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.

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