Saturday, April 24, 2010

This Week's Review -- April 27, 1974

Here's a first for this blog. Of the seven songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 survey, not a single one would go on to reach the Top 40. I really don't know how many times that happened during the 1970s (or at any time in the history of Billboard), but it's a rare occurrence. While some might dismiss such a list because the songs are mostly unfamiliar, I welcome a week like this specifically because those songs are unfamiliar to me. I never know whether I might find something I like.

Past issues of Billboard are available to read online at Google Books. The April 27, 1974 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 52. Among the stories is a piece beginning on page 26 about Dick Clark's return to radio after over a decade away. The Juno Awards (for the Canadian music business) also gets a review over several pages.

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Rick Cunha - "(I'm a) Yo-Yo Man" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

Rick Cunha may be unknown to many music fans, but he's a highly regarded guitarist in the bluegrass, Hawaiian steel and Spanish-style genres and enjoys a great deal of respect among his peers. Born in Washington, DC in 1944, his father was 1950s B-movie director Richard Cunha and his grandfather Sonny Cunha, a very popular Hawaiian musician during the early 20th Century. During the 1960s he was a member of the folk-rock group Hearts and Flowers. Later, he was a session musician for artists like Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings. He has written music for others as well. However, with all that under his belt he only managed to get one hit single.

From the lyrics, the Yo-Yo man was a travelin' man, an aimless, free-spirited man who did tricks for the kids at the playground. Today, that might attract some special attention from parents and police, but it was one of several songs expressing a desire to explore the freedom of the road at that time. In addition to Cunha's guitar chops, the song features fiddles, a harmonica and a stomping beat. With those elements, it would be a minor hit on the country chart as well.

Despite its short-lived success on the Hot 100, "Yo-Yo Man" has taken on a life of its own as part of The Smothers Brothers' comedy act. Beginning as a song the duo sang as part of their act, Tommy Smothers has developed a very elaborate yo-yo trick routine that has become a very popular part of their show.

Tower Of Power - "Time Will Tell"  Tower Of Power - The Very Best of Tower of Power: The Warner Years - Time Will Tell

(Debuted #93, Peaked #69, 6 Weeks on chart)

Tower of Power is world-famous for its brass section. Their sound is so distinctive, they are often asked to contribute to songs by many artists that call for horns. Some of their work can be found on albums from a wide variety of musical formats, artists as diverse as Rod Stewart, The Brothers Johnson, Toto, Huey Lewis & the News, Santana, John Lee Hooker, even harder-edged groups like Poison and Aerosmith. What's more, they've been continually performing and touring for more than 40 years.

Despite the demand of their famed horns, the group's peak hitmaking years came when they had the services of Lenny Williams on lead vocals. Williams was an R&B veteran before joining the band and lent a distinct quality when he sang. On "Time Will Tell," his recital is placed on equal footing with the horn section and Williams holds his own. While not as powerful as "So Very Hard to Go" or as funky as "What is Hip," "Time Will Tell" is a great ballad and one of the band's underappreciated gems.

Rick Derringer - "Teenage Love Affair" Rick Derringer - All American Boy - Teenage Love Affair

(Debuted #94, Peaked #80, 5 Weeks on chart)

This was the followup to Rick Derringer's biggest solo hit, the FM rock staple "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" (reviewed here in January). As familiar as that song was, "Teenage Love Affair" faltered quickly and was soon forgotten. It's a shame, as it was a more straightforward rocker and a lot more fun to listen to. A great guitar tune, Derringer gets some help from Joe Walsh, who plays a distorted solo that is faster but not too far removed from the one he did on "Rocky Mountain Way."

As the title suggests, "Teenage Love Affair" is about two kids having fun once the parents leave. After the solo, the lyrics explain that the girl ended up having quite the reputation, but like the dogs that males can be, he didn't seem to worry about it. Perhaps I just explained why the song wasn't that much of a hit; lyrics that discuss casual sex between teenagers in a frank manner probably don't play well in Peoria, the Bible Belt or anywhere else parents were still looking at rock 'n' roll as filth. That always cracked me up, because I seem to recall that teenagers really didn't need rock music to let them know about the natural chemistry that resulted when a boy and girl spent enough time together.

The Undisputed Truth - "Help Yourself" The Undisputed Truth - The Best of Undisputed Truth - Smiling Faces - Help Yourself (Single Version)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #48, 7 Weeks on chart)

The Undisputed Truth sometimes seemed like little more than Norman Whitfield's "other" group, the one who got to enjoy the leftovers after he'd given his best material to The Temptations. That was likely the way it was planned, considering their version of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" received little notice until Whitfield had it redone by the more famous group. However, by 1974, The Temptations were no longer working with Whitfield (who was preparing to leave Motown soon afterward) so The Undisputed Truth was in a position to get better material.

"Help Yourself" had a great funky rhythm and decent vocal interplay, but listening to it might lead one to wonder how it could have been done with Dennis Edwards handling the lead vocal, Eddie Kendricks on the high part and the rest of the Temptations doing background harmonies. Perhaps the flip side of working with a visionary producer like Whitfield and having the same musicians at their disposal was that they were often unfairly compared to his other projects. So, nearly three years after hitting big with "Smiling Faces Sometimes," the group was still seeking a followup that would place them back in the Top 40. "Help Yourself" wasn't that song, however.

The Crusaders - "Scratch"  The Crusaders - Scratch - Scratch

(Debuted #98, Peaked #81, 6 Weeks on chart)

They had dropped the name "Jazz" from their name in 1971, but The Crusaders were still adept at the style even as they focused more on R&B during the 1970s. Their LP Scratch was recorded live at The Roxy in Los Angeles, and the title song was its only single to reach the Hot 100. As an instrumental piece of straight jazz, it's little wonder the song didn't reach farther into the pop charts (though that is no excuse). While jazz is an underappreciated form among fans of other genres, it's still no excuse for listening to a great band in its element. The saxophone solo by Wilton Felder that dominates much of the record is top-notch and the piano work is superb.

Paper Lace - "Billy, Don't Be A Hero" (Not available as MP3)*

(Debuted #99, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)

My website has been online since 2000. Over the years, I've gotten emails that corrected errors I've made in the listings. Since the site was very data-intensive and I was a one-man crew entering the info -- often at late hours -- there are surely going to be some errors there. However, this song has been the source of a few emails from well-meaning visitors explaining either that "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" was a song by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods and that the #96 peak had to be wrong since it was a big hit. Yes, Donaldson and company did have a huge hit with the song, but it was a hit by Paper Lace first.

Paper Lace was a group from Nottingham, England. When they recorded "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" they took it to #1 in their home country; however, before they could get rights to a release in the U.S., the song had already been cut by Donaldson's group. That version was already on the Hot 100 before Paper Lace could get listed and went all the way to the top. Paper Lace only managed to reach #96 before being forgotten. Fortunately, they were able to bounce back with their next single, "The Night Chicago Died."

As a song from 1974, "Billy" is often considered a reaction to the Vietnam War. That would make a great deal of sense, as the memories of that conflict were still fresh. Also, the story of the soldier dying in action along with military-style marching drums and wind instruments that sounded like Revolutionary-era fifes underscored the belief. However, the song had been written by two Englishmen with the U.S. Civil War in mind (American soldiers weren't wearing blue uniforms to 'Nam). Though the two songs are quite similar, one major difference between Paper Lace's original and the hit version is the presence of a female voice in the chorus.

* - while there are MP3s available through iTunes and Amazon, it seems what is available are versions that have been re-recorded well after the hit single. Therefore, I decided not to link to them.

The Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Rhapsody in White"  Love Unlimited Orchestra - Rhapsody In White - Rhapsody In White

(Debuted #100, Peaked #63, 8 Weeks on chart)

The "White" in the song title is a play on the name of the man behind The Love Unlimited Orchestra: Barry White, whose career in 1974 could only be described as "white" hot. Having just come off a #1 instrumental hit with "Love's Theme," White followed it up with the title song off the Rhapsody in White LP but it wasn't as much of a hit. Another instrumental, it wasn't quite as romantic as its predecessor but still was worthy of some more spins than it ended up getting.

Like the previous hit, White arranged lush strings but some great guitar work is given the spotlight. In a way, it was another example of how Barry White was an early innovator of the disco sound by using orchestration that would be a standard component of that genre before others thought of using it. Ironically, the monster he helped to create ended up devouring him. Once he began actually doing disco music, his career begin its decline. As an innovator of his own sound, he was unparalleled; once he followed the trend, it sank him.

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