Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Week's Review -- December 26, 1970

Happy New Year! With the strike of the midnight hour last night, we've watched yet another year pass by. That doesn't mean we still can't reminisce about those olden days, though...and I intend to keep on keepin' on with these every week. Thanks again for reading. Feel free to let others know what's here, or follow me on Facebook (where I'm listed by my own name), where I'll let you know whenever a new entry is added here.

Thirteen singles (one of them a double-sided listing) debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 that final week of 1970, with seven reaching the Top 40 and three breaking into the Top 10. Some of the acts here are heavy hitters: Elvis Presley and Diana Ross are here, and so are memorable songs by The Grass Roots and Gordon Lightfoot. There are also one-hit wonders from Rhode Island and Hawaii, Bobby Goldsboro's biggest 1970s hit and a final appearance on the Hot 100 by Brook Benton. There are also remakes: both of Elvis's songs charted before his did, Dave Edmunds made a remake into his biggest hit, Junior Walker handled a Neil Diamond song and The Jazz Crusaders placed their mark on a tune Walker had done.

Usually, there is a link to the Billboard issue from this week over at Google Books, but the December 26, 1970 edition is missing from their archive. In the absence of that, I'll mention a recent addition to the blog. If you look above, you'll see years listed below the logo I made out of a photo of 8-track tapes. In those pages, I'll keep track of which weeks from each year I've reviewed. There will be a link to each review and -- more importantly -- a list of each song that debuted that week. The pages will give a quick recap of what has been featured here.

Where Rock Art lives

Elvis Presley - "I Really Don't Want To Know" I Really Don't Want to Know - Walk a Mile In My Shoes: The Essential '70s Masters b/w "There Goes My Everything" There Goes My Everything - Walk a Mile In My Shoes: The Essential '70s Masters

(Debuted #56, Peaked #21, 9 Weeks on chart)

This was a two-sided hit single, so here's a YouTube video for the B-side:

Both songs were from the LP Elvis Country, a collection of songs from the country field that not only reflected Presley's affinity for the music of his youth (including an image of him as a child on the cover), but was also his first album that wasn't a live recording, re-release or compilation since From Elvis in Memphis in 1969. Not surprisingly, the two-sided single was a crossover hit on the country chart as well, with "There Goes My Everything" as the A-side and hitting #9.

Both songs are standard Elvis fare, neither sounding exceptional but definitely stamped with his performance. "I Really Don't Want to Know" was a hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford in 1953, and later for Eddy Arnold and Tommy Edwards. The lyrics are a variation of the "I love you now, despite your past history" songs that have popped up often over the years. As for "There Goes My Everything," it was song where a man is agonizing that he's been left. It had been a #1 country hit for Jack Greene in 1966 and a pop hit for Engelbert Humperdinck the next year.

The Grass Roots - "Temptation Eyes" Temptation Eyes (Original) - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Grass Roots

(Debuted #68, Peaked #15, 18 Weeks on chart)

Among all of the Grass Roots' great hits from the late 1960s and early 70s, lead singer Rob Grill calls "Temptation Eyes" his favorite. A song about a tease -- as the lyrics state, "she's no one's lover" -- it is another one of the great "if I could only get to second base..." stories that make people remember certain girls years after the fact, even when they begin forgetting some of those who let them get farther.

Beside the lyrics, the song features a full-on brass section and a great bass line that propels the chorus and bridge. While The Grass Roots definitely had a distinctive "sound,"the music on "Temptation Eyes" is brighter and more direct, as if to underscore the urgency the singer feels at that moment. Even 40 years later, "Temptation Eyes" is still played frequently on oldies-format radio stations.

Diana Ross - "Remember Me" Remember Me - Surrender

(Debuted #74, Peaked #16, 10 Weeks on chart)

Written by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson (who also wrote "Ain't No Mountain High Enough), its lyrics are a request by a woman who's been dumped to her former beau to remember the good things from their time together.

"Remember Me" features a great group of backing musicians behind Miss Ross. This may not be surprising given the fact that The Funk Brothers were long regarded the best "secret weapon" any record company had, but also Ross's status as Berry Gordy's pet project. That said, the backing singers sound suspiciously like the other two members of The Supremes, which is interesting since Ross was only a year removed from the group.

Gordon Lightfoot - "If You Could Read My Mind" If You Could Read My Mind - If You Could Read My Mind

(Debuted #76, Peaked #5, 15 Weeks on chart)

Like many 1970s singer/songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot included a little of himself in the songs he composed, and "If You Could Read My Mind" was one of his most personal hits. It's also one of the better-known songs of his career. The song was written soon after Lightfoot's marriage fell apart, and includes imagery that resulted from that experience: "I walk away, like a movie star who gets burned in a three-way script" and "you won't read that book again because the ending's just to hard to take."

Actually, that second line about the ending that's too hard and the line "heroes often fail" both resonate with me. Perhaps I'm too grounded in reality to avoid getting cynical with "happily ever after" stories because I know they rarely turn out that way. As a Star Wars fan, I've long considered The Empire Strikes Back to be my favorite film of the trilogy simply because the bad guys won. It's probably the same reason I love the way The Last American Virgin ends; yes, it starts off as a screwball comedy about horny teens but once the main story gets going and you see that final's enough to make you feel the pain. And that brutal honesty is part of the charm in "If You Could Read My Mind" because its origin lies in a very dark place that Lightfoot probably wished he didn't have to visit.

(By the way, if this made you interested in checking out The Last American Virgin, I say it's worth seeking out. However, understand that there will be a lot of stuff going on in the first 45 minutes that you really don't need to pay a lot of attention to. But watch how the lover's triangle works itself out and see whether the ending isn't one of the hardest cinematic punches to the gut you'll ever get.)

Liz Damon's Orient Express - "1900 Yesterday" 1900 Yesterday - Liz Damon's Orient Express

(Debuted #78, Peaked #33, 12 Weeks on chart)

Liz Damon's Orient Express was a group from Hawaii, and their name comes from the Asian ethnicity of its original members. Their only entry on the Hot 100 was "1900 Yesterday," a song that has a retro feel that befits its title (as opposed to thinking it's a reference to military time, which would be "7:00 last night").

The song has an undeniable "Middle of the Road" sound that sounds like it was taken from a bank commercial. Despite the fact that it sounded different even by 1970 standards, it still managed to get into the lower reaches of the Top 40 before disappearing.

Bobby Goldsboro - "Watching Scotty Grow" Watching Scotty Grow (Digitally Re-Recorded) - The Best of Bobby Goldsboro, Vol. 2 (Digitally Re-Recorded Version)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #11, 13 Weeks on chart)

Popular music was supposed to be a youth-oriented format during the early 1970s. By that token, few would have guessed that a song about a father enjoying the time with his son would have been a hit. However, Bobby Goldsboro proved them wrong with the song that would become his biggest hit during the 1970s. "Watching Scotty Grow" was seen by many as the epitome of what was blasting from the middle-of-the-road sound truck that was driving more innovative artists away. Others simply appreciated the charm of a song that wasn't afraid to say "I'm mighty proud of my boy," especially as more Baby Boomers were themselves becoming parents.

When Goldsboro decided to record the song, executives at United Artists were hesitant to release it as a single, but the album cut played well enough on stations to demand it. It just missed the pop Top 10, but topped the adult contemporary chart and wnet Top 10 country.

"Watching Scotty Grow" was written by Mac Davis, about his young son. Interestingly, at the time of Goldsboro's hit, Davis's first wife had split with him and had taken Scotty away.

Jr. Walker and the All Stars - "Holly Holy"

(Debuted #87, Peaked #75, 5 Weeks on chart)

As you may have guessed, "Holly Holy" is a remake of the 1969 Neil Diamond hit. Diamond had written the song about a lady with gospel overtones, which Jr. Walker built upon with a gospel choir backing him up.

One major difference, aside from the different vocal phrasing, is that the song features a sax solo instead of an orchestral overture in the bridge. In a way, that makes it more a Junior Walker song and allows it to stand on its own.

Dave Edmunds - "I Hear You Knocking" I Hear You Knocking - From Small Things: The Best of Dave Edmunds

(Debuted #90, Peaked #4, 12 Weeks on chart)

While modern music fans know this as a Dave Edmunds song, there is a long history behind "I Hear You Knocking." It was written in 1955 and was an R&B hit for Smiley Lewis (with Gale Storm doing the sanitized pop version), but was something of an "answer song" for songs like "Keep a-Knockin'," from 1935 and "Open the Door, Richard," which came out in 1947.

Edmunds had actually begun remaking another song instead. While doing a new version of Wilbert Harrison's "Let's Work Together," the Welsh-born artist was dismayed to hear Canned Heat releasing their own single of the song. As a result, he used the same rhythm structure and did "I Hear You Knocking" instead. It ended up becoming his biggest hit. In addition to reaching #4 in America, he was sitting at #1 the week of Christmas 1970 in his native U.K.

Little Anthony and the Imperials - "Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)" Help Me Find a Way - To Say I Love You - The Best of Little Anthony & The Imperials

(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 2 Weeks on chart)

"Help Me Find a Way (To Say I Love You)" had already spent two weeks on the Hot 100, spending two weeks aboard in November but stalling at #96. This time around, it fared little better. That shouldn't be an indictment of the song, though, as the 1950s doo-wop basis of the band's sound was still out of favor in 1970, even with a more contemporary musical backing track (which evoked "Love On a Two-Way Street," a hit earlier that year) and a vocal that was more in tune with the group's 1960s hits.

Brook Benton with the Dixie Flyers - "Shoes"  (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #67, 6 Weeks on chart)

Sadly, Brook Benton has been largely forgotten by casual music fans despite scoring more than 50 singles on the Hot 100 chart. A songwriter as well as a singer, his influence spread well beyond the singles issued under his name. In 1970, Benton had a resurgence in his career -- it was called a "comeback" by some even though he never really went away -- that saw "Rainy Night in Georgia" become his first To 10 hit in seven years. That momentum didn't result in sustained success, as "Shoes" would be his final single to make the Hot 100.

The lyrics of "Shoes" tell a story. The narrator is telling an old pair of shoes that they shouldn't be going over to a lover's house. Using double meanings ("a hole in your soul," "you've worn out your welcome"), the singer is coming to grips with the fact that he's no longer wanted there.

Wadsworth Mansion - "Sweet Mary" Sweet Mary (Orginal Hit Single) - Ultimate '70s Hits

(Debuted #98, Peaked #7, 14 Weeks on chart)

A couple of songs ago, I mentioned that a group that had its roots in doo-wop was having a hard time trying to get a hit in 1970, but here's a song that features a doo-wop intro and made the Top 10. The difference is in the rest of the tune, as "Sweet Mary" is definitely a song rooted in bubblegum pop.

Wadsworth Mansion was a band from Providence, Rhode Island. And they were a true one-hit wonder: "Sweet Mary" would hit the Top 10 and then the band never appeared on the Hot 100 again. However, the short success they enjoyed was truly sweet, as their one chart entry was pure pop. The lyrics mention coming home, which can have many meanings: the boy who left to find whatever was calling him, the student returning from college, the discharged GI on his way back from the service. From the song, he's certainly looking forward to seeing Mary again after his time away from her.

There are two versions of "Sweet Mary." The version from the 7-inch single was a pure pop confection, which was available with both a cold ending or a slow fade. The LP version was a little slower, which changes the feeling a lot.

The Jazz Crusaders - "Way Back Home" Way Back Home - The Crusaders

(Debuted #99, Peaked #90, 2 Weeks on chart)

This jazz/R&B instrumental was a song that Jr. Walker & the All-Stars (also appearing in this chart) would later take into the Hot 100 as a vocal. After falling off the chart two weeks into its run, it reappeared for a week in January '71 before disappearing.

This was the last chart hit for the band before changing their name to The Crusaders and changing their sound to a more funky approach.

Betty Everett - "I Got To Tell Somebody" I Got to Tell Somebody - The Fantasy Years (Remastered)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #96, 4 Weeks on chart)

Betty Everett was an R&B singer who charted with songs like "You're No Good" and "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" during the 1960s, both of which would later become better known as hits by other artists. She also had a Top 10 duet with Jerry Butler called "Let it Be Me" but had little success outside the R&B charts.

"I Got to Tell Somebody" was her final entry on the Hot 100. It was her first single with Fantasy Records, where she would remain until 1974. It was a standard R&B tune, but did a decent job of showcasing her lovely voice. While Everett eventually retired from performing except at church during the mid 1980s, she eventually came back for a few appearances after Cher remade "It's in His Kiss" in 1990. Sadly, Everett passed away in August 2001.

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