Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Week's Review -- February 28, 1976

Eight new songs appear on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Three would end up reaching the Top 40, and one made it into the Top 10. A late hit by a popular brother/sister act is among the new entries, as is a song about a beloved pet that has died. An artist who was beloved in his native England but made little impression here is also among the new hits, as are a couple of bands that make their last appearance on the chart. Two songs use the telephone as part of the recording. Lastly -- as a former radio DJ -- an entry that lets me post about both Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem can't be all that bad.

Among the archive of past issues of Billboard magazine that can be read at Google Books, most of 1976 is missing, including the February 28th edition.

Wolfgang's Vault - Reissue

The Carpenters - "There's A Kind Of Hush (All Over the World)" There's a Kind of Hush (All over the World) - A Kind of Hush (Original Recording Remastered)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #12, 13 Weeks on chart)

After doing several remakes as a medley for the second side of their Now & Then LP, The Carpenters decided to try it again with "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)" The song was more familiarly a hit song in 1967 -- but not an original recording -- by Herman's Hermits. Though it would become a Top 20 pop hit for the duo and a #1 song on the Easy Listening chart, Richard Carpenter would later regret turning to another song that had been a hit for other artists. "A Kind of Hush" would be their final Top 20 pop hit during the 1970s.

The song is definitely evocative of the "easy listening" label that is often tagged on The Carpenters, but it's a great vehicle for Karen Carpenter's voice. Of course, having the cream of the crop among L.A. session musicians in the studio didn't hurt the record at all, either.

The Stampeders - "Hit The Road Jack" Hit the Road Jack - The Best of... Stampeders

(Debuted #79, Peaked #40, 8 Weeks on chart)

Using the phone as a gimmick in a hit single wasn't new in 1976. Earlier in the 1970s, Jim Croce and Dr. Hook both did songs involving telephone operators, The Electric Light Orchestra had a pair of phone-related hits ("Telephone Line," "Ma-Ma- Belle"). Before that, Chuck Berry's "Memphis" was one side of a telephone conversation, and "Promised Land" included a mention of a telephone number. The Marvelettes used a number as the title of "BEechwood 4-5789." A ringing phone was even a big part of The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" in 1958, but the phone as part of a song has existed ever since before the days of Rock & Roll. In this week's entry, there are two songs that have a phone conversation taking place.

Of course, "Hit the Road Jack" is best known as a #1 single by Ray Charles (who didn't write it, despite the scene in Ray showing him coming up with it). Where that song featured a man being told to get out, in The Stampeders' version, that formality has already been taken care of and the jilted ex-lover is now calling a radio DJ about it. The DJ just happens to be Wolfman Jack, who had guested on another Canadian band's song -- "Clap For the Wolfman" by The Guess Who -- a couple years earlier. Setting aside the fact that he wasn't the "Jack" being given walking papers, the song was a way of getting some airplay on his show and a reminder of radio's importance to pop music.

Charlie Ross - "Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #42, 7 Weeks on chart)

In 1965, there was a #1 country single by Roy Drusky and Priscilla Mitchell called "Yes, Mr. Peters," where a husband was on the telephone with his mistress and pretending he was being asked by his boss to come back to the office. "Without Your Love (Mr. Jordan)" is another song that uses that setup, with a little twist at the end: this time, the wife dials the number of her own paramour and has a similar conversation.

Charlie Ross was from Mississippi and had been a member of Eternity's Children in the 1960s. After that group fell apart, he continued as a solo artist. "Without Your Love" would be his only solo pop hit and the biggest of his four country hits, reaching #13 on that chart. The female voice on the song was uncredited.

Henry Gross - "Shannon" Shannon - One Hit Wanderer

(Debuted #84, Peaked #6, 20 Weeks on chart)

Henry Gross was a founding member of the retro group Sha Na Na, playing the guitar. Although only 18, he played with them during their gig at Woodstock in 1969. When he left the group for a solo career in 1970, he missed out on the band's syndicated TV variety show, appearance in the film Grease and a chance to ride the 50s nostalgia wave once Happy Days began. Instead, he ended up having a bigger hit than his former bandmates ever enjoyed thanks to a song about a beloved dog that had gone on the The Great Big Meadow in the Sky.

The "dead dog" song was another throwback to the 1950s, which saw both the song "Old Shep" and the classic boy-and-his-dog film Old Yeller. However, the dog in question wasn't one that Gross owned himself; it was an Irish setter that was a pet of Beach Boy Carl Wilson. Despite that fact, his high-pitched lament became Gross's biggest hit and would forever be identified with him. Despite having a followup song hit the Top 40, Gross is often remembered as a "one-hit wonder" after his later songs failed to chart.

In 1985, the song contributed to a small part of radio history. It was picked for a "Long Distance Dedication" on Casey Kasem's American Top 40 show, but the producers decided to place it before The Pointer Sisters' hit "Dare Me," an uptempo number. Kasem wasn't happy about the segue and told his staff in pointed words that weren't meant for broadcast or outside dissemination. While people inside the radio business are well accustomed to announcers blowing off some steam with the occasional expletive-laden tirade, it's a little different when you hear a professional of his stature -- the guy who voiced Shaggy, for crying out loud -- drop an F-bomb. Of course, the recording, profanities and all, can be easily heard with a few clicks of a mouse and keyboard strokes.

The Staple Singers - "New Orleans" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #70, 6 Weeks on chart)

After being a performing act since 1948 and enjoying a career that included tours of churches, being the opening act for Martin Luther King speeches and a very successful run of singles in the 1970s, the end of the line (so to speak) for the Staple Singers' hit records was in "New Orleans."

The main guitar riff that propels The Staple Singers' final pop hit sounds suspiciously like the one that drives Creedence Clearwater Revival's version of "I Heard it through the Grapevine."  That goes to the base of CCR's "swamp rock" influence, as "New Orleans" is also a song that celebrates the music and overall feel of the Crescent City. Although there were no more hits, they continued to record and perform as a family act until "Pops" Staples passed away in 2000.

Brown Sugar - "The Game Is Over (What's the Matter With You)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

In many references (and even in this blog), there are several references to the architects behind the "Philly Soul" of the 1970s. Though Thom Bell and the Gamble/Huff partnership get nearly all the credit, there's a name that is widely forgotten by many: Vince Montana. Montana worked with both of the previously mentioned production giants, and was the guiding light behind MFSB and The Salsoul Orchestra. He also wore several hats, and one of those was his direction of the studio group Brown Sugar.

As the record label in the YouTube video above shows, "The Game is Over (What's the Matter With You)" was arranged, produced and co-written by Vince Montana. It was the only song the studio act would place in the Hot 100. Like many similar artists, it featured a faceless female vocalist whose voice was quite lovely. The backing track, however, is a solid mix of mid-70s instrumentation, from the era before disco became so ubiquitous. That shouldn't be a surprise, though, considering who was behind the console.

South Shore Commission - "Train Called Freedom" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #86, 4 Weeks on chart)

The concept of manhood riding a train to some type of "promised land" was long established in music. 1960s fans remember the "Marrakesh Express," the "Last Train to Clarksville" and the celestial train mentioned in "People Get Ready." In 1970s pop, there was the figurative train in "Express" with its whistle, there was the "Southbound Train" of Crosby & Nash and the "Love Train," which ended up stopping at #1.

"Train Called Freedom" sounds somewhat like a clone -- or unintentional parody -- of "Love Train," which is a far better song. It was the final pop hit for South Shore Commission, the biggest they managed to get.

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) - Make Me Smile

(Debuted #99, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel has often come up in discussions of 1970s artists I've had with some of my friends who are from the U.K. In fact, the name popped up often enough that I noticed it. However, his influence was not as great over on this side of the Atlantic, as "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" would be the only Hot 100 hit he ever had here.

Though not a big hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "Make Me Smile" was a #1 U.K. single. The song featured two more artists on backing vocals who were also much more esteemed in Great Britain than they were Stateside: Marc Bolan and Tina Charles. While the song's title seems to be happy, it really wasn't. Harley explained in an interview later that the lyrics were dsharply irected at some former bandmates he felt had abandoned him.

"Make Me Smile" has been widely remade by other artists and even showed up in the 1997 film The Full Monty.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Week's Review -- February 16, 1974

Ten new singles made their first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.  Half went into the Top 40, with three Tops 10 hits and two that went to #1. One of those chart-toppers featured the first Swedish act to achieve the feat, while the other was one of six that Elton John had during the decade. One song was a #1 country hit, while another used a country sound. Some soul singles are here as well, including one that Gladys Knight had tremendous crossover success with. A song about oil troubles shows that some topics really do come back around if you wait long enough. Lastly, two of the songs would go on to gain a new audience several years later when they were used in movies.

Google Books includes an archive of past Billboard issues, and the February 16, 1974 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 56. An article on Page 3 mentions a growing trend of songs crossing over between the pop, country and adult charts. The "sameness" among different charts may have been leading some to ask why they bothered having different charts in the first place. Finally, there's a certain perverse pleasure in seeing that complaints of bootleggers selling duplicated tape recordings appears in the same section touting the ease of modern tape duplication methods.

Elton John - "Bennie And The Jets" Bennie and the Jets - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

(Debuted #69, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

The video above shows Elton John performing "Bennie & the Jets" on Soul Train. While he may not immediately come to mind as an R&B artist, he did manage to reach the #1 position on that chart as well as the pop survey.

I frequently have moments where I just say, "what the hell is that supposed to mean?" when I listen to Elton John's hits, particularly those whose lyrics were written by his collaborator Bernie Taupin. In the case of "Bennie and the Jets," it seems I misheard an awful lot of the words when I was younger and they sounded like gibberish to me.

"Bennie and the Jets" was recorded with "audience" effects to make it sound like it was recorded live, but it was a studio effect. Though part of the LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- arguably the best record he ever released -- it's probably better known as a hit single. Though becoming a #1 single in the U.S. and Canada, the song interestingly wasn't very popular in Elton's home country, reaching #38 in the U.K. when few paid much attention below #30.

Gladys Knight & the Pips - "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me - Imagination

(Debuted #77, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on chart)

Perhaps the best thing ever to happen to Gladys Knight was leaving Motown, as this would be the third straight song for her and her backing group to reach the pop Top 5. It wasn't the last one either. At Motown, they were relegated to the position of second-tier artists despite hitting big with "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (before Marvin Gaye's version was a hit, no less), "If I Were Your Woman" and "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)." Instead, they went to Buddha and watched the afterburners kick their career into a higher gear than Motown was willing to let them have.  

"You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" was written by Jim Weatherly, who also wrote "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Neither one of Us" for them. It had already been a #1 country hit for Ray Price the previous summer, but they went with the song anyway since Gladys was a fine interpreter of Weatherly's work. The arrangement and backing vocals by the Pips are fine, but even they can't stand in the way of her once she gets started.

This is one instance of Gladys Knight showing why she was at the top of her game when it came to pop/soul stylists in the early-to-mid 1970s.

Blue Swede - "Hooked On A Feeling" Hooked On a Feeling - Hooked On a Feeling - Single

(Debuted #87, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

There are two camps among fans of the song "Hooked on a Feeling." There are those who think B.J. Thomas's original 1969 hit version was  superior, while others prefer the remake by Blue Swede with its added "Ooga Chacka..." chorus. While I'm not taking sides in the matter, it can be pointed out that -- like an American automobile vs. a foreign model -- both versions have their qualities.

There was a historical significance to Blue Swede's version, though. When it reached the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the first time a Swedish act ever topped the American chart. The song's sole week at #1 ended on April 6, 1974, which is called the day Swedish music changed forever. Not only was the #1 song in the U.S. by a Swedish band, but it was also the day ABBA won the Eurovision contest with "Waterloo."

A generation later, a new audience was given to the song when it was included in the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs

Bill Amesbury - "Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #59, 9 Weeks on chart)

Once again, Music Mike gives the intro on a song featured here. I'll let him give the background on Bill Amesbury's story for anybody who wants to hear it. However, what eventually happened gives this song an interesting spin.

"Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" was the only Hot 100 entry for the Toronto native. Like "Bennie and the Jets" above, there are background effects added to the song to give it a "live" feel.

Tanya Tucker - "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field Of Stone)" Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone) - Tanya Tucker: 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #92, Peaked #46, 10 Weeks on chart)

One of Tanya Tucker's gimmicks was that she was a young girl singing about adult topics, but this time was more adult than many grown-ups discuss. With "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," the lyrics don't just ask for a life partner; they ask for a partner after life has ended. The "field of stone" is a cemetery.

The song was written by David Allan Coe, a writer/singer whose life story involves being born in trouble and rising above a youth of reform schools, correction centers and eventually prison. That experience gave him a very different appreciation for life, something that comes out in several of his songs. That gives an interesting perspective to a song like "Would You Lay With Me," but the voice of a girl who was not yet 16 years old when she recorded it gives it an entirely different twist. Rather than sounding contrived like many would expect from such a young lady, Tanya Tucker had been singing "adult" material for a couple of years and was able to lay down a vocal that was respectful and honest, even if it was a little morbid.

The New Birth - "It's Been A Long Time" It's Been a Long Time - The Very Best of The New Birth

(Debuted #93, Peaked #66, 6 Weeks on chart)

The New Birth had begun as an instrumental band called The Nite-Liters and managed a few hits under that name by the early 1970s. However, the band had come under the direction of Motown writer/producer and former member of The Moonglows Harvey Fuqua, who envisioned the band having both an instrumental identity and a vocal component that could record separately or together (similar to what James Brown and George Clinton were doing at the time).  Eventually, the concept was dropped and both bands were merged into The New Birth.

Despite sputtering out at #66 on the pop chart, "It's Been a Long Time" would reach the Top 10 on teh R&B chart. A slow ballad that featured a pleading vocal, it was nearly six minutes long on the album of the same name. It was cut to a more radio-friendly length for the single.

The Soul Children - "I'll Be The Other Woman" I'll Be the Other Woman - Chronicle

(Debuted #94, Peaked #36, 9 Weeks on chart)

I wrote about The Soul Children in this blog last March, when talking about their 1972 single "Hearsay." "I'll Be the Other Woman" was their only Top 40 pop single and their biggest hit. It also featured the vocals from the group's female side, with Shelbra Bennett doing the lead and the other members handling the backing lines. That was a departure from the norm, as the group's two male singers tended to get the lead duties.

While The Soul Children were known for songs with an adulterous slant, this one was done from the point of view of the mistress, rather than the philanderer or the wronged wife. The lyrics seem to be a way to rationalize what's going on, make sense of the situation and accept the arrangement. A statement like "I'll be the other woman, as long as I'm the only other woman" is interesting, even if it seems a little hypocritical.

But, nobody ever said relationships were simple things.

Lou Christie - "Beyond The Blue Horizon" Beyond the Blue Horizon - Lou Christie the Hits

(Debuted #97, Peaked #80, 10 Weeks on chart)

If "Beyond the Blue Horizon" seems to have a sound that hearkens back to old black & white singing cowboy movies, there's a good reason for that. It appeared in a movie by the same name in 1947. However, its first appearance was in the 1930 film Monte Carlo and was written by Leo Robin, while Richard Whiting and Franke Harling composed the music. At that time, the realities of the great Depression were leading many to leave their hometown to find work, and "Beyond the Blue Horizon" tapped into that.

It was also the final chart hit for Lou Christie, who's best known for a series of hits in the 1960s including the #1 "Lightnin' Strikes." However, by the early 1970s, the hits had largely dried up and Christie was living in London. He was fighting a drug problem and was more often working outside of the music business. In 1974, he attempted a comeback with a country-themed concept LP. While "Beyond the Blue Horizon" (both the single and LP) didn't bring him back to his mid-60s heyday, it did show he was capable of doing a song without resorting to the falsetto and was remembered by many of his fans. It also featured a nice Hawaiian-influenced steel guitar intro.

In 1988, the song was included in the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman film Rain Man, which gave it much of the exposure it missed the first time around.

One last thing, a personal connection to this song: the first car I ever owned was a 1982 Plymouth Horizon. And yes, it was blue. A co-worker once suggested I name it "Beyond" after this song but I never got the reference until a couple of years after I moved on to a different car.

Jerry Reed - "The Crude Oil Blues" The Crude Oil Blues - The Essential Jerry Reed

(Debuted #98, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

If it's true that everything comes back around if you wait long enough, the Oil Crisis of '74 should serve as a warning to those who remember it. Due to an embargo imposed by the oil-making countries of the Middle East, there were long lines, gas rationing and companies talking about contingency plans should oil and petroleum-based products become scarce. Even the music industry was pressing politicians to allow it enough of the resource to keep pressing records if any rationing were to occur.

That was one of the things Jerry Reed mentions in "The Crude Oil Blues," as a part of the song has a record executive saying he doesn't know whether the song is going to come out because "we ain't even got enough oil to keep the presses greased." The other aspect of the song involved the reliance on oil to keep warm in the winter, which was certainly timely in mid-February. Jerry Reed is known for two things in his music: a sense of humor and a terrific set of guitar fingers, and both are one display in "The Crude Oil Blues."

It's just interesting to see that 37 years later, there's still unresolved questions in the "bigger picture" that really should have been answered a long time ago.

The Guess Who - "Star Baby" Star Baby (2003 Remastered) - Road Food (2003 Remastered)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #39, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Star Baby" is a surprising adrenaline shot, coming toward the end of the band's hitmaking period and after the departure of several members from the band's early days. However, Burton Cummings shows his fans he can still sing a rock tune and the band keeps up with him capably.

Taken from the LP Road Food, "Star Baby" had enough energy to propel itself into the Top 40 (but like anything that induced a sugar rush, not much farther before the inevitable crash). It was the band's first Top 40 hit since 1971.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Week's Review -- February 10, 1973

Ten new singles were listed in this week's Hot 100, with half of those reaching the Top 40. Two of those would make the Top 10 and one went all the way to #1. The #1 song is one that is either loved or hated by music fans. Among the others: an undeserved misfire by the Queen of Soul, a reggae-inspired hit that was written by Bob Marley himself, a Hollies single featuring a new singer and the theme to a flop movie. With Valentine's Day coming up, there were some songs that fit that vibe in a twisted sense, including a song about working things out by splitting apart, another about writing fake letters to help forget that the lover is long gone, a "morning-after" talk and a song about insomnia inspired by relationship issues.

A large archive of past Billboard issues is available on Google Books, and the February 10, 1973 edition is available there. The full Hot 100 list is on page 68. A front-page article explains that the Decca, Kapp and Uni labels were being retired, as they were becoming absorbed into the MCA conglomerate. Also, a large section beginning on Page 14 celebrates the legend of Duke Ellington.

The Beatles Box of Vision

Aretha Franklin - "Master Of Eyes (The Deepness Of Your Eyes)" Master of Eyes (The Deepness of Your Eyes) - Soul Queen

(Debuted #77, Peaked #33, 10 Weeks on chart)

After nearly uninterrupted success on both the pop and R&B charts since 1967, Aretha Franklin seemed to stumble in 1973 with the LP Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky). It was her first Atlantic album to miss the Top 25 and was considered a commercial failure even though time has treated it better. "Master of Eyes" was a non-album single and was released a few months before that LP. While the song reached the pop Top 40 and R&B Top 10, the positions were lower than she normally achieved with her hits.

Quincy Jones arranges the music here, giving it a distinctive touch including the piccolo sound similar to the one heard on his 1964 song "Bossa Nova Baby" (better known today as the opening theme to the Austin Powers movies). Despite that tip of the hat to that past hit, there's still very much of a 70s sound on the record. And although Aretha's 1970s work is often set aside in favor of her classic output of the late 1960s, there's a mature element at work that gives them a richness that is often overlooked.

Shawn Phillips - "Lost Horizon" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #63, 6 Weeks on chart)

"Lost Horizon" was the theme song to a film that was one of the biggest cinematic bombs of 1973. Listening to it, it comes off like a movie theme immediately, with its orchestral opening that evokes a panoarmic landscape shot and its soft vocal that mentions the sound of guns.

Shawn Phillips was a veteran of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk-rock scene and a session musician who contributed to many of Donovan's hit singles. He has remained active with recording and touring ever since, despite having few hit singles. In fact, Phillips only managed two Hot 100 listings and "Lost Horizon" was the last.

Johnny Nash - "Stir It Up" Stir It Up - I Can See Clearly Now

(Debuted #84, Peaked #12, 14 Weeks on chart)

For many American listeners, this would be the first time they were exposed to the work of Bob Marley. While it wasn't the first reggae-influenced song to reach the Top 40, in 1973 reggae was considered to be a small taste of the Caribbean culture that was well outside the mainstream, yet had a small but fiercely loyal following. That would soon change, thanks to the cult success of the film The Harder They Come, as well as songs like "Stir it Up." Marley himself would begin selling albums in the U.S. and another one of his songs -- "I Shot the Sheriff" -- would go to #1 when Eric Clapton recorded it.

As for "Stir it Up," Marley wrote the song in 1967, shortly after a brief period living in the United States. By 1968, he had become acquainted with Johnny Nash, a Houston native who was captivated by Jamaican rhythms and wanted to introduce them into his own music. In the process, he recorded a few of Marley's songs (occasionally featuring him and the Wailers on the recordings) and produced for them.

The Chi-Lites - "A Letter To Myself" A Letter to Myself - A Letter to Myself

(Debuted #85, Peaked #33, 11 Weeks on chart)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you...the anti-Valentine's Day song.

The Chi-Lites were certainly capable of telling the story of the man whose heart is broken but whose pride won't let him give up his memory. Their big hit "Have You Seen Her" had that in it, as did its lesser-known "sequel" song "A Lonely Man" and this song, which has the narrator going so far as to write a phony letter from his old lover and spray perfume on it to fool himself into thinking she wasn't really gone. Beginning with a mournful harmonica and the consolatory vocals of the other members of the band, the singer is the only person who's fooled into believing there's still a chance.

"A Letter to Myself" was co-written and produced by Eugene Record, who also sang the song. It was the lead single from the LP A Letter to Myself, which was a disappointment for the band both in terms of sales and hit potential. It's a shame, since this a great soul song.

The Stylistics - "Break Up To Make Up" Break Up to Make Up - Round 2

(Debuted #88, Peaked #5, 14 Weeks on chart)

Unlike the Chi-Lites, who availed themselves of the talent within their own group, The Stylistics were under the aegis of producer Thom Bell. He wrote for the group (along with partner Linda Creed), arranged the music to his specifications and controlled the output. The arrangement worked well; the group had a string of classic hits not just because of Bell's direction and lush orchestration, but also on the strength of Russell Tompkins, Jr.'s sublime and distinctive vocal.

"Break Up to Make Up" was the band's fourth Top 10 pop single in just under two years. Meanwhile, over on the R&B chart, it was the seventh Top 10 single in a row for them. The lyrics don't necessarily take me back (as I grew up a decade after this song was a hit) but immediately remind me of my own high school sweetheart. We were that couple every high school has, that changes their status almost weekly. At one point, we'd be mad at each other over something silly, then a few days later it would be forgotten. Then, a sudden mood swing or pang of jealousy placed us right back at the low part of the cycle again. The blame wasn't entirely mine or hers. We were just young and didn't know a whole lot.

Judy Collins - "Cook With Honey" Cook With Honey - True Stories and Other Dreams

(Debuted #90, Peaked #32, 11 Weeks on chart)

During the 1960s, Judy Collins was known for her activism, her folk phrasing and a knack for uncovering talented young songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman.  By the 1970s, however, she had moved on to a broader audience and was charting with more eclectic material like hymns ("Amazing Grace"), show tunes ("Send in the Clowns") and material suitable for kids as she was appearing on Sesame Street.

"Cook With Honey" is another song from this period. Taken from the LP True Stories and Other Dreams, its lyrics mention how much nicer it is to treat others with kindness, or a corollary to the old saying "you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

The Hollies - "Magic Woman Touch" Magic Woman Touch - The Hollies: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #92, Peaked #60, 8 Weeks on chart)

By 1973, The Hollies were a vastly different group than the team that enjoyed a string of radio hits during the 1960s. Graham Nash had exited the group in 1968, and vocalist Allan Clarke walked away in 1971. He was replaced by Swede Mikael Rickfors, who isn't remembered for much he recorded with the band. Not in the U.S., at least. His first single with the Hollies in the U.K. was "The Baby," which was ignored for release on this side of the Atlantic in favor of two Clarke-voiced songs, "Long Cool Woman" and "Long Dark Road."

"Magic Woman Touch" wasn't going to be the band's next memorable hit. While it managed to get to #60 on the U.S. charts, it missed the charts in their native U.K. Sounding like it was trying to let fans know it was a Hollies tune with its circa-1968 guitar riff and the familiar background harmonies, it was rather dated for 1973.

Michael Redway - "Good Morning" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #85, 4 Weeks on chart)

Michael Redway hailed from Yorkshire, England and is best remembered for singing the vocal version of the theme from the film Casino Royale in 1967. Though he remained active for years afterward, he never really managed to reach a larger stage.

His only American hit single was "Good Morning," a song that deserves a listen, even if not because it's a song that deserved to be a bigger hit (I'm not going to argue that at all). The lyrics are essentially a conciliatory apology after spending the night with a lady, as the sun is coming up. He's trying to locate his things, trying to think of what to say to explain to his mother and get on his way way before anybody notices him. The last thing he asks: "who are you?" The entire conversation wouldn't flow the same way today.

Bunny Sigler - "Tossin' And Turnin'" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #97, 2 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to the "Philadelphia Sound," there are two major architects given credit for building it. There is Thom Bell, who was mentioned in the entry about The Stylistics above. The others are the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Both groups had others helping out, though, and Bunny Sigler was one of the cogs in the Gamble/Huff machine. He was a singer and musician who was often a "behind-the-scenes" guy but also had some solo recordings as well.

The title "Tossin' and Turnin'" immediately brings to mind a 1961 song by Bobby Lewis that was a #1 hit. This is a remake of that song in the truest sense because it doesn't sound much like the original. The arrangement is different, it's sung in a different manner and the words are altered a little bit to match the delivery. It's sung, rather than done in the half-speaking manner of Lewis's hit version. It's done in more of a call-and-response style that shows Sigler's gospel roots.

Not bad for a song that's essentially about fighting insomnia after having some relationship trouble.

Vicki Lawrence - "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia - The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia

(Debuted #100, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

It's a song about small-town Southern justice. Perhaps it's a tale of what happens to unfaithful spouses and their paramours. Or is it an admission of a wrongly accused man who was put to death for something he didn't do, merely on the basis of circumstantial evidence? In any case, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" is one of those songs that is often pointed out as evocative of 1970s pop music by those who both love and hate the song.

The song was written by producer Bobby Russell, who had written the similarly polarizing "Honey" in 1968 and had a hit of his own with "Saturday Morning Confusion" in 1971. Recorded by his then-wife and ensemble member of the cast of The Carol Burnett Show Vicki Lawrence, it was one of the few songs to hit the top spot after debuting at #100. The song was given an ominous-sounding orchestral backing to match the lyrics, as if it were part of a Movie of the Week. Predictably, there has been a great deal of discussion over the lyrics and its "loose ends" -- what happened to Seth Amos? Where did the narrator stash her dead sister-in-law? Why couldn't the narrator just admit to what she did before the noose was placed around her brother's neck? -- ever since the song first arrived.

One small point that doesn't get mentioned: in 1973, capital punishment was outlawed in all U.S. states. Therefore, the song was presented as a retelling of past events. That little detail is usually missing from modern discussions of this song.

An often-repeated legend says that "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" was offered to Cher, but was turned down by Sonny Bono before the demo ever got to her. He may have dismissed it as too similar to "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," while others have said he was afraid it would be seen as offensive by Southerners (despite the fact that "Gypsies" wasn't exactly complimentary to them, either), but it's a song that should have been a big hit if Cher had lent her vocals to it.

A generation later, Reba McEntire remade the song and had a big country hit with the song, which brought the story to a new group of fans. In the meantime, Vicki Lawrence had become better known as the lead character in Mama's Family and a talk show host, and her short singing career had largely become a footnote.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This Week's Review -- February 1, 1975

Of twelve new singles that debuted in this week's Hot 100, eight would go on to reach the Top 40. Three would go on further into the Top 10 and two went all the way to the #1 position. There's a very heavy country feel to this week's list. In fact, both of the #1 songs here also topped the country charts. There's also a remake of a past #1 country tune, a couple of songs by crossover country artists and even a country-flavored song by a former Beatle. There are some other genres featured here as well: a song that was rooted in the 1950s sound, two easy listening tunes by giants of the adult contemporary set, the first successful all-girl band and a song that can be best described as a hippie wet dream. Finally, a spoken-word recitation by a supposed 10-year old girl bemoans the sad state of the U.S auto industry.

Unfortunately, there is no corresponding issue of Billboard magazine in the Google Books archive to read this time around. Sadly, much of 1975 and '76 aren't represented there. In the meantime, I'll point out that there are links on the sidebar to share this blog on both Twitter and Facebook. If you enjoy reading my little musings about music from a bygone era, by all means...feel free to spread the word about it.

Classic Concerts

Paul McCartney & Wings - "Sally G" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #66, Peaked #39, 5 Weeks on Chart)

"Sally G" had already been listed as a B-side to "Junior's Farm" and sometimes give a #17 peak for that listing but was now being listed on its own. Normally, this 5-week run is tacked onto the run for "Junior's Farm" in the official record (as well as on this blog's parent website). However, since it was listed separately as a single and made the Top 40 on its own, it would be silly to skip over it on a technicality.

Paul McCartney experimented with several different types of music over the years. While his level of experimentation didn't go into the Janov-inspired wail or avante-garde-influenced work that John Lennon touched on or the Eastern philosphy that sometimes guided George Harrison, McCartney wasn't above trying out different styles. This time, he did a country song, complete with steel guitars, fiddles and a shuffle beat. He wasn't the first former Beatle to try the Nashville sound (Ringo Starr released an entire LP of Southern-fried flavor called Beaucoups of Blues in 1970), and the results weren't terrible, considering he was likely seen as a long-haired freak by the genre's fans just a decade before.

"Sally G" was a Tennessee girl the narrator met in a bar and fell in love with. Predictably, he ended up with a broken heart ("I never thought to ask her what the letter G stood for...but I know for sure it wasn't good" is a good line even if the hokey fake accent can get a little annoying). The song even managed to make it onto Billboard's country chart, reaching #51.

Neil Diamond - "I've Been This Way Before" I've Been This Way Before - Serenade

(Debuted #73, Peaked #34, 7 Weeks on chart)

A performer who was beginning to settle into the easy listening genre in 1975 was Neil Diamond, who notched his second straight #1 adult contemporary single (and third overall) with "I've Been This Way Before" after being better known as a singer/songwriter since the late 1960s. However, he began to settle down along with his audience into a more "mature" sound that arguably gave him the biggest success of his career.

"I've Been This Way Before" was the opening track of LP Serenade. It was a slower tune, showing off his sometimes emotive voice -- some may say there's a gospel influence there -- but set against an orchestral background. However, unlike earlier slow-burners like "Holly Holy," "Song Sung Blue" and others, this time Diamond sounds like he's merely going through the motions rather than sharing his inner thoughts with the audience. Come to think of it, that's a perfect central theme for any song called "I've Been This Way Before": realizing there's nothing really new to say.

Sammy Johns - "Chevy Van" Chevy Van - Chevy Van

(Debuted #81, Peaked #5, 17 Weeks on chart)

Guy picks up a young female hitchhiker, she seduces him, he drops her off in a small town and keeps on going. The whole story was set to the sound of an acoustic guitar and an organ. Whether this is an artifact from the sexual revolution or a hippie fantasy is purely up to the listener. In any case, it's a well-known song from the era that gets held out as some kind of ideal -- right or wrong -- that the nation's moral climate was much more accepting in 1975.

Sammy Johns was a North Carolina native who was based in Atlanta. After a failed single, "Chevy Van" was a surprise smash. It went Top 5 and sold over a million copies, but Johns soon learned that pop crowds are quite fickle and suffer from a memory shortage. A re-release of his first single and then another followup made the lower reaches of the Hot 100, but further singles received no attention at all.

Later, Johns wrote some music for the country genre. The most notable of his later songs were "Common Man"  (which also included the word "van" in the lyrics) by John Conlee and "America" by Waylon Jennings.

C.W. McCall - "Wolf Creek Pass" Wolf Creek Pass - C. W. McCall's Greatest Hits

(Debuted #83, Peaked #40, 11 Weeks on chart)

Before making his name with the CB anthem "Convoy," C.W. McCall was releasing general truck-themed songs that featured his signature half-talking, half-singing style. However, the artist wasn't a singer at all, but the result of a television commercial campaign. William Fries worked for an ad agency that came up with the idea, and after the commercial generated positive results, Fries assumed the C.W. McCall persona -- an actor played him in the original commercial -- for a song called "Old Home Filler-Up and Keep on a-Truckin' Cafe." It was a crossover hit and led to the Wolf Creek Pass LP.

There is a real place called Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado, and the song is set there. In the song, McCall is riding with another truck driver named Earl, and they're driving down from the Great Divide to Pagosa Springs, which is about a 5,000-ft drop in elevation over the length ("37 miles of Hell," as McCall put it) of U.S. Highway 160. In the process, they manage to find themselves in an out-of-control 1948 Peterbilt with a load of live chickens on the back stacked more than 13 feet high. One part has them losing several of those chickens under a tunnel that was too low for them; however, there was never a tunnel on that side of the pass in real life, so that part was a storyteller taking liberties with the facts.

Charlie Rich - "My Elusive Dreams" My Elusive Dreams - Charlie Rich - 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #84, Peaked #49, 6 Weeks on chart)

"My Elusive Dreams" was a #1 country duet by David Houston and Tammy Wynette in 1967. It was recorded by many artists over the years, and Charlie Rich's version was its second Hot 100 appearance during the decade after Bobby Vinton took it into the Top 40 in 1970.

Co-written by Curly Putnam and Billy Sherrill, the lyrics tell of a man who moves from place to place across the country in search of riches but never finding them. All the while, his woman stays right there with him even as they raise a son who eventually leaves the fold. When Putnam recorded the original version of the song in 1967, he did it as a solo performance. However, it's my opinion that the Houston/Wynette duet gave the song an added dimension because it told both sides of the story. That missing piece still distracts from Rich's performance of the tune.

Sam Neely - "I Fought The Law" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #54, 7 Weeks on chart)

"I Fought the Law" is a very familiar tune. Written by ex-Cricket Sonny Curtis and recorded shortly after the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, it begs the question as to how it could have sounded if Holly could have been given the time to lay it down. Instead, it would become a 1966 hit for The Bobby Fuller Four. It was done several times over the years, including adrenaline-driven versions by The Clash and Green Day that prove that a good song can translate well over the years, especially songs about the futility of "sticking it to the Man."

In addition to hitting the Hot 100 a handful of times, Neely was also a regular on the country chart as well. "I Fought the Law" made a showing there, reaching #61.

Paula Webb - "Please Mr. President" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #60, 4 Weeks on chart)

I'm a little surprised this oldie hasn't surfaced in chain emails quite the same way "The Americans" did after the events of September 11, 2001. With the failing auto industry and unemployment that has ransacked the area that was the base of that industry, this would normally be ripe for that type of exploitation.

But after listening to this one the required three times, I will say this much: spoken-word recordings over soft, "easy listening" music that is designed to pull on heartstrings is a little neat to hear a time or two. However, the sentiment becomes cloying quite quickly.

Paula Webb was evidently a 10-year old girl, and the story is given as a letter to teh President as a result of her father being laid off from his job at the auto factory. This blog isn't political in nature, so I'm not even going to bother delving into the storyteller's point about how Jerry Ford -- though not addressed by name here -- could save the industry since he had little power to do much more than set policy, or about how the industry was able to come back a decade later by its own innovations (rather than the credit the Reagan administration took for it because -- again -- they only set policy). Instead, I'll return to the point that I'm a little surprised that nobody's bothered to dust off the old 45 and use it for a new round of auto industry doldrums.

Oh wait, I've just listened to this song. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised about that. And I'm sorry if the YouTube video above caused any insulin shock.

Dan Fogelberg - "Part Of The Plan" Part of the Plan - Souvenirs

(Debuted #88, Peaked #31, 9 Weeks on chart)

While Dan Fogelberg is often lumped in as part of the late-70s laid back sound (due in part to his country/folk vibe and his association with Eagles manager Irving Azoff), it's interesting to note that his biggest hits actually arrived after 1980 rolled around. He only managed a pair of hit singles before "Longer" lodged him into the upper reaches of the adult contemporary genre for a few years at the turn of the decade. "Part of the Plan" was Fogelberg's first hit single.

The first song on Fogelberg's second LP Souvenirs, "Part of the Plan" was produced by Joe Walsh, who helped give the song more of a pop feel. Walsh's assistance also brought several helping hands into the studio, as Graham Nash lends a backing vocal and Walsh himself contributes a noticeable slide guitar solo to the song. The lyrics are introspective, as is the case with most of Fogelberg's hits, often interpreted as being about either dealing with sudden fame or leaving a relationship. Either way, the line that contains the title: "Be who you must, that's a part of the plan" means whatever the listener wants it to.

That's the beauty of introspective lyrics, especially when the writer is no longer around to explain what he meant when he wrote it.

Fanny - "Butter Boy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #29, 11 Weeks on chart)

Fanny was a groundbreaking act, as one of the first rock bands made up entirely of female members who also played their instruments to reach the Hot 100. That contrasted with the "girl groups" of the 1960s who performed vocals while others handled the instrumentation.

Their biggest chart hit was "Butter Boy," which was ironically a hit after the group had split up. They had reached the Top 40 earlier with a song called "Charity Ball" in 1971, but some membership changes and band dynamics led the group to break up after their 1974 Rock and Roll Survivors. With sexually-charged lyrics -- why do the male musicians think they can have all the fun? -- the song had a surprising run up the charts. The group reformed for one final tour to support the song and called it a career.

Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids - "Good Times, Rock & Roll" Good Times, Rock & Roll - Best of Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids

(Debuted #90, Peaked #41, 8 Weeks on chart)

Rather than simply redoing old songs like other retro acts, Flash Cadillac was writing new material and using music that evoked years gone by. In that respect, they were a band that celebrated the sound and the times rather than a band that was hopelessly stuck in the past.

That said, several elements from those old records are tossed into "Good Times, Rock & Roll": Beach Boys-style background harmonies, a deep-voiced "bop-a-oom-a-mow-mow," a straight 4/4 rhythm complete with saxophone and familiar guitar licks. Also, the names of several artists (Duane Eddy, Little Richard, Elvis Presley) are dropped into the lyrics to drive home the point. While not a new concept, at just under three minutes it's a nice nostalgia trip.

Freddy Fender - "Before The Next Teardrop Falls" Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Single) - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Freddy Fender

(Debuted #97, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

Freddy Fender seemingly came out of nowhere to hit big in 1975, but his wasn't quite an overnight success story. He had been trying to break into the music business in the late 1950s but a prison term for drug charges killed his career before it was given a chance to blossom. After three years he was released on parole, and one of the conditions of his release was that he had to stay away from places that served alcohol. As a result, he was largely prevented from performing in bars and similar places until the late 1960s.

"Before the Next Teardrop Falls" is memorable for having a middle verse sung in Spanish because few hits were bilingual in nature. While it's mostly identified with Fender, it was written in the mid 1960s by Vivian Keith and Ben Peters without any foreign lyrics and had been recorded several times before. In fact, the track was recorded quickly and nothing was expected from it until it became a hit on country radio. When it was done, it had reached the #1 position on both the pop and country charts.

B.J. Thomas - "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" (Original Version Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

Like "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," "(Hey Won't You Play)" Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" was a #1 hit on both the pop and country charts. Additionally, it was a #1 adult contemporary song. It also features the longest title of any #1 single of the 1970s (and of all time if you don't count the full title of "Stars on 45" that lists all the songs in the medley). It was one of six songs that were crossover #1 country/pop singles in 1975 alone.

The song title is definitely a mouthful, but the tune makes it easier to sing than it did for the poor radio DJ to announce it.

For B.J. Thomas, success on the country charts was a new thing after 20 of his singles reached the Hot 100. It wasn't exactly unexpected though, considering his first chart single was a version of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." He would continue to have successes on the pop chart as well as additional minor hits on the country chart for the rest of the decade, but as his sound and the audience changed he would become mainly a country artist by 1983.