Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Week's Review -- August 12, 1972

This week marks a milestone. With this post, I have now been doing these reviews for an entire year. This little project has been fun, but I get very little feedback about it. Seriously, there have been exactly FIVE comments left on the last 52 weeks' worth of entries. Feel free to leave a comment about it if you like them...those little words may encourage me to keep writing them. Also, I've begun placing YouTube videos for songs if they're available. It gives the ability to actually listen to the music and is frankly something I should have been doing all along.

Nine new singles arrive on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Four of those singles will eventually reach the Top 40, with a pair top 10 bound, one of which would hit the #1 spot. While many of the artists with debut singles were familiar with the listeners of 1972, one was a new band from Chicago enjoying a regional hit...their only one, as it turned out. Also, Lenny Welch would be making his final appearance on the chart.

Among the archived issues of Billboard magazine at Google Books, the August 12, 1972 edition is available to read online at no cost. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 60. A story on page 1 explains that the Dutch artists' union was concerned about why The Beach Boys were relocating to their country. During the summer of '72, the band left Los Angeles as a way of finding creative inspiration after the failure of the band's Carl & the Passions project. In the story, the union was worried that the band, its families and support staff were going to remain in their country for an indefinite period of time. As it turned out, the stay was indeed short, but not because the band was forced out. The recordings they made there made up much of the Holland LP, one of the group's better 1970s records. Furthermore, Mike Love and Al Jardine channeled their homesickness into a three-part song called "California," and one part would appear on the Hot 100 as "California Saga (On My Way to Sunny Californ-i-a)" the following year.

Wolfgang's Vault

Three Dog Night - "Black & White"

(Debuted #61, Peaked #1, 11 Weeks on chart)

The third and final #1 song by Three Dog Night was a song that had been written nearly 20 years before they recorded it. Its history stretches back to 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education case that "separate but equal" schools for white and what were then called "colored" kids were unconstitutional. A folk song commemorating the decision was written that year by David Arkin (father of actor Alan) and Earl Robinson. Recorded in 1957 by Sammy Davis, Jr., it would be covered in 1971 by the Jamaican reggae group Greyhound. That version would lead to Three Dog Night's hit.

The original lyrics of the song started out with a description of the judges: "the robes were black, the heads were white..." and an account of the Brown vs. Board of Education took up the first verse, while the rest of the song would go on to extol the idea that equal rights would lead to equal opportunity. In 1954, there was still some work to be done as far as enforcing the ruling. By the time Three Dog Night recorded the song, however, the repercussions were still being felt but it was more clear that the road to equality was much less bumpy. Therefore, the Three Dog Night version of the song eliminates the original composition's first verse. This would keep the song more "current" and make it more of a song about racial harmony, still a popular topic then.

The lead vocals on "Black & White" were performed by Danny Hutton, who usually sang harmony. That gave Three Dog Night an interesting "hat trick": their three #1 hits each featured a different one of their three singers. Cory Wells sang "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and Chuck Negron handled "Joy to the World."

Elton John - "Honky Cat"

(Debuted #63, Peaked #8, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Honky Cat" was the first cut on the Honky Château LP and its second single. A New Orleans-inspired boogie tune, there is no guitar used on the song at all; it's driven by Elton's piano and has a horn section that makes the song stand out among his best work, even in his frenetic flurry of releases in the early1970s. Despite a relatively short 10 weeks on the Hot 100, the song reached the Top 10 and is still in fairly heavy rotation among oldies-format and adult contemporary stations that air 1970s songs.

Yes - "America"

(Debuted #86, Peaked #46, 10 Weeks on chart)

"America" is a dramatically revamped prog-rock version of a song written by Paul Simon and first recorded by Simon & Garfunkel. Originally a 10-and-a-half minute opus, it would first appear on a sampler album of Atlantic Records artists called The New Age of Atlantic. Instead of releasing it on their upcoming Close to the Edge LP (it didn't fit with the album's concept), Yes placed a four-minute edit of the song on a single release.

The Yes version is a very different-sounding song to those familiar with Simon & Garfunkel's rendition. The words are the same, but Jon Anderson's solo vocals in the verses come across differently than the harmonies of the original. Furthermore, Paul Simon's acoustic guitar is replaced by Steve Howe's more distorted electric guitar, the organs are replaced by Rick Wakeman's experimental keyboards and the rhythm has been supplanted by Yes's classically-tinted progressive sound. Both songs can be played back-to-back and some may not realize they have the same lyrics.

While first released in 1968, Simon & Garfunkel never issued it as a single. Perhaps due to the limited success of Yes's version of the song, the duo would release it as a single of their Greatest Hits LP later in '72. It would stall at #97.

Neil Diamond - "Play Me"

(Debuted #87, Peaked #11, 11 Weeks on chart)

As "Play Me" was making its run up the charts, Neil Diamond was doing his legendary 10-show concert series at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. One of those shows (August 24, 1972) was recorded and released as the double live LP Hot August Night. In a sense, it was the current hit single right when Diamond became one of the hottest concert acts in the country.

"Play Me" is still one of Diamond's best-known songs from his "mellow" period of the 1970s. Despite the fact that grammar police frequently frown on his line "song she sang to me, song she brang to me," there are many who find the song's lyrics romantic. Even today, female fans -- many over 60 years old -- swoon over the way he sings the words in concert. While the lyrics come off in some places like they were written by a lovesick high school poet, they work.

Following up the #1 hit "Song Sung Blue," Diamond just missed the Top 10 with "Play Me," but would take the song to #3 on Billboard's adult contemporary chart.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Melissa"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #86, 2 Weeks on chart)

It may be surprising to see above that this song peaked at #86, or that it was only on the Hot 100 for two weeks because it's a very well-known tune. One way to know just how influential The Allman Brothers Band was is to know that there are many girls and women named Melissa (and Jessica, for that matter) because of their music.

Gregg Allman began writing "Melissa" in 1967, before he and his brother Duane had formed their band. When he wrote the lyrics, he managed to get everything but the name of the girl. One day, he was waiting in line at the grocery store and heard a mother telling her daughter to come back. The name Melissa stuck in his head and the song was written. Still, it would be a few years before he'd actually record the song. Since Duane Allman enjoyed the song so much, it was added to the Eat a Peach LP after he died in a motorcycle accident. It immediately became a hit on FM radio, but since Billboard's airplay monitor largely followed the AM stations doing a Top 40 format, that success didn't translate into chart action.

Also known as "Sweet Melissa" because that's the way it's sung, the song features amazing guitar work by Dickey Betts and some underrated rhythms by both of the group's drummers.

Jamestown Massacre - "Summer Sun" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #90, 5 Weeks on chart)

The Jamestown Massacre was a native uprising that killed a quarter of the English settlers in Virginia in 1622. It's an odd choice for a band name, wich may account for this song being their only national hit.

"Summer Sun" is a relic from an era where regional airplay could allow a song to make the national charts. Jamestown Massacre was a Chicago-based group and heavy promotion from their home city gave them an entry on the Hot 100. Unfortunately, the song didn't break through in very many other areas and peaked at #90. It's a shame, as the song is quite good. Sounding at times like a song from 1960s Chicago-based bands like The Buckinghams mixed with the 70s band Chicago, the guitar and horn section combined with the vocal harmonies make it a catchy song that deserved a better chance to get airplay.

The band never managed to reach the Hot 100 again, but one of Jamestown Massacre's two lead singers was 19 year-old Dave Bickler, who would go on to sing one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger." He is also the voice heard on Budweiser's "Real Men of Genius" TV and radio advertisements.

Gallery - "I Believe In Music" (Available MP3s appear to be Re-recordings)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #22, 16 Weeks on chart)

Gallery was a Detroit-based band led by Jim Gold and produced by guitarist Dennis Coffey. Unlike other early 1970s white acts from the Motor City like The Flaming Ember,Gallery stayed on the pop side of the musical fence. Their followup to their Top 5 breakthrough "Nice to Be With You" was "I Believe in Music," a Mac Davis-penned tune that confirmed they would be no one-hit wonder. With a simplistic approach that worked well on AM radio, a distorted guitar line and very 70s instrumental solo, the song was a moderate success.

Graham Nash and David Crosby - "Southbound Train" 

(Debuted #99, Peaked #99, 2 Weeks on chart)

The members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young would go on to record songs in several different combinations since their 1969-'70 heyday. They recorded as a quartet, a trio (without Neil Young), each member was a solo artist in his own right, and several of their solo LPs would feature other members as guests. In the case of Graham Nash and David Crosby, they made a series of LPs during the 1970s while Stephen Stills was busy with his group Manassas. The song that led off their first album together was "Southbound Train," a song written by Nash but sounding like it had been performed by a latter-day version of Crosby's old bandmates in The Byrds.

The train in the song is a metaphor, as the passengers named in the lyrics are liberty, equality and fraternity. While it's possibility that the "southbound" train was going to Hell, it's also possible that an association of things like liberty, equality and fraternity with the Southern U.S. right after the Civil Rights movement was deliberate. It's also a distinction underscored by the presence of the pedal steel (played by Jerry Garcia), an instrument mostly used in country music.The song also has a mournful harmonica solo by Nash.

Lenny Welch - "A Sunday Kind Of Love"  (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #96, 5 Weeks on chart)

Lenny Welch was a pop singer in the same mold as Johnny Mathis but nowhere near as successful. He had been singing professionally since 1958 and reached his commercial peak during the 1960s. "A Sunday Kind of Love" was a jazz/pop standard that had been recorded many times since it was written in 1946. Singers who have handled its lyrics include Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington Jo Stafford and Etta James. While normally sung by a female, it was also performed by male acts like Jan & Dean and The Dell Vikings. Lenny Welch's version is smooth, with his voice effortlessly and artfully doing its job as an orchestra and female combo back him up. True to the nature of MOR singles, the song it entirely inoffensive but not too syrupy-sweet. "A Sunday Kind of Love" would also be Welch's final appearance on the Hot 100.

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