An interesting list of new singles this time around. Of the seven singles that debuted in Billboard's Hot 100 this week, five would make the Top 40, with two becoming Top 10 hits. Interestingly, the two songs that missed the 40 were both cover versions of a song that had already been a hit for a different group. Among the others was an English studio group that sounded like a 1960s California band, another bunch of English sessionmen who became a band, a song paying tribute to Wolfman Jack and an Oakland-based band known today for its famed horn section.
Google has an online archive of past issues of Billboard, including the July 20, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 68. On page 28 is part of an interview with disc jockey/announcer Gary Owens (of Laugh-In fame) about his early influences and commercial work. Two stories explain how inflation was affecting consumers. A front-page story reported the effect of an across-the-board rise in LP prices and their effect on customers' buying patterns. Also, an article on page 41 mentions the change of many jukeboxes to "2-for-a-quarter" rather than a dime per song. Finally, as a way of showing that not everything was costing more, page 4 reports the fourth-class postage rate for mailing records, books and tapes (which we now call "media mail") would remain as it was at least for another year: 18 cents for anything up to a pound, plus 8 cents for each additional pound. From the benefit of the passage of 36 years, those prices sure seem quaint.
The Guess Who - "Clap For The Wolfman"
(Debuted #71, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on chart)
"Clap For the Wolfman" was the final Top 10 hit for The Guess Who. A lot had happened to the Canadian group since their last Top 10 hit (1970's "Share the Land"). A revolving door of band members that began when guitarist Randy Bachman left during that 1970 high point made it hard to keep track of who was playing in the group from one LP to the next. By 1974, only singer Burton Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were left from those days. As the band kept changing, their singles stumbled on the U.S. charts.
"Clap For the Wolfman" was an homage to Robert Smith, a Brooklyn-born radio DJ who used the name Wolfman Jack. During the 1960s, The Wolfman broadcast from a station just south of the U.S./Mexico border that had such a high wattage that he was heard over much of the U.S. at night. By the time the song appeared in 1974, The Wolfman was a star, who had appeared in the film American Graffiti as himself and was hosting The Midnight Special on NBC-TV. Wolfman Jack's voice is also heard in the song, doing his DJ banter. It would be one of several songs featuring his voice during the 1970s.
True to the unwritten rule that appealing to big-time DJs is one sure way to score a hit single on radio, "Clap For the Wolfman" would become The Guess Who's biggest hit in years. However, it would be the band's final Top 10 appearance. After more instability with the group lineup, they broke up in 1975.
Edgar Winter - "River's Risin'"
(Debuted #72, Peaked #33, 9 Weeks on chart)
After the great success of the LP They Only Come Out at Night, the Edgar Winter Group were under pressure to follow it up with another that sustained their momentum. Their next album Shock Treatment certainly tried, but as music fans began to gravitate toward dance tunes, the boogie-woogie blues styling that colored much of the band's work was beginning to fall out of favor.
"River's Risin'" was written by Dan Hartman, who takes the lead vocals on the song. With simple lyrics about the passing of time and the cyclical nature of things, it's an uptempo tune with a tight feel. The song would reach the Top 40, which made the group's final trip there. Shortly after the LP, Hartman would go on to a solo career, where he was scoring dance hits by the end of the decade.
First Class - "Beach Baby"
(Debuted #74, Peaked #4, 17 Weeks on chart)
Not a lot of music fans can identify singer Tony Burrows, even though they've likely heard a few of his songs. Perhaps during all of pop history (and definitely during the 1970s), Burrows has sung vocals for more different named groups than anybody else. Though his one Hot 100 entry under his own name (1970's "Melanie Makes Me Smile") didn't do that well, he went Top 10 with such songs as "My Baby Loves Lovin'," "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," "Gimme Dat Ding" and "United We Stand" under various group names. Burrows added to that total when "Beach Baby" went Top 10 in 1974.
Though "Beach Baby" was an obvious nod to the music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (who were then receiving a resurgence with their #1 LP Endless Summer) and mentioning "old L.A." and American cars in the lyrics, Burrows and the other members of First Class were Englishmen. Using a layered production and vocal harmonies, the song was evocative of the seemingly more innocent early 1960s. The nostalgic angle worked, right at a time when people were tuning in to Happy Days on their TV sets and Grease was a huge Broadway hit.
First Class had two more singles reach the Hot 100 and recorded another LP but never again enjoyed the level of success they had with "Beach Baby."
Lobo - "Rings"
(Debuted #79, Peaked #43, 9 Weeks on chart)
"Rings" was a debut hit twice this week. The song was originally a #17 hit for the group Cymarron during the summer of 1971 and was deemed worthy of two new versions. Interestingly, the original hit arrived shortly after Lobo's "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" and sounded a little like the Florida-born singer. However, it was written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. While the song made use of several different uses for the word "rings" (telephone rings, doorbell rings, golden ring, voices ring and wedding bell ring), the main part of the song was written as a result of an early-morning beach house wedding of a friend of the composers ("The sun comes up across the city...We'll stand upon the sand with a preacher man").
Lobo's version of the song isn't as brightly-produced as the original. Instead, he does it in his standard laid-back style that sound like he's just sitting on a stool with his guitar and singing to nobody in particular. One big difference from the original is the way the bell-sounding hook has been dropped in favor of an overmodulated droning jangly guitar. One major line has been changed as well: where the original song made mention about playing James Taylor on the stereo, in Lobo's version The Allman Brothers are now on the turntable.
The Rubettes - "Sugar Baby Love"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #37, 10 Weeks on chart)
A name like The Rubettes might bring to mind an all-girl group, but they were actually an English group made up of male studio singers. With a stage presence that included white coats and cloth hats, the band's first hit "Sugar Baby Love" sounded like an homage to American doo-wop music of the 1950s. According to the story behind the song, writers Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington wrote it as part of a rock & roll "musical" and decided to offer it to several established British acts. After being turned down by several acts including Showaddywaddy, they built a group in the studio that became The Rubettes.
With a falsetto vocal in the chorus and an infectious "bop-shoo-waddy" backing vocal, the song would eke its way into the U.S. Top 40 and hit #1 for 4 weeks in the band's native U.K. It also sold more than two million copies in France and would be a major hit in several European nations. Despite its early success, the group never reached the American pop charts but managed more hits in their home country through the rest of the decade. Two different groups of Rubettes, each with at least one original member of the band, still occasionally tour in England as an oldies act.
Tower of Power - "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle Of the Stream)"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #26, 10 Weeks on chart)
Another great tune from Tower of Power's peak performing years, "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream)" was another song that showcased the group's signature horn section buoyed by Lenny Williams. Williams, who was perhaps the band's most powerful singer, co-wrote the song with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Though Watson wasn't a member of the group, the song does have some of the same cadence he brought to his songs (such as "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger").
Taken from the group's LP Back to Oakland, the song was the follow-up to "Time Will Tell" (reviewed here last April) and whose lyrics were a plea to a lover to stay. In the words, Williams admits to straying but is still hopeful that things can be worked out. Still remembered as one of Tower of Power's better singles, it would be the band's third and final Top 40 hit.
Reuben Howell - "Rings" (Not Available as MP3)
(Debuted #86, Peaked #86, 3 Weeks on chart)
The second remake of "Rings" to appear this week is by Reuben Howell, a blue-eyed soul singer who recorded for Motown. There is precious little information available about Howell except that he passed away in 2004 at the age of 59. "Rings" was Howell's only Hot 100 entry.
As mentioned above with the Lobo version, Howell's is performed in a different style from both of the other charting versions of the song. Howell's rendition is more of a vocal tune, with an understated guitar accompanying him. Of the three versions, Howell's may have the best vocals. It's not quite as pop-infused as Cymarron's original, but doesn't resort to studio tricks and lets the lyrics flow. Finally, Howell's version changes the name of the act on the stereo: Cymarron was spinning James Taylor, Lobo grooved on The Allman Brothers, but Reuben Howell was playing Jim Croce.