Saturday, March 26, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 27, 1971

Ten new singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Four would make their way into the Top 40 and three to the Top 10. However, one of the songs that didn't make it too far up the chart ended up getting a second chance a year later and became a seminal rock classic. A song that rose out of a failed audition is here, as is a song that has the world coming to an end. The first single for Donny Osmond away from his brothers, a quickly-recorded followup to "Knock Three Times" and an unusual entry from an artist known for bubblegum music also appear on the list. A white artist signed to Motown shows up, as well as a "group" effort that seems an awful lot like a Kenny Rogers solo single.

Among the archive of Billboard magazines available at Google Books, the March 27, 1971 edition is available to peruse. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 60. An article that may surprise those who assumed that cable TV was an innovation from the 1980s may find an article on Page 4 interesting. It explains that an ASCAP executive was urging the FCC to avoid regulating CATV systems, even explaining how the existing agreements had been set up in 1950 (how many people realize cable TV history went back that far?). Also, page 31 explains that the not-yet one year-old syndicated radio show American Top 40 had just been named the top show in the L.A. market. However, the host was credited as Casey "Masem." Oops.

James Brown

Neil Diamond - "I Am...I Said" I Am...I Said - Stones

(Debuted #45, Peaked #4, 10 Weeks on chart)

This blog seems to have been featuring a lot of Neil Diamond songs lately. That hasn't been by any design or planning, since picks are generally done randomly. It seems there are certain artists who pop up often as I'm picking weeks to review. Early in the project, several Linda Ronstadt songs showed up here, and lately Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin seem to show up more often. The law of averages being what it is, another artist's name will soon show up instead.

Neil Diamond is known as a singer/songwriter, and "I Am...I Said" is one of his most deeply personal reflections. According to the story, he had tried out for a film role and knew he blew the audition. While stewing over his bad luck and second-guessing his reasons for being in Los Angeles while in his hotel room, he realized that the only other soul who could hear him was the chair (who wasn't going to respond), and began writing a song out of a need for catharsis. It ended up being one of his best-known songs.

I certainly understand the feeling of being stuck between two places. I'm also from New York (but not New York City) and have moved to another area and come to the realization that I had grown while away from home but not quite feeling I belonged where I was. The idea of the fish out of water really isn't new, but rarely has it been so eloquently stated.

"I Am...I Said" appeared in two parts on Diamond's LP Stones. It essentially serves as bookends that open and close the album. However, the single appeared long before the album did, so it wasn't intended to be a more grandiose statement than it was.

Dawn - "I Play And Sing" I Play and Sing - Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Definitive Collection

(Debuted #71, Peaked #25, 8 Weeks on chart)

"I Play and Sing" was the followup to "Knock Three Times" and sounds quite similar musically to it, as well as the group's first hit "Candida." That owes a great deal to the fact that all the songs featured similar musicians and background singers, just not the two that are usually associated with the act.

Although "Dawn" was a name devised to hide the fact that Tony Orlando was moonlighting as a music publisher for another record company -- and therefore engaging in a conflict of interest -- the group was eventually remembered as consisting of Orlando and backing vocalists Telma Hopkins and Joyce Voncent Wilson. However, at the beginning, Dawn was merely a studio concoction. At the time "I Play and Sing" was recorded, Hopkins and Wilson weren't yet in the group. Instead, the background singers included writer Toni Wine, Jay Seigel and Sharon Greane.

Bread - "If" If - Manna

(Debuted #72, Peaked #4, 12 Weeks on chart)

As a purely trivial matter, "If" was one of a handful of songs that had the shortest title for a hit of the 1970s ("As," "He," We" and "Be" were among the others) and the highest-charting of those. Fortunately, there is more to say about the song than that. 

Featuring a watery-sounding guitar line that is perhaps one of the most demonstrative to suggest for anybody who asks what a "wah wah" sounds like and lyrics that literally have the world ending, "If" is a different kind of love song. If it seems like the song is taking poetic liberties, it does. The song strays away from the standard verse/chorus arrangement, and each line starts off with the word "If..." and is a declaration that anything was possible while love was there. While Bread tends to be viewed through the 1970s pop prism they existed inside, the melody of this song has held up rather well over time and "If" gets a lot of airplay on oldies radio.

Like all of Bread's single releases, "If" was written by David Gates. This was a call by the band's record company, but Bread had two other songwriters Robb Royer and James Griffin and their compositions were being passed over for the A-sides. That was beginning to cause a rift among the members, as it also skewed the perception among listeners who mainly paid attention to singles over the full-length albums.

One last thing: Telly "Kojak" Savalas made a cover that inexplicably hit #1 in the U.K for two weeks in 1975. It's a great piece of 1970s kitsch, but hasn't aged quite as well as Bread's original.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition - "Someone Who Cares" Someone Who Cares - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Kenny Rogers

(Debuted #81, Peaked #51, 7 Weeks on chart)

Beginning as a group effort, The First Edition morphed over time to feature Kenny Rogers as its front man. They were being billed as Kenny Rogers & the First Edition by 1969, and eventually began sounding more like his backing band rather than a group that had him as a member. In that sense, "Someone Who Cares" sounds much like a Kenny Rogers solo effort.

The First Edition had been jumping around between formats through their entire existence. They did psychedelic ("Just Dropped in..."), country ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town") and pop ("Something's Burning"). With "Someone Who Cares," it appears the band is moving toward the easy listening/adult contemporary side of the spectrum, reaching #4 on that chart. Fans who followed Rogers' career with the band shouldn't have been surprised when he began crossing genres later in the decade.

The song was the love theme to a Jason Robards/Kathryn Ross winter/spring romance movie called Fools

Donny Osmond - "Sweet And Innocent" Sweet and Innocent - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #88, Peaked #7, 16 Weeks on chart)

For his solo debut, Donny Osmond doesn't stray too far from the sound that he had when singing with his brothers. That's probably due to the monster that was Osmondmania and a large desire among teenaged girls for more material from the young singer. As those who have young daughters know, it's hard to say no to your sweet little girl, so it's a good bet that Osmond producer Rick Hall or a record label executive had a situation that was easily remedied by stepping into the studio.

However, the Osmond brothers' LPs obviously showed a level of craftmanship (say what you want about their music, but they were definitely good at what they did), but little brother Donny's material sounds like it was planned out and executed quickly in order to get records out to the stores and the hands of eager fans. While the song isn't bad considering it was performed by an adolescent, that flute was mixed a lot louder than Osmond's voice deserved; it nearly overwhelms him in some spots.

Kiki Dee - "Love Makes The World Go Round" Love Makes the World Go Round - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11A: 1971

(Debuted #89, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

A few months ago, the sad news of Teena Marie's premature death ran in the media. However, most stories mentioned that she was Motown's first white act when she signed in 1979, which isn't anywhere close to being correct. Rare Earth and R. Dean Taylor had some major hits with the company early in the decade. As to whether Teena Marie was the first white solo female star, here's a single that proves that wrong as well because Kiki Dee had her very first Hot 100 hit under the Motown umbrella. That said, they were the first to have hits but others actually recorded for the label well before them, including Debbie Dean and Chris Chase, who recorded singles that had the Motown name on them in the early 1960s. Which should put to rest the argument that Taylor, Dee and Rare Earth recorded for the Rare Earth label rather than Motown proper.

That said, most music fans remember Dee for her Rocket era, especially the Elton John duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." However, "Love Makes the World Go Round" is a different sound that that era produced. As a white Englishwoman singing for Motown, the result is more like the work Dusty Springfield was doing in the late 1960s. It's worth listening to, even if only as a reminder of what her earlier work sounded like.

Poco - "C'mon" C'mon (Live) - The Essential Poco

(Debuted #97, Peaked #69, 7 Weeks on chart)

Poco made its name as an early country-rock band before the Eagles ever took flight. In fact, Randy Meisner left Poco when he joined the Eagles, and Timothy B. Schmit replaced him in both bands. However, their records sold poorly because their main strength was on stage. In 1971, the band released Deliverin', an LP of all-new material recorded live. "C'mon" is one of the songs taken from that album.

Presented in a live setting, the song featured many of the things the group's fans loved: tight harmonies, great playing and an easygoing manner. While the album was the group's biggest seller to date, they didn't manage to reach the Top 40 until much later, after the Eagles ironically blazed a trail for them, most of its key members were gone, and the sound was more adult contemporary and less country-rock.

Derek and the Dominos - "Layla" Layla - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

(Debuted #98, Peaked #51, 10 Weeks on chart)

What you read above is correct. While "Layla" is a well-known staple of classic rock, it didn't get any higher than #51 in its first chart run. It was given another chance in 1972 and would become a Top 10 smash. I'm willing to bet that it would have become a classic even if it didn't get its second wind, though.

A lot has already been written about this song already, so there's not a lot I can add to the discussion that hasn't already been said. However, I'll take a minute and point out that the YouTube video above (assuming is stays online) and both MP3 links here have the full song, but the original single version was edited for radio airplay. It dropped the coda/instrumental entirely (fading out after the vocals end), which may seem odd to anybody who knows the song for its extended piano/dual guitar solo.

Andy Kim - "I Wish I Were" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #62, 6 Weeks on chart)

While Andy Kim is best-known for writing and singing some bubblegum hits, but this song is no saccharine rush. In fact, it's not far removed from the self-confessing material you'd expect from a singer/songwriter.

"I Wish I Were" lists several things the narrator imagines he could be in a woman's life: her pillow, the sunshine through her window and her mirror. However, one line puts the words into perspective..."most of all...I wish I were him." That's not quite the bubblegum pop he's known for doing.

Mountain - "The Animal Trainer And The Toad" The Animal Trainer and the Toad - Nantucket Sleighride

(Debuted #100, Peaked #76, 7 Weeks on chart)

After "Mississippi Queen" was a solid hit in 1970, Mountain went into the studio to work on a followup. The result was the LP Nantucket Sleighride, but its only single stiffed on the charts. Caught in many of the same trappings as many 1970s rock bands, the group split apart a year later.

"The Animal Trainer and the Toad" was built on a guitar but wasn't in the same league as the big sound of "Mississippi Queen." The lyrics were convoluted, as if the band stopped taking itself seriously. It's little wonder the single died quickly, since it wasn't all that radio-friendly.

After a couple of years apart, Mountain managed to reunite in 1974 and have continued as a band ever since. Guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing have stayed with the band for all those years.

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