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.
Linda Ronstadt - "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"
(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)"
(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"
(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"
(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)"
(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"
(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"
(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.