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.
Santana - "Evil Ways"
(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"
(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"
(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"
(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"
(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"
(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)"
(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"
(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.