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.
The Carpenters - "There's A Kind Of Hush (All Over the World)"
(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"
(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"
(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)"
(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.