Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Week's Review -- November 27, 1971

There were 14 new singles (one a two-sided hit) making their first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Seven went on to reach the Top 40, with three making the Top 10 and one becoming an iconic #1 hit. There is quite a bit of remembering among the songs this time around. The biggest hit here was a reminder of the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash. A legend from Holly's era cut a version of a song that was made famous by Janis Joplin. A group decided to go on without Jim Morrison after his early celestial exit. Even the artists who were still alive here weren't immune, as Jackie Wilson soon proved. No wonder Tommy James is doing a prayer in his song. It wasn't all gloomy this week, though: there was a song based on a soda commercial, a double-sided hit from a young teen idol, the signature hit for a very well-known band and a return-to-roots ditty by a Canadian singer.

Google Books has an archive of past Billboard issues, including the November 27, 1971 edition. The full Hot 100 chart can be found on page 64. An article on page 50 mentions how jukebox operators were looking at ways to deal with the growing popularity of the long-play LP. On the other side of the progressive spectrum was cartridge television (CTV), which was seen as a way to have more control over what they watched than simply what broadcasters were airing. It was seen as analogous to playing records instead of listening to the radio. In essence, it was like a video 8-track. Page 26 has several articles about the format, which seems like a lot considering the way it bombed once it reached the market.

James Brown

Don McLean - "American Pie (Parts 1 and 2)" American Pie - American Pie - Single

(Debuted #69, Peaked #1, 19 Weeks on chart)

I'm not even going to try to explain what goes on this this song. It's been hashed, rehashed, and them examined even further ever since it was released 39 years ago. If you'd like to see just how much this song  has been analyzed, check out this post. It resurfaces on newsgroup boards every so often and will go about as deep as it possibly can.

Instead, I'll mention that "American Pie" was an unqualified smash hit, becoming Don McLean's signature song. It has been performed many times over the years by artists like Madonna, The Brady Bunch and Garth Brooks and parodied by "Weird Al" Yankovic. Its name even appeared on a series of bawdy teen comedies nearly 30 years later.

Most importantly, it led to a change in the way some stations handled hit singles. At the time, Top 40 radio stations -- mostly on the AM band then -- usually preferred shorter songs in their formats. Additionally, jukebox operators preferred shorter singles because they made more money from them. As a result, "American Pie" had its eight minutes broken into two sides for a single, with most stations opting for the second part. In the American Top 40 radio show, Casey Kasem would usually skip the intro, playing the song from the first "Bye, bye Miss American Pie." and fade it out before the final verse. As the song became a big hit, listeners called their stations and asked for the full version. Many stations, ever vigilant about keeping their listeners, relented and allowed the full version to play at the expense of their formats.

Lastly, the song generated more discussion about Buddy Holly and his influence. That's always a good thing.

Donny Osmond - "Hey Girl" Hey Girl - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits b/w "I Knew You When" I Knew You When - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #70, Peaked #9, 10 Weeks on chart)

This was a two-sided hit, so there are two YouTube videos this time. Fans of Donny Osmond can enjoy both; others can simply skip to the commentary below (though this song is worth giving a listen if you've never heard it):

The two sides were meant to show a more soulful side to Donny Osmond than the kiddie-oriented singles he'd recorded before. At the time these songs hit Top 40 radio, Osmond had only two hits apart from his brothers: "Sweet and Innocent" and the #1 hit "Go Away Little Girl." When "Hey Girl"/"I Knew You When" didn't become as large a hit as the others did, it seems MGM records learned their lesson. They went back to the teen-idol pool and issued "Puppy Love" as his next single.

As per standard operating procedure for solo Donny Osmond singles then, he was given a couple of songs that were already hits before. "Hey Girl" was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was originally a #10 hit for Freddie Scott in 1963. Besides having the lush sound of a studio orchestra behind him on the record, a fuzzy bassline can be heard among the bells, flutes and other instruments on the single.

"I Knew You When" was written by Joe South, with a refrain that sounds a little like like Dionne Warwick's rendition of "Anyone Who Had a Heart." It was originally a hit in 1965 for Billy Joe Royal, leaving out the "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" intro from that version. Instead, the other Osmond brothers singing backup handle that part leading into the choruses. While Donny Osmond may not have had the same vocal range at 14 that Royal employed on his hit single, he doesn't do a bad job handling it.

Betty Wright - "Clean Up Woman" Clean Up Woman - The Essentials: Betty Wright

(Debuted #76, Peaked #6, 14 Weeks on chart)

The Memphis-style sound is actually from a Miami-based label, the guitar lick has been sampled on many hip-hop and rap songs and the cautionary vocal was from a singer who was all of 17 years old. While the song was written by two men, the female perspective given in "Clean Up Woman" is a counterpoint to the mainly male-centered songs about slipping out the back door, only to find out that somebody else has walked into the one up front.

In the song's lyrics, Betty Wright explains exactly what a "Clean Up" woman is. Basically, she's the person who is right there to mend the heart once it's been broken. When a man has been done wrong, she's there to make it right. The song is delivered in a mature manner for a 17-year old, but the fact is, it wasn't even her first pop hit. That had come in 1968, when she took "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do" to #33.

The song's catchy guitar hook and Memphis-like rhythm would last long after the song's hit run, as frequently-sampled bits in rap, hip-hop and R&B songs. the most notable of these was Mary J. Blige's #7 1992 hit "Real Love."

Rare Earth - "Hey Big Brother" Hey Big Brother - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B: 1971

(Debuted #77, Peaked #19, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Hey Big Brother" was a last hurrah of sorts for a group that had become Motown's first successful all-white act. Although they would briefly return to the Top 40 in 1978 with "Warm Ride," it's not a Motown record, it doesn't sound like the band did in the early 1970s and it rode a very nice coattail because -- as a Barry Gibb-penned tune -- it just happened to appear at the very moment The Bee Gees were the biggest group on the planet. "Hey Big Brother" would be the final Top 20 hit Rare Earth would enjoy.

It mainly follows the same type of sound as the group's earlier hits employed: a heavy, acid-rock infused tune that was heavy on guitar and organ, with familiar vocals throughout. Therefore, the onus as to whether a listener liked the song or not was the basic question of whether they liked the group performing it.

Tommy James - "Nothing To Hide" Nothing to Hide (Single Version) - The Solo Years (1970-1981)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #41, 9 Weeks on chart)

In the early 1970s, a subset of music arose that I like to call "God Rock." Though religious subtext has long been a part of soul records, it was missing from much pop music during the age of AM hit radio. However, something -- maturity, the ravages of war, assassinations and talk of revolution -- brought the subject to some secular hit records. Even before Jesus Christ Superstar would become a hit, Norman Greenbaum was saying "you gotta have a friend in Jesus" in a hit record, but one of the first subtle religious overtures came from "Crystal Blue Persuasion," a 1969 hit by Tommy James (who had become "born again" the year before) and the Shondells.

The song starts off with a prayer, with James going on to to explain he has no worries about what will happen to him in the Afterlife. Seriously, it sounds like he wrote a bedtime prayer and set it to music. However, unlike some artists who may have been performing religious-tinged music because it was cool, it seems Tommy James was very serious about his religion and that's commendable. Since he had been doing that since before Jesus Christ became a hippie icon, it doesn't seem so much like he recorded the single quickly to cash in on a trend. In any case, the song peaked at #41, which was as close as he'd get to the pop Top 40 for the rest of the decade.

Joe Simon - "Drowning In The Sea Of Love" Drowning In the Sea of Love - Drowning In the Sea of Love

(Debuted #80, Peaked #11, 13 Weeks on chart)

Here's an interesting example of aural "imagery": take a song whose title uses a water metaphor and place a guitar lick in it that sounds like it's being played under water.That said, the mix of a very tasty guitar lick, the sublime backing vocals and Joe Simon's strong performance, and the result is a very good song. Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and backed by the same group that made up MFSB, the song was an attempt to inject a little Philadelphia flavor into Simon's brand of "country soul." The result is an interesting and almost irresistible mixture.

"Drowning in the Sea of Love" would miss the Top 10 by the slimmest of margins, topping out at #11. It was the best pop chart performance to date for the Lousiana native, beating the unlucky #13 position of 1969's "The Choking Kind." Simon eventually got his Top 10 pop hit, but he needed to disco craze to catch on and take "Get Down, Get Down (Get Down on the Floor)" there.

Jerry Lee Lewis - "Me And Bobby McGee" Me and Bobby McGee - The Definitive Collection: Jerry Lee Lewis

(Debuted #81, Peaked #40, 10 Weeks on chart)

Though best known from the version that Janis Joplin made her own, it is sometimes forgotten that Kris Kristofferson wrote "Me and Bobby McGee" as a country song, or that its earlier incarnations were by Nashville-based artists such as Roger Miller and Ray Stevens. By the time "Killer" released his version of the song, it was already after Joplin's tragic triumph.

Had Jerry Lee Lewis released the song after the Miller version, it may have had a different response. It would go on to be one-half of a two-sided #1 country single (along with "Would You Take Another Chance on Me"), but instead of being seen as a return to his 1950s sound melded to the country material he was doing then, it would inevitably be viewed through the prism that was created when Janis Joplin scored her posthumous #1 pop single. that's a shame, since he did a pretty nice job on the song.

The Hillside Singers - "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #13, 12 Weeks on chart)

This was one of two different hit versions of the Coca-Cola TV commercial that charted around the same time.

Here's the original Coke commercial, for the benefit of those who may not have been around at the time to have it seared into your subconsciousness:

The commercial was a manifestation of the late 60s/early 70s ideal that people of all stripes can get along as friends if they just understood each other. And that could be reached if they all drank a bottle of soda. Quite a statement at a time when things like Vietnam, Kent State and political assassinations were still fresh memories.

The Coke commercial features a group of diverse youth gathered on the side of a hill in Italy; the Hillside Singers took their name from that. The group was a collection of studio singers and musicians assembled by Al Ham. Ham's wife Mary Mayo and their daughter Lori were among the members.

Although a competing version of the song by The New Seekers eventually outcharted and outsold The Hillside Singers', it was closer to the song used in the TV commercial, even adding the "It's the Real Thing" tag Coca-Cola used in its advertising then.

The Grateful Dead - "Truckin'" Truckin' - American Beauty (Bonus Track Version) [Remastered]

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

As beloved as The Grateful Dead were, it may come as a surprise that they only scored a handful of hits during the 1970s, and even more surprising that #64 was as high as they ever got on the Hot 100 before 1987.

The song "Truckin'" would include the line "what a long, strange trip it's been," which not only served as the name of the band's later greatest hits LP but became a fitting epitaph for their career. As a band, they drew from a wide variety of influences in their music, and this song featured elements of country (the "truck song" concept), blues and R&B. The lyric sheet reads like a casual account about life on the road; it isn't very positive, it's not entirely negative and just tells it the way it is. All the cities sprinkled into the lyrics also points back to Chuck Berry's "Promised land."

Like I said about "American Pie" earlier, "Truckin'" has been widely dissected and examined by the group's fans and critics alike. There's not much I can add to those dissertations.

The Guess Who - "Sour Suite" Sour Suite (2003 Remastered) - So Long, Bannatyne (2003 Remastered)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #50, 9 Weeks on chart)

"What ever happened to homes as opposed to houses?"

So goes this downbeat tune that is punctuated by a piano and orchestra. While the title "Sour Suite" is a play on the homonyms "sweet" and "suite," it's an accurate description of the mood of its writer. The lyrics read as if Burton Cummings was dealing with a case of writer's block very late at night. With lines about not wanting to be bothered by others, clearing away stray thoughts about things he can't do anything about and images being gone, it seems like this song with random imagery was the result of working through a lot of false starts.

One such example: the few lines about "46201" reference an Indianapolis Zip code that was on an envelope that was sitting around while the song was being composed.

The Chi-Lites - "I Want To Pay You Back (For Loving Me)"

(Debuted #95, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

Written and sung by Eugene Record, "I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)" was a track from the group's (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People LP. It only spent one week at #100 (Mentioned in this blog a little while ago), but managed to return to the Hot 100 three weeks later and logged a couple more weeks on the survey.

A sweet ballad (and I do mean syrupy sweet, with lines like "I'm gonna give you a five-pound box of love with a million-dollar bill on top") that expressed gratitude for a woman's love, the song was a great example of the Chi-Lites' vocal harmonies in addition to Record's phrasing.

Though the song didn't ultimately fare well, it wasn't very long before they were known outside their Chicago-centered fan base. The Chi-Lites hit a groove immediately afterward, with the twin hits "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl."

Jackie Wilson - "Love Is Funny That Way" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #95, 3 Weeks on chart)

Jackie Wilson was a flashy showman, known as "Mr. Excitement" but considered by some to be the "Black Elvis." As a stage presence, he was an influence on James Brown, Michael Jackson and many others. He would be a consistent presence on the pop chart from 1957 into the early 1970s, even after the Top 40 hits largely dropped off in the wake of the British Invasion of the 1960s.

Sadly, he has been forgotten by many casual fans. Among the oldies stations left playing music going that far, Wilson's impressive hit list has been filtered down to "Higher and Higher" and "Lonely Teardrops," but not a lot else. That borders of criminal negligence. If nothing else, for anybody who isn't familiar with Jackie Wilson's music, make a point to check out "Reet Petite," "To Be Loved," "Night" and "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" and get a little more acquainted with his work. It's well worth the few extra minutes. 

"Love is Funny That Way" would be the second-to-last pop hit Wilson would have before falling into a coma after suffering a heart attack while he was on stage. While the song may not have been among his best singles, but it still showed that he was still able to give a great performance. The bright ballad was both a continuation of many of Wilson's late 1960s output and a bittersweet tune once the fickle perspective of hindsight is applied.

Buffy Sainte- Marie - "I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again" I'm Gonna Be a Cntry Girl - I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again

(Debuted #99, Peaked #98, 3 Weeks on chart)

"I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again" was the first of three Hot 100 entries for Canadian-born Buffy Sainte-Marie. Despite no previous hits, she had released four LPs before that, starting out as a folksinger and trying to keep from being defined from any format after that. For her I'm Gonna Be a Country Girl Again LP, she recorded it in Nashville and immediately drew some fire from her fans despite getting an American pop hit. Despite the lyrics explaining that she longed for a return to the simple life, Sainte-Marie moved on after the album to record more songs about the plight of native tribes, appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street (including one where she breastfed her infant, something you'll likely never see on that show today) and writing a #1 hit a decade later with "Up Where We Belong."

The Doors - "Tightrope Ride" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #71, 7 Weeks on chart)

The loss of Jim Morrison earlier that year didn't necessarily mean the closing of the Doors. They decided to carry on as a trio, rather than try to replace such a unique presence and personality. They even named their next LP Other Voices to signify the new direction they wanted to take. While that allowed the surviving members to showcase their own talents without being overshadowed by their lead singer, it wasn't the same. For instance, the song "Tightrope Ride" features a great guitar solo by Robbie Krieger, but Ray Manzarek sounds a little too much like he's trying to channel his departed friend. It makes listeners wonder, was "Tightrope Ride" directed at Jim Morrison?

After two albums without Morrison, though...the band decided to split up. As the group's material began to appear on CD in the 1980s, those final two albums recorded without Jim Morrison were never given an official release on the new format. Perhaps they didn't like the music, or is it possible that the three remaining members still considered the group complete with four members?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This Week's Review -- November 17, 1979

For this week's review, there's a slight change from the regular layout. Usually, artists names link to their section from this blog's parent site. However, since all but two of the songs in this week's list peaked in 1980, they aren't listed in the site. This is the first time this has been a problem; last year, I avoided 1979 late in the year and only one 1980 song -- "Please Don't Go" by KC & the Sunshine Band -- was featured. However, since it was still in the Top 10 as 1979 ended, it wasn't as out of place as some of the ones here this time around. For this week, the songs that peaked in '80 will not point back to the main site.

There were nine debut singles on the Billboard chart this week. Seven of them (in fact, all the ones that peaked after the New Year) went on to reach the Top 40, one of the best ratios this blog has seen so far. Three of the songs topped out in the Top 10 as well. Among the hits are the female voice from Meat Loaf's overamped teen fantasy "Paradise By the Dashboard Light," slowed down ballads by a group known for its guitar sound and also a guy who was one of disco's biggest artists, a new song by a former member of the Doobie Brothers, an instrumental, a number one country song (one that had a triple rape in it) and a breakthrough hit from an artist who has become better renowned than his hits may indicate. Lastly, the last three songs on the list are all remakes of previous hit singles.

Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard, including the November 17, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 80. A story on page 10 quotes an executive as saying disco wasn't dead yet (in hindsight, he was merely went underground for several years). An article on Page 1 mentions that record labels were concerned about what effect radio stations playing full LPs without interruptions had on their sales. This was followed by two editorial comments (one from a radio program director, another from a retail manager) reminding the companies that they really should be focusing on improving the quality of their product instead. Finally, in a sign of changes to come, Page 64 has the first-ever Videocassette Top 40 list. While the VHS/Beta format war was still yet to be decided, Billboard was reporting which items were selling. If you get the chance to look through the magazine, take a quick look at the retail prices on some of those films, as well as the carefully worded advertisement for an adult video.


Kenny Rogers - "Coward Of The County" Coward of the County - Number Ones

(Debuted #63, Peaked #3, 18 Weeks on chart)

Some critics like to ridicule country music because of its sometimes predicable subject matter: songs about the simple life, "God and mama" songs, even songs about getting drunk and committing adultery. Well, here's a song that had a prison death, a triple rape and three guys getting the stuffing beat out of them in a barroom. Somehow, a song with such implicit sex and gratuitous violence in it still managed to hit #3 and become a crossover hit without corrupting the impressionable youth of America, nor was it even brought up a few years later when the PMRC took their crusade about what they deemed "filthy" song lyrics to Capitol Hill.

Perhaps I oversimplify the song. The triple rape is implied (though it's hard to think of much else, given the lyrics), the barroom beatdown is casually mentioned, and Kenny Rogers really doesn't say what made Tommy's father die in prison but it was likely an execution. However, even though he rambles his way through the song, the story has some rather dark elements in it. And none of that could stop it from becoming a huge hit, thanks to Rogers being at his peak of popularity at the time.

In addition to reaching #3, "Coward of the County" was the first new #1 single of 1980 on Billboard's country chart. It also hit #1 in the U.K. in February '80, which makes the last U.S. country single to date to reach the top there.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "Don't Do Me Like That" Don't Do Me Like That - Damn the Torpedoes (Remastered)

(Debuted #71, Peaked #10, 17 Weeks on chart)

After three chart singles during the 1970s that failed to get any higher than #40, Tom Petty's career shifted into high gear with a new decade. His group's third LP Damn the Torpedoes was their first after their label Shelter was absorbed by MCA and would be the band's big breakthrough. At the time, the band's sound was often lumped in with post-punk and New Wave acts because it was somehow "different" from the heavier guitar-based rock of the 1970s; however, Petty's sound was rooted in the Byrds, the Stones and 1960s garage rock that influenced the various band members in their childhoods.

"Don't Do Me Like That" featured the tight instrumental interplay between the band, Byrds-like guitar jangle, Petty's effortless lyric and an organ solo by Benmont Tench. would become Petty's first Top 10 hit; interestingly, despite several radio-friendly hits through the decade that are still FM airplay staples today, he wouldn't get another Top 10 hit until "Free Fallin'" in 1989.

Foghat - "Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool)" Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool) - Boogie Motel

(Debuted #73, Peaked #23, 14 Weeks on chart)

Last week, Savoy Brown's "Tell Mama" was among the 15 songs featured in this blog. That song was recorded after several members of that band split to form their own group, which emerged as Foghat. After some success through the 1970s, they closed out the decade with the LP Boogie Motel, an interesting title given the disco craze that had only fizzled out a few months earlier.

While "Third Time Lucky" didn't turn out to be a disco song, it definitely wasn't the guitar-based sound they established in their hit songs "Slow Ride" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You." Instead, it was a ballad. While it didn't necessarily venture into "pansy" territory, it was markedly slower than what the jocks usually played from Foghat on the radio. However, after the frenetic pace of the disco era wound down, perhaps a lot of artists outside the punk/New Wave scene were just hoping to slow down the pace.

Herb Alpert - "Rotation" Rotation - Rise

(Debuted #82, Peaked #30, 12 Weeks on chart)

Picking up where he left off with his #1 hit single "Rise," Herb Alpert spun another instrumental hit into the Top 40 with "Rotation." Both singles were from the Rise LP, but "Rotation" wouldn't benefit from exposure on the TV soap opera General Hospital like "Rise" did. There are fans who claim that "Rotation" was a better song, but to my ears they both have different grooves and are both good in their own way.

"Rotation" would be one of a handful of instrumentals to make the Top 40 during the 1980s. The instrumental, a staple of pop music for decades, was slowly disappearing. After scoring several hit instrumentals during the 1960s with his Tijuana Brass, Alpert's hits dried up and instrumentals generally followed suit. After about 1976, it became harder to succeed without lyrics. There were exceptions ("Feels So Good," for instance), but the few instrumentals that did manage to make the Top 40 after the onslaught of disco were usually movie or TV themes.

Rita Coolidge - "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love" I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love - Delta Lady - The Rita Coolidge Anthology

(Debuted #83, Peaked #38, 9 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes I listen to a song and wonder what was going on in the singer's mind to make them feel strongly enough about a song and agree to sing it. this is especially true with singers who aren't also songwriters as well. Aside from having certain songs forced by producers or record labels, what motivates them: a good melody, an irresistible rhythm, a worthwhile lyric? Or is there a deeper meaning that just speaks to the artist on a personal level?

I ask this because this song appeared shortly before Rita Coolidge divorced husband Kris Kristofferson. Did she hear this song on a demo tape and think, "Wow, that's what I'm feeling right now"? 

"I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" was written by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, who had written Melissa Manchester's 1979 hit "Don't Cry Out Loud." In a way, it sounds a little like her 1977 hit "We're All Alone," with some of its musical backing and some of the ways she delivers her lines, just a little more subdued.

Tom Johnston - "Savannah Nights" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #34, 11 Weeks on chart)

After being sidelined from The Doobie Brothers due to some medical issues, Tom Johnston was ready to get out and record again. He had become ill in 1975 and was only able to contribute sporadically to teh group's albums before leaving in 1977. He recorded his first solo album Everything You've Heard is True in 1979, and the first single was "Savannah Nights."

While it came out late in 1979, it was shortly after the disco backlash. Yet here was one of the Doobie Brothers -- one who wasn't part of "What a Fool Believes," for Pete's sake -- doing a record that may not have been totally disco but certainly had a dance groove in it. There may have been a guitar solo in the record, but the clavinet laying down a funky groove wasn't fooling anybody.

Rainbow - "Since You Been Gone" Since You Been Gone - Anthology 1975-1983

(Debuted #87, Peaked #57, 7 Weeks on chart)

That was the third appearance for this Russ Ballard-penned song in the Hot 100. Head East had charted in 1978 (reviewed here last April), and the sister act Cherie and Marie Curie had a short-lived run with their take earlier in 1979. Of all three charted versions, Rainbow's is probably best known. It charter higher than the others and was a Top 10 hit in the U.K.

Not only was the song returning, some of Rainbow's members also weren't new to hit singles; the group featured Richie Blackmore and Roger Glover, who had been members of Deep Purple. Drummer Cozy Powell had been a member of the Jeff Beck Group and keyboard player Don Airey was a latter-day member of Black Sabbath. Even singer Graham Bonnet (who was replacing Ronnie James Dio) wasn't exactly a newbie either, having been a successful singer on his own in the U.K. and Australia.

Featuring a seemingly easy lyric and guitar riff, "Since You Been Gone" is a dose of power-pop that really should've been given a better chance to be a hit in the U.S. It still gets an occasional spin on album-oriented rock stations.

Teri DeSario with  KC - "Yes, I'm Ready" Yes I'm Ready - The Casablanca Records Story (Box Set)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #2, 22 Weeks on chart)

Last July, I reviewed DeSario's debut single "Ain't Nothing Gonna Keep Me From You" on this blog. This would be her biggest hit, and sadly, is often overshadowed by her duet partner Harry Wayne Casey, the "KC" of the Sunshine Band.

Teri DeSario and KC had attended high school together while growing up in the Miami area. He had been producing Midnight Madness, DeSario's second LP for Casablanca, and was a fan of the original 1965 Barbara Mason hit. Label president Neil Bogart smelled a hit and insisted the two artists cut the song as a duet. Doing a version that was faithful to the original, it was both nostalgic and wistful.

One thing that stands out in "Yes I'm Ready" is that Teri DeSario was a much better singer than KC (who sounds much different without his Sunshine Band backing him up). However, she wasn't all that thrilled with the recording process or the music business and walked away from any additional hits.

Ellen Foley - "What's A Matter Baby" What's a Matter Baby - Nightout

(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

While this single is considered to be Ellen Foley's debut on the Hot 100, her voice was very familiar to listeners of 1970s pop music. After all, she was the female foil on Meat Loaf's classic song "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" who but the brakes on any foolishness from him without a promise.

Karla DeVito was shown in the performance video and in Meat Loaf's stage act, so she usually gets credit for the song. However, Foley lent her voice to the track recorded for the Bat Out of Hell LP. Anybody who hears Foley's spoken part near the end of "What's a Matter Baby" will immediately recognize the same voice that said "What's it gonna be, boy?" in "Paradise"

"What's a Matter Bay" is a remake of a Timi Yuro hit from 1962, with an updated spin for a new decade. Presented as a "kiss off" song from a sassy woman to an unfaithful lover, it's a song from the "girl group era" redone for a post-feminist era. It isn't a "New Wave" record but may have been considered to be one at the time due to the convoluted way American record companies labeled their artists.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Week's Review -- November 6, 1971

I had to put in some overtime this week. Normally, I feature 7-10 songs each week, but this was one of the weeks that featured a large number of debut singles on the Billboard Hot 100. There were 15 new singles, seven which made the Top 40. Three would go on to reach the Top 10 and one which hit #1. It's another cross-section of 1971's music: several R&B records made the list, but so did a Who classic, a "solo" song by a member of The Partridge Family, a song that melded together three Civil War-era tunes, a return to Burt Bacharach-penned songs for B.J. Thomas, a song that wouldn't get high on the pop chart but later had a cover version that scored nicely on the country chart, a song that still showed John Denver's more folkish side, and contrasting sounds from two of Motown's biggest artists.

Each week, I mention the Google Books archive of past Billboard issues when they're available. The November 6, 1971 edition can be found here. The full Hot 100 is on page 62. An article on page 18 has Wink Martindale (then a DJ at KPMC in Los Angeles) reflecting on 20 years in the radio business. Page 43 begins a pull-out section called "Rock Now" that is actually very good if you're a person who gets into the history of rock. It's an interesting read.

Where Rock Art lives

Sly and the Family Stone - "Family Affair" Family Affair (Single Version) - There's a Riot Goin' On (Bonus Version)

(Debuted #50, Peaked #1, 14 Weeks on chart)

For Sly and the Family Stone, 1970 began with a double-sided #1 single. The public was digging the group's vibe of togetherness, and the band's popularity was evident when the Woodstock film appeared in theaters later that year. However, the group wasn't getting new material out to capitalize on the moment, so Epic records released "I Want to Take You Higher," a 1968 song that had been a B-side to their hit "Stand!" While all this was happening, Sly was living in Los Angeles, hanging out with radicals and sinking deeper into a drug-induced paranoia. When he finally showed up with a new record late in 1971, it assured everybody that the 1960s were definitely over and that Sly was no longer just "Everyday People."

After the hit singles preaching brotherhood and understanding, "Family Affair" was a different direction altogether. Beginning with its downbeat rhythm and a tired-sounding vocal, Sly sings about the bood and bad aspects of belonging to family, with only his sister Rose backing him up. In a way, maybe he was also explaining that the Family Stone was having some issues as well, as the single didn't feature any of the other members of the group. Bobby Womack provided the guitar parts and Billy Preston handled the keyboards. Sly played the bass line and programmed a ryhtym box for the percussion. Drum machines would be fairly common on 1980s hits, but "Family Affair" was the first #1 single to ever feature them.

The Stylistics - "You Are Everything" You Are Everything - The Stylistics - the Original Debut Album

(Debuted #76, Peaked #9, 16 Weeks on chart)

This lush ballad was the first Top 10 song enjoyed by one of the definitive 70's Philly Soul groups. All the hallmarks of the sound are there, from the orchestration, the smooth backing singers and the velvet production. There are some added touches that set this song apart from the other Philly Soul giants of the era like The Spinners and the O'Jays: first and foremost, the distinctive vocal talents of Russell Tompkins, Jr., a sitar added to the instrumentation, and the fact that the band actually hailed from Philadelphia.

"You Are Everything" was one of many Stylistics hits written by producer Thom Bell and songwriting partner Linda Creed. The song's lyrics have a "peace, love and understanding" hippie-era vibe to them. That (and perhaps the sitar) make the song a little more dated than some of their other hit singles, but a couple of things save it. First, the group's harmonies are probably more noticeable than they were once Tompkins was made the focal point of the group. Second, the studio sheen makes it quite regal. It has one of those sounds that is hard to let go of once it's gotten into your head.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how R&B songs often paid more attention to relationships, while pop songs are often more about the high that a new love produces. This song proves the point. it's a love song, and it performed better on the pop chart (#9) than the R&B survey (#10).

Mickey Newbury - "An American Trilogy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #26, 11 Weeks on chart)

Though he didn't get a lot of hit singles, Mickey Newbury had a great deal of influence. His expressive style was an influence on Kris Kristofferson, and his tendency to break free of regular songwriting conventions makes him an early member of the "Outlaw" country movement of the 1970s; Waylon Jennings' 1976 song "Luchenback, Texas" even has his name in the line "between Hank Williams' pain songs and Newbury's train songs..."

Ironically, his best-known song was one he didn't write, but arranged as a medley of songs from the late 1800s. "Dixie" was a song that became the unofficial anthem of the Confederate States during the Civil War. Ironically, it was begun as a blackface minstrel song whose lyrics were ostensibly by a freed slave.  "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a song that was identified with the Union Army. The words were written by Julia Ward Howe during the war but the melody was known before the conflict. "All My Trials" began as a Bahamian lullaby whose words were from a mother on her deathbed. While often used as a spiritual, it was adopted by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. In using the three songs as a medley, Newbury managed to take tunes identified with both sides from the American Civil War and merge them with a song from a movement that rose from the unresolved issues of that war a century after it ended. 

While Newbury had his only Top 40 hit with "An American Trilogy" the version is better known by an artist whose own take missed the Top 40 altogether: Elvis Presley. However, Presley's version features a reprise with a very powerful vocal, while Newbury's version fades out instead.

The Temptations - "Superstar (Remember  How You Got Where You Are)" Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are) - Psychedelic Soul

(Debuted #85, Peaked #18, 10 Weeks on chart)

While picking out the YouTube video I was going to feature on this entry, there was no way I could deny Don Cornelius. Even though the Temptations' performance is cut short, a Soul Train clip will win out over a fan-made video showing a CD cover every time.

"Superstar" is a song that is a solid part of The Temptations' "Psychedelic Soul" sound. After becoming one of the definitive male vocal groups of the 1960s, the group endured the loss of singers David Ruffin and later Eddie Kendricks (who are often pointed to as possible reasons for this song) and moved in a new direction under the tutelage of producer/writer Norman Whitfield. "Superstar" is a good example of what their new sound was. 

Showcasing the vocal talents of the various members together and separately and backed up by Motown's unheralded house band The Funk Brothers, the song is a warning not to let ego take away from the things success brings. Damon Harris sings the high parts, Melvin Franklin gets his low notes, and Dennis Edwards is in his familiar spot doing lead vocals. The song begs for a longer version, but fades out just before the three-minute mark. Unfortunately, the LP version didn't allow the group to expand on the theme in the single.

B.J. Thomas - "Long Ago Tomorrow" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

Video above says "In My Dreams" but that's incorrect. Perhaps the person who recorded it simply guessed which of B.J. Thomas's lyrics would give up the name of the song. While the audio quality in the video above sems to be off, it's similar to the way he performs the single. He starts off soft and slow, then shows off his range in the chorus. It's really not necessary for him to prove he has a strong voice, but the low/high mix in the song is a little unsettling. That's probably a technical complaint that should be addressed to the producer of the song, but I said it anyway.

"Long Ago Tomorrow" was written by Burt Bacharach, who also penned Thomas's #1 smash "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." Perhaps Thomas (or his record company) felt that going back to the well that produced his biggest hit would bring more of that success, but that didn't happen. It would be the first of his singles of the 1970s to miss the pop Top 40, and also to miss the adult contemporary Top 10.

David Cassidy - "Cherish" Cherish - Cherish

(Debuted #87, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

With his first "solo" single, the singer who also played Keith Partridge did a remake of a song The Association took to #1 in 1966. Written by Terry Kirkman, a member of The Association, it has a different feel as a solo performance than the multi-part harmonies that marked the earlier hit. Of course, as a song that spoke of devotion, it wasn't a bad choice for a single singer to handle.

While it's not terrible, it really sounds like a Partridge Family recording without Shirley Jones. And why not? Cassidy likely had the same backup singers and studio professionals who handled the group's records as well.

Steppenwolf - "For Ladies Only" For Ladies Only (Album Edit Version) - Gold: Steppenwolf

(Debuted #88, Peaked #64, 7 Weeks on chart)

Steppenwolf is best known among music fans for their big 1960s hits "Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," as well as the use of two of their songs ("Born to Be Wild," again and "The Pusher") in the film Easy Rider. While those were the band's highlights, they had more hits and earned several gold albums that have been largely forgotten.

In 1971, they released their sixth LP For Ladies Only, which was intended to be a concept album focusing on feminist issues. However, an all-male rock band trying to focus on feminism doesn't always play well. Critics deemed it sexist and a picture in the album's gatefold of a vehicle shaped like male genitalia didn't help matters. It would be the band's first LP to miss Billboard's Top 40 album chart and their first to fail earning gold record status. They broke up shortly afterward.

"For Ladies Only" was the first track on the album and ran more than nine minutes. For single release, it was cut down to a more radio-friendly running time.

Diana Ross - "I'm Still Waiting" I'm Still Waiting - Everything Is Everything (Expanded Edition)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart)

"I'm Still Waiting" was the first single from Everything is Everything, Diana Ross's second album after leaving The Supremes. Among her solo singles in the U.S., it's largely been forgotten despite being a fine performance. However, it would be her first #1 hit in the U.K., spending four weeks atop the chart there.

With both The Temptations and Diana Ross making their debuts in this week's Billboard Hot 100, the perfect opportunity to showcase Motown's state of affairs in 1971 exists in the two songs. While The Temptations were covering much of the same ground they'd been treading sing 1968's "Cloud Nine," they were still recording in Detroit and using The Funk Brothers. Instead, Motown was trying to turn Diana Ross into its resident songbird, featuring L.A. session musicians. At the time, Berry Gordy was in transition, moving his label to Los Angeles. In a way, the two songs were pointing to the record company's future. While some (including Gordy) hoped the more adult sound would keep the company important, the shift to the West Coast was one of many things that were problematic to what had been a great story.

John Denver - "Friends With You" Friends With You - Aerie

(Debuted #90, Peaked #47, 11 Weeks on chart)

Today, music fans have a pretty good idea of what John Denver's music sounds like. He amassed a fairly large body of work in the 1970s alone. However, when his LP Aerie came out in early 1972, he really had only one hit: the surprise "Country Roads (Take Me Home)." His music was still based in the more folkish sound he had honed with the Chad Mitchell Trio during the 1960s. The first single from Aerie was "Friends With You," a song written by frequent collaborator Bill Danoff (he sung background on "Country Roads" and later was part of The Starland Vocal Band).

"Friends With You" isn't one of Denver's more memorable hits, but it's worth listening to. It features some interesting arrangements, with a harpsichord marking time at the beginning, before breaking out in the obligatory backing chorus that seems to accompany these "let's be friends" type songs. The refrain sounds a lot like Lou Christie's 1969 hit "I'm Gonna Make You Mine," however.

Savoy Brown - "Tell Mama" Tell Mama - Street Corner Talking

(Debuted #91, Peaked #83, 6 Weeks on chart)

Savoy Brown was a blues-influenced British rock band formed in 1966 and still active today. Over the years, the only constant in the ever-changing band has been singer/guitarist Kim Simmonds. While they were quite popular with fans and critics, "Tell Mama" was the only Hot 100 hit they managed to score during the 1970s.

The band's revolving door of membership was just underway when they recorded the LP Street Corner Talking. Three members left the group to form Foghat, which left Simmonds as the only original member to carry on Savoy Brown. He recruited a new band and forged a new sound, and "Tell Mama" was part of the result.

The Who - "Behind Blue Eyes" Behind Blue Eyes - Who's Next (Remastered)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #34, 11 Weeks on chart)

Back when I was a teenager, I "discovered" the Who's Next LP. While its cover showing the members walking away from a concrete structure after urinating on it was something that didn't escape my notice, the music inside felt as if it were speaking to me. Nothing on that album spoke to me more than "Behind Blue Eyes" did. At the time, I was not yet cynical enough to really understand "Won't Get Fooled Again" and while I was quite fond of the sonic mayhem of "Baba O'Reilly" and its "Teenage Wasteland" bit, it was "Behind Blue Eyes" that appealed to me right when I was 15, still developing my own sense of purpose and wishing more people could look beyond the kid and see the person I was developing into.

There's something about a song that makes you scream, "holy cow, that's me!" when you hear it. Originally intended for the Who's aborted "Lifehouse" rock opera, the song was set to introduce the angst-ridden young man who served as the main character. Beginning with a slow lament that nobody understands him, the song builds into an undeniable rock anthem before a short reprise of the first part bering the song to an end. That mixture of eagerness and longing, mixed with a really loud guitar, is a great way to appeal to a 15 year-old know-it-all who is caught between childhood and adulthood and feeling trapped in the position.

The Emotions - "Show Me How" Show Me How (Single Version) - So I Can Love You / Untouched (Remastered)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Show Me How" was the first pop hit of the 1970s for a Chicago-based group originally made up of three sisters. Janet, Sheila and Jeanette Hutchinson had reached the lower reaches of the Top 40 with "So I Can Love You" in 1969 and enjoyed a few R&B hits as well. However, in 1970 Jeanette left the group to get married and raise a family. She was replaced by family friend Theresa Davis, who lent her voice to "Show Me How." 

The song was a track from Untouched, the group's final LP on the Volt/Stax label. Like many Stax albums, it was produced by Isaac Hayes and David Porter and featured the label's house band. The ladies' three voices are showcased adequately and are backed by strings and an understated brass section.

"Show Me How" had a short stay on the Hot 100, but would return in December for a more successful run.

Bullet - "White Lies, Blue Eyes" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #28, 13 Weeks on chart)

This is the second "Blue Eyes" song to debut this week.

The YouTube video above comes from Music Mike, who's been featured on this blog before. Like he says in his introduction, there is a bunch of conflicting information out there about the band, because there was more than one group called Bullet. It looks like someone claiming to be a member placed a comment on Music Mike's page; perhaps he'll end up getting some more information about the group soon. However, it's clear that this Bullet was a group from Brooklyn, New York and not a band made up of former members from the British band Atomic Rooster.

"White Lies, Blue Eyes" was featured in the 25-disc Rhino compilation Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, and Paul Grein's liner notes even avoid mentioning a single thing about the group except to talk about the followup single "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong" that would be their only other chart hit.

"White Lies" sounds a little dated by its 70s-era production, but it's a good, catchy pop tune. It had some nice brass flourishes, a neat little guitar solo and some vocal harmonies that may not have been perfect, but they still managed to lodge a tune into the deep recesses of the mind.

Joe South - "Fool Me" Fool Me - Classic Masters (Remastered)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #78, 7 Weeks on chart)

(Last hit)

Joe South had a fairly short career as a hitmaker, but had been a session player in Memphis and Muscle Shoals for a decade before his breakthrough hit "Games People Play." Among the songs that featured his guitar: "Chain of Fools," "Sheila" and "The Sounds of Silence." Aside from his own hit singles, he also wrote songs like "Down in the Boondocks," "Hush," "Rose Garden" and "Yo Yo."

"Fool Me" would be South's final Hot 100 single. He went into retirement after his brother committed suicide, which led to a deep depression and a reclusive period. It's a shame, since he obviously had a great songwriting talent.

With lyrics saying that a lover can lie and get away with it, it featured the signature Joe South guitar jangle. It's a little more complex than the typical love song that filled the pop charts at the time, which partially explains why in never managed to get too far up the Hot 100. It was probably more suited as a country song, and Lynn Anderson proved that in 1972. Her version translated well from a female perspective, and went to #4 on the country chart.

The Chi-Lites - "I Want To Pay You Back (For Loving Me)" I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me) - The Ultimate Chi-Lites

(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 1 Week on chart)

Written and sung by Eugene Record, "I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)" was a track from the group's (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People LP. Although it only spent one week at #100, it managed to return to the Hot 100 a few weeks later.

A sweet ballad (and I do mean syrupy sweet, with lines like "I'm gonna give you a five-pound box of love with a million-dollar bill on top") that expressed gratitude for a woman's love, the song was a great example of the Chi-Lites' vocal harmonies in addition to Record's phrasing.

Though the song didn't ultimately fare well, it wasn't very long before they were known outside their Chicago-centered fan base. The Chi-Lites hit a groove immediately afterward, with the twin hits "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl."