Thirteen new singles arrived on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Although only four would hit the Top 40, one managed to become the biggest single of the entire year. That song was actually a three year-old tune that became a hit when it was used in a film. However, several of the songs similarly have something that would come back in time. One was a song that would come back three years later under a different title to hit #1, while another was the first hit for an Italian native who'd score a bunch of hits in the studio by the end of the decade. One of the better-known songs missed the Top 40 but still managed to become quite familiar over the years. A song by Linda Ronstadt would feature several studio musicians who would go on to form a very popular band. There were also some looks back, including Jerry Lee Lewis doing a song from a fellow 1950s artist, B.B. King doing one of his own past songs, Laura Lee giving her flair to a jazz standard. The former lead singer of Los Bravos shows up, as do two songs by R&B legends. Both would be socially aware but could not have been farther apart in style.
Among the archive of past Billboard magazines at Google Books, I would really like to say something about the March 4, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 List can be found on page 52. However, that's not the important bit. An editorial on Page 6 mentions a topic that is occasionally revisited by the music business: using popular recording artists to help inform young voters that they also have a say in the way things are run in the United States. In 1972, this was a big deal because the voting age had just been lowered to 18 the year before. While this push didn't do much to stop the re-election of Richard Nixon in '72, similar pushes to get younger voters to the polls certainly helped Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008. Interestingly, Billboard points out that younger voters tend to be "less conservative" than their elders, but that they fall within a wide spectrum of the mainstream and shouldn't be considered to form a considerable bloc. Furthermore, it pointed out that many new voters were actually apathetic about the new right, for good reason: "These are young people who have grown up with the shattering experience of assassinations...and...are continually under the real risk of being sent to face death in a war which recent polls show is now disagreed with by a majority of Americans."
Those words are just as true today as they were 39 years ago.
The Temptations - "Take A Look Around"
(Debuted #62, Peaked #30, 8 Weeks on chart)
Beginning with orchestration that sounds like it could be used in a film score, "Take a Look Around" is one of the songs of The Temptations' socially-aware, "psychedelic soul" period. With lyrics that mention robbers and drug dealers, the song's title is literally a plea to take a look around and see what is going on in the streets (of the ghetto, presumably). As with many of the group's songs of the era, there are several different vocal parts, with Dennis Edwards handling most of the lines and Damon Harris standing out with his high notes. Richard Street and Otis Williams can also be heard delivering lines to the song.
One intrinsic problem about songs that try to be socially aware is that people don't generally like to look in the mirror when it comes to pop music. Instead, the radio (or jukebox, or record player) was often an outlet for listeners to get away from reality for a short time. Therefore, its relatively low #30 peak on the pop charts isn't surprising. On the R&B chart, the song peaked at #10, which was a poor showing for the group there as well.
James Brown - "King Heroin"
(Debuted #68, Peaked #40, 7 Weeks on chart)
Throughout the 1970s, several songs were assumed to be about drug use. Many were rather overt ("One Toke Over the Line"), others comical ("I Got Stoned and I Missed it") and many were abstract enough on the subject that people were left to read into the lyrics.
Then there's "King Heroin." It's a straight spoken-word recording about the dangers of drug use, told from the drug's point of view. It's not the hook-laden R&B/funk many associate with The Godfather of Soul; instead, it's a list of the things that heroin can make otherwise sane people do. With an ominous instrumental backing, it's memorable and downright scary.
Malo - "Suavecito"
(Debuted #76, Peaked #18, 12 Weeks on chart)
The YouTube clip mentions that a member of the Santana family is a member of Malo. That would be Jorge Santana, brother of Carlos. However, "Suavecito" isn't something you would hear at a Santana concert.
The story behind "Suavecito" is rather innocuous. Richard Bean wrote it as a poem for a girl he liked in his high school algebra class. Its laid-back rhythm fits its origin as an expression of puppy love. Malo featured a full brass and percussion section, much like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago did, but skipped a lot of the bombast those acts used. Since its release, it has become a sentimental favorite and has even been lauded as the "Chicano National Anthem."
Roberta Flack - "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
(Debuted #77, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)
At the beginning of my short radio career, one of the bits of advice given to me was to rent a copy of the movie Play Misty For Me, in which Clint Eastwood played a radio DJ. This was some twenty years after the movie came out, and back when the video rental store was still a big deal. If the point of watching the film was to remind me not to get too friendly with the regular callers, it worked.
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was played at a pivotal point in the movie, but it wasn't composed for the soundtrack. It had originally appeared on Roberta Flack's 1969 LP First Take. Additionally, Flack wasn't the first to have recorded the song. It was written in 1957 by folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was infatuated when he met Peggy Seeger, who was married to somebody else at the time. Though she eventually became his wife, the idea that the song was written about desiring another man's wife is interesting considering the way the song was used in the Eastwood film.
The recording took three years to hit, and the song itself waited 15 years. The wait seemed to be good, though; it was the biggest pop single of 1972.
Giorgio - "Son Of My Father" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #78, Peaked #46, 8 Weeks on chart)
A fellow music buff named Bruce contributes to the 1970s-themed newsgroup that is one of the links listed in the sidebar to the right of this blog. He's a person whose feedback I pay attention to, even though his manner of quickly pointing out mistakes can sometimes be seen as brusque (though I see it as a way of making sure I get it as right as possible). One of his many pet peeves is the way most music writers confuse the words "cover song" with "remake." While growing up and following music as a kid, the terms were used interchangeably. Bruce is quick to point out that a "cover song" is a contemporary song -- for example, R&B songs done by white artists in the 1950s -- while a song that was done years after the fact should be called a "remake." I've tried to keep that in mind when I've written entries for this blog, which has likely been good because I haven't heard any reminders about it from him in a while.
That said, here's a song that is a cover version...but it's also a remake.
"Giorgio" is Giorgio Moroder, and he wrote "Son of My Father" with Pete Bellotte. In its original form, it was performed in Moroder's native Italian language as "Tu Sei Mio Padre" and was a decent hit in Italy. A version of the song with English lyrics was recorded by the British group Chicory Tip that became a hit in several countries (including the U.S., where the band was known simply as Chicory). Moroder recorded the English version himself, a first exposure for a very successful career that saw him behind most of Donna Summer's hits, as well as several movie soundtracks.
The Guess Who - "Heartbroken Bopper"
(Debuted #79, Peaked #47, 7 Weeks on chart)
After enjoying a great deal of success with "American Woman" and "Share the Land," The Guess Who could have done well riding that sound through their career. However, they chose to explore new territory, as evidenced by "Heartbroken Bopper," a song that sounds rather experimental.
Aerosmith seems to have borrowed the rhythm track for "Last Child" from here. I'm not saying that to accuse Aerosmith of stealing; rather, it's an acknowledgment that despite big hits and a few personnel changes The Guess Who was still in touch with its roots as a garage band.
Mike Kennedy - "Louisiana" (Original Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #84, Peaked #62, 7 Weeks on chart)
You may not recognize the singer's name. However, if you're a fan of 1960s oldies radio, play the YouTube video above. You may pick out the voice pretty quickly.
This was the only Hot 100 hit for Mike Kennedy, but he had been heard on hit records before. His real name is Michael Kogel and he was born in Berlin, Germany before that nation was split up. He was also the lead singer of the Spanish band Los Bravos in the 1960s, whose biggest hit was "Black is Black." A couple minor hits followed for the band before they broke up.
The name "Louisiana" might bring to mind a Cajun or Creole sound, but those who might judge a book by the cover would be wrong this time. It's a pure bubblegum song that wouldn't have been out of place if it had been done by Tommy James or The Ohio Express a few years earlier.
Elton John - "Tiny Dancer"
(Debuted #85, Peaked #41, 10 Weeks on chart)
If you pay any attention to what gets played on the radio, or certain movies about the era, you may actually think the peak number above is a typo. But it isn't..."Tiny Dancer" was not a Top 40 hit. In fact, it was the only one of his singles of the 1970s besides the first ("Border Song") to miss the Top 40. That's interesting through the spectrum of four decades, because it's one of Sir Elton's most recognizable songs and is a lot more familiar to casual listeners than even some of his Top 10 singles.
Opening with a lovely piano intro which is joined by a multi-layered string section, the song's lyrics unfold with images that seem to have been captured on the road during a tour. The subject of the song is sometimes assumed to be a groupie but was claimed by Bernie Taupin to be his future wife, who had traveled with the band on Elton's first U.S. tour.
While the song was familiar to most of Elton John's fans, it really didn't become more widely known until its use in the 2000 film Almost Famous. In that scene, the fictional band Stillwater was suffering from burnout during their tour and were beginning to get tired of being around each other. At some point, somebody begins singing the opening lines of "Tiny Dancer" and the band joins in, one at a time. The point -- that music was the reason they were together -- was a turning point of the film, and one that was ripped off in a beer commercial during the Super Bowl just a few weeks ago. They even used the same song in that spot, which makes me wonder whether the ad executives are running out of ideas.
Linda Ronstadt - "Rock Me On The Water"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #85, 3 Weeks on chart)
At the time "Rock Me On the Water" was a single, Linda Ronstadt was still best remembered as the vocalist for The Stone Poneys. She was still a couple of years away from her heyday and was still finding her voice in the country-rock sound that later gave her some crossover success. In fact, this Jackson Browne composition featured studio musicians that would later go on and further explore the format, as The Eagles.
As an early example of three future stars at work -- Jackson Browne before "Doctor My Eyes," The Eagles before they became a band and Ronstadt before she became a superstar -- this song has a lot of significance.
Jerry Lee Lewis - "Chantilly Lace"
(Debuted #91, Peaked #43, 10 Weeks on chart)
Without a doubt, "Chantilly Lace" will forever be linked to the memory of J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," who wrote it and had a big hit in 1958 with the song. Additionally, Richardson is best remembered as a footnote to the plane crash that killed him. However, while Buddy Holly and Richie Valens got movies about their short lives, it's worth mentioning that Richardson's loss was tragic as well. Within a year of his death, two of his songs were #1 hits ("Running Bear" on the pop chart, "White Lightning" on country), which underscores the fact that another potential star's light was extinguished forever.
Jerry Lee Lewis's remake doesn't take the song to any new place it hadn't traveled before. He simply did the song in his own familiar style. Recorded for the LP The Killer "Rocks" On, it seems more like a song suggested in the studio during the sessions and laid down before the time expired for the day. Lewis manages to give it some minor embellishment ("This is The Killer speaking" and a part where he says he was actually expecting her to come over), but does nothing to take the song and make it his own. That may have been done out of respect for its author, but he definitely could have torn it up if he wanted.
B.B. King - "Sweet Sixteen"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #93, 3 Weeks on chart)
B.B. King was enjoying a great deal of success in the early 1970s, thanks to a wider success among white audiences. The social upheaval of the 1960s can be credited for that, but the real push came from the blues-influenced artists that came over from Britain who helped open up new avenues to B.B. King that simply weren't available to him in the 1950s.
King's 1972 LP L.A. Midnight featured a re-recording of his 1960 hit "Sweet Sixteen," a #2 R&B hit that saw no exposure during that segregated time. This version didn't get far up the pop charts, but managed to let a new audience see what they missed out on the first time around.
Laura Lee - "Since I Fell For You" (Original Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #99, Peaked #76, 5 Weeks on chart)
Laura Lee is a gospel-influenced R&B singer whose biggest hits arrived in the early 1970s. Many were known for their celebratory viewpoint towards women's experience. Her music was often humorous, and sometimes playful, but deserved to get some more exposure in its day.
"Since I Fell for You" is a jazz standard, written in 1945. It has been recorded many times over the years, with the best-known version probably Lenny Welch's from 1963. Lee's rendition adds a spoken intro before she breaks into the song. A song about not realizing the trap that was set when entering into a new relationship, Lee delivers it with less of the brassiness that marked much of her work and gives it a reading that makes it seem genuine. At the end, even when she's singing that she still loves him after he's ruined her life and moved on, you can't help but feel for her.
Scott English - "Brandy" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #100, Peaked #91, 2 Weeks on chart)
You may not know this song by its own name, but if you've been immersed in 1970s music at all, you should know the song once you actually listen to it. It was famously covered a couple of years later, with a name change in the title and became the #1 "Mandy" in 1975. Why the change from "Brandy" to "Mandy"? Shortly after this song dropped off the charts, another #1 hit arrived called "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" that made the few fans who paid attention to this song forget about it entirely.
Although this sounds like it came from The Bee Gees, Scott English was born in Brooklyn and had previously co-written "Bend Me, Shape Me," a 1968 hit for The American Breed. It managed to be a bigger hit in the U.K., reaching #12. Another version of the song by Bunny Walters was a hit in New Zealand. Ironically, when the Barry Manilow reworking was making its way up the chart in 1975, Casey Kasem played a snippet of Walters' song rather than the original on an episode of American Top 40 while discussing its earlier incarnation.