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 I've mentioned these before, but they never fail to amuse me: there are two sections devoted to outdated (from the vantage point of 40 years later) formats: Page 46 begins the section covering jukebox programming, which was still a big deal then, while a section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.

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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.

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