Saturday, April 30, 2011

This Week's Review -- April 30, 1977

Ten new singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Three eventually placed into the Top 40, with one getting as high as the Top 10 list. There's a definite variety of music: Steve Miller with a solid rocker, Manfred Mann with another Springsteen tune, a remake by Helen Reddy that was targeted to the adult crowd, a Paul Anka song about infidelity, a ballad from Alice Cooper and a few songs that rode the disco wave that was coming strong by 1977.

Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard magazine, including the April 30, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 106. Page 6 has a story about a new record store in Los Angeles that focused on punk and new wave music. Although the term "new wave" would take on some evolutionary changes as its artists explored new territory, this may have been one of the first times it was mentioned in Billboard. Page 22 has an interview with radio PD Buzz Bennett in which he explains the "burn factor" caused by playing hit songs too frequently.

Wolfgang's Vault

The Steve Miller Band - "Jet Airliner" Jet Airliner (Remastered) - Jet Airliner - Single

(Debuted #71, Peaked #8, 18 Weeks on chart)

Musicians do an awful lot of traveling, so it's a frequent topic that songwriters tend to touch on from time to time. In addition to songs about being away from home, the various methods of travel get mentioned as well: planes, trains, buses and automobiles. Thus, "Jet Airliner" is a song that appeals to a musician like Steve Miller who tours frequently.

Despite being commonly associated with Miller, he wasn't the writer who put the words on paper. Instead, Paul Pena was the author. Pena had recorded it in 1973 but record label trouble kept it from being released. Eventually, the song was played for Steve Miller, who placed it on his Book of Dreams LP.

"Jet Airliner" isn't exactly a "radio-friendly" album cut. In the final verse, there's a line that says, "I don't want to get up in that funky shit goin' down in the city." The single version substitutes the word "kicks" for the offending word. That version also edits the opening guitar solo, which lasted more than a minute on the album version, and eliminates a few audible deep breaths that can be heard before certain lines. The YouTube video above features the LP cut, with the long guitar intro, extra breathing and salty language.

Chilliwack - "Fly At Night" Fly At Night - Chilliwack: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #76, Peaked #75, 6 Weeks on chart)

Chilliwack was a Canadian band based in Vancouver. Though quite popular in their home country, they didn't get many chances to hit the U.S. charts at all. Even when they had, the results had been disappointing, never getting into the top half of the chart of staying aroung very long. They had to wait until another decade before they finally hit the Top 40 -- 1981's catchy "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)" -- before the band took an extended hiatus.

"Fly at Night" was written by guitarist/vocalist Bill Henderson. At points, it sounds like Neil Young is singing, especially during the opening vocals before the band steps in and speeds up the tempo. Despite the poor showing on the U.S. pop chart, "Fly at Night" went Top 10 in their home country, for their biggest hit there until "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)" finally gave them a #1 hit.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - "Spirit in the Night" Spirits In the Night - The Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band

(Debuted #77, Peaked #40, 8 Weeks on chart)

There is some confusion regarding this song. Manfred Mann's Earth Band recorded two separate versions, each with a different singer. The first was actually titled "Spirits in the Night" with Mick Rodgers, and had been a #97 hit in 1976. However, when Chris Thompson took over lead vocals, they did another take and returned its title to the original "Spirit in the Night" that Bruce Springsteen gave it.

Written by Bruce Springsteen, "Spirit in the Night" was one of the two final songs (along with "Blinded By the Light") he added to his Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey LP. It's a neat coincidence that both would later become hits for Manfred Mann's Earth Band. The song was a typical Springsteen topic: restless kids looking to have some fun while they were still young. While it mentions Route 88 (a real road in New Jersey), the story about a place in "Greasy Lake" is an embellishment, since there is no place in teh state with that name.

Alice Cooper - "You and Me" You and Me - Lace & Whiskey

(Debuted #80, Peaked #9, 21 Weeks on chart)

Despite his legacy as a hard rock icon who resorted to sometimes shocking theatrics in his concerts, Vincent Furnier had a really soft side too. However, by 1977 it was likely beginning to irritate even his staunchest fans: "Only Women Bleed" in '75 and "I Never Cry" the next year were both low-key productions, so "You and Me" followed in their tempos for '77. Although it became the biggest Alice Cooper hit since 1972's anthem "School's Out," it was becoming evident that the man who had been using theatrics to add shock value to his concerts was getting mellower in his advancing age. In what may be considered a sign of the Apocalypse by some, he even sang the song on an episode of The Muppet Show.

However, the softer sound was masking some demons Cooper himself was dealing with. He was beginning to lose a battle with alcohol that began affecting his live shows (something "I Never Cry" alluded to) and would soon check himself into a hospital to help deal with the issues plaguing him. Since a soft Alice Cooper is a lot better than once that's been permanently silenced, the ballads probably seem better in retrospect than they ma have been received when they first came out.

Helen Reddy - "You're My World" You're My World - Ear Candy

(Debuted #83, Peaked #18, 22 Weeks on chart)

 Helen Reddy was one of the more consistent hitmakers of the 1970s. On the Billboard Hot 100, she took three singles to #1 and 15 into the Top 40, while taking eight singles to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts. "You're My World" would be the final pop Top 40 single for her career.

"You're My World" was originally called "Il Mio Mondo" and sung by its composer, Umberto Bindi. Translated into English, it was a worldwide hit in 1964 by Cilla Black. It would be recorded by several artists afterward, but didn't return to the U.S. Top 40 until Helen Reddy took it on. It's been said that Elvis Presley kept a copy of Black's single in his personal jukebox at Graceland and jammed with the Beatles on the song when they visited him in 1965.

Reddy's version stays fairly true to the one Black released. She makes full use of her vocal abilities, but it really wasn't an improvement on a song that was largely familiar to her audience, nor was it anything she hadn't done already on one of her albums. As a swan song, though -- even if it wasn't exactly intended to be one -- it wasn't bad.

Paul Anka - My Best Friend's Wife My Best Friend's Wife - The Best of the United Artists Years (1973-1977)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #80, 2 Weeks on chart)

Click Here to Listen

Those who tend to judge a book by its cover won't need much time to know what this song is about. Yes, the song's title suggests adultery, and Anka doesn't disappoint in that regard. He also doesn't stray far from the musical style he used for most of the decade, either. It's just funny to point out that the guy who famously hit with "(You're) Having My Baby" just three years before has focused his attention on another woman. To be fair, nothing in the lyrics indicate whether that wife is still around; however, a guy who's messing around with a married woman is probably not thinking too much of his own spouse even if she's still in the picture.

Some "best friend," though. There's an unwritten code that male friends have that includes not getting involved like that (at least without permission)...and the narrator knows he's crossed that line: "if it ends, I lose two friends." But there he is, stopping over to see her between four and five in the afternoon.

Peter Gabriel - "Solsbury Hill" Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel 1: Car (Remastered)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #68, 5 Weeks on chart)

The first solo hit for the former Genesis frontman -- actually, it can be called a definitive debut single because Genesis never scored any Hot 100 hits until after Phil Collins took vocal duties -- is purportedly an explanation of why he stepped away from the band. It's also been claimed the song is about a religious awakening, since religious imagery is a big part of the lyrics.

Although "Solsbury Hill" missed the Top 40, it is still one of Gabriel's better-known solo tunes. An interesting arrangement on the song has additional instruments added with each verse, taking a simple guitar intro to a complex orchestral arrangement. It showed some of the musical style he would use for the next two decades, a mix of experimental material and contrasting sounds from anywhere it the world Gabriel thought it would work within the framework of the composition.

Carrie Lucas - "I Gotta Keep Dancin'" I Gotta Keep Dancin' (Keep Smiling) - Carrie Lucas: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #94, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)

Early in 1977, the disco phenomenon was still a rising tide. It wouldn't be long before a parade of uptempo songs with "Dancing" inserted somewhere in the title would appear, but occasionally an interesting lyric would pop up in a disco song before the popularity Saturday Night Fever gave the genre signaled that the tide was also going to drag in the debris cast out to sea in earlier tides.

With Carrie Lucas's debut hit, the title was only half of the complete thought: "I gotta keep dancing to keep from breaking apart." Rather than just doing a song about dancing, the lyrics mention an old flame entering the club. Not only is she dancing because it gives her a release from the worries of her regular life, but it's also helping to get over a heartbreak. That's not something that got mentioned that often in a disco song.

"I Gotta Keep Dancin'" was a song from Lucas's debut LP Simply Carrie.It would later be reworked for her 1980 single "I Gotta Keep Dancin' (Keep Smilin')," which charted on the disco survey but missed the Hot 100 entirely.

The Hues Corporation - "I Caught Your Act" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #92, 2 Weeks on chart)

Originally named as a pun on the company owned and founded by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes -- in fact, their record company rejected their first version of the name, Children of Howard Hughes --  Hues Corporation is best known for its #1 single "Rock the Boat" from 1974. A handful of hit singles followed, with "I Caught Your Act" being the last one.

Since some "experts" give "Rock the Boat" the credit for the first disco #1 single (thereby overlooking Love Unlimited Orchestra's "Love's Theme"), it is hardly a surprise that "I Caught Your Act" is an uptempo number. It's not bad, even if it does have several musical gimmicks in the orchestration and a lack of the R&B feel that made their biggest hit so memorable to listeners. It's just that by 1977, their music no longer stood out among the rising tide of disco music that was flowing into record stores, on the radio and inside jukeboxes.

Current - "Theme From Rocky (Gonna Fly Now)" (Not available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #94, 3 Weeks on chart)

At the time Current's version of the theme from the film Rocky was listed on the Hot 100, there were three versions in all on the survey. The other two -- Bill Conti's original score and Maynard Ferguson's jazz translation -- were making their way into the Top 40. However, there was one other version that had beaten all of those into the Billboard pop chart, one by Rhythm Heritage. Each one had its own distinct sound.

The song was quite stirring, and was identified with a very famous scene of Sylvester Stallone running through the Philadelphia streets while training for his fight with Apollo Creed, ending at the top of the City Hall steps. The association with the film sometimes blurs the fact that it's a well-orchestrated piece of music.

However, the Current version sounds like it was quickly made to capitalize on the success of the film. It comes across as a song that was programmed as fast as the synthesizer could be set up.

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