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.

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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.

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