Saturday, May 8, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 8, 1971

This list is a lot longer than many of the ones I've reviewed lately. 14 singles (one of which was a double-sided hit) made their debut on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. Six of those made the Top 40, with three Top 10 hits and one #1 smash. The list of new songs covers a wide variety of musical formats: country, soul, bluesy R&B, Motown soul, glam rock, jazz/rock fusion and Bahamian junkaroo. A breakthrough performance by Carole King, a made-for-TV family act and a few remakes show up among the songs as well.

Google Books has several archived editions of Billboard magazine available to read online for free. The May 8, 1971 issue can be read here. The full Hot 100 is on page 72. Beginning on page 29 are some articles concerning Cartridge TV, a new technology that was supposed to revolutionize the way people watched TV. Think of a video 8-track player and that's essentially what it was. Although the project failed, some of the engineers who developed it would go on to learn from their mistakes and helped usher in the VCR several years later.

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Jerry Reed - "When You're Hot, You're Hot" Jerry Reed - The Essential Jerry Reed - When You're Hot, You're Hot

(Debuted #61, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

Jerry Reed will be remembered for several reasons. First, he was a top-notch session guitarist. He was a respected songwriter. He was an actor, appearing in movies like Smokey & the Bandit, Gator, The Survivors and The Waterboy. He was also remembered for the humor he brought to many of his songs, including "When You're Hot, You're Hot."

The song tells a story from the narrator's point of view. First, he's playing craps in a back alley with two of his buddies. His hot streak is stopped when a police officer stops by, but when he's taken to the court he realizes the judge is a fishing buddy. Trying to weasel his way out of the charges, he gets tossed in jail ("Ninety days, Jerry!"). As the song fades out, he's still arguing with the judge; his line "what do you mean, contempt of court?" would pop up again at the end of his 1982 hit "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)."

"When You're Hot, You're Hot" would be Reed's biggest crossover hit. In addition to the pop Top 10, it was a #1 country song and #6 on the adult contemporary chart.

The Partridge Family - "I'll Meet You Halfway"  The Partridge Family - Come On Get Happy! The Very Best of the Partridge Family - I'll Meet You Halfway

(Debuted #69, Peaked #9, 9 Weeks on chart)

After The Monkees became a TV phenomenon during the 1960s as a made-for-TV group, it was only a matter of time before another studio executive decided to try a new spin on the idea. Taking an idea from the real-life story of The Cowsills, a show was developed featuring a singing family act. Like The Monkees, The Partridge Family became a legitimate hitmaking music act; however, they didn't eventually play their own instruments. During the group's existence, only Shirley Jones and David Cassidy would appear on the records, as ace studio musicians and singers handled the rest. While their success was short-lived, it inspired their TV "rival" pseudo-family The Brady Bunch to try turning their own kids into a singing group.

As characters from a TV show, the group's LPs were designed as promotional pieces. One was set up to resemble a family photo album (not really a clever pun on the term "album"), another resembled a magazine cover. By the time they began adding a plastic shopping bag to the packaging and placing a crossword puzzle on the cover, the ideas would wear thin pretty quickly.

As for the song "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted," it would be the group's final Top 10 hit. After hitting #1 with their first single, the next five releases managed to fare poorer chartwise than the one before. Though David Cassidy's posters were still hanging on the walls of his teenage adorers and the songs were still getting heavy promotion from being featured in a television show, it seemed radio programmers were beginning to move on to another formula.

James Brown - "I Cried"  James Brown - The Singles, Vol. 7: 1970-1972 - I Cried

(Debuted #71, Peaked #50, 6 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to his 1970s output, James Brown is best known for being a funk pioneer and originator of dance and R&B grooves that remained in the collective conscience through disco and into the work of later acts like Prince and a whole host of hip-hop artists. He has become so famous for his distinctive sound, it's easy for listeners that aren't fans of the departed "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" to remember that he also had a long string of straight R&B weepers going back to the beginning of his career in the mid-1950s. "I Cried" was another one of those songs where Brown slowed it down and proved to his fans that The Godfather of Soul was still in touch with his roots.

1971 was in the middle of a ten-year stretch where James Brown was rarely off the charts. Though he was recording for Polydor, he was still having sides -- including "I Cried" -- released by King, his label since the 1950s. With "I Cried," Brown sings in his best plea, while female singers and sparse accompaniment (a piano here, some horns there) backing him up. While not considered one of his essential songs, it's a  tune that brings a welcome break from the wall-to-wall funky groove that was James Brown's 1970s output.

Chicago - "Lowdown"  Chicago - Chicago III (Remastered) - Lowdown

(Debuted #83, Peaked #35, 8 Weeks on chart)

A few months ago, I reviewed Chicago's song "Free," which came from the same double LP -- Chicago III -- as "Lowdown." In that blog entry, I mentioned how the group's extended LPs were starting to wear thin with fans and their suites filling the entire side of an LP was beginning to be seen as a shtick. As it was, some of the songs on Chicago III were well-crafted and pointed to the band's later pop-oriented direction, but overall the four sides were considered uneven by many.

The second single from Chicago III, "Lowdown" was co-written by the band's drummer Danny Seraphine and singer Peter Cetera. Like "Free," it was more about the music than the lyrics. Essentially a verse and a long instrumental passage and then a refrain of 3/4 of the original lines before the outro, the vocals are handled by Cetera's unique phrasing. Several band members are given the chance to shine here: Robert Lamm gives an electric guitar solo, David Lamm's organ gets to shine and the three-piece brass section led by James Pankow's trombone colors the song as well. Given the band's knack for fusion of many different musical styles, "Lowdown" isn't constrained by rock alone. The song's peak in the lower Top 40 could be attributed to the listening public's wariness of Chicago's style or merely a lack of musical sophistication; it's up to listeners and their opinion of Chicago to determine which.

Carole King - "It's Too Late" Carole King - Tapestry - It's Too Late b/w "I Feel The Earth Move"  Carole King - Tapestry - I Feel the Earth Move

(Debuted #84, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

One of 1971's biggest music stories was the "comeback" of Carole King. I use quotation marks here because she hadn't really been gone for long. Though she only managed to get a pair of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 during the early 1960s, she was a prolific songwriter for most of the decade in partnership with her husband Gerry Goffin. After the two split in 1968, King decided to give more attention to her singing career. Her first ventures would be as part of groups. The Executives had a minor hit in 1968 with "Windy Day" and her group The City released one failed LP in 1969. A solo LP Writer also fared poorly in 1970.

Her next album Tapestry would become one of the best-selling LPs of the new decade. Spending 15 weeks at #1 on the Album chart, it remains the longest-running long-player on the charts (both for weeks at #1 and for its six-year stay on the Billboard 200) of any female solo record. For many, the first exposure to King's new album was the double-sided hit single featuring "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move." Each song had its own personality: "It's Too Late" was a song about a breakup and "I Feel the Earth Move" was more upbeat. When released, "I Feel the Earth Move" was considered the A-side but DJs preferred "It's Too Late," leading Billboard to list it as a two-sided single. Cash Box, on the other hand, listed single sides separately and only listed "It's Too Late" in its own survey. This fact has led to some argument over which song actually was the A-side. Unlike other double-sided #1 singles like  The Guess Who's "American Woman/No Sugar Tonight" and Rod Stewart's "Maggie May/Reason to Believe," the answer here isn't quite so clear-cut.

Ronnie Spector - "Try Some, Buy Some"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Try Some, Buy Some" would be Ronnie Spector's only hit during the 1970s. Rather than a link between her hits with The Ronettes in the 1960s and her guest vocal on Eddie Money's 1986 hit "Take Me Home Tonight," this hit was part of her short stay at Apple Records (coincidentally, at the same time her then-husband Phil Spector was associated with the label).

The song was written by George Harrison and employed the "Wall of Sound" that Spector pioneered during the 1960s, which certainly made it sound dated. A distinctive part of the sound was a mandolin, an instrument that would surface again on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" later that year. The song is rumored to feature two or more of the ex-Beatles singing background but the voices are mixed so low it's hard to know for certain. In any case, the orchestral outro is quite reminiscent (sans guitars) of the one The Beatles used in "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" on Abbey Road.

The Supremes - "Nathan Jones"  The Supremes - The Supremes: The '70s Anthology - Nathan Jones

(Debuted #88, Peaked #16, 10 Weeks on chart)

Despite losing Diana Ross to a solo career, The Supremes barely lost a step in moving on without her. With Jean Terrell filling the vacant spot, the group continued hitting the top 40 along with their former lead singer. At this point in 1971, it was still anybody's guess as to whether Diana Ross would outperform the group that made her famous.

Interestingly, "Nathan Jones" broke the mold of the typical Supremes song. Where they usually performed with a lead (either Ross or Terrell but occasionally Mary Wilson) and the other two providing backing vocals, this time all three ladies sang lead in unison. Another thing about the song that stands out is how the music (provided in excellent fashion -- as always -- by The Funk Brothers) seems to experience a phase shift in a few points during the performance. Sung about an old lover who walked out, the song is a declaration that it's time to move on as well.

Clarence Carter - "The Court Room"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #61, 6 Weeks on chart)

While doing research for this song, I happened to notice that when it was released, Clarence Carter was 35 years old. Interesting, as he sounds a lot older than that when he's singing it. Blind since birth, Carter gravitated to music early and grew up on the Blues in his native Alabama.

"The Court Room" was a song filled with small-town intrigue that can only come from a place where everybody knows everybody else. The man on trial is the Reverend Joe Henry, who's being accused of taking advantage of one of his parishioners. With little touches in the lyrics like the way the defense attorney addresses members of the jury about what the reverend has done for them personally, a objection from the audience from the judge's wife and the admonition from the judge that he's about to clear the courtroom, the story is laid out for the listeners until the jury foreman steps forward and divulges the secret that was the reverend's alibi. All through the song, the orchestration gives a very melodramatic mood that makes the song very much a 1970s tune.

T. Rex - "Hot Love"  T. Rex - Electric Warrior (Remastered) - Hot Love

(Debuted #92, Peaked #72, 6 Weeks on chart)

Despite reaching #1 for six weeks in T. Rex's native U.K., the American public wasn't yet ready for the band and "Hot Love" didn't manage to get a lot of airplay on this side of the Atlantic. An early example of glam rock, it was the first single by the group (formerly named Tyrannosaurus Rex) to feature bass and drums. With lyrics full of innuendo and catchy vocal hooks, the song was one of those singles that could have been a bigger hit if it had been issued at a different time. In the case of "Hot Love," it may have done very well had it been released after their U.S. breakthrough hit "Bang a Gong (Get it On)." It definitely would have fared well once David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and other glam acts were also scoring hit singles.

The Main Ingredient - "Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)"  The Main Ingredient - Everybody Plays the Fool: The Best of the Main Ingredient - Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #52, 9 Weeks on chart)

At the time they released "Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling in Love)," The Main Ingredient were still looking for their breakthrough hit. After forming in 1964, the trio of Donald McPherson, Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester went through several name changes before settling on their permanent billing by 1968. Some low-charting hits would follow, but by 1971 they hadn't managed to crack the pop Top 40. While "Spinning Around" would become their first R&B Top 10 hit, it didn't fare as well on the Hot 100. As a soft R&B jam that wasn't out of step with some of the era's hits, it may have had a chance if the trio had been better known.

Sadly, tragedy was ahead. As "Spinning Around" was riding the charts, McPherson suddenly fell ill. Finding out he had leukemia, he lost the battle very quickly and passed away on July 3. He was only six days short of his 30th birthday. His replacement, Cuba Gooding, would be in place when The Main Ingredient finally made the pop Top 40 in 1972.

The Beginning of the End - "Funky Nassau (Part 1)" The Beginning Of The End - Funky Nassau - Funky Nassau, Pt. 1

(Debuted #94, Peaked #15, 14 Weeks on chart )

The Beginning of the End was a group from The Bahamas that consisted of three brothers and a fourth member on bass. Their only hit on Billboard's Hot 100 was a lyrical ode to their home city. From its junkaroo beat to its island brass parts mixed with American funk, its description of "mini-skirts, maxi-skirtsand Afro hairdos,"the song extolled the virtues of the group's Bahamian base.

A surprise hit, it reached the top 15 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was a success for Henry Stone during his days at Atlantic Records, and the money he earned helped him start up TK Records in Miami shortly thereafter.

Johnny Rivers - "Sea Cruise"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on chart)

While many people know "Sea Cruise" as a 1959 Frankie Ford hit, it was originally written and performed by New Orleans R&B legend Huey "Piano" Smith. New York-born, Louisiana-reared Johnny Rivers would be one of the many artists to cover the song but wasn't able to get very far up the charts with it. Rivers had handled a bunch of cover songs throughout his singing career and his formative years in Baton Rouge made him respectful of the New Orleans scene.

Rivers' version of the song was very faitful to the more familiar hit version, but with a noticeable rhythm guitar that sounded like John Fogerty stopped by during the session. The following year, Rivers would cover another Huey "Piano" Smith song -- "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu" -- and would enjoy his biggest hit in years.

Bobby Goldsboro - "And I Love You So"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #83, 6 Weeks on chart)

When Bobby Goldsboro released "And I Love You So" as a single, few listeners had ever heard of its songwriter Don McLean. While it wouldn't be long before "American Pie" remedied that problem, the original recording was part of McLean's critically lauded but weak-selling debut 1970 LP Tapestry. While Goldsboro performed the song with the same sound and style that helped him take "Honey" to #1 in 1968, it didn't help him get very far this time around. As for "And I Love You So," the song would finally become a hit in 1973 when Perry Como cut it.

Although the song has become a sentimental favorite for some couples, it comes off as a pedestrian Bobby Goldsboro effort. Compared to McLean's original, it comes across as less authentic

The Three Degrees - "There's So Much Love All Around Me"  (Not available as MP3)

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

 Coming from Philadelphia, The Three Degrees are well-known for a couple of classic songs in the Philly Soul format, "When Will I See You Again" and their appearance on MFSB's "TSOP" (a song used as the theme to Soul Train). However, "There's So Much Love All Around Me" was songs from their days at Roulette Records and the lush orchestration you'd expect isn't there. Instead, the most prevalent instrument backing up the ladies' three-part vocals is an organ, with a brass section chiming in somewhere in the middle of the song.

While it's not a bad song, it really doesn't rise above their later work (or even their earlier hit "Maybe"), so their quick exit from the charts after two weeks isn't a big surprise.

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