Saturday, July 16, 2011

This Week's Review -- July 17, 1971

There were eleven new singles debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with several making a lasting impression. Seven went on to the Top 40, with four reaching the Top 10 and one going all the way to #1. That chart-topper would be a double-sided hit and the biggest hit of the entire year. Familiar names pop up like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Who, groups who defined their own sound like Bread and Rare Earth are also represented. At the same time, there are also lesser-known names, like Audience and The Glass Bottle. Bill Withers makes his entrance, as Sonny James makes his exit (from the pop charts, at least).

Among the large archive of past Billboard magazines over at Google Books, the July 17, 1971 edition is available to read online. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 52. Much of the magazine is a celebration of Johnny Mathis's 15th anniversary in the music business, but there are some reminders that life is precious and far too short for some. Page 3 reports the sad news of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's death, while Page 4 explains that Jim Morrison had died in Paris.

Classic Concerts

Creedence Clearwater Revival  - "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" Sweet Hitch-Hiker - Mardi Gras (Remastered)

(Debuted #68, Peaked #6, 9 Weeks on chart)

I've heard stories about how people once were able to simply use their thumbs to get somewhere when they couldn't afford  a bus ticket. That seems like a different time and place, as you'd be hard-pressed to find any mention of a hitchhiker as "sweet" today.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's final Top 10 hit was written and recorded by John Fogerty, as were most of the band's hit singles up to that point. However, Tom Fogerty had just left the band because of a disagreement in the direction of the group, which led John Fogerty to suggest that the other band members Doug Clifford and Stu Cook share in the writing and vocal duties. The LP that resulted was Mardi Gras, which included "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" despite not getting released until 1972. The result was uneven, and CCR was soon broken up.

As for "Sweet Hitch-Hiker," it features many of the things you'd expect from Creedence. It's a high-adrenaline guitar rush that contains a manic vocal by John Fogerty.

Bread - "Mother Freedom" Mother Freedom - Baby I'm a Want You

(Debuted #75, Peaked #37, 9 Weeks on chart)

When I was a kid, I took part in youth group at the age of 13-14. One day, one of the adult leaders (chaperones, actually) discovered I had an ear for songs from the 1960s and 70s. Since she grew up during that time, she would talk with me about some of the material she listened to back then.  One day, she mentioned she had gone to see Bread in concert. I knew the group from the few songs they played on the local "variety" radio station ("Make it With You," "If" and ""Baby, I'm-a Want You") and assumed that was what they sounded like. When she then told me she actually walked out because they were too loud, I thought it was hilarious.

Later on, I discovered that the single releases were always David Gates songs, which leaned largely in favor of soft, poppy arrangements. James Griffin was also a songwriter in the group, and his material was a little less poppy and often much less soft. Unfortunately, his material was relegated to B-sides or remained as album tracks. As a result, many fans of the group's singles (and even future generations of listeners, like me) never really got a good idea of the band's sound from the radio alone.

"Mother Freedom" was yet another Gates-penned song, but it was more of an indicator of how the band could rock out when they had a chance. However, it stalled at #37, which led the record company to revert to the band's softer material for singles. That decision soon began to fracture the group over its musical direction.

The Who - "Won't Get Fooled Again" Won't Get Fooled Again - Who's Next (Remastered)

(Debuted #76, Peaked #15, 13 Weeks on chart)

"Meet the new boss...Same as the old boss..."

Revolution was a topic bandied about quite frequently in the late 1960s and early 70s. With anti-war protests and the realization that a new generation was getting ready to take the steering wheel, some people were quite scared for future prospects. In the midst of that, The Who came up with this gem that seemed to be a reminder that things tend to go around in cycles.

One thing that was pretty new was the heavy reliance on the synthesizer in the song. In both an extended intro and a long solo midway through the song (on the LP version, that is), they lead to one might be one of the great screams in rock & roll as Roger Daltrey returns to sing the final verse. The single version cut the 8 and a half minutes down to a more radio-friendly three and a half minutes, but the song is better known in its extended format.

Rare Earth - "I Just Want To Celebrate" I Just Want to Celebrate - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rare Earth

(Debuted #79, Peaked #7, 13 Weeks on chart)

While there were other white acts signed to Motown before them, Rare Earth was the first to get a significant string of hits. They even managed to have their imprint named after them. Despite the fact that the songs sounded a lot alike, it was a sound that was working.

"I Just Want to Celebrate" was a song with a somewhat positive message. After the events of the previous 5-6 years, there were a lot of people who were happy to say they were still able to enjoy life. When the song went to #7, it was their third Top 10 pop hit and it seemed they would keep them coming. However, they never manged to get higher than #19 with any further singles. By 1976, they were no longer on Rare Earth records.

Buddy Miles (and the Freedom Express) - "Them Changes" Them Changes - Them Changes

(Debuted #86, Peaked #84, 2 Weeks on chart)

"Them Changes" charted four separate times during the 1970s, and this was the third go-round on the Billboard Hot 100. This time, it fell short of its previous #81 peak from 1970, though its next run later in '71 would take it to #62.

Buddy Miles was still in his early twenties, but he had certainly been busy. Before going solo, he was a member of the Electric Flag and then part of Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies. While playing in that band, he wrote "Them Changes" but it never manged to get in onto a record before Hendrix's manager fired him.

"Them Changes" is generally considered to be Buddy Miles' signature song, or at least the one most associated with him. Featuring an arrangement that is both a relic of the days of psychedelia and of Stax
era soul, it is a shame that more people didn't get to hear it. The song definitely had enough chances for it to happen.

Audience - "Indian Summer" Indian Summer - The House On the Hill

(Debuted #87, Peaked #74, 5 Weeks on chart)

When I was a kid growing up in Upstate New York, "Indian Summer" was the name given to what was often the last great week or two of temperate conditions around the early autumn when we got to go outside without wearing our jackets (at least, during the afternoons...mornings were still frosty). In any case, we enjoyed it, because anybody who's had to deal with winter in northern New York knows it was going to be several months before it ever got that good again. While I always associated that time with the late harvest season, I always assumed that the term came about due to the period when native tribes made their final arrangements before settling down for the winter. However, I've since learned that there are other definitions used for the term in other parts of the country, and not all are complimentary.

This rendition seems to be a memory of times gone by, similar to the images of the leaves changing that pops up in my mind when I hear the term. "Indian Summer" was the only hit on the Hot 100 for Audience, a British art-rock band. The song was produced by Gus Dudgeon, best known for his work with Elton John. Of course, that makes me wish Sir Elton could have given it his musical flourish. Soon after the song disappeared from the charts, the band split up.

Bill Withers - "Ain't No Sunshine" Ain't No Sunshine - Just As I Am

(Debuted #88, Peaked #3, 16 Weeks on chart)

This was Bill Withers' first pop hit, but he wasn't exactly a fresh-faced youngster on the scene. He had served for nine years in the Navy and was moonlighting as a singer while working at an aircraft factory. In fact, when "Ain't No Sunshine" was a hit, he wasn't ready to give up his day job until he was sure his music career would last.

The lyrics express disappointment about being left alone, but the part most people remember is the repeated use of the words "I know" (I counted 26 times) in the third verse. Originally, Withers planed in filling in that part with more words, but his backup musicians convinced him to leave it the way it was. It was probably good advice, as I can't imagine "Ain't No Sunshine" without that part.

Beginning with a sparse arrangement, an orchestra kicks in with the second verse and provides a sufficiently melancholy mood. What's interesting is that the song is only about two minutes long. It somehow doesn't seem that short.

Steppenwolf - "Ride With Me" Ride With Me (Single Version) - Gold: Steppenwolf

(Debuted #90, Peaked #52, 8 Weeks on chart)

Steppenwolf seemed to like the image of the motorcycle in its songs. Their best known song is "Born to be Wild," and their music is identified with the film Easy Rider. With that, "Ride With Me" was probably a title that just jumped out when it was offered to the group. The song was written by singer Mars Bonfire, who had also written "Born to Be Wild."

The song was a cut on the band's then-forthcoming LP For Ladies Only, which would be the final recording by the band's "classic" lineup before the members began to leave. They have reunited several times since, but lead singer John Kay has been the only consistent member of the group over the past 40 years.

The Glass Bottle - "I Ain't Got Time Anymore" I Ain't Got Time Anymore (The Glass Bottle 1971 Side A Produced By Dickie Goodman) - The Many Heads of Dickie Goodman

(Debuted #94, Peaked #36, 13 Weeks on chart)

The Glass Bottle was a  band led by Gary Criss, but had been put together by Dickie Goodman, a man whose biggest success had come in comic "break-in" records. However, the group's biggest hit wasn't funny at all; in fact, it was a lamentation of heartbreak with a bitter outlook.

The group followed up its Top 40 hit with another single by the end of 1971. Unfortunately, no further hits followed and Criss was soon free to pursue a solo career as a disco singer later in the decade.

Rod Stewart - "Maggie May" Maggie May - Every Picture Tells a Story b/w "Reason to Believe" (Find A) Reason to Believe - Every Picture Tells a Story

(Debuted #98, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

Here's the YouTube video for the other side of the record (I'm not calling it the "B-side," and you can read why below):

For those who think the "cougar" phenomenon is a recent fad, here's an example from 40 years ago that it's not. It wasn't a new thing then, either, if you consider the film Summer of '42 that same year. Not only did Jennifer O'Neil's character stay lodged in the minds of several viewers for years afterward, "Maggie May" would become the biggest single for the year 1971.

The funny thing is that the song wasn't even considered to be a possible hit when it was released. "Reason To Believe" was listed all by itself for its first four weeks before "Maggie May" was even listed as the B-side. The next week, the songs were reversed. It wasn't long until it sprung upon the Top 40 and spent five weeks at #1. Its success was a surprise to everybody, since the subject was somewhat taboo and there wasn't really a melody to it. The name "Maggie May" never appears in the song (Stewart merely refers to her as "Maggie").

"Reason To Believe" was written by Tim Hardin and originally recorded by him in 1965. A song about looking beyond the obvious faults in a lover and seeing the beauty even when it isn't there at all, it has been recorded by scores of artists from a wide range of genres over the years, including The Carpenters, Bobby Darin, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash.

Sonny James, the Southern Gentleman - "Bright Lights, Big City" Bright Lights, Big City - Capitol Collectors Series: Sonny James

(Debuted #100, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

This song refers to the time-tested topic of country folks in the big city and having to adjust to the change. And in 1971, country songs about life in the city weren't usually happy songs. Since James took it to the top of the country charts, it definitely fit the template.

Actually, "Bright Lights, Big City" predated James's version. It was originally written by bluesman Jimmy Reed in 1961, who took it to #3 on the R&B charts that year. It was also recorded by The Animals in 1965. While James was in the midst of a long career on the country side and enjoyed additional hits for years to come, the song would be his final run on the Hot 100.

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