Saturday, October 30, 2010

This Week's Review -- October 28, 1972

Nine new singles showed up on the Billboard chart this week, with four eventually making the Top 40 and one that would reach the Top 10. Three of the songs have different takes on life: a pair of college students discussing ideas, a man who's working toward a better future and a group having a carefree party. A Jackson 5 song that came from a Broadway show appears, as does a song about a little girl and another that mentions a little boy and his dog. One of the songs would be resurrected later by the band that arose from the group that originally recorded it. Finally, an early hit appeared by a group better known for a much bigger hit later.

Google Books features an archive of past issues of Billboard magazine, which give a glimpse into the music business from all those years ago. It's neat to see how much the technologies have changed, but how many business-related topics are still issues today. The October 28, 1972 edition is available here. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 68.Among the articles is a short paragraph on page 68 that announces the breakup of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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Chicago - "Dialogue (Parts 1 and 2)"

(Debuted #72, Peaked #24, 10 Weeks on chart)

Several longer songs in the 1970s were cut in half to fit on the two sides of a 45 R.P.M. single and get radio airplay, but there were actually two distinct parts to "Dialogue." In the first part, two young people (as voiced by Terry Kath and Peter Cetera) are talking about the way things are, from two different viewpoints. Kath's lines express some concern over the direction he sees things going, while Cetera's lines espouse more of an "I'm OK, you're OK" attitude. This wasn't exactly uncommon in America during the early 1970s: even by October 1972, U.S. soldiers were still getting killed in Vietnam, the economy was sputtering (and an oil crisis was on the horizon) and news of a botched break-in was not only exposing some deep rifts in the government, but feeding an even deeper mistrust in the people running it. However, despite the grim news, there were many Americans who didn't think things were nearly as bad as they were made out to be.

Part II not only has a change in music, but a shift in lyrical direction as well. Kath and Cetera are singing the more optimistic lines together, perhaps signaling that the grumpy pessimist had been brought around to see the light. Where Part I was as much of a dialogue between Kath's guitar and Cetera's bass as it was a vocal one, the famed Chicago brass section (which begins to make itself heard halfway through the vocal debate) takes over as Part II gets underway.

"Dialogue" was part of the Chicago V LP, the band's first single-record set after three double albums and a four-disc live recording. With the new, "slimmed-down" format of their new album, their record-side suites became a part of the past. As it turned out, "Dialogue" would be the only song on the album that featured an extended format.

The Isley Brothers - "Work To Do"

(Debuted #83, Peaked #51, 10 Weeks on chart)

Unlike "Dialogue," "Work to Do" has an altogether different discussion going on. The lyrics here explain that while it would be great to stay home and love each other, it was also important to get to work and make a better life. In short, rather than spending time debating ideologies, this song just deals with the reality of life and doing what is needed to make it work.

"Work to Do" appeared on the Isleys' Brother, Brother, Brother LP. That album was the first to feature the younger half of the family (Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper) along with the original members Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley. It was also the group's final record for Buddah before their move to Epic and a new phase of their career.

The Average White Band did a version of "Work to Do" in 1974, and Vanessa Williams scored a Top 5 R&B hit with the song in 1992. Since it's been given additional exposure over the years, it's a little surprising to see that the song missed the Top 40 during its initial run.

Gilbert O'Sullivan - "Clair"

(Debuted #86, Peaked #2, 16 Weeks on chart)

Despite having Top 10 hits in the U.S. with "Clair" and "Get Down," Gilbert O'Sullivan sometimes gets tagged as a one-hit wonder due to the giant top-selling "Alone Again (Naturally)" (reviewed here last June). That's a little unfair, since "Clair" probably deserved to be a little better regarded after all this time.

While the lyrics may seem like they're coming from a pedophile interested in a much younger girl, "Clair" was written for the daughter of O'Sullivan's manager Gordon Mills, a child O'Sullivan occasionally babysat (according to legend). Clair even shows up on the song, giggling at the end. The words even follow a pattern familiar to anybody who's had to watch an overactive little girl: "Get back into bed, can't you see that it's late, no you can't have a drink, well alright, but wait just a minute." At the end of the song, he's exhausted from keeping up with her ("You can be murder at this hour of the day").

As for the song, it's one of those things I've gained a great deal of appreciation about since I brought home my own little girl from the hospital.

The Jackson 5 - "Corner Of The Sky"

(Debuted #88, Peaked #18, 12 Weeks on chart)

Last week's review featured a Jackson 5 tune that was a hastily-reworked Michael Jackson solo single. In that review, I explained that many of the group's singles had featured at least two brothers handling some of the vocals. In this song, three brothers -- Michael, Marlon and Jermaine -- are singing lead parts and all are harmonizing.

"Corner of the Sky" was a single that would eventually be included on the group's 1973 LP Skywriter. The song was from the Broadway play Pippin, which was a new smash in 1972. The lyrics are about following dreams, but it was a stark contrast to the way the brothers felt dealing with the Motown machine. All five had been writing material, but they were forbidden from performing anything outside of what Motown specified. This dissatisfaction is reflected in the cover of Skywriting, with the brothers looking gloomy while standing next to an early airplane. The photo was black-and-white, and the image implicitly showed they were being "grounded" from what they wished to do. "Corner of the Sky" would be the only Top 20 single from the album.

King Harvest - "Dancing In The Moonlight"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #13, 22 Weeks on chart)

During my early radio days, I was able to talk my way into doing a 1970s-themed show. After getting no response about it, I wrote up a draft explaining what I wanted to do, with a sample playlist, some information I hoped to share, and a standard rotation (all of which were based on a format used by another show we played at the station that I copied and then reworked to fit what I needed). Finally, I was given the green light to do it. "Dancing in the Moonlight" was the very first song I ever played on that show.

This might be one of the songs of the 1970s that people think of if they want to describe the "vibe." That vibe probably helped the song become a decent hit. It features a decent harmony by the group members, a great keyboard opening, mellow guitar parts, and a general feel that evokes a backyard get-together: laid-back, enjoying time with friends or family and not worrying much about the world.

The song was originally done in 1970 by a group called Boffalongo. A couple of Boffalongo's members ended up in King Harvest, which probably accounted for this version (Thanks to Dean for reminding me about that).

"Dancing in the Moonlight" is often wrongly attributed to Van Morrison and Elvis Costello (neither of whom have ever covered the tune). I'll get to Van Morisson a little later, but Costello was still several years away from charting in 1972.

The Heywoods - "Special Someone" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #91, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)

If "Special Someone" sounds like it could have been a latter-day Osmonds song, there's a good reason. While the Heywoods had been touring mainly around their Cincinnati home base since 1965, they got their first major break by touring with the Osmond family. It was probably hard to see "Osmond-Mania" up close without wanting to see if some of that could rub off. 

A basic pop song, the sound of "Special Someone" is close to the bubblegum of the early 1970s. A brass section helped set the sunny disposition of the song. The band later changed its name to Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods (even though Mike Gibbons was the lead singer) and had a monster #1 smash in 1974, but they still had a little way to go before reaching that point.

The Move - "Do Ya"

(Debuted #98, Peaked #93, 5 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube video above is a recording of the single spinning on a turntable. The song is recorded with the pops we all heard in vinyl back then, just as it should be. While digital snobs might point out how those noises detract from the quality of the recording, the strength of the lyrics or the power of the music...I say it's only a pop song. There's not a lot of deep meaning to "Do ya, do ya want my love?" Hearing the occasional pop and click of a vinyl record is like visiting with an old friend after some time apart: eventually, you go back on with your current life, but at some level, all is right in the world for a little while.

Before there was The Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan were part of Roy Wood's group The Move. The Move was a U.K.-based band that formed in 1965 and became quite successful in their home country. In the U.S., however, the band couldn't seem to get a break and only scored this one minor hit. By 1972, The Move were down to the trio of Wood, Lynne and Bevan after a seeing revolving door of band members. Wood had envisioned a band that could merge classical styles with rock and recruited Lynne to help with the transition. As it turned out, Wood would leave ELO early on, so that band would be associated with Lynne instead.

"Do Ya" was originally titled "Look Out Baby, There's a Plane A-Coming," which Roy Wood is heard saying at the end of the song. Opening with a guitar riff that would today be called "power pop," the song is propelled by a straight-ahead beat, reverberated guitar noise and even a cowbell struck with a drumstick.

"Do Ya" would be re-made, with Jeff Lynne singing and more robust instrumentation, and charted again as an ELO hit in 1975. Thanks to the success of that group and the endless repackaging of their hits, the remade version is perhaps much more familiar than the original. The remake would be true in may ways to the feel of the original, but what much more slickly produced and featured a wider array of instruments in the song.

Van Morrison - "Redwood Tree" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

Van Morrison is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest and most inspirational singers of all time, but somebody who just looked at a list of hit singles may not understand why. Since Morrison's appeal attracted more album-buying consumers, many of his fans were content to buy his LPs and enjoy the wider message of his work and left his singles alone. At the same time, his style -- considered "timeless" by some -- didn't always fit well into the format of Top 40 Hit Radio, which directed its energies toward a different demographic than the bulk of Morrison's work.

"Redwood Tree" was a track on Morrison's Saint Dominic's Preview LP, which would be his best-performing album of the 1970s. Beginning with a boy and dog running out and playing in a field, the redwood tree in the title would provide shelter from a summer storm. Obviously, the song wasn't exactly a recollection of Morrison's own childhood (he grew up in Ireland), but was perhaps a nod toward California, where he lived at the time he recorded the album.

Tony Cole - "Suite: Man And Woman" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #97, 4 Weeks on chart)

Seeing the word "Suite" in a title can suggest several things. You can safely guess there will be a few changes in style and direction, and it's probably a good bet that the song is going to run for a while. That's not necessarily a bad thing if the piece is good, but can be quite uncomfortable if you're not captivated by the music. And when I wrote out this review, the version I had (and listened to three times) was the long, rambling LP version that ran for more than eight minutes.

The single version truncated the song down to 4 minutes and 45 seconds, but some of the stations that managed to add it to their rotation cut it down further. Considering the single's #97 peak position, it's evident a lot of stations just filed the single away without playing it.

There's not a lot of info around about Tony Cole. He appears to be a former schoolteacher who made a one-time appearance on American Bandstand during the 1960s. "Suite: Man and Woman" was his only single to reach the Hot 100.

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