Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rewind -- August 25, 1979

On Wednesdays this year, I'm taking a fresh look at the entries from this blog's first year and formatting them to conform better to what I do now. This week, we take the third week...and notice that there isn't even an intro. I must have been working on that right up to the last minute.

At the time this review was published, I wasn't yet running the back issues of Billboard over at Google Books yet. So, here's the August 25, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 76. A letter to the editor on page 16 is written by a fan who pleads with the former Beatles to get back together. It's nice to read that, since we have the hindsight of knowing that the letter wouldn't have been written by the end of the next year. And...look who the first artist is...

MP3's at

Wings - "Arrow Through Me" Paul McCartney & Wings - Back to the Egg - Arrow Through Me

(Debuted #83, Peaked #29, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

For young fans of music in 1979 who weren't old enough to remember the Beatles, it may have been a surprise to some to know that Paul McCartney was a success before he fronted Wings. During the 1970s, McCartney enjoyed 22 Top 40 hits, 13 Top 10 singles and five trips to #1 with the group. Paul McCartney & Wings was so successful, every one of their chart singles hit the Top 40 through the end of the decade. As the saying goes, all things come to an end and "Arrow Through Me" was the last single from Back to the Egg, the final Wings studio album. It wasn't technically the last Wings chart single, however; McCartney's 1980 "solo" single "Coming Up" was flipped over by radio DJs who preferred Wings' live version from a Glasgow concert instead and that version was the one that reached #1.

As a song, "Arrow Through Me" isn't terrible. As a cut from the same LP as McCartney's "disco" hit "Goodnight Tonight" it's a good pop tune, with McCartney doing the bass line on a keyboard instead of his familiar Hofner. However, to fans used to stuff like "Band on the Run," "Live and Let Die" and "Jet" it was a reminder that even ex-Beatles are human. Of course, by the end of 1979, McCartney was the only ex-Beatle still enjoying chart success: George Harrison had a decent LP that year but only one (underappreciated) minor hit, Ringo Starr hadn't had a decent radio hit in years and John Lennon was still semi-retired with his family in New York City.

In short, "Arrow Through Me" was formulaic pop but still a great deal better than much of what McCartney would put on record during the 1980s.

Donna Summer - "Dim All the Lights" Donna Summer - Bad Girls - Dim All the Lights

(Debuted #70, Peaked #2, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

Disco was considered to be in a death spiral in 1979, but disco diva Donna Summer was as hot as ever. Her double album Bad Girls was one of the biggest LPs of the year. It had two monster #1 hits: "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls," and her follow-up "Dim All the Lights" just missed the top, peaking at #2. Among all of Summer's hits, "Dim All the Lights" was the only one she wrote without a collaborator.

Much like Summer's smash from the year before, "Last Dance," "Dim All the Lights" starts off slow and builds up to a danceable pace. It also shows her vocal range, having a single note she held for 18 seconds, a record for Top 10 chart singles at the time. As "Dim All the Lights" was reaching its peak, another Summer tune ("Enough is Enough," a duet with Barbra Streisand) was competing with it. She continued having hits until well after most "disco" performers had disappeared.

Eddie Money - "Get a Move On" Eddie Money - The Essential Eddie Money - Get a Move On

(Debuted #81, Peaked #46, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

A cop named Mahoney? That was Steve Guttenberg from the 1980s Police Academy movies, right? In real life, a Brooklyn kid named Eddie Mahoney tried to follow his father's footsteps by joining the police force but didn't stay in uniform for long. After a move to the San Francisco area and a shot at the music business, Mahoney altered his name to Eddie Money and began hitting the chart by 1978.

"Get a Move On" was the lead single from Eddie Money's third major LP Playing For Keeps, which didn't show up in the stores until 1980. The album was a disappointment, having no Top 40 singles. "Get a Move On" stalled at #46 and Money had to wait for another LP and the dawn of MTV before his next hit record. As an uptempo song and a staple of Money's concerts, it wasn't exactly in the same league as "Two Tickets to Paradise."

Chris Thompson & Night - "If You Remember Me" Chris Thompson - If You Remember Me - the Very Best - If You Remember Me

(Debuted #87, Peaked #17, 19 Weeks on the Chart)

While Chris Thompson was a new name to Top 40 radio, his voice certainly wasn't. He had sung lead with Manfred Mann's Earth Band on their #1 "Blinded By the Light" in 1977. As for the group Night, this was a follow-up to their song "Hot Summer Nights" but that tune featured Stevie Lange on vocals and Thompson sang in the background. Helped by its inclusion in the Jon Voight/Ricky Schroeder film The Champ, "If You Remember Me" edged its way into the Top 20 and peaked at #17.

The song was initially released as a Thompson solo effort, with the "& Night" credit added later. It features an emotional Thompson performance and is well worth a listen. That said, the MP3 links here are for a re-recorded version of the song. It's still a decent recording, but the original is available for collectors willing to look for it.

John Stewart - "Midnight Wind" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #73, Peaked #28, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

John Stewart had been paying his dues for over 20 years when his LP Bombs Away Dream Babies was a runaway success. He was a member of the legendary folk group The Kingston Trio and wrote a #1 tune for the Monkees in 1967 called "Daydream Believer." With a little help from Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on the tracks, Stewart's LP and the songs "Gold" and "Midnight Wind" were among 1979's success stories.

With "Midnight Wind" the unique voice of Stevie Nicks is very noticeable throughout the length of the song, and Lindsay Buckingham's guitar drones out throughout. A dark song, much in the vein of Buckingham and Nicks' contribution to Fleetwood Mac's huge Rumours LP ("Gold Dust Woman" in particular) and that dynamic was sure to be a help in the song's success, as Fleetwood Mac fans were still eagerly awaiting the forthcoming Tusk LP from that group.

Sadly, Stewart's success didn't sustain itself when he recorded his next LP the following year, and he returned to business as he knew it for most of the 1970s. He kept busy with music until passing away in 2008.

KC & the Sunshine Band - "Please Don't Go" KC & The Sunshine Band - Do You Wanna Go Party - Please Don't Go

(Debuted #86, Peaked #1, 25 Weeks on the Chart)

KC & the Sunshine Band had four #1 singles during the 1970s, and this one should have been the fifth (or the sixth, depending on whether you think he was cheated when "Keep it Comin' Love" stalled at #2 in 1977 because "You Light Up My Life" held a stranglehold on the top spot for 10 weeks) if it had only reached the chart summit a week earlier. However, since "Please Don't Go" reached #1 on January 5, 1980 it went in the record books as the very first #1 single of the 1980s.

Due to its status as a song that peaked in 1980, "Please Don't Go" doesn't appear on the list of KC's hit singles of the 1970s shown on the parent website of this blog. Even despite that technicality, the song isn't out of place among 1970s singles.

The Crusaders - "Street Life" The Crusaders & Randy Crawford - Street Life - Street Life

(Debuted #88, Peaked #36, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

The Crusaders are another act that -- like John Stewart mentioned above -- weren't exactly a new presence even if pop fans didn't recognize the name when "Street Life" hit the Top 40 in 1979. The group had spent the 1960s making waves in the jazz field under the name The Jazz Crusaders and its core had been playing since high school days in the mid 1950s. The word "Jazz" was dropped from the group name in 1971 as the group expanded into other musical genres, and the group enjoyed several hit LPs and a handful of singles that reached the lower reaches of the Hot 100 during the 1970s.

In 1979, The Crusaders released their Street Life LP. The title track was the album's big hit, featuring lead vocals by Randy Crawford. The LP version of the song was an 11-minute opus, while the single version was edited down to a more suitable-for-airplay length. In an era where disco was considered to be on its deathbed, this dance-worthy tune was quite popular with the club types.

(The Amazon MP3 below is the 11-minute version and only available with the entire Street Life album. That explains the higher price shown in the link. If you click through, the CD is available through Amazon for a lot less).

The Barron Knights - "Topical Song" The Barron Knights - The Barron Knights - 40th Anniversary - The Topical Song

(Debuted #, Peaked #70, 3 Weeks on the Chart)

There was an old song called "Everything Old is New Again" and it was one of the many things over the years that tried to explain how things eventually come back around if you wait long enough. This song is further proof of that.

This song showed up on the Billboard chart surveys more than 30 years ago. It only stuck around for three weeks, rising to #70 before it was quickly forgotten. On the surface, it was little more than a parody of Supertramp's "The Logical Song" (a huge worldwide hit that year) but the "topic" of discussion was the rising cost of gasoline. There were other songs of the era putting a humorous spin on the issue -- most notably Dickie Goodman's "Energy Crisis '79" -- but this song applies today as energy consumption once again becomes newsworthy.

Buckeye - "Where Will Your Heart Take You" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

A group calling itself Buckeye is sure to be from Ohio. They were; calling Akron home, they named themselves after the nickname of their home state. Despite their quick exposure to the Hot 100 with this song, their self-titled LP would be the only one to appear in record stores and they never managed to chart a second time.

"Where Will Your Heart Take You" is a fairly straightforward rock tune. It's not bad, but it sounds enough like a lot of the other bands of their era to keep Buckeye from standing out above their competition. Unfortunately, the music business is fickle and bands that don't have something special (or at least a gimmick) don't stay around long.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Week's Review -- August 26, 1972

There were ten new songs on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with five reaching the Top 40, and one making the Top 10. Many of the songs here are lesser-known followups to bigger hits, with only the Gladstone song being a single-time hit. Leon Russell charts for the first time under his own name, but he was no stranger to the charts. Emerson, Lake and Palmer reach the Top 40 for the only time in their career with a song that might surprise some. But for Bill Withers, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart, Bobby Womack, Glen Campbell, The Dramatics and Sammi Smith, they're better remembered for their other hits than the ones listed here. That actually makes the list here more interesting.

There is a large archive of Billboard magazines over at Google Books available, including the August 26, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 78. An article on page 4 explains how Don Cornelius was expanding his show Soul Train to a larger national audience. On page 40, the newest developments in car cassette players are explained. That leads into a lengthy section that tells all about cassette tapes, circa 1972.

Bill Withers - "Use Me" Use Me (Single Version) - Still Bill

(Debuted #80, Peaked #2, 12 Weeks on chart)

Bill Withers' followup to his #1 hit "Lean On Me" was almost  #1 itself. "Use Me" spent two weeks at #2, held out of the top spot by who of the decade's oddities: Michael Jackson's love song to a rat ("Ben") and Chuck Berry's sophomoric humor-laden "My Ding-a-Ling." 

Before you consider that novelty played a part in that, "Use Me" has a novel approach in its lyrics as well. While Withers' narrator is explaining that his well-meaning friends and relatives are telling him that his woman is just using him, he's explaining that he enjoys fact, he's using her, too. That's not always perceptible over such a deep groove.

Leon Russell - "Tight Rope" Tight Rope - Carney (Digitally Remastered '95)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #11, 12 Weeks on chart)

"Tight Rope" shows up as Leon Russell's first hit, but it was by no means his first trip up the chart. For more than a decade, Russell had been a supporting act on tour and in the studio as well as a songwriter. When he started performing solo in the early 1970s, he never really relinquished his former roles and continued filling in where he was needed. This led him to be featured on a lot of other people's records, and even led him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman.

"Tight Rope" was his biggest hit under his own name and was the first track on his Carney LP. Using circus imagery to compare with the life of a touring musician, it also features several chances for Russell show his chops on the piano. Interestingly, the song seems like a mix of ragtime and electrified Dixieland jazz but has aged better than most of its era's songs despite sounding old when it was released. Some call it "dated," others call it timeless, but either way, it was a standout cut from an interesting musician.

The flip side of the "Tight Rope" single featured the original rendition of "This Masquerade," which was later recorded by George Benson and The Carpenters. 

Bobby Womack and Peace - "Sweet Caroline" Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good) - Anthology: Bobby Womack

(Debuted #84, Peaked #51, 9 Weeks on chart)

Interestingly, one famed session player leads to another. Both Leon Russell and Booby Womack would return to session work after going solo, but Womack's solo success was longer and more sustained. His instrument was the guitar, and he played it well enough to be given the nickname "Womagic" by some of his peers.

With "Sweet Caroline," Womack did a remake of 1969 Neil Diamond song. It was during the period where Diamond was still a writer who expressed himself well enough to be covered in multiple formats, as opposed to his later image as an adult contemporary giant. Here, Womack takes the song and gives it an R&B spin...even tossing in some embellishments that remind the listener of his old mentor Sam Cooke.

Donny Osmond - "Why" Why - Donny Osmond: The Definitive Collection b/w "Lonely Boy" Lonely Boy - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #85, Peaked #13, 12 Weeks on chart)

Since this is a two-sided hit, here's a video of the B-side as well:

With the two sides of this single, one teen idol refers to a previous era dominated by them. Both songs had previously been #1 hits in 1959, with Frankie Avalon crooning "Why" and Paul Anka doing "Lonely Boy." Once again, Donny Osmond goes with the template that fit his solo hits: remake a song that had already been a hit in years past, and let the same girls who bought his posters do the rest. And once again, it was relatively successful...which kept the idea in place for the next single.

Osmond doesn't venture too far outside his comfort zone on either song. That's a shame, since the material he was recording with his brothers at the time was venturing into some wider ranges than what he did on his own. You can blame his handlers for that, but it was still a noticeable change.

Rod Stewart - "You Wear It Well" You Wear It Well - Never a Dull Moment

(Debuted #87, Peaked #13, 10 Weeks on chart)

At first, "You Wear it Well" sounds a lot like Rod Stewart's smash "Maggie May" but with a violin as the featured instrument instead of a mandolin. And with the common beat and similar vibe, that would seem correct. However, while both songs were addressed to former lovers, "Maggie May" was a lot more bittersweet while "You Wear it Well" comes off as something that might be mentioned while sitting at a bar and trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. And from what I've read about Stewart in the era, that might be precisely where he and guitarist Martin Quittendon wrote it.

The members of Faces help out in the background, just as they do in most of the songs on the LP Never a Dull Moment. It wasn't billed as a Faces record due to contractual obligations, but comes off as a brilliantly performed tune. This was before Stewart began both making records that betrayed his talent and gained him a wider audience, so "You Wear it Well" may be one of the last stops before his career went in a direction that required him to just hold on for the ride.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - "From the Beginning" From the Beginning - Come and See the Show - The Best of Emerson Lake & Palmer

(Debuted #89, Peaked #39, 11 Weeks on chart)

Here's something that might surprise you. "From the Beginning" was the only song that Emerson, Lake and Palmer took into the pop Top 40. And it didn't stay long there, peaking at #39 after only two weeks. For a band who charted high with all of their LPs through 1977 (including two live sets), that may seem odd.

"From the Beginning" was the one Greg Lake acoustic song that seemed to show up on every album. The song is accented by an electric bass and bongos at first, but is given an ELP flourish later on when Keith Emerson adds a synthesizer solo and random sound effects. It is performed as a collection of reassuring lines to a lover -- without a chorus -- and stands out due to its relative simplicity when compared to some of ELP's other material.

Glen Campbell - "I Will Never Pass This Way Again" I Will Never Pass This Way Again - Glen Travis Campbell

(Debuted #90, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

Glen Campbell was a busy man in the early 1970s. In fact, from 1967 through 1975, he released at least two albums a year of his own material in addition to touring, filling in as a studio musician and hosting a TV variety series, which wrapped production in June 1972. That's staggering to think he was able to come out with so much music during that time.

"I'll Never Pass This Way Again" was written by Ronnie Gaylord and is performed as an adult contemporary song with a full-throated delivery. Not surprisingly, it was a much bigger hit on that chart, hitting #14. On the pop and country surveys, the song charted but failed to reach the Top 40.

The Dramatics - "Toast To The Fool" Toast to the Fool - The Best of the Dramatics (Remastered)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #67, 9 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to The Dramatics, fans might be familiar with "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get" and "In the Rain," but they have a catalog that really deserves to be investigated more fully than just those two Top 40 hits. "Toast To the Fool" was the followup single to the latter hit and deserves to get a closer listen.

Though a part of Memphis-based Stax, the group recorded in its hometown of Detroit and used some of the local talent on instruments. Wee Gee Howard does the lead vocals on this one, and the group shows their Doo-Wop influence as they use a multi-layered performance on the song. The "fool" in the title is the one who left a woman behind (rather that the singer himself), so the song is a celebration of being in the right place at the right time to snag the one that got away from somebody else.

Gladstone - "A Piece Of Paper" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #45, 11 Weeks on chart)

There really isn't a lot of information to be found about Gladstone. They were a group out of Tyler, Texas and their guitarist was Mike Rabon, a former member of The Five Americans. That's about all there is to be found out there.

Their only hit was "A Piece of Paper," a song whose lyrics was socially aware for the times, using the piece of paper to signify a law, a marriage decree, a religious tithe and even a death certificate (the Vietnam War was still raging at the time). It also mentions abortion, a topic that was then being brought before the Supreme Court at the time. Using the phrase "In order to form a more perfect union" repeatedly to make its point, it was heavy stuff for a pop song. Not surprisingly, it fell short of the Top 40.

Sammi Smith - "I've Got To Have You" I've Got to Have You - The Best Of

(Debuted #100, Peaked #77, 7 Weeks on chart)

Sammi Smith will forever be known to pop fans for her smoky rendition of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night," but fewer fans realized that she charted again after that song. While she charted many times on the country chart as a member of the "outlaw" movement of the era, she only reached the Top 40 once more, with "I've Got to Have You."

The song seems to follow the template that was set by "Help Me Make it Through the Night." Smith sings it with the half-whispered voice, the strings are in the background and the subject deals with sexual release that may not lead to anything else down the road. However, lightning didn't strike twice for her and the song only made it to #77 on the pop chart and #13 on the country survey.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rewind -- August 27, 1977

Every Wednesday, this blog pulls out one of its reviews from the first year of its existence. In the process, I add videos and some extra info...and in the case of this week's entry, I can listen to a couple of songs I wasn't able to when I did this the first time.

(This was from the original description, written when I had less of a clue what the feature would entail) Last week, I introduced a new feature where I take a look at all the new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 during a random week in the 1970s. The only stipulation I'm making is that the week be around the same time of the year as the week I'm writing the reviews. This week, I'll review the new songs that debuted on August 27, 1977.

I wasn't yet featuring any past issues of Billboard from Google Books when I first wrote this review, but the August 27, 1977 edition is missing from its archive.

Unlimited Music, Everywhere. Try Rdio for Free.

Stevie Wonder - "Another Star" Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life - Another Star

(Debuted #74, Peaked #32, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

Last week's review concluded with a tune that featured Stevie Wonder guesting on harmonica, so it's interesting to see this week's list leading off with a tune from the former wunderkind.

This was the third single from Stevie's classic LP Songs in the Key of Life. The first two were #1 smashes ("I Wish" and "Sir Duke"), so this single certainly had expectations. Unfortunately, the song just made the Top 40 before stalling at #32. Its follow-up ("As") didn't do any better on the pop charts; interestingly, one of that LP's best-known tunes -- "Isn't She Lovely" -- was never released as a single and didn't chart even after gaining a great deal of airplay.

While it was edited by more than three minutes for single release, the LP version of "Another Star" runs more than 8 minutes. The song almost sounds like it was recorded "live" in the studio, so its enjoyability might depend on whether the listener is in the mood for an extended jam session. Listening to the LP version, the brass backing band sounds like a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Latin percussion break is an interesting addition. As the final track of the "regular" LP (originally, it was a double LP with an extra 7-inch EP included; the CD version just adds the extra 4 songs from that EP to the end of the LP tracks), it was a great way to finish off what is generally considered to be Wonder's "masterpiece."

Peter Frampton - "Singed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" Peter Frampton - I'm in You - Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

(Debuted #75, Peaked #18, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Speaking of Stevie Wonder, a remake of one of his songs debuted along with one of his originals. Peter Frampton was still riding the crest of his popularity from Frampton Comes Alive! and spent the summer of '77 on the charts with his follow-up LP I'm in You. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" was the second single culled from the album. Just to know there weren't any hard feelings, Wonder was a guest musician on the LP.

Frampton's cover included a faithful guitar lick and some musical bits recalling another Wonder tune ("For Once in My Life") but listening to this version right after the original shows just how underrated the Funk Brothers (Motown's house band) actually were. Not taking away from Peter Frampton's musicianship, but his version shows exactly how tight the Funk Brothers were in their rhythm as well as how great Wonder's backing singers were in their harmony.

The Commodores - "Brick House" The Commodores - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Commodores - Brick House

(Debuted #72, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

The Commodores are better known as the band that unleashed Lionel Richie on the pop audience but began life as a funk/R&B outfit. Before Richie's smoother compositions became the group's forte, many of their early hits were jams that encouraged listeners to get up off their seats and get down on the dance floor. Look no further than "Brick House" for proof of that.

Although "Brick House" is notable as one of the Commodores' big hits that wasn't sung by Lionel Richie (William Orange handled this song), it's also a song that has enjoyed quite a lot of staying power, appearing in movies, TV shows and on dozens of disco compilations. It's familiar to listeners who hadn't yet been born when it made its run through the Billboard charts.

Paul Davis - "I Go Crazy" Paul Davis - Paul Davis: Greatest Hits - I Go Crazy

(Debuted #89, Peaked #7, 40 Weeks on the Chart)

I've mentioned this song before on this blog, mentioning it as one of my picks for the best singles of the 1970s. Its appearance here is significant; the song set a record in its chart run by staying on the survey for 40 weeks. It would remain on the charts until the Spring of '78, during which time over 100 songs would rise and fall from the Hot 100.

The song's lyrics tell a story. A man is talking with his old lover, explaining that he's happy to see she's found another but inwardly fighting the urge to let go of her memory. It's a well-produced song, one that I don't find tiring even after repeated listenings.

Jigsaw - "If I Have to Go Away" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #93, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

1970s music fans know Jigsaw from their hit "Sky High" but few knew the group had other hits afterwards. In their native UK, the group had 9 albums and a string of hits. In the U.S., however, their chart success dropped off. With this song, the group went away from the sound of "Sky High" and its follow-up "Love Fire" and used a falsetto. It was a pale imitation of the Stylistics (another group whose chart success had fallen by that time). Aptly named, "If I Have to Go Away" stalled at #93 and the group never returned to the chart.

Boney M - "Ma Baker" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on the Chart)

Long before Frank Farian unleashed 1980s pop tarts Milli Vanilli on unsuspecting music fans, he enjoyed considerable international success in the late 1970s with Boney M. Making a disco song using the story of real-life Depression-era criminal Ma Barker seems like an awful idea, but the tune was a hook-laden confection and actually pretty good for a novelty disco song. In fact, the melody can stay in the listener's head for a while after the song ends. The song was a huge hit in the UK but only reached #96 in the U.S.

Eric Carmen - "She Did it" ERIC CARMEN - Boats Against the Current - She Did It

(Debuted #84, Peaked #23, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

After success with his group the Raspberries, Eric Carmen made his mark with his first solo LP in 1975. In 1977, he came out with his follow-up LP Boats Against the Current and "She Did it was the first single from the album. As the single was hitting music stores, two of Carmen's compositions were also on the charts: "That's Rock 'n' Roll" and "Hey Deanie," both by Shaun Cassidy.

As expected, this song is a hook-heavy, clean studio production. After two massive hits from his first LP ("All By Myself" and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again") that bemoaned lost love, this song is about finding love and sounds brighter than his better-known earlier hits. The chorus has a definite influence from the Beach fact, a few of the Beach Boys sang in the background. Adding a hand to the song was Andrew Gold, who played the guitar solo.

Leif Garrett - Surfin' U.S.A. (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #20, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

Speaking of the Beach Boys, here's a cover of one of their best-known hits. Leif Garrett's first appearance on the Billboard chart was a faithful note-for-note rendition; however, singing the same words doesn't always mean the same result. Let's just say Leif (that's pronounced "Layf", not "Leaf") Garrett was a 1970s teen idol who could sing capably enough to sell a lot of posters and lunchboxes to boy-crazy girls.

Watching VH1's I Love the 70s Volume II, there's a segment on Leif Garrett in the episode for 1977. In it, Loni Love mentioned that she remembered him, but also that "nobody knows any of his hits. How come?"

Sam Neely - "Sail Away" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

Here's the first of the two songs I wasn't able to listen to the first time. And now that I hear it, I've been familiar with the tune for years. The Oak Ridge Boys had a #2 country hit with the same song in 1979, and that was the version I was familiar with. Sam Neely, however, recorded it two years before that.

Written by Rafe Van Hoy, "Sail Away" was a laid-back ditty about sailing away, using nautical language as a metaphor for love. Neely's song was the last of his handful of Hot 100 entries. He was a country-styled Texan whose biggest pop hit "Loving You Just Crossed My Mind" came in 1972.

Hot - "The Right Feeling at the Right Time" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #65, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

"The Right Feeling at the Wrong Time" was the second song I wasn't able to listen to the first time around. Thanks to this little project, I've managed to find most of the songs I'm featuring, so this reboot is a way of getting back to the few songs I missed that first year.

Hot was on the heels of their only big hit "Angel in Your Arms" but couldn't capitalize on the success of that song. It was done in the same ballad style as the earlier hit, but the lack of the "gotcha" lyric made it seem more generic. The song sputtered out at #65, and the trio never managed to get that high on the charts again.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

This Week's Review -- August 18, 1979

This week marks the third anniversary of the reviews here on 70s Music Mayhem. What began as a way for me to bloviate about all things Seventies...has pretty much remained as it was for three years. But I've gotten to hear some great music one the way (and some not-so-great music). I'll keep the entries coming for as long as it's still fun for me, and here we go with the latest one.

There were eight debut singles in this week's Billboard magazine. Three went into the Top 40, but none of them rose any higher than #30. Several artists appear for the first time, but few of them were really new to the chart: Moon Martin was already on the Top 40 as a songwriter, while Fern Kinney and Brenda Russell had been around as backing vocalists. Louise Goffin brought a soild pedigree from her parents. Ashford & Simpson appear with their first Top 40 hit as artists, but weren't new to the chart at all as writers and producers. Deniece Williams and Peter Borwn show up with lesser-remembered hit that really deserved better, while Patti Smith prepared to say good-bye for a while.

Google Books has an archive of Billboard magazines, including the August 18, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 68. There's a large pull-out section focusing on the music of Texas and Oklahoma, which includes all genres. And yes, the fact that John Travolta was then filming a movie called "Urban Cowboy" at Gilley's was mentioned a couple of times. However, it is noted that Waylon Jennings was slated to appear in the movie as well, which didn't end up happening.

MP3's at

Moon Martin - "Rolene" Rolene - Lost Hits of the 70's

(Debuted #81, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

Where the Billboard magazine linked above mentions the music of Texas and Oklahoma in it, it's only fitting to have a native lead off the debuts. Moon Martin was from Oklahoma and was a writer and studio musician before getting any success under his own name. Originally using his real name John Martin, he was nicknamed "Moon" by his friends after it was determined that many of his songs included the word in their lyrics. Just ahead of his own hits, Robert Palmer's adrenaline-blasted version of Martin's "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" established him in the minds of music fans.

Martin's first chart hit on his own was "Rolene," which was a minor Top 40 hit at a time when New Wave was rising and retro stylings were coming back into vogue after a period of Disco. Though Martin's material was well suited for this change, none of his remaining songs after "Rolene" charted in the Top 40 and he left the music business after 1982 for more than a decade.

Louise Goffin - "Remember (Walking In the Sand)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #43, 9 Weeks on chart)

Louise Goffin was the daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, so it shouldn't have come as a surprise to any when she showed in interest in music. However, her work was stacked up against her mother's, which may not have been fair to her. After all, she was 16 years old at the time, and when King recorded Tapestry, she was in her late twenties and had been penning hit songs for a decade.

In retrospect, perhaps having a remake of an early 1960s tune wasn't a great idea, since the era was dominated with songs written by Goffin's famous parents. "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" wasn't one of them -- George "Shadow" Morton wrote it -- but the time period may have caused listeners to focus on it. It was a 1970s updating of The Shangri-La's original, without the overly dramatic effect but with a lot more guitar. And the attitude is intact, but that's to be expected from somebody so young.

Aerosmith also did a version of "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" later in 1979 year which is probably a lot better remembered, but Goffin did it first.

Fern Kinney - "Groove Me" Groove Me - Groove Me

(Debuted #86, Peaked #54, 8 Weeks on chart)

"Groove Me" was the first Hot 100 chart single for Fern Kinney, who had been in The Poppies during the late 1960s with Dorothy Moore before that group split up. As part of that act, she and Moore became associated with King Floyd, who had the original hit version of the song. In fact, Kinney was one of the backing vocalists on that 1971 recording.

For her remake, Kinney went a similar direction that many artists did in 1979: she sang the song in a danceable style. The song was a comeback for her, as she had stepped away from the business for a few years to concentrate on being a wife and mother. She continued to record Disco-oriented songs, but since the timing really didn't work out, she returned to being a backing vocalist by 1983.

Ashford and Simpson - "Found a Cure" Found a Cure - Stay Free

(Debuted #87, Peaked #36, 13 Weeks on chart)

Although "Found a Cure" was the first Top 40 hit for Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson as performers, they had already placed dozens of songs on the Hot 100 as songwriters or producers and even sang as part of Quincy Jones' "Stuff Like That" in 1978. They had also been a presence on Billboard's R&B and Disco charts, so they were "new" to the pop charts in name only. By 1979, anybody who said they weren't aware of the duo's work really weren't paying attention.

Released at the end of the Disco era, "Found a Cure" does have a dance beat but gets credit from the artists' pop and R&B sensibilities. It went to #1 on the Disco chart along with the songs "Stay Free" and "Nobody Knows," supplanting Diana Ross' The Boss LP, which was also an Ashford & Simpson project.

Brenda Russell - "So Good, So Right" So Good, so Right - Brenda Russell

(Debuted #88, Peaked #30, 17 Weeks on chart)

"So Good, So Right" was the first Top 40 hit for Brenda Russell, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. For much of the 1970s, she had been part of an act called Brenda & Brian, along with husband Bryan Russell. When they divorced, she went solo and came out with a self-titled LP in 1979. Despite containing one Top 40 song, her further singles received little attention even though songwriters tended to enjoy Russell's style. It would be another nine years before Russell would return to the pop Top 40 (ironically, in a duet with Joe Esposito, who also hadn't been in the Top 40 since 1979).

What is appealing about "So Good, So Right" is the way it still sounds fresh (at least to these ears) more than 30 years later. It doesn't sound as dated as many songs of the era do. Yes, there's an orchestra backing her up, but it's not a straight disco song; it straddles the line between what was later called adult R&B and pop. Take a listen to the song and see if it couldn't have been from a different era.

Deniece Williams - "I've Got The Next Dance" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #73, 5 Weeks on chart)

"I've Got the Next Dance" really should have been a bigger hit than its #73 peak would indicate. While Disco was really beginning to suffer from a backlash as the Summer of '79 wore on, it unfairly affected some really good songs simply because they had a dance beat, and this was one of those. Deniece Williams wasn't an unknown at all in 1979; she had stepped out from backing Stevie Wonder a couple years before with a great Marice White-helmed LP and scored a #1 duet with Johnny Mathis called "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (reviewed here last year) in 1978.

The song was part of her LP When Love Comes Calling, which was produced by both David Foster and Ray Parker, Jr. The album was infused with slick L.A. session musicians and given a different vibe from the earlier material Williams had released, which may have hurt this song on the pop charts as well as the R&B survey, where it went to #26. On the Disco chart, it realized its full potential and went to #1.

The Patti Smith Group - "Frederick" Frederick - Wave (Remastered)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #90, 3 Weeks on chart)

After being regarded as the "Godmother of Punk," Patti Smith made the decision to walk away from the music business as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, and even named her 1979 LP Wave to signify her imminent departure. Although it was given a pop-flavored sheen by producer Todd Rundgren, the record was littered with hints that Smith was ready for a new direction. "Frederick" was the track that led off the set, and was also Smith's last Hot 100 hit before she set sail.

"Frederick" was Fred "Sonic" Smith, a member of the group MC5 and the man she would soon marry. Interestingly, a woman who was lauded as a catalyst for change made the interesting decision to give up the trappings of the rock & roll lifestyle for the seemingly tame job of mother and housewife. Oddly, her decision seems like an easier one to me now than it did when I was younger. Of course, that probably is because I am now called "Daddy" by a daughter myself.

"Frederick" didn't do so well on the chart. That may be due to its musical similarity to Smith's 1978 hit "Because the Night" even though this one was penned by Smith herself (Bruce Springsteen wrote the other). It was different enough that it should have fared better as the Disco backlash was building...maybe Smith's reputation as a punk poet was also a factor. In any case, the song deserves another listen.

Peter Brown - "Crank It Up (Funk Town) (Part 1)" Crank It Up - Twelve Inch Classics, Vol. 2

(Debuted #93, Peaked #86, 6 Weeks on chart)

For a song subtitled "Funk Town," the music of "Crank It Up" really comes off as harder than you might expect it to, especially if you're only familiar with Peter Brown from "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me" and "Dance With Me." The song anticipates the move of funk/disco to a more synthesized, electronic sound of the future, even as Brown himself didn't capitalize on the shift himself. When disco fell out of favor, his own records after the turn of the decade failed to chart on the Hot 100. However, he continued writing and performing into the new decade, scoring a #1 dance hit in 1984 called "They Only Come Out at Night" and writing Madonna's "Material Girl."

The version in the video above and in the MP3s here is the extended version. Those 12" versions proliferated during the era (and really never went away due to the rap, hip-hop and club genres in the 1980s), and while many were merely mixed to let the song be longer, "Crank it Up (Funk Town)" lets the groove stick around and really get into your ear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rewind -- August 19, 1978

On Wednesdays this year, I'm taking the posts from this blog's first year and reworking them to fit the current format a little better, as well as taking the time to make a few corrections and updates. In some cases, I get to go back and listen to material I wasn't able to get the first time. I'm proud to now present the very first review I did here:

After taking some time away from this blog (in 2009), I've decided to begin posting a weekly feature as a away of spotlighting 1970s music. I'll choose a few random tunes from the decade and see if this gets some discussion going.

I've decided that rather than mentioning songs I like or have felt to be overlooked as I did before, I'm going to list tunes without any regard for whether I like them. What I'll do is take the song that debuted in Billboard magazine for a random week from the 1970s and comment on them. If I like it, don't like it or never heard the song before, I'll say so. I'll also try to leave a few links to let readers listen to the tunes as well.

At this point, I wasn't also reading Billboard at Google Books, but here's the August 19, 1978 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 76.

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Linda Ronstadt - "Back in the U.S.A." Linda Ronstadt - Living In the USA - Back In the U.S.A.

(Debuted #72, Peaked #16, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

Ronstadt was a huge force on the radio through the mid-to late-1970s. This was the first single off her new LP Living in the U.S.A. and was another of the many cover tunes she put out at the time. Despite her stature among FM radio giants, this tune didn't do so well; it peaked at #16 in September. While nobody could argue that Ronstadt's voice was golden, I never thought her rendition of this tune was better than Chuck Berry's original.

Through 1978, Ronstadt charted four times and all were remakes. Earlier in the year, she did Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and the Stones' "Tumbling Dice;" her follow-up to "Back in the U.S.A." was her rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby" (complete with a tremendous sax solo by David Sanborn). To my ear, Zevon's tune has weathered the past three decades well and "Ooh Baby Baby" still sounds great in its own impeccably-captured in an antiseptic recording studio way...but she could've tackled a different Stones tune ("Out of Time" or maybe even "Ruby Tuesday" would've sounded great) and left Chuck Berry's catalog alone.

My opinion, though. I'd love to hear from a fan of Linda Ronstadt's who's familiar with more than just her singles like I am.

Bruce Springsteen - "Badlands" Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On the Edge of Town - Badlands

(Debuted #84, Peaked #42, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

Growing up in the 1980s like I did, I didn't really become aware of Bruce Springsteen until Born in the U.S.A. became the chart juggernaut it was. I do remember "Hungry Heart" from the radio but was really too young to appreciate The Boss at the age of 8. As far as his 1970s output, my perspective is skewed; I was born in 1972 and was still in diapers when Greetings From Asbury Park showed up in the record stores and my hometown in Northern New York -- while only one state away -- was a long way from the Jersey streets so omnipresent in his music. Like many other artists I didn't "get" as a kid, I understood and appreciated the music more as I grew up and gained some experience about how life can change ideals.

"Badlands" was the second single from Darkness on the Edge of Town, an LP that disappointed some fans who were expecting the LP to be something of a Born to Run Part II. After a nearly 3-year wait (and at a time when major music acts didn't normally go 2-3 years between LPs), the LP's often muddled production often underscored the fact that disco and punk had altered the landscape of popular music during the time since his previous LP. Despite those negatives, the LP made #5 even if "Badlands" ended up just missing the Top 40. It's a shame the song wasn't a bigger hit, even if it wasn't as radio-friendly or hook-laden as many 1978 tunes, it is better than the record indicates.

Sylvester - "Dance (Disco Heat)" Sylvester - Living Proof - Dance (Disco Heat)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #19, 18 Weeks on the Chart)

Speaking of disco...Sylvester had two of the genre's biggest hits: "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real" and this one. Both tunes were high-energy concoctions designed to get people on the dance floor. In my humble opinion, "Dance (Disco Heat)" was the better song.

Once disco became passe as the 1980s dawned, Sylvester's career stalled. His backup singers became The Weather Girls, and they released the Disco-under-a-different name 1983 dancefloor classic called "It's Raining Men." Sadly, Sylvester passed away in 1988 from AIDS-related causes.

Carly Simon and James Taylor - "Devoted to You" Carly Simon & James Taylor - Boys In the Trees - Devoted to You

(Debuted #82, Peaked #36, 9 Weeks on the Chart)

This tune had the misfortune of appearing just as a different tune with a similar title was in the Top 10 (Olivia Newton-John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You"). While both Simon and her husband JT were still enjoying wild popularity, their singles weren't exactly selling at the same levels they enjoyed during the first half of the 1970s. However, their chart appearances would dry up as the 1980s dawned and their marriage fell apart a short time later.

"Devoted to You" was a cover of an Everly Brothers tune and spent a few weeks in the Top 40. As a tune, it was no "Mockingbird." By saying that, I'm not saying it was bad (not at all), just different.

Boston - "Don't Look Back" Boston - Don't Look Back - Don't Look Back

(Debuted #62, Peaked #4, 13 Weeks on the Chart)

Admittedly, I grew up in the 1980s. Despite getting a late start on music, I was very much acquainted with this tune during high school. By the time Boston finally came around to releasing its followup LP Third Stage in 1986, I was in the 9th grade and listening to an FM station that was heavy with Boston material in its programming. Though I was more impressed with "Feelin' Satisfied" from the same LP, the guitar work on "Don't Look Back" was pure ear candy to me as a kid. It's still good to me today...even if I'm not practicing in front of a mirror in my bedroom, pretending the baseball bat in my hands was a Stratocaster.

L.T.D. - "Holding On (When Love Is Gone)" L.T.D. - Togetherness - Holding On (When Love Is Gone)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #49, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

Before "On the Wings of Love," Jeffrey Osbourne was the lead singer of L.T.D. (short for Love, Togetherness and Devotion). The group put out some nice grooves, though. Their two biggest hits, "Love Ballad" -- later covered by George Benson -- and "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again" were sublime R&B from an era where funk cut deep into the genre. "Holding On" was another great tune that still gets airplay but missed the Pop Top 40.

Journey - "Lights" Journey - Infinity - Lights

(Debuted #89, Peaked #68, 6 Weeks on the Chart)

Before Journey made their mark as 1980s arena rock deities, they were a San Francisco-based band started up by a couple of guys who left Santana. Like Santana, the early incarnation of Journey was a progressive band that experimented with different genres and tended toward extended instrumental breaks. Also like Santana, the group had a revolving door of members with the guitarist (Neal Schon) being the only real mainstay. By the end of the 1970s, the group began putting the pieces together that would lead to multi-platinum success in the next decade: lead singer Steve Perry was brought on board in 1977 and immediately lent his skills to the group by co-writing this song with Schon.

"Lights" is something of a love letter to Journey's home city, with its mention of their beloved "City by the bay." At the time, Journey hadn't yet hit the Top 40 and this wouldn't be the tune to get them there (it peaked at #68). However, it indicated that the jazz-fusion days of the band were over and they were aspiring to make their way via the corporate rock that was beginning to burgeon at the time. They were a couple of LPs, another band member (Jonathan Cain in '81) and an MTV launch away from the Big Time.

Wendy Waldman - "Long Hot Summer Nights" Wendy Waldman - Love Is the Only Goal: The Best of Wendy Waldman - Long Hot Summer Nights

(Debuted #90, Peaked #76, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

Wendy Waldman came out of the L.A. scene in the mid 1970s and had previously been in a group with Andrew Gold and Karla Bonoff. Though I'm somewhat familiar with some of her work, I had never actually heard more than a 30-second snippet of this song when I first wrote this review three years ago, which really isn't enough to give an honest assessment of how I feel about it. I have since gotten a copy of the song and will offer that now:

On the surface it sounds like the laid-back L.A. studio stuff that her association with Bonoff and Gold would indicate. In fact, it sounds a lot like they took the studio right after Jennifer Warnes' "Right Time of the Night" was recorded, and kept the musicians for that session, too. That said, the self-penned lyrics cut through the wrapping as a remembrance of a time from "back then"...could have been last summer, could have been during school, but it's one of those memories that takes you back to a moment in time that you wish could have just stood still for a while longer.

The McCrarys - "You" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #45, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

The McCrarys were a gospel-based family singing group -- two brothers, two sisters -- from Los Angeles. Though this song was a minor hit (peaked at #45) it's actually a catchy-tune that deserves another listen. In a way, this song sounds like an updating of the Staple Singers' sound. As with many songs by groups who have gospel roots, the lyrics can be taken two different ways; they could be sung in praise of the Almighty or for a lover.

Also, listen to the harmonica that punctuates the recording; that's Stevie Wonder. Anybody who's heard "Boogie On Reggae Woman," "That Girl" or "Isn't She Lovely" can point out his style immediately.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Week's Review -- August 13, 1977

There were seven new singles debuting this week on the Billboard Hot 100, with three making the Top 40 and one reaching the Top 10. That Top 10 was huge, but was one of the several song that was prevented from reaching #1 by "You Light Up My Life." The other two Top 40 hits were songs that are still remembered today; one is an AC standard, and the other is a song that was the artist's signature tune. The four songs that missed the Top 40 were all Disco-influenced. One of the tunes comes from a group that isn't generally associated with the genre, one is a remake of a 1970 #1 song, one was recorded in conjunction with a popular TV show, and the last was a collection of stars recording a song that benefited a charity.

While there is a large archive of Billboard magazines to read over at Google Books, the August 13, 1977 edition isn't in there.So, I'll use this space to plug my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. I'm still featuring music there, and this past week I focused on 1985. It's a nice diversion, since I don't always dwell on just the biggest hits, I also dig a little deeper into the charts and pull out some gems that didn't make the Top 40. Take a minute and check it out if you aren't doing so.

Ted Nugent - "Cat Scratch Fever" Cat Scratch Fever - Cat Scratch Fever

(Debuted #70, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

How many of you think this song is actually about a cat? Back in the 1970's, "cat scratch fever" was slang for contracting a venereal disease...and the lyrics of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" acknowledge this by mentioning having to go see a doctor for the cure, and that having the "fever" can make a man insane. Otherwise, the lyrics are pretty boastful: "I make a pussy purr with the stroke of my hand" isn't exactly about petting a domestic cat.

That said, "Cat Scratch Fever" is probably Nugent's best-known song. The riff is immediately recognizable, as the vintage live clip above illustrates. At first, you can see that "Nuge" is showing off his skills, but once he starts riffing, the crowd erupts into cheering because they know what's coming. Actually, that's a poor choice of words...

Firefall - "Just Remember I Love You" Just Remember I Love You - Luna Sea

(Debuted #84, Peaked #11, 21 Weeks on chart)

"Just Remember I love You" has been a staple of adult contemporary and soft rock-leaning stations almost since it first appeared in 1977. Though it narrowly missed becoming Firefall's second Top 10 pop hit after "You Are the Woman," both songs have managed to live on in perpetuity thanks to their easygoing pace and inoffensive sound.

"Just Remember I Love You" was written by Firefall member Rick Roberts, who also contributed the lead vocal. A devotional tune to the love of a woman, it peaked at #11 pop and was a #1 adult contemporary single. Backing vocals were given by ex-Poco member and future Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, whose affected voice helped to give it that Southern California feel, but David Muse's saxophone solo really gave the track some texture.

Crystal Gayle - "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue - We Must Believe In Magic

(Debuted #90, Peaked #2, 26 Weeks on chart)

"Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" might be the perfect personification of a crossover hit. It's a country song, but a little bit jazz, a little bit pop, a little easy listening. The piano (by Hargus "Pig" Robbins) makes it sound like it was recorded in a smoky night lounge, and Crystal Gayle does her best to sound like a chanteuse as she sings it. And the song was a bona fide crossover smash: it was #1 on the country chart for four weeks, was a #2 pop hit and a #4 adult contemporary hit. It even was the only Gayle single to reach the Top 10 in the U.K., where it hit #5.

On the pop chart, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" spent three weeks at #2 behind "You Light Up My Life" as that song grabbed the top spot for 10 straight weeks. For a song identified so strongly with its singer, it wasn't originally written with Gayle in mind even though its writer Richard Leigh had enjoyed success with her before. Initially, it was written with Shirley Bassey in mind, but once producer Allen Reynolds heard it, he knew it had to go to Gayle first.

In a book I once read about Billboard's #1 country hits, it is said that Leigh had a dog who was hit by a rock thrown by a neighbor's kid. The impact of the rock eventually caused a cataract, which literally turned one of its brown eyes blue.

The Soul Train Gang - "My Cherie Amour" Soul Train Gang (T.V. Version) - My Cherie Amour

(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 3 Weeks on chart)

Once the Disco bandwagon started rolling, it was hard to stop it when it came to the breadth of past hits that could be recoded in the new form. This version, of course, took the 1969 Stevie Wonder hit and gave it (some suggest it was "forced") a dance-oriented sound. The Soul Train Gang weren't the first to do it (Rhythm Heritage recorded a dance version in 1976), but they were the first to take the single onto the pop charts. Being the house band for a weekly TV show didn't hurt them, either.

However, the generic-sounding dance beat and light groove didn't get the song far up the Hot 100. "My Cherie Amour" peaked at the same #93 position where it debuted. Having Stevie Wonder right there with Songs in the Key of Life and laying down a rhythm that was superb may have been akin to him committing a facial on the basketball court. You didn't need somebody else doing his music when we was scoring "I Wish," "Sir Duke" and "Another Star" at the same time. 

The Philadelphia International All Stars - "Let's Clean Up the Ghetto" Let's Clean Up the Ghetto - Pride (Original Film Soundtrack)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #91, 4 Weeks on chart)

Before the star-studded 1980s "cause" records by Band Aid and USA For Africa, you had records like this. While songs bemoaning the state of the ghetto weren't rare in the early-to-mid 1970s, such a large collection of stars was. The Philadelphia International All-Stars was the cream of the crop of the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff-run Philadelphia International label. Lou Rawls speaks at the beginning, with The O'Jays, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, Dee Dee Sharp Gamble and Teddy Pendergrass chiming in during the song. MFSB provides the funk-influenced groove, and Gamble & Huff produced the tune.

Gamble & Huff were no strangers to this type of song, having written "Love Train" and "Message in Our Music"  for The O'Jays, among others. As Rawls opens with a spoken-word passage, he mentions the mid-1970s New York City garbage strike, but the focus goes on to other issues including crime and poverty.

The bass-happy production was earnest, and its profits were donated to a five-year charity project. It was only a #91 pop hit, but it did mange to reach #4 on the R&B chart. It was also part of a socially-aware album whose profits were similarly donated to the charity.

Sweet - "Funk It Up (David's Song)" Funk It Up (David's Song) [Special Disco Version] [Special Disco Version] - Down To The Sea And Back: The Continuing Journey Of The Balearic Beat. Volume 1. (Bonus Track Version)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #88, 5 Weeks on chart)

Listening to "Funk it Up," you might be asking: is this the same group that did "Little Willy" and "Ballroom Blitz"? Well, yes and no. Sweet was definitely the glam rock band of earlier in the decade, but they strove in a different direction after splitting from their songwriters/producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. As part of that new artistic endeavor, the band decided to try stuff like this funky little tune.

Many of their fans hoped "Funk it Up" would be a short-lived fad. This was Sweet, after all, not The Ohio Players: the opening seemed to be forced and the band was essentially repeating themselves as the song ground to a conclusion. Fortunately for those fans, the group's next LP contained "Love is Like Oxygen," which hearkened back to their Chinnichap heyday.

The Whispers - "Make It With You" Make It With You - Open Up Your Love

(Debuted #96, Peaked #94, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Make it With You" is a remake of the 1970 Bread song that was a #1 smash (reviewed here for a second time in April). Where Bread's original was a light ballad, The Whispers gave it a disco infusion. Interestingly, the dance treatment takes David Gates' original statement of undying love and makes it sound more like a pick-up line.

As a disco song, "Make It With You" isn't bad, but it's done in a generic fashion that really doesn't let it stand out in any way. All the elements are there: the strings, the booming bass and the scratch guitar lines. That's too bad, as The Whispers definitely had the talent to make it work if they tried. However, the vocal talent only rises to the level of the accompaniment.