Saturday, January 2, 2010

This Week's Review -- January 1, 1972

Seven new songs debuted on the first Billboard Hot 100 of 1972. While that's a low number of first-timers, the songs had hit power. Six would go on to make the Top 40 and four would be Top 10 hits. The Billboard magazine from this week can be found at Google Books and the Hot 100 List can be found on page 19.

T. Rex - "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" T. Rex - Electric Warrior (Remastered) - Bang a Gong (Get It On)

(Debuted at #87, Peaked at #10, 15 weeks on chart)

Over the years, many groups from England have been hugely successful in their own country only to have limited success in the U.S. One of those acts was T. Rex, a group led by Marc Bolan that was very influential in the Glam rock scene of the 1970s. Despite their heavy influence on later artists, they only managed four U.S. hits and only "Bang a Gong" managed to reach above #67.

The song was a #1 single in the U.K. and was called "Get it On" there (and everywhere else in the world). However, a minor 1971 hit of the same name by the group Chase caused the record label to alter the title to "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" to avoid any confusion. As a three-minute piece of disposable pop, the song is really good. The lyrics are about a girl, but critics have debated whether there's any meaning behind them, with mentions of teeth of a hydra and eagles on her shirt.  Others say it's merely a song about sex.

A remake by The Power Station (featuring singer Robert Palmer, two members of Duran Duran and Chic drummer Tony Thompson) would reach #9 in 1985, with the reverted title "Get it On (Bang a Gong)."

Apollo 100 - "Joy" Apollo 100 - Boogie Nights #2 (More Music from the Original Motion Picture) - Joy

(Debuted at #100, Peaked at #6, 14 weeks on chart)

In 1969, an LP called Switched-On Bach (by Walter -- now Wendy -- Carlos) brought the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach to a new audience and showed how electronic devices like the Moog synthesizer could be used to make music. It was a surprise million-seller. After that, other artists (most notably The Who on "Baba O'Reilly") began to experiment with the new instrument and it was only a matter of time before somebody decided to issue a Bach composition as a single. As 1972 dawned, an English studio group called Apollo 100 released a single called "Joy," a take on "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Though it didn't use a synthesizer (Apollo 100 used an organ), it was clearly inspired by the Carlos record.

While a classical piece usually doesn't excite fans of rock and pop, "Joy" was a Top 10 hit. It's a song that many might not know by seeing the title but often remember upon listening. It has been featured in films like Boogie Nights (in a scene showing a pan of Eddie/Dirk Diggler's bedroom with all its period pieces) and The 40-Year Old Virgin. The group's success was short-lived, though; a followup single with music from Mendelssohn's 4th barely dented the Hot 100. Future releases missed the chart altogether and the group folded in 1973.

Climax - "Precious And Few"  Climax - Big Hits of the 70s Volume 4 - Precious & Few (Original Single Version)

(Debuted at #81, Peaked at #3, 19 weeks on chart)

Here's a tune that people love or hate, depending on their musical tastes. To some listeners, this is one of the 1970s' romantic favorites. For other, this is the reason people stopped listening to AM radio stations. Regardless whether you think it makes a great wedding song or belongs on selection B15 in the Jukebox from Hell, it was a big hit and still finds its way onto romantic hit compilations like the ones you see getting shilled on late-night TV by some past-his-prime singer from 30 years ago.

Climax was formed out of the ashes of The Outsiders (who hit in 1965 with "Time Won't Let Me") after that group split up around 1970. Former Outsiders Sonny Geraci and Tom King both formed new bands and began using the name The Outsiders, and when King sued as the owner of the group's name, Geraci changed the name of his band to Climax. The newly renamed band released its first LP late in 1971 and "Precious and Few" was the first single. The slow, romantic love song was a #3 smash and its followup "Life & Breath" was a minor hit. Despite the encouraging success of their first LP, Climax recorded but never released a second and broke up shortly afterwards.

Listening to "Precious and Few" it's hard to imagine that the smooth voice belonged to the same person who did "Time Won't Let Me." The songs are from different perspectives as well. The earlier one was a plea for the lady to give in to his desire and with the later's safe to say she finally let it happen. From the lyrics, this guy is thinking of her as he's away from home, or else he's drinking ("If I can't find my way back home..."). But in either case, the guy is now p-whipped.

The Faces - "Stay With Me"  Faces - A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse - Stay With Me

(Debuted at #56, Peaked at #17, 10 weeks on chart)

After reviewing a song like "Precious and Few," "Stay With Me" is an interesting contrast.The lyrics couldn't be more direct: "let's have a one night stand, but you need to be out the door before I'm awake." Further lines like "it won't take much persuading...but with a face like that you've got nothing to laugh about" point out that this is definitely not a love song. Beginning with electric piano before Ron Wood begins playing his guitar and Rod Stewart opens up with his distinctive vocal, the song is straight-ahead rock & roll and is among the group's best performances.

While The Faces were recording their LP A Nod is as Good as a Wink...To a Blind Horse, Rod Stewart hit huge with his solo LP Every Picture Tells a Story and the #1 hit "Maggie May." The resulting success was good for the band because it brought some exposure but it also helped fracture the lineup once Stewart's solo career demanded his time. They would record one more LP before breaking up. Rod Stewart would become a superstar, two other members joined iconic groups (Ronnie Wood to the Rolling Stones and Kenney Jones to The Who), keyboardist Ian McLagan became a heavily-sought after session man and bassist Ronnie Wood formed his own band. Their time was relatively short, but The Faces would contribute to the face of music for years to come.

Robert John - "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)" Robert John - Hit Singles, 1958-1977 - The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Single Version)

(Debuted at #89, Peaked at #3, 17 weeks on chart)

This is, of course, a remake of the #1 song done by The Tokens in 1961. While that version is probably the best known, it's not the original. First written and recorded in 1939 by a South African Zulu named Solomon Linda as "Mbube" (the Zulu word for "Lion"), the song was a hit during the 1940s in its native country. In 1951, folk legends The Weavers did a version of the song and called it "Wimoweh" because they misheard the background vocals (uyimbube - "You're a lion"). For the #1 record in 1961, new lyrics were written for The Tokens by three American writers. As a result of the various additions to the original song and a lawsuit filed by Linda's heirs, it is often listed as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) (Mbube)." For a more complete version of the events, read this article from Bob Shannon's "Behind the Hits" website.

Robert John was a Brooklyn-born singer who had been recording since he was 12 (in 1958) but had only gathered a handful of hits. With "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" he finally earned his first Top 40 single and also his first gold record. The song was done in a slightly different style from The Token's version; while there is still a doo-wop chorus, John's version adds a slide guitar in the background and the sax solo with a female soprano voice behind it has been replaced by -- of all things -- a tuba solo with a slide guitar.

The 5th Dimension - "Together Let's Find Love"  The 5th Dimension - Up, Up and Away - Together Let's Find Love

(Debuted at #90, Peaked at #37, 10 weeks on chart)

"Together Let's Find Love" was a single from The 5th Dimension's LP Live!! and even though it just made the Top 40 as a concert recording it was considered a poor chart position for a group that usually scored Top 20 with their singles. The single fared a little better on Billboard's R&B (#22) and Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary (#8) charts. Despite the vocal harmonies that marked the group's big 1960s hits, their 1970s songs tended to be more of a spotlight for its vocalists to sing solo and this song is no exception. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. do what is essentially a duet before the crowd while the other three members are relegated to background support and that isn't evident in some parts unless you really listen. Even though they're in fine form vocally on the song, it's easy to see why this is often forgotten in favor of hits "One Less Bell to Answer" or "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All."

Van Morrison - "Tupelo Honey"  Van Morrison - The Best of Van Morrison, Vol. 3 - Tupelo Honey

(Debuted at #99, Peaked at #47, 8 weeks on chart)

Van Morrison is one of those performers who is a favorite of music fans, critics and other musicians. Judging by his reputation, it would be assumed that his list of hit singles would be longer -- or at least have higher peak positions -- than it is. Neither this or any of Van the Man's subsequent 1970s singles would reach the Top 40 even though his albums were consistent sellers. Perhaps his fans were content to simply buy the long-players and shun the singles, especially when they were often edited down for radio play.

"Tupelo Honey" was the title track from Morrison's 1971 LP. The album cover showed his wife on a horse and this song was likely written about her. The hymn-like delivery of the song sets a mellow tone. As Morrison seems to be channeling both Bob Dylan and Otis Redding, his band backs him up superbly.

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