waterfall" was Simon's first song to miss the Top 40 since 1972, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Co-written with Jeff Lynne, the song even brought out James Taylor, who is clearly heard in the background vocals. However, the tune was largely a repetitive chant and had less substance lyrically that what many would expect from a Simon composition.  

The O'Jays - "Let Me Make Love To You" Let Me Make Love to You - Survival

(Debuted #87, Peaked #75, 3 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to their hits, pop fans seemed to prefer when The O'Jays turned up the tempo. Since "Let Me Make Love to You" is a slower tune, it only reached #75. On the R&B chart, it gained more appreciation, reaching the Top 10 their eighth in that format.

As a slow burner (appropriately, given the song's title), it was performed as a seduction, with Eddie Levert showing off his vocal abilities by begging and pleading to satisfy his need. It just proves the point that people sometimes get into singing in order to get the girls.

Ace - "Rock And Roll Runaway" Rock'n'roll Runaway - Five-a-Side

(Debuted #88, Peaked #71, 4 Weeks on chart)

Ace is best remembered for its tune "How Long," as well as being one of several groups to feature Paul Carrack as a member. Carrack is here for "Rock and Roll Runaway" (he co-wrote the song), but isn't the singer. In fact, the followup to that classic single and the group's only other charting song song has a different vibe. Instead of the smooth bassline and jealous vibe of the earlier hit, this has a rhythm that is more of a country and western pace at first but leads to a more pop-inspired bridge.

The sound might come as a surprise to those who judge a record by the name on its label.    

Reparata - "Shoes" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #92, 2 Weeks on chart )

"Shoes" is an odd song, and has an even odder story behind it. A song about a wedding, it features some rather weird instrumentation that isn't usually found in 1970s music: a bazouki (which is named in the lyrics), a harpsichord, a Jew's harp. Add a guitar solo into the mix and a children's chorus, and you get a mixture that should be terrible but somehow comes out a lot better than it reads on paper. The lyrics are delivered in an emotionless method, with the lead singer often being drowned out by the backing vocals, as if the wedding guests have joined in by singing with the band at the reception. However, the listener is left wondering if the couple who just got married aren't trying to figure out whether the day wasn't going to turn out to be a waste.

This should have been a much bigger hit (and deservedly so), but the legal process reared its ugly head and forced the withdrawal of the single. During the 1960s, there had been a "girl group" called Reparata and the Delrons. By 1973, the members had gone their own way; however, one former lead singer (Lorraine Mazzola) was working as part of Barry Manilow's backing group Lady Flash, while another (Mary O'Leary, who actually founded the band) was singing the vocal on "Shoes." To complicate matters, each was calling herself Reparata.

As you might expect, the lawyers got involved and the record was recalled. Not only was there a question about who was supposed to be Reparata, O'Leary's old record company was claiming that she recorded the song while still under contract with them and wanted a cut of the profits. When the dust cleared, "Shoes" was re-released on two different labels. As a result, the song only reached #92. It's a shame, though, because its quirky, unusual sound could have helped it stand out among competing music. It was robbed of being a classic; instead, it had to settle for being a cult favorite.

The Fantastic Four - "Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)" Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster) - Alvin Stone / Night People

(Debuted #95, Peaked #74, 8 Weeks on chart)

The final hit for the Detroit-based 1960s/70s R&B group The Fantastic Four was a fictionalized account about a gangster named Alvin Stone, complete with a dialogue and sound effects of a police shootout. The song marked a change in the group's sound to a more dance-oriented beat. It was a groove they would explore for several years, but success didn't follow them as the Disco sound rose later in the decade.

The group was formed in 1965 and were also known as Sweet James and the Fantastic Four, after lead singer "Sweet James" Epps. Even after the hit singles stopped, they continued to perform until Epps suffered a fatal heart attack in 2000.

Merry Clayton - "Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow" Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow - Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow

(Debuted #97, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." Quite a memorable line.

"Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow" was the theme song to the TV show Baretta, which starred Blake as an unorthodox New York City cop. The show was a retooled version of Toma (named after the real-life officer David Toma), after that show was ridiculed for its gritty violence -- tough even by the standards of 1970s TV police dramas -- that added a pet cockatoo as a way of toning it down. The show's theme was originally an instrumental, with lyrics by Sammy Davis, Jr. added in during later episodes.

Merry Clayton's version of the song was never used on the show. Instead, it was released as a single in the U.S. after Davis' wasn't. It became her highest-charting solo effort to date, hitting #45 on the pop chart, but not her most famous performance. That honor would go to her background vocal on The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," a song she would also release as a single under her own name.

Smokie - "If You Think You Know How To Love Me" If You Think You Know How to Love Me - Smokie: Greatest Hits Collection - 60 Tracks

(Debuted #98, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart )

In July '75, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" managed to make the Hot 100 but peaked at #96 in its short two-week stay. Two months later, it reappeared for a second shot but still couldn't make a better showing than it did the first time. In the band's native England, however, the song was a #3 single for them.

Despite having roots in psychedelic pop from their 1960s genesis and glitter rock due to writer/producer team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" would be a slowed-down ballad. Featuring electric piano and light strings accompanying singer Chris Norman's tender vocals, it was something different from what the band had offered before. When first released in Europe, the single was credited to the band as "Smokey" but there was some trouble when plans were made for U.S. release due to the presence of Smokey Robinson. Opting to alter the band name to Smokie for all further recordings both at home and in the U.S., they began a very successful phase of their career.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rewind -- July 23, 1977

Once again, here's a post from this blog's first year, refreshed and renewed. This is a series I'm doing throughout the year.

Nine new singles debut this week, with six making the Top 40 and four reaching the top 10. However, two of those would be held out of the #1 spot by Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" during that song's 10-week run at the top of the chart. With such a large number of hits, it's not surprising that most were targeted toward a pop audience. One was a James Bond movie theme, another was a tailor-made FM radio staple, and yet another was a live track by the Bee Gees. Two songs had seemingly misleading titles involving rock music, with a song recorded by a teen idol and another evoking a future restaurant chain. Among the few songs that missed the Top 40 were two from the R&B side that were perhaps worth another listen: one was a funky chant to the performers' home state and the other was a song that was warning the queen of the castle that her man was coming home and was in the mood for love.

Most of my reviews have a link to the Billboard issue containing the Hot 100 list; however, the July 23, 1977 edition is missing from the archive at Google Books.

MP3's at

The Bee Gees - "Edge Of The Universe" Bee Gees - Here At Last... Bee Gees... Live - Edge of the Universe

(Debuted #76, Peaked #26, 13 Weeks on chart)

Originally released in 1975 on The Bee Gees' Main Course LP and as the B-Side of their "Nights on Broadway" single, "Edge of the Universe" would see its own single release after being included on the band's Here at Last...Bee Gees...Live album in '77. The record was the group's first official live LP, and "Edge of the Universe" would be its only charting single in the U.S. At the time the double live LP was hitting the record stores, it fulfilled its purpose by keeping the Brothers Gibb in the eyes of the public as they recorded the music for Saturday Night Fever, which began the most lucrative phase of their career.

As a studio cut, "Edge of the Universe" was among the standout tracks on an excellent LP. As a live track, it was a good song even if it may not have been a highlight of the stage show. Perhaps the song was released as a 45 from the live LP because it was overlooked as a single the first time around; the brothers' harmonies are typically great, even if the music behind them wasn't exactly the way it could be performed in the studio.

Shaun Cassidy - "That's Rock 'n' Roll" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #3, 24 Weeks on chart)

While Cassidy's singing career was quite successful during the late 1970s, it was little more than an auxiliary to his career as an actor and teen idol. At the time "That's Rock 'n' Roll" was a hit, Cassidy was appearing as Joe Hardy in The Hardy Boys Mysteries. One of the show's episodes ("The Mystery of the Flying Courier," which first aired April 10, 1977) ended with Cassidy singing the song in what may have been a hastily-written attempt to tie the record into the show.

"That's Rock 'n' Roll" was written by Eric Carmen. Coming from the person who sang "Go All the Way" and "I Wanna Be With You" it was fine, but on a single with a picture sleeve taken from a pin-up poster, the title may have seemed like a joke, especially those who took their rock music seriously.

Foreigner - "Cold As Ice" Foreigner - Foreigner (Deluxe Version) - Cold As Ice

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 21 Weeks on chart)

For all of its million-selling records and Top 10 hits, Foreigner certainly had its share of critics. Slickly produced studio pablum, some said. Others called them the high priests of "cock rock," performing songs about one-night stands and gratuitous sex. "Cold As Ice" -- a song whose lyrics appear to be about a woman who doesn't put out -- didn't likely sway those critics. While the "Arena Rock" label wasn't applied to Foreigner until the 1980s, the group managed to enjoy some monster hits with their 1970s material yet managed to continue into the new decade without missing a beat or losing their momentum; the same can't be said for a lot of their fellow 1970s hitmakers.

Looking past the lyric sheet, the song's true strength lies in its musicianship. From the memorable piano intro to the keyboard embellishments, from Mick Jones's guitar solo to Lou Gramm's pleading yet restrained delivery, from the group's backing harmonies to the way the music drives the song along, the song is very well assembled. The record-buying public agreed, making it the band's second Top 10 American hit single in as many tries.

Carly Simon - "Nobody Does It Better" Carly Simon - The Best of Bond...James Bond - Nobody Does It Better

(Debuted #83, Peaked #2, 25 Weeks on chart)

"Nobody Does it Better" was the title theme for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (a title that was inserted into the lyrics). Had it not been held down by of Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life," it could have become Simon's second #1 hit. However, it missed becoming the first #1 song from a James Bond movie, settling for the same #2 peak as Paul McCartney & Wings' "Live and Let Die" from 1973. Despite being a well-regarded singer/songwriter, Simon didn't write the song; Carole Bayer Sager was the lyricist and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music.

One of the last soundtrack hits before the dual edged swords of big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars and the music-driven pictures like Grease and Saturday Night Fever changed the way movies were scored and developed, "Nobody Does it Better" is a well-produced song that showcases many elements of 1970s songcrafting. Besides the carefully-chosen lyrics, there is also a pitch-perfect Carly Simon double-tracked in the chorus, proficient studio work and an orchestra behind her providing a dramatic backdrop as the song faded. Just before the final fade-out, you can hear her sing, "James, you're the best," a nod to both James Bond and her then-husband James Taylor.

Carole King - "Hard Rock Cafe" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

Today, the name Hard Rock Cafe is best known as the name of a chain of restaurants that places music memorabilia on its walls. While the original London restaurant was open when Carole King released a song with their name as a title, they had not yet expanded to other locations. In the case of King's song, the "hard rock cafe" was a watering hole where anybody could come in and unwind. As a lyric, "hard" and "rock" don't seem to describe a form of music as much as they evoke the idea of being between a rock and a hard place. At the cafe in King's song, there are others who are in the same boat and can help ease the feeling for a short time.

"Hard Rock Cafe" was taken from King's first Capitol LP Simple Things, the first album to miss the Top 10 LP chart since her Tapestry breakthrough. It would be her final Hot 100 hit of the 1970s as well.

Lou Rawls - "See You When I Git There" Lou Rawls - Lou Rawls: Love Songs - See You When I Git There

(Debuted #86, Peaked #66, 7 Weeks on chart)

With his velvet-smooth voice, Lou Rawls was able to adapt his style to several genres: gospel, blues, jazz and pop. His wide vocal range let him adapt with changes in the music, yet did so without seeming to follow trends. His mid-70s association with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their Philadelphia International label gave Rawls's career a huge boost, which he was still riding when his LP Unmistakably Lou and the single "See You When I Git There" were released.

Beginning with a piano and guitar intro, Rawls delivers a few spoken lines -- an aside to somebody, asking for change for the phone call he's about to make -- before launching into his song as the conversation begins. The lyrics tell of a man who's coming home to enjoy some special time with his wife, with no distractions or worries. The music is quite similar to his '76 hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," including female backing singers, Latin-influenced rhythm and orchestrated flourishes. Both songs were written and produced by Gamble and Huff, which accounts for the similarities. Though the song would stall at #66 on the pop charts, it made the R&B Top 10.

The title and lyrics of "See You When I Git There" took on an entirely different meaning when Rawls passed away in 2006 after battling cancer.

Natalie Cole - "Party Lights" Natalie Cole - Unpredictable - Party Lights

(Debuted #88, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

Perhaps the best known recording of any song called "Party Lights" was the 1962 Claudette Clark hit; however, Natalie Cole recorded a different song altogether for her 1977 LP Unpredictable. Where Clark's self-written hit was a lament she isn't going to the party across the street, Cole's song (written by keyboard player Tennyson Stephens) is a disco-influenced tune designed to work on the dance floor. This time around, the singer is part of the action.

"Party Lights" had a short stay on the pop chart, but managed to reach the R&B Top 10. Coming on the heels of the smash ballad "I've Got Love on My Mind" (reviewed on this blog last January), it was a disappointing showing at a time when dance songs were among the hottest things going.

The Ohio Players - "O-H-I-O" Ohio Players - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Ohio Players - O-H-I-O

(Debuted #90, Peaked #45, 12 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. The title suggests a cheer for The Ohio Player's home state, and the lyrics are exactly that: a continual recitation of the title. However, the meat of the song lies not in the words but in the music, and the song is driven by a funky groove. "O-H-I-O" began a jam session the band would use to close out their shows, and its success onstage led the group to strip it down and get it recorded for their Angel LP.

A good song for listeners who happened to be from the group's home state, "O-H-I-O" would ultimately be the group's final appearance on the Hot 100, despite charting on the Soul chart for another decade after that. It would be the end of a solid groove laid down by the band that lasted five funky years.

Heatwave - "Boogie Nights" Heat Wave - The Best of Heatwave - Always and Forever - Boogie Nights

(Debuted #93, Peaked #2, 27  Weeks on chart)

Summer 1991. I was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. One weekend, I was at the enlisted mens' club with some buddies. We were enjoying a few beers and blowing off some steam after a hard week. There were two parts to the club: upstairs was an R&B-style club and the one downstairs was for the guys whose tastes weren't so...well, ethnic. Since stuff like Guns &  Roses, Metallica and Van Halen were big at the time, that was much of what got played downstairs. The DJ would sometimes toss in something different to change the mood, and at one point that night, he tossed "Boogie Nights" out for us. I remember a few of my buddies looking at each other with a "What the F...?!" look during the opening but one of the guys jumped out on the floor and as the song kicked into gear the rest of us followed. There we were, a bunch of half-drunk, off-duty (and for some of us, still underage) soldiers having the time of their lives.

It's interesting that the song triggers a memory from my Army service, because Heatwave's story begins with two American soldiers. Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith were American servicemen stationed in Germany who moonlighted in a local band. Remaining in Germany after being discharged, the Wilder brothers eventually joined with keyboardist and songwriter Rod Temperton in London and founded Heatwave as a multiracial, multinational and multicultural group. Their first American hit was "Boogie Nights," a song that began slow but then picked up the pace at the end of the intro to become a dance tune, which was obviously helped by the rising disco craze of the era. The song peaked at #2 on the pop charts both in America and in the U.K. and was a #5 soul hit.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 21, 1973

There were eight new singles on this week's Billboard Hot 100.  Three of them would eventually make the Top 40 and one went Top 10. While a cursory look at the list of songs suggests a followup theme, an actual listen to the music suggests that many of them were simply overshadowed. The sole Top 10 was not War's biggest or best-known hit, but it is a tune that represents their diversity well. Curtis Mayfield and Lookig Glass appear with songs that followed much bigger hits in both style and substance, yet both are songs that could stand well on their own. Sylvia follows "Pillow Talk" with another breathy song, Coven remakes its own previous hit for a new Billy Jack movie, Mickey Newbury shows off his introverted songwriting style and The Independents follow the lead of their previous hit. Even the hit that is from a new artist has been overshadowed by the fact that the group's music has provided the backbeat for dozens of hip-hop songs.

Google Books has an archive of past Billboard magazines, but the July 21, 1973 edition is missing. In lieu of that, I'll once again mention that I regularly write a second music-related blog called 80s Music Mayhem. The format is similar to what I'm doing here, but it only covers a single song each weekday. Last week's focus was on songs from 1982 and the songs chosen were fairly wide in their styles. Check it out if you haven't done so, and feel free to bookmark or follow both of these blogs.

Unlimited Music, Everywhere. Try Rdio for Free.

War - "Gypsy Man" Gypsy Man (Single Version) - The Very Best of War

(Debuted #66, Peaked #8, 13 Weeks on chart)

The video above has a cover shot of War's Why Can't We Be Friends? LP, even though "Gypsy Man" is actually from Deliver the Word. On that album, it's an 11-minute cut, which was then truncated down to a more radio-friendly length (but still went really long) for the single release. It's the single version that appears above.

"Gypsy Man" is a song that shows some of the diversity of the group called War. A Latin rhythm dominates, but vocal harmonies pop up throughout and the production represents the same "everything including the kitchen sink" that Phil Spector utilized during the 1960s (note: Spector wasn't the producer here, Jerry Goldstein was). Percussion jumps out from the record, as does Lee Oskar's harmonica. More of a freeform jam than their other hits were, "Gypsy Man" still shows the group's multifaceted talent in a way that many of those hits really couldn't.

The Incredible Bongo Band - "Bongo Rock" Bongo Rock - Bongo Rock

(Debuted #81, Peaked #57, 7 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes you can judge a song by the title on its label. This song is called "Bongo Rock," the artist's name is The Incredible Bongo Band, and the grooves contain a bunch of percussion.

The Incredible Bongo Band was never really a band. Instead, it was a project by MGM executive Michael Viner. During his studio's down time, he'd bring in musicians to perform for him. Though the musicians remained uncredited due to the covert nature of the group, it's been rumored that Viner was able to get some of the top drummers to contribute, including Jim Gordon and Ringo Starr.Eventually, the source of the band was revealed to top executives, and The Incredible Bongo Band was quietly retired.

"Bongo Rock" was the group's only Hot 100 hit, but its influence lives on thanks to the track "Apache," which has provided beats and breaks for several hip-hop productions.

Sylvia - "Didn't I" Didn't I - Pillow Talk: The Sensuous Sounds of Sylvia

(Debuted #84, Peaked #70, 5 Weeks on chart)

On the surface, "Didn't I" sounds like it was an outtake of the same sessions that produced Sylvia's earlier hit "Pillow Talk." While the accompanying orchestration is less intense (a saxophone takes center stage here), "Didn't I" has the same breathy comments and not-so-suggestive sighs that marked the previous hit. The song may have seemed a little racy at the time, but it isn't such a big deal today. In fact, it seems tamer than the late-night commercials played for 1-900 dating lines on TV.

At the time, Sylvia Robinson was 37, an age where a lot of women truly discover themselves sexually. While the older woman/cougar phenomenon seems recent, it really isn't. And here is sufficient proof: while Jennifer Coolidge -- the actress who played Stiffler's mom in American Pie -- was still in elementary school, Sylvia Robinson was letting the world know that you didn't have to be young to be sensual. She wasn't the first, either. There was another person with the same last name in the movie The Graduate, for instance. The concept wasn't exactly new...the "older woman" has long been around even when the moral culture tried to convince us that it wasn't.

Curtis Mayfield - "Future Shock" Future Shock - Back to the World

(Debuted #85, Peaked #39, 10 Weeks on chart)

If it sounds like "Future Shock" is a remade and updated version of "Superfly," that might not be far off the mark. Mayfield himself drops the name of his earlier hit into the lyrics, which means that he was at least a little aware of the similarity. Both songs have the similar funk-driven sound, and both feature the world-weary warnings about the trappings of life in the ghetto. While it's a song that could have stood well on its own, the similarity to the earlier hit might have kept it from reaching higher on the charts than it did. It barely reached the pop Top 40 and just missed the R&B Top 10.

"Future Shock" was a track on the LP Back to the World, a term that ex-soldiers use to describe returning from their overseas wartime service (at the time, it was Vietnam but troops continue to use the term today). The term was apt, considering the way Mayfield's lyrics describe a world that doesn't seem right to him. His guitar licks seem to come out effortlessly among the heavy music, and his words are carefully chosen yet are still what might be considered "politically incorrect" nowadays. But, he was just telling it the way he saw it. 

The Independents - "Baby I've Been Missing You" Baby I've Been Missing You - Discs Of Gold

(Debuted #89, Peaked #41, 8 Weeks on chart)

The followup to "Leaving Me" (reviewed here in an April "Rewind" feature) barely missed becoming the second Top 40 pop hit for The Independents, peaking at #41. Unfortunately, that was as close as they ever came to getting out of the "One-Hit Wonder" status. That said, they were more of a force on the R&B charts, where "Baby I've Been Missing You" was their third Top 10 hit.

Beginning with a recitation, "Baby I've Been Missing You" is a ballad sung over a string arrangement that uses both parts of the group's male/female dynamic well. In a way, both sides of the story are getting their say, as both deal with a separation from each other. From the lyrics, it appears that it's only been a few days since they've been apart, and the male is sitting around and wallowing in his loneliness. It isn't clear what caused the separation (or if it's permanent), but the female is also chiming in that she misses him too. However, there isn't any indication as to whether she intends to return, so it's assumed that he's resigned to sitting around and contemplating whatever it was that caused her to leave.

Perhaps it's a logical followup to the sentiment of "Leaving Me" as well as a chronological one.

Mickey Newbury - "Sunshine" Sunshine - An American Trilogy

(Debuted #91, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

The name "Sunshine" brings to mind a 1973 Jonathan Edwards hit, but this is an entirely different song. Written and originally recorded by Mickey Newbury in the 1960s and re-recorded for his LP Heaven Help the Child, it is an account of a man who has decided to follow his own muse and has left his woman behind. He's still chasing that rainbow (even mentioning that the pot he found wasn't filled with gold) but he's doing it on his own, and at his own chosen speed.

A folk-influenced guitar opens the song with some bird effects that simulate the sound of the new dawn. As Newbury unfolds the story of how he tried and failed to please somebody else on the way to finding his own way, more instruments fill in. There's a mournful steel guitar, then a string section and organ that follow him on his journey, making it clear that he's determined to press on and find whatever it is that's beckoning him.

Looking Glass - "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne - Subway Serenade

(Debuted #93, Peaked #33, 15 Weeks on chart)

During the Summer of 1972, "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" became a surprise hit; it was actually a B-side that emerged as a hit after a DJ flipped the disc over when the A-side failed to generate any interest. That song opened a lot of doors for the New Jersey-based band Looking Glass. They were signed to a major label and Arif Mardin was brought in to produce their next LP Subway Serenade. However, as the record shows, the road to a succesful followup is often as difficult as getting a hit.

For the single "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne," a lot of elements were borrowed from "Brandy": the disaffected vocal by Eliot Lurie, the story within the song, the brass section backing up the band, even the rest of the band coming together in unison during the chorus. The song was a minor hit, though, as it tried too hard to be like its earlier counterpart. Today, the song is a classic 1970s tune in sound and style, but it really didn't stand out in its own time.

"Jimmy Loves Maryann" (note the different spelling of the name in the title) would appear a decade later in another Hot 100 hit, done by Josie Cotton in a then-current sound that is just as a part of its time as this one is. I wrote a review of that song on my other blog earlier this year.

Coven - "One Tin Soldier (The Legend Of Billy Jack)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #79, 6 Weeks on chart)

"One Tin Soldier" was originally a hit in 1971 (and reviewed here) when the first Billy Jack movie was in the theater, and Coven re-recorded it when the second movie appeared. The "new" recording appears above, even though the scenes that accompany it in the video are from the first film. It was originally an anti-war song written during the late 1960s and recorded by a Canadian group called The Original Caste, who had a minor hit with the song in 1970.

Ironically, a band whose members were interested in witchcraft and Satanism (hence the name) made a song that has often been remembered for its religious imagery. However, the message of the song seems to serve as a warning that doing sin in the name of the Lord is still sin...and practitioners will still be judged for their actions. In any case, it's a relic of the early 1970s, a time where the nation was still reeling from Vietnam and a generational shift.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rewind -- July 20, 1974

This is part of a year-long series...This blog revisits the posts from its first year and reboots them.

An interesting list of new singles this time around. Of the seven singles that debuted in Billboard's Hot 100 this week, five would make the Top 40, with two becoming Top 10 hits. Interestingly, the two songs that missed the 40 were both cover versions of a song that had already been a hit for a different group. Among the others was an English studio group that sounded like a 1960s California band, another bunch of English sessionmen who became a band, a song paying tribute to Wolfman Jack and an Oakland-based band known today for its famed horn section.

Google has an online archive of past issues of Billboard, including the July 20, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 68. On page 28 is part of an interview with disc jockey/announcer Gary Owens (of Laugh-In fame) about his early influences and commercial work. Two stories explain how inflation was affecting consumers. A front-page story reported the effect of an across-the-board rise in LP prices and their effect on customers' buying patterns. Also, an article on page 41 mentions the change of many jukeboxes to "2-for-a-quarter" rather than a dime per song. Finally, as a way of showing that not everything was costing more, page 4 reports the fourth-class postage rate for mailing records, books and tapes (which we now call "media mail") would remain as it was at least for another year: 18 cents for anything up to a pound, plus 8 cents for each additional pound. From the benefit of the passage of 36 years, those prices sure seem quaint.

Wolfgang's Vault

The Guess Who - "Clap For The Wolfman" The Guess Who - The Guess Who: Anthology - Clap for the Wolfman

(Debuted #71, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on chart)

"Clap For the Wolfman" was the final Top 10 hit for The Guess Who. A lot had happened to the Canadian group since their last Top 10 hit (1970's "Share the Land"). A revolving door of band members that began when guitarist Randy Bachman left during that 1970 high point made it hard to keep track of who was playing in the group from one LP to the next. By 1974, only singer Burton Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were left from those days. As the band kept changing, their singles stumbled on the U.S. charts.

"Clap For the Wolfman" was an homage to Robert Smith, a Brooklyn-born radio DJ who used the name Wolfman Jack. During the 1960s, The Wolfman broadcast from a station just south of the U.S./Mexico border that had such a high wattage that he was heard over much of the U.S. at night. By the time the song appeared in 1974, The Wolfman was a star, who had appeared in the film American Graffiti as himself and was hosting The Midnight Special on NBC-TV. Wolfman Jack's voice is also heard in the song, doing his DJ banter. It would be one of several songs featuring his voice during the 1970s.

True to the unwritten rule that appealing to big-time DJs is one sure way to score a hit single on radio, "Clap For the Wolfman" would become The Guess Who's biggest hit in years. However, it would be the band's final Top 10 appearance. After more instability with the group lineup, they broke up in 1975.

Edgar Winter - "River's Risin'" The Edgar Winter Group - Shock Treatment - River's Risin'

(Debuted #72, Peaked #33, 9 Weeks on chart)

After the great success of the LP They Only Come Out at Night, the Edgar Winter Group were under pressure to follow it up with another that sustained their momentum. Their next album Shock Treatment certainly tried, but as music fans began to gravitate toward dance tunes, the boogie-woogie blues styling that colored much of the band's work was beginning to fall out of favor.

"River's Risin'" was written by Dan Hartman, who takes the lead vocals on the song. With simple lyrics about the passing of time and the cyclical nature of things, it's an uptempo tune with a tight feel. The song would reach the Top 40, which made the group's final trip there. Shortly after the LP, Hartman would go on to a solo career, where he was scoring dance hits by the end of the decade.

First Class - "Beach Baby" First Class - Beach Baby (The Original Hit Single) - Beach Baby (The Original Hit Single)

(Debuted #74, Peaked #4, 17 Weeks on chart)

Not a lot of music fans can identify singer Tony Burrows, even though they've likely heard a few of his songs. Perhaps during all of pop history (and definitely during the 1970s), Burrows has sung vocals for more different named groups than anybody else. Though his one Hot 100 entry under his own name (1970's "Melanie Makes Me Smile") didn't do that well, he went Top 10 with such songs as "My Baby Loves Lovin'," "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," "Gimme Dat Ding" and "United We Stand" under various group names. Burrows added to that total when "Beach Baby" went Top 10 in 1974.

Though "Beach Baby" was an obvious nod to the music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (who were then receiving a resurgence with their #1 LP Endless Summer) and mentioning "old L.A." and American cars in the lyrics, Burrows and the other members of First Class were Englishmen. Using a layered production and vocal harmonies, the song was evocative of the seemingly more innocent early 1960s. The nostalgic angle worked, right at a time when people were tuning in to Happy Days on their TV sets and Grease was a huge Broadway hit.

First Class had two more singles reach the Hot 100 and recorded another LP but never again enjoyed the level of success they had with "Beach Baby."

Lobo - "Rings" Lobo - The Best of Lobo - Rings

(Debuted #79, Peaked #43, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Rings" was a debut hit twice this week. The song was originally a #17 hit for the group Cymarron during the summer of 1971 and was deemed worthy of two new versions three years later. Interestingly, the original hit arrived shortly after Lobo's "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" and sounded a little like the Florida-born singer. However, it was written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. While the song made use of several different uses for the word "rings" (telephone rings, doorbell rings, golden ring, voices ring and wedding bell ring), the main part of the song was written as a result of an early-morning beach house wedding of a friend of the composers ("The sun comes up across the city...We'll stand upon the sand with a preacher man").

Lobo's version of the song isn't as brightly-produced as the original. Instead, he does it in his standard laid-back style that sound like he's just sitting on a stool with his guitar and singing to nobody in particular. One big difference from the original is the way the bell-sounding hook has been dropped in favor of an overmodulated droning jangly guitar. One major line has been changed as well: where the original song made mention about playing James Taylor on the stereo, in Lobo's version The Allman Brothers are now on the turntable.

The Rubettes - "Sugar Baby Love" The Rubettes - The Definitive Love Collection - Sugar Baby Love

(Debuted #81, Peaked #37, 10 Weeks on chart)

A name like The Rubettes might bring to mind an all-girl group, but they were actually an English group made up of male studio singers. With a stage presence that included white coats and cloth hats, the band's first hit "Sugar Baby Love" sounded like an homage to American doo-wop music of the 1950s. According to the story behind the song, writers Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington wrote it as part of a rock & roll "musical" and decided to offer it to several established British acts. After being turned down by several acts including Showaddywaddy, they built a group in the studio that became The Rubettes.

With a falsetto vocal in the chorus and an infectious "bop-shoo-waddy" backing vocal, the song would eke its way into the U.S. Top 40 and hit #1 for 4 weeks in the band's native U.K. It also sold more than two million copies in France and would be a major hit in several European nations. Despite its early success, the group never reached the American pop charts but managed more hits in their home country through the rest of the decade. Two different groups of Rubettes, each with at least one original member of the band, still occasionally tour in England as an oldies act.

Tower of Power - "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle Of the Stream)" Tower Of Power - The Very Best of Tower of Power: The Warner Years - Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #26, 10 Weeks on chart)

Another great tune from Tower of Power's peak performing years, "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream)" was another song that showcased the group's signature horn section buoyed by Lenny Williams. Williams, who was perhaps the band's most powerful singer, co-wrote the song with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Though Watson wasn't a member of the group, the song does have some of the same cadence he brought to his songs (such as "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger").

Taken from the group's LP Back to Oakland, the song was the follow-up to "Time Will Tell" (reviewed here in April 2010) and whose lyrics were a plea to a lover to stay. In the words, Williams admits to straying but is still hopeful that things can be worked out. Still remembered as one of Tower of Power's better singles, it would be the band's third and final Top 40 hit.

Reuben Howell - "Rings" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #86, 3 Weeks on chart)

The second remake of "Rings" to appear this week is by Reuben Howell, a blue-eyed soul singer who recorded for Motown. There is precious little information available about Howell except that he passed away in 2004 at the age of 59. "Rings" was Howell's only Hot 100 entry.

As mentioned above with the Lobo version, Howell's is performed in a different style from both of the other charting versions of the song. Howell's rendition is more of a vocal tune, with an understated guitar accompanying him. Of the three versions, Howell's may have the best vocals. It's not quite as pop-infused as Cymarron's original, but doesn't resort to studio tricks and lets the lyrics flow. Finally, Howell's version changes the name of the act on the stereo: Cymarron was spinning James Taylor, Lobo grooved on The Allman Brothers, but Reuben Howell was playing Jim Croce.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 18, 1970

There were eleven new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Six of them eventually reached the Top 40, with two making the Top 10. Several songs expressed the renewed optimism that often accompanies a new decade, but one sounded like an outtake from the Kennedy administration. A Canadian songstress appears for the first time, and a British studio group perform a song after a more established group turned it down. A former drummer for Jimi Hendrix does his own take on a Neil Young song. Several R&B veterans appear on the list, as does a rocking Canadian group and a paean to the town of Tucson.

There is an archive of past Billboard magazines over at Google Books, including the July 18, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 70. An article on page 49 has a retiring jukebox executive sharing the experience of a 40-year career (which started in 1930) in the Chicago area, through war, a ban on recordings by the musician's union, several shortages brought about by a lack of supplies and a switch from 78 RPM records to 45s. Also, the charges that the Mafia ran the business. It's an interesting read.

James Brown - "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine (Parts 1 and 2)" (Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Pt. 1 [Single Version] - Number 1's

(Debuted #72, Peaked #15, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)" -- sometimes merely shortened to "Sex Machine" -- is a classic James Brown tune today, but at the time it came out, it was notable because it put less emphasis on the brass section employed in many of his 1960s hits. Indicating a new direction for a new decade, the stars of this song are brothers Bootsy and Catfish Collins on bass and guitar, as well as fellow vocalist Bobby Byrd (who contributes the other "Get on up" to the words and is called upon by Brown during the song).

There have been a few versions of the song through the years. The original 1970 version was a live recording from his LP Sex Machine, which included a spoken intro between Brown and his band that doesn't appear in the video above. Brown recorded a disco-friendly song called "Sex Machine Parts I & II" in 1975 that is a song that references this and other JB tunes. It has been covered several times by other artists (including a Spitting Image episode that had a puppet of Luciano Pavarotti doing it), but there's no denying that is was a James Brown tune to begin with.

The Supremes - "Everybody's Got The Right To Love" Everybody's Got the Right to Love - Right On

(Debuted #74, Peaked #21, 11 Weeks on chart)

The Supremes' post-Diana Ross era is a period that is sorely overlooked by many. That said, there's a lot of surprises to be found in their early 1970s catalog that might surprise fans who go back and check the music with a fresh perspective.

"Everybody's Got the Right to Love" was the second single of the Jean Terrell era, but it showcased all three members in the trio in a way that hadn't been done since the spotlight was shifted more onto Ross in the mid-1960s. In fact, the song opens with all three singing in harmony. Written by Lou Stallman and produced by Frank Wilson (both of whom were cogs in Motown's machine at the time), the song was one of many of the era to espouse a positive, socially-conscious message.

Anne Murray - "Snowbird" Snowbird - Anne Murray - The Best...So Far

(Debuted #86, Peaked #8, 16 Weeks on chart)

Around my former home in Florida, there is a name used to describe the Northerners who come down for the winter to enjoy the milder weather, but then go back north once it begins getting hot. That's funny when it's used as a derisive term, considering how many Northerners (myself included) made the state a full-time home. "Snowbirds" can be from the Midwest, the Northeast U.S., or Canadians. That said, how appropriate is it for a Canadian to sing a song called "Snowbird"?

Anne Murray was a former teacher from Nova Scotia, and "Snowbird" was the song that broke her career open. It was a Top 10 hit on both the pop and country charts, and topped the adult contemporary survey as well. It had a sound that was enjoyable to a wide audience, something that Murray could use to her benefit throughout her career. The lyrics of the song, which contrasts the ability to simply fly away like a bird with the way the heart causes a person to stay put, weren't Murray's, though. Instead, fellow Canadian Gene MacLellan (who also wrote "Put Your Hand in the Hand") penned it.

The Guess Who - "Hand Me Down World" Hand Me Down World - The Guess Who: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #89, Peaked #17, 11 Weeks on chart)

While I'm discussing socially-conscious tunes and Canadian acts in the previous two singles, let's juxtapose the two for this one.  "Hand Me Down World" was a song that was brought to The Guess Who after guitarist Randy Bachman left. He was replaced by two guitarists, Greg Leskiw and Kurt Winter, and the tune was one that Winter had written and recorded with his previous group Brother.

Though the album's liner notes credit only Winter with penning the tune, he had composed it with the two other members of Brother, Bill Wallace and Vance Masters. I'm guessing the fact that Winter's name was listed alone on the Guess Who album was merely due to his membership in the group. Though it was written in the late 1960s, it was yet another song that expressed hope that the new decade would be better.

Clarence Carter - "Patches" Patches - Patches

(Debuted #90, Peaked #4, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Patches" was the name of a song recorded by Dickey Lee in 1962, but this was a totally different story from the love-struck teen in Lee's song. This time around, the title character was a poor Alabama boy who was thrust into adulthood at a young age when his father passed away and had to take care of business in his place.

This "Patches" was written by General Johnson and originally recorded by Johnson's group The Chairmen of the Board. However, the blind singer Clarence Carter took it and made it his own. His expressive narration of the story makes you think he lived through it personally, while that backing vocals and accompanying instruments help push the drama along. While the original was relegated to a B-side, the cover version appeared and became a million-seller. It was a #4 pop hit, went to #2 on the R&B chart and also hit #2 in the U.K.

McKinley Travis - "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #91, 2 Weeks on chart)

McKinley Travis was a West Coast-based singer who performed a great deal of material for Bobby Sanders, who was the writer and producer of "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind." Travis seems to be poorly remembered, but his only 1970s pop hit showed an expressive range that should have translated to at least a successful followup.

On the other hand, "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind" comes off as wonderfully "retro" with its Doo-Wop phrasing, saxophone backing, and guitar picking. There's also a string and brass section audible in the recording. While it sounds like it could have been issued ten years before, maybe the fact that the 1950s craze didn't kick off until a few years later kept this track relatively obscure.

Buddy Miles and the Freedom Express - "Down By the River" Down By the River - Them Changes

(Debuted #94, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Down By the River " was written by Neil Young, who admitted to being in a high fever and state of delirium at the time. The lyrics are about a man who's so enraged to discover that his woman has been unfaithful that he meets her by the river to shoot her. It's an interesting look into the mind of somebody who's bedridden and has probably been alone in thought since he can't do much else.

When Buddy Miles recorded the song for his LP Them Changes, he gave it a plain reading as if he was just going down to the river to catch some fish. On that record, Miles proved himself to be just as adept at translating the material of other writers as he was his own, which propelled the album onto the charts for a year. While it didn't make him a household name among pop stars, the former Hendrix associate and sometime Manavishnu Orchestra sideman made some heavy inroads among his fellow musicians for his expressive style.

Jim Campbell - "The Lights Of Tucson" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

There isn't much at all to be found about Jim Campbell, so I'm assuming he was simply a local artist who recorded one song that was a regional hit because it mentions a city. An ode to life on the road, he also makes a mention about "like Bronson, my wheels are turnin'," a reference to that year's TV show Along Came Bronson starring Michael Parks.

The country/pop record is flavored with little touches of the region, like the slight Mariachi dispersed throughout the tune. As a song that extols how nice it would be to get back home, it did quite well in the West, especially around the Tucson area.

Christie - "Yellow River" Yellow River - Christie

(Debuted #98, Peaked #23, 23 Weeks on chart)

I haven't really made it a secret here that I grew up during the 1980s and developed my interest in 1970s music as something of an antidote to the stuff that passed for Top 40 material during my high school years. I just don't mention it all that often, but here's an interesting personal story that shows the universal nature of music. I joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school. Shortly after my discharge in 1992 I picked up the CD Have a Nice Day: Super Hits of the 1970s, Vol. 4 and "Yellow River" was the very first song on it. As I first heard the lyrics of a soldier returning home, I knew I loved the song.

"Yellow River" was written by Jeff Christie, whose band took his name. However, it wasn't originally intended that way, as Christie wrote it for the group The Tremeloes. They recorded it, but when they decided to veer their sound away from pop music to something that seemed more "happening," Christie recorded his own vocals over the instrumental bed The Tremeloes laid down.

Though Christie was British and the song was written with a returning Civil War soldier in mind, "Yellow River" hit the ears of enough Americans -- some returning home from conflict themselves -- to become a hit. While the location of the river was never named, it reflected a longing for many to simply return to a place where it was quiet and familiar...much like I was hoping to find about the first time I heard it.

The Glass House - "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)" I Can't Be You, You Can't Be Me - The Best of Glass House

(Debuted #99, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart )

Interesting that "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)" debuted the same week as a tune by The Supremes. One of the members of The Glass House was Scherrie Payne, who later joined that group. Originally from Detroit, the band was assembled by Holland/Dozier/Holland for their Invictus label and enjoyed a handful of hits from 1969-'72. However, when the hits dried up, the group was disbanded.

This was the first of two runs for "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)." It only reached #95 this time, but  a second run up the chart a month later pushed it a little higher. The Zodiac-inspired song with philosophical questions would be the last the group would score on the pop charts, though.

The Dells - "Long Lonely Nights" Long Lonely Nights - Bring Back the Love / Classic Dells Soul

(Debuted #100, Peaked #74, 4 Weeks on chart)

Though many songs that appear on this week's list of debut singles look toward the new decade, "Long Lonely Nights" sounds like a throwback to the pre-Beatles era. Of course, the Chicago-based Dells had been perfecting their craft since long before the Doo-Wop era, so the sound was natural for them. Backed by a string section, the members perform the song as if it were a classic R&B weeper, even inserting a low-register spoken line in the middle.

The dated sound -- though classic -- was likely a reason the song  stalled on the charts. It missed the pop Top 40, and only reached #27 on the R&B chart.