Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 26, 1973

At first glance, the list doesn't appear to be much. Only six new songs made the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with only one reaching the Top 40. While the one song to make any waves on the Hot 100 was an undeniable classic, some of the others would be memorable in other areas. Two songs were #1 country hits. Another song pointed towards a country sound for an artist who would later hit big in that genre. One would be remade into a Top 5 hit a decade later.

Google books has a large online archive of past editions of Billboard magazine to read online for free. The May 26, 1973 issue is among the ones there. The full Hot 100 list is on page 64. An article beginning on page 1 sheds some light on how well quadraphonic albums were selling, based on a survey of 59 record stores in 21 different markets. At the time, 53 of those stores were actually selling "Q" albums -- some in their own section, others mixed in with stereo LPs -- and were reporting many of their customers didn't really understand the format. It seems the record companies were so quick to roll out the Next Big Thing that little planning was done to inform the consumer, perhaps assuming they'd just figure it out eventually. At the same time, there was no real program to make selling the product easier for records stores. That sure sounds like a recipe for a cluster (you know what). As it turned out, Quadraphonic became a punchline of the decade.

Apple iTunes

Anne Murray - "What About Me"  Anne Murray - What About Me - Hey! What About Me

(Debuted #83, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)

Back in the days when a disc had two sides playable, Murray's LP Danny's Song had one side of studio recordings and another side recorded live. The version of "What About Me" that ended up as a single was taken from the live portion. Having been the title track of her first Canadian album in 1968, it was never issued as a single until the live version appeared.

Written by Scott McKenzie and recorded at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, "What About Me" shows off Murray's unique pop-styled phrasing. Effortlessly performed, it shows a glimpse into why -- despite other performers of the era like John Denver, Barry Manilow or The Osmond clan -- Anne Murray has a lot of fans but few who vehemently object to her music.

Deep Purple - "Smoke On The Water"  Deep Purple - Machine Head - Smoke On the Water

(Debuted #85, Peaked #4, 16 Weeks on chart)

Just four music notes. That's all that is needed to play "Smoke on the Water"'s distinctive riff. Very simple but quite memorable. While it seems pretty simple, the riff is one of the ways a beginning guitarist feels all that practice is working.

In the classic song, Richie Blackmore starts off with the riff as a solo. Playing it a second time, he is joined one at a time by an organ, drums and Roger Glover's bass before Ian Gillan begins telling the story of how a gig with Frank Zappa and the Mothers on Invention ended up with the place being burned down by a flare gun. The title "Smoke on the Water" refers to the fact that the building on fire was right next to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Roger Glover is credited with coming up with the title a few days after the incident.

The LP that contained the song, Machine Head, is considered a classic British hard rock LP in the same vein as Black Sabbath's Paranoid and Led Zeppelin's fourth album. And while I have always enjoyed the song, my daughter became a fan of the tune when she was 7 and heard it in the film School of Rock. It's one of the songs she had me put on her MP3 player. Not bad for a song that used to make my own parents yell at me to "turn that down!"

John Denver - "I'd Rather Be A Cowboy"  John Denver - Farewell Andromeda - I'd Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady's Chains)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #62, 10 Weeks on chart)

"I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" was the first song on Denver's LP Farewell Andromeda as well as the first of three singles taken from the album. None of the singles made the Top 40 (but it's worth mentioning that one of the tunes, "Please Daddy" was a Christmas-themed song and few of those did well during the 1970s in any case), but it represents a slip after his success with "Rocky Mountain High." In a way, while it may sound like "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" may have been geared toward the country artist; however, Denver had not yet been given much exposure to country radio and didn't chart on Billboard's country survey with the song.

The lyrics of the song aren't so much about ropin' & ridin' as much as they are about how he wasn't interested in living in Los Angeles. In the narrative, his woman left but he was willing to let her go as opposed to living in a place that was that foreign to him (calling it "lady's chains" in the chorus). The idea of being a "country boy" and closer to nature was a topic Denver visited frequently in his songs.

Roy Clark - "Come Live With Me"  Roy Clark - The Best of Roy Clark - Come Live With Me

(Debuted #98, Peaked #89, 3 Weeks on chart)

Roy Clark will probably be best remembered as one of the co-hosts of the long-running TV show Hee Haw, which widely and sorely overlooks his talent as a singer and instrumentalist. Throughout the 1970s, Clark was one of country music's most prolific talents -- winning awards for Entertainer of the Year as well as Instrumentalist of the Year -- and was adept at the banjo, mandolin and guitar. Despite being able to showcase those talents on the show, fans tended to focus more on the cornpone humor of the show than on the musical quality on display.

Despite all the awards and accolades, "Come Live With Me" was Clark's only #1 country hit on the Billboard charts. A song of devotion and commitment, it was the type of middle-of-the-road fare Clark specialized in. Written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, the song would also be memorably covered by Ray Charles in 1974.

Tanya Tucker - "What's Your Mama's Name"  Tanya Tucker - Tanya Tucker: 16 Biggest Hits - What's Your Mama's Name Child

(Debuted #99, Peaked #86, 4 Weeks on chart)

I've long been a sucker for songs that tell a story. "What's Your Mama's Name" is a narrative about a man named Buford Wilson. In the first verse, he's a young man just coming into a small town. The second verse finds him habitually drunk ten years later and being sent to jail for asking little girls around town who their mothers were. Finally, when he dies nearly twenty years after that, a letter is found in his possession telling him he had a daughter, which is why he'd been asking. It was another in a string of hit songs by Texas native Tanya Tucker that had the teenager singing about adult topics rather than the "kid stuff" often laid down by Donna Fargo or Barbara Fairchild.

Though not much of a hit on the Hot 100, the song would go on to become a #1 single on Billboard's country chart. At the time, it made 14-year old Tucker the youngest country artist to score a chart-topper. That record was short-lived, however; Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses" would break it later that same year. Fortunately for Tanya Tucker, she would send several more singles to #1 as a teenager and into her thirties.

Slade - "Cum On Feel The Noize"  Slade - Get Yer Boots On - The Best of Slade - Cum On Feel the Noize

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned here before that I was born in 1972 and grew up during the 1980s. For that reason, my own perspective of this tune will always be colored by the 1983 remake by L.A. heavy metal band Quiet Riot. Being eleven years old when that version became a #5 hit, it was hard to avoid the song. As for the original version of the song, it was far more popular with Slade's English countrymen than it was in the U.S. The song debuted at #1 in the UK (a rare feat then) and stayed on top for four weeks. Even though the remake hasn't exactly aged well over time, it was a fairly loyal (if heavily amplified) take on the original.

Its quick disappearance from the U.S. chart may have been more than just a factor of Slade's lack of Stateside recognition; it may have also had something to do with the spelling of the first word in the title. Although many of Slade's song titles intentionally mangled words to reflect a more phonetic spelling to the point of poking fun at their working-class accents, Americans were obviously prudish about the other meaning of their variation on the word "come." When the Quiet Riot remake was a hit, you can bet my 6th grade chums were giggling about the title. If there's anything really great to say about the 1983 hit, it's the fact that Slade was finally able to get a couple of Top 40 hits in the U.S. soon afterward.

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