Saturday, April 9, 2011

This Week's Review -- April 6, 1974

This week, eight singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, and only two were able to reach into the Top 40. Those two songs were performed by soul legends, but the others shouldn't get overlooked. A song by Linda Ronstadt that she already recorded for an earlier album is included, as is a song Todd Rundgren recorded as part of an experimental album. A follow-up single by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes shows the range of Tedd Pendergrass's voice. Two new artist make their only Hot 100 appearance, and one who was quite familiar to listeners shows up as well with a song that may not have been well-suited for him.

Google Books has a large archive of past editions of Billboard; however, the April 6, 1974 edition is not part of it. Instead, I'll mention my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. It features a new song each weekday, with every week spotlighting a particular year from the decade. Last week's songs were from 1985 but are worth reading if you're a fan of that era and its music.

Wolfgang's Vault - Posters

Stevie Wonder - "Don't You Worry 'bout A Thing" Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing - Innervisions (Reissue)

(Debuted #73, Peaked #16, 15 Weeks on chart)

The live clip above is from an appearance on the old Beat Club from the U.K. It doesn't show the entire song, but is a great historical document showing Stevie Wonder doing the song live at the time it was a current hit.

A lot has been said about melisma lately. That's the name given to the practice of spreading several notes over what should be a single syllable. It's not hard to find it, since many American Idol contestants use it to prove they have soul (even when they don't) and Christina Aguilera employed it as she performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Super Bowl. As a way of conveying emotion, melisma is fine; as a way of showing off a vocal range or technical proficiency, its meaning often gets lost.

Take Stevie Wonder's performance of "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," for example. In the chorus, he cuts loose with the title and uses about ten syllables to say "thing." That's melisma.

Through much of the 1970s, Stevie Wonder was experimenting with different styles as he cast off the yoke of the material given to him by his handlers at Motown. One of the obvious things used here is a Latin rhythm, complete with maracas. He even starts off the song with a tongue-rolling intro that is similar to what is often heard in Latin music styles. From there, he does a spoken-word "rap" (the 70s slang interpretation, although it may have influenced the rappers that came later) as he's talking to a lady. Then he launches into the main part of his song. Few performers were "on" as well as Stevie Wonder at his peak.

Aretha Franklin - "I'm In Love" I'm In Love - Aretha Franklin: 30 Greatest Hits

(Debuted #78, Peaked #19, 12 Weeks on chart)

"I'm in Love" was originally written by Bobby Womack for Wilson Pickett, but Aretha Franklin decided to use her interpretive skills on it. It works from the female's perspective, especially when a horn section is added to the mix. Starting slow, the song picks up as it goes on, perhaps signifying a process of falling in love (as opposed to the "love at first sight" that often pops up in music). 

At the time, Aretha Franklin had been a consistent visitor to the pop Top 20 for several years. That was soon going to change, as "I'm in Love" was her last trip there until the next decade. From 1974-'77 she had seven Hot 100 singles, but none that would get as high as "I'm in Love" did.

Todd Rundgren - "A Dream Goes On Forever" A Dream Goes On Forever - Todd

(Debuted #85, Peaked #69, 6 Weeks on chart)

In 1973, Todd Rundgren came out with a new LP after the success of "Hello It's Me," a song that took a very long path to hit status: two different versions beginning with his prior group Nazz, and then a year after its inclusion on the Something/Anything? album before making the Billboard Hot 100. Since Rundgren was following the beat of his own drummer, the new album Todd was an experimental piece that allowed him to expand on his interests in the synthesizer and electronic effects. In other words, it wasn't exactly the type of record that was going to produce a lot of hit material, which likely irritated his record company.

Among all the progressive electronic and technical wizardry on the album was "A Dream Goes on Forever," a song that was a soft ballad. The lyrics are a little abstract, but explain that in dreams there are no time limits and therefore go on forever. It ended up being the only song from the album to be given a single release.

The Eleventh Hour - "So Good" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #94, 2 Weeks on chart)

Click here to listen

There isn't a lot of information available about The Eleventh Hour. Reading the information given in Billboard's Hot 100 listing the week it debuted,"So Good" was written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan (who also wrote "My Eyes Adored You" and "Lady Marmalade" together), and Crewe handled the production. Crewe was certainly busy in the mid-1970s, as his name pops up an awful lot in the era as a writer, producer and even a performer. This leads me to assume that the group was a studio band Crewe put together as an outlet for some of the material he couldn't give to another artist. 

Listening to the song, it's not hard to draw a line from The Eleventh Hour to Crewe's most famous collaborators, the Four Seasons. The singer hits a falsetto -- though not as distinctive as Frankie Valli's --and there is some vocal interplay between him and the other singers during the song, like the Seasons sometimes did during their 1960s heyday. Perhaps Crewe felt the song was better in the hands of a different group, or even that the song was a little too funky for the band to lay down.

Creative Source - "Who Is He And What Is He To You" Who is He (And What is He to You)? (Single Edit) - ...And More

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

Creative Source was a five-member band of L.A. studio veterans managed by Ron Townsend of the Fifth Dimension. They shared the same record company (Sussex) as Bill Withers and gave a soul/funk treatment to one of his compositions, "Who is He and What is He to You." It sounds like it could have been done by The Temptations around the same era. Though it was released in an extended album version and a truncated single-length rendition, both are great listens.

There's no need to explain "Who is He and What is He to You" beyond its obvious implication that the narrator has made a discovery and wants an explanation from his lover. It would be the only pop hit Creative Source would have, and the biggest of four R&B listings. They probably deserved to get a better showing than they did.

Linda Ronstadt - "Silver Threads And Golden Needles" Silver Threads and Golden Needles - Don't Cry Now

(Debuted #98, Peaked #67, 7 Weeks on chart)

Linda Ronstadt -- known for her proclivity for tackling songs from the past -- redoes a song she'd already put on a previous album. "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" was a track on her LP Hand Sown...Home Grown in 1969, and then recorded in a slightly different style for her '73 album Don't Cry Now. Not surprisingly, the song was done in many versions before Ronstadt put her mark on it. Wanda Jackson recorded the original version in 1956, and Jody Miller and The Cowsills charted with the song during the 1960s as well.

It is another of the many songs whose lyrics explain that money doesn't buy happiness, with a woman enduring a marriage of convenience. While the words say she's tired of living a lie, Ronstadt sure seems to be enjoying the fiddles and background singers behind her. Personally, I prefer the version she recorded in 1969 but that's the country fan in me talking.

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes - "Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)" Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back) - Black and Blue

(Debuted #99, Peaked #58, 10 Weeks on chart)

While a lot of reflection was done when the news of Teddy Pendergrass's death broke last year, one thing that was brought up was the fact that before the car accident that left him in a wheelchair, he was quite a stage presence. As a child, he became a preacher and learned how to use his voice to its full potential. 

"Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)" features Teddy Pendergrass in full form, from a grunt at the beginning to the fade. The music behind him and the other Blue Notes -- produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff -- is a mix of Latin percussion, a string section and the Philadelphia International house band. As the follow-up to the Top 10 hit "The Love I Lost," it missed the pop Top 40 but reached the R&B Top 10.

Frank Sinatra - "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Some Nice Things I've Missed

(Debuted #100, Peaked #83, 7 Weeks on chart)

This is an interesting song. And I don't know if I'm saying that as a good thing.

Frank Sinatra -- the guy who famously sang "Chicago (My Kind of Town)" -- sings about a badass from that city. In the hands of Jim Croce, the song worked well because Croce had a talent for going from gentle ballads to reflections on scoundrels from the seedier parts of town without a lot of effort. However, "Ol' Blue Eyes" handles this tune in a similar fashion as much of his Big Band material, which really doesn't work well.

I hate to say that, since Sinatra was truly an American original in his day. However, he really didn't do "modern" stuff well once that era had passed. His take on "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" is probably worthy of the Golden Throat-type compilation CDs, but also serves as an illustration of why Sinatra's hitmaking days were well past in the 1970s. He was still a big draw in Vegas, sure...but he really didn't get the kids to go out and buy his records.

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