Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Week's Review -- June 30, 1973

There were seven singles debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with only two making their way into the Top 40 and one into the Top 10. There is some diversity in the music, though. A funk pioneer shows he can still be innovative as his band was falling apart. A jazz artist tries on his own style. A country artist covers a pop hit that deserved to be a hit, while another pokes fun at his own audience. An artist renowned for reggae stylings goes in a different direction. A folk-influenced husband-and-wife duo remake a 1960s hit. Finally, a soul artist shows he's still quite effective even if his record company doesn't want to recognize it.

Several past issues of Billboard magazine are available to red over of Google Books, including the June 30, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 64. Another interesting article about the American Top 40 radio show appears on Page 28. The show was getting ready to do a show on the great "disappearing acts" of the rock era...a "where are they now?" type of episode. Casey Kasem says in the article that $20,000 was spent to put it all together but they wanted to give something special to those affiliates who stuck with them in the lean early years of the show.

Wolfgang's Vault

Sly and the Family Stone - "If You Want Me to Stay" If You Want Me to Stay - Fresh (Bonus Version)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #12, 17 Weeks on chart)

Sly & the Family Stone seemingly became a sensation overnight, and the star burned out nearly as quickly as it rose, thanks to several factors. By 1973, the group was a shell of itself, with Sly doing much of the studio work himself. In fact, "If You Want Me to Stay" featured him on the guitar, bass and piano in addition to the vocals. It sounds sparse compared to the hits the group enjoyed in their 1968-'70 heyday, but still showed that Sly was capable of doing some great work when he was inspired.

Understated as it was, "If You Want Me to Stay" is a gem in Stone's catalog. Even though his band was obviously declining, he was still trying to expand his musical boundaries. The rhythm instruments (bass and drums) are given more prominence than the rest of the musical parts, which was quite innovative at the time.

Unfortunately, it was also Stone's final Top 20 hit. The ride called stardom ended up being short for him...but what a ride it was.

Charlie Daniels - "Uneasy Rider" Uneasy Rider - The Essential Charlie Daniels Band

(Debuted #84, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

For those who see Charlie Daniels through the prism of the nationalistic, patriotic political persona he has built up over the past 30 years or so may be surprised at the direction of "Uneasy Rider." For those who haven't heard it -- if you're one of those people, click the video above, it's a humorous story -- the lyrics tell the story of a fish out of water. The protagonist is a long-haired counterculture type who admittedly smokes marijuana, but has to blend in when his car breaks down in the more "traditional" area of Jackson, Mississippi. Soon, he's running afoul of some of the locals and praying he doesn't get stomped in a bar. The story that results is unique in that it's one of the few songs that ever hit the Top 10 that used the word "fags" (used during a time-wasting dialogue meant to be a distraction) in it.

It might be argued that Daniels was trying to poke fun at the counterculture when he recorded "Uneasy Rider," but the song definitely stands apart from some of Daniels' other material, such as "Simple Man" and "In America." Look no further than its chart performance: it was a Top 10 pop hit, but made it no higher than #67 on the country chart.

Daniels revisited the song 15 years later. "Uneasy Rider '88" was a totally different story, as he ends up in a gay bar and finds himself in jail by the end of the song. This time, the protagonist is more in line with what fans would expect in a Charlie Daniels song. If it's the same person doing the narrating, his outlook has changed considerably.

Edwin Starr - "There You Go" There You Go - 20th Century Masters: The Best of Edwin Starr - The Millennium Collection

(Debuted #94, Peaked #80, 6 Weeks on chart)

1973 was the year Edwin Starr moved to England after becoming a Northern Soul icon. Though best known for his monster 1970 hit single "War," he had recorded a number of great tracks since the late 1960s. However, he wasn't really getting a lot of promotion from his label (Motown) as he may have deserved.

"There You Go" was Starr's first pop hit since 1971, but failed to get any higher than #80 despite its great groove. The instrumental background is sublime with light funk/R&B and even a slightly Latin rhythm, but his vocal is also inspired. The lyrics mention a woman using her natural charms -- as he puts it, a "weapon" -- to get her way with him. While he's complaining that he not strong enough to resist, he's also not going anywhere.

"There You Go" really should have gotten a bigger boost.

Donald Byrd - "Black Byrd" Black Byrd - Black Byrd

(Debuted #96, Peaked #88, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Black Byrd" was getting a second chance after spending a single week on the Hot 100 a few weeks before. Though it seemed to get little attention chart-wise, it was actually a very significant record. Donald Byrd was a renowned jazz artist who decided to merge his own sound with elements of R&B and funk and craft it into a danceable synthesis. Many of his fans called him a traitor and a "sell-out" but the album ended up being the biggest selling LP in the history of Blue Note Records. The experiment was such a success, Byrd put together a group called The Blackbyrds from some of the students he taught at Howard University.

"Black Byrd" kicks off with a great instrumental intro, with a synthesized bass line setting up a funky horn flourish accented with the ubiquitous wah-wah guitar licks before the lyrics come in midway through the first verse. Once that groove is established, it drives the song through to its completion. With the LP version it was an eight-minute ride, with the single version cut down for bite-sized radio consumption.

While its poor showing on the chart suggested few were hearing the music, the big sales of the album suggested otherwise. There were many who were definitely paying attention.

Lynn Anderson - "Top Of The World" Top of the World (Single Version) - 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #97, Peaked #74, 10 Weeks on chart)

Lynn Anderson enjoyed her hit version of "Top of the World" before the more familiar take by the Carpenters went to #1 later in 1973; however, Anderson's version was the cover. After The Carpenters included the song on their LP A Song For You, Karen Carpenter wasn't convinced her vocal was strong enough for a single release. Anderson's husband/producer Glenn Sutton had her cut the song and get it out.

With Anderson's bubbly voice and star power behind it, "Top of the World" became a #2 country hit. Its success convinced The Carpenters to re-record the lead vocals and put it out as a 45.

Johnny Nash - "My Merry-Go-Round" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #77, 5 Weeks on chart)

Johnny Nash was coming off two straight reggae-influenced hits ("I Can See Clearly Now" and "Stir it Up") but decided to switch gears considerably for the followup single. This time, he went with a childhood memory, complete with the sound effects of a recess field and a children's chorus.

It's a good song if you like the sentimentality, but a little cloying if you don't. It ended up being his first charted single of the 1970s to miss the pop Top 40.

Fire and Rain - "Hello Stranger" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 3 Weeks on chart)

Fire & Rain was a Tucson-based duo of husband-and-wife team Manny Freiser and  Patti McCarron. A folk-influenced act, their only pop hit was a remake of Barbara Lewis's 1963 hit "Hello Stranger." It was quite faithful to the original, much more so than the better-remembered Yvonne Elliman version that hit in 1977.

Not that anybody noticed. The song spent three weeks on the Hot 100 and peaked at the #100 position. That set a record for the most weeks at the bottom position during the 1970s. In all, 26 songs peaked at #100 between 1970 and '79. 13 of those spent a second week at the bottom rung, but only "Hello Stranger" managed to stay at that peak position for a third.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This Week's Review -- June 20, 1970

Ten singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. While only three would make it into the Top 40, they all also made the Top 10. One of those singles made it to #1.That chart-topper was a song that is now identified with the brother/sister duo that recorded it. The other two Top 10 singles were a return for an artist who'd already hit the top spot early in the year, as well as a man who kicked off the Hair soundtrack. That said, there are some real gems in those hits that fell short of the Top 40. Part of the reason several songs failed to make much of a dent in the charts has to be that many hearkened back to a sound from the past. One was a hymn and several recalled doo-wop and classic R&B vocal groups. One song that missed might be a surprise, as it has become a mainstay on its artist's concert set list.

There is a large archive of past Billboard issues over at Google Books, and the June 20, 1970 edition is part of it. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 60. An article on Page 3 mentions that a new radio show using info from Billboard called American Top 40 was almost ready for air. it was set to play in ten U.S. markets on July 1 and was looking for more affiliates at an unveiling they were planning in New York. Wonder how the show turned out...

Wolfgang's Vault

The Carpenters - "(They Long To Be) Close To You" (They Long to Be) Close to You - Close to You

(Debuted #56, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

Funny how I mentioned American Top 40 in the introduction.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a replay of the show from 1976 (a show gets replayed every weekend, and a list of stations that play it online can be found in the links on the right side of this blog). In it, Casey said that Herb Alpert didn't want to do this song because he couldn't imagine himself singing a song about moondust. Fortunately, he had a brother/sister act at his record company who might be able to pull it off. And the rest, as they say, is history.

"Close to You" is pretty much owned by The Carpenters, as they did what most consider to be the definitive version of the song. They weren't the first, though. It was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and originally done by Richard Chamberlain as a B-side in 1963. Several artists tried it after that, but it never became a hit until Karen Carpenter put her vocal talents to the melody and Richard Carpenter started it off with a simple but understated piano intro. Only the duo's second single on A&M, it spent four weeks at #1 and cemented the group as a force in popular music.

B.J. Thomas - "I Just Can't Help Believing" I Just Can't Help Believing - AM Gold (70's, Vol. 2)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #9, 13 Weeks on chart)

After scoring the song that became the first #1single of 1970 ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head"), B.J. Thomas got his second Top 10 single of the year with "I Just Can't Help Believing." The lyrics express about being in love and realizing how nice it is that somebody is there with him. Or at the very least, he's found somebody who puts up with him.

The song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and previously recorded by Mann and Bobby Vee. It would also be a regular song in Elvis Presley's stage show. However, it's most identified with B.J. Thomas thanks to his hit rendition.

Ronnie Dyson - "(If You Let Me Make Love To You Then) Why Can't I Touch You" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #8, 14 Weeks on chart)

This might seem appropriate. 

Ronnie Dyson's voice was the one that led off the Hair soundtrack with the words "When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars." Although the song was a hit single for The Fifth Dimension in 1969, the cast soundtrack was successful enough that the version sung by Dyson was quite familiar to many. Considering that, it's interesting to point out that "(If You Let Me Make Love to You) Why Can't I Touch You?" was from another stage show (off-Broadway) called Salvation.

However, Salvation wasn't quite the success Hair had been. The rendition by Dyson -- who wasn't in the show -- was an attempt to generate some interest in the play. It failed, and the show soon folded. Even as the song reached the Top 10, the show didn't get a lot of mention.

Dyson has been forgotten by many fans despite the fact that he possessed a great vocal talent. He was underappreciated during his life, and the fact that he died of heart failure in 1990 at age 40 won't help change that.

The Intruders - "When We Get Married" When We Get Married - The Best of the Intruders - Cowboys to Girls

(Debuted #90, Peaked #45, 8 Weeks on chart)

"When We Get Married" sounds like a throwback to the late 1950s/early 1960s sound for good reason. The Intruders began in Philadelphia around 1960, singing as a gospel-influenced doo-wop group.

By 1965, they became early associates of young songwriter/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. That association helped define what would become the "Philly Soul" sound, as they served as the prototype of that form. At the same time, they sometimes reverted to their old form, as they did with "When We Get Married." The signature Gamble/Huff string section and production values can be heard, but the vocals are a blast from the past.

Despite the fact that vocal R&B groups were beginning to fall out of favor by 1970, the song still narrowly missed reaching the pop Top 40. It did make the R&B Top 10, though.

Tommy Roe - "Pearl" Pearl - Tommy Roe: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #91, Peaked #50, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Pearl" was co-written by Tommy Roe along with Paul Revere & the Raiders guitarist Freddy Weller. The two also collaborated on the #1 single "Dizzy" as well as "Jam Up Jelly Tight."

However, this was no Bubblegum tune. It was more adult, coming more from a singer/songwriter point of view. It comes off more as a slow burn than the adrenaline-infused music that fans better remember from him. It's softer and slower, as an understated organ starts off the song before Roe first purrs into the microphone. That's not to say that the 14 year-old girls couldn't get into it like they did with "Dizzy," but Roe himself was pushing thirty. There's a certain point where a singer goes from having the young girls like him to just being creepy about it.

The George Baker Selection - "Dear Ann" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

The followup single to "Little Green Bag" was an interesting mix. George Baker (born Johannes Bouwens) was from Holland, and his group was part of what was dubbed the "Dutch Invasion" that occurred in 1970. However, despite the obvious Dutch accent in the vocal, the song is given a Louisiana Cajun flavor with fiddles and an accordion.

The YouTube video sounds like it's a live version with crowd noises, but those sounds appear in the single release (which give it more of an authentic feeling) and the performance is lip-synched for television. Even so, it's a fun three minutes if you've never heard the song before.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse - "Cinnamon Girl" Cinnamon Girl - Decade

(Debuted #95, Peaked #55, 9 Weeks on chart)

As familiar as "Cinnamon Girl" is to many, it may come as a surprise that it only reached #55. While it's become one of Young's signature tunes, its original chart run may seem disappointing considering it's an awful lot more well-known than other songs that charted much higher. In fact, "Cinnamon Girl" was beaten to the Hot 100 in a cover version by The Gentrys, who even took it to a (slightly) higher peak position.

"Cinnamon Girl" came from the LP Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Young's first with Crazy Horse. Sometimes referred to as Young's backing band, that wasn't the case. Crazy Horse was a separate band that recorded its own material and occasionally collaborated with him. However, both Young and Crazy Horse made some of their best music together, which cements that misconception in many people's minds.

The Manhattans - "If My Heart Could Speak" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #98, 1 Week on chart)

Another vocal performance that recalls the days of R&B vocal combos, "If My Heart Could Speak" was only able to hang on to the Hot 100 for one week before dropping off. It was a Top 30 R&B hit, however.

It was also the last Hot 100 single with George Smith as the group's singer. He died of spinal menigitis later in 1970. Written by group member Kenneth Kelley, "If My Heart Could Speak" featured the group's multi-part vocal harmonies, but the music behind it was contemporary, with a lush string section and even using a distinctive modulated "watery" guitar line. It's another one of the songs this week that probably might have deserved better but was considered "dated" at the time.

The song would be revisited a decade later, appearing as part of a medley on the group's 1980 LP After Midnight. That version was given an updated arrangement for the post-disco era, but it's missing something from the original version.

The Satisfactions - "This Bitter Earth" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)

The Satisfactions were a four-man D.C. area band with Junior Issom on lead vocals. They don't appear to have been around for long, and there isn't a lot of info about the group to be found anywhere. It was one of only two singles they would take into the charts.

As for "This Bitter Earth," however, there's more information. It was written by Clyde Otis and was made into a #1 R&B hit for Dinah Washington in 1960. It has become something of an R&B standard, being recorded by several acts over the years.

Turley Richards - "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 1 Week on chart)

The chart information above the YouTube video seems a little ominous. One week at #100 and then gone. It ended up getting a second chance a couple of weeks later.

Turley Richards grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. Blinded in the left eye at the age of four in an archery accident, he rose above the disability to become a folksinger who played in the Greenwich Village scene during the 1960s after a failed try to make it in Los Angeles. In 1970, he released his debut LP and "I Heard the Voice of Jesus" was the first single.

While there was no shortage of songs about religious themes in 1970, "I Heard the Voice of Jesus" was no newcomer. It was a traditional song/hymn written by Horatius Bonar in 1846, with music composed by John Dykes in 1868. Richards sang in a hymn-like manner, complete with an organ. That may account for part of the reason it didn't become a bigger hit; there was no "cool" element like a fuzz guitar line or gospel choir behind him.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This Week's review -- June 7, 1975

This week, seven new singles appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. Only two of the songs would go on to reach the Top 40 -- and one reaching the Top 10 -- but there are some gems in the ones that missed. Yes, there are the MOR conventions represented by Olivia Newton-John and Donny & Marie, but there are some songs by Ben E. King and The Brecker Brothers that probably deserved a better audience. The final chart appearances for Ike & Tina Turner and Sugarloaf are both well-done songs, and Michael Jackson gives a glimpse of the performer he would become after his adolescence.

There is no corresponding Billboard issue over at Google Books this week. So I'll once again give a plug to my "other" blog 80s Music Mayhem...I just finished a great trip through 1984 over the past week. Entries included Van Stephenson's "Modern Day Delilah," a great forgotten tune by The Romantics, and a post-accident tune by Teddy Pendergrass that featured vocals from a future star. If you've never been over to see that blog, check it out. I do that one a little differently, with only one song per entry and one post each weekday. While I'm at it, I tend to feature the forgotten follow-ups and "One-Hit" wonders rather than just tossing out the biggest hits, since the best material wasn't always the stuff that charted high.

Wolfgang's Vault - Retro Tees

Olivia Newton-John - "Please Mr. Please" Please Mr Please - Have You Never Been Mellow

(Debuted #65, Peaked #3, 15 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned before that I have a young daughter (now nearly 13 years old) and that I've been working since she was really little to help give her an appreciation of music regardless of genre. So far, it seems to be working. However, there are some moments where her frame of reference jumps up to remind me that things have changed an awful lot since I was a kid.

"Please Mr. Please" is one of those examples. The line that follows the title says "Don't play B-17," which many of us will recognize as a selection on a jukebox (as it says in the first verse). However, the jukeboxes that play 45s are mostly gone today, with the CD jukeboxes and touch-screen selections having different numbering conventions. My daughter heard that line as "Don't play Be Seventeen" and assumed it was the name of a song, a la "Play Misty For Me." So, like the reference to the dime in Jim Croce's "Operator" and trying to explain what a spindle adapter is, it ended up becoming a discussion of something that was a foreign concept to a child born in 1998.

As for the song...I've mentioned on here before that I'm a fan of 1970s country as well as pop, so I actually have a soft spot for Olivia Newton-John's country-sounding stuff, especially before she veered into the easy-listening, MOR abyss before her appearance in Grease. "Please Mr. Please" is definitely one of those songs that fits the bill, with a soft acoustic guitar behind her as she sings about dreading hearing a certain song on the jukebox while she's slamming down the whiskey in a barroom. Not surprisingly, it was #5 hit on the country chart as well.

Donny & Marie Osmond - "Make The World Go Away" Make the World Go Away - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Donny & Marie Osmond

(Debuted #86, Peaked #44, 6 Weeks on chart)

Here's another song that followed the pattern of hit singles from the Osmond family: while the 5-brother act did original music, brother Donny and sister Marie would record songs -- both solo and separately -- that were already hits in their own style and release them as singles.

However, "Make the World Go Away" would become the only charting Donny & Marie Osmond single of the 1970s that missed the Top 40. Recorded in their easy listening vocal style backed by a string and brass section, it definitely didn't make listeners forget the big Eddy Arnold hit from a decade before, nor the earlier version by Timi Yuro. But rather than getting any idea that listeners might be getting tired of hearing them re-record old songs, producer Mike Curb was ready to have them record "Deep Purple," another song that had gone to #1 in 1963 by another brother/sister act.

Though "Osmondmania" had subsided in 1975, it was still a force in the music business.

Ben E. King - "Do It In The Name Of Love" Do It In the Name of Love - Supernatural Thing

(Debuted #87, Peaked #60, 4 Weeks on chart)

After several years away from the Billboard pop charts, Ben E. King enjoyed a resurgence with the single "Supernatural Thing." He wasn't totally away during the 1970s; he was still touring, and his songs "I (Who Have Nothing)" and "Don't Play That Song" were able to reach the Top 10 by other artists. The return was short-lived, however, as "Do it in the Name of Love" missed the Top 40. A well-regarded LP with The Average White Band followed in 1977 but had no charted singles, and it would be more than a decade, a film and a sense of nostalgia before King would return to the Top 40.

"Do It in the Name of Love" was one of several songs written for the Supernatural LP by the team of Patrick Grant and Gwen Guthrie. Guthrie was mainly a highly in-demand backup singer at the time but would go on to limited solo success. It was a decent slice of light funk that fit in quite well with the rest of the LP's material.

Michael Jackson - "Just A Little Bit Of You" Just a Little Bit of You - Michael Jackson: Gold

(Debuted #90, Peaked #23, 12 Weeks on chart)

Before he was setting his own musical trends, Michael Jackson was  following them. "Just a Little Bit of You" sounds a lot like a Philly Soul tune, or at least an early disco-inspired tune.The video clip shown above has a young MJ performing the tune on Soul Train, where you can see he's already beginning to figure out how to move on the stage. He was still several years away from perfecting that persona, but it's easy to see he was working towards that.

Still sixteen years old, Michael Jackson was already outgrowing the voice he used on the early Jackson 5 hits and beginning to develop the style he's become much more famous for. "A Little Bit of You" was part of the process of maturing into a more adult singer, and became his biggest solo hit in years. In addition to reaching the pop Top 40, it was a #4 R&B hit.

It was also Jackson's last hit single for Motown, before he and most of his brothers moved over to Epic.

Ike & Tina Turner - "Baby-Get It On" Let's Get It On - Ghetto Funk

(Debuted #98, Peaked #88, 4 Weeks on chart)

The story of Ike and Tina Turner has been well-documented since Tina walked away from the act after deciding she'd had more than enough. There was a book, a movie and a very successful (and well-deserved) solo career ahead for Tina, while Ike ended up fighting his own demons before he died in 2007. The information that has come out since he clouded the way a lot of people view the Ike & Tina Turner revue, but watching the video above (from The Midnight Special in 1975) shows that they were a really kinetic live act despite all the drama going on away from the stage.

"Baby-Get it On" would be the final chart hit for the duo before the act -- and the marriage -- collapsed. It's a high-energy performance, infused with guitar, funk rhythms and sassy attitude. Clocking in at around three minutes, it may be over too soon...but that's the mantra of show business: "leave them wanting more." It's a great way for the duo to make an exit, even if neither knew it at the time the end was on the horizon.

The Brecker Brothers - "Sneakin' Up Behind You" Sneakin' Up Behind You - The Brecker Bros.

(Debuted #99, Peaked #58, 9 Weeks on chart)

The Brecker Brothers were Michael and Randy Brecker. They recorded a number of jazz-influenced albums together and separately and also contributed to other acts such as Parliament (which can be heard in parts of "Sneakin' Up Behind You"). They were prolific recording artists who played sessions on many different styles. Primarily known for jazz fusion, they were equally adept at R&B and rock. Michael's saxophone can be heard on James Taylor's "Don't Let me Be Lonely Tonight" as well as Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." Randy was an original member of Blood, Sweat & Tears but left before their breakthrough.

"Sneakin' Up Behind You" is largely instrumental, with some sparse vocals. The jazz foundation for the song is undeniable, but it's also given R&B treatment (it was a #16 soul hit) and some funk highlights as well. In a way, it sounds like it could have been a theme to a TV show. That said, it should have been a bigger hit than it was.

The Brecker Brothers continued to record together and separately until 2007, when Michael Brecker succumbed to leukemia.

Sugarloaf featuring Jerry Corbetta - "Stars in My Eyes" Stars In Het Eyes - Don't Call Us We'll Call You

(Debuted #100, Peaked #87, 6 Weeks on chart)

Sugarloaf had been hitting since 1970's "Green-Eyed Lady," but didn't get much follow-up success until "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You." However, the end was near for the band and they split up shortly after "Stars in Our Eyes" fell off the charts.The first sign that the band was faltering was the way lead singer Jerry Corbetta's name was given special treatment at the expense of the others; whether the record company or management is behind such a move, it usually portends oncoming fracture (see George Micheal/Wham! or Patty Smyth/Scandal during the 1980s) and hard feelings by the others who are making the music but not getting the credit.

Somehow fittingly, the band's final chart single told a story about how the band went to California to chase a dream but didn't quite make it. On the way there, a decision was made that meant that a relationship was sacrificed at the expense of stardom, which was seen to be a mistake after the inevitable fall of that rock glory. After that, the former lover had moved on and gotten married...proof that there are no U-turns on Life's Highway.

To my ears, "Stars in My Eyes" is a better song than the near-novelty Top 10 hit "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" despite having a similarly dated sound. While the bigger hit poked fun at the music business and was a natural song for radio programmers, the sentiment behind "Stars" deserved better than the #87 peak and the early exit from the chart.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This Week's Review -- June 3, 1972

This week, nine new singles debuted in the Billboard Hot 100, with six of them eventually making the Top 40. Two of them also worked their way into the Top 10, so the group here is pretty familiar for the most part. There are a few of R&B hits here, but they're all different: one is about justifying an adulterous relationship, one is about the aftermath of a breakup and the last isn't about relationships at all. The very first Eagles single is still played frequently on radio stations today, while Alice Cooper's single is very popular around this time of year for obvious reasons. A man whose name was taken from an American pioneer but was actually a British subject is a great example of post-bubblegum confection. The three singles that missed the Top 40 are all interesting in their own right as well. One features an Apple artist who never had another hit, another is a two-sided instrumental from a man who was instrumental (bad pun, but it's true) in crafting Motown's more socially aware direction in the late 1960s, and the last is from a 1960s singer/songwriter who was likely ahead of her time.

Among the archive of Billboard issue over at Google Books is the June 3, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 54. Page 18 begins part of an interview with Bill Drake, a man who had quite an impact on the way radio stations work today. He's one of those people who are either loved or hated by radio professionals, but it's an interesting read regardless. Finally, this headline appears on Page 24: "See 8-Track Decline By 1985." Actually, it didn't even take that long. Other predictions in that article involved the development of octophonic sound and the assurance that the phonograph record would be around "forever." One prediction for 1985 that needed longer to come to fruition was the idea that movies would be played on video discs and that TV sets would eventually be flat units that could be mounted on a wall.

Concert Video

Luther Ingram - "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right" (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right - (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right - Single

(Debuted #64, Peaked #3, 16 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube video above shows the live performance Luther Ingram gave for the Wattstax film. It's a great example of how he worked the stage. It also shows the performers of the tremendous music behind his vocals, many of whom were also the musicians from Isaac Hayes' band and backup singers.

"(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right" is a song that tells one side of an adulterous relationship. The lyrics go so far as to recognize that the relationship is a mistake (even mentioning that her folks know what's going on and are trying to stop it), but that it doesn't seem that way when they're together.

The song would get a twist two years later when Millie Jackson remade it, telling the story from the side of the woman who's the mistress. It was also remade in a similar vein for the country audience by Barbara Mandrell in 1978.

The Stylistics - "People Make The World Go Round" People Make the World Go Round - The Stylistics - the Original Debut Album

(Debuted #74, Peaked #25, 11 Weeks on chart)

The Stylistics had a very distinctive sound, but sometimes they had some tricks up their sleeves, thanks to Thom Bell's production skills. For instance, "People Make the World Go Round" has a xylophone as a major instrument. They also have a horn section that sounds like it just left a Bacharach/David session.

However, having Russell Thompkins, Jr. sing a song about brotherhood wasn't out of character for the group, nor was having Bell co-write the song with Linda Creed. Actually, the lyrics don't paint a positive picture, with garbage collectors and bus drivers on strike and brokers losing money from their stocks. But then Thompkins points out that the ups and downs are all a part of life...the downs only make the ups better.

Aretha Franklin - "All The King's Horses" All the King's Horses - Young, Gifted and Black

(Debuted #75, Peaked #26, 8 Weeks on chart)

It's easy to forget that Aretha Franklin was a great 1970s performer. While her best singles arguably came out during the late 1960s, her early 1970s LPs are some of the finest she's ever recorded. "All the King's Horses" is one of the tracks on one of her best, Young, Gifted & Black. Using a familiar line from the "Humpty Dumpty" nursery rhyme, Franklin is credited for writing the lyrics about a love whose flame has gone out.

In the lyrics, Aretha is able to show off her considerable range. From using a soft, tender voice to deliver the verses, she opens up during the choruses to show off the gospel-influenced vocal we all know she had. All the while, she tells the story of how the safe and secure partnership two people knew just fell apart.

The Eagles - "Take It Easy" Take It Easy - Eagles

(Debuted #79, Peaked #12, 11 Weeks on chart)

"Take it Easy" can be called a pacesetter. It was the first song on the first Eagles LP, as well as the band's debut single. It's also one of their best-known tunes.

Jackson Browne began writing the song for his first album, and when his neighbor and friend Glenn Frey heard it, he thought it was great. The two finished the lyrics together and Browne let Frey use it for his own group's record. Browne eventually recorded a version of the song for a later LP, but it had pretty much been consumed as an Eagles song by then.

Frey was the one who included the bit about Winslow, Arizona in the second verse. In Winslow, there is a statue on a corner commemorating the song, with a painted "reflection" in a window of a red pickup truck.

Alice Cooper - "School's Out" School's Out - School's Out

(Debuted #88, Peaked #7, 13 Weeks on chart)

When I was a kid, this song seemed to get played every year around June (hence, the record's release date), when our school was letting out for the summer. A few radio stations would play it, but more likely it was a record that one of my friends owned. I still remember the feeling of those last few days of school every year, when it seemed even the teachers were ready for the damned thing to be over.

It's a classic song because it's universal. Everybody who's gone to a public school knows the feeling when the end of classes come around. For me, I love some of the lines, like "We've got no principals" (using a dual meaning for that word), and then following it up a couple of lines later with "We can't even think of a word that rhymes!" Not exactly high art, but that's just a great line.

There are a couple of people who get overlooked about the song's creation, though. Cooper's guitarist Glen Buxton originated the distinctive guitar riff that opens the song and is just as much of an attention-getter as the subject. Also, producer Bob Ezrin came up with the idea of using a children's chorus on the song. He would use that again in another classic "school is over" song at the end of the decade, Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall."

Lastly, there is a slight difference between the (now familiar) LP version and the single release. At the very end of the song, there is a gradual slowing down of the effects, and it sounds like the tape is winding down as it stops. In the single version, the song fades out before that slowdown.

Chris Hodge - "We're On Our Way" We're On Our Way - Come and Get It - The Best of Apple Records (Remastered)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)

"We're On Our Way" was the only U.S. pop hit for English singer/songwriter Chris Hodge. There's not an awful lot of info about Hodge available, other than a mention that he was signed to Apple Records and discovered when Ringo Starr caught his show one day. He didn't chart any LPs and I'm not even sure if he ever had one in the U.S. Although the song peaked outside the pop Top 40 in Billboard, it managed to squeak its way to #36 in Cash Box, so it did get some limited radio play before dropping off the face of the earth.

Beginning with a discordant piano note and voices that sound like they were borrowed from providing the backing music to a suspenseful (but laughingly unrealistic) film of the era, which is probably appropriate considering the lyrics mention a spaceship, flying saucers and astral moonbeams. Though the breathy "Ooh, aah" refrain is a little grating, the song isn't all that bad for a person who never returned to the charts. It's worth at least a cursory listen if you've never heard the song before.

Dennis Coffey - "Getting It On" Getting It On - Absolutely the Best of Dennis Coffey b/w "Ride, Sally, Ride" Ride, Sally, Ride - Absolutely the Best of Dennis Coffey

(Debuted #97, Peaked #93, 4 Weeks on chart)

Since this is a two-sided hit, the B-Side has its own YouTube video as well:

This two-sided hit features a pair of instrumentals coming from the distinctive guuitar stylings of Dennis Coffey, who's had a bigger effect on popular music than many might realize. The Deroit-born guitarist was one of the msuicians that made up Motown's famed "house band," The Funk Brothers. In fact, it was Coffey who introduced a harder-edged electric guitar sound to Motown hits like "Cloud Nine," "Ball of Confusion and "War," playing a major part in the "Psychedelic Soul" sound. Away from Motown, he also handled guitar for Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" and other Detroit-besed hits.

These sides are the first to be credited to Coffey himself, rather than his Detroit Guitar band. Both are marked with Coffey's electric guitar and a smilar beat to the one that marked his earlier Astrology-themed hits "Scorpio" and "Taurus." The B-Side is not the familiar song done by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Or if it's a radical reworking.

Jackie DeShannon - "Vanilla Olay" Vanilla O'Lay (Single Version) - Jackie

(Debuted #99, Peaked #76, 9 Weeks on chart)

Sadly, no YouTube video seems to exists for this tune. Since it is available digitally, I am not able to provide a link to an MP3 copy.  However, clicking the Amazon link below will let you hear a 30-second snippet of the song. Fortunately, the clip does a good job of presenting the song, giving a taste of both the verses and chorus...Amazon doesn't always do that.

Jackie DeShannon seems to have been forgotten as a singer/songwriter by many, even though she was doing the job long before celebrated stars like Carly Simon and Carole King (I'm referring to King's singer/songwriter phase here, not her days as a Brill Building songsmith) were. Although her prime hit days seem to have ended during the 1960s, "Vanilla Olay" shows she was still able to put out a catchy song, even if it didn't seem to get too far up the charts. With King and Simon breaking out in the early 1970s, it's odd that DeShannon didn't get a similar boost.

With lyrics that mention taking off and getting away from it all, even if only for a short time, "Vanilla Olay" has a nice 1970s vibe, marked by a hook-laden guitar that punctuates each line of the verses. 

It's worth noting that the 1980s brought one of her songs into the Top 10 once more: Kim Carnes did her own take on "Bette Davis Eyes" and made it the biggest hit in the U.S. for all of 1981.

Daniel Boone - "Beautiful Sunday" Beautiful Sunday - Beautiful Sunday

(Debuted #100, Peaked #15, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Beautiful Sunday" was the biggest of three pop singles in the U.S. for British-born singer Daniel Boone. Listening to it today, it's almost fully infused with a 1970s vibe, with its lyrics about taking a walk and enjoying the surroundings. The song is an upbeat, almost "bubblegum" number that is hard not to have a smile when it comes on.

In fact, while writing this review, I've listened to it three or four times and am too busy digging it than I am trying to write about it. I suppose that's as good of an endorsement as I can give a song.