While I peruse the list of songs from the week in question for each year and consider which one I want to use for my next review, I often find myself looking at song titles or artists before pinning down the specific week to tackle. This week's list is a little different. Yes, I'm still going to do the same preparation as I normally do; however, it's the survey date that determined which week I was going to review. As it turns out, I made my own debut on December 2, 1972: I was born that afternoon in a small town in Upstate New York. So this week's list is rather special to me in a way that goes beyond the songs or artists involved.
You can read most of that week's issue of Billboard on Google Books. Here's a link to read it. For some odd reason, the transcription only has the first 40 pages of the issue and the Hot 100 list is not available.
This week's review begins and ends with a couple who had just gotten married that November 3rd.In between are two 1950s icons, a producer, a solo singer masquerading as a country band and a band whose leader looked like a pirate.
James Taylor - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"
James Taylor was absolutely huge in the early 1970s. Most of his success came from his first two LPs of the decade, Sweet Baby James (which included "Fire and Rain") and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (which had the #1 hit "You've Got a Friend"). Then, Taylor waited 19 months to put out his next album, One Man Dog. The new LP would hit #4 on the album charts on the strength of Talyor's fanbase but it was considered disappointing; a concept album with 18 short songs -- many instrumental -- wasn't quite what his fans were expecting after such a long wait.
The first single from Taylor's new LP was a typically understated tune with sparse a jazz arrangement. "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" was a minor hit (#14) but a very stellar performance by JT. Also worth credit is the late jazz legend Michael Brecker, who capably handles the saxophone. Listening to the song for several years, I had always assumed that the song was another example of the "Love the one you're with" attitude of the era...but actually listening to the words I'm realizing that Taylor is singing from the perspective of a man who has been walked over by his woman: he puts up with the abuse she keeps doling out simply because he's either afraid or unwilling to face his nights alone. That's a point of view commonly heard in R&B songs (and usually from a woman's perspective) but deep even for an introspective singer/songwriter.
Delbert & Glen - "I Received a Letter" (Not available as MP3)
Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark were Texans who'd recently moved to Los Angeles. Despite the new California home, their Delbert & Glen LP was loaded with stuff you'd expect from a Texas-based bar band: blues, country, soul and a gospel influence. The album didn't sell well, the single "I Received a Letter" only reached #90 and the duo parted after their second LP fizzled out.
Delbert McClinton doesn't have a lot of hits, but he's made his mark over the years. Early in his career, he was a harmonica player who was memorably featured on a #1 hit by fellow Ft. Worth resident Bruce Channel ("Hey Baby") in 1962. A little later, he played in England and gave some pointers on playing the "mouth harp" to one of the young musicians touring with him. The results of that instruction would be recorded for posterity when John Lennon played harmonica on early Beatles tunes "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You." After a short stint with a group called The Rondells in the mid-60, he played the Texas roadhouse circuit. After the Delbert & Glen years, McClinton continued both as a solo act and songwriter. His biggest 1970s success came when Emmylou Harris took his "Two More Bottles of Wine" to #1 on the country chart. McClinton would finally reach the Top 40 in 1981 with "Giving it Up for Your Love." He's still a highly regarded musician among fellow musicians, another one of those artists whose chart success really doesn't show up in lists of hit records.
Luther Ingram - "I'll Be Your Shelter (In Time of Storm)"
Following up a huge hit with "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)," Ingram went with another longer, parenthesized title and just made the Top 40 with it. Unlike the unrepentant adulterer of the big hit, Luther takes the role of a strong partner and confidant that will help weather any problems this time around. Quite a marked difference in viewpoints. Like many of his 1970s recordings, Ingram is backed on this song by the band and female backup singers for Isaac Hayes, an artist he frequently toured with.
Though this would be Ingram's last Top 40 hit, he continued to chart with minor hits on the R&B surveys into the 1980s and continued touring for years afterwards. In 2007, he died of a heart attack.
The Blue Ridge Rangers - "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" (Not available as MP3)
While the song is credited to a group and the LP cover shows five men in cowboy hats silhouetted on a hillside, this was essentially a John Fogerty solo record. Just months after the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty must have wanted to put some distance between his group and solo work. For his first "solo" record, he recorded a bunch of cover versions of 1950s and 60s country hits and played all the instruments himself.
For the first single, Fogerty went with the Hank Williams stalwart "Jambalaya." The tune was based on a Cajun song called "Grand Texas" with Williams (and Moon Mullican) providing lyrics evoking Louisiana. One of Williams' best-known songs, it has been recorded hundreds of times by artists as diverse as Jo Stafford, Fats Domino, Van Morrison, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, The White Stripes and even The Carpenters. The Blue Ridge Rangers version would make #16 on the pop charts and #66 country. It was a surprise pop hit, as few songs so inspired by hard country were doing well at that time; most country crossover hits of the early 1970s were heavy on the strings and featured smooth (non-accented) voices.
Even though Fogerty wasn't trying to cut a country record, it showed fans how much his Creedence material had been influenced by the sound. A year later, Leon Russell would issue his own 50s/60s country-cover LP under the name Hank Wilson, proving once again that even rock artists appreciated the sound.
Lyn Collins - "Me and My Baby Got a Good Thing Going"
Lyn Collins has (unfairly) been forgotten among many music fans. Called "The Female Preacher" for her full-throated delivery, she was a member of James Brown's posse. Her voice is instantly recognizable to fans of hip-hop (that's her voice singing "It takes two to make a thing go right" on Rob Bass & DJ E-Z Rock's hit) but her place in the history of funk has been largely overlooked.
"Me and My Baby Got a Good Thing Going" used the same chord structure as a country hit from earlier in 1972 by Tom T. Hall ("Me and Jesus") and may have originated as a gospel song. That would be fitting for an artist nicknamed "The Female Preacher." The song was produced by The Godfather of Soul and used his musicians to back her up, so the vibe is purely in the James Brown style. However, the single was overshadowed a few weeks later by a Collins/Brown duet and stalled at #86.
Hurricane Smith - "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say"
I once owned a book by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell called The Worst Rock & Roll Records of All Time. While I wasn't exactly in agreement with all their choices, I always think of the book every time I hear the opening to "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say" because they mentioned that the saxophone solo sounds a lot like a goose being strangled.And every time I hear it, I picture a goose with somebody shaking its neck.
Norman "Hurricane" Smith wasn't a musician in the same sense as most hit-makers. After a few years of playing jazz after serving in World War Two, he became a sound engineer and producer for EMI. His duties included assisting George Martin with all Beatles LPs through Rubber Soul. After his promotion, he produced a few early albums for Pink Floyd. In the early 1970s, he released some music on his own, including "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say" that evoked the 1920s. It was antithetical to the rock and pop audiences; however, it ended up being a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. On Billboard's Hot 100, it peaked at #3. After one more minor hit and few records over the next couple years, Smith's recording career was over. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 85.
Since it seems the only MP3 copies of this song on Amazon a re-recordings, I'm substituting a link to Amazon for that book I mentioned above. Some of the commentary won't sit well with some fans but at 13 cents it's not a bad read.
(Edited above on December 6: thanks to David for pointing out that Smith was a musician before his days behind the mixing board.)
The Allman Brothers Band - "One Way Out"
Part of the outstanding live double LP Eat a Peach, "One Way Out" features superb guitar work by both Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. As a Southern Rock-influenced take on a 1960s Elmore James/Sonny Boy Williamson blues tune, it was captured live as part of the final show from New York's Fillmore East. Even though it only hit #86 in a short chart run, the song has grown very popular over the years on classic rock stations (at under 5 minutes long, it is preferable to many longer jams the band had on their albums) and has been featured in films Almost Famous, Lords of Dogtown and The Departed. It's one of those tunes that people who aren't Allman Brothers fans may not recognize by the title but will hear and think, "Okay, I know that one."
Chuck Berry - "Reelin & Rockin'"
Placed on a single to capitalize on the surprise success of "My Ding-a-Ling," this song was another live recording with a sexual subtext. Both songs were taken from the live B-side of Berry's The London Chuck Berry Sessions LP, recorded at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England in February '72.
"Reelin' & Rockin'" is one of the many songs Berry had recorded during his 1950s Chess Records heyday. Under the guise of checking the clock for the time, Berry makes sly references to an all-day session with a lady friend. Actually, it's not all that subtle; the line "I got some on my finger so I wiped it on the wall" brings down the house. The song is an example of what convinced the Establishment that rock & roll was a corrupting influence on American youth in the 1950s but is viewed today as good clean fun.
Elvis Presley - "Separate Ways"
Elvis Presley had a lot of hit singles in the 1970s. In fact, among all artists he ranks fourth (tied with Elton John) with 26 chart singles through a decade he didn't survive. Many of these hits were two-sided so a list of all Presley's charted pop hits includes 38 song titles. While many of these singles reached the Top 40, only three were Top 10s and the highest charting ("Burning Love") stopped at #2. With some artists, those would be phenomenal but in Elvis's case the 1970s material falls far short of his 1950s and 1960s performances in the eyes of many fans. Surprisingly, I haven't reviewed any Presley tunes on this blog until now.
Even though Elvis Presley was on his way to becoming the Vegas-attraction, sequin jumpsuit wearing, karate-chopping, overweight and highly medicated shell of his former self, there's no doubt the King of Rock 'n Roll was still in possession of a spectacular gift: his voice. While some of the stuff he put on record in the 1970s was really far below the bar he set for himself during the 1950s, a more mature Elvis was still able to handle more grown-up issues like divorce, separation and wondering about the road not taken. As he was going through his well-publicized split with his wife Priscilla, it's easy to wonder how much his personal feelings informed his music. For instance, "Separate Ways" was a song about an impending breakup and even though Elvis wasn't a songwriter he was able to take tune that and make it his own. There's even a few lines about how his child will come to grips with the reason her parents separated, definitely something Elvis was concerned about with his beloved Lisa Marie.
The B-side of "Separate Ways" was "Always on My Mind," which was a country hit and the A-side when released in the UK. Like "Separate Ways," "Always on My Mind" was a song that could've been taken from Elvis's own life story at the time, and (to my ears, at least) it's one of the best performances he ever laid down on record. Brenda Lee did the song first, Willie Nelson and The Pet Shop Boys had huge hits with the song in the 1980s, but Presley's take is my pick for the definitive version. Both sides of the single tell a great story, even if it may have been painful for him to share it.
Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show - "The Cover of Rolling Stone"
When I was 15, I found a copy of a cassette tape that somebody had discarded called Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show: Revisited. At the time, I was familiar with some of the group's late-70s hits but only knew them as Dr. Hook. My father said, "they were pretty good." When I mentioned I'd never heard of any of the songs on the tape, we went for a ride and listened. There was a telephone conversation ("Sylvia's Mother"), a goofy tale of backstage romance ("Roland the Roadie and Gertrude the Groupie"), a song that still cracks me up when I hear it ("Freakin' at the Freaker's Ball") and a couple of songs that had drug lingo I'd never heard before ("Get My Rocks Off" and "Makin' it Natural," sadly, "I Got Stoned and I Missed it" wasn't included). Then there was "The Cover of Rolling Stone."
Like many of those early hits for the group, the song was written by Shel Silverstein. It's a tune where the band explains the life they've come to know as rock stars, with drugs and groupies, an Indian guru, limousines driven by family members, playing for cash ("$10,000 a show" in 1972 dollars) but none of that matters since they haven't been able to make the cover of Rolling Stone. Critics and fans have argued whether the tune was glorifying the lifestyle on the road or simply poking fun at it. I just think it was a fun song. Of course, having a #6 national hit with such a song is going to lead to a remedy for such an oversight; indeed, the March 29, 1973 issue had the band on the cover, with the caption: "What's-Their-Names Make Our Cover."
The Chi-Lites - "We Need Order"
After scoring big hits with lush ballads as "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her," The Chi-Lites returned to the socially-conscious lyrics of earlier hits like "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" and "We Are Neighbors." The move wasn't successful; "We Need Order" would peak at #61 pop and missed the R&B Top 10. The song featured the group's excellent harmonies behind singer Eugene Record's vocal, strings that were quite common on 1970s records (especially on socially-aware urban-themed songs) and flute and saxophone solos that unfairly seemed to be buried in the final mix.
Joe Cocker - "Woman to Woman"
While many fans know of "Woman to Woman" as a #1 soul song by Shirley Brown and later remade by Barbara Mandrell. However, before either of those songs was ever recorded, "Woman to Woman" was an entirely different song by Joe Cocker. It was a single off an LP titled Joe Cocker, whose press from A&M Records stated: "Only one man in the world can record an album called Joe Cocker." Considering he already had put out a 1969 LP called Joe Cocker! it would seem A&M could have considered some more original album titles instead.
The song features a repetitive riff and Cocker singing along with his female backers. The constant flow of the music and repeated intonation of the line "woman to woman" makes me wonder whether Cocker was trying to do a James Brown-type song in his own style. Peaking at #56, it didn't stay very long on the charts; however, a sample of the song would appear on a 1996 Tupac Shakur hit called "California Love."
Carly Simon - "You're So Vain"
Here's a song that is one of the best-remembered #1 hits of the 1970s. It's also a song that has been discussed, dissected, run through the rumor mill, hashed over, speculated and discussed some more. Did I forget to mention a lot of people have discussed this song? Discussion has often focused on the person Simon was thinking about when she wrote the song. From her husband James Taylor to 1970s serial playboy Warren Beatty to Mick Jagger (who sings backup during the last part of the song), many have been suggested even as Simon herself remained coy about it.
Personally, I have no idea -- nor do I really care -- about who (or is that whom?) the song is about. In fact, the lines "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you" tells me that anybody who might wonder if they're that person would be fairly arrogant in the first place. In short, the song is well-performed, superbly crafted in the studio an incredibly catchy. A juicy slice of 1970s gossip among L.A.-based stars, it's good enough to stand on its own without any wasted time discussing who she might be singing about.