Saturday, January 23, 2010

This Week's Review -- January 19, 1974

This may be the first week in the five months I've been writing this blog where every song has been available from both iTunes and Amazon as downloads. However, having only five new songs in total helps those odds tremendously. Of the five debuts in Billboard's Hot 100 survey, only two would reach the Top 40 and one was a #1 hit. Interestingly, all five acts had long and multi-faceted careers, even if there were some rough stretches along the way.

Many past issues of Billboard are available through Google Books, but the January 19, 1974 edition is not among them. It's a shame, as I've enjoyed reading through them and seeing that while technology has changed (back then, vinyl was king, cassettes and 8-tracks were considered inferior but were being improved and nobody yet knew what CDs or digital recordings there were things like cartridge television and other oddities), many of the business fundamentals have remained the same. After all, the bottom line is still the most important part of the business, no matter what era. Perhaps some of today's music executives could pay attention to the history lessons contained in some of these issues.

Ashford & Simpson - "(I'd Know You) Anywhere"  Ashford & Simpson - Gimme Something Real - Anywhere

(Debuted #94, Peaked #88, 3 weeks on chart)

Although the table linked above shows this as the first hit for husband/wife duo Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, they had been enjoying hit singles for years as songwriters. During the 1960s they wrote "Let's Go Get Stoned" (along with former Ikette Josie Jo Armistead) for Ray Charles and later became staff writers for Motown. There, they wrote several hit duets for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"). When Diana Ross parted from The Supremes, two of her earliest solo hits were Ashford & Simpson tunes: her #1 hit version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)."

Before becoming songwriters, Ashford & Simpson had tried unsuccessfully to work as a recording act. After having others hit with their material, they decided to try again in the early 1970s. Valerie Simpson had a minor hit as a solo artist in 1972 with "Silly Wasn't I" and began teaming with Ashford on record in 1974 when they left Motown for Warner Brothers. Their first LP Gimme Something Real contained "(I'd Know You) Anywhere," a song that began as a slow ballad and then picks up a little bit two minutes in. Opening with a piano and sparse instrumentation accompanying Ashford and Simpson as each do solo vocals, the full orchestra (complete with backing singers, which sounds to me like multitracked recordings of Ashford and Simpson) kicks in just as the song becomes a true duet. 

As an entrance for the duo as performers, the song was decent and should have been a bigger hit than its #88 peak would indicate. It hit the R&B Top 40, reaching #37. The duo would continue to score on the R&B chart and begin getting some Top 40 LPs before finally reaching the pop Top 40 for the first time in 1979. As they built their own career together, the duo also did commercial jingles, worked as DJs for New York's KISS-FM and worked with other artists like Quincy Jones (Simpson sings on "Stuff Like That"), Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan, among others.

Cher - "Dark Lady" Cher - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Cher - Dark Lady

(Debuted #82, Peaked #1, 16 weeks on chart)

This is a fine example of what I call a 1970s melodrama: a song that tells a story, has music that wouldn't be out of place on a movie or TV show and has an ending that isn't exactly out of any storybook. The lyrics spin the tale of a woman seeing a fortune teller. The all-knowing seer says her man has been unfaithful and that the other woman is "someone else who is very close to you." Upon returning home, she catches the scent of the fortune teller's perfume, realizes she was the other woman, then goes back to catch her and the man together. A violent end follows.

The song was written by John Durrill, a member of The Ventures. He had submitted some of his songs to Cher's producer Snuff Garrett; "Dark Lady" was one of them but it hadn't been completed yet. Upon getting the gist of the song, Garrett suggested, "make sure the bitch kills him." Once he finished with it, Garrett had Cher record it and it was a hit single.

This was the third and final #1 single Cher had during the 1970s. All three came during the run of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, a variety show on CBS that achieved excellent ratings but wasn't actually considered to be much more than mindless TV with Cher's one-liner put downs of her husband and her elaborate but 1970s tacky clothing styles. The show would be canceled soon after "Dark Lady" fell off the charts, as Sonny and Cher began divorce proceedings. By an odd coincidence, Cher's next husband would be Gregg Allman and his band had a song debut this week as well.

The Dells - "I Miss You" The Dells - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Dells - I Miss You

(Debuted #91, Peaked #60, 7 weeks on chart)

The Dells are a Chicago-based group that has weathered many decades and musical styles. Beginning in the mid 1950s, they have recorded in the doo-wop, soul, jazz, disco and R&B genres. More incredibly, they have had a consistent lineup for many of those years. From 1960 onward, the same core group of five remained together until Johnny Carter's death in August 2009. The group's peak hitmaking years spanned the late 1960s through early 1970s, and "I Miss You" was near the end of that run. It would be their last Top 10 R&B hit and second-to-last Hot 100 entry. Even after the hits stopped coming and new recordings became less frequent, The Dells continued touring.

"I Miss You" is a basic R&B song that isn't much different from other soul emanating from the radio early in '74. The music has the same urban quality heard on songs from The O'Jays, The Chi-Lites, The Spinners and the post-Norman Whitfield Temptations. The vocals sound almost like Levi Stubbs in The Four Tops' post-Motown material. It's a shame to say the song sounds like an imitation of other 1970s soul artists, as The Dells certainly held their own over the years adapting to many changes in styles.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Jessica" The Allman Brothers Band - Brothers and Sisters - Jessica

(Debuted #90, Peaked #65, 6 weeks on chart)

As familiar as "Jessica" is to many listeners, a lot of people would be surprised to see that it only peaked at #65. It's a familiar instrumental that many will know by ear even if they don't recognize the song title. Despite its relatively poor showing on the Billboard chart, the song has lived on for years through radio airplay, use in movies (like "Field of Dreams") and as a theme song to shows such as Dr. Dean Edell's radio program and the BBC series Top Gear.

Written by Dickey Betts and named after his daughter Jessica, the song was a seven-and-a-half minute jam on the group's Brothers and Sisters LP. The single version only excised about 30 seconds from the tune, and its running time likely helped keep its chart position low. However, the longer version is the one that has been included on The Allman Brothers' greatest hits packages and is played on most radio stations.

Rick Derringer - "Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo" Rick Derringer - All American Boy - Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo

(Debuted #100, Peaked #23, 14 weeks on chart)

Although it shows as Derringer's first chart single, he had already been part of two #1 singles, as a member of The McCoys ("Hang On Sloopy" in 1965) and The Edgar Winter Group ("Frankenstein" in 1973). He was also a guest guitarist for Alice Cooper ("Under My Wheels") and Steely Dan ("Show Biz Kids"). Originally named Rick Zehringer, his last name was changed to reflect the Derringer pistol in the logo of The McCoys' record company, Bang. 

"Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" is probably best remembered as a classic example of 1970s guitar-driven rock, included on dozens of compilations and played incessantly on classic rock radio. It probably also sounds dated as a result of that saturation. At first, it sounds like a basic rock song with a great guitar riff propelling it...and in that sense it's a really fun song. That said, it also conveys all the excess and hard-living that went with the 1970s hard rock lifestyle even though it's a great song to crank the volume up whenever it begins playing.

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