Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Week's Review -- April 16, 1977

Although only eight songs were able to break into the Hot 100, many had staying power. Five of them would be Top 40 hits, three made the Top 10, and a pair were destined to be #1 hits. Four songs would remain on the pop charts for at least 18 weeks. Interestingly, two of this week's new singles are songs whose point of view reflects bemusement at the latest dance craze; one dances to satisfy his partner and the other has to be coaxed into it. Another one is a unique song that was different but still reached the Top 40. Pablo Cruise is on the chart for the first time, while Bread, Carl Graves and B.W. Stevenson are making their last run. Finally, the first two songs listed are among the biggest of that year.

An archive of past Billboard issues is available at Google Books, including the April 16, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 80. Beginning on page 44, a feature article focuses on writer/producer Freddie Perren. A short article on page 32 explains that Frankie Valli was doing a "farewell" tour with The Four Seasons before embarking on a solo career. And finally, a reminder beginning on page 2 that some things just don't change: industry types were bemoaning the fact that many recent songs were filled with vulgar language and suggestive lyrics. What might be surprising is that the music in question was country. While complaining about the use of words "hell" and "damn" seems quaint today, it does reflect the more conservative nature of country fans in general even in 1977. However, the genre had long been an outlet for more "adult" topics (and the article mentions this) going back to its earliest days; really, when Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells sang about "Honky Tonk Angels" a quarter century earlier, who imagined the married woman in question was being chaste?

Wolfgang's Vault - Posters

Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up (Part 1)" Marvin Gaye - Number 1's: Marvin Gaye - Got to Give It Up, Part 1

(Debuted #50, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

Back in the days when he was part of the Motown assembly-line production process, Marvin Gaye had a lot of singles and several hits. That would change beginning with his What's Going On LP (outlined on this blog a few months ago) and through the 1970s his work was a matter of quality over quantity.  However, despite Gaye's reduced output, he was still able to make hits. "Got to Give it Up" would be a big one, too, hitting #1 on Billboard's pop, soul and disco charts during the Spring of '77.

While there was no shortage of dance-oriented singles in 1977, "Got to Give it Up" doesn't come across as a standard-issue disco song. Its groove is much slower, voices are heard in the background to simulate a party going on (something also utilized in "What's Going On" although this time the voices are from Gaye himself) and Gaye refrains from using catchy dance hooks in favor of a more laid-back, funky feel. Even the percussion is mellow, partially made with a half-filled bottle of juice. The lyrics -- sometimes hard to follow because of Gaye's falsetto delivery -- tell of a guy who is reluctant to go out on the dance floor but eventually loses himself in the rhythm.

According to the legend, Gaye recorded the song in a very casual manner, laying back on a chair in the studio and singing into a microphone above him. It also was expanded and reworked by producer Art Stewart until it became a nearly 12-minute album cut. The single version was Part 1, lasting just over four minutes and including most of the vocals.

Fleetwood Mac - "Dreams" Fleetwood Mac - Rumours - Dreams

(Debuted #77, Peaked #1, 19 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that ranks among the singles I don't get tired of hearing. That's especially rare, because it still gets played on the radio an awful lot. When I began this blog a year and a half ago I intended to write about all of the songs I felt were the best of the 1970s and this was one of the tunes I wanted to mention but hadn't gotten around to finishing before I changed my focus. Funny thing, though...when I was younger I really didn't care for the song. I guess it's one of those things you don't really get until you've had some life experience. For a while, in fact, I didn't even realize that "Dreams" was this song even though I had heard the song many times on the radio because that word doesn't feature in the lyrics until the last verse.

A lot has been written over the years about the soap opera drama between several band members as they recorded their music for the Rumours LP. So I won't get into the details of that except to point out the fact that Stevie Nicks wrote a song that was quite abstract when compared to Lindsay Buckingham's take on the events, "Go Your Own Way."

I've often forgotten how great the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are together. In the BBC series Classic Albums, the show about Rumours had a part where the producer and Fleetwood listen to the track in the studio brought down the audio for all the channels except the bass and drums. While a good bass/drum combo works like the timing chain in an old car, pulling the engine along, the McVie/Fleetwood combo does that and more in this song. Then again, having Lindsay Buckingham adding his haunting guitar line and Stevie Nicks singing about her own personal heartbreak adds more complexity to the tune.

Bread - "Hooked On You" Bread - Lost Without Your Love - Hooked On You

(Debuted #82, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Hooked On You" was Bread's thirteenth single to reach the Hot 100. True to the superstition, it wasn't good luck for them at all. Not only would it be their first release to miss the Top 40, it would also turn out to be the band's final hit. For a band that seemed to have the Midas touch between 1970 and '73, it was a sad way to end. After touring for most of 1977 on what was billed as a "comeback" tour, the band quietly disbanded in 1978.

Like all of Bread's other hits, the song followed the standard formula that turned the group's earlier hits into gold: written and sung by David Gates, an easy listening feel, wistful lyrics and romantic guitar lick. Perhaps the fact that it sounded like just another Bread song doomed it, but it's much more likely that the prevailing sound of pop music had simply moved past what fed the group's early 1970s success and made the song seem old-fashioned.

Sad to think that in the group photo on the album cover shown below, only one of the guys is still alive.

Starbuck - "Everybody Be Dancin'" Starbuck - The Very Best of Starbuck - Everybody Be Dancin'

(Debuted #85, Peaked #38, 8 Weeks on chart)

Thanks to their #3 smash "Moonlight Feels Right," Starbuck is seen as a one-hit wonder despite four subsequent chart singles. However, only one of those -- "Everybody Be Dancin'" -- just barely made the Top 40, so they've been largely forgotten beyond their big hit. Formed in Atlanta in 1974, Starbuck was formed around the nucleus of ex-Eternity's Children members Bruce Blackman and Bo Wagner. And lest anybody think that "Everybody Be Dancin'" sounds like a lesson in ebonics, Starbuck was made up entirely of white musicians.

An obvious tip of the hat to the rising disco tide, "Everybody Be Dancin'" was the first track and lead single from the band's second LP Rock 'n' Roll Rocket. From the lyrics, the narrator doesn't understand the dance craze but is willing to do it to appease his lady, even as he is disappointed they don't dance the way he remembers ("I'm gonna catch that beat if it kills me, but don't you think it's a crying shame that they don't like Carmen here no more?"). Like their biggest hit single, this one also has a marimba solo and synthesizer and adds robotic-sounding vocals near the end. It's worth checking out if you've never heard it.

Dean Friedman - "Ariel"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #26, 22 Weeks on chart)

Music is a tremendous thing once it becomes associated with memories. When I was in college, I lived in upstate New York. A record store around the corner from my school was affiliated with Rhino Records, which allowed me to pick up CDs from the Have a Nice Day: Hit Songs of the 1970s series one at a time as I was able to afford them. When I picked up Volume 19 in the series I found a tune I'd never heard before. From its mention of the same Hudson River that flowed nearby, the song stuck with me immediately despite being more quirky than most 1977 hit singles.

How quirky? First of all, the song had a sense of humor. The lyrics were playful and sung in a manner that wasn't often heard in a Top 40 song. There was a drug reference that wasn't oblique ("I said, 'Hi,' she said, 'Yeah, I guess I am...'"). Listening to an old episode of American Top 40, I heard a couple of edits to the song. The line "She was Jewish girl" was replaced with "Her name was Ariel" and the line about being high was cut out entirely, along with much of that verse. Since I wasn't able to hear the song during its original run on the charts, I never knew whether that edit was standard to allow for wider airplay. However, after hearing the full song it loses something when you know parts have been edited out. It's like hearing Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner," The Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" or Pink Floyd's "Money" after knowing they changed an offending word.

At about the same time I first heard the song, I had met a unique young lady from Westchester County who was quite free-spirited. Although nothing ended up happening between us, I'm still glad that -- even for a short time -- I got to know her. Upon hearing "Ariel," I promptly associated her with the song even though that wasn't actually her name. And even today, I still picture her whenever I hear the song.

B.W. Stevenson - "Down To The Station"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #82, 5 Weeks on chart)

Dallas-reared singer B.W. Stevenson's final hit was a little different than what listeners who only know him from "My Maria" and possibly "Shambala" would expect. For somebody associated with the "cosmic cowboy" movement that came out of Texas during the 1970s, "Down to the Stations" was rather rhythmic. The song had a danceable beat, a noticeable thumping bass line and a guitar riff that was almost lifted whole from several R&B tunes. That isn't exactly what some might expect from somebody who was originally signed to be marketed to country audiences.

The lyrics of "Down to the Station" explain that the narrator has packed his suitcase and is leaving his life (and lady) behind. And he isn't stopping to look back, either. Not a bad topic for a final hit. Sadly, Stevenson's career was done after his next LP failed to get any notice. He would pass away in 1988 after heart surgery. He was 38 years old.

Carl Graves - "Sad Girl"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #83, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Sad Girl" was the second and final chart single for R&B singer Carl Graves, who briefly enjoyed some minor success with "Baby, Hang Up the Phone" in 1974. Not much info is available about Graves; his Allmusic entry has a picture of the group Oingo Boingo because they had a keyboardist by the same name from 1988-'91.From the picture shown, I'm fairly certain it wasn't the same Carl Graves. Another artist named Carl Graves played in the 1970s Canadian group Skylark.

"Sad Girl" is an okay song for its era. It had the requisite uptempo beat, complete with handclaps and female backing singers and a great guitar solo. However, it really doesn't stand out among the other songs competing for dance club play at the time.

Pablo Cruise - "Whatcha Gonna Do" Pablo Cruise - A Place In the Sun - Whatcha Gonna Do?

(Debuted #93, Peaked #6, 26 Weeks on chart)

Pablo Cruise's first Hot 100 single was certainly memorable; it was a Top 10 smash and stayed on the chart for half a year. Still recognized by listeners of many radio formats due to its constant exposure ever since it was a hit, features solid instrumental work and crisp production. That really shouldn't be surprising, considering the band was made up of veteran musicians. Among the lineup that recorded "Whatcha Gonna Do?" are former members of San Francisco bands Stoneground and It's a Beautiful Day (who were together back during the days of Flower Power).

Beginning with a drum intro, a bass leads the rest of the band into the song. There's also a well-crafted electric guitar solo during the song's instrumental break. The words are fairly basic, coming off as advice from one friend to another about holding on to a relationship. While the simplistic lyrics backed by music that isn't difficult for pros to handle may not seem like much, the song has enjoyed some heavy exposure over the years. It's one of those tunes that many recognize even when they may not know the title or who performed it.

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