Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Week's Review -- April 25, 1970

There were thirteen new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, including a double-sided single and two that were returning after previously dropping off the chart. Three of those singles made their way into the Top 40 and two into the Top 10. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Diana Ross and The Four Tops are probably the best known artists, but many of the tunes that stalled short of the Top 40 are definitely worth a listen as well. A song that was written by a future Vice President of the United States is included, as are three songs that are given a gospel-influenced backing vocal arrangement. Freda Payne's signature song is here, as is James Taylor's (except it wasn't Taylor's recording). A couple of examples of early funk are on display as are R&B and bubblegum. A novelty song pokes fun at poor white trash. Finally, a song that was inspired by sight at Woodstock becomes an anthem for the person who performed there.

Among the past issues of Billboard available at the Google Books archive, the April 25, 1970 edition is missing. In its absence, I'll point out that there are tabs at the top of this blog (just under the 8-track image) have each year listed from 1970-'79. Clicking those tabs will bring a list of songs featured on this blog from each year, with links to the reviews. The list is updated soon after each new entry. So, if you have a favorite year, you can always click on that and know exactly which songs will be featured.

Classic Concerts

Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Up Around The Bend" Up Around the Bend - Cosmo's Factory (40th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] b/w "Run Through The Jungle" Run Through the Jungle - Cosmo's Factory (40th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered]

(Debuted #48, Peaked #4, 11 Weeks on chart)

Fortunately, YouTube allows me to feature the record's B-side as well:

Both sides appeared on Cosmo's Factory, the group's best-charting LP. Thanks to having nearly unlimited exposure through oldies radio (in the case of "Bend") and classic rock radio (for "Jungle"), both are also well-known tunes. Just as singles should, each side has a unique flavor to it.

"Up Around the Bend" is driven by a great John Fogerty guitar riff that is as much a part of the song as his manic reading of the lyrics.

As for "Run Through the Jungle," many have assumed it was about Vietnam. Given the fact that previous songs like "Fortunate Son" directly mentioned the War and the fact that the jungle imagery definitely fits the location, that would be a good guess. However, Fogerty has stated in interviews that he was trying to channel an early blues musician. The sound is pure swamp rock, about the best the band laid down.

"Run Through the Jungle" would later be involved in a lawsuit. After John Fogerty's solo hit "The Old Man Down the Road" went into the Top 40 in 1985, former manager/record label head Saul Zaentz sued him because it was quite similar in sound and style to "Jungle." While Zaentz owned the rights to all of Creedence Clearwater Revival's material, it was odd to have a songwriter accused of plagiarizing himself.

Diana Ross - "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)" Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand) - Diana Ross (1970)

(Debuted #49, Peaked #20, 9 Weeks on chart)

Newly separated from the Supremes, Diana Ross's first solo single was a gospel-tinged plea for brotherhood (or sisterhood, depending on your perspective) written and produced by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. While "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" would be better remembered since it went to #1, it's sometimes forgotten that it wasn't Miss Ross's first solo single.

It would also begin a streak that lasted throughout the decade for Diana Ross: her solo singles either went to #1 or missed the pop Top 10 entirely. Interestingly, for a performer who had so publicly branched off from the group that made her a star, the female backing singers on the track sure sound suspiciously like they could have been Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. Complicating matters a bit, The Supremes also covered "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" with The Four Tops. Although that version wasn't issued as a single, it is still sometimes confused with Ross's rendition.

Lulu with The Dixie Flyers - "Hum A Song (From Your Heart)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #74, Peaked #54, 6 Weeks on chart)

Click Here to Listen

Best known for her #1 hit "To Sir With Love" in 1967, Lulu has managed to get a small handful of American hits over the years. On "Hum a Song," she's joined by The Dixie Flyers, a Atlantic session group that also appeared on hit singles by Aretha Franklin and Dee Dee Warwick. For the fans who were familiar with Lulu's orchestral-backed sound from her bigger hits, "Hum a Song" may come as a surprise. It's a funky little number, with a clavinet and vocal interplay.

The new direction didn't help her, though. It was also the second and last of Lulu's American pop hits from the 1970s.

Guy Drake - "Welfare Cadillac" (Original not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #71, 5 Weeks on chart)

Getting a second chance after reaching #63 on a previous run beginning in January '71, "Welfare Cadillac" was a song that might be considered a novelty. I said "might" because I haven't figured out whether the lyrics are done in jest or as some twisted commentary. Basically, the narrator of the song is commenting on how he always has a brand new Cadillac even tough he's collecting government assistance. He doesn't own anything else -- his house is a tar-paper shack, his wife and ten children sometimes need to sleep in the car to keep warm -- and thinks people who have to work for what they have are fools.

I'm guessing some people thought a dry recitation of poor white trash was humorous enough to allow "Welfare Cadillac" to chart twice, but I don't really think it's all that funny. Maybe that kind of humor hasn't aged well. However, had the race of the person been changed, the song would be held out today as a relic of how backwards people were in the early 1970s.

Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers - "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" Lay Down (Candles In the Rain) - Beautiful People: The Greatest Hits of Melanie

(Debuted #89, Peaked #6, 17 Weeks on chart)

In 1969, Melanie Safka was a 22 year-old singer who took the stage at the Woodstock festival. Her set was scheduled late on the first day of the festival (August 15) and it had become dark by the time she took the stage. According to legend, at one point during her performance she looked out and saw several concertgoers had lit candles. Seeing the light against what was a sea of humanity inspired her to write a song, and "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" was the result.

While "Lay Down" is usually considered to be a "hippie"-type song due to its backstory, imagery and performer, it was done with a gospel-flavored accompaniment by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. The mixture actually sounds natural, although it's up to the listener to determine whether the gospel part was a conscious effort to mix styles or suggest that Woodstock was something of an analogy to a religious event.

R.B. Greaves - "Fire And Rain" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #82, 3 Weeks on chart)

Back in September, I covered another version of this song (done by Johnny Rivers) and mentioned that James Taylor was actually the third artist to chart with what is generally considered one of his signature tunes. The first appearance in the Hot 100 of "Fire and Rain" was by R.B. Greaves,who's best known for the 1969 hit "Take a Letter Maria." That said, his take on "Fire and Rain" isn't too far removed from Taylor's rendition even as he adds a small dash of soul to the mix.

There's plenty written on the Internet about Taylor's reasons for writing "Fire and Rain," including some conflicting accounts from Taylor himself over the years. I'm not going to rehash them here. However, it's worth pointing out that sometimes a different voice can give a different vibe to a familiar song. With JT's version, he's recounting something deeply personal to him. R.B. Greaves is interpreting the words without that same experience.

Freda Payne - "Band Of Gold" Band of Gold - Freda Payne: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #93, Peaked #3, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Band of Gold" was a major breakthrough for Freda Payne, hitting #3 in the U.S. and topping the British charts. It kick-started her career but defined it as well.  And there's the problem: no matter what she did after that hit, she was going to be compared -- fairly or otherwise -- to that song from that point forward.

Most reviews focus on the story of the new bride sleeping in separate beds with her husband on their honeymoon, but the music backing her up was as much a part of the success. Despite the sad nature of the lyrics, the musicians play like their lives depended on it. Since Payne was signed to Invictus, label owners Holland/Dozier/Holland had some of their former Motown friends lay down session work on the side for a little extra pay. As a result, several members of the Funk Brothers (including Dennis Coffey) were present in the studio. Also on hand was a teenaged Ray Parker, Jr., who took the lead guitar, and Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, before they were tapped to be part of Dawn.Vincent Bell (who had a 1970 Top 40 hit with "Airport Love Theme") provided the sitar. With that much star power behind her, it's little wonder the song became a hit.

"Band of Gold" was written by Edyth Wayne (generally believed to be a pseudonym for Holland/Dozier/Holland) and future Parliament sideman Ron Dunbar. However, it's been associated with Payne ever since it was placed in heavy rotation on the radio.

Jesse Anderson - "I Got A Problem" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

Here's what Jesse Anderson calls a "problem": he has to keep a balancing act between his girlfriend and his wife. Sounds like he didn't think it was much of a problem when he began playing the field...but these things have a way of blowing up in a big hurry once certain people find out about it.

"I Got a Problem" was the only pop hit for soul artist Jesse Anderson, a Chicago-based funk/soul musician. There isn't a lot of info to be found about Anderson to be found out there, but it seems he didn't record a lot of singles. The flip side of "Problem" was "Mighty Mighty," a song written and produced by Curtis mayfield.

The Street People - "Thank You Girl" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

Click Here to Listen

The Street People was intended to be a project with Ron Dante, but his involvement with The Archies precluded him from any outside ventures. As a result, young singer Rupert Holmes would be brought in to finish the project. "Thank You Girl" was the group's last chart hit, and fell off after only two weeks. Holmes, of course, would appear again later in the decade as a solo artist.

"Thank You Girl" should not be confused with the song the Beatles made in 1963. It's a different song altogether, done in a bubblegum style. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Tommy James & the Shondells album or in one of those chase sequences in Scooby Doo.

Oliver - "Angelica" (Not available on iTunes)

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

After a single week at #100 and falling off the Hot 100, "Angelica" was getting a second chance. It didn't get much of a boost, though, and was gone for good after two more weeks.

William Swofford used his middle name professionally and scored three Top 40 pop hits in 1969, including a hit version of "Good Morning Starshine" from the play Hair. However, he wasn't happy with the full-blown productions he was given that were designed to show off his vocal range; he preferred more folky arrangements. When "Angelica" flopped in 1970 his career went into a tailspin. By 1971, he parted ways with producer Bob Crewe over musical direction and began using his real name to distance himself from his previous musical persona. He was out of the music business by the end of the decade and died from cancer in February 2000.

Bobby Womack - "More Than I Can Stand" More Than I Can Stand - Anthology: Bobby Womack

(Debuted #98, Peaked #90, 2 Weeks on chart)

In 1970, Bobby Womack was still a few years away from getting some decent hits, but had already been a veteran session musician for a decade. Beginning as a young protege of Sam Cooke in a group called The Valentinos with his brothers and then touring on a bill with James Brown, Womack wrote songs as he toiled in the trenches. One early hit was "Lookin' For a Love," which Womack later recorded as a solo cut and was also an early J. Geils Band hit. Another Valentinos song, "It's All Over Now," would become The Rolling Stones' first #1 single in the U.K. 

When Cooke died, Womack married his widow and squandered his good name in the R&B community. As the 60s wore on, he worked hard as a guitarist, both in the studio and as a touring musician. By the late part of the decade, he was beginning to get some action with his singles again. All the time, he continued to write a series of hits for Wilson Pickett and worked toward striking out on his own. By the time he recorded "More Than I Can Stand," he was still working towards that end. The song is a nice slice of R&B, a smooth melody that is easily accessible.

The Four Tops - "It's All In The Game" It's All In the Game - Essential Collection: Four Tops

(Debuted #99, Peaked #24, 13 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned here before that I grew up listening to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 on the weekends. In fact, I still listen to repeat performances today (Check the list on the right side of this blog to find out when they play...Internet feeds are great when they let you hear a radio station from anywhere). Among the little nuggets of trivial information Casey planted in the young mind of this future blogger involved the song "It's All in the Game": it was written by a future Vice President of the United States.

That's a rather simple explanation, though. Yes, Charles Gates Dawes composed the msuic in 1911 as "Melody in A Major," but the words weren't added to the song until 1951, after Dawes had served as Calvin Coolidge's second-in-command. In fact, Dawes passed away in 1951 and probably never heard his tune with the words added. The song would be recorded by Tommy Edwards in 1958 and went to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Four Tops would revive Edwards' song, but by 1970 it had become more of a standard that had been laid down dozens of times. Their version was done in their own style but still faithful to Edwards' rendition. It would go on to reach the pop Top 40 but also top 10 on the soul chart as well as in the U.K.

The Fabulous Counts - "Get Down People" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #88, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Get Down People" was the only pop listing for a Detroit-based band The Fabulous Counts and a nice example of early funk before it was morphed during the 1970s. Featuring an extended organ solo by singer Moses Cates and a guitar solo by Leroy Emanuel (who is introduced by his first name before letting his fingers tell their story), the song is an example of an artifact that is often overlooked due to its obscure nature.

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