Saturday, May 14, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 15, 1976

Doing these reviews of 1970s music the way I've been handling them, each week shows the unsteady nature of the music business. While most weeks seem to feature about seven to ten songs to write about, sometimes the numbers get skewed either way. Last week's entry had 13 songs, and this week's is only five songs long. 

This week's list of debut singles is really short. Only five songs were listed for the first time, but four of them went on to reach the Top 40. The biggest hit by a seminal Irish rock band is here, as well as Dan Peek's last song for the band he was about to leave. A funk classic from George Clinton's P-Funk universe makes an appearance, as well as a spoken-word recitation about Mother from a singer better known for selling sausages. The one song that missed the Top 40 was performed by a singer that would eventually make it, both on his own and as a vocalist for The Alan Parsons Project.

The issue of Billboard for May 15, 1976 is missing from the archive over at Google Books, so I'll once again mention my other blog, 80s Music Mayhem. Since beginning the blog a few months ago, I've already "batted around" the decade a week at a time and have just finished the second week reviewing songs from 1980. Since I'm trying to hit the different musical styles as I go, there's sure to be something you like, as well as new material you've never heard before.

America - "Today's The Day" Today's the Day - Hideaway

(Debuted #81, Peaked #23, 12 Weeks on chart)

When some music fans think of the group America, they think of a series of hit singles during the 1970s. Others point to the fact the band strung together seven straight albums -- including a greatest hits compilation -- that began with the letter H. "Today's the Day" came from the sixth of those LPs, Hideaway. The name was derived from the fact that the record had been laid down at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado

"Today's the Day" was written by Dan Peek, who left the group the next year to pursue a solo career in the Christian music scene. It was his fourth and final hit with the band. A slow,"laid back" performance that was evocative of much of the group's familiar material, the song also reached #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Jimmy Dean - "I.O.U." I.O.U. - Greatest Country Masters

(Debuted #83, Peaked #35, 4 Weeks on chart)

Mother's Day was last weekend here in the United States, so I missed it by one week. In recognition of that day, Jimmy Dean released this spoken-word recording recounting the many things his own mother did in his life. It definitely pulls at the heartstrings...something listeners either love or despise about these types of recordings.

Here's an interesting fact about the song: it only spent four weeks on the Hot 100 chart before falling off, with two of those in the Top 40. One of the major problems with holiday songs is their relatively short "shelf life," especially when magazine deadlines necessitate Billboard getting info a week and a half ahead of their publication date. As a result of that, songs that are geared toward special days get little respect on the charts. That's a shame, though, because -- like the idea behind Mother's Day itself -- people should appreciate their mothers a lot more often than just once a year.

Undaunted, Dean re-released "I.O.U" annually for the next several years and charted again with it twice on the country chart.

Thin Lizzy - "The Boys Are Back In Town" The Boys Are Back In Town - Jailbreak

(Debuted #84, Peaked #12, 17 Weeks on chart)

It may surprise many to discover that "The Boys Are Back in Town" missed the Top 10 during its chart run, considering it's been in fairly heavy rotation among radio formats ever since. In fact, it was the band's only Top 40 hit and the song that broke them in America. However, it isn't fair to call them a "one-hit wonder" since "Jailbreak" is another well-played tune in the States and they scored more hits in Europe.

There are several interpretations of "The Boys Are Back in Town" out there: some say it's about the soldiers returning from Vietnam (despite the fact the ground troops were home by early '73 and the fact that Thin Lizzy was from Ireland, not America). Others say it's about biker gangs or soccer hooligans or working class "blokes" (to use a term native to the band).Whatever the reason for its existence, it has what is definitely one of the best guitar riffs of the 1970s and a sublime bass line.

Fans of the band like to point out that the band may have garnered additional hits had leader Phil Lynott not passed away, but the fact was ten years after their one big American hit and the music business had long since moved on. That said, the idea of a 1989-ish comeback might have been interesting (since Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers and Poco all earned "comeback" hits that year after reuniting) but the fact remains that we'll never know how that would have turned out since Lynott had already left this mortal plane.

Parliament - "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) - Mothership Connection

(Debuted #86, Peaked #15, 17 Weeks on chart)

Some fans get a little confused about the whole "P-Funk" thing. In the 1970s, there was  a group called Parliament and another called Funkadelic, and both were under the aegis of George Clinton. As time went on, Clinton was using personnel to handle both projects and the lines became a little blurry even if you were looking at the records and reading the liner notes. Clinton was on such a roll in the 1970s, he couldn't confine his work to one act, and one band wasn't enough to hold him.

The convergence of the two Clinton-managed bands began with Parliament's LP Mothership Connection, which contained "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)." In it, the lyrics began what is now known as the "P-Funk mythology." Although "Flash Light" ended up being a bigger hit on the pop charts, "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" may be the most familiar song Parliament released during their heyday.

Beginning with a bass vocal -- not yet called "rap" --  by Ray Davis, the song was based on a jazz construction with a number of different themes and structures woven into the lyrics. Though seen as a fun song that helps overlook the monotony of day-to-day work life, it's actually a complex musical structure.

John Miles - "Music" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #88, 3 Weeks on chart)

John Miles was an English singer and guitarist who hit the American charts with his own material as well as with The Alan Parsons Project (he sang lead on "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You"). Since 1987, he has also been a constant touring partner of Tina Turner's.

With "Music," Miles tips his hat to the activity that was paying his bills. In the U.K., the song was given the full title: "Music (Was My First Love)." It starts out soft in keeping with the sentimentality of the idea behind the song, but then Miles launches into a guitar-based assault. It continues to switch back and forth between the different moods as it goes on. While not a big hit on this side of the Atlantic, it went to #3 in his home country.


  1. I have to correct you on something: while John Miles sang on several Alan Parsons Project songs, "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" wasn't one of them. That one was sung by Lenny Zakatek. :) Mommy L

  2. My mistake, then. We can blame Casey Kasem, who tossed out that little nugget while introducing "Slow Down" on his countdown shows during its run in 1977.