Saturday, January 30, 2010

This Week's Review -- January 29, 1977

A baker's dozen of new songs made their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Eight would go on to hit the Top 40, four would crack the Top 10 and one would go all the way to the top. Two songs were by former Beatles, both of whom were about to step away from music briefly to devote to film interests. A gentle song appeared by an actor who starred in one of the era's more violent TV series. A song with a gospel feel by a secular white group from upstate New York arrived, along with several that espoused more adult topics. The rise of disco was evident, as was the movement towards impeccable studio musicianship.

Many past issues of Billboard are available at Google Books. Click here to read the January 29, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 78. Among the stories: the Blizzard of 1977 (I lived in northern New York then and remember that well) caused heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures across the Northeast, affecting record sales. In an example of news traveling in cycles, the record industry was figuring out what they were going to do with "piracy" even then...but in 1977 the scoundrels were recording copyrighted material onto cassette tapes. A doctor was urging discotheques to install vending machines dispensing earplugs for their patrons due to the noisy environment (no mention about whether he also urged them to consider having preemptive penicillin shots). Finally, a gospel group called The Oak Ridge Boys were looking to expand into country music. I wonder how that worked out for them?

Here's this week's review:

George Harrison - "Crackerbox Palace" George Harrison - Thirty Three & 1/3 (Bonus Track Version) [Remastered] - Crackerbox Palace

(Debuted #66, Peaked #19, 11 weeks on chart)

By 1977, much of the sheen surrounding The Beatles had subsided. Apple records had folded, Capitol was mining the group's back catalog but the live and repackaged LPs  -- that year saw both Love Songs and Live at the Hollywood Bowl -- weren't necessarily the blockbusters the company envisioned. Among the four former members, only Paul McCartney was scoring hits consistently. George Harrison and Ringo Starr were seeing diminished chart returns and were both becoming increasingly interested in film and other pursuits outside of music. John Lennon had gone into retirement to raise his young son.

"Crackerbox Palace" was the second single from the LP Thirty-Three and 1/3, which was both the speed of an LP and Harrison's age when it was released. The first hit, "This Song" (reviewed in this blog last November) was a disappointment on the charts compared to his earlier hits, but "Crackerbox Palace" had a better showing. One of Harrison's better-regarded solo songs, it featured a decent melody, Harrison's distinctive slide guitar work and a touch of his humor. However, once the song dropped from the charts, Harrison wouldn't return for another two years.

David Soul - "Don't Give Up On Us" David Soul - David Soul - Don't Give Up On Us

(Debuted #74, Peaked #1, 19 weeks on chart)

Police dramas were a big part of the 1970s TV landscape and many were violent due to their storylines. During the mid-1970s, Starsky & Hutch was often pointed out as one of the worst offenders when it came to displaying graphic action on the TV screen. It wasn't a true episode if there wasn't a victim getting beaten up or shot; furthermore, is seemed there had to be a 5-minute chase featuring the "Striped Tomato" red Ford Torino before the credits could roll. Ironically, one of that show's lead actors would notch an international #1 hit with a light love song at the height of the show's run. David Soul, who played detective Ken "Hutch" Hutchinson on the show, had been a frequent singing guest on The Merv Griffin Show even before his hit series. Although the song was a huge hit, there are still varying opinions among music fans about whether it's any good.

David Soul is considered a one-hit wonder in the U.S. due to scoring this big hit but never making the Top 40 again. However, he did score two minor followup hits in the Hot 100 and one of those ("Silver Lady") was also a #1 hit in the UK. However, he'll be remembered on this side of the Atlantic mainly for "Don't Give Up On Us." The song wasn't featured in any episode of Starsky & Hutch -- though he did sing the B-side "Black Bean Soup" in one segment -- but was still sung on-camera by Owen Wilson (playing Hutch) in the 2004 film treatment of the show.

The Ohio Players - "Feel The Beat (Everybody Disco)" Ohio Players - Gold - Feel the Beat (Everybody Disco)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #61, 5 weeks on chart)

In 1976, The Ohio Players released a greatest hits compilation called Gold. With its standard risque cover photo featuring a barely-clothed ebony model, the LP contained all the group's important hits (except for "Funky Worm," which hadn't been recorded for Mercury) and is a great starting point for anybody who wants a primer into the group's work. In addition to the hits, the group placed a newly recorded song at the very beginning of the album. The title alone informed fans that "Feel the Beat (Everybody Disco)" meant that even a seasoned funk band like The Ohio Players weren't above cashing in on the disco craze that was percolating at the time.

While the horn section is up to the standards of some of the Players' best songs, the song seems like it was rushed through to fill a necessary void. The vocals aren't all that clear, the lyrics are inane and repetitious. Placing this song on a greatest hits LP with songs that are clearly better just shows why the Ohio Players' hits dried up soon afterward.

Enchantment - "Gloria" Enchantment - If You're Ready: The Best of the Enchantment - Gloria

(Debuted #91, Peaked #25, 13 weeks on chart)

The title "Gloria" may make casual fans think of the 1960s classic written by Van Morrison and recorded by his group Them, but this song is entirely different. This "Gloria" is a smooth R&B ballad that fit well into the "Quiet Storm" format. Enchantment was a Detroit-based vocal group and "Gloria" was their first pop hit. The second single from their self-titled debut LP, it would be the first of three Top 5 R&B hits and their highest-charting pop hit.

Ringo Starr  - "Hey Baby" Ringo Starr - Ringo's Rotogravure - Hey Baby

(Debuted #90, Peaked #74, 3 weeks on chart)

Yes, this is Ringo Starr doing his own version of the Bruce Channel hit from 1962. That song has become a small part of the Beatle legend because Delbert McClinton, who played the distinctive harmonica on that single, gave some pointers to John Lennon about the "mouth harp" while touring England along with the group in 1962 and the instrument ended up on a few early Fab Four singles. Interestingly, Ringo's version of "Hey Baby" doesn't include a harmonica part at all. However, that's about all that's missing; there is a piano, bass, drums, guitars, horn section, what sounds like the Animal House frat party on backing vocals and perhaps a kitchen sink.

A disappointing effort, this would be the first chart single by the ex-Beatle to miss the Top 40 since his 1971 45 "Beaucoups of Blues." In fact, Ringo's hitmaking days were nearing their end. He would get just one more Top 40 hit in 1981 but even that would soon be forgotten. In 1989, he began his All-Starr Band tours after acting in films and portraying the role of the conductor in Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. The All-Starr Band concept has been continued in various lineups since its formation depending on the projects of its members and is expected to continue in 2010. Not bad for a guy who turns 70 this summer.

Natalie Cole - "I've Got Love On My Mind" Natalie Cole - I've Got Love On My Mind - I've Got Love On My Mind

(Debuted #84, Peaked #5, 21 weeks on chart)

Nat "King" Cole's daughter was doing very well in 1977. "I've Got Love On My Mind" would be her biggest pop hit up to that point (bettering her #6 hit "This Will Be" by one chart position) and earning Cole her fourth #1 R&B hit. As the title suggests, the song is a romantic ballad and has a timeless quality that still sounds well today as it is missing gimmicks often found in 1970s music.

Taken from Cole's LP Unpredictable, the album title that ironically described her career beginning in the late 1970s. Though she really never went away and was an active performer through the entire period, her career was affected by issues with drugs and personal issues. Despite many modest R&B hits, she largely disappeared from the pop chart until her 1987/'88 comeback.

Boston - "Long Time" Boston - Boston - Foreplay / Long Time

(Debuted #62, Peaked #22, 10 weeks on chart)

"Long Time" was the second single from the Boston LP, which is perhaps the biggest-selling debut LP in history. How much was that album remembered? During the mid-90s I worked at an all-70s format radio station and every song from that LP was contained within the CD library sent from the California-based company that sent its "canned" programming our way via satellite feed. Though I don't recall ever playing "Something About You" on the air, the other eight songs from Boston were in the rotation. No other LP that wasn't a greatest hits compilation -- not Aja nor Rumours nor Bat Out of Hell -- had all of its cuts in the main CD library.

With a guitar hook and an organ line, "Long Time" unfolds before Brad Delp's lyrics explaining why he needs to travel farther down the road. Other songs referred to "traveling men" through the years, in rock, blues, country and other genres. This song is another example where the allure of the road is stronger than anything else that might make a man stay. It's a sharp contrast to the vocal in "Heard it in a Love Song" (another 1977 hit) where an emotional goodbye keeps the man from resuming his journey.

(Note: both of the downloads here are for the LP version of the song, a medley of the instrumental "Foreplay" and "Long Time." It appears the single version isn't available in a downloadable format. I suppose that's all well, however: even classic rock stations always play the two songs together.)

L.T.D. - "Love To The World" L.T.D. - Love to the World - Love to the World

(Debuted #100, Peaked #91, 3 weeks on chart)

L.T.D. was the band that introduced Jeffrey Osbourne to the public. Beginning in 1968 in North Carolina, the band (whose name means "Love, Togetherness and Devotion" -- all the biographies of the band add that, so here's the mention) added Osbourne a few years later after they watched him performing in Providence, Rhode Island. Their breakout came with their 1979 LP Love to the World. After a modest hit with "Love Ballad," they released the title song as a followup but didn't get a lot of success with it. It disappeared after three weeks on the chart.

As a song, "Love to the World" is okay in a Earth, Wind & Fire-meets-The Commodores in their funk roots days way but Jeffrey Osbourne was certainly a more powerful vocalist than what either of those bands had.

Orleans - "Reach" Orleans - Dance With Me: The Best of Orleans - Reach

(Debuted #85, Peaked #51, 8 weeks on chart)

For fans who know Orleans from their hit songs "Dance With Me," "Still the One" and "Love Takes Time," "Reach" may come as a surprise. While the song may seem like it expresses a desire to strive toward a better and brighter future (which it does), the words sound very much like a sermon or a gospel song tweaked for secular use. The last minute of the song -- led off by a false ending -- breaks into a gospel chorus to give credit to the song's roots.

Ironically, despite the positive forward-looking lyrics of "Reach," Orleans would fall apart due to internal dissension soon after the song's chart life. Singer and leader John Hall left the band, but the band reformed without him two years later to score another hit with "Love Takes Time." Hall eventually became a U.S. Congressman from the group's home base of Woodstock, New York.

Jennifer Warnes - "Right Time Of The Night" Jennifer Warnes - Best of Jennifer Warnes - Right Time of the Night

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 22 weeks on chart)

The last four songs in this week's review all have sexual undercurrents, whether implied or not. "Right Time of the Night" is the only one that comes right out and says so, however. The song was written by Peter McCann, who had his own hit later the same year with "Do You Wanna Make Love," another song in the same vein. From "the stars are winking above" to "we'll be bad if you don't mind" there really isn't a lot to figure out about what's on her mind.

While some may call the lyrics provocative, the fact that this was a Top 10 hit and #1 on the adult contemporary chart tells us it really wasn't. Not in an age where people were supposedly "liberated" in such matters and three years after "Let's Get it On" was a #1 hit. While the words would have raised some eyebrows during the 1950s, the kids of that era were the same adults who were buying the record in 1977. However, the lyrics are fairly genteel when compared to the words from many modern songs, which are much more direct about the matter and don't even bother to call it "making love."

Olivia Newton-John  - "Sam" Olivia Newton-John - Gold: Olivia Newton-John - Sam

(Debuted #72, Peaked #20, 13 weeks on chart)

"Sam" was a perfect example of Olivia Newton-John's crossover popularity in the mid 1970s. Besides hitting the pop Top 20, it made the country Top 40 and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. It also hit #6 in her native England. Perhaps the push from AC and country helped the single make the pop Top 20, as ONJ was somewhere in the middle of a foggy period between her mid-70s smashes and the phenomenal success she experienced after appearing in Grease.

The fact that "Sam" was a country hit really isn't a surprise when you read the words. She and Sam have both just gotten out of separate relationships and ONJ is suggesting in her cooing vocals for him to stop over and help each other get over what happened. "The door is open wide, come on inside." The only thing separating this from bigger 1976-'77 country hits like Dave & Sugar's "The Door is Always Open" and Johnny Paycheck's "Slide Off Your Satin Sheets" is that the female partner isn't still married to somebody else.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section - "So Into You" Atlanta Rhythm Section - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Atlanta Rhythm Section - So Into You

(Debuted #89, Peaked #7, 19 weeks on chart)

"So Into You" was the first big hit from The Atlanta Rhythm Section after one song that barely reached the Top 40 and a few low-charting singles. It's still played frequently on radio stations that have AOR, A/C and 70s formats. Its easy-going beat and laid-back vocals make it something of a period piece that helps its lasting popularity. Although many think it's about a rendezvous, a quick look at the lyrics tell a different story: the narrator is so taken by the sight of a pretty girl walking past that he's dumbfounded. The rest is purely fantasy (or lust, depending on your point of view). According to the words, she doesn't notice him.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section is often lumped in with Southern rock bands like The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Marshall Tucker Band because of the fact that they happened to be from Georgia and were very popular in the Southeastern U.S. However, they really weren't comparable in that regard. As the house band for Studio One in suburban Doraville and made up partly of former musicians from The Classics IV, ARS was really more of a group of professional musicians than a Southern rock group. By honing their talents in the studio, they were more of a band like Steely Dan and shared musical styles with The Eagles and post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps the distinction was lost because they were also a touring band (unlike Steely Dan for most of the 1970s), playing over 250 shows a year.

Jim Stafford - "Turn Loose of My Leg"

(Debuted #99, Peaked #98, 2 weeks on chart)

As one might expect from a song that only remained on the chart for two weeks and peaked at #98, few people remember this tune at all. After a string of six often humorous Top 40 tunes in the 1970s, Florida-born Stafford's chart fortunes took a wrong turn after 1975. "Turn Loose of My Leg" sounds like a poor attempt at returning to a formula that made "Spiders & Snakes" (reviewed on this blog last November) a surprise hit in 1973 but wasn't executed well. Where the earlier hit was a remembrance of growing up and realizing that dealing with girls wasn't always easy, this time the perspective is different. The narrator is talking about being an adult and staving off the ladies' advances...not exactly something many listeners can relate to. This would be Stafford's final pop hit.

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