Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week's Review: September 11, 1971

There were 16 debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 (although one was a re-entry) this week. With such an infusion of new blood into a countdown, one would expect a lot of high-charting singles, but it wasn't the case here; only four of the singles made the Top 40 and only one reached the Top 10. In fact, nearly half of these songs never made it out of the 80s or 90s before they fell off the survey. Two of the new songs were unusual because their singers had died before the records charted.

The Raiders - "Birds of a Feather" Paul Revere & The Raiders - The Legend of Paul Revere - Birds of a Feather

This was the follow-up single to "Indian Reservation," one of the biggest hits of Summer '71. While Paul Revere & the Raiders had been a radio presence (some say they were incredibly underrated as a band) during the 1960s, by 1970 they seemed a little out of place with the long name and Revolutionary War uniforms. Additionally, a band that comically tore up an old piano onstage during their finale and crafted radio-friendly pop tunes was being overshadowed by other groups who expressed their ideas in more serious territory and over the two sides of an LP. Therefore, the group's name was shortened to The Raiders.

At the same time, lead singer Mark Lindsay had been enjoying some success as a solo artist. In a sense, "Birds of a Feather" sounds more like Lindsay's solo stuff (including another "bird" song, "Silver Bird") than any of the group's better-known 1960s hits. The song would peak at #23, and the Raiders never made the Top 40 again.

The Main Ingredient - "Black Seeds Keep On Growing" The Main Ingredient - Everybody Plays the Fool: The Best of the Main Ingredient - Black Seeds Keep On Growing

This song, a "Black Pride" anthem, was bittersweet for The Main Ingredient. Not only did it peak at #97 and fall off the charts after only three weeks, its singer Don McPherson had died of leukemia just two months earlier. He was 29. His replacement was Cuba Gooding (yes, the actor's father), who enjoyed a great deal of success with the band beginning with "Everybody Plays the Fool" the next year.

Although "Black Seeds" has been largely forgotten, it deserves a fresh listen despite the fact that the topic may seem dated. The lyrics and music both evoke the socially-aware songs being released in the same era by The Temptations.

Funkadelic - "Can You Get to That" Funkadelic - Maggot Brain - Can You Get to That

Funkadelic is well-known for its part as one of the cogs in George Clinton's "P-Funk" machine. Clinton was so talented and funk was so fertile in the 1970s, he was able to run two successful acts in the genre and both would be groundbreaking. Yet for all the accolades given to the group for its funk prowess, "Can You Get to That" is an interesting choice for a single. It wasn't able to make a big dent on the charts, though; it peaked at #93 and was gone after three weeks.

The song was one of the standout tracks on Funkadelic's third LP Maggot Brain. It begins with an acoustic guitar (not something one would expect to hear on a funk song) and sounds a lot like a gospel song with its call-and-response chorus and lyrics that ask about striving to a higher purpose. A bass vocal similar to the one Larry Graham was contributing to Sly & the Family Stone at that time also stands out on the track. Although it isn't all that similar to the harder funk that casual fans expect from the group, "Can You Get to That" is still a treat.

By the way...if you've never hear it, check out the track "Maggot Brian." It's an instrumental that begins the LP (and is the track just before "Can You Get to That") and has one of the greatest electric guitar solos -- by Eddie Hazel -- ever grooved on vinyl. Again, it's not entirely "funk" in the sense that funk has evolved a lot since 1971 but it's something that might just make you a fan of the group and its sound if you've never considered listening to it before.

Janis Joplin - "Get it While You Can" Janis Joplin - Pearl - Get It While You Can

A lot of ink has been used to explain the impact and importance of Janis Joplin's LP Pearl. She died before it was finished (the song "Buried Alive in the Blues" is an instrumental because she died before she could lay down her vocals) and the LP is one of those cases where listeners are left to wonder what she could have accomplished had she lived to record at least another record.

"Get it While You Can" was the final song from that posthumous LP (though a CD re-issue nearly 30 years later added four live tracks at the end). Like much of Pearl, it featured Joplin's vocal rasp without the heavy music that sometimes tried to overwhelm her during her days with Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was the third and final single from the album but didn't fare well on the charts. Although it peaked at #78, it was only listed for two weeks.

B.B. King - "Ghetto Woman" B.B. King - In London - Ghetto Woman

This is about what can be expected from a B.B. King song. The intro features a solo from King's beloved guitar Lucille that is similar to the great bridge of "The Thrill is Gone," the lyrics tell the familiar blues story about the long-suffering woman waiting on her no-good man to get home from cattin' around.

The song was taken from B.B. King in London, one of two live LPs he charted that year.

Chase - "Handbags and Gladrags"

This song was the follow-up to the effusive hit "Get it On." Although it also features horns that recall the earlier hit, "Handbags and Gladrags" didn't have the same success. It only reached #84 and was all but forgotten a few months later when Rod Stewart -- who had recorded it in 1970 -- hit with his own version of the song.

Sadly, group leader Bill Chase and three other members of the band died in a plane crash on August 9, 1974. That was the end of the group.

Chee Chee & Peppy - "I Know I'm in Love"

Although this single was listed as a new entry, it was making its second run on the charts after peaking at #49 during the summer. Unfortunately, its second wind wasn't as good as the first: the song only made it to #85 and no other singles from Chee Chee & Peppy ever charted.

The song sounds like an imitation of The Jackson 5. One line of the song ("just as long as one and one is two") can't help but point out an influence from the song "ABC." There isn't a lot of info on Chee Chee & Peppy to be found, but it's obvious by listening that they were very young in 1971.

The Four Tops - "MacArthur Park (Part 2)" The Four Tops - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B: 1971 - MacArthur Park, Pt. 2

"MacArthur Park" is a much-maligned song. From its original incarnation by actor Richard Harris to its disco-era Donna Summer remake, critics have panned it frequently. It was also covered by country artist Waylon Jennings and Motown legends The Four Tops. As Jimmy Guterman & Owen O'Donnell wrote in their 1991 book The Worst Rock & Roll Records of All Time: "one suspects a rap version is imminent."

The Four Tops' version of the song isn't a sonic marvel but it really isn't all that bad. Broken up into two sides for the 45 release, Part 2 was the hit. The unintentionally comical bits about the cake being left in the rain and how the recipe is lost for all time aren't there, but the later part of Harris's song which is often cut from Summer's version for radio play is included.

Lighthouse - "One Fine Morning" Lighthouse - The Best of Lighthouse: Sunny Days Again - One Fine Morning

In 1971, the group Blood, Sweat & Tears' chart fortunes were heading into a downward spiral and singer David Clayton-Thomas left the band. At the same time, Lighhouse sounds like it could have been Clayton-Thomas's next project. It was a band with a big brass sound like BS&T and hailed from Clayton-Thomas's native Canada, but the big voice behind Lighthouse belonged to Bob McBride.

Helped by a great deal of radio airplay, "One Fine Morning" managed to reach #24 on the charts. It can still occasionally be heard on radio stations playing an oldies format.

The Newcomers - "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" The Newcomers - The Astors Meet the Newcomers: Sweet Soul from Memphis - Pin the Tail On the Donkey

This was the only song The Newcomers placed on the Hot 100 during the 1970s. Although they were signed to the innovative Stax label, they sound like a lot of other early 1970s soul artists on this song.

Billie Sans - "Solo"

I've never heard this song. There isn't a whole lot of info out there on who Billie Sans is, either. If anybody can point me to something, drop me an email.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - "Some of Shelley's Blues" Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy - Some of Shelly's Blues

It's a shame that The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1970s repertoire will be boiled down to "Mr. Bojangles" because the band deserved to have a lot more of their songs remembered. In an era where many artists were willing to explore their country, folk or bluegrass roots (The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Poco, The Eagles, etc.), NDGB was offering their own fusion of the genres. The LP that featured "Mr. Bojangles" -- Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy -- was released in 1970 but wouldn't get any hits until 1971. After the success of "Mr. Bojangles," other singles would be released.

"Some of Shelley's Blues" was the third single from Uncle Charlie but the first song on the LP. Written by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith, it was a breakup song delivered as a conversation. A banjo and guitar provide the counterpoint to the lyrics. The song is worth a few listens, but listeners need to be warned that repeated listening will lead to having the song embedded in the brain for a while.

Gordon Lightfoot - "Summer Side of Life" Gordon Lightfoot - Summer Side of Life - Summer Side of Life

I was born in 1972, so I wasn't around to hear this song during its chartmaking days. Growing up, this song was one of the tunes included in Gord's Gold -- an LP that has long resided in my collection -- so it became as familiar to me as Lightfoot's other hits "If You Can Read My Mind," "Sundown" or "Carefree Highway." However, it was a #98 hit and spent all of two weeks on the Billboard chart. That was a surprise because I've heard the song more often through the years than a lot of others that charted much higher.

And yes, it does sound a lot like his other 1970s hits. But that's not an indictment of the song; it's a great song even if it doesn't rise to the level of the songs I listed above.

Anne Murray - "Talk it Over in the Morning" Anne Murray - Talk It Over In the Morning - Talk It Over In the Morning

It's interesting to see this Anne Murray song following Gordon Lightfoot: They're both from Canada, both songs were the title tracks from their newest LPs and both LPs featured "Cotton Jenny" as one of the songs. Sadly, neither song debuting on the Hot 100 this week would make the Top 40.

Anne Murray was an interesting act of the 1970s. She was marketed to both pop and country audiences even though much of her music didn't fit the country genre. She also had a sound similar to singer/songwriters like Judy Collins or Carole King even though most of her songs were written by others. Though she'd have a great deal of success later in the decade, in 1971 she was still mainly remembered by music fans for the surprise million-selling crossover hit "Snowbird." As for "Talk it Over in the Morning," it comes across as a song that Dionne Warwick could've sung during her David/Bacharach rays. Which is another head-scratcher for anybody who is told that Murray was a "country" singer.

(Full disclosure...I'm a big fan of Anne Murray. "Could I Have This Dance" was my wedding song. For what it's worth, she could sing the names from a phone book and make it sound excellent.)

The Messengers - "That's the Way a Woman is" The Messengers - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B: 1971 - That's the Way a Woman Is

The Messengers were one of the first white acts signed to Motown (for their Rare Earth imprint), which explains why this song really doesn't have the distinctive Motown "sound." It's passable early 1970s pop; however, once the song reached #62 and fell off the chart the band split up.

The Osmonds - "Yo-Yo" The Osmonds - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Osmonds - Yo-Yo

The only song in this week's slate of newcomers to push into the Top 10 wouldn't be a surprise for anybody who remembers how popular the Osmonds were in 1971. In fact, the #1 song for the week "Yo-Yo" debuted was "Go Away Little Girl," sung by group member Donny Osmond. Before long, even siblings who weren't among the five brothers in The Osmonds (Marie and Little Jimmy) were getting hit singles.

"Yo-Yo" may have been a better song than "One Bad Apple" (a #1 hit from earlier in 1971) but the "yo yo" effect made by a slide whistle comes across as gimmicky. Seen through the prism of almost 40 years, The Osmonds' bigger hits are much more easily digested than a lot of other 1970s hits. That is, once the listener gets past things like the slide whistle on "Yo-Yo" and the guitar bit in "Crazy Horses."

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