Saturday, July 30, 2011

This Week's Review -- July 29, 1972

Eight songs made their initial appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with five getting into the Top 40, and one reaching the Top 10. One song was about a failed high-profile gig, while another addressed staying in the spotlight long after the time has come to leave. One song was dedicated to the late Janis Joplin, and another told the story of the dying railroad. Brother harmonies are spotlighted on one song, while progressive art rock fusion colors another. A power pop tune surfaces for a short time, while a group that scored a #1 single just a year before was taking their final bow on the chart without realizing it.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues, the July 29, 1972 edition is available to check out. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 52. An article beginning on the front page has Don Kirshner explaining that a recent upswing in "oldies" re-recorded by artists was a direct response to the rise of singer/songwriters at the time. Interestingly, the list of debut songs is quite heavy on performers who use their own material.


Bread - "The Guitar Man" Guitar Man - Guitar Man

(Debuted #62, Peaked #11, 10 Weeks on chart)

There's an underlying message in "The Guitar Man" that belies its melody. Like the great quote in Jim Bouton's book Ball Four about realizing that after all the years of gripping a baseball only to realize that it's been the other way around all along, there's something that draws musicians to keep walking out on the stage and putting on a show, even after the crowds no longer show up to hear it.

"The Guitar Man" is still in the David Gates pop-influenced mold, though. It mixes the band's soft rock sound with a great guitar line. Larry Knechtel played the distinctive "wah-wah" on the track. Aside from the #11 pop peak, it also became Bread's third #1 adult contemporary song.

Uriah Heep - "Easy Livin'" Easy Livin' - Demons and Wizards

(Debuted #82, Peaked #39, 12 Weeks on chart)

Over the years, I've come across several people who told me they were fans of Uriah Heep. I'm not a big fan of the group's mixture of British progressive rock and art rock, but enough have named them as a favorite band during their childhoods that I've taken notice.

"Easy Livin'" was the only really big hit Uriah Heep on the charts -- if you call a #39 peak a big hit -- and probably the only one most can name if pressed. The song made its way into my own music collection when I was a teenager as part of a CD compilation I bought of heavy rock classics. I used to skip it whenever it played, so it never really had the chance to lodge itself into my subconscious since the first few notes were usually followed by a short silence before the next song played. That gave me a unique chance to listen to it with a cleansed mental palate that I don't often get while doing this project.  I'm not a convert to teh group's cause, but it's an alright song with its organ/guitar attack that probably deserved to make the Top 40.

Uriah Heep is still together and performing today. They never broke up in the intervening years, either...which may have helped them keep many of the fans they picked up all those years ago.

The Bee Gees - "Run To Me" Run to Me - Best of Bee Gees, Vol. 2

(Debuted #83, Peaked #16, 12 Weeks on chart)

I have a buddy who reads these entries each week named Bruce who is also a knowledgeable music collector as well as a person who delves deeper into the music than most casual listeners do. I've mentioned him here before, and still appreciate his efforts in helping keep me straight when I get my facts wrong here. One of the things he's mentioned over the years is the way that certain harmonies are intrinsic to family acts. For whatever reason, there is something in the way that relatives harmonize that is incredibly difficult to capture anywhere else. I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about the Brothers Gibb (his tastes run more toward the material of The Mills Brothers), but their harmonies are very well-regarded.

Barry and Robin Gibb both handle the lead vocals here, with Maurice adding a backing vocal in the chorus. However, that chorus showcases the harmonies that made the group famous. The three voices come together so well, it's often hard to determine which is which. It's a great example of the brothers' work between the 60s hits and the wildly successful R&B/disco-influenced material that marked the last half of the 1970s.

It was also their first Top 10 in U.K. in three years.

Arlo Guthrie - "The City Of New Orleans" The City of New Orleans - Hobo's Lullaby (Remastered)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #18, 16 Weeks on chart)

"The City of New Orleans" has had a much more lasting effect than one might expect from a song that spent a relatively long time on the charts for its era yet only managed to reach #18. However, the song has stuck around thanks to radio airplay, as well as a #1 country remake by Willie Nelson in 1984.

Written by Steve Goodman, the titular "City of New Orleans" was a passenger train that ran along the Mississippi River. Pulling out of Kankakee, Illinois, it wound its way South, and the lyrics spin a narrative story of passengers spending their time, workers doing their jobs and the scenes around the locomotive as it makes it way farther down the track. All the while, Arlo Guthrie delivers the lines as if he's reading a newspaper article, without embellishing the parts that may otherwise indicate the road ahead might become bumpy for the railroad company.

In short, it deserves its status as a modern-day folk piece.

Joan Baez - "In The Quiet Morning" In the Quiet Morning (For Janis Joplin) - Joan Baez: The Complete A&M Recordings

(Debuted #90, Peaked #69, 8 Weeks on chart)

Those who click on the YouTube video above may be a little confused. The video (and song) is credited to Joan Baez, yet shows several images of Janis Joplin. "In the Quiet Morning" was written by Baez's sister Mimi Farina about Janis Joplin, so her presence is no accident. The lyrics don't address Joplin by name, instead using metaphors.

For Joan Baez, the song was part of a change in career direction. After more than a decade at the small Vanguard label, she left for A&M, a sign that she might get more commercially-focused material. "In the Quiet Morning" was the first single under that arrangement. It only reached #69, one of only three singles she charted with the company.

Todd Rundgren - "Couldn't I Just Tell You" Couldn't I Just Tell You - Something/Anything?

(Debuted #96, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

The Something/Anything? LP is considered to be one of the creative highlights of Todd Rundgren's career,  and "Couldn't I Just Tell You" was a part of that project. Despite getting only two weeks on the chart and a quick and merciful death as a single, it is considered to be a very influential track on the direction of power pop in the future.

Guided by his own inner voice, Rundgren played all instruments on the track.

Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band - "Garden Party" Garden Party - Garden Party

(Debuted #99, Peaked #6, 19 Weeks on chart)

Some of the best songs are concieved out of failure. In the case of "Garden Party," the impetus was a crowd booing him off the stage at a Rock & Roll revival show when he began veering away from his teen-idol hits and beginning to share some more recent (and different, at least more unfamiliar) material.

There are several sites out there that break the song down and explain who the "players" are in the lyrics, so I won't bother rehashing that. However, the song has always had a different meaning to me as a message to his fans that it may be time to let the memory of that boy who starred on his parents' iconic TV show go. While the voice in the song is similar to what fans may have remembered from songs like "Poor Little Fool," "Stood Up" and "Traveling Man," the video above shows a more mature Rick -- not Ricky -- Nelson. He's a father himself, with longer hair and playing in a style that wasn't part of his earlier persona. In effect, Nelson was comfortable with the idea that he had matured and was asking that his fans allow him to do so.

By giving his account of a gig that he walked out on, the lines say more about the fans in the audience than it does the artist. That's a mark of a great introspective songwriter.

The Honey Cone - "Sittin' On A Time Bomb (Waitin' For the Hurt To Come)" Sitting On a Time Bomb (Waiting for the Hurt to Come) - Honey Cone: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #100, Peaked #96, 4 Weeks on chart)

The final pop hit for The Honey Cone marked the crashing of a peak that seemed to end as abruptly as it began. However, the end wasn't a factor of internal dissent or falling out of favor with the public; rather the group's success was a victim of its label. Hot Wax/Invictus was struggling financially, and wasn't able to promote their singles as aggressively anymore.

In that sense, the title was entirely appropriate. A good slab of 1970s soul, the song really deserved to get a better chance than it received. The group eventually split up in 1973, and its three members went on to other projects. Lead singer Carolyn Willis appeared again as the prominent backing vocalist on Seals & Crofts' 1976 hit "Get Closer."

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