Saturday, October 2, 2010

This Week's Review -- October 4, 1975

Seven new singles made their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 survey for this week, with only two eventually making it to the Top 40. Only one song got into the Top 10. Among the songs that missed the Top 40 were songs by established artists like James Taylor, Roger Daltrey and Billy Preston. Preston would perform his song the following week on the very first episode of a landmark TV show. Another song was a remake of a 1971 film theme. A song by one former Beatle was a surprising change of form from his usual hit material. The most surprising change of form, came from a group of three brothers who had begun using a more rhythmic sound with their newest single, one that ended up becoming their best-remembered "sound" after the decade was over.

Google Books has a large archive of past issues of Billboard magazine. Unfortunately, the October 4, 1975 issue is missing from the available editions.

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Paul McCartney and Wings - "Letting Go" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #74, Peaked #39, 6 Weeks on chart)

Paul McCartney manged to reach the U.S. Top 40 with every chart record he released in the 1970s. Whether by himself, with his post-Beatles band Wings or billed with his wife Linda, every one of his 24 singles would reach the Top 40.* The number would reach 25 if you counted "Seaside Woman" by Suzy & the Red Stripes. He did have a few near-misses that ended up reaching the lower rungs of the Top 40, including this tune from Wings' Venus and Mars LP. However, "Letting Go" was a surprise from Macca, as a song with a strong R&B influence that made it stand out among the more rock and pop-oriented material on the album.

* It should be noted, however, that there were a couple of singles released by The Beatles in 1976 and '78 that missed the Top 40. As releases delivered by the group's former record company after their agreement with Apple expired rather than a decision by the band to release them, I didn't count those among McCartney's 1970s singles. That said, I also didn't include any Beatles singles from before the announcement of the group's 1970 breakup in the count either.

The Bee Gees - "Nights On Broadway"

(Debuted #82, Peaked #7, 16 Weeks on chart)

With the release of their LP Main Course, The Bee Gees served notice that they were changing their sound to reflect more of an R&B vibe and a new sound influenced by the disco scene then wildly popular in Miami, the city where the album was recorded. As the first song on that record, "Nights on Broadway" was the first taste of the group's new sound many fans would hear.

One of the first songs to utilize Barry Gibb's falsetto (then a vocal asset but later the target of derision from critics), it was a glimpse into The Bee Gees' future sound, which essentially kicked off a very successful period for them. Within the song, though, they offered a taste of the band's past offerings as well. While mostly utilizing the new R&B-influenced, disco-accented sound, there was a slow break before the final chorus and fade where the brothers showcased the harmonies as their fans remembered from the 1960s and early 70s before shifting it back into the high-energry groove.

Fans of the TV show Saturday Night Live may recognize this tune as the basis of the theme song to "The Barry Gibb Talk Show," where Jimmy Fallon assumed the title role, dressed up in all his Saturday Night Fever-era glory.

Billy Preston - "Fancy Lady"

(Debuted #85, Peaked #71, 4 Weeks on chart)

The week after "Fancy Lady" debuted on the Hot 100, it became part of television history. Preston and Janis Ian were the musical guests on a late-night television variety show for its very first episode on October 11, 1975. One of the two songs he performed on that premiere show was "Fancy Lady" ("Nothing From Nothing" was the other). Few people pay a lot of attention to such trivial matters, except that new show was Saturday Night Live, which is still on the air 35 years later.

Though largely forgotten in favor of his bigger 1970s hits and his credit playing on The Beatles' "Get Back," "Fancy Lady" showcases Preston's electric piano skills as well as his vocal talents. A funky riff propels the song through its entirety. A female backing singer chimes in from time to time who sounds at first like Chaka Khan but probably is someone else.

The Biddu Orchestra - "Summer Of '42"

(Debuted #89, Peaked #57, 6 Weeks on chart)

India-born, U.K.-based producer Biddu became known in the U.S. as the man behind the recording console for Carl Douglas's #1 smash hit "Kung Fu Fighting." When he wasn't preforming production duties for atrists such as Douglas and Tina Charles, he also recorded his own music as The Biddu Orchestra. In 1975, he released a discofied version of Peter Nero's 1971 hit "Theme from Summer of '42." While having little to do with the film, this new version was following a trend of taking familiar tunes and giving them a dance beat.

Where Nero's hit had been a piano piece with orchestral backing, Biddu begins with a piano opening but lets the orchestra take over as the first verse is finishing. While the piano can still be heard later on, the orchestra swirls around and drowns it out, with a very 1970s-sounding wah-wah guitar taking center stage. While Biddu's tune isn't enough to make people forget about crushes they developed on Jennifer O'Neill from the movie, it showed that even romantic tunes from nostalgic sources were rife to be remade (or ripped off, depending on your perspective) by disco producers.

James Taylor - "Mexico"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #49, 8 Weeks on chart)

There are a few differing opinions about what this song is about. One concerns getting a nasty case of Montezuma's Revenge (accounting for being there but never being able to experience the place), and another focuses on the words "body's still shaking like a live wire" and the part about the kid being hungry but having no money and insisting it's about Taylor's struggles with heroin addiction. Personally, I feel that people often place way too much importance on what a song means...and I'm saying this as somebody who writes about music on a weekly basis. Sometimes, a writer just strings some words together and puts music to them.

That said, "Mexico" is one of Taylor's better-known tunes of the era even if it wasn't a big hit. As the first track on Taylor's Gorilla LP, it's a nice leadoff in Taylor's inoffensive, laid-back musical manner. The song also features superb harmony vocals behind JT, effortlessly performed by David Crosby and Graham Nash. It features a catchy cadence with its pseudo-Latin rhythm and possibly catches the essence of being a foreigner who's trying to understand where he is.

Roger Daltrey - "Come And Get Your Love"

(Debuted #97, Peaked #68, 8 Weeks on chart)

"Come and Get Your Love" was the second and most successful of Daltrey's three 1970s solo singles. While the song's title brings to mind Redbone's huge 1974 hit, the Who frontman does a completely different song. To differentiate the two songs, Daltrey's is often shown as "(Come and) Get Your Love" or simply as "Get Your Love."  The first track and only chart single from Daltrey's second solo LP Ride a Rock Horse, "Come and Get Your Love" was written by Russ Ballard, who also produced the album. As a member of Argent, a solo artist, writer and producer, Ballard is little-appreciated for all the effect he had on 1970s rock.

Sung with studio musicians and a female backing group, the song featured a good guitar solo and fine vocals, but it seemed to lack an element that his fans might not have noticed right away. It was a pop/rock tune but not as over-the-top as Daltrey sometimes went on his vocals with The Who. His membership in that band may have been the biggest thing holding back Daltrey's solo 1970s material; while he was still wailing in front of Pete Townsend and one of the greatest rock rhythm sections ever known, his solo records were merely ways to bide his time between Who projects and Daltrey's films.

Johnny "Guitar" Watson - "I Don't Want To Be A Lone Ranger"

(Debuted #100, Peaked #99, 4 Weeks on chart)

Johnny "Guitar" Watson certainly had a diverse range of styles. Beginning in the 1950s, he was a top-rate blues and jazz guitarist and even showed his rock chops during the 1960s. During the 1970s, a time where many acts from the past were happy coasting on their past glories,Watson changed his focus again. While reinventing an image isn't exactly easy when you're pushing 40 and have been active for more than 20 years, Watson pulled it off easily.

The man who had recorded "Gangster of Love" in the 1950s re-emerged in the 1970s as a funky pimp, dressed in golden threads and playing a more contemporary sound than the blues that established his reputation. "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger" was a nice mix of styles: it appealed to the R&B crowd but still had elements of jazz and funk. His new sound was much more influential than his two low-charting pop hits might indicate.

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