Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Week's Review -- September 25, 1976

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.

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)

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)

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

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

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

"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

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)

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)

"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.

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