Saturday, November 6, 2010

This Week's Review -- November 3, 1973

Of the nine new singles debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, four ended up in the Top 40 and one pushed its way into the Top 10. Among the hits: Similarly-themed follow-up singles to the #1 hits "Let's Get it On" and "Delta Dawn," as well as a nostalgic counter to "Your Mama Don't Dance." A not-quite-nostalgic song about getting busted by the Fuzz at a college party is here too. A song that would be a much bigger hit when remade a decade later is among the tunes, as well as another whose words would pop up in other songs. A song recorded in Italian appears. Finally, latter-day hits by a sensitive singer/songwriter and a brass-section Canadian band show up for short spells on the chart.

Among the archive at Google Books, the November 3, 1973 edition is available for anybody wishing to gain some insight into the music business as it was 37 years ago. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 60. A sign of the times from 1973 is featured in a story beginning on page 1 and mentioned in an editorial: the music industry was beginning to worry about a possible shortage of PVC. PVC was a product needed to make vinyl records and was made from petroleum products. With a looming gas shortage, industry types were beginning to see what they needed to do to secure that valuable commodity if any rations were ever ordered.

Classic Concerts

Marvin Gaye - "Come Get To This" Come Get to This - Let's Get It On (Remastered)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #21, 13 Weeks on chart)

"Come Get to This" was the follow-up to Marvin Gaye's smash "Let's Get it On" and a track from the album of the same name. Like its predecessor, it was a statement of sexual desire (while not as overt as the earlier single, lines like "I want to do something freaky to you" and "I'm so impatient for your love" don't exactly mince words, either), this time for an old flame that is a long way away.

It's easy to overlook the song's message, though, when the groove is going. Gaye uses an R&B foundation, adds in a lite jazz saxophone, a doo-wop-influenced backing vocal and even ends with a nice little doo-wop flourish. When Gaye performed the song in concert, he usually slowed it down so it accentuated the bluesy feel that a long-distance yearning can bring. He would lead into "Let's Get it On," so it also set the mood for his delivery of that song.

Loggins and Messina - "My Music" My Music - Full Sail

(Debuted #85, Peaked #16, 13 Weeks on chart)

While "Let's Get to This" ends with a doo-wop vocal, "My Music" opens with a nod to the 1950s hit "Little Bitty Pretty One," which was a hit for many artists (Thurston Harris, Bobby Day, Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, The Jackson 5). In a way, it was a follow-up to their previous hit "You Mama Don't Dance" and the nostalgia it brought up.

The song may have touches of 1950s nostalgia, but the lyrics describe attending a rock concert. Even with lines about meeting up at the schoolyard, that's something people were still doing in 1973.

The Persuaders - "Some Guys Have All The Luck" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #39, 11 Weeks on chart)

The Persuaders did several songs that would reappear as other artists' hits later. One LP cut they did but never issued as a single was "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me," which appeared as a Top 10 pop and R&B hit for Galdys Knoght & the Pips and a #1 country hit for Ray Price. Their two Top 40 hits were "Thin Line Between Love and Hate," a minor 1984 hit for The Pretenders and "Some Guys Have All the Luck," which was a Top 10 hit by Rod Stewart in 1984.

I grew up in the 1980s and was exposed to Stewart's hit to the point of groaning whenever I heard the opening on my radio. The hit was one of those songs that was catchy and hook-laden, which was absolutely unnecessary since Stewart was a strong enough vocalist that he didn't need to be drowned out by the music. So I wasn't exactly thrilled to see this song on my list to review. But, like I always do, I listened anyway.

And I was surprised. The same words, only with strings and a backing vocal group instead of a synthesizer and drum machine, gained a different perspective when sung as an R&B ballad rather than a paint-by-numbers pop tune. With the slower, more deliberate delivery, it seemed as though the singer was feeling the pain he sang about. And once again, I'm reminded to keep an open mind about a song until I've listened to it.

Helen Reddy - "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) - Helen Reddy's Greatest Hits (And More)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #3, 16 Weeks on chart)

When my daughter was about five years old, she was going through one of her moods one day where she just said "leave me alone" whenever she didn't want to be bothered. Eventually, "leave me alone" was a crutch phrase she'd use whenever she felt like it. A short time after that, I were looking at some 45 records at an antique shop and I found this Helen Reddy song in the stack. I showed it to my daughter and said it was her song. When we got home, I got out my Helen Reddy CD (yes, I actually have one) and played it for her. After that, whenever she'd say "leave me alone" I'd start singing those words from Reddy's song. It didn't take long for the little girl to stop saying that.

I wish all parenting lessons were that easy.

It seems Helen Reddy wasn't exactly thrilled when Capitol Records prepared "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" to follow her #1 single "Delta Dawn." Both songs were about Southern women -- alliteratively named at that -- who were distracted by no-good lovers. Furthermore, the song's repeated "leave me alone" refrain was something she found monotonous. Her record company felt that if listeners were going to make "Delta Dawn" a gold record, they'd do the same thing with a similar record. It turns out they were right: the song went to #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the adult contemporary chart. It also was a #1 hit in Reddy's native Australia.

Ripple - "I Don't Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky" I Dont Know What It Is But It Sure Is Funky - Super Soul!

(Debuted #94, Peaked #67, 6 Weeks on chart)

Ripple were an interracial R&B band from Michigan that blended soul with funk. While they served up a tasty dish, it was really a more poppy, less raw version of funk/soul before disco arrived to morph it. "I Don't Know What it is, But it Sure is Funky" would be the group's only single to reach the Billboard Hot 100, and it gives a small taste of what Ripple offered.

The "Hola, hola, hey" opening has been heard in several songs through the years, from "the Electric Slide" to Kid 'N Play's breakout hit "Rollin' With Kid 'n Play." It's likely much more recognizable to casual music fans than the group Ripple is today.

Lobo - "There Ain't No Way" There Ain't No Way - Of a Simple Man b/w "Love Me For What I Am"
Love Me for What I Am - Calumet

(Debuted #96, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

In previous entries, I've mentioned that Lobo's easy-going, laid back sound sometimes made the "pansy" label often tacked to him appropriate, but this time he really didn't deserve it. Opening "There Ain't No Way" with some strums on an acoustic guitar, the words describe a man coming back to his senses after sobering up and realizing he isn't where he belongs. Describing the scene around him at the motel on a rainy day, the realization that he was trying in vain to bring back an old fire that had long since burned out, Lobo just realizes it's time to walk away and go back home.

On the other hand, "Love Me for What I Am" features lyrics that explain the other side of the equation. A man has changed enough for his lady, but doesn't want to give up his individuality. This time, he's not looking at the door, he just wants to keep what's his.

This single may have been an attempt by Lobo's record company (Big Tree) to get a little more mileage out of his catalog between albums, which may have affected its final chart position. While the A-side was taken from Lobo's 1972 album Of a Simple Man, the B-side "Love Me for What I Am" was culled from his '73 LP Calumet. As the first Lobo single to miss the Top 40 since before "I'd Love You to Want Me," "There Ain't No Way" was likely seen as a disappointment even though it reached #29 on the adult contemporary chart. It's a shame, as "There Ain't No Way" could have been a hit on its own had it been given a single release after "I'd Love You to Want Me."

Steely Dan - "My Old School" My Old School - Countdown to Ecstasy

(Debuted #97, Peaked #63, 9 Weeks on chart)

As I've slowly worked my way through this 1970s review project, I've surprised myself at times. While I've been able to hear stuff I never heard before, I'm more surprised about discovering something I'd never known about stuff that had been familiar to me. I had been listening to Steely Dan since I was a teenager and have been at least casually familiar with all of their hit singles for years. However, I'm slowly realizing that their lower-charting records have often been more interesting than their bigger hits. First it was "The Fez," then "Kid Charlemagne" and now "My Old School."

Having grown up in Upstate New York and attended college in New Paltz, I was aware that Annandale-on-Hudson is home to Bard College and that Steely Dan's story started there. Since "My Old School" mentions a place called Annandale, it can be safely assumed the lyrics mention Bard College. While attending Bard, future Steely Dan members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met and began playing together in a jazz-influenced band called The Leather Canary that also featured fellow Bard student Chevy Chase on drums. The song was written about an incident when Fagen, Becker and their girlfriends were busted at a party in a raid. The words "I was smoking with the boys upstairs" mentions where they were when the cops showed up, the line about his girlfriend's father finding her "with the working girls in the county jail" wasn't a suggestion that she was picked up for prostitution and "Daddy G." was G. Gordon Liddy, who was with the district attorney's office then.

Despite Fagen's line about California tumbling into the sea before he'd go back, he did manage to return to Bard in 1985 to give a Commencement speech and accept an honorary doctorate. The Golden State appears to have been spared any calamity; however, our readers from California can feel free to correct me in the comments if I've simply missed that story.

Drupi - "Vado Via" Vado Via - Il Meglio

(Debuted #99, Peaked #88, 4 Weeks on chart)

This was the only American hit for the singer Drupi (real name Giampiero Anelli), who had previously sung lead for the group Le Calamite (which means "The Magnets") in his native Italy.

"Vado Via" (translates to "I walk away") was recorded in Italian, which makes it one of a handful of completely non-English language recordings to make the Hot 100 during the 1970s, and perhaps the only one recorded entirely in Italian. Al Martino sang some Italian lines in both "Volare" and "To the Door of the Sun (Alle Porte del Sole)" but also sang in English in both songs as well.

As for the song...sometimes, when I hear a song in a language I don't understand I can still focus on the melody ("Sukiyaki," perhaps, or "Je Tai'me...Mon Non Plus" or even "Ca Plane Por Moi"). I can't get into this one, though. Maybe a person who understands Italian can explain what's going on here.

Lighthouse - "Pretty Lady" Pretty Lady - Can You Feel It

(Debuted #100, Peaked #53, 8 Weeks on chart)

From one song originating outside the U.S. to another. However, Lighthouse is from Canada, so the song is in English. "Pretty Lady" would be their final American hit single before the band's break-up after 1974.

Most casual music fans remember Lighthouse from their 1971 hit "One Fine Morning," which was a brass-infused song that was cut from the same cloth as Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Their other Top 40 hit was 1972's "Sunny Days," a poppier but still brassy song. Fans looking for more of that sound will be disappointed by "Pretty Lady." It's a good 1970s-type song but skews much more toward bubblegum pop than it does to the sound of their bigger hits.

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