Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 15, 1975

An infusion of new tunes made the Hot 100 chart this week, with 15 singles listed as "new." Actually, three of those songs were re-entering from earlier chart runs and all would go on to higher positions in their second tries. Eleven of the new songs would eventually make the Top 40, six got into the Top 10 and three went all the way to #1. Additionally, four songs remained on the Hot 100 for 20 weeks or more. Statistically speaking, this was a good crop of new songs.

Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps - "Baby Face" (Not available as MP3)

Disco's rise in the mid-1970s brought about some interesting attempts to cash in on its popularity. As the flood of disco records brought more music to mass markets, some interesting trends emerged. Among these was the remaking of songs from several decades in the past to the new beat. By late 1975, there were disco versions of the I Love Lucy theme, Xavier Cugat's "Brazil" and "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes." A group called Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band played 1940s-styled music for the disco audience and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was a hit for Tuxedo Junction. Then there was "Baby Face."

"Baby Face" was a song that went back to the days when Billboard published charts ranking sheet music (they didn't start ranking songs until 1940). The song was written by Harry Akst (words) and Benny Davis (lyrics) in 1926. Jan Garber had the most successful version of several 78s featuring the tune. 49 years after it was written, the song was resurrected as a disco tune by a studio orchestra calling itself the Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps. With its typical disco arrangement and familiarity to the grandparents of many record buyers, the song hit #14 and stayed on the charts for 20 weeks. I remember liking the song as an elementary school student later in the 1970s and singing it in music class.

The Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps never managed to capitalize on that success, however. They never had another hit on the Hot 100 and their second LP (with a disco version of "Yes We Have No Bananas") didn't sell well either.

David Crosby & Graham Nash - "Carry Me" Crosby & Nash - Wind On the Water - Carry Me

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are a well-known supergroup but weren't really a group in the sense of being a band. They recorded together and separately (true to the "love the one you're with" attitude Stephen Stills sang about -- solo -- in 1971) so their collaborations have come in various sizes. By 1975, Neil Young and Stills were enjoying success on their own, so Crosby and Nash made a couple LPs as a duo. This tune came from their album Wind on the Water and topped out at #52. It wasn't a bad showing but may have been considered a disappointment based on past success; however, the song featured the impeccable harmonizing both Crosby and Nash are known for but the sparse arrangement and low-key instrumentation make the song uninspiring.

Stephen Still returned to the fold in 1977 and they once again enjoyed some of the fortunes they expected with "Just a Song Before I Go."

The Electric Light Orchestra - "Evil Woman" Electric Light Orchestra - Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra - Evil Woman

I have always liked this song. While growing up during the 1980s, I picked up a copy of ELO's Greatest Hits on cassette and listened to it until my tape player chewed it up. While recently showing my daughter a videotape one my friends made of me and the gang I grew up with when we were about 15, the group's Out of the Blue LP is clearly in sight on top of a stack of albums sitting on a dresser. So it goes without saying that I'll probably have a favorable position regarding any ELO tune that I review here.

"Evil Woman" was a very hook-filled, catchy song. From the piano riff that follows Jeff Lynne's opening line to the string section that plays where other bands would have placed a guitar solo to the way the vocals rise and fall with the orchestrated music, along with female background singers that sound like they were borrowed from a church choir, there are many layers to the song. Lynne's lyrics include nods to some of his influences: the line "there's a hole in my head where the rain cones in" was a variation of one from The Beatles' "Fixing a Hole" and the phrasing was reminiscent of what Del Shannon used to deliver many hit songs in the 1960s. The song was ELO's first to hit big on both sides of the Atlantic; in the U.S. it peaked at #10. It still gets a lot of airplay on classic rock stations, which explains how a group of kids growing up in upstate New York in the late 1980s would be videotaped having one of their records sitting on a dresser.

The Isley Brothers - "For the Love of You (Part 1 & 2)" The Isley Brothers - The Essential Isley Brothers - For the Love of You

As the 1970s progressed, The Isley Brothers were mixing the soul/R&B sound they built throughout the 1960s with rock and funk in their hit singles. Their previous single "Fight the Power" was as straightforward and funky one could get this side of the P-Funk universe. "For the Love of You" was a change in sound and direction, a slow, romantic ballad that was more in line with the burgeoning "Quiet Storm" format and a portent for many slow grooves the Isleys would record through the 1980s (one very similar example would be 1984's "Between the Sheets"). Listening to the song, it's easy to get lost in the harmonies, the mellow keyboard work of Chris Jasper and the slow, steady rhythm setting the stage for some lovin.'

Sweet - "Fox on the Run" Sweet - Desolation Boulevard - Fox on the Run

Sweet (or "The Sweet" as they were known in their native UK) were coming off their big #5 hit "Ballroom Blitz" and this poppier follow-up would match that peak position. Though Sweet is remembered for a handful of Top 40 singles in the U.S. they were a major act in their home country. With these back-to-back Top 5 hits, it appeared Sweet was about to taste the same success in America they had in Europe but it wasn't what fate had planned for them. One more gem ("Love is Like Oxygen") would follow in 1978 but the band was about to disintegrate under the trappings of its own success.

Sadly, lead singer Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker have passed away. The two surviving members each front revival bans using the Sweet name.

Firefly - "Hey There Little Firefly" (Not available as MP3)

Firefly was a studio band that included Kenny Nolan, who would later go on to success with the songs "I Like Dreamin'" and "Love's Grown Deep." This was the second entry for the song; it had dropped off the charts a couple of weeks before after stalling at #96 but the second run saw it reach #67. It soon disappeared and Firefly never charted again.

I had never listened to this song until researching this week's hits (but always remembered the title because it was silly). Finally getting hold of the song and listening to it, I was pleasantly surprised. The song sounds like it was a lot of fun when it was laid down in the studio. Featuring an easy vibe that should have made it an MOR hit, you can hear Nolan's voice (sounding very much like the soaring one he used in "Love's Grown Deep") over the flute notes. A piano, drum, bass, some horns and handclaps provide the accompaniment and it's hard to dislike such an upbeat tune, even if the lyrics aren't exactly deep.

Barry Manilow - "I Write the Songs" Barry Manilow - Tryin' to Get the Feeling - I Write the Songs

Here's some irony. While Barry Manilow is famous as a writer of songs and commercial jingles, he didn't "write the songs" that he took to the top of Billboard's pop charts. Of the three #1 songs he sang (this one, "Mandy" and "Looks Like We Made it"), Manilow didn't write or co-write any of them. In the case of "I Write the Songs," Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys was the person who actually put the pen to paper. In fact, Manilow wasn't even the first to release it; David Cassidy and The Captain & Tennille both had the song on record before the more familiar version debuted on the chart. Regardless, the song is most often associated with Manilow.

Barry Manilow is one of those polarizing artists from the 1970s. He's loved by legions of fans, but there are a large number of critics as well. A person's opinion of this song is almost always dependent of which camp he (or she) has settled into. That said, "I Write the Songs" -- love it or hate it -- is one of the most recognizable tunes from the 1970s.

The Road Apples - "Let's Live Together" (Not available as MP3)

Here's another tune I hadn't ever heard before this week, which might be surprising considering it was a Top 40 hit. This was the second time on the chart for "Let's Live Together," which had fallen off the Hot 100 after peaking at #94. The second wind helped push the song to #35 in January '76.

Upon listening to "Let's Live Together" it comes across as a mellow tune. The easy-listening feel to the song likely helped get it into the Top 40 but the group didn't really stand out (the song sounds like Bill LaBounty fronting a band that plays bars and parties on the weekends). That's not saying the song is fact, the song is inoffensive in an AOR way, which helps detract from the fact that in 1975 there were still people who frowned on the concept of couples living together without being married.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Nevertheless" The Allman Brothers Band - Win, Lose or Draw - Nevertheless b/w "Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John" The Allman Brothers Band - Win, Lose or Draw - Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John

This two-sided single was pulled from the LP Win, Lose or Draw, one that is considered perhaps the poorest Allman Brothers LP of the 1970s. Whatever issues the band was dealing with (drugs, booze, Gregg Allman's marriage and separation from Cher), the band was clearly struggling at the time. Both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts had been doing solo projects, so much of the work on their new album was done in separate studios. Allman added his part from an L.A. studio while the rest of the band recorded in Georgia, some of the songs were missing band members and the result was an uneven, disappointing LP. While the LP went to #5 on the basis of the band's fan base, their two-sided single wasn't a hit. It peaked at #67 and dropped off the Hot 100 after only three weeks.

A year later, the Allman Brothers Band split up. It would take two reunions and some hard choices before the band reclaimed its past standing as one of the best live acts in the music business.

The Ohio Players - "Love Rollercoaster" Ohio Players - Honey - Love Rollercoaster

This is one of those tunes that has never really gone away since it was a #1 smash on both the pop and soul charts. It has been a DJ favorite, a source of samples and a hit song for The Red Hot Chili Peppers twenty years later. The "rollercoaster" mentioned in the song was supposedly inspired by some heavy turbulence on an airplane flight (all the band members are listed as co-writers) but can also be an apt description of the funk coursing through the song. It's a great sonic workout.

Although the Ohio Players seemed to burst upon the scene in the early 1970s they had actually formed in 1959 and took more than a decade to make it big in the music business. Sadly, the band slipped back into obscurity by the late 1970s and hung on until the mid 1980s. In retrospect, the Ohio Players were more than a band that used risque album covers (which often featured nude or semi-nude women) to sell records; the best part of their albums were contained in the grooves once the cellophane was removed from the LP dust jacket.

Head East - "Never Been Any Reason" Head East - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Head East - Never Been Any Reason

Here's an example of a great rock song from the 1970s. Straight-ahead guitar-based rock, a driving beat and an easy-to-sing-along lyric combine to make this a song that could have defined arena rock if it were released ten years later. Synthesizer solos, alternating lead singers and harmonies by all four band members on the final lines in each verse and chorus add to the fun factor. In any case, it's a song that can be turned up while driving down a long stretch of highway and will help the trip seem so much shorter.

Considered the signature tune for Head East, it was the first track on their debut album Flat as a Pancake. This was the second visit to the Hot 100 for the song after it had fallen off a few weeks before; this time it hit #68. Interestingly, the band's follow-up single "Love Me Tonight" charted higher, even though "Never Been Any Reason" continues to be their best-known tune.

Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Night" KISS - Alive! - Rock 'n Roll All Nite

This was a live recording of a song Kiss had released as a single earlier in 1975. Actually, the title was different: the original version had been called "Rock and Roll All Nite." The original studio version only reached #68 during its May-June chart run, but this version (from the LP Alive!) would become their first Top 40 entry -- reaching #12 -- and become one of the band's most popular songs.

I remember as a kid I had friends who had Kiss posters on their bedroom walls but I didn't get much of a chance to hear the group then because my mother thought they were "trash" and forbade it. Perhaps it was the makeup, the pyrotechnics, the fake blood and the loud music, perhaps Gene Simmons consistently showing off the size of his tongue, but I'm guessing that if she had heard "Beth" or "Hard Luck Woman" on the radio without knowing who was doing the song she'd have been fine with them.

David Geddes - "The Last Game of the Season (The Blind Man in the Bleachers)" (Not available as MP3)

This was the second and last chart hit in David Geddes's short career. The first was "Run, Joey, Run" a #4 hit that played out like a melodrama. "Blind Man in the Bleachers" was another song that told a story...and like "Run, Joey, Run" somebody dies before the song is over. The song tells the story of a kid on his high school football team but doesn't see any playing time. His father (the blind man) still shows up to every game anyway. Well, when the final game is played the kid isn't there and neither is his father. Showing up around halftime, he begs the coach to put him in and ends up winning the game. At the end of the song, the boy explains that his father had passed away earlier that that was the first time he could watch his son play. It could've been an ABC Afterschool Special.

Rhythm Heritage - "Theme From S.W.A.T." (Not available as MP3)

S.W.A.T. was a brand-new television show for 1975 and followed a squad of police specialists who were called to handle difficult situations. It was one of the many shows that starred Robert Urich and had a short life because it was deemed incredibly violent. Although the theme song went to #1 on the singles chart and stayed 24 weeks before dropping off, the show's final episode was being shown around the same time as the song finally left the Hot 100.

The "Theme From S.W.A.T." was an instrumental that had an incredibly catchy melody. It sounded almost like the perfect 70's cop show music. The song was composed by Barry DeVorzon -- the same guy who had a hit with "Nadia's Theme (The Young & the Restless)" in 1976 -- and was produced by Steve Barri and Michael Omartian. Rhythm Heritage was a studio group that wasn't intended to be a band in the true sense; instead, it recorded music for TV shows and movies. While "S.W.A.T." was their biggest hit, they also scored with a theme from Baretta (though not the one used on the show) the next year.

Paul Anka - "Times of Your Life" Paul Anka - The Best of the United Artists Years (1973-1977) - Times of Your Life

"Do you remember? Do you remember...the times of your life." Close your eyes and you can hear the angelic female background vocals. Love it or hate it, Paul Anka knew how to craft a tune.

"Times of Your Life" was among the handful of hit songs from Paul Anka's mid-1970s comeback. It was also used in a commercial for Kodak cameras; the positive response from those ads encouraged Anka to let the song be issued as a single. Although his recent chart success had largely come from his duets with Odia Coates ("Having My Baby," "One Man Woman/One Woman Man," etc.), "Times of Your Life" would hit #7 in its 20-week run without her help but it would be his final Top 20 hit.

But don't feel bad for Anka's decline on the pop charts. The man who wrote "My Way" and The Tonight Show Theme (from Johnny Carson's era) and also once had the second-best-selling single of all time "Diana" (until the mid-1970s only Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" sold more copies) was enjoying his royalty checks for a long time after that.

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