Saturday, September 11, 2010

This Week's Review -- September 13, 1975

Out of the seven new singles appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, only two made the Top 40, but they both made it count: one went to #1 and the other to #2. Among the songs were the only country hit for a group that is today considered a country-rock influence, a song that might have been written in response to being fired from a tour with The Carpenters, a song written by one blind R&B legend performed by another, an instrumental from the house band at Salsoul records, a song by a group that had to change its name because of Smokey Robinson and the last hit for an underappreciated R&B singer.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues at Google Books, the September 13, 1975 edition is available to read for free. The full Hot 100 is on page 71. On page 40, Tom Moulton explains how remakes of songs from the 1940s and '50s have become fodder for disco hits. A large feature in the center of the magazine exalts the music of Colorado, with bits about John Denver, Michael Murphey and other residents of the state, as well as the Caribou Ranch studio (famously recalled by Elton John's Caribou LP, which was recorded there).

Neil Sedaka - "Bad Blood"

(Debuted #66, Peaked #1, 14 Weeks on chart)

1975 was Neil Sedaka's year. He began it by notching a comeback #1 single ("Laughter in the Rain") and finished by notching another with "Bad Blood," managing to see another artist take his composition "Love Will Keep Us Together" and make it the biggest single of the year. Of course, even with that star power and newfound respect, having Elton John sing on a record wouldn't hurt, either.

Elton's vocal is uncredited on "Bad Blood," but its unmistakable. A bitter breakup song (especially from a songwriter known for his positive vibes), it has been rumored that Sedaka wrote the song after being fired from a billing with The Carpenters. The two acts toured together as Sedaka's career began to heat up and The Carpenters' own hits were beginning to cool off and for whatever reason Sedaka's role was ended. While both sides have disputed the rumors and The Carpenters would soon have a Top 20 hit with Sedaka's "Solitaire," the timing of "Bad Blood" certainly was conspicuous. It could be argued, however, that the song was written as a way of dealing with the cruel way the music business can sometimes be.

The Eagles - "Lyin' Eyes"

(Debuted #79, Peaked #2, 14 Weeks on chart)

Of all the songs in The Eagles' repertoire, this is perhaps my absolute favorite.

A story-song that tells a three-part story (that is, in the album version) about a pretty young lady who enters in a marriage of convenience for the security of her husband's income but not receiving any of the special attention she craves. In the first verse, she's getting ready to go out and lies to her husband about where she's going. In the second verse, she's meeting her young lover for a rendezvous. Finally, she's all alone in her house, trapped and feeling lonely. It's left to the listener to fill in the blanks; however, the line in the first verse about her husband knowing what she's up to suggests he's intervened to make the lover "disappear," either through monetary means or something more permanent. All the time, the music is as close to country-rock perfection as the group ever managed to get on their hit singles.

The song was a seven-minute cut on the One of these Nights LP but was cut down to four minutes as a single. Among the parts cut for radio were the rendezvous verse and half the third verse.

Interestingly, with all the accolades The Eagles received from later country artists about the group's influence on them, it may seem odd that "Lyin' Eyes" would be their only Top 40 country song during their 1971-'82 heyday. That said, it's worth noting that the Nashville establishment at that time was still particular about their music and still looked askance at a group of long-haired L.A. types, no matter whether the members were from places like Texas (Don Henley) and Florida (Don Felder) or had country-rock chops like Bernie Leadon (The Flying Burrito Brothers) and Randy Meisner (Poco). Young fans in areas where country was the dominant music were listening to other artists as well, which manifested itself when they matured.

Arthur Alexander - "Everyday I Have To Cry" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)

Although "Every Day I Have to Cry" was Arthur Alexander's only 1970s pop hit, his status as an influence on rockers has been largely and unfortunately forgotten. During the 1960s British Invasion, his songs were recorded by The Beatles ("Anna") and The Rolling Stones ("You Better Move On").

The song, written by Alexander, was a minor hit for Steve Alaimo in 1963. After some time away from the music business, Alexander tried make another go of it during the 1970s. Signed to Buddah records, he recorded his own version of the song and managed to get a small hit with it. The lyrics about realizing that a love is lost forever resonated with many but didn't lead to any additional success. Alexander's followup in 1976 was "Sharing the Night Together," a song that only reached the lower reaches of the R&B chart. It would be a Top 10 pop hit in 1978 for Dr. Hook, but Alexander had left the music business again at the time, driving a bus.

Alexander's material gained some interest later. In 1990 he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. In 1993, he recorded a new album and was performing once again. Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack that June.

The Salsoul Orchestra - "Salsoul Hustle"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #76, 6 Weeks on chart)

The Salsoul Orchestra was the group that produced most of the backing music for artists on the Salsoul record label from 1974 through 1982. Many of the orchestra's members had played with MFSB before that group left the employ of Gamble and Huff over a payment dispute. In addition to providing music for Salsoul's singers, the orchestra released their own records and their first chart single was "Salsoul Hustle."

"Salsoul Hustle" was an instrumental at a time when they were much more prevalent on the charts, and sounds very much a part of the 1970s scene. At a time when disco music was gaining in popularity, a bunch of dances came out and many had the name Hustle, thanks to the #1 Van McCoy hit of the same name. Nobody would expect less from the Salsoul house band or any group featuring members of the orchestra behind many classic 1970s Philly Soul hits.

Smokie - "If You Think You Know How To Love Me"

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 1 Week on chart)

In July '75, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" managed to make the Hot 100 but peaked at #96 in its short two-week stay.Two months later, it reappeared for a second shot but still couldn't make a better showing than it did the first time. In the band's native England, however, the song was a #3 single for them.

Despite having roots in psychedelic pop from their 1960s genesis and glitter rock due to writer/producer team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, "If You Think You Know How to Love Me" would be a slowed-down ballad. Featuring electric piano and light strings accompanying singer Chris Norman's tender vocals, it was something different from what the band had offered before. When first released in Europe, the single was credited to the band as "Smokey" but there was some trouble when plans were made for U.S. release due to the presence of Smokey Robinson. Opting to alter the band name to Smokie for all further recordings both at home and in the U.S., they began a very successful phase of their career.

Ray Charles - "Living For The City"

(Debuted #99, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

Ray Charles performs his own version of Stevie Wonder's 1973 hit (reviewed here last November). Rather than using the aural landscape from the original, Brother Ray sings the tune as a straight R&B song. Rather than the montage featuring the poor young man being tricked into taking a rap for a crime he never commented, Ray Charles inserts a spoken plea about treading water at the poverty level.

Looking beyond the fact that both artists were both blind, Ray Charles performing Stevie Wonder's song represents one master of American music making his own interpretation of another's.

Hamilton Bohannon - "Foot Stompin' Music"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

Despite having a similar title, this is not a remake of the 1972 Grand Funk Railroad song. Instead, this would be a song about getting out on the dance floor...a song that was entirely counter to Grand Funk's material even if both songs did share the more-music/less-lyrics vibe.

"Foot Stompin' Music" was the only song Hamilton Bohannon took into the Billboard Hot 100. It spent all of two weeks aboard the chart, peaking at #98 before dropping off. Despite that brief run, Bohannon was quite a figure in the 1970s disco scene, scoring regularly on the R&B and Disco charts. "Foot Stompin' Music" would reach #1 on the Disco chart, while his signature tune, 1978's "Let's Start the Dance," would be Top 10 on both of the other charts despite missing the Hot 100.

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