Saturday, December 11, 2010

This Week's Review -- December 8, 1973

After the past few weeks with a long list of singles, this week's review allows me to take a little more time to write about each song. Only seven singles debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with three making the Top 40 and one unlikely song getting into the Top 10. Among the artists are an R&B legend, a blues legend, a funk group that would become a huge crossover success in the 1980s, an English-born Canadian singer, a country "storyteller," a Cleveland-based power pop band and a new artist who never returned to the Hot 100 again.

Google Books has a large archive of past issues of Billboard online, including the December 8, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 68. The article i found most interesting is one on Page 22 that explained how Boston-based Top 40 station WMEX figured out its hit list and a little bit about the way they figured their record rotation. As a former radio guy, I guess I'm just a sucker for those.

Wolfgang's Vault

Al Green - "Livin' For You" Livin' for You - Livin' for You

(Debuted #85, Peaked #19, 11 Weeks on chart)

In a surprising performance, Al Green performs the song live (not lip-synced) with his band on Soul Train in the clip above. That's different from most of the highlights seen from the show.

"Livin' For You" is rooted in the sound that sold a lot of Al Green records throughout the 1970s. His smooth vocal style is backed by Memphis-based horns and has a small added gospel feel to it. Written by Green with Willie Mitchell, it was his fourth #1 R&B song as well as a Top 20 pop hit.  

Keith Hampshire - "Big Time Operator" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #81, 4 Weeks on chart)

This was the follow-up single to "The First Cut is the Deepest" for Keith Hampshire, a Canadian singer who was born in England. While singing "Big Time Operator," his voice resembles that of another English-born Canadian singer, David Clayton Thomas. Being backed by a horn section (a muted version of the one used by Blood, Sweat & Tears) probably doesn't ease that type of comparison.

The lyrics are full of names of occupations that rhyme with "operator," but end up explaining that he aspires to be a very rich man (a "big time operator"). Despite Hampshire's birthplace or country of citizenship, that certainly sounds like the American ideal put forth by Horatio Alger stories during the 1800s.

Don Goodwin - "This Is Your Song" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #86, 8 Weeks on chart)

Here's another video by YouTube DJ Music Mike, who seems to pop up often with his own videos of some of the harder-to-find songs I review. If you click through to read the comments, one of them is by a visitor claiming to be Goodwin's daughter. Eventually, that type of attention should find its way to this blog. I'd welcome the chance to add to what I know if that ever happens.

"This is Your Song" was written and produced by Paul Anka, who discovered Goodwin while in Las Vegas. Goodwin's daughter explained that Uncle Sam intervened before he could ever get out to support the few songs he recorded. Actually, she said he went to Vietnam, but the American ground troops were pretty much gone from that country late in 1973 (my own father came home from there early in '73, just months after I was born), but it's possible Goodwin got drafted before that was eventually stopped. In any case, she says he never even realized his song was a minor hit until he came home from the service (the details of which would have been great to insert into this entry). So if his daughter finds this entry, I'd love to get some more info.

"This Your Song" is a pure pop song, which isn't surprising given Anka's participation. However, it's a much better song than you might expect from somebody who never had a second chance to get on the chart. It certainly had the makings of a bigger hit, if only fate hadn't intervened.

Tom T. Hall - "I Love" I Love - The Definitive Collection: Tom T. Hall

(Debuted #97, Peaked #12, 16 Weeks on chart)

Tom T. Hall is known as "The Storyteller" because many of his songs sound like someone just sitting down and talking. Many of these were descriptions of regular events in life, but he also wrote songs about Army stories ("Salute to a Switchblade"), events from his childhood ("The Year Clayton Delaney Died") and stories from the road ("Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine"). As a songwriter, his biggest hit was Jeannie C. Riley's #1 hit "Harper Valley P.T.A." and the biggest single of his performing career started out as a list.

After being advised by a friend who happened to also be a psychiatrist to write out a list of things that are wrong. The reasoning was that lists like that tend to be short and but life into perspective. Hall thought that was a negative exercise, so he wrote down a list of the things he loved instead. As he wrote out the words, stuff like "little baby ducks," "fuzzy pups" and "bourbon in a glass," he realized he was falling back into his habit of writing a song. Within five minutes, his song was sketched out.

"I Love" would be a #1 country hit as well as the only pop Top 40 hit he managed to get. An unusual reaction was given by a network TV censor, who objected to the single word "grass" because it might condone marijuana use.

The Raspberries - "I'm A Rocker" I'm a Rocker - Greatest

(Debuted #98, Peaked #94, 3 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes, it's possible to read a label and figure out what is in the grooves. The title pretty much sets the tone for the song. While there are occasional exceptions, you won't expect a ballad or love song when you put on a single titled "I'm a Rocker." Eric Carmen doesn't disappoint. The song features guitars, drums and a bass to complement his usual hook-laden song.

At the time, The Raspberries' career was on a downward slide from the heights they reached with "Go All the Way" in 1972. After peaking at #94 with "I'm a Rocker," their next couple of singles failed to make the Hot 100 at all. They only managed a single hit after that, with their 1974 swan song, "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)."

B.B. King - "I Like To Live The Love" I Like to Live the Love (Single Version) - Complete Collection

(Debuted #99, Peaked #28, 16 Weeks on chart)

Although he had long been a fixture in the "Chitlin' Circuit" as a blues artist and an influential and expressive singer and guitarist, B.B. King perhaps had his most successful -- if not exactly his best -- years in the early 1970s, beginning with "The Thrill is Gone." Though he had a few pop hits in the late 1960s, "Thrill" gave him the wider audience he couldn't have when he began performing in the 1940s due to the realities of the times. As it turned out, "I Like to Live the Love" would be King's final Top 40 pop hit.

"I Like to Live the Love" is more R&B than a blues song, with its Stax-style horns backing him up. The lyrics mention his songs (in fact, the line from the title is "I like to live the love that I sing about in my song") and comes across as a love letter to his music. However, some of the lines make comparisons between music and relationships.

Kool and the Gang - "Jungle Boogie" Jungle Boogie - The Very Best of Kool & the Gang

(Debuted #100, Peaked #4, 22 Weeks on chart)

"Jungle Boogie" is one of those songs that could have only been a hit during the 1970s. However, it's lasted through the years, not only in retrospectives but also in samples and the title sequence of the film Pulp Fiction. A wild and funky dancefloor song with gimmicky embellishments, this was the best-charting single the band had before revamping its sound later in the decade.

Beginning with a gong, the song features a brass section, a funk-driven rhythm and playful vocal interplay including a Tarzan-style yell at the very end. The gravel-voiced main vocal isn't done by a band member on the record; instead, the group's roadie Don Boyce provided that. 

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