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.

No comments:

Post a Comment