Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week's Review -- January 27, 1979

There was considerable "firepower" in the thirteen debut singles hitting the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Eventually, eight of the songs would reach the Top 40, three would get into the Top 10 and one managed to reach #1. While it's clear that the era's disco craze was in full swing, there is a variety of sounds represented on the list. A crossover hit that was charted pop, country and adult contemporary is here, as well as a hit by a couple of British acts that seems to have been crafted specifically for American tastes. Two instrumental songs appear: one was a movie theme, while the other was a piano bit that was really catchy. Two songs by former folk singers who had gone on to pop success appear, as does a tune from a singer better known as the lead singer of The Four Seasons. A Motown cover that has been stripped of its substance is included, as is a song that epitomizes Neil Diamond's late 1970s sound. And then there's the disco juggernaut. The #1 song was a remake of a 1960s Stax hit, two hits by first-time artists appear and one song that isn't disco hit still uses the word "dancer" in its title.

The only real omission from that list is R&B, despite the two soul remakes. If it seems like the artists that may have embraced the genre were making disco records, it seems that was noticed at the time. In fact, an article in the January 27, 1979 edition mentions this. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 106. A couple of sad notes: several pages note the passing of  Mushroom Records head Shelly Siegel (including one by the members of Heart, who had been involved in  a lawsuit against his label) and an article on page 105 mentions the funeral service for Donny Hathaway, who jumped from the window of a hotel where he was staying. A simple tribute to Hathaway also appears on Page 7.


Anne Murray - "I Just Fall In Love Again" I Just Fall In Love Again - New Kind of Feeling

(Debuted #57, Peaked #12, 16 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that was performed by two of my favorite female vocalists of the decade.

"I Just Fall in Love Again" had appeared on The Carpenters' LP Passages in 1977. Though it was a very well-received track and made a great vehicle for Karen Carpenter's voice, A&M decided not to issue the song as a single. That was unfortunate for The Carpenters, who definitely could have had a decent hit with the song, but it was fortunate for Anne Murray, who covered the song and had a crossover hit with it.

In addition to being a #12 pop hit, "I Just Fall in Love Again" was a #1 adult contemporary and country hit, and topped the chart in Canada as well. Beginning with a piano solo and accompanied by strings in addition to the steel guitar you'd expect from a Nashville production, Anne Murray's voice is the featured attraction. As usual with her hits, she performs the song with her usual grace and seemingly effortless magnificence.

Al Stewart - "Song On The Radio" Song On the Radio - Al Stewart: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #60, Peaked #29, 9 Weeks on chart)

Al Stewart cartainly had a knack for letting his songs run. On the LP Time Passages, "Song On the Radio" runs for more than six minutes. The single version gets two minutes edited off, which may seem harsh -- a third of the song -- but still leaves more than four minutes, which was still longer than some radio stations felt comfortable airing.

Ironically, the song happens to mention radio in its title. I'm not sure if it's a way of enticing DJs to play the song, though, because the lyrics aren't about radio at all. Instead, he's thinking about a woman as he's driving through a desolate area. He thinks about the first time he saw her, her quirky nature and her sometimes dim outlook on life. Yet he's still thinking about her. It's a case where a person is alone, with nobody to talk to except his own thoughts.

In what was becoming a staple of Stewart's hit singles, it featured Phil Kenzie on saxophone. However, rather than simply blowing a solo in the instrumental bridge, he's allowed to wail throughout the song, trailing the lyrics in the same manner this woman's memory is following the narrator.

Neil Diamond - "Forever In Blue Jeans" Forever In Blue Jeans - You Don't Bring Me Flowers

(Debuted #66, Peaked #20, 11 Weeks on chart)

"Forever in Blue Jeans" is one of Neil Diamond's better-remembered tunes from his easy-listening, laid-back late-1970s era, as well as the epitome of that sound. However, the words have a meaning beyond the music (which is a sonically pleasing mix designed to placate his "middle of the road" audience base). The lyrics themselves are about savoring the important things in life. That's it...there's no deep meaning to the words, just another way of saying money can't buy lasting love and happiness.

Though I'm certain several of Diamond's female fans would have loved to see if his money could have made them happy.

Eric Carmen - "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" Baby I Need Your Lovin' - Change of Heart

(Debuted #75, Peaked #62, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" was a great song from Motown's golden era. Written by Holland/Dozier/Holland, it was originally a hit in 1964 for The Four Tops, and again in 1967 for Johnny Rivers. It has also been recorded many times over the years.

That capable as Eric Carmen could be with a pop song, this rendition isn't going to make anybody forget either of those earlier hit versions. He gets the words right but the rendition is lacking any of its original soul. The color-by-numbers arrangement is antiseptic and the production is capable but proves once again that technical precision doesn't always rescue a project. Fortunately, the backup singers add something to the song; however, when the backing chorus is more interesting that the lead vocal, that doesn't say much for the song.

Eddie Money - "Maybe I'm A Fool" Maybe I'm a Fool - Life for the Taking

(Debuted #81, Peaked #22, 13 Weeks on chart)

Is that really Eddie Money doing a light disco song? It was 1979, so why not latch on to the bandwagon along with so many other artists? Considering the Kinks, the Stones and even Kiss were placing dance beats on their singles, it was probably considered safe to turn to the "Dark Side" when he released the first single from his Life For the Taking LP.

That said, there's a really good saxophone solo in the instrumental bridge, and Money sings in a similar style as he does on many of his other mid-tempo tunes. So the disco-ish sound can likely be blamed on his producer or label as a knee-jerk reaction to audience tastes, even though it isn't embarrassingly the blatant "cash-in" attempts done by other artists (Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney) at the time. In all, it's a good little song that has weathered the years well.

Frank Mills - "Music Box Dancer" Music Box Dancer - Music Box Dancer

(Debuted #84, Peaked #3, 20 Weeks on chart)

Canadian-born Frank Mills was a member of The Bells but left the group before their 1971 hit "Stay Awhile." Despite missing out on a hit single, he got his chance with this piano instrumental that sounded like music from a wind-up music box. However, "Music Box Dancer" -- so omnipresent in 1979 -- actually took several years to become a hit song.

The song was originally recorded in 1974 but not made into a single until years later. In fact, "Music Box Dancer" was merely resurrected to fill a need, which was to serve as the B-side for another Mills single. According to the legend, a few stations discovered that the bit worked as a music bed that could be used for things like PSA announcements and the outro themes to newscasts. Eventually, the requests for the song caused the single to be changed: "Music Box Dancer" was now the A-side.

And I'm guessing that the radio stations were likely deluged with calls from listeners wanting to know what that song was. In my old days as a radio DJ, I'd occasionally get a call about a song that was played several hours before by a different jock (including one who often brought his own records) and caught flak if I didn't know right away. I can imagine some poor radio part-timer working early on Sunday getting a call about the song that was on the pre-recorded public affairs show he just played but didn't have any part in producing.

Amii Stewart - "Knock On Wood" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

For those who were old enough to know better in 1979, seeing the video above may cause certain pangs of "why did we ever do that?" guilt, but certain 1970s style (and I'm talking about video editing as well as hair/dress) is ubiquitous when you look at a blog like this one that covers the decade. It may be easier to dismiss as a consequence of heavy substance abuse, but that excuse can only go so far. As for Amii Stewart, she may have been embarrassed by that outfit by the time 1980 rolled around.

Originally a hit for Eddie Floyd in 1966, the Stax soul song was remade as a disco song at the peak of the Disco Era. Featuring as many disco hooks as could be tossed into the song, the production overshadows Stewart's capable vocals. But that's how disco was: the performance was secondary to the groove. The song was a #1 smash and a million-seller. However, the association with disco would prove to be a negative thing for Stewart's career. She had another low-charting hit on the Hot 100, but the disco backlash essentially banished her to the dance charts and Europe after that.

John Williams - "Theme From Superman (Main Title)"

(Debuted #86, Peaked #81, 4 Weeks on chart)

Once Star Wars brought back the action-adventure film loaded with special effects,  it was only a matter of time before a film was made that featured a comic book superhero. Thus, Superman: The Movie appeared on the silver screen late in 1978 and the theme song was composed by John Williams, the man who had done the score for Star Wars. Similarly, Williams collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra once more to perform it, and the music was a major part of the film's experience.

In a way, orchestral movie music was Classical music for those who considered themselves too "cool" for Classical music in a similar way Looney Tunes cartoons had done a generation before. I'm guessing there were several movie fans who inadvertently became listeners (whether casual or otherwise) of classical thanks to the work of John Williams over the years. Even if they never admitted it to anybody else.

Cat Stevens - "Bad Brakes" Bad Brakes - Back to Earth

(Debuted #87, Peaked #83, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Bad Brakes" was the last entry on the Hot 100 for Cat Stevens, who had already undergone a conversion to Islam and began to look at interests beyond the music industry. He had wanted to retire from performing but still owed one more album to his record company, which ended up being Back to Earth.

Co-written with guitarist Alun Davies, "Bad Brakes" was listed as "Bad Breaks" during its entire four-week run on the Hot 100 and is sometimes listed that way by chart compilers. In any case, the connection between faulty brakes on a car and the slangy "bad breaks" is addressed in the lyrics. Though not one of Stevens' more memorable 1970s hits, it wasn't all that bad for a song recorded for an album that was solely a contractual obligation.

Bell and James - "Livin' It Up (Friday Night)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #15, 16 Weeks on chart)

Leroy Bell and Casey James were from Philadelphia and had played in Special Blend, a studio disco group that recorded instrumentals and backing tracks for vocal groups. Bell was also the nephew of producer Thom Bell and was able to get signed to his uncle's company as a songwriter. After the duo penned songs for several artists, they were signed to their own contract as performers.

"Livin' it Up (Friday Night) " would be the only pop hit for Bell & James. It was an uptempo number that was definitely helped by disco with its "going out to party" vibe. The lyrics don't mention dancing at all, though, just breaking free of the routine after working all week long. At the time, many were choosing to do that at dance clubs, where songs like "Livin' it Up" were playing. Despite being lumped into the majority of disco tunes when the sound was declared passe, it really wasn't fairly treated in that respect. The concept of breaking away after the work week is over is just as valid today as it was in 1979.

Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman -  "Stumblin' In"  Stumblin' In - Suzi Quatro: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #89, Peaked #4, 22 Weeks on chart)

Suzi Quatro was an Michigander who moved to England in 1971 and gained a degree of success there she could never achieve at home. If anything, she's better known on this side of the Atlantic for her role as Leather Tuscadero on the TV show Happy Days. Chris Norman was the lead singer of Smokie, a British group whose best-known single in the U.S. was "Living Next Door to Alice" (reviewed here last December). Both acts were under the tutelage of writer/producer team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who came up with a duet for them to record. The result would be the biggest U.S. hit for either singer, even as it narrowly missed the Top 40 over in the U.K.

At the time, Mike Chapman was perhaps the hottest producer in the business. Between 1978 and 1979, he was responsible for several American #1 singles including "Kiss You All Over," "Hot Child in the City," "My Sharona" and "Heart of Glass." Similarly, the single was released on the RSO label, which had been a powerhouse label largely due to The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Those two factors likely contributed to the song's chart fortunes, but it was a well-crafted pop song that would have probably hit anyway despite its pedigree.

"Stumblin' In" was a departure from Quatro's signature hard-edged sound. In a way, its easy laid-back beat and lyrics about finding love unexpectedly was well-suited for the Southern California-style rock that was such a big seller in the late 1970s.

Frankie Valli - "Fancy Dancer" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

In 1979, a song having the word "Dancer" in the title could be reasonably assumed to have a disco beat, especially if the singer had just had a #1 hit like "Grease." However, "Fancy Dancer" was a slower song than one may expect.

There had been a Top 40 single called "Fancy Dancer" by the Commodores in 1977, but this is a different song altogether. Where that song had been driven by light funk and R&B, nobody would have expected that type of performance by the former Four Seasons frontman. Instead, this "Fancy Dancer" is more of a wistful remembrance of a lady from the past -- a dancing girl, perhaps a working one --that the singer still thinks highly of after several years.

Spending most of the song singing at his normal vocal range and featuring a female backing chorus, the song features a couple of moments of Valli reminding listeners that he can handle a higher register as well. Now...that is something people expect from him.

Tasha Thomas - "Shoot Me (With Your Love)" Shoot Me (With Your Love) - Midnight Rendezvous

(Debuted #97, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

Tasha Thomas is largely forgotten due to factors beyond her own control. She made her first big impression in the Broadway production of  The Wiz, playing Auntie Em. While "Shoot Me" would be her only Hot 100 listing, it's a good disco song even if she did get caught up in the backlash against many disco artists that occurred shortly after the song was a hit. She could have been able to sustain a long career doing R&B/dance numbers like many former disco artists did in the 1980s, but fate sadly had a different path for her. In 1984, she died of cancer.

After showing her versatility on stage, the Alaska-born Thomas was given the chance to record her debut LP Midnight Rendezvous. Predictably, the music was disco-flavored due to the musical tastes of the day. With a title perfect for Valentine's Day, "Shoot Me (With Your Love)" was a dose of adrenaline that probably deserved a bigger shot -- pun intended -- that it eventually had. Vacillating between a breathy whisper and a full-throated vocal, Thomas gives her all in the performance. At the same time, the music accompaniment gives more than the standard disco arrangement. The brass section accentuates the words well and the bass line stands out nicely.

In a way, her voice sounds well-suited to the synthesized funk rhythms that dominated the R&B charts for much of the 1980s. It's unfortunate that Tasha Thomas fell ill before recording a follow-up; her early exit combined with her potential talent make her a great "what could have been" story.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

This Week's Review -- January 24, 1970

Ten new singles make their debut this week, with four that went on to make the Top 40 and two Top 10 records. Several singles drive home the point that male/female dynamics have changed over the past 40 years: a Santana song complains that dinner isn't ready when it's time to come home, Jerry Butler sings about a wife who has several children but doesn't complain and Roy Clark sings a song that wouldn't get much airplay if it had been released a few years later. That's not to say the fairer sex gets the complete shaft here, since Johnny Cash and wife June Carter duet on a song where he asks her to be her equal and Cold Blood frontwoman Lydia Pense shows she's every bit a singer as anybody. Other songs on the list include a Carolina beach groove from a Chicago-based band, one of several songs charting that year by Dutch bands, a couple of country hits, a follow-up to a surprise #1 single and a Burt Bacharach song that was done several times over the past decade but was only reaching the Top 40 for the first time.

This is one instance where I wish there was a past issue of Billboard magazine available at Google Books; however, there are no 1970 editions available from before late February. The chart in question has one error that I'd like to find out about. The original January 24, 1970 list featured "Guess Who" by Ruby Dee at #99 (showing it as a re-entry from a few weeks earlier, which was also an error). However, the next week the song "You Got Me Hummin'" by Cold Blood appeared as if it should have been there. The "official" resources list that Cold Blood single as if it were the legitimate entry for this week, so my reviews reflect that. However, it's important to point out the discrepancy. I just wish I could read the issues to see if there was any mention of the error.

The Beatles Box of Vision

Santana - "Evil Ways" Evil Ways - Santana

(Debuted #71, Peaked #9, 13 Weeks on chart)

On the heels of the band's breakout appearance at the Woodstock festival, "Evil Ways" was the first major hit for Santana. It's also one of their best-known songs. Though highly identified with Carlos Santana, he didn't sing on it, nor did he write it. He does, however, run off a 90-second guitar solo that indelibly makes the song his own. 

"Evil Ways" was written by Clarence Henry and Willie Bobo and first recorded by Bobo in 1965. Bobo was a Latin percussionist who was an instrumental influence on Santana, while Henry was a guitarist who played in Bob's band. The vocals in Santana's version are by Gregg Rolie, who would eventually leave the band in 1973 wit Neal Schon to form Journey. The lyrics are interesting, however. Where the title suggests witchcraft or something sinister (as does their follow-up hit "Black Magic Woman"), lines such as "when I come home, baby...the house is dark and my pots are cold" instead says the singer is just complaining the dinner's not ready when he gets home from work.

Johnny Cash and June Carter - "If I Were a Carpenter" If I Were a Carpenter - The Essential Johnny Cash

(Debuted #80, Peaked #36, 8 Weeks on chart)

"If I Were a Carpenter" was written by folk-rocker Tim Hardin, but likely appealed to Johnny Cash for two major reasons. First, he was a fan of folk, having embraced Bob Dylan's music long before the more conservative Nashville scene could. Second, he was embracing his Christian side and likely connected with the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was himself a carpenter by trade. The other part of the song, which was a question by a working-class man to a more elegant woman to share a life together, was a perfect topic for a duet with his own wife, June Carter.

Though written by Hardin and recorded by him in 1967, the song was a Top 10 hit for Bobby Darin in 1966. It has been recorded dozens of times over the years and has become something of a standard.

The Dells - "Oh What A Day" Oh, What a Day (Single Version) - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Dells

(Debuted #82, Peaked #43, 8 Weeks on chart)

The group hit big in 1969 with "Oh, What a Night" (itself a rework of 1956's "Oh, What a Nite"), so why not mine that gold again?

Although The Dells were a group based in Chicago, "Oh, What a Day" features a classic Carolina Beach sound. Incorporating doo-wop harmonies with a shamelessly retro-style sound, it's a perfect style for those who like to "shag" (my apologies to our readers in the U.K., where "shag" has a different meaning). At the time, beach music was declining from its 1960s peak but would continue to thrive by a small but fiercely loyal following of devotees.

"Oh, What a Day" may have missed the Top 40 on the pop charts, but reached #10 over on the R&B list.

The Tee Set - "Ma Belle Amie" Ma Belle Amie/the Tee Set - The Heritage Colossus Story

(Debuted #83, Peaked #5, 12 Weeks on chart)

In 1970, several Dutch-based groups hit the U.S. pop charts. While this "onslaught" was never going to be mistaken for something on the order of the 1960s British Invasion, the seemingly sudden appearance of Dutch acts was noticeable. In 1970, Shocking Blue's "Venus" went to #1, while The George Baker Selection hit with "Little Green Bag" and The Tee Set hit Top 5 with "Ma Belle Amie." The surge didn't last long; however, other Dutch acts like Golden Earring and Herman Brood would make appearances in the Top 40.

For The Tee Set, "Ma Belle Amie" was the apex of their American success. A very catchy melody with an organ part that stays with the listener -- for better or worse -- after the song ends. The tile is French for "my nice friend," there is a short line of the song in French that went "apres tous les beaux jours je te dis merci merci" (loosely translated: "after fair weather, thanks").

The Tee Set managed to get one low-charting follow-up single ("If You Do Believe in Love") onto the Hot 100 in 1970, but their next single "She Likes Weeds" would be largely banned in the U.S. due to possible drug references and no further hits would appear. The band eventually split in 1975, and lead singer Peter Tetteroo died from liver cancer in 2002.

Sonny James - "It's Just A Matter Of Time" It's Just a Matter of Time - Capitol Collectors Series: Sonny James

(Debuted #94, Peaked #87, 4 Weeks on chart)

Let's get this one out of the way...While Sonny James had a minor pop hit with "It's Just a Matter of Time," it was one of sixteen straight singles he took to the #1 spot on Billboard's country chart between 1967 and '71. It's a record streak, but isn't considered to be legitimate. See, Alabama is credited for a string of 21 #1 singles from 1980 through '87 but that's because one single that reached #16 ("Christmas in Dixie") isn't counted due to its status as a holiday-themed song. So, depending on what one thinks of that single (as well as Billboard's annual disregard for holiday singles before the SoundScan era), it's either part of of a record string or it isn't.

That said, Sonny James's version was another one of his long line of smoothly sung, pop-laden (meaning, "Southern twang has been minimized"), easy-listening renditions. It was originally performed by Brook Benton -- who co-wrote the song with Clyde Otis -- in 1959 and was a #1 R&B and #3 pop hit for him. Later on, it would return to the country charts again in remake versions by Glen Campbell in 1985 and Randy Travis in '89. Among country fans, Travis's version has become the best-regarded as James's sound has pretty much fallen out of favor even among the style's traditionalists.

Roy Clark - "Then She's A Lover" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #94, 3 Weeks on chart)

For all of his ability as a performer and multi-instrumentalist, Roy Clark seems destined to be better known as a host of Hee Haw. It's a shame, but that's the effect of appearing for several years on a TV show that has a novelty attached to it. As a result, the mourning he expressed in "Yesterday When I Was Young," the humor behind "Thank God and Greyhound" and the optimism of "Honeymoon Feelin'" are all overlooked in favor of jokes told in a fake cornfield and that "I'm-a pickin'...I'm-a grinnin'" routine.

"Then She's a Lover" was a song that gives praise to a wife, even if there may be some lines in it that are less than glowing ("She's taught me words like overdraft"...a bit about starting a fight in the neighborhood for calling somebody a "big fat slob"). However, at the end of the day she climbs into bed and does her wifely duties (the "she's a lover" part), and that seems to take care of anything that didn't go right. The song was written by Bobby Russell, who wrote the hits "Honey" and "Little Green Apples" and did a similar-sounding tale of domestication himself the next year called "Saturday Morning Confusion."

R.B. Greaves - "Always Something There To Remind Me" Always Something There to Remind Me - R.B. Greaves

(Debuted #96, Peaked #27, 8 Weeks on chart)

R.B. Greaves is best known for his 1969 hit "Take a Letter Maria," but he was no one-hit wonder. The next year, he took "Always Something There to Remind Me" into the Top 40. While sounding quite similar to "Maria" in style and inflection, it wasn't a Greaves original.

The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1963. It charted in versions by Lou Johnson, Sandie Shaw (who made it a #1 U.K. hit) and Dionne Warwick in the 1960s, but never made the Top 40 in America until Greaves sang it. It would become a bigger hit in 1983 when Naked Eyes did their own synth-pop version.

Jerry Butler - "Got To See If I Can't Get Mommy (To Come Back Home)" Got to See If I Can't Get Mommy (To Come Back Home) - The Philadelphia Sessions

(Debuted #98, Peaked #62, 5 Weeks on chart)

"The Iceman" had an underappreciated string of solo hits in the 1970s. After scoring several hit singles on the pop chart during the 1960s after leaving The Impressions, his chart fortunes declined during the decade. He still managed several R&B hits but only reached the pop Top 40 once after 1969. During the 1980s, Butler would go on to another pursuit that may not seem alien to someone who dealt with record labels, managers and agents: he went into politics.

There's a story behind "Got to See if I Can't Get Mommy (To Come Back Home)." The story begins with an early pregnancy and a hastily-arranged wedding, followed by several more children and a hard life. All the while, the wife didn't complain until the day she walked out. When the narrator goes to find her, he comes to a bridge and learns she's dead. The lyrics don't say whether she fell or jumped (the listener can come to his or her own conclusion), but the end has a man realizing he must carry on and not really knowing how.

At the moment he learns she's dead, the song employs that time-honored tradition of using the angelic-sounding voices in the backing choir to punctuate it. That normally annoys me, and ruins what was otherwise an effective accompaniment.

Cold Blood - "You Got Me Hummin" You Got Me Hummin' - Cold Blood

(Debuted #99, Peaked #52, 4 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube video above is a medley of "You Got Me Hummin'" with "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free" and was taken from Fillmore: The Last Days. Performances like this one are great, especially when it shows a band not only playing at a legendary rock venue, but also in front of its home crowd.

Cold Blood was a Bay Area band who fused soul and rock music with a horn section. They are often compared to Tower of Power, who came from the other side of the Bay Area. One big difference, however, was that Cold Blood was fronted by a female singer named Lydia Pense. Her delivery is less intense than Janis Joplin's (though the similarities can be heard between them), but Pense definitely had a presence behind the microphone and held her own ground in front of the band's brass section.

Despite only having one hit single on the Hot 100 and breaking up briefly during the late 1970s, Cold Blood still performs today and still features Lydia Pense as their singer.

Steam - "I've Gotta Make You Love Me" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Peaked #46, 7 Weeks on chart)

Following the surprise success of the #1 hit "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" that was originally slated as a B-side but became a hit despite being a quickly-recorded tune that was meant to fill out teh other side of a single, "I've Gotta Make You Love Me" was rushed out as a follow-up just weeks after reaching the #1 position. Despite being a more planned-out recording and having more of a head of "steam" (so to speak), the band and its record company learned that sometimes you can't get lightning to strike twice.

Steam was essentially a "band" made up of studio musicians Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frasheur. They had worked together and separately for several years since they were kids in Connecticut. The plan was never for them to become a band. After the hit single, an LP was recorded by Leka and a studio band to capitalize on it. "I've Gotta Make You Love Me" was part of that album, and would be their final chart listing.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This Week's Review -- January 16, 1971

This week's list of new songs making the Billboard Hot 100 is short but sweet. Seven singles debuted, with four that would make the top 40 and one Top 10 hit. A pair of R&B songs purportedly about infidelity are here, as are two country hits, a very memorable movie theme and little-remembered songs from two artists tagged as "one-hit wonders" from the 1970s and another from the 1980s.

Several past issues of Billboard can be read over at Google Books, including the January 16, 1971 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 84. I've mentioned these before, but they never fail to amuse me: there are two sections devoted to outdated (from the vantage point of 40 years later) formats: Page 46 begins the section covering jukebox programming, which was still a big deal then, while a section on Page 24 is devoted to cartridge TV (CTV), Which was being hyped as the next big thing but never ended up being embraced by the public. An ad on Page 2 trumpets the new Henry Mancini single "(Theme From) Love Story" as the only single on the Billboard chart (see below). That was soon going to change, but it was true as of that issue.

Napster, LLC

Henry Mancini, His Orchestra and Chorus - "(Theme From) Love Story" Theme from Love Story - Henry Mancini: All Time Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

(Debuted #81, Peaked #13, 11 Weeks on chart)

(There would normally be a YouTube video of the song here. However, the one I found had its embedding disabled and another credited to Mancini was actually the Francis Lai version from the film.)

"(Theme From) Love Story" was one of only two singles Henry Mancini would get into the Hot 100 during the 1970s, even though his works was much more widely known than that fact suggests. His work has been used in films like Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Pink Panther and Days of Wine and Roses. On TV, his themes have graced "Charlie's Angels," "What's Happening!!" and "Peter Gunn." In that regard, he was probably better known to the general public than many hitmakers of the era.

Though known for his film and television soundtrack work, Henry Mancini didn't actually score the film Love Story. He was merely one of many who took the moving music from that movie and put it on record. One of three versions of the song competing of the Hot 100, it just missed the Top 10. A vocal rendition by Andy Williams did make the Top 10, while Francis Lai -- who scored the film -- reached the lower rungs of the Top 40 with his version. In late February, all three versions of the song were in the Top 40 at the same time.

Johnnie Taylor - "Jody's Got Your Girl And Gone" Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone - Stax Profiles: Johnnie Taylor

(Debuted #83, Peaked #28, 10 Weeks on chart)

I was very familiar with "Jody" during my Army service. While we were running in formation, one of the cadences we sang went, "Ain't no sense in going home...Jody's got your girl and gone." Jody (or Jody Grinder, or some variation of the name) was the guy who was back home, romancing our women while we're doing the dirty work of preserving freedom. The idea was to keep us focused on the fact that we were expected to do our job as soldiers and not dwell on the fact that live was going on without us where we used to live. My father was in the service during the Vietnam War, and was familiar with the cadence as well. I'd be willing to guess it was used back in the World War Two era as well.

In the words of Johnnie Taylor's song, he isn't in the military. Instead, he's working his tail off to get a better life, and while he's gone, Jody's the guy swooping in to provide his woman with the things she desires. Yet, those exact words I quoted above from my Army days are in the song. The problem was that in 1971, the military theme was a surefire way to kill chances of airplay due to the unpopularity of the war in Vietnam. However, there were certainly enough people in uniform (or recently out of it) to know the message, particularly among Taylor's core audience, who were much more likely to be drafted and less likely to get deferments.

Wilson Pickett - "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You (Single Version) - The Very Best of Wilson Pickett

(Debuted #84, Peaked #17, 11 Weeks on chart)

From the "other guy" who swept a woman off her feet in the previous song, here's another perspective on an adulterous affair.

Wilson Pickett possessed one of the more distinctive voices in soul during the 1960s and 70s. Strong, powerful and forceful, he had a flair for performing. in "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You," though, his vocal prowess is matched by a tasty guitar lick, a solid horn section and a gospel-flavored chorus behind him. Of course, the lyrics play off the old "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" saying. At under three minutes, the music leaves the listener wanting more when it winds down.

As they say in show business, it's always good to leave the audience wanting more.

Joey Scarbury - "Mixed Up Guy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #73, 3 Weeks on chart)

Yes, this is the same Joey Scarbury who is generally considered a one-hit wonder for his Top 10 1981 hit "Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)." As it was, that song represented a return to the charts after a decade away.

Joey Scarbury got an early start on his music career. He began singing professionally at 14, and was still 19 years old when the song was recorded. "Mixed Up Guy" featured some lyrics that were common to somebody that young, stuck by wanderlust and a desire to run with the river and see where it goes. Backed up by a piano and harmonica, as well as the requisite string section that marks many early 1970s hits.

The Statler Brothers - "Bed of Rose's"  Bed of Roses - The Best of the Statler Brothers

(Debuted #89, Peaked #58, 9 Weeks on chart)

The Statler Brothers were one of the most successful groups on the country charts during the 1970s. Three of their singles crossed over to the Hot 100, with the biggest being the #4 "Flowers on the Wall" in 1966. "Bed of Rose's" was their second crossover single and used a double meaning in the title, much like their 1969 song "You Can't Have Your Kate and Edith, Too."

As with many country songs, there's a strory behind the song that is more adult than some listeners realize. In it, a young boy of eightteen is taken under a prostitute's wing -- the "Bed of Rose's" was literally a bed -- and turned into a man. At the same time, the scorn from what she did both marked the deeply Christian population of a small town and yet flew in the face of their teachings. That's quite a profound statement from a group whose roots lay in a gospel tradition and released several religious albums over the years.

Sammi Smith - "Help Me Make It Through The Night" Help Me Make It Through the Night - The Number 1 Country Collection

(Debuted #98, Peaked #8, 16 Weeks on chart)

"Help Me Make it Through the Night" was one of the biggest country songs of the 1970s in terms of sales, popularity and radio airplay. It definitely was a solid crossover hit. It was one of several hits at that time written by Kris Kristofferson ("For the Good Times" was on the charts as well, with "Me and Bobby McGee" soon to follow). With its haunting acoustic strumming and instrumental arrangement backing up the lyrics about a casual desire to fulfill some lustful needs. Songs about wanting sex weren't really new in 1971, even in a casual fashion, but having the words sung by a female was quite a change.

For Sammi Smith, the song was a breakthrough. Before "Help Me Make it Thrugh the Night," she had a few minor hits on the country chart. Though she never again enjoyed another #1 hit on that chart, she managed to have a repsectable string of hits through the decade. On the pop chart, however, she only managed to return once more, in 1972. Sadly, Sammi Smith passed away in 2005.

Bobby Bloom - "Make Me Happy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #80, 6 Weeks on chart)

Best known for his 1970 hit "Montego Bay," Bobby Bloom had two follow-up hits on the Hot 100 the week that "Make Me Happy" debuted. In a battle of the record labels, MGM (which had also released "Montego Bay") issued "Make Me Happy" and Roulette rushed "Where are We Going." While "Make Me Happy" would win the battle, neither song ended up getting much airplay despite the evident success Bloom had enjoyed. "Make Me Happy" had a brassier sound, but featured the same female backup singers from "Montego Bay" as well as the same vocal style. A jangly guitar solo is added to the middle of the song as well.

There would be only one hit after that for Bobby Bloom. Sadly, he battled depression and ended up dying in an apparent suicide in February 1974.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

This Week's Review -- January 4, 1975

Ten singles debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with half making the Top 40. Additionally, three would reach the Top 10 and one would get all the way to the #1 spot. Many of the songs are from the R&B field, one was a #1 country hit, another was a new hit by Carole King, one featured the former lead singer of the British group Pickettywitch and one was a folkish tune by a fresh-faced newcomer. The biggest hit, however, was a song about a New Orleans prostitute.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues at Google Books is the January 4, 1975 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 46. The articles in the issue feature an interesting conflicting eidtorial nature among the first few pages: a Page 1 article is stating that a "back to basics" movement was expected in the music and radio businesses, while another article on page 3 insists that radio will see less material that looks to the past. Of course, those two things aren't always compatible but it's interesting to see them both in the same issue.

Wolfgang's Vault

Carole King - "Nightingale" Nightingale - Wrap Around Joy

(Debuted #67, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

(Sorry, but no YouTube video can be shown here. There is an available video for this song, but it has had its embedding capability disabled. If you're not familiar with the song -- or if you are and want to hear it again -- it's worth checking out, and can be searched from any other YouTube video on this page.)

The nightingale is a bird that has long been used in poems, going back at least as far as Homer but also being evoked by Ovid, Chaucer, Eliot, Milton and Keats, among others. Though the bird isn't native to North America, it still shows up as the inspiration for a Carole King song. Here, the nightingale is used as a metaphor for a singer who's spent an awful lot of time on the road.

"Nightingale" was the first track on King's LP Wrap Around Joy, which had previously given her a #2 hit with "Jazzman." It slowly climbed the pop chart but eventually peaked within the Top 10 in March. The song also hit #1 on the AC chart.

The Isley Brothers - "Midnight Sky (Part 1)" Midnight Sky, Pt. 1 & 2 - Live It Up

(Debuted #83, Peaked #73, 5 Weeks on chart)

Again, I'm a sucker for old clips from Soul Train, especially when the video shows the song being performed live, raher than lip-synched. In this one, there is even a burst of feedback from one of the amplifiers at the 53 second mark that Ronald Isley is obviously trying to ignore as he begins singing. It shows, once again, how live TV doesn't always get it right.

"Midnight Sky" was a two-part song on the Isleys' Live it Up LP which was split over two sides of the single. Featuring a guitar line by Ernie Isley similar to the one used on their 1973 hit "That Lady," the song is an uptempo funk-laden tune. That description may make it sound like it's being called derivative of an earlier hit, but it's more of a fusion that channels it, or a progression in the group's sound.

Kool and the Gang - "Rhyme Tyme People" Rhyme Tyme People - Light of Worlds

(Debuted #88, Peaked #63, 8 Weeks on chart)

Now that I've finished explaining how one group's song borrows from an earlier hit, here's one that borrows from several. "Rhyme Tyme People" has bits that sound a little like earlier Kool & the Gang hits "Jungle Boogie," "Hollywood Swinging" and "Funky Stuff." Since they're cribbing their own material, it's not as if they're ripping anybody off. Instead, like the Isley Brothers tune above, they're continuing their own groove and taking it in different directions. This is a different process than the one used by KC & the Sunshine Band, who sometimes seemed to be using the same rythm track under their music.

"Rhym Tyme People" was the second of three singles taken from LP Light of Worlds, and the only one that didn't make the pop Top 40.

The Manhattans - "Don't Take Your Love From Me" Don't Take Your Love - The Best of the Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye

(Debuted #90, Peaked #37, 10 Weeks on chart)

The Manhattans had been recording and occasionally charting since 1964, but would not get a taste of the pop Top 40 until their ballad "Don't Take Your Love From Me" got them there in 1975. In the meantime, they suffered through the tragedy of seeing lead singer George Smith dying of a brain tumor in 1970 and beginning again with Gerald Alston.

Backed by the lush strings that generally marked Philly Soul recordings (despite the group's name), "Don't Take Your Love From Me" showcased the group's harmonies, from Alston's pleading vocal to the spoken monologue by Winfred "Blue" Lovett that echoed another one he did on their later hit "Kiss and Say Goodbye."  Unlike that later hit, however, the recitation isn't delivered with the understanding that it's time to move on.

Sister Sledge - "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me" Love Don't Go Through No Changes On Me (Single Version) - The Best of Sister Sledge

(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 3 Weeks on chart)

Sister Sledge was a vocal group consisting of four sisters from Philadelphia, three of whom were still teenagers at the time they recorded "Love Don't You Go through No Changes on Me." They had begun singing as a gospel act, performing in churches along with their grandmother. While best known for their two big disco hits, this was their first entry on the Hot 100 and would get a short second run in February.

As a song, "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes on Me" is both a solid Philly Soul single and a preview for the band's more familiar later hits. The sisters' harmonies are there, though not with quite the breathless enthusiasm they gave in "He's the Greatest Dancer" or as jubilant as "We Are Family." While not as memorable, it's a good, solid single.

Lynn Anderson - "What A Man, My Man Is" What a Man My Man Is (Single Version) - 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #94, Peaked #93, 3 Weeks on chart)

During the first half of the 1970s, Lynn Anderson was a fairly constant presence on the country charts and enjoyed several crossover hits, including the smash "Rose Garden" in 1970. With "What a Man, My Man is," the chart fortunes dropped off a bit. It would be her final pop crossover hit, as well as her last #1 country song. 

"What a Man, My Man is" was written by Anderson's husband/producer Glenn Sutton, meaning he wrote a song about himself for his wife to sing. While that can be viewed as a fairly vain thing to do, he was very successful with that formula before (he also penned a similar-sounding "You're My Man" for her earlier) and wasn't averse to making repeated trips to a goldmine when it came to making records.

Phoebe Snow - "Poetry Man" Poetry Man - Phoebe Snow

(Debuted #95, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

"Poetry Man" was quite a debut. For a first hit from a 22-year old newcomer (as opposed to an artist who'd been paying her dues for years before getting the big break), reaching #5 on the Hot 100 and notching a #1 adult contemporary hit was certainly an achievement. The expressive song featured Phoebe Snow singing over an acoustic guitar and a smooth saxophone solo in the middle.

"Poetry Man" was a self-penned song written about a relationship with a man who was already married (in the lyrics, this is mentioned: "Home is that place somewhere you go each day to see your wife"), yet she's still under the spell of his words and promises. Young women seeing married men...that never turns out well, but at least it made for a successful song.

Sadly, Phoebe Snow's own story wasn't going to be a happy one. After showing such promise early, she had a daughter who was severely brain damaged. After mentioning that "Poetry Man" was written about a relationship with a married man, this daughter was the product of her first marriage. Her priority -- rightly -- was to watch over her child. She still recorded the occasional album, and even recorded commercial jingles and other projects to stay closer to home. While that was a very courageous thing, the fickle music business was another thing altogether and moved on to other artists.

Lamont Dozier - "Let Me Start Tonite" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #87, 5 Weeks on chart)

Lamont Dozier was part of the Motown writing and production group known as Holland/Dozier/Holland in the 1960s. During their time at Berry Gordy's company, they were quite helpful in crafting the careers of several acts including The Supremes, The Four Tops and Martha & the Vandellas. Eventually, the team left Motown in '67 for Invictus/Hot Wax and continued their work there. Dozier left the team in the mid 1970s to focus on his solo singing career.

Lyrically, "Let Me Start Tonite" was basically a plea to start over with his woman after she's walked out the door. Realizing after the fact that there are things such as begging and groveling after the damage is done is rarely helpful, but Dozier gives it a shot anyway. There's even a spoken passage in the middle of the song similar to addressing the audience in a live performance, where he hopes singing along with him would work out.

LaBelle - "Lady Marmalade" Lady Marmalade - Nightbirds

(Debuted #98, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

"Voulez vous cocher avec moi ce soir?"

Thanks to Patti LaBelle and company, my first French lesson consisted of a line I wasn't likely to use to break the ice with a stranger. For those who haven't bothered to learn its translation, the line is an invitation to hop in the sack. Lady Marmalade, the Creole woman of the song, is a working girl in New Orleans and looking for a customer. While it provided a quick language lesson to people in 1975, it wasn't the first time such a line appeared in popular culture, as Blanche used it in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, and soldiers who had traveled to France in 1918 and 1944 were familiar with its meaning as well. Even for those who may not get the meaning behind the French line, other lines like "Hello, hey Joe, you wanna give it a go?" provide clues that are far less subtle.

"Lady Marmalade" was produced by Allen Toussaint, who gave the song his New Orleans-flavored studio mojo with a hot brass section. He didn't write the tune, though, as those duties were performed by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan. When "Lady Marmalade" reached its #1 peak on the pop chart, it knocked another Crewe/Nolan song from the top spot, Frankie Valli's "My Eyes Adored You."

It's that little bit that makes for an interesting question: since Crewe was best known for his work with Valli, how weird would "Lady Marmalade" have been in the hands of the Four Seasons? It's not as if they would have turned it down due to the innuendo, since "December, 1963" wasn't exactly about a school dance.

Polly Brown - "Up In A Puff Of Smoke" Up in a Puff of Smoke - Bewitched - The Polly Browne Story

(Debuted #99, Peaked #16, 13 Weeks on chart)

To those who weren't paying attention, "Up in a Puff of Smoke" sounds like it could have been sung by Diana Ross. Since this is before Miss Ross made her own disco-influenced single with "Love Hangover," it may have been seen as an attempt for the Motown machine to place their biggest star onto another bandwagon as it was beginning to heat up. Instead, this song was performed by a white British lady and it would still be more than a year before Ross would get that dance hit.

Polly Brown had previously charted on the Hot 100 as the singer of a group called Pickettywitch, who took a song called "That Same Old Feeling" into the survey in 1970. She eventually left that group and formed a duo called Sweet Dreams that didn't chart on this side of the Atlantic had a minor hit with "Honey Honey" -- charting even before ABBA's more familiar version -- in 1974. Though she became a successful disco act in the U.K. during the late 1970s, she never managed to get another hit in the U.S. after "Up in a Puff of Smoke" cleared the airwaves.

(Thanks to Andreas in Germany for pointing out my error above.)