Saturday, September 29, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 26, 1970

There were ten debuts in this week's Billboard Hot 100. Of these hits, three graced the Top 40 and one went into the Top 10. The hits include two stalwart radio hits, as well as one song that has been undeservedly forgotten. Digging a little deeper in the chart, several acts that are known for other hits appear, and Roger Cook/Roger Greenaway wrote two of the songs that appear here.

Several issues of Billboard are available at Google Books, including the September 26, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 76. On page 10, there's a neat little recap of Ted Wallerstein's 50 years in the recording business. Sadly, the artice was also an epitaph for him. Tha large "pull-out" section tells about the advent of the Cartridge TV that was expected to be all the rage in the 1970s (but wasn't) and all the differing formats being offered.

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The Who - "See Me, Feel Me" Listening to You / See Me, Feel Me - Tommy (Deluxe Edition)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #12, 13 Weeks on chart)

Though "See Me, Fee Me" was part of the rock opera Tommy, it was never a separate track on the soundtrack LP. Instead, it was part of the larger song "We're No Gonna Take It." Enough has been written about Tommy so I'll focus on a memory from my youth.

My friend Reuben usually came up with inappropriate lyrics for songs, and most of them were the same type you'd expect from a 14-year old. Today, I can still "hear" some of those even when I know better. The same summer I played some tracks from the Woodstock soundtrack LP (which also included "See Me, Feel Me" in a medley with "Listening To You"), Reuben cut loose with the words "eat me." Yes, that broke up a group of teens...and I still hear his voice on that song to this day.  

Bread - "It Don't Matter To Me" It Don't Matter to Me - Bread

(Debuted #78, Peaked #10, 11 Weeks on chart)

I was once told by a friend that sometimes, if you want to get the girl, you can play the game of "he who cares the least." The idea...if she wants to go, let her go and avoid killing yourself to let her know you're distraught about it. She'll see that she isn't able to control you and will return to you in time. Personally, I don't know how effective that is, but it seems to be a prevailing mood for "It Don't Matter to Me."

However, in the single version of the song, the musical accompaniment is really laid back. It's the musical equivalent of saying, "Whatever, Baby. I'll leave the light on if you ever decide to come back around." Which is really walking a fine line between hopefulness and just giving up without a fight. The original LP track took a harder stance and was much faster, but the success of "Make It With You" led the band to re-record it in the same style and see whether Lightning struck twice.

"It Don't Matter to Me" was definitely a hit, but it also led the group's record company to avoid some of their rougher material when it came time to issue singles. So while that gave a boost to member David Gates -- who wrote nearly everything deemed "single worthy" -- it eventually led to the rift that broke up the band.

Wilson Pickett - "Engine Number 9" Engine Number 9 (Single Version) - The Very Best of Wilson Pickett

(Debuted #83, Peaked #14, 13 Weeks on chart)

After recording most of his hits in the South (Memphis and Muscle Shoals), Wilson Pickett went to Philadelphia to record an LP in 1970. While that might sound like an odd pairing, it pointed the passing of the baton from the Southern Soul that flavored the 1960s to a city where many of the new hits would appear in the 1970s.

While Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia was undoubtedly done in Pickett's inimitable style, the song was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. A song using the imagery of the train that would take him back home, it helped revitalize him enough to return to Muscle Shoals for one last hurrah. 

White Plains - "Lovin' You Baby" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #82, 2 Weeks on chart)

White Plains is the first of two groups in this week's review where the folowup hit was totally forgotten by almost everybody but the performers and maybe their families. It's also the first of two songs written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. However, it's a great slice of bubblegum that really deserves a listen. Yes, it might be disposable pop, but that doesn't mean it's irredeemable.

White Plains was known as one of Tony Burrows' many projects, but this was no one-off rendition. Though Burrows was never really a member of the group (he only lent his voice in the band's first recording session), the group is remembered simply because of him. Burrows wasn't the lead singer of "Lovin' You Baby," but it's well worth a listen anyway.

Blue Mink - "Our World"  Our World - Good Morning Freedom: The Anthology

(Debuted #90, Peaked #64, 6 Weeks on chart)

Blue Mink was a British group that boasted Roger Cook (the famed songwriter and the composer of the song I just reviewed) and New Jersey native Madeline Bell, a highly respected singer. The mulitracial group predictably used that worldview in its lyrics, and "Our World" is no exception; the song is filled with optimism that the new decade will bring about harmony among the people living in it. Even if it does sound like it could have been a beer commercial on TV.

Though "Our World" was Blue Mink's only U.S. hit, the group had 4 Top 10s in their native U.K. (interestingly, "Our World" wasn't one of went to #17.)

Blues Image - "Gas Lamps And Clay" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #81, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Gas Lamps and Clay" was Blues Image's followup to the hit "Ride Captain Ride" but lacked the quality that marked that hit. Instead of the story about the sailors on a ship on brotherhood, it was a meandering mess. It started out with a bluesy riff, but segued into a poppy "la la la" refrain. I'm not sure which the group was aspiring to...and neither did the record-buying public. It was the last hit the Tampa group who relcated to New York City ever had.

The members of the band would go on to other projects, including Mike Pinera who went to Iron Butterfly and Kurt Henry (his replacement) would join Steppenwolf. You'd think that with those kind of hard rock credits, "Gas Lamps and Clay" would be harder-edged than it is, but you'd be wrong.

Alive and Kicking - "Just Let It Come" Just Let It Come - Alive 'N Kickin'

(Debuted #96, Peaked #69, 5 Weeks on chart)

The Brooklyn band Alive & Kicking's story is fairly well known by 1970s die-hards because of their Tommy James connection and the fact that future Brooklyn Dreams member (and Donna Summer's husband) Bruce Sudano was a member. However, anything the band released besides "Tighter, Tighter" has largely been forgotten.

"Just Let it Come" was the group's second hit single. However, it wasn't written or produced by Tommy James and the buying public largely ignored it. Instead of sounding it could have been another single with the Shondells on backup, it sounded like a harder version of The Righteous Brothers (complete with the dueling voices) with some light fuzz guitar.

Subsequent releases failed to garner any attention, and the group split in 1971. When they reunited later in the decade -- without Sudano -- they named themselves Alive N Kickin', perhaps to avoid any entanglements with former boss Morris Levy. 

Kool and the Gang - "Funky Man" Funky Man (Single Version) - Gold

(Debuted #97, Peaked #87, 4 Weeks on chart)

In 1970, Kool & the Gang weren't yet the phenomena they would become. At the time, they were still a bunch of guys from New Jersey who were getting their sound together. The smoother material was well into the future, what band did during the early 1970s was explore the depth that they could groove.

"Funky Man" was a song that first appeared as a single, and was a song that worked its way into the band's concert repertoire. Originally a jazz/funk jam, in concert the tune was given new life. Through it and other songs, Kool and the Gang were able to evolve into the group that were hitting their stride as the 1970s progressed.

Faith, Hope and Charity - "Baby, Don't Take Your Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

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

Faith, Hope and Charity was a Tampa-based group whose biggest success came later in the 1970s after Disco became a force in the music business. An earlier incarnation of the group included later members Al Bailey and Brenda Hillard, but also included Zulema Cusseaux, who left the band in 1971 and went on to some solo success. The band's fortune changed in 1970, when producer Van McCoy took them under his wing.

"Don't Take Your Love" was co-written and produced by McCoy and Joe Cobb, who gave it a great-sounding R&B groove. However, their sound was pretty generic for the time and the bouncy tune was off the pop chart after two weeks. It was a minor R&B hit, though, reaching #36 on that chart. If you're not familiar with it, click the video above and check it out. It has a classic groove that may have been "generic" in its time but is great today.

Engelbert Humperdinck - "Sweetheart" Sweetheart - Gold: Engelbert Humperdinck

(Debuted #99, Peaked #47, 11 Weeks on chart)

By the time "Sweetheart" became a hit, Engelbert Humperdinck was at a crossroads in his career. He wasn't conflicted about his singing; rather, he was being told by his management to de-emphasize his recordings and instead focus on performing and touring. His concerts were so profitable and his smooth delivery of his material was certain to draw legions of women who had the money to spend.

As a result, the song "Sweetheart" was pretty much what you'd expect from a Humperdinck tune: an adult contemporary confection, with the right lines and a show of his wide-throated vocal range. On top of that, an angelic-sounding female chorus backs him up, and a Hawaiian guitar makes an appearance in the middle.

The result: a truly middle of the road song, a lackluster showing on the pop chart but a huge AC hit. It went to #2 on that chart, and was the tenth straight Top Ten hit there. But, that was the target audience that was bringing him to the dance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rewind -- September 25, 1976

As I'm doing every Wednesday in 2012, I'm taking the posts from this blog's first year and adding the stuff I use now: videos, chart info, and in some cases, a vintage magazine.

There were eight new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Among the new singles are a pretty fair variety of styles representative of the era, even while one of those tunes was influenced by nostalgia for a bygone era.

There weren't yet any links to that week's edition of Billboard magazine when I originally wrote this entry. Since the September 24, 1976 edition is missing from the archives over at Google Books, I won't have one here, either.

MP3's at

Tyrone Davis - Give it Up (Turn it Loose) Tyrone Davis - Give it Up (Turn It Loose): The Very Best of the Columbia Years - Give it Up (Turn It Loose)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #38, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Chicago native Tyrone Davis is best known for his 1970 hit "Turn Back the Hands of Time." In 1976, he had one last song reach the Billboard pop chart with the disco-influenced "Give it Up (Turn it Loose)." Although Davis still charted afterward on the R&B survey, this would be his last hurrah on the Hot 100. The song just scratched the Top 40, reaching #38.

For fans remembering the 1970 hit, the female backing singers on "Give it Up" sound familiar. However, the backing music is more muted and detracts from the sound; where "Turn Back the Hands of Time" is propelled by its rhythm section, in "Give it Up" it's simply along for the ride.

Aerosmith - Home Tonight (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #71, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

As part of Aerosmith's first flush of major success in the mid-1970s, fans often point to their LP Rocks as one of their best. Even though Toys in the Attic (their previous effort) included two huge hits that are still radio staples today ("Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion"), Rocks is a great example of the group's sound. With two great Aerosmith rockers that are often overlooked ("Last Child" and "Back in the Saddle"), the album is a great starting point for anybody who wants an introduction to the group's music beyond the stuff heard on the radio.

"Home Tonight" is the ballad that closes the album, a way for the band to say "goodbye" to fans listening to the LP. As a single release, it only peaked at a disappointing #71, lasting only four weeks on the survey.

(The link below does not lead to an MP3. Instead, it lets you take a listen to the song, but the MP3 is only available as part of the digital download of the Rocks album. I'm not sure why most of the 1970s Aerosmith catalog isn't yet available through iTunes yet.)

Alice Cooper - I Never Cry Alice Cooper - Goes to Hell - I Never Cry

(Debuted #90, Peaked #12, 21 Weeks on the Chart)

Alice Cooper (the alter ego of Vincent Furnier) spent the first half of the 1970s shocking the public and somehow seemingly subverting American youth culture. So after five years of being held up by critics as an example of American moral turpitude and called everything but a child of God, Alice Cooper comes out with an LP titled Alice Cooper Goes to Hell...and then followed that up by issuing a single that laid bare his vulnerable side?!

The song was allegedly written about Furnier beginning to come to grips with his drinking problem. He would spend part of the next year in rehab, but before seeking professional help, he wrote a song to help deal with the problem. Like many cases of catharsis via songwriting, the song comes across as honest, direct, straightforward and vulnerable. For a performer whose stage act featured a lot of theatrical diversions, recording a song like that was a sign of maturity.

In short, it may be one of his best songs, even if it takes fans a while to realize it.

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - I'll Play the Fool Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - I'll Play the Fool

(Debuted #97, Peaked #80, 3 Weeks on the Chart)

This was the debut song for a band that was devised to hearken back to the 1930s era "big band" sound but updated for disco. The vocals were retro and the instruments recalled Cab Calloway at his peak even if the beats were calling dancers onto the floor of a disco instead of a dinner club or roadhouse. Onstage, the band wore zoot suits and other relics while using vintage microphones and props to achieve the "look" to match the sound.

"I'll Play the Fool" was gone from the charts after only three weeks but its followup was the medley of "Whispering/Cherchez Le Femme/Se Si Bon" which lasted longer. By 1980, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band was history and two of its members were taking the retro idea to a different audience with Kid Creole & the Coconuts.

Captain & Tennille - Muskrat Love Captain & Tennille - Ultimate Collection: Captain & Tennille - Muskrat Love

(Debuted #68, Paeked #4, 20 Weeks on the Chart)

"Muskrat Love" may be one of the most maligned songs of the 1970s, one of those tunes that gets brought up in conversations about whether different decades were better or worse music-wise. Once, I was asked about how the music business went from a peak in the 1960s (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, CCR, Hendrix, The Who) to Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and "Muskrat Love"? I immediately pointed out that even songs like Bobby Goldsboro's"Honey" and Richard Harris's "MacArthur Park" scored big in the 1960s but that point was quickly discredited.

The shame is that people have forgotten just how big Captain & Tennille were in the mid 70s. With "Muskrat Love" the husband-and-wife team scored their fifth Top 5 smash in just over a year. Of course, the hits dropped off after "Muskrat Love" for a couple of years but it's not known if that was the result of their TV show or burnout from all the touring rather than a public brushback after sending a song about two rats in love (complete with a synthesizer rendition of rats getting freaky) to the Top 40.

A lot of people don't realize that Captain & Tennille weren't the first act to chart with "Muskrat Love." The group America placed it on the chart in 1973, hitting #67. On second look, the group's next two singles failed to chart on the Hot 100 at all. So maybe there is something to the argument that the song is toxic...

However, even if Captain & Tennille are often held out as an example of how vanilla and pedestrian popular music could get in the 1970s, it still should be remembered that Toni Tennille was a gifted with a beautiful voice and Daryl Dragon (that's the real name of The Captain) was a highly competent bandleader. Tennille could be sweet or sassy ("Shop Around") or sexy ("You Never Done it Like That"), even if they were dismissed by more serious music fans for being part of the time they happened to occupy.

Steely Dan - The Fez Steely Dan - The Royal Scam - The Fez

(Debuted #89, Peaked #59, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

By 1976, Steely Dan was still evolving. After a short string of catchy radio-friendly singles like "Do it Again," Reeling in the Years" and "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number" the group's core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were turning their energies toward LP-length statements. Their '76 LP The Royal Scam -- considered to be perhaps the weakest of the group's offerings -- was a collection of stories about miscreants and malcontents; it was dark and moody, with lyrics that often bordered on snide and sarcastic. There were two singles culled from the album, but as songs that weren't directed towards radio airplay neither managed to make the Top 40.

"The Fez" is more of a musical composition than a song. There are long instrumental bits between the few lines of lyrics. With keyboard work by Paul Griffin that was so integral to the song he earned a songwriter credit, the jazz-influenced song points toward the studio precision that was a hallmark of the band's next LP Aja.

Sun - Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic) Sun - The Greatest Hits - Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #76, 6 Weeks on the Chart)

Stepping away from music for a the 1970s, manufacturers had improved plastic to the point where many consumers began using products that were disposable. Among those items were cigarette lighters: the old-fashioned metal Zippo lighters that required replacement flints and fluid refills gave way to cheaper plastic models that could be tossed out once they ran out of fluid. Among the companies offering these lighters was Bic. One well-remembered advertisement of the 1970s was "Flick My Bic," which closely followed one of the best rules of marketing...sexual double entendres sell. It didn't take much to realize another meaning of "flick my bic" that didn't involve a lighter.

The sexual connotation certainly applied to the song "Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic)." The only Hot 100 hit Sun ever had, it was short-lived on the chart. Despite the fact that "Flick My Bic" had a lusty component in its lyric, it was a great funk tune with a robotic-sounding "voice" that would often appear in R&B (and later on, Hip-hop) songs well into the next decade. In that sense, the song could have played well even in the early 1980s along with tunes like Skyy's "Call Me" and The Dazz Band's "Let it Whip."

Neil Sedaka - You Gotta Make Your Own Sunshine (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #53, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

"You Gotta Make Your Own Sunshine" was the first single of Sedaka's mid-70s comeback to miss the Top 40. A bouncy, upbeat tune it doesn't get old even if it does sound like a lot of his other material ("That's Where the Music Takes Me," for example). It's a shame that more Sedaka material isn't available in a digital format.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 23, 1978

There were ten new singles on the Billboard pop chart this week, with three reaching into the Top 40 and one making the Top 10. That Top 10 is still heard on rock stations today, but the other two have unfairly slipped into the radio ether. However, the song that missed the Top 40 have some relatively well-known names -- Peter Brown, Tom Petty, The O'Jays, The Alan Parsons Project -- and at least one song that is fairly well-known even if you don't know that name Don Ray. Then there's two one-hit wonders that should have been bigger -- Snail and Bob McGilpin, who literally performs a backflip on live TV while performing his song.

Over at Google Books, there is a large archive of past Billboard magazines, including the September 23, 1978 edition.  The full Hot 100 list can be found, appropriately enough, on page 100. An article on page 6 tries to explain that the picture disc LP isn't a fad, according to A&M Records. Because we should always pay more attention to record companies trying to sell their own products over common sense. I didn't sound too sarcastic there, was I? I really wish there was a sarcasm would be helpful for me at times.

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Foreigner - "Double Vision" Double Vision - Double Vision (Expanded Version)

(Debuted #67, Peaked #2, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Double Vision" was the biggest hit that Foreigner would have in the 1970s, reaching #2 and giving the band their fourth Top 10 hit in the U.S. However, despite the words and the belief that it's a song about getting drunk or high, it actually had an innocuous beginning. The song was "born" at a New York Rangers hockey game when one of the players was taken out after suffering from double vision. Upon hearing that phrase from the announcer, singer Lou Gramm wrote a song around those words.

In any case, it's a shot of pure guitar-driven adrenaline and a hook-laden pop confection. Still played quite often on classic rock stations, it's among one of the group's best-known hits. Interestingly, depite having Mick Jones laying his guitar lines on the record, the song has no guitar solo at all. That makes it unusual among Arena Rock singles of that era.

Heart - "Straight On" Straight On - Dog & Butterfly

(Debuted #79, Peaked #15, 18 Weeks on chart)

The LP Dog and Butterfly was intended to be Heart's followup to Little Queen (despite the fact that Mushroom records put out Magazine without the band's consent in the meantime) and "Straight On" was the first single from that album. It was a rocking song, the kind the band's fans expected them to do. As expected, Ann Wilson provided a solid vocal, with her sister Nancy backing her up with both vocals and guitar.

In a way, "Straight On" was a very apt title. It's a straight rock song from the late 1970s.

The Commodores - "Flying High" Flying High (Long Version) - The Commodores: Anthology

(Debuted #85, Peaked #38, 10 Weeks on chart)

As The Commodores were charting with more ballad-style material than the funk-styled music that initially brought the group to prominence, they still showed they could funk it up a little, as "Flying High" attests. While the song has elements of disco and pop, it's actually a good R&B side for the band from Tuskegee, Alabama. While the song is more sleek than the rawer funk they did in the past, it's still a song that should have gathered more attention than the scraping of the pop Top 40 it got.

But that was the a time where Disco was king, the songs that were getting attention by listeners were the ballads like "Three Times a Lady" and that's the direction they took for later hits like "Still," "Sail On" and "Oh No." Yes, there was the occasional upbeat song like "Lady," but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Peter Brown with Betty Wright - "You Should Do It" You Should Do It - A Fantasy Love Affair

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

"You Should Do it" was a bridge to both Peter Brown's past and future successes. It was a hit with Betty Wright, who also sang on his huge hit "Dance With Me," and was co-written with Robert Rains, who also collabrated with Brown on 1984's Madonna hit "Material Girl."

It wasn't as big a hit as "Dance With Me" or even "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me," topping out well short of the pop Top 40, but it was earnest dance music rather than a generic disco song. It was laden with a joyous harmonica that recalled (but didn't necessarily duplicate) the work that Stevie Wonder was doing at the time, and pointed the way to the more electronic sound that permeated dance music in the new decade.

Don Ray - "Got To Have Loving" Got to Have Loving - Disco Gold

(Debuted #87, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)

There's a lot of stuff out there about "Don Ray" but it doesn't all refer to the artist who recorded "Got To Have Loving." There is a Texas-based artist also called Donray, and there's even an unrelated band called The Don Ray Band. This Don Ray was the stage name of Raymond Donnez, who played keyboards for Cerrone and produced the Santa Esmiralda track "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." 

Those elements can be heard in the song "Got To Have Lovin'." The layered keyboards are something that sounds like they came from a Cerrone song, and the orchestral production mimicked that of the Santa Esmiralda track. This was the classic disco track's first of two appearances on the Hot 100. Neither would make the Top 40, but the song has lived on through the years thanks to samples and it use as a period piece in movies.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "Listen To Her Heart" Listen to Her Heart - You're Gonna Get It

(Debuted #88, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)

You can definitely pick up the influence of The Byrds' 12-string right from the into of "Listen To Her Heart." The scathing words were written after Petty discovered that Ike Turner was making advances at his then-wife, placing 1970s lyrics into the context of a song that sounds like it came out of the 1960s. Not only was Roger McGuinn's jangly 12-string present in the song's sound, but the phrasing is quite similar to the vocals that Gene Clark made on those records.

In order to conform to the radio, the single version of "Listen To Her Heart" was altered. The word "cocaine" in the video above was changed to "champagne" to get airplay in 1978. Hey, sometimes you gotta do what it takes to get heard...and Tom Petty wasn't yet the "name" he would later become.

The Alan Parsons Project - "What Goes Up" What Goes Up - Pyramid

(Debuted #89, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

In its Pyramid LP, The Alan Parsons Project explored the concept of the last remaining Great Wonder, and "What Goes Up" definitely fits the theme, even mentioning the Pyramid in its lyrics. As the first song on the album with vocals, it features the voice of David Paton, one of six singers used on the album.

Featuring progressive guitar lines, classically-inspired horn flourishes and layered vocals, "What Goes Up" was a relative disappointment on the charts. It peaked at #87 and disappeared after only three weeks, a really short stay on the charts at the time.

The O'Jays - "Brandy" Brandy - So Full of Love

(Debuted #90, Peaked #79, 3 Weeks on chart)

The O'Jays were known for their R&B soul and light disco, but they were able to produce tender ballads at will, too. "Brandy" is much more in the tradition of the R&B weeper, a song about missing somebody who's long gone and doesn't seem to be coming back. While the song may sound like it's for a woman, it was reportedly about a dog who's gone off to the Great Meadow in the Sky (the lyrics refer to her as his "best friend"). That certainly gives it a different vibe when you hear that.

This time, Walter Williams sings lead, with his two compatriots simply contributing background vocals. Brandy" was also a rare O'Jays single written outside the Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff partnership. It was written by Joseph Jefferson and Charles Simmons, who had previously penned some hits for The Spinners.

Snail - "The Joker" The Joker - Snail

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

With a quick look at the label, you might think this was a reworking of the Steve Miller song, but you'd be wrong. This time around, "The Joker" was a rocking tune written by members of the Santa Cruz, California-based Snail. It was the group's only national hit, even though they were a legendary live band in their home region from 1968 until the 1980s.

It's a shame this song topped out at #93. Perhaps the band preferred to remain local; maybe some sad twist of fate intervened to keep them from breaking out. However, "The Joker" sounds like it was about 10 years ahead of its time.

Bob McGilpin - "When You Feel Love" When You Feel Love - Superstar

(Debuted #94, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

The video above features a lip-synched "live" version of "When You Feel Love" on The Dinah Shore Show that is pretty obvious due to the multi-tracking of his voice in the song, but the backflip he performs during the instrumental bridge and the interview afterwards were too rich for me to pass up.

"When You Feel Love" was the only Hot 100 hit that Bob McGilpin manged to get, despite success on the disco floor. As a military brat, he grew up in a wide array of locations, which helped him to pick up a wider range of styles than he may have gotten in just one place. Unfortunately, the Disco backlash limited further recordings from him after 1979. Today, he's a producer and sound engineer based in Nashville.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rewind -- September 21, 1974

Once again, I'm taking a post from the first year of this blog and give it a reboot.

This was a very good week for new singles. Out of 11 new listings, all but two made the Top 40. Furthermore, four were Top 10-bound and one (also the only two-sided hit) went all the way to the #1 position. Two of the songs were the same tune, featuring versions by its songwriter and a more famous singer handling the cover. Lastly, one song was the only Top 40 hit to be sung partially in Polish.

When this post was first published a few years ago, I hadn't started featuring the past issues of Billboard magazine, so here's the September 21, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 56. An article on page 20 tells readers that a film version of Tommy has wrapped and was quickly being readied in post-production. An interesting situation on page 29: while the Easy Listening list shows that Olivia Newton-John had a song called "I Love You, I Honestly Do" at #1, a list of hot songs reported by jukebox operators has it listed correctly as "I Honestly Love You." 

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John Denver - "Back Home Again" John Denver - Back Home Again - Back Home Again

(Debuted #70, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

It really doesn't have to be explained to those who lived through the era...but John Denver was huge in 1974. He was an artist who not only had vast legions of fans who bought enough records to give him two #1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100, a country #1 and a #1 LP that year, he also had a large number of detractors who were cynical of Denver's country/folk-influenced music and "clean living" public persona. Not a lot of artists can be so loved and hated at the same time, but for some reason the 1970s had its fair share of them.

Denver's LP Back Home Again hit #1 on the album charts, featured Denver's #1 single "Annie's Song" and the title track, which stalled at #5 on the Hot 100 but topped Billboard's country and adult contemporary surveys. The song "Back Home Again" would win the Song of the Year award from the Country Music Association, where Charlie Rich famously burned the envelope when he read that Denver had also won the night's top award (Entertainer of the Year) as well.

As a song, "Back Home Again" is a folksy celebration of coming back from a tour and being able to enjoy being home at last. There's even a nod to Denver's earlier #1 single from '74 with the line Your mother called last Friday, "Sunshine" made her cry... I've found that I've grown to appreciate the sentiment behind the song a lot more as I've matured.

Carl Carlton - "Everlasting Love" Carl Carlton - Everlasting: The Best of Carl Carlton - Everlasting Love

(Debuted #87, Peaked #6, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

There aren't many songs good enough to be done in different styles and still sound fresh. In last week's list, I mentioned that "MacArthur Park" was recorded at least four times in hit versions and nearly all were heavily panned. In the case of "Everlasting Love," it was done four times -- in four different decades -- and each version hit the Top 40. In 1967, soul singer Robert Knight did the first hit version, taking it to #13. Carl Carlton's disco-flavored remake followed in 1974 and it peaked at #6. A duet by Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet just scratched the Top 40 in 1981. Finally, Gloria Estefan took the song to #27 in 1994. Additionally, a cover of the song by the group Love Affair topped the UK charts in 1968 and a minor country hit by Narvel Felts charted in 1979.

Of all these versions, it it Carlton's that is the best-known. The only bad thing that can be said about the song is that it's really short; at just under three minutes, the song sounded great on the radio but was little more than a warm-up on the dance floor. However, considering the way later disco hits could be remixed and reworked into longer "dance" versions (some of which were far too long)...perhaps the "leave the audience wanting more" idea was part of what made this hit work.

The Eagles - "James Dean" Eagles - On the Border - James Dean

(Debuted #92, Peaked #77, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

For all the Eagles songs that still get airplay, there are a few that aren't immediately recognized by casual fans. "James Dean" is one of the handful of charting hits by the group that doesn't seem to have found its way into heavy rotation on classic rock stations. Taken from the LP On the Border, the group was still making the transition from a country-rock basis to more of that rock and pop synthesis that established them with record buyers.

"James Dean" was a song about the 1950s icon and was written by Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey with their buddies Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther. Musically, it sounds a lot like Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance." The song only made it as high as #77 and dropped off the chart after three weeks; however, The Eagles' next single "Best of My Love" took them to #1 for the first time and they never again missed the Top 40 with any of their singles through the rest of the 1970s. Not even their Christmas song.

The Spinners - "Love Don't Love Nobody (Part 1)" The Spinners - The Very Best of Spinners - Love Don't Love Nobody, Pt. 1

(Debuted #84, Peaked #15, 12 Weeks on the Chart)

Ironically, one of the acts that most exemplified the Philly Sound in the 1970s was from Detroit (the name "spinners" is an homage to the car-making city they called home). Despite some hits for Motown, they weren't given a lot of attention by the label. Signing with Atlantic, they came under the direction of producer Thom Bell, who helped them become one of the best vocal groups of the 1970s. They finally hit the coveted #1 position with "Then Came You," a collaboration with Dionne Warwick. "Love Don't Love Nobody" was the follow-up.

Done in The Spinners' trademark harmonic style, the song seems different from other hits like "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love" or "I'll Be Around." It was slower, with a spoken part and a string section that didn't "soar" like they did behind other hits. That's not to say it isn't a good song; in fact, it's worth a few listens. It's just a different sound, especially when it appears with a song like "Mighty Love" that certainly matches the tempo of the group's best-known hits.

Bobby Vinton - "My Melody of Love" Bobby Vinton - Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits - My Melody of Love

(Debuted #88, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

In 1974, the man who enjoyed a great deal of success before The Beatles changed the face of popular music was poised to make a comeback. Although Bobby Vinton never really went away, the hits had tailed off since the days of "Roses are Red" and "Blue Velvet." By 1972, his longtime label Epic had dropped him as an artist. According to legend, Vinton recorded "My Melody of Love" with $50,000 of his own money and had several labels reject the song as "corny" before ABC released it. It went to #3.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "My Melody of Love" is the fact that there are lyrics sung in Polish (which happens to be Vinton's heritage). However, for the benefit of those who don't understand Polish, he also translates the words: moja droga, ya cie kocham, means that I love you so (although according to Wikipedia, it actually means "my dear, I love you" but that may have been harder to rhyme).

Gino Vannelli - "People Gotta Move" Gino Vannelli - Gino Vannelli: The Best - People Gotta Move

(Debuted #89, Peaked #22,13 Weeks on the Chart)

Before later singles "I Just Gotta Stop" and "Living Inside Myself" focused listeners' attention to his strong vocal abilities, this was a decent debut chart single for the Montreal native. When it was released, "People Gotta Move" featured a synthesizer at a time where few singles used one. Although the music was not anywhere near the work that would appear later in the decade by musicians such as Giorgio Moroder (whose instrumentation on Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is still seen as innovative), the sound was visionary even if it wasn't groundbreaking.

Garfunkel - "Second Avenue" Art Garfunkel - Garfunkel - Second Avenue

(Debuted #77,  Peaked #34, 8 Weeks on the Chart)

"Second Avenue" was an interesting tune if only because it wasn't as readily available as other hits. Although most music fans knew his name, Art Garfunkel (or his record company) decided to list only his last name on this single. Then, his record company didn't bother putting the song on any of the singer's American LPs until 1990. Done in Garfunkel's distinctive style, the tune made its way into the lower reaches of the Top 40 before peaking at #34. It might have gotten a little higher; read the info for the next single for more about that.

Tim Moore - "Second Avenue" (Not available as an MP3)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #58, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

Yes, this is the same song as Art Garfunkel's. Tim Moore was the writer and had recorded the song first; however, the distributor of his LP went bankrupt and the resulting activity saw the two records released at the same time. Charting together, the competing versions killed any chance of either becoming a decent hit. While Garfunkel saw his take on "Second Avenue" just make its way into the Top 40, Moore's version stalled at #58.

Playing both versions together, it's interesting to hear the subtle differences between them. Moore's version comes off as more heartfelt and Garfunkel's has a better vocal.

The Hudson Brothers - "So You Are a Star" (Not available as an MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #21, 14 Weeks on the Chart)

Here's a song that sounds like solo material from both Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The opening verse could easily be mistaken for a Wings tune, and the voice heard in the chorus sounds a lot like Lennon's. Such was the effect The Beatles had on the music acts that followed them.

However, The Hudson Brothers were a group out of Oregon who had a replacement TV series -- a variety show -- during the Summer of '74 and followed it up with a Saturday-morning show about the same time as "So You Are a Star" was being released as a single. Perhaps helped by their TV exposure, "So You Are a Star" reached #21. Although the song isn't available in a digital format, it can be picked up cheap as part of Rhino Record's Have a Nice Day series (it's on volume 14).

Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet b/w "Free Wheelin'" Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile - Free Wheelin'

(Debuted #65, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on the Chart)

There's a legend stating that when Randy Bachman recorded "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" he stuttered in the chorus during an early take as a way of poking fun at his brother. However, the "straight" way of singing it didn't work and the stutter was left in. That was one of the hooks that caught on with radio listeners, and the song became BTO's only #1 hit. It's also one of the band's most-played songs even today on classic rock and oldies formats.

The stuttering was reminiscent of The Who's "My Generation," even if it wasn't intended to be. However, the guitar riffs that punctuate the chorus are very similar (but not exact) to the ones Pete Townsend used in the "teenage wasteland" bit of "Baba O'Reilly."

The B-side was "Free Wheelin'," which was an instrumental jam session. For some reason, I'm not able to find a video on YouTube.

Sam Neely - "You Can Have Her" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #34, 11 Weeks on the Chart)

Sam Neely only enjoyed a few hits. In fact, one of those (his last) was mentioned in the list a few weeks ago. This was his second and last Top 40 hit, peaking at #34. Neely starts off "You Can Have Her" as a country-ish tune but the chorus sounds like a church chorus. The premise of the song is that his woman is getting ready to leave him...and he tells her prospective new suitor he can take her. If you like a song with a good sense of humor, this one is worth seeking out.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 15, 1973

There were ten singles debuting on this week's Billboard Hot 100, with only two of those reaching into the Top 40. Both of those hits made the Top 10 as well, but many of the "misses" represent some real forgotten gems. Both of the big hits are debuts by artists who were already known by their names, but there are some really nice songs here that weren't Top 40 hits. In fact, there is a diverse mix here that isn't reflective of what many think of music in 1973; I'm sure that few radio stations would have played them all.

There is a large archive at Google Books of Billboard magazines, including the September 15, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 56. A front-page article explains that the availability of Super 8 was showing a market for prerecorded material, but the high price point was an issue. Page 23 has more about the argument about using color-coded jukebox labels. The large pull-out section is of interest to those of us who are historically-minded: it celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Deutsche Grammophon company.

Concert Video

Garfunkel - "All I Know" All I Know - Garfunkel

(Debuted #79, Peaked #9, 14 Weeks on chart)

On the label he's listed simply as Garfunkel, but "All I Know" was the solo debut of Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon's former duet partner. It was written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by several artists, but Garfunkel's version was the best-performing, reaching the Top 10 pop chart and hitting #1 on the adult contemporary survey. It featured the high vocal register that Garfunkel contributed to his well-known duets and showed that he was able to craft a hit without Simon by his side.

At the time of the song's release, it had been three years since the split between Art Garfunkel and his boyhood chum. That was an eternity in the music business then, but he had kept himself in the public spotlight as an actor in the films Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge while his former partner kick-started his own solo career. While it wasn't necessary because their performing styles are different, his passions outside of the music business helped to keep the questions at bay about whether one member of the duo was competing with the other the way that certain ex-Beatles were.

The Eagles - "Outlaw Man" Outlaw Man - Desperado

(Debuted #81, Peaked #59, 8 Weeks on chart)

While the members of The Eagles are well-regarded as songwriters on their own, it's worth mentioning that "Outlaw Man" is the only song on the Desperado LP that wasn't at least co-written by one of the group's members. Instead, it was written by David Blue, who originally recorded it for his own album Nice Baby and the Angel.

It's also one of the least-known songs of the group's singles. In fact, the album's songs "Tequila Sunrise" (which charted lower) and "Desperado" (not released as a single at all) are better-known today. In a way, it's a relic of the time where they were still trying to find their sound; it's definitely rooted in the Southwest, but the synthesis that brought multiplatinum success was still an album or two away. The vocal harmonies are there, but the instrumentation is still all over the place stylistically. 

Bloodstone - "Never Let You Go" Never Let You Go (Single Version) - The Essentials: Bloodstone

(Debuted #84, Peaked #43, 14 Weeks on chart)

The followup single the "Natual High" was a much more standard R&B track than the hit was. As a result, it fell just short of the pop Top 40 even as it was a Top 10 hit on the R&B survey. Showcasing the high register of singer Henry Williams, he starts out in his normal voice and breaks out into a higher-pitched assertion in the chorus as he pleads his devotion. All the while, the rest of the band show their Doo-Wop influences as they lend their support to him.

Part of the Natural High LP, "Never Let You Go" was the second overall hit for the Kansas City-bred, Los Angeles-based band.   They weren't yet finished, though: they had more hits to come.

Dr. John - "Such A Night" Such a Night - In the Right Place

(Debuted #85, Peaked #42, 9 Weeks on chart)

If "Such a Night" sounds a little out of place as a 1973 single, there's a reason: Mac Rebennack (the New Orleans-based musician who created Dr. John as his alter ego) wrote it a decade earlier, which gave it an old-time quality. Some call it "timeless," but the times really didn't give Dr. John style points for his effort. The song feel barely short of the Top 40 but is worth a listen if you're not familiar with it.

"Such a Night" definitely had a timeless quality, with its rolling piano, its striding beat and its smooth female chorus. Even though it just missed the pop Top 40 during its chart run, the song appeared in the movie The Last Waltz and has gained some fame that eluded it initially.

Marie Osmond - "Paper Roses" Paper Roses - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #86, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on chart)

With "Paper Roses," Marie Osmond became the newest member of the Osmond family to hit the pop charts. Her brothers had already charted at the time with their act, her brother Donny had a successful solo career apart from the act, and even her youngest brother Jimmy hit the chart with a novelty hit. So it might have been inevitable that another member of the Osmond family was standing by with a microphone in her hand.

"Paper Roses" -- a song where the roses are a metaphor for a false love -- was a #5 hit in 1960 for Anita Bryant. While Osmond matched that peak pop position, she also took it to #1 on the country chart. At the time, she became the youngest artist to top that chart and the first female artist to take her debut to #1. It was her way of adding credence to the "little bit country" when she and Donny had their TV show later in the decade.

Leon Russell - "Queen Of The Roller Derby" Queen of the Roller Derby (Live) - Leon Live (Remastered)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #89, 2 Weeks on chart)

Leon Russell may have seemed like he was everywhere in the early 1970s. After Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen showcased him and his band, and The Concert for Bangladesh featured him as well, he came along with his own set Leon Live in 1973. The version of the song above features the song as it appeared on the 1972 LP Carny, but the single was a shortened version recorded live.

Live, the song was performed at a slightly faster pace, mimicking the performance that Little Richard might have given in in the 1950s. In fact, the song appears to be a "callback" to that era, with its pounding piano as well as the call-and-response by the female backing chorus. It failed to get any higher than #89 on the pop chart, but it was a great listen and deserved a better chance than the one it received.

Tower of Power - "This Time It's Real" This Time It's Real - Tower of Power

(Debuted #91, Peaked #65, 6 Weeks on chart)

The video clip is a little out of register and tinny, and looks like it was recorded directly off a mono TV set. However, it captures Tower of Power doing their thing live on Soul Train, with Lenny Williams out in front and the band's famed horn section making themselves known. It's a great period piece, so I decided to go with that, rather than a performance of the song from later and sung by a different vocalist.

"This Time it's Real" was one of three songs that charted off of the band's self-titled second LP. It missed the Top 40, but the beat was timeless, with the feel that it could have been a hit during the Big Band era. The horn section was at the peak of its form, and it's aged a lot better that many of the songs that played around it at the least, the places that actually played it, given it's #65 peak.

10cc - "Rubber Bullets" Rubber Bullets - 10cc

(Debuted #96, Peaked #73, 8 Weeks on chart)

10cc established their twisted sense of humor even before they were a group, when they recorded "Neanderthal Man" as Hotlegs in 1971. While the song "Rubber Bullets" takes place at a "local county jail" when a dance there goes awry, the fact that the British Army was using rubber bullets against activists in Northern Ireland almost sunk the song. BBC radio programmers banned it because of the possibility that fans might think the wrong thing. However, the gatekeepers over at BBC-TV may have actually heard the catchy tune and allowed it to play. It was the group's first #1 hit in the U.K. and was their first hit in the U.S. after taking the new name.

Written by group members Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman, "Rubber Bullets" was often the song the group used to finish its concert sets.

Jean Shepard - "Slippin' Away" Slippin' Away - Slippin' Away

(Debuted #97, Peaked #81, 6 Weeks on chart)

Jean Shepard was a long-time country singer whose insistence on staying with the honky-tonk style limited her chart success when country shifted toward the Nashville Sound in the 1950s. With "Slippn' Away," it was the fist time Shepard had been on the pop chart since 1953, when she had a pair of hits based on the "Dear John" letters that military men have come to dread.

"Slippin' Away" was written by Bill Anderson, a Nashville legend in his own right. That said, it was composed in the harder Bakersfield style and used the double meaning of the title to describe the erosion of love and hinted at the well-known suggestion of infidelity that was a staple of country music. It was Shepard's only Hot 100 hit, her last Top 10 country hit and her biggest hit in nearly a decade.

John Denver - "Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)" Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning) - Farewell Andromeda

(Debuted #100, Peaked #89, 5 Weeks on chart)

When the album Farewell Andromeda hit the shelves, it was moderately successful, hitting the Top 20 on Billboard's album chart. However, its three singles all failed to reach the Top 40 pop chart. While Denver had scored two Top 10 singles by then ("Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Rocky Mountain High") and written a #1 hit for another act ("Leaving On a Jet Plane"), the album may have seemed like an indication that his career was slowing down. However, the next year his career kicked into a higher gear, one that would define him for the rest of his life.

The song ""Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)" ended the LP, and was a pleasant enough acoustic guitar-backed song with a sing-along chorus. In a way, it perfectly fit his early 1970s "sound" but wasn't an indication of what his appeal would be. Blame it on the silly title, or you can blame the way his simple vocal/guitar intro has more and more elements added to it as the song goes on. By the end, I think he was trying to sound atmospheric but there is a certain point where enough is enough.