Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Week's Review -- July 23, 1977

Nine new singles debut this week, with six making the Top 40 and four reaching the top 10. However, two of those would be held out of the #1 spot by Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" during that song's 10-week run at the top of the chart. With such a large number of hits, it's not surprising that most were targeted toward a pop audience. One was a James Bond movie theme, another was a tailor-made FM radio staple, and yet another was a live track by the Bee Gees. Two songs had seemingly misleading titles involving rock music, with a song recorded by a teen idol and another evoking a future restaurant chain. Among the few songs that missed the Top 40 were two from the R&B side that were perhaps worth another listen: one was a funky chant to the performers' home state and the other was a song that was warning the queen of the castle that her man was coming home and was in the mood for love.

Most of my reviews have a link to the Billboard issue containing the Hot 100 list; however, the July 23, 1977 edition is missing from the archive at Google Books.

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The Bee Gees - "Edge Of The Universe" Bee Gees - Here At Last... Bee Gees... Live - Edge of the Universe

(Debuted #76, Peaked #26, 13 Weeks on chart)

Originally released in 1975 on The Bee Gees' Main Course LP and as the B-Side of their "Nights on Broadway" single, "Edge of the Universe" would see its own single release after being included on the band's Here at Last...Bee Gees...Live album in '77. The record was the group's first official live LP, and "Edge of the Universe" would be its only charting single in the U.S. At the time the double live LP was hitting the record stores, it fulfilled its purpose by keeping the Brothers Gibb in the eyes of the public as they recorded the music for Saturday Night Fever, which began the most lucrative phase of their career.

As a studio cut, "Edge of the Universe" was among the standout tracks on an excellent LP. As a live track, it was a good song even if it may not have been a highlight of the stage show. Perhaps the song was released as a 45 from the live LP because it was overlooked as a single the first time around; the brothers' harmonies are typically great, even if the music behind them wasn't exactly the way it could be performed in the studio.

Shaun Cassidy - "That's Rock 'n' Roll" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #3, 24 Weeks on chart)

While Cassidy's singing career was quite successful during the late 1970s, it was little more than an auxiliary to his career as an actor and teen idol. At the time "That's Rock 'n' Roll" was a hit, Cassidy was appearing as Joe Hardy in The Hardy Boys Mysteries. One of the show's episodes ("The Mystery of the Flying Courier," which first aired April 10, 1977) ended with Cassidy singing the song in what may have been a hastily-written attempt to tie the record into the show.

"That's Rock 'n' Roll" was written by Eric Carmen. Coming from the person who sang "Go All the Way" and "I Wanna Be With You" it was fine, but on a single with a picture sleeve taken from a pin-up poster, the title may have seemed like a joke, especially those who took their rock music seriously.

Foreigner - "Cold As Ice" Foreigner - Foreigner (Deluxe Version) - Cold As Ice

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 21 Weeks on chart)

For all of its million-selling records and Top 10 hits, Foreigner certainly had its share of critics. Slickly produced studio pablum, some said. Others called them the high priests of "cock rock," performing songs about one-night stands and gratuitous sex. In the case of "Cold As Ice" -- a song whose lyrics appear to be about a woman who doesn't put out -- didn't likely sway those critics. While the "Arena Rock" label wasn't applied to Foreigner until the 1980s, the group managed to enjoy some monster hits with their 1970s material yet managed to continue into the new decade without missing a beat or losing their momentum; the same can't be said for a lot of their fellow 1970s hitmakers.

Looking past the lyric sheet, the song's true strength lies in its musicianship. From the memorable piano intro to the keyboard embellishments, from Mick Jones's guitar solo to Lou Gramm's pleading yet restrained delivery, from the group's backing harmonies to the way the music drives the song along, the song is very well assembled. The record-buying public agreed, making it the band's second Top 10 American hit single in as many tries.

Carly Simon - "Nobody Does It Better" Carly Simon - The Best of Bond...James Bond - Nobody Does It Better

(Debuted #83, Peaked #2, 25 Weeks on chart)

"Nobody Does it Better" was the title theme for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (a title that was inserted into the lyrics). Had it not been held down by of Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life," it could have become Simon's second #1 hit. However, it missed becoming the first #1 song from a James Bond movie, settling for the same #2 peak as Paul McCartney & Wings' "Live and Let Die" from 1973. Despite being a well-regarded singer/songwriter, Simon didn't write the song; Carole Bayer Sager was the lyricist and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music.

One of the last soundtrack hits before the dual edged swords of big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars and the music-driven pictures like Grease and Saturday Night Fever changed the way movies were scored and developed, "Nobody Does it Better" is a well-produced song that showcases many elements of 1970s songcrafting. Besides the carefully-chosen lyrics, there is also a pitch-perfect Carly Simon double-tracked in the chorus, proficient studio work and an orchestra behind her providing a dramatic backdrop as the song faded. Just before the final fade-out, you can hear her sing, "James, you're the best," a nod to both James Bond and her then-husband James Taylor.

Carole King - "Hard Rock Cafe" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

Today, the name Hard Rock Cafe is best known as the name of a chain of restaurants that places music memorabilia on its walls. While the original London restaurant was open when Carole King released a song with their name as a title, they had not yet expanded to other locations. In the case of King's song, the "hard rock cafe" was a watering hole where anybody could come in and unwind. As a lyric, "hard" and "rock" don't seem to describe a form of music as much as they evoke the idea of being between a rock and a hard place. At the cafe in King's song, there are others who are in the same boat and can help ease the feeling ofr a short time.

"Hard Rock Cafe" was taken from King's first Capitol LP Simple Things, the first album to miss the Top 10 LP chart since her Tapestry breakthrough. It would be her final Hot 100 hit of the 1970s as well.

Lou Rawls - "See You When I Git There" Lou Rawls - Lou Rawls: Love Songs - See You When I Git There

(Debuted #86, Peaked #66, 7 Weeks on chart)

With his velvet-smooth voice, Lou Rawls was able to adapt his style to several genres: gospel, blues, jazz and pop. His wide vocal range let him adapt with changes in the music, yet did so without seeming to follow trends. His mid-70s association with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their Philadelphia International label gave Rawls's career a huge boost, which he was still riding when his LP Unmistakably Lou and the single "See You When I Git There" were released.

Beginning with a piano and guitar intro, Rawls delivers a few spoken lines -- an aside to somebody, asking for change for the phone call he's about to make -- before launching into his song as the conversation begins. The lyrics tell of a man who's coming home to enjoy some special time with his wife, with no distractions or worries. The music is quite similar to his '76 hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," including female backing singers, Latin-influenced rhythm and orchestrated flourishes. Both songs were written and produced by Gamble and Huff, which accounts for the similarities. Though the song would stall at #66 on the pop charts, it made the R&B Top 10.

The title and lyrics of "See You When I Git There" took on an entirely different meaning when Rawls passed away in 2006 after battling cancer.

Natalie Cole - "Party Lights" Natalie Cole - Unpredictable - Party Lights

(Debuted #88, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

Perhaps the best known recording of any song called "Party Lights" was the 1962 Claudette Clark hit; however, Natalie Cole recorded a different song altogether for her 1977 LP Unpredictable. Where Clark's self-written hit was a lament she isn't going to the party across the street, Cole's song (written by keyboard player Tennyson Stephens) is a disco-influenced tune designed to work on the dance floor. This time around, the singer is part of the action.

"Party Lights" had a short stay on the pop chart, but managed to reach the R&B Top 10. Coming on the heels of the smash ballad "I've Got Love on My Mind" (reviewed on this blog last January), it was a disappointing showing at a time when dance songs were among the hottest things going.

The Ohio Players - "O-H-I-O" Ohio Players - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Ohio Players - O-H-I-O

(Debuted #90, Peaked #45, 12 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. The title suggests a cheer for The Ohio Player's home state, and the lyrics are exactly that: a continual recitation of the title. However, the meat of the song lies not in the words but in the music, and the song is driven by a funky groove. "O-H-I-O" began a jam session the band would use to close out their shows, and its success onstage led the group to strip it down and get it recorded for their Angel LP.

A good song for listeners who happened to be from the group's home state, "O-H-I-O" would ultimately be the group's final appearance on the Hot 100, despite charting on the Soul chart for another decade after that. It would be the end of a solid groove laid down by the band that lasted five funky years.

Heatwave - "Boogie Nights" Heat Wave - The Best of Heatwave - Always and Forever - Boogie Nights

(Debuted #93, Peaked #2, 27  Weeks on chart)

Summer 1991. I was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. One weekend, I was at the enlisted mens' club with some buddies. We were enjoying a few beers and blowing off some steam after a hard week. There were two parts to the club: upstairs was an R&B-style club and the one downstairs was for the guys whose tastes weren't so...well, ethnic. Since stuff like Guns &  Roses, Metallica and Van Halen were big at the time, that was much of what got played downstairs. The DJ would sometimes toss in something different to change the mood, and at one point that night, he tossed "Boogie Nights" out for us. I remember a few of my buddies looking at each other with a "What the F...?!" look during the opening but one of the guys jumped out on the floor and as the song kicked into gear the rest of us followed. There we were, a bunch of half-drunk, off-duty (and for some of us, still underage) soldiers having the time of their lives.

It's interesting that the song triggers a memory from my Army service, because Heatwave's story begins with two American soldiers. Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith were American servicemen stationed in Germany who moonlighted in a local band. Remaining in Germany after being discharged, the Wilder brothers eventually joined with keyboardist and songwriter Rod Temperton in London and founded Heatwave as a multiracial, multinational and multicultural group. Their first American hit was "Boogie Nights," a song that began slow but then picked up the pace at the end of the intro to become a dance tune, which was obviously helped by the rising disco craze of the era. The song peaked at #2 on the pop charts both in America and in the U.K. and was a #5 soul hit.

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