Saturday, June 26, 2010

This Week's Review -- June 30, 1979

As the decade was coming to an end, a sense of nostalgia sometimes can't be helped even as others may have been looking ahead to a hopeful future. Musicians weren't any different, as some of the songs debuting in this week's Billboard Hot 100 can attest. Nine new singles make the survey, with three making the Top 40. Two songs have nostalgic lyrics (which are oddly counterbalanced by then-current rhythms), another is a rock song that mentions a band's early years, while two songs -- one considered "new wave," another funk -- look ahead toward the music that will help shape the sound of the 1980s. Some songs are interesting contrasts: a country star sings pop, a pop singer channels Linda Ronstadt, a band from Canada cuts a song for a label associated with Southern rock, a Philly-based group sings about Motown and a song about a singing cowboy has a light disco beat.

Over at Google Books, the June 30, 1979 edition of Billboard magazine gives the top music industry news of the era. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 80. An article on page 40 explains that efforts to have two different 10th-anniversary "Woodstock" concerts in Upstate New York -- but neither at the original site of the iconic 1969 happening -- had both run aground. One of the shows was scheduled to have Rod Stewart, The Village People, The Beach Boys and Cheap Trick but was struck down when the town of Hurleyville, NY denied the permits out of fear that the crowds would be too much for the tiny hamlet. Another planned event farther upstate in Seneca County seemed to have fallen apart before any bands had been announced.

Wolfgang's Vault - Posters

The Cars - "Let's Go" The Cars - Candy-O - Let's Go

(Debuted #80, Peaked #14, 15 Weeks on chart)

Among songs that were hits during the 1970s, some of those hitting near the end of the decade are somehow associated with the 1980s instead. Perhaps the best example would be "Video Killed the Radio Star," a 1979 Top 40 hit for The Buggles but forever linked with the birth of MTV in 1981. Other songs that get confused for later hits -- such as "I Don't Like Mondays," "Is She Really Going Out With Him" or "Rock Lobster" -- are likely due to their association with the New Wave movement that took hold in the U.S. as the 1980s were getting underway. Though I understand that, it still gets me when I see a song like "Let's Go" used as the soundtrack music for a 1980s-themed movie (even one like Not Another Teen Movie that parodies them).

Of course, "Let's Go" has more in common with the 1980s rock sound with its synthesizer-infused backing track, its electronic hand claps and its hook-laden production. Written by guitarist/singer Ric Ocasek but sung by bassist Benjamin Orr, the song is about a free-spirited 17 year-old girl who's determined to enjoy herself while she's still young. While the song's narrator has begged her to go out with him, the lure of the nightlife is stronger than anything he can offer.

Actually, this isn't the only Cars song that's often mistaken for an '80s tune. The other one, though is an honest mistake since it happens to be used in an iconic scene from the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Originally included on the group's 1978 debut LP but not issued as a single, "Moving in Stereo" became part of a generation's collective conscience when it played during the scene where Brad (Judge Reinhold) imagines Linda (Phoebe Cates) coming out of the pool.

The Marshall Tucker Band - "Last Of The Singing Cowboys" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #42, 8 Weeks on chart)

For those who judge a song by what's written on the label, this song may be something of a surprise. While The Marshall Tucker Band has been known as a Southern Rock outfit with country & western influences, and the song title brings to mind Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, the song has a light dance beat. While fans may have shuddered for a moment when hearing the song, it's worth mentioning that the band often wasn't willing to be cornered into any type of sound and occasionally experimented with different styles. In 1979, that sometimes meant a disco song.

The song tells a story about a man singing in a bar, asking for requests and telling stories about his life. After three hours, he is led away and the bartender explains something about the old man that changes the entire context of the song. It turns out he's blind and doesn't realize the only people were listening were whoever just happened to be at the bar. That makes the song a commentary on somebody hanging on to the old ways even while everything around him changes, which somehow makes the dance music driving the words a little more understandable.

Dolly Parton - "You're The Only One" Dolly Parton - Great Balls of Fire - You're the Only One

(Debuted #82, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)

During the 1990s, I was a radio DJ. One station was in Poughkeepsie, New York and had a country format, with a sister station doing "all-70s, all the time." One day I arrived at work to find fellow jock Russ Anson taking a phone call from a listener who was trying to figure out a song she couldn't get out of her head. All she knew for certain was that it was sung by Dolly Parton. Once she said, "there's a spoken part in the middle," I said to Russ, "I think she means 'You're the Only One'." Immediately, the lady said, "Yes! That's the song!" Russ explained that he'd spent what seemed like five minutes without any success, and here I answered it without hearing more than two sentences. That's a really nice gift, but after that, word spread among my co-workers and I became the de facto DJ the others told our listeners to call when they were stumped. Since I worked both of the stations, I ended up doing double duty when it came to those sometimes impossible calls. Though that little bit of personal history has absolutely nothing to do with the song, it still reminds me of the time I ended up both standing out among my peers and also being tagged "that guy" when a listener called in singing an off-key rendition of a tune he wanted us to name.

Written by Carole Bayer Sager and Bruce Roberts, "You're the Only One" was one of the songs recorded by Parton specifically for pop crossover success. While she sang the song beautifully, there certainly were a lot of pop elements in the song.  The song missed the pop Top 40 but was a #1 country hit and #14 on the adult contemporary chart. Even though it was a long way from the self-written, home-spun material she was doing earlier in the decade ("Coat of Many Colors," "Jolene," her original version of "I Will Always Love You"), the song helped further the goal she began pursuing with "Here You Come Again" by helping bring Parton to a wider audience.

Peaches and Herb - "We've Got Love" Peaches & Herb - 2 Hot! - We've Got Love

(Debuted #83, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)

On the heels of two huge smash hits, a new single was rushed to radio to help sustain Peaches & Herb's hot streak. After a funk-infused dance hit ("Shake Your Groove Thing") followed by a lush ballad ("Reunited"), the new single was the uptempo number called "We've Got Love" but it missed the Top 40.

Though Peaches & Herb had scored some hits during the 1960s, the act was retired after 1970 when Herb Fame became a policeman in Washington, D.C. When he decided to resurrect his musical career, he enlisted Linda Greene as the new "Peaches." Her sensual delivery went well with Fame's upper register, but their hits dried up after 1980. By 1986, Fame was back to his career in law enforcement.

The Who - "Long Live Rock" The Who - The Kids Are Alright - Long Live Rock

(Debuted #84 Peaked #54, 6 Weeks on chart)

For a song held out as a "rock anthem" by some of the group's fans, it doesn't appear "Long Live Rock" was a particular favorite of The Who. Originally written by Pete Townsend as part of the band's "Lifehouse" project, it didn't end up on the Who's Next LP that resulted. Despite planning to make it part of a 1972 Who project celebrating rock & roll, it was shelved again when Townsend began working on Quarophenia. The song would finally appear on 1974's Odds & Sods, an album of outtakes and discarded songs issued to curb bootlegging. It would finally become a single when it was included in the documentary The Kids Are Alright.

A somewhat autobiographical song, the lyrics are both a celebration and a description of the band's lifestyle. From vomiting at the bar to preparing for a show while others take the chance to make their money, and finally to rocking the house even when the lights get cut off, the lyrics refute the idea that rock is dead. However, the music is what everybody expects from The Who: Roger Daltrey's familiar delivery, Pete Townsend's slashing guitar progression, Keith Moon's take-no-prisoners pounding on the drums and John Entwistle laying down the bass as all hell breaks loose around him. While fans love the song, it can also be seen as a pedestrian effort, which may be the reason it was held back from the group's recordings for so long.

G.Q. - "I Do Love You" Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #20, 17 Weeks on chart)

On the heels of an effusive dance hit called "Disco Nights (Rock Freak)," G.Q. followed it up with a ballad more suitable for slow dancing. "I Do Love You" was a remake of a Billy Stewart single that had been a minor hit in 1965. Filled with romantic keyboard lines, light jazz-influenced guitar licks and smooth vocals, the song was a popular wedding song at the time. While the song wasn't quite as big as its predecessor, it made #20 on the pop chart and #5 R&B, which were both better positions that Stewart achieved with his '65 Chess single.

After "I Do Love You" fell off the Hot 100, G.Q.'s further singles would appear largely on the R&B chart, but other than a 1982 hit that stalled at #93, their pop hits dried up even though they were still actively performing into the 1990s.

The Cooper Brothers Band - "I'll Know Her When I See Her" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

Here's an extreme case of "North meets South." While Capricorn Records was based in Atlanta and regarded as a "Southern rock" label, The Cooper Brothers Band was from North of the Border: Ottawa, Ontario. The group was led by brothers Brian and Richard (Dick) Cooper, along with friend Terry King. Despite showing great promise, the band had trouble once Capricorn went bankrupt and soon broke apart after the label folded.

"I'll Know Her When I See Her" is a song about seeking the perfect mate and not settling for "almost perfect," despite fiends' assertions that sometimes concessions can be made. With a good guitar lick driving the song and a saxophone aiding the flow, the song probably deserved better than its #79 peak.

Philly Cream - "Motown Review" Philly Cream - Jammin' At The Disco - Motown Review

(Debuted #88, Peaked #67, 5 Weeks on chart)

 Philly Cream was a studio group under the creative control of producer Butch Ingram. They were part of the short-lived Fantasy Records "disco" imprint Fantasy WMOT. As the name implies, they were a Philadelphia-based group and are very much infused with Philly soul. "Motown Review" was their only Hot 100 entry.

The title "Motown Review" may bring to mind a song like Shalamar's "Uptown Festival," which contained a medley of Motown songs in it. However, this song is a nostalgic look at younger days and how things had changed over the past 10-15 years. The lyrics are a list of differences: Motown reviews are gone, The Beatles have broken up, Kennedy's been shot, Dick Clark has gotten older, Coke bottles aren't made of glass anymore, kids would rather dance than sit in the theaters, rock & roll shows have been replaced by discos. The irony about those last two items are the fact that they're sung over a solid disco beat. Nothing says "integrity" quite like complaining about a new form of a song that appeals to fans of that sound.

Jennifer Warnes - "I Know A Heartache When I See One" Jennifer Warnes - Best of Jennifer Warnes - I Know a Heartache When I See One

(Debuted #89, Peaked #19, 22 Weeks on chart)

"I Know a Heartache When I See One" is often mistaken for a Linda Ronstadt song. It's easy to make the error: among the players on the song was frequent Ronstadt collaborator Andrew Gold, the backup vocals during the chorus sound suspiciously like her and the song ventured into the same Southern California country/pop territory she'd been traveling for years. Also like many of Ronstadt's hits, the song was a crossover hit (Top 40 pop, Top 10 country, Top 20 AC). It almost seems that the only thing that kept it from being a Linda Ronstadt song was the fact that it wasn't a hit previously.

Co-written by former Gary Puckett & the Union Gap bassist Kerry Chater, the song is a statement of independence from somebody who clearly isn't good for her. Another song written by a man that seems to be better handled from the female perspective, the tune is a good example of a "kiss-off" song, late-1970s style.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

This Week's Review -- June 17, 1972

More than half...

Nine new songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. More than half (five) would be Top 40 hits. More than half of those (three) would make the Top 10. And More than half of those hits (two) would make it to #1. One of those chart-toppers would feature lyrics about death and suicide, the other about a young lady who was saving herself for a man who'd never come back for her. Among the other hits: a 2-sided single by Paul McCartney that was a nursery rhyme, a New York-based group whose singer was sounding a lot like McCartney, a Grass Roots song that sounded almost exactly like one of their previous hits, a Latin-flavored remake of a classic '60s tune and a song from a guy best known for fronting the Shondells.

If you'd like to check out the Hot 100 and see what other songs were hits at the time, the June 17, 1972 edition is available at Google Books. The complete Hot 100 list is on page 73. A front-page story explains that Motown was about to move its main offices to Los Angeles and leave a skeleton crew at its famed Detroit location. On page 65 is a discussion about how the newest single from John Lennon that had what we now call "the N-word" in the title was getting some brushback from radio stations, jukebox operators and retailers wary of the controversy from having the word on the record. It's actually a very interesting article. f.y.e 468x60

Looking Glass - "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" (Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #68, Peaked #1, 16 Weeks on chart)

This big hit was a story song. Brandy is a girl who works as a waitress in a bar that sits near a naval base. Despite the come-ons from the sailor boys frequenting the joint, she chooses to remain true to the one man she loved. The only problem was that he wasn't willing to give up life on the seas for her. So she continues to wear his chain and hope he'll return to her someday. Featuring nice group harmonies and some horns that backed up the band without being overly intrusive, the song has aged better than many other 1972 hits.

Looking Glass was a band formed in New Jersey by four Rutgers students. After graduation, they decided to stay together and play local clubs and bars along the Jersey shore. After a couple of years, they were signed to Epic Records by famed impresario Clive Davis and released a few singles that failed to chart. Their third failed single was called "Don't it Make You Feel Good," which failed to attract any attention outside the group's home base until a Washington, D.C. DJ turned it over one day and got a positive response from his audience. "Brandy" broke out from there and would become one of the biggest hits that summer.

The irony about having a B-side hit that big is that casual fans didn't realize the group was a harder-edged act than their hits indicated. Since "Brandy" was essentially a throw-away, the people who only knew Looking Glass from their exposure on AM hit radio didn't always realize they were a Jersey club band. That eventually alienated fans and stalled later singles.

Here's an interesting bit of information about this song...In 1971, Scott English would reach the lower reaches of the Hot 100 with a song he wrote. Called "Brandy," it was a different song altogether from the Looking Glass hit. However, in 1974 it was slated to be covered by another Brooklyn native, Barry Manilow (at the behest of Clive Davis, who was then running Manilow's record label). By then, the title "Brandy" was identified with the Looking lass hit, so Manilow suggested the song be called "Mandy" to avoid any confusion.  

The Grass Roots - "The Runway" (Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #39, 9 Weeks on chart)

After several radio-friendly hits during the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Grass Roots had established a sound that was familiar to those who listened to AM radio during those years. Singer Rob Grill's voice was a constant presence, as were the studio tricks of co-producers/group mentors Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan. However, as the years wore on, the songs began to have a similar sound despite occasional tweaks and updates to the sound.

For instance, listeners hearing "The Runway" may have wondered if they were listening to the band's earlier hit "Two Divided By Love." The instrumental opening sounds a lot like "Divided," the vocals, harmonies and some of the instruments sound like they were simply borrowed from it as well. Both songs were written by new producers Brian Lambert and Dennis Potter, but that doesn't excuse the similarities. As a result, "The Runway" would be the band's final Top 40 hit and by 1973 they were regularly missing the Hot 100 entirely.

Argent - "Hold Your Head Up" Argent - The Argent Anthology: A Collection of Greatest Hits - Hold Your Head Up

(Debuted #82, Peaked #5, 15 Weeks on chart)

Considering how widely played this song is even today, it's surprising to know that "Hold Your Head Up" was the only song Argent ever charted in the Hot 100. Consisting of Rod Argent and Chris White (both former members of the 1960s British Invasion group The Zombies) and singer/songwriter Russ Ballard, many fans would think the band had scored some additional hits.

Noted for its slow-march rhythm, its guitar lines that are actually backing up the keyboards as lead instrument and the mantra-like "Hold your head up...HIGH" chant, the song would become synonymous with the Summer of '72. Years after its release, it still finds its way into period documentaries (such as those covering the kidnapping and murder of that year's Israeli Olympic team in Munich). It continues to be remembered, long after many of the songs charting alongside it have been forgotten.

Among Argent's other songs were "Liar," which became a big hit for Three Dog Night, and "God Gave Rock & Roll to You," best-known for its version by the group Kiss. Ballard's later songs included "Since You've Been Gone" (a three-time Hot 100 hit by three other artists) and America's last Top 10 hit "You Can Do Magic."

Stories - "I'm Coming Home" (Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #42, 12 Weeks on chart)

Stories are remembered as a one-hit wonder for their biggest hit, "Brother Louie."  While that #1 hit about an interracial relationship would be their only song to reach the Top 40, they had three other singles chart of the Hot 100. The group's first hit "I'm Coming Home" would be the highest-charting of those. While the group was new, former Left Banke member Michael Browne was the keyboard player.

For a band that was admittedly influenced by The Fab Four, "I'm Coming Home" was quite Beatlesque. While Ian Lloyd sang it, he sounds like he's trying to channel Paul McCartney -- "I'm Down" at a lower amplitude -- the piano solo sounds like it was a "Rocky Raccoon" outtake and the song's final note was a discordant one, like "A Day in the Life" but not as sustained. Surprisingly, the song doesn't come off as a blatant Beatles rip-off despite all those elements.

Wings - "Mary Had A Little Lamb" b/w "Little Woman Love" (Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #28, 7 Weeks on chart)

Speaking of Paul McCartney...

Not content with being popular among the fans who'd grown up listening to his music, Paul McCartney attempted to get in the good graces of the preschool  set as well. Legend has it that Macca recorded a children's song as a result of the BBC banning his previous single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" due to its partisan content. However, McCartney has claimed in interviews that "Mary Had a Little Lamb" was already on tape before that ban was handed down, but the rumor persists.

While the "ban this, BBC!" theory sounds great, it could be that McCartney -- who had three kids at home -- came up with the idea while playing his role as father. In any case, it's a testament to the fact that many of his fans were buying anything with his name on it to see an electrified lullaby making the Top 40. The B-side "Little Woman Love" was helpful to radio programmers who weren't enthusiastic about playing a kiddie song to an audience that had outgrown it. As an uptempo piano boogie tune, "Little Woman Love" was passable enough for a pop tune even if it was a little disappointing by the one ex-Beatle known for his sense of melody.

Originally, neither song would be included on any Wings or McCartney LP (including Greatest Hits compilations) until a 2001 CD re-release of Wild Life that added both songs from this single and "Give Ireland Back to the Irish."

Gilbert O'Sullivan - "Alone Again (Naturally)" Gilbert O'Sullivan - The Virgin Suicides (Music from the Motion Picture) - Alone Again (Naturally)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

Though many people remember this song for its familiar tune, what is often missed is the fact that the narrator of this story is feeling suicidal. Having been left at the altar on his wedding day, he's contemplating throwing himself off a tower.After that, the song veers off to other sad topics like the deaths of parents. Americans looked past all that morbidity and made the song one of the year's biggest hits, #1 for six weeks.

While "Alone Again" was the first U.S. hit for O'Sullivan, the Irish-born singer had been placing hits at home, in the U.K. and across Europe since 1970. At the time, he was using an image that cast him as a street-corner vendor during the Depression era. With Today, the LP that contained "Alone Again," O'Sullivan changed his "look" to a college glee club member, complete with a letterman's sweater prominently displaying a "G." That would be the way many Americans would remember him during his career.

Looking past the dark nature of the song's lyrics, a light melody carries the words, accompanied by a very understated acoustic guitar solo. Perhaps the musical part of the song is what helped buoy its success. A lot of songs about death and disaster would become hits during the 1970s, but few ("Seasons in the Sun" would be an exception) were what anybody could call understated. While many of those songs played out like made-for-TV melodrama, "Alone Again" sounds like its narrator has come to grips with the fact that death is simply what happens at the end of life and is doing his best to cope with it. In the end, it's likely a deeper song than many give it credit.

Vigrass and Osbourne - "Men Of Learning" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #65, 7 Weeks on chart)

Paul Vigrass and Gary Osbourne were British singer/songwriters. Together, they formed a duet between 1972 and '74 and released two LPs. The first, called Queues, contained their only Hot 100 listing "Men of Learning." Asking the musical question "Where are all the men of learning?" at a time when the world still seemed to be reeling from the events of the 1960s, it sounds very much like a Crosby, Stills & Nash song with its harmonies, instrumentation and topic. The B-side was "Forever Autumn," a song that would chart in 1978 when Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues recorded it.

After splitting in 1974, Vigrass would become the lead singer of Quasar for a short time in the early 1980s. Osbourne continued writing, most notably as one of Elton John's post-Bernie Taupin collaborators. His words appeared on Elton's LPs from 1978-'82 and included the hits "Part Time Love," "Little Jeannie" and "Blue Eyes."

El Chicano - "Brown Eyed Girl" El Chicano - 20th Century Masters - The Christmas Collection: The Best of El Chicano - Brown-Eyed Girl

(Debuted #90, Peaked #45, 7 Weeks on chart)

One of my favorite 1970s films was 1978's Up in Smoke. While El Chicano didn't make a personal appearance in Cheech & Chong's stoner comedy, they made their way into the script. After Pedro (Cheech) picks up the hitchhiking Man (Chong), they talk about Pedro's band and its stylistic "diversity." "Yeah, we play everything...from Santana to El Chicano. You know, like everything!"

El Chicano was a Latin-influenced soul band from Los Angeles. Since their style was often referred to as "brown-eyed soul," it made sense for the band to record their take on Van Morrison's 1967 classic "Brown Eyed Girl." A smoother, more laid-back take on Morrison's tremendously familiar song, El Chicano's version adds a piano, some Latin percussion a Santana-lite guitar part and some vocal embellishments to give it a much different vibe. While giving the song a feel like it was being played at a backyard barbecue or block party, it still comes off nicely.

Tommy James - "Cat's Eye In The Window" Tommy James - 40 Years - Cat's Eye In The Window

(Debuted #100, Peaked #90, 4 Weeks on chart)

After his group The Shondells broke up in 1970, Tommy James kept himself busy with his solo projects as well as writing and producing for other acts. While his solo chart singles were often hit-and-miss, they were usually cut from the same cloth as the work that made him and his band among the biggest singles acts just before the advent of the album-oriented rock wave. Gone were the psychedelic flourishes that marked hits like "Crimson and Clover" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion," but James did his best to stay current as the 1970s kicked into high gear. Sometimes his material worked ("Draggin' the Line," Alive & Kickin's "Tighter, Tighter"), and sometimes they didn't resonate with the audience. Nevertheless, Tommy James stayed true to his art.

"Cat's Eye in the Window" would be one of James's lesser hits of the era. Only reaching #90, few beyond his fan base paid it much attention. However, the lyrics are worth checking out. Telling a tale about seeing a three hundred year-old mansion that had fallen into disrepair, it makes one wonder if the song was about the decline of the United States. After the events of the 1960s, that may not have been an uncommon feeling.

The LP version of the song had a great electric piano solo (evocative of "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors) but the single version sadly omits that.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

This Week's Review -- June 13, 1970

Ten new songs debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with half making the Top 40. One song would eventually make it all the way to #1 as well. The list is another one where it would have been a real task trying to find a radio station that would have played all the songs together. The very first song Casey Kasem played on his American Top 40 show was among the newcomers, as was a #1 country hit, a movie theme given a new treatment and a song based on a Beethoven composition.

Many past issues of Billboard magazine are archived at Google Books, including the June 13, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 84. Much of the issue is devoted to the fifth anniversary since the introduction of the 8-track. As a media format begun by Lear Jet and quickly adapted for the automotive industry as a way of giving travelers more control over the music they listened to, it became more widely accepted by consumers as they began to realize the value of being able to play the tapes endlessly. With such rapid growth in its five years on the market, the experts were praising the format and predicting its continued success for years to come. Of course, the 8-track format was incredibly popular during the 1970s but hindsight acquired over 40 years has made some of those predictions laughable. Then, what was a struggle between records, 8-tracks and cassettes for consumer market share seems quaint today because the experts in 1970 likely didn't see the possibility of digital equipment like the CD or the MP3.

Also worth mentioning: an ad on page 83 shows then-President Richard M. Nixon receiving a stack of cassettes with a smile. The funny thing is that he wasn't smiling quite so broadly four years later when he was asked to give up some other tapes.

Wolfgang's Vault

Miguel Rios - "A Song Of Joy" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #49, Peaked #14, 9 Weeks on chart)

Miguel Rios was a Spaniard born in Granada. Beginning his career as a teen, he recorded a series of singles and EPs and appeared in some movies. His only American hit came when he recorded an English-language version of his song "Himno de la alegria." Called "A Song of Joy" for the English-speaking market, it was based on the familiar final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As a piece of what was dubbed "symphonic rock," the song appeared at a time when the concept album had pushed some artists to consider incorporating elements of classical music into their music. While many of the results were overblown, there were some hits from the movement (Walter Carlos's LP Switched-On Bach, Apollo 100's "Joy," songs from progressive groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer).

Although the rise in classically-inspired music was helped by advances in electronics that allowed synthesizers to become more prevalent, Rios is aided by a full orchestra and choir on "A Song of Joy." While he never managed to chart a followup single after his worldwide hit, Rios would become a force in Spanish Rock into the 1980s.

Al DeLory - "Song From M*A*S*H" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #70, 10 Weeks on chart)

This version isn't the one used in the Robert Altman film M*A*S*H, nor was it the one used in the 1972-'83 television series. Instead, it was a jazz-infused adult contemporary hit that sounded like a mix between elevator music and a piano played at a lounge. While that may sound like a bad thing, it's actually refreshing to hear a familiar tune forged from years of TV exposure performed in a light manner.

While the music might seem to be done in a breezy manner, the song's lyrics (heard in the film but not in the TV theme or DeLory's song) weren't as light. Called "Suicide is Painless," the words were composed by 14 year-old Michael Altman, the son of M*A*S*H's director. While an air of resignation can be expected in words written by a teenager, the words "the game of life is hard to play, gonna lose it anyway" fits in a setting where a film's characters were dealing with death on an almost daily basis.

The performer of the hit version, Al DeLory, isn't widely known among many music fans but was a part of the industry for many years. From co-writing Larry Verne's 1960 #1 novelty hit "Mr. Custer" to playing hundreds of sessions during the 1960s (including The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds), to producing Glen Campbell's late 1960s hits and occasionally performing as a bandleader, DeLory's presence was felt even if many didn't recognize his name.

Norman Greenbaum - "Canned Ham" Norman Greenbaum - Spirit In the Sky - The Definitive Anthology - Canned Ham

(Debuted #84, Peaked #46, 6 Weeks on chart)

First, a song about having a friend in Jesus, followed by a song about ham. Not exactly stuff you expect to hear from somebody whose last name is Greenbaum. That may not seem "kosher" on the surface, but a listen to the song itself shows Greenbaum was remaining true to his psychedelic roots.

A song with what seems to be lyrics made up on the spot, it has some playful guitar licks, high-pitched (and borderline comical) female backing vocals and a shuffle beat. It's not far from something you'd expect from a guy who was once a member of Dr. West's Medicine Show and Jug Band, the psychedelic jug band that hit in the 1960s with "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago." With the surprise success of "Spirit in the Sky," Greenbaum didn't have a touring band ready to promote his music on the road and really wasn't interested in being caught up in the rock star lifestyle, so his followups didn't do as well.

Marvin Gaye - "The End Of Our Road" Marvin Gaye - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970 - The End of Our Road

(Debuted #85, Peaked #40, 7 Weeks on chart)

Though not considered among the greatest tunes in a catalog that's studded with gems, this song managed to achieve a significant honor. When Casey Kasem hosted the very first edition of his weekly American Top 40 countdown show in July, 1970, the first song he introduced -- #40 that week -- was "The End of Our Road." It peaked at #40 so it wasn't a song that would be heard much longer on the show.

The song's title refers to a failed relationship. As Gaye sings about the need to get away from his bad situation, he's backed up by Motown's famed house band The Funk Brothers. Written by Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong and Roger Penzebene, it was a hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips in 1968. Interestingly, that song was their followup to another song later recorded by Gaye, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Unlike that tune, Gaye's version wouldn't be the bigger hit.

The 5th Dimension - "Save the Country" The 5th Dimension - The Ultimate 5th Dimension - Save the Country

(Debuted #90, Peaked #27, 8 Weeks on chart)

1970 was an interesting time in America. Since the 1960s were such turbulent times with war, political assassinations, the rise of new and radical viewpoints and a long struggle for civil rights, it was hoped that the new decade would be better than the one it followed. However, the war in Vietnam was still raging with no end in sight, and a student protest at Kent State that ended up with four young Americans laying dead brought that hopeful optimism to a quick end. Some of the uneasiness of the era would find its way into popular music. "War" by Edwin Starr and "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were among the most prominent of these songs, and "Save the Country" was another example, albeit in a much more upbeat performance.

"Save the Country" was written by Laura Nyro, who had written The Fifth Dimension's earlier hits "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" as well as "And When I Die" by Blood Sweat & Tears and "Stoney End" by Barbra Streisand. Some of the song's lyrics mention other songs used during the 1960s: "We Shall Overcome" from the civil rights movement and "I can't study war no more" (a line from "Down By the Riverside"). Another line "keep the dream of the two young brothers" was likely a reference to John and Bobby Kennedy. Unlike more provocative songs by other artists, having a song like this recorded by an adult contemporary-friendly band like The 5th Dimension was a sign that even the "over 30" crowd was beginning to change its outlook.

Mark Lindsay - "Silver Bird" Mark Lindsay - Arizona / Silver Bird - Single - Silver Bird

(Debuted #95, Peaked #25, 10 Weeks on chart)

After a great deal of success in the 1960s with several hit singles and featured roles in musical-format TV shows, the members of Paul Revere & the Raiders took a break as the 1970s began and did some different projects away from the band. Guitarist Freddy Weller became a country artist and singer/front man Mark Lindsay recorded his own solo material.

The "silver bird" of the title refers to an airplane, which in the lyrics is taking his lady away to follow her dreams. It's very similar to Art Garfunkel's 1975 hit "Break Away" (reviewed here last December). Like that later song, the lyrics express the hope that she'll eventually return. Horns punctuate the song, much like the ones in his previous hit "Arizona." In a way, the song sounds like it could have been done by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, which is likely because the song's producer was Jerry Fuller, who manned the sound board for Puckett as well. For all its brassiness, the song would later be used in commercials for Yamaha motorcycles..

Bread - "Make It With You" Bread - Bread On the Waters - Make It With You

(Debuted #96, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

Bread's first hit single not only was an unqualified success, it also set a standard for the group's sound. It established them as a force among new acts at a time when maturing children of the 1960s were beginning to drift more into adult contemporary material than the rock they were enjoying just a few years before. However, while David Gates' material being placed on all the group's singles would guarantee them a large following among soft rock fans, it also took away the focus on the contributions of the group's other songwriter, James Griffin. Under another arrangement, Bread could have been seen more for its range of styles, rather than the more homogenized (a bad pun on the group's name, I know...) sound that would be tagged on them.

Although the title might bring to mind a lascivious request, the lyrics convey a sense of devotion and hope. As Gates sings the words, he's getting up the nerve to express his feeling ("but Baby, here goes..."), dismissing the notion that he's merely imagining her ("dreams, they're for those who sleep") and asking her to join him on his journey through life. The mellow tone of the song sets its mood,with soft guitar strums set to romantic strings. The soft sound made a big impact, sending the song to #1 and helping establish Bread as one of the hottest acts of the new decade.

Daybreak - "Good Morning Freedom" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

There isn't much info to be found about the group Daybreak. They appear to be an R&B group recording for Uni Records and had both male and female singers. The two weeks they spent on the Hot 100 with "Good Morning Freedom" would be the only chart action they'd ever get. According to the song's lyrics, it's time to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and the responsibilities of a job. The bags are packed, and it's destination Malibu. The female singers sound especially influenced by gospel (which is underscored by a line saying "love thy neighbor").

The Ray Charles Singers - "Move Me, O Wond'rous Music" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #99, 1 Week on chart)

With this group, Ray Charles isn't the music icon most fans would immediately think of. This Ray Charles was a singer, composer, arranger and conductor whose career began well before the legend who shares his name arrived on the scene. Best known for his work arranging music for television shows, he had a long association with Perry Como, conducted the orchestra for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, served as a mentor to Sha Na Na during their TV series and assisted Jim Henson for The Muppet Show. 1970s fans will be interested to learn he's the male singing the theme to Three's Company. Sometimes billing himself as "the other Ray Charles" as a way of saluting the more famous singer, he has continued consulting TV shows on music even into his 90s.

This song immediately comes off as an unlikely hit. The first minute is performed a capella, in the style of a church choir (that is, a protestant white church choir, not the jubilant Southern Baptist-style choir used in some R& tunes). Then, an organ and drums kick in and it's more upbeat even if it may be laughable. This is definitely one of the times you can judge the book by its title, and it's surprising the song made the Hot 100 for even the one week it did.

Tammy Wynette - "He Loves Me All The Way" Tammy Wynette - Tears of Fire - The 25th Anniversary Collection - He Loves Me All the Way

(Debuted #100, Peaked #97, 2 Weeks on chart)

Tammy Wynette really needs no introduction. Despite having only six chart singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, she was one of the most prolific country singers of the decade. When country fans and industry people talk about "Tammy," there's no question about who they're discussing.

"He Loves Me All the Way" was a short-lived, low-charting pop hit, but spent three weeks at #1 on the country chart. The song was specifically written for Wynette because her output had so little uptempo material. Driven by a great pedal steel line and powered by her tremendous vocal talent, the song's hook comes when Wynette opens up and belts out the chorus. That said, the lyrics explaining away the late nights waiting for her man to get home and excusing the fact that he is gone an awful lot because he takes care of her when he's home is a glimpse into a pre-Women's movement era. Of course, it's not unexpected from the person who famously sang "Stand By Your Man." But it's not something that'll happen in my own house.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

This Week's Review -- June 1, 1974

There was some hit power in the list of debut singles this week. Four of the nine new singles went Top 40. In fact, all four were also Top 10 hits and two went all the way to #1. ABBA makes its first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, David Essex makes his last, and George Fischoff makes his only one. An early hit crafted by the force behind KC & the Sunshine Band also introduces itself, as does a second cousin of Kenny Loggins.

Google Books has a large archive of past Billboard editions, with the June 1, 1974 issue among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 52. A short editorial on page 6 shares the very sad news of Duke Ellington's passing. Also, page 29 has an article about the upcoming Dynamite-8, a now-kitschy 8-track player designed with a handle at the top to resemble a TNT detonator. It was completely solid state, ran on six C-size batteries and could be used with an optional home or car adapter. Retail price: $29.99.

f.y.e. 234x60

ABBA- "Waterloo" ABBA - Gold - Greatest Hits - Waterloo

(Debuted #76, Peaked #6, 17 Weeks on chart)

ABBA is one of those groups that still has legions of fans nearly 30 years after their breakup. For many, the four-person vocal group was a perfect blend of ear candy, but others considered them to be the epitome of what was wrong with 1970s pop. Their sound was finely crafted in the studio, employed many catchy hooks and employed relatively simple lyrics accented by sound effects. While the formula sold (and continues to sell) millions of records over the years, their style wasn't universally loved. That said, they were possibly the first band from the European mainland to gain considerable success in English-speaking countries.

"Waterloo" was the winner of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The idea of the contest was to help heal some of the divisions from two brutal wars and give the many peoples of Europe a way to express their nationalism in a way that didn't involve bloodshed. Beginning in 1956, the contest is still an annual event and is one of the most-watched non-sports-related television events each year. Over the years, the participating nations have come from outside Europe or just within its outer porphyry  (Morocco, Israel, Malta, Iceland, Turkey) and the fall of the Iron Curtain has opened up many new participants that didn't get a chance to compete early on. Over the 55-year history of the contest, "Waterloo" is perhaps the best-known winning song, at least here in the United States.

When released, "Waterloo" became a Top 10 hit in nearly every country that listed it as a hit, including the U.S. Though it kick-started their career, it wasn't the group's first single; as "Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid" they had limited success with their debut LP Ring Ring and a few singles from the album. With "Waterloo," the group had the U.S./U.K. hit they felt would launch them to stardom.

Hoyt Axton - "When The Morning Comes" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #54, 6 Weeks on chart)

Here's an interesting bit of trivia: which mother/son combo wrote separate #1 hits? Hoyt Axton's song "Joy to the World" was the biggest hit of 1971, but its success was a family tradition because Mae Axton was the co-writer of Elvis Presley's 1956 smash "Heartbreak Hotel." As a teacher who was highly interested in wordplay and music, her talent rubbed off on her son, who wrote some very well-known tunes even if his own recording career was less lucrative.

Though "When the Morning Comes" would be Axton's only Hot 100 entry of the 1970s, he had a handful of country hits and a number of songs by others he had written. Besides "Joy to the World," he also penned "Never Been to Spain" for Three Dog Night, "Snowblind Friend" for Steppenwolf (who also covered his song "The Pusher" during the 1960s) and "No No Song" for Ringo Starr.

"When the Morning Comes" is a song about a man who's getting ready to hit the road. He doesn't know where he's going ("Goodbye Carolina, so long Tennessee, California's calling now, Chicago's good to me") but he knows he's ready to go ("My feet are in the stirrups, my pony wants to run"). However, before getting on the highway, he's stopped by for one last try with his lady. The song has a standard country sound, with a piano, steel guitar and acoustic accompaniment and a guest vocal by Linda Ronstadt. It's worth a listen.

David Bowie - "Rebel Rebel" David Bowie - Diamond Dogs - Rebel Rebel

(Debuted #85, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)

It may come as a surprise to many that "Rebel Rebel" only reached #64 when it was a hit single. Its catchy, propulsive guitar riff is one of the more familiar from the 1970s, the song is still very well known more than 35 years after its release and it's one of David Bowie's signature tunes from the Glam rock phase in his career. It would also be his farewell wave to that phase; true to his chameleon-like nature, Bowie was ready to find another direction to grow.

While Diamond Dogs, the LP containing the song, had been loosely based on the concept of George Orwell's novel 1984, "Rebel Rebel" was actually composed for a scrapped Ziggy Stardust musical but kept because it was strong material. Unlike the largely dark, moody material on the album, "Rebel Rebel" is upbeat and playful. Though the four-and-a-half minute LP version is the same one that appears on most of Bowie's compilations and is far and a way the better-known rendition, the single version was different. Not only was it cut to a three-minute running time, "background" vocals that sound like Bowie overdubbing himself have been added, the guitar solo is modulated (in a way that makes it sound like phasing), handclaps and castanets have been added to the mix and the intro is changed from the extended guitar play on the LP version to the "hot tramp, I love you so" vocal.

One final note...while many references credit longtime Bowie associate Mick Ronson with the guitar riff that drives the song, it was Bowie himself who provided the lick. Ronson had left Bowie's group in 1973.

(Note: thanks to a couple of readers who clued me in on the single version of the song...When listening to the song on Bowie's CD The Singles 1969-1993 while writing the review, I never realized they used the LP cut there. The MP3 link below is the U.S. single version, remastered and added to a later CD release of Diamond Dogs.).

John Denver - "Annie's Song" John Denver - The Essential John Denver - Annie's Song

(Debuted #87, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

"Annie's Song" was one of John Denver's biggest hits of the 1970s. Not only did it top the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., it would also be Denver's only #1 single in the U.K. Many listeners know the tune upon hearing it, even if they don't know the title since Denver never actually uses the name Annie anywhere in the lyrics. Sometimes referred to as "You Fill Up My Senses," the song has long been a wedding standard and devotional favorite.

The "Annie" in the song was Denver's wife. While skiing in Colorado, Denver had an idea after finishing a challenging downhill course and wrote most of the song's lyrics on the ski lift back to the top. From its simple origin, the song was an immediate smash and helped push his Back Home Again LP (picturing him with Annie) to become his first #1 album.

A sad postscript...John and Annie Denver would divorce in 1982.

David Essex - "Lamplight" David Essex - Rock On - Lamplight

(Debuted #90, Peaked #71, 5 Weeks on chart)

After scoring a Top 10 hit with "Rock On," David Essex's followup wouldn't enjoy such lofty heights. "Lamplight," a song that sounds like it was influenced by 1940s "jump and jive" records -- right down to its Cab Calloway-influenced instrumental interlude -- the lyrics tell of a man who sees the light from a lady's window and doesn't know whether to call on her or just go home.

"Lamplight" would not only miss the Top 40, it would also be his final American chart single. Despite his teen idol image in his native U.K. and a long string of British hits that stretched into the 1980s, he never managed to capitalize on the early success of "Rock On" in the U.S. and is regarded here as a one-hit wonder.

Tavares - "Too Late" Tavares - Tavares: Anthology - Too Late

(Debuted #91, Peaked #59, 7 Weeks on chart)

If you're only familiar with Tavares's biggest hits "It Only Takes a Minute," "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" and "More Than a Woman" you may be pleasantly surprised by "Too Late." While the song shares the upbeat rhythm of those better-known singles, it's more of a R&B tune than disco. Since the five-brother group from Massachusetts hadn't yet made their mark, the song was likely held back out of a lack of familiarity.

"Too Late" was a single released in advance of Tavares's second LP Hard Core Poetry and was written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who had previously crafted hit singles like Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds' "Don't Pull Your Love" and "Ain't No Woman" by The Four Tops. Their studio touch helped Tavares begin rising in prominence; though "Too Late" didn't make the pop Top 40, it went #10 on the R&B chart. Once the album appeared, the brothers enjoyed a #1 R&B hit and a Top 40 pop single before their breakthrough.

George McCrae - "Rock Your Baby" George McCrae - Rock Your Baby - Rock Your Baby (Album Version)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

One of the first big disco hits, "Rock Your Baby" stands as a great example of the early sound before the music was taken over by BPM counts and became bogged down by excess. It was a time when disco music was still called "dance" music and more of an R&B-driven sound. McCrae's soaring vocal just overpowers the music in the song.

Written and recorded by two young producers at TK Records, Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch (later to become the core of KC & the Sunshine Band), "Rock Your Baby" was something they were trying to do themselves but didn't have the vocal range to handle the high notes they felt were needed for the song. While waiting to give the song to TK artist Gwen McCrae, her husband George arrived at the studio and tried the song himself. Realizing they found their singer, the song was cut. Reflecting the duo's early methods of recording at minimal cost, the finished song has only four musicians: McCrae, guitarist Jerome Smith (who added his part later) and Casey/Finch.

The song was an international smash, hitting #1 both in the U.S. and U.K, and introduced the world to the basic sound that would become the trademark of KC & the Sunshine Band.

Dave Loggins - "Please Come To Boston" Dave Loggins - Apprentice (In a Musical Workshop) - Please Come to Boston

(Debuted #98, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

I first remember hearing this song when I was 13 years old. As a former military brat, I was immediately drawn to the lyrics about somebody moving around a lot, even if I wasn't entirely attuned to the idea of him being told to just come back home. Although Loggins' country/rock hybrid wasn't really my thing at that age, the song still stayed with me because it resonated. The beauty of the song is that, for all his travels (from Boston to Denver and finally Los Angeles), he realizes what he really wants to be complete is to have somebody he can sing to...but she doesn't want to follow him.

Dave Loggins was a singer/songwriter who -- like the song says -- hailed from Tennessee. His second cousin was fellow singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins. Although the LP containing "Boston" -- Apprentice (In a Musical Workshop) -- sold in respectable numbers, his "too country for pop, too pop for country" style really didn't get him much exposure in either genre after the hit song fell off the charts.

In addition to its #5 peak on the Hot 100, "Please Come to Boston" would be a #1 adult contemporary hit. Though largely viewed as a one-hit wonder, Loggins had written the Three Dog Night hit "Pieces of April" before his own chart success and would continue writing songs for pop but mainly country artists afterward. In 1984, he had a #1 country hit with "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do," a duet with Anne Murray.

George Fischoff - "Georgia Porcupine" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #93, 5 Weeks on chart)

Here's an interesting feat. "Georgia Porcupine" was the only hit George Fischoff would have on the Hot 100. In 1979, he would reach the lower reaches of the country chart with "The Piano Picker." That made him a one-hit wonder in two different genres with two different songs. While "two-timing" might be a frequent subject found in country music, this type hasn't happened very often.

"Georgia Porcupine" is a piano instrumental that sounds like it could have been performed in the 1940s if not for the rockish styling of the drums backing him up. There's not a whole lot of info about Fischoff on the internet other than to mention he was credited for the music of the 1967 Keith hit "98.6" and a few other tunes for The Monkees and Perry Como.