Saturday, May 1, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 5, 1973

Eight songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with a pair reaching the Top 40 and one making Top 10. The Top 10 single was a re-release of a song that had already been a #1hit back in 1962. A few surprising names show up in the artists who failed to make the Top 40; that is, until you realize you've likely never heard the songs they were singing. Several others ended up dropping off rather quickly, with half of the new songs failing to chart higher than #88.

The issue dated May 5, 1973 is available here. The full Hot 100 list can be seen on page 64. An article beginning on page 6 mentions a trial program in the Los Angeles area where cassette copies of 15 different song titles were being sold through vending machines. The effort likely failed then, because the cassette single (or "cassingle" as it was called) wouldn't catch on with buyers until the mid 1980s. By then, it was only a matter of time before they were themselves supplanted by CD singles.

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Michael Jackson - "With a Child's Heart" Michael Jackson - Anthology: The Best of Michael Jackson - With a Child's Heart

(Debuted #84, Peaked #50, 7 Weeks on chart)

After more than three years as a fairly constant presence, this was the first song featuring Michael Jackson on vocals to miss the pop Top 40. Despite the flagging success of his solo material, his recordings as part of The Jackson 5 would continue to score for the next two years even as the singles often peaked in the lower half of the 40. However, 14 year old Michael's voice was changing, as was the music around him. He and his brothers wanted to get more involved in the creative process but Berry Gordy's Motown machine were reluctant to change a winning formula. Due to that inflexible handling and the diminishing returns on the group's hits, father Joe Jackson would start looking for another record label for his sons.

"With a Child's Heart," like many of the songs cut by the Jackson brothers at Motown, was a cover. Written by Motown staffers, it originally appeared as a cut on Little Stevie Wonder's 1966 LP Up-Tight. Evidently, a song whose lyrics convey the innocence and wonder that comes with being young were considered best suited for a young singer; in 1999, 13 year-old Raven Symone would handle it as well.

The Dramatics - "Hey You! Get Off My Mountain" The Dramatics - The Best of the Dramatics - Hey You! Get Off My Mountain

(Debuted #88, Peaked #53, 7 Weeks on chart)

In March, the sad news arrived that Dramatics singer Ron Banks had passed away. Sadly, news like that causes some to reflect on a person's work and pull out music that had gone without listening for far too long. What's especially sad about that is the way you can't help but realize the fact that somebody performing the song has been silenced forever. While technology allows an artist to live forever as long as the music is still there, it's still a hollow feeling.

"Hey You! Get Off My Mountain" was taken from the LP A Dramatic Experience. The album had several songs about the evils of drugs and its cover showed a gruesome monster. However, the record also had romantic ballads and dance tunes interspersed, which muddied the "concept" a little. "Hey You!" was somewhere in the middle: in one sense, the words express a feeling of being "high" but can also be interpreted as a warning to a lover that her style wasn't right ("I don't need that kind of lovin'"..."You're just trying to bring me down")

Despite the song's poor showing on the Hot 100, it was a solid R&B hit, reaching #5 on that chart. It really deserved to be a bigger pop hit, as it featured great vocal interplay and harmony, as well as great orchestration. It was as well-crafted as many of the era's Philly Soul hits (even though The Dramatics themselves were from Detroit) and could have fit seamlessly into the same playlist as "The Love I Lost" or "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love."

Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers - "The Monster Mash" Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers - The Original Monster Mash - Monster Mash

(Debuted #94, Peaked #10, 20 Weeks on chart)

This was a re-release of a song that had gone to #1 when it was first released in 1962. After its first hit run around Halloween that year, it re-entered twice: a #91 peak in 1970 and this reissue that would reach the Top 10. It was the first time in the rock era where a song had reached the Top Ten on two different occasions in different decades. This time around, it also made the U.K. charts (it was banned in 1962 because of its "morbid" subject matter) and hit #3.

Originally written and recorded during an era that saw a lot of "dance" type records ("The Twist," "The Loco-Motion," "Mashed Potato Time"), Pickett co-wrote it and used a horror movie motif as his gimmick. It has since become a perennial Halloween classic. The funny thing about this re-release was that it wasn't a hit in October. The song's renewed interest has often been attributed to L.A. disc jockey Barrett Hansen, who was doing a four-hour show on KMET-FM under the name Dr. Demento.

Mac Davis - "Your Side Of The Bed" Mac Davis - The Best of Mac Davis - Your Side of the Bed

(Debuted #95, Peaked #88, 6 Weeks on chart)

Mac Davis's career may have seemed to be disappointing during the early 1970s. Aside from a huge hit with "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" in 1972, he had failed to get any other tunes into the Top 40 through 1973. "Your Side of the Bed" would be his sixth pop chart entry (plus two other songs that bubbled under the Hot 100). His crossover country hits weren't faring much better, although "Your Side of the Bed" would make the Top 40 in that genre. Fortunately, his success as a songwriter helped him during those years. Elvis Presley recorded a number of his songs ("In the Ghetto," "A Little Less Conversation," "Don't Cry Daddy"), and others were made into hits by Bobby Goldsboro ("Watching Scotty Grow") and Gallery ("I Believe in Music").

With melancholy strings, a wailing guitar and the sound of heartbreak, "Your Side of the Bed" is a song about dealing with being alone after someone has left. The lyrics tell of waking up in the morning and realizing once again that the other side of the bed is no longer occupied despite whatever the dream had been saying. It's a little more of an adult topic that's much more suited for country than it is for the pop audience. That said, Davis still had some great music left in him and was gathering Top 40 hits again soon after this song faded into memory.

Tower Of Power - "So Very Hard to Go" Tower Of Power - The Very Best of Tower of Power: The Warner Years - So Very Hard to Go

(Debuted #97, Peaked #17, 18 Weeks on chart)

For the second week in a row, a Tower of Power song appears on the list. Like "Time Will Tell" from last week's review, "So Very Hard to Go" is one of those songs that just shines because Lenny Williams's vocal performance is on an even par with the band's famed horn section. In fact, the vocals on this song are among the most emotionally stirring placed on vinyl during the decade. The TOP horns are fabulous, Williams shows incredible form and range, and even the band members singing backup are terrific. The song would deservedly be the highest-charting single of Tower of Power's long career.

On the surface, "So Very Hard to Go" is a song about getting ready for a split. In a sense, it was asking what do you say when it's time to say goodbye? However, as it was being written and recorded, a couple of band members left the group, including lead singer Rick Stevens. While Lenny Williams did a phenomenal job on the track, one can't help but wonder if co-composers Emilio Castillo and "Doc" Krupa had their former bandmates in mind as the song was being crafted.

King Harvest - "A Little Bit Like Magic" King Harvest - Lost Tapes - A Little Bit Like Magic

(Debuted #98, Peaked #91, 4 Weeks on chart)

King Harvest are best known for "Dancing in the Moonlight," but few have ever heard their sole followup Hot 100 hit. It's little wonder, considering the song stayed on the lowest reaches of the chart in its short month on. However, once you've heard the first song, the other sounds a bit like it.

From its electric keyboard opening and easy-going style, mixed with a similar vibe on lead vocals, "A Little Bit Like Magic" sounds like the group followed the formula for their earlier hit. One thing they didn't do, though, was enhance the rest of the group's vocal harmony the way they did in "Dancing." Instead, the other group members singing along with the chorus were mixed lower with the musical accompaniment which detracted a little from the dynamic.

After "Magic," King Harvest released a failed LP and then broke up. Two members would team up with Beach Boy Mike Love for his group Celebration, who enjoyed a Top 40 hit in 1978.

Martin Mull - "Dueling Tubas"  Fabulous Furniture & Martin Mull - Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room - Dueling Tubas

(Debuted #99, Peaked #92, 3 Weeks on chart)

Did you ever listen to the theme from Deliverance and wonder how that would sound with a couple of tubas instead? Martin Mull did.

Yes, this is Martin Mull, the comedian and actor who appeared in the 1970s comedy Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and several movies throughout the years. "Dueling Tubas" was part of his comic stage show recorded for his LP Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room. Also called "The Theme from Belligerence," the song is part of Mull's rather acerbic wit. If you find his style of comedy funny, you'll like it, but if it's not something that speaks to least it's over in a minute and a half. Which, come to think about it, is about as long as the song lasted on the charts.

Tommy Roe - "Working Class Hero" Tommy Roe - Jam Up And Jelly Tight - 20 Classics - Working class hero

(Debuted #100, Peaked #97, 4 Weeks on chart)

Despite the song title, this isn't a cover of John Lennon's tune. Instead, it's a celebration of American blue-collar workers. This flies in the face of Wikipedia's entries on Tommy Roe and the Lennon song, which both specifically name it as a remake. Despite the "experts" at the vaunted online encyclopedia's disposal, a quick listen to the two songs (both available anywhere as YouTube videos) will indicate that they are not the same song at all.

Singing about the people who do work hard at necessary jobs and still take pride in their labor, "Working Class Hero" is a song that is closer in sound to the music of Roe's native Atlanta than the Bubblegum hits he had in the 1960s and early 1970s. With an acoustic guitar and dobro backing him up, the song sounds more like a country tune than people would expect from somebody who sang "Dizzy" and "Jam Up Jelly Tight." Topically similar to the 1985 #1 Alabama hit "Forty Hour Week (For a Livin')", the song did make the country chart, peaking at #73. "Working Class Hero" would be Roe's final Hot 100 entry.

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