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.)

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