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.

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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.

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