Saturday, August 27, 2011

This Week's Review -- August 23, 1975

There were eleven new songs appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Six of them (a healthy number) reached the Top 40, with two of those rising into the Top 10. Those two hits were a song that was erroneously called a "comeback hit," while the other was a departure from the sound of the band who performed it. A tip of the hat to the Doo Wop sound appears here, as does a remixed song that originally appeared on record in the 1960s and another that had been a hit in several versions since 1934. Several songs with a strong R&B and/or disco beat appear, as the rhythmic sound moved more towards the dancefloor. Finally, lesser-known hits from Isaac Hayes, Dr. Hook and Joe Simon make short appearances that didn't get out of the very low reaches of the chart.

Normally, I link to the corresponding issue of Billboard magazine over at Google Books, but that archive is missing the issue for this week. Instead, I'll point to the tabs that appear at the top of this blog, just below the image of the stacks of 8-track tapes. Each tab has a single year listed on it...if you have a favorite year, you'll be able to see which songs from that year have been reviewed on this blog with the click of a mouse button. Inside, each week's review is linked so you can read what was written. The lists are updated weekly, so they'll help you keep track of which weeks I follow if you aren't following this blog weekly.

However, you really shouldn't stop checking out this blog at least once a week.

People's Choice - "Do It Any Way You Wanna" Do It Any Way You Wanna - The Philly Sound - Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and the Story of Brotherly Love (1966-1976)

(Debuted #64, Peaked #11, 16 Weeks on chart)

People's Choice was a Philadelphia-based soul/funk band and "Do it Any Way You Wanna" was the biggest hit single they would enjoy. The song wastes little time establishing a solid groove and rides it right to the very end. Along the way, there are occasional guitar interludes, an organ that jumps out and the words of the title (which also serve as the only words in the lyrics) sung by the group members.

"Do it Any Way You Wanna" was a #1 smash on the R&B chart. Although the band only managed one more single on the Hot 100 after this, they would hit the R&B chart steadily through 1980.

The Average White Band - "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" If I Ever Lose This Heaven (Single Edit) - Cut the Cake

(Debuted #81, Peaked #39, 8 Weeks on chart)

Before recording their third LP Cut the Cake, fate intervened in the direction of The Average White Band's progress. Drummer Scotty McIntosh died of a heroin overdose, which naturally made the surviving members think about their own mortality. Undaunted, they went into the studio and turned out one of their finest albums, a testament to the band's resilience and a memory of what he meant to the band.

"If I Ever Lose This Heaven" may have been a tune that was singled out at this time. It was one of the few songs the band did that wasn't written by any of the band members -- it was penned by Pam Sawyer and Andre Ware, and originally recorded by Quincy Jones in 1973 -- and is a tight, sophisticated composition. Though it only made the lower reaches of the Top 40, it was also an R&B hit and was one of three Top 40 singles on the album.

Jefferson Starship - "Miracles" Miracles - Red Octopus

(Debuted #82, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on chart)

After leaving Jefferson Airplane in 1971, Marty Balin returned to the (renamed) group in 1975 and wrote what may be one of their most familiar songs in the process. However, "familiar" may not always translate to "popular"; though it was the highest-charting single the band would have until its next name change, there were plenty of fans who found it rather slow and droll when compared to the earlier material the band had recorded.

With its repeated airings on radio ever since its release, it's easy to overlook the complexities and minutiae of "Miracles." Every player on the song has a specific part, and the entire composition comes across as a paradox: the message is simple but the atmosphere isn't. There is an organ opening, there are strings that pop up from time to time, the guitar is the least noticeable thing, a tremendous sax solo rises out of the repeated chorus. Balin and Grace Slick appear to be communicating as lovers, and this is essentially a song about love.

The song was nearly seven minutes long on the Red Octopus LP, and was cut down to three minutes and change for the single release. Not only was that move designed to make it fit within radio playlists, it removed the suggestive line "I got a taste of the real world when I went down on you." Interestingly, few even notice that line today when stations play the album track.

Art Garfunkel - "I Only Have Eyes For You" I Only Have Eyes for You - Breakaway

(Debuted #87, Peaked #18, 18 Weeks on chart)

Most listeners in 1975 probably saw "I Only Have Eyes For You" as a remake of a 1959 Flamingos hit, but the song's roots stretch back to Tin Pan Alley and 1934. Written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin that year, it was a hit by Ben Selvin the same year. It was recorded several times over the years, even before The Flamingos cut it.

Art Garfunkel gives the song his signature vocal, and sings it in a more laid-back style of the 1970s. It made the Top 20 on the pop chart but -- not surprisingly -- topped the Adult Contemporary chart. What was more surprising, however, was its ascension to the #1 spot on the U.K. chart. It was his first solo hit there.

The Four Seasons - "Who Loves You" Who Loves You (LP Version) - Anthology

(Debuted #88, Peaked #3, 20 Weeks on chart)

Five years after the band's last chart single, "Who Loves You" was considered as a "comeback" single even though The Four Seasons never really went away. They had merely left their long-time label Philips and signed on with Motown. Their tenure with that label was disastrous, and by the time they appeared with Warner Brothers records only Frankie Valli was left of the "classic" 1960s lineup.

One of the group's former members was Bob Gaudio, who went behind the glass and concentrated on writing and producing (he did both in the case of "Who Loves You"). For much of the time since the end of the Philips singles, the group had a large turnover of members; by 1975, there were actually five members and other lead singers besides Valli. In fact, "Who Loves You" was originally intended for Don Ciccone to sing, but it was realized that Valli's vocals were needed on a Four Seasons song for the public to accept it. Instead, Valli handled the verses and the others members jumped in for the chorus and sang harmony behind the verses.

The video above is a sly edit that looks like the band recorded the full song together, but it wasn't. There were three versions of the song: the LP version started with percussion, the single's A-side faded in at the beginning of the vocals and the B-side was a "disco" version that repeated the instrumental break and then faded earlier.

Fox - "Only You Can" Only You Can - Fox

(Debuted #89, Peaked #53, 7 Weeks on chart)

The first hit single for Fox was its biggest in the U.K. (where it hit #3)  and its only charting song here in the U.S. The group was a project for American songwriter/producer Kenny Young, who had worked for several years with an Australian singer named Susan Traylor. For the group, Traylor took the stage name Noosha Fox, and the group was simply given that last name.

The song opens up with an instrumental passage that may have been ahead of its time (to my ears, it sounds like it could have been part of a 1990s hit), and the vocals are infused with a great deal of studio effects like phasing and reverberation. It was an eclectic hit, which likely explains its success in the U.K. as much as it does the song's lack of success in the States.

The Rolling Stones - "Out of Time" Out of Time - Metamorphosis (Remastered)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #81, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Out of Time" was originally recorded by The Rolling stones in 1966. Though it wasn't a single at the time, the song was remade into a U.K. hit for Chris Farlowe which went to #1 that year. In 1975, the Metamorphosis LP featured outtakes and alternate versions of several 1964-'70 tracks, with "Out of Time" being the album's first song. The original was more than five minutes long and notably featured Brian Jones playing a marimba (which is also the version heard in the video above). The version used on the LP and single was actually the backing track from Farlowe's hit, with Mick Jagger singing the vocals.

While "Out of Time" would be the Stones' only chart single of the 1970s to miss the Top 50, the song would once again appear (in its 1960s version) in the movies, playing in the background as Bruce Dern ran around a Marine base at the beginning of the 1978 film Coming Home.

Isaac Hayes - "Chocolate Chip" Chocolate Chip - Chocolate Chip

(Debuted #94, Peaked #92, 2 Weeks on chart)

It probably doesn't need to be explained that "chocolate" is often a euphemism for sex with people whose skin color is darker (whether interracial or not). It certainly isn't necessary if you're paying attention to the lyrics of "Chocolate Chip" since Hayes lays it all out pretty early. Though his hit singles were beginning to fade after his late 60s/early 70s heyday, Hayes was still a musical force. The Chocolate Chip LP was a poor performer, but it showed that he still had his funky mojo as he rode music's transition into the Disco era. Years later, House music was still sampling from the album when it went looking for beats.

That said, "Chocolate Chip" sounds a little different all these years later, after hearing Hayes sing about "Chef's Salty Chocolate Balls" on South Park.

Joe Simon - "Music In My Bones" Music In My Bones - Get Down

(Debuted #97, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

Another soul performer who embraced disco early was Joe Simon. After getting started with country-style songs, he transitioned to Philly Soul in the early 70s and rode the disco wave with "Get Down, Get Down (Get Down On the Floor)" The followup to that single was "Music in My Bones," with sounds an awful lot like its predecessor. Not surprisingly, it didn't stay on the chart very long once people assumed they heard the song before.

It went to #7 on the R&B chart, however. Though Simon still placed singles on that chart regularly through 1981, "Music in My Bones" would be his final entry on the Hot 100. As the 1970s wore on, Simon changed his sound once again by returning to the style he'd used at the beginning of his career. He devoted more of his time to gospel and working with his church.

Pete Wingfield - "Eighteen With A Bullet" 18 With a Bullet - Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Music from the Motion Picture)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #15, 19 Weeks on chart)

On the record charts, a "bullet" is a way of saying that a song was still strong and likely had the momentum to move up again the following week. At that time Billboard used a star around the chart positions of any records that were determined to have "bullets." On the chart for the week ending November 22, 1975, the song listed at #18 with a bullet...was "Eighteen With a Bullet." It was also at #18 in Cash Box the same week, prompting the cynics to say it was staged (and it may have been) by the record company.

The lyrics use both meanings of "bullet": not only the chart-related term, but the more literal one referring to firearms. The words switch back and forth between those two meanings throughout the song, with occasional stops into double entendres as well. The sound recalls the Doo Wop sound of the past, complete with a saxophone solo.What may surprise some listeners is the fact that Pete Wingfield (who also wrote the song) is a white guy from England. He played in British soul groups, performed jazz at Montreaux with Van Morrison and backed B.B. King on one of his LPs, so he definitely had the chops.

In 1998, "Eighteen With a Bullet" appeared to a new generation in the crime film Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels.

Dr. Hook - "The Millionaire" The Millionaire - Bankrupt

(Debuted #99, Peaked #95, 5 Weeks on chart)

This was the first single for the New Jersey group under their shortened name. Before their 1975 LP Bankrupt, they were known as Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The shortened name came about after the group's filing for bankruptcy (note the album's name) and their switch to a new record company.

One of the things Dr. Hook did with its fresh start was changing the direction of their sound from a humor-based act that was often seen as a novelty to one that stayed firmly in pop territory. That new sound would become very helpful for the group through the rest of the decade (and into the next), but their new moniker didn't prevent them from issuing one more "silly" song as a single. That song was "The Millionaire."

The move misfired, and "The Millionaire" dropped off the charts rather quickly. Their next single -- a remake of Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen" -- returned them to the pop Top 10 and pushed the group along in its new direction.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week's Review -- August 21, 1976

There were 11 new singles on this week's Billboard Hot 100, with three reaching the Top 40 and one that was a Top 10 hit. The slate of songs has surprisingly been a treat to listen to this time around, considering how many fell short of the Top 40. Two of the songs looked back at earlier years; one was a remake and the other a new song. Glitter and glam were represented by bands from the U.K. as well as Canada. Two Australian acts appear as well. Several of the songs were unfamiliar tuns by familiar artists like The Isley Brothers, The Atlanta Rhythm Section and America. There was also a song that suited the laid-back "sound" of the 1970s about as perfectly as a three-minute pop song can.

This week's edition is missing from the archive of past issues of Billboard magazine over at Google Books, so I'll once again use this space to shamelessly plug my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. This past week featured music from 1984, including a couple of songs that I see in a much different light now that I've gotten older. A couple of days ago, I discovered that even YouTube has a page showing several posts from the blog. I've gotten some great feedback on that blog, so if you're not familiar with it, take a minute and check it out.

Classic Concerts

Linda Ronstadt - "That'll Be the Day" That'll Be the Day - Hasten Down the Wind

(Debuted #71, Peaked #11, 16 Weeks on chart)

In 1956, John Wayne uttered the words "that'll be the day" in several parts of the film The Searchers. He played Ethan Edwards, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, and the words were part of his world-weary role. The film is often credited as one of the all-time greatest Western films, and Buddy Holly was one of the people who watched it in the theater during its run. He used those words in a song that he wrote with Jerry Allison and Norman Petty that was a #1 single (on Billboard's Best Sellers in Stores chart) for his group The Crickets in 1957.

Nearly two decades later, the song was remade by Linda Ronstadt, who was quickly becoming known for taking songs from rock & roll's early days and putting her own stamp on them. Granted, she was often criticized for giving them a a California sheen, but that was a sure formula for success at the time. No matter what you might think of her delivery on those 1970s records, her voice was in great form and surrounded herself with professionals like producer Peter Asher and the recently departed Andrew Gold (who can be seen in the video above doing the second guitar solo in the instrumental bridge). Those two probably contributed more to Ronstadt's slick sound than many casual fans might realize.

Does Ronstadt's version supplant the Holly original? Not by a long shot. What it does, though, is give a familiar tune a new spin. At some point, young fans who missed the stuff the first time around go back and hear the source material and find that there is other music out there to be heard.

Firefall - "You Are The Woman" You Are the Woman - Firefall

(Debuted #82, Peaked #9, 22 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that just fits the 1970s sound perfectly. "You Are the Woman" is a near-perfect pop tune, catchy and incredibly recognizable (and less than three minutes long). It so nicely fits the "mellow" vibe that the 1970s were supposed to have, it's rarely been away from radio stations since it fell into the recurrent rotation at Top 40 stations.

In fact, the easy pace of the song makes it hard to remember that Firefall had its roots in bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne. It was too close to pure pop than the country-rock stylings that might have been expected, not with its airy flute throughout. Even if the acoustic guitar solo tries to serve as a reminder.

In any case, there is little bad to say about "You Are the Woman." It doesn't drag on, it is quick to sing along with, and it has aged well over the years.

Rick Springfield - "Take A Hand" Take a Hand - Written In Rock: The Rick Springfield Anthology

(Debuted #83, Peaked #41, 9 Weeks on chart)

Today, Rick Springfield is best known for the music he recorded during the 1980s. However, he was a fairly successful recording act in the 1970s in his native Australia, beginning as a teen idol long before he became one again on the soap opera General Hospital.

If you aren't familiar with Springfield's pre-MTV era material, click on the YouTube video above. "Take a Hand" is one of his better songs from the 1970s. While it's not on a par with those hits, it's an upbeat tune that comes off well as a period piece.

Funny, the way "Take Hand" has a tip of the hat to "Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," right after I write about The Beach Boys' followup to another Berry-penned single. Then, this Australian native segues into a band from Down Under. I couldn't have planned the flow any better.

Sherbet - "Howzat" Howzat - Howzat

(Debuted #85, Peaked #61, 8 Weeks on chart)

Sherbet were probably the first big Australian band to build their career without having to move to the U.K. or U.S. to get their break. They were the first group to reach the $1 million dollar mark there, and their regional tours were big draws. Singer Daryl Braithwaite even had a solo career between the band's albums. They didn't attempt to go international until the success of "Howzat" forced them to.

"Howzat" was a #1 Australian hit that also reached the Top 10 in many countries across Europe. In the U.S., however, it fell short of the Top 40 despite its eminently catchy pop hooks. Since "Howzat" is a cricket term (used when appealing an umpire's call), that may explain its success in other countries where the game of cricket is more well-known.

Despite the attention "Howzat" had given the band, followup singles were disappointments and they broke up in 1979. Re-formed lineups released singles under the names Highway and The Sherbs followed (along with another Hot 100 single in 1981), but the sublime "Howzat" would be their shining moment.

America - "Amber Cascades" Amber Cascades - Hideaway

(Debuted #86, Peaked #75, 4 Weeks on chart)

Listening to "Amber Cascades," it's easy to pick up on the lines about calling "on a man who walks on the water" and assuming it's from the pen of Dan Peek, who was undergoing a religious awakening that would lead him to leave the group soon afterward. However, the song was written by Dewey Bunnell, not Peek (who passed away last month).

While America wasn't exactly an overlooked band during the 1970s, they were beginning to fade out chart-wise and "Amber Cascades" probably didn't get the chance it deserved. Featuring an acoustic guitar at the beginning, tight vocal harmonies and George Martin's production skills, it was both a return to the sound of their earlier hit "Tin Man" and a move toward a more adult sound that wasn't part of the band's repertoire when they did "A Horse With No Name."

Instead of a new direction, "Amber Cascades" turned out to be America's final single to reach the Hot 100 until 1979.

The Beach Boys - "It's O.K." It's O.K. - 15 Big Ones / Love You

(Debuted #87, Peaked #29, 10 Weeks on chart)

The Beach Boys were one of the best American bands of the 1960s. Beginning with songs that celebrated surfing and the California culture, their songs evolved as technology allowed them to get closer to what leader Brian Wilson envisioned in his mind. However, after coming up with the superb album Pet Sounds and the influential single "Good Vibrations," the band wasn't able to ride the wave they started themselves.

During the early 1970s, the band was still putting out new material but weren't enjoying the success they had in the previous decade. Suddenly, a nostalgic movement that recalled the sound of pre-Beatles rock made them relevant again. Their music was part of the soundtrack of American Graffiti and their Endless Summer LP was a surprise hit in 1973. As a result, they began coming up with material that recalled their 1960s hits, and "It's O.K." was among the tunes that helped fans look back.

Ironically, "It's O.K." was  less of a hit than the group's remake of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music" that was a Top 10 hit during the early summer (a time that was great for the Beach Boys to be chart-bound). Sadly, the spirit of looking back meant that the band was going to have more success doing songs that were from the era than they would with originals that captured the sound and style of that era. That's a problem many artists have later in their careers; their fans still expect to hear what they did two or three decades before.

Sweeney Todd - "Roxy Roller" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #90, 2 Weeks on chart)

Sweeney Todd was a Canadian band that introduced both Nick Gilder (singer of "Hot Child in the City") and Bryan Adams to American audiences. But neither singer was part of the group at the same time; the teenaged Adams replaced Gilder in 1976 after Gilder and guitarist Jim McCulloch suddenly left to pursue other musical avenues.

In addition to two different lineups of Sweeney Todd, there are also two versions of "Roxy Roller." Gilder sang the original that appeared on the band's debut LP. After Adams came on board, he recorded a new version of the song with his own vocal while it was still a chart single. As a result, both versions have been credited as the "hit' version. My MP3 version has Gilder at the microphone, but i still don't know which version was on the single that charted on the Hot 100 (if you know, leave a comment below).

"Roxy Roller" is definitely a glitter rock song. It has the sound, but unfortunately it doesn't stand out from many other glitter tunes of its era. It sounds like it could have been recorded by Sweet, Smokie or Mott the Hoople.

The Isley Brothers - "Harvest For the World" Harvest for the World - Harvest for the World

(Debuted #92, Peaked #63, 11 Weeks on chart)

 As the early 1970s passed into history and the years of the Vietnam War were safely in the rearview mirror of the American consciousness, the socially aware song -- so prevalent in those early years of the new decade -- seemed to fade into a pleasant memory. Despite that, the Isley Brothers came out with this call for brotherhood.

The Isleys deliver their message in their usual funky style, with Ronald standing at the pulpit and brothers O'Kelly and Rudolph chiming in when needed. However, since the "cause" record wasn't in vogue in 1976 despite its solid groove, the song fared poorly on the pop chart. It did make the Top 10 on the R&B chart, however. It also made the Top 10 in the U.K.

This is another song worth at least one listen.

Gallagher and Lyle - "Heart On My Sleeve" Heart On My Sleeve - Breakaway

(Debuted #93, Peaked #83, 5 Weeks on chart)

Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle were Scottish-born singer/songwriters, performing together and as parts of groups like McGuiness Flint and Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance. Though the 1970s saw a lot of singer/songwriter duos, Gallagher & Lyle had been working together as early as 1959.

"Heart on My Sleeve" was a mid-tempo number that was one of several songs from their LP Breakaway that would show up on other artists' records in the mid-1970s. Bryan Ferry also hit with the song later that year. That version was reviewed in this blog nearly two years ago. The song "Breakaway" appeared on a single by Art Garfunkel and "Stay Young" was a country #1 for Don Williams.

The pair split up in 1979, and Lyle continued to write music (he co-wrote Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With it" and "We Don't Need Another Hero").

The Atlanta Rhythm Section - "Free Spirit" Free Spirit - Greatest Hits

(Debuted #94, Peaked #85, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Free Spirit" really deserved a better chance at becoming a hit. It's a great 1970s tune that fits the era's "sound" well, even if the lyrics sometimes come off as boasting.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section hadn't yet fulfilled its potential; "Imaginary Lover" and "So Into You" were not yet recorded at the time and the band was largely a studio band. The members had been playing together for years as the house band at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia. Some members were part of a local group called The Candymen, while others had been in The Classics IV. Singer Ronnie Hammond (another singer who passed away this year) actually came to the group after starting on the other side of the console as a sound engineer.

The lyrics of "Free Spirit" told the story of a woman who was a lot more liberated than those the narrator was used to, especially in the supposedly more "genteel" South. While the lines seem like an explanation of a great time with a freaky girl that many of us might remember hearing from friends during our youth, the backing music is worth listening to. The guitar licks that propel the song are superb, the solo is great, and the music was as tight as anything that came out of Los Angeles or Nashville during the period.

Jigsaw - "Brand New Love Affair" Brand New Love Affair - The Best of Jigsaw, Vol. 1

(Debuted #95, Peaked #81, 3 Weeks on chart)

Best known the the U.S. for the 1975 hit song "Sky High," that single's B-side surfaced a year later. While not as complex as the earlier hit in its instrumentation, it enjoyed two separate if unsuccessful runs on the Hot 100. This was the first appearance, stalling at #81. It would reach #66 when its second chance came.

"Brand New Love Affair" (not to be confused with Chicago's hit single of the same name) was a purely pop confection. Its lyrics are a celebration of a couple still in love after several years, a nice change from the regular pop arena where the love is usually new.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

This Week's Review -- August 11, 1973

This entry marks the 2nd anniversary of this blog's review of Billboard hits from the 1970s. I'm still knocking these out on a weekly basis. Hopefully, I have the desire to see it through to the very end, as these reviews take quite a bit of time to get together...but right now, I intend to keep them coming every week. Thanks to all my regular readers for keeping company with me as I work through these lists.

There were a dozen new singles charting in the Hot 100 this week, with four eventually reaching into the Top 40. Actually, the word "new" isn't entirely accurate for two singles that were hold-overs from previous record companies the artists had left. The list has two of the biggest artists of their respective genres in Conway Twitty and James Brown. Edgar Winter was just coming off a #1 hit, while Gladys Knight and the Hues Corporation were getting primed for others. Joe Walsh makes his solo debut, while lesser-known hits by Rod Stewart and The Ohio Players show up. A soundtrack cut by Willie Hutch, a freeform jam by Mandrill and a shimmering delivery by Ronnie Dyson also highlight the slate of songs.

Over at Google Books, there is a large archive of past issues of Billboard magazine, including the August 11, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 72. A story about Bobby "Boris" Pickett's comeback appears on Page 17. Page 52 explains that the Osmonds' younger sister Marie was about to release her first single (but doesn't mention "Paper Roses" by name). For a quaint change of pace, there is an article on Page 38 that explains the two sides fighting over whether to institute "small hole" 45s and another about a jukebox programmer who thought that color-coding the strips by category is a bad idea.

James Brown

Conway Twitty - "You've Never Been This Far Before" You've Never Been This Far Before - Conway Twitty: The #1 Hits Collection

(Debuted #77, Peaked #22, 14 Weeks on chart)

This is probably my favorite Conway Twitty single of the decade. In any case, it was his only Top 40 pop hit of the 1970s. That may surprise some, considering the fact that he notched 20 #1 country singles in that ten-year window. Though there were definitely other 1970s Twitty singles that deserve a listen ("Hello Darlin'," "I See the Want-To in Your Eyes," "Don't Cry, Joni," "Play, Guitar, Play,""Fifteen Years Ago," "I've Already Loved You in My Mind" and "I May Never Get to Heaven" would make a great intro into his music), but of all of his hits from the decade, if he could only get one Top 40 pop hit, "You've Never Been This Far Before" would be the one that I'd suggest.

"You've Never Been This Far Before" is a very adult single, which builds itself up and intensifies as it goes along, much like the subject Twitty is singing about. His lyrics express an understanding that he's a very lucky man, but not really focused on the reason for where he is. However, his smooth delivery is reassuring his lady friend that he's still going to respect her -- even more so -- in the morning. There were reports of some country stations holding back on playing the song because of the line "as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places" to avoid offending listeners, which might seem odd because the subject of adultery wasn't exactly foreign to country music.

However, even if country music isn't your forte, "You've Never Been this Far Before" is a well-crafted song and worth a listen if you've never heard it before.

James Brown - "Think" Think - Make It Funky - The Big Payback: 1971-1975

(Debuted #80, Peaked #80, 2 Weeks on chart)

James Brown took two singles called "Think" -- both different -- into the Hot 100 in 1973. To further muddy the waters, both were different versions of another Brown hit song called "Think" in 1960. This was the second 1973 version, with a vocal from Vicki Anderson (which is not available on there's no video here).

The Anderson/Brown version of "Think" had originally been released in 1967 but wasn't a chart single then. It was a duet version of his 1960 recording (first recorded by The Five Royales in 1957). It was probably re-released to capitalize on the minor success of the more modernized 1973 version.

The Edgar Winter Group - "Free Ride" Free Ride - They Only Come Out At Night

(Debuted #81, Peaked #14, 15 Weeks on chart)

On the heels of the #1 instrumental "Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group followed with another of their more memorable tunes. "Free Ride" was written by Dan Hartman, who sings on it as well. Hartman's influence for the song was Sly Stone, which explains its proto-gospel elements and soul-laced delivery.

The single version has a different guitar solo than the LP cut and a fuzz bass in the instrumental bridge. Both versions are the same length. The mixing of styles seems to have given it a sheen that has allowed the song to age well. It doesn't sound nearly as dated as many 1973 rock tunes do.

Mandrill - "Hang Loose" Hang Loose - Fencewalk: The Anthology

(Debuted #83, Peaked #83, 7 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube video above features a great live performance on Soul Train that is definitely not a lip-sync job. The thing that is really neat is that the song has more in common with free-form jam bands than the soul, funk and early disco acts that would usually play on the show at that time.

In a way, the group was a precursor to Parlaiment/Funkadelic, a band who once opened for them in concert. Mandrill was based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, formed by three brothers who were born in Panama. Lyrically, "Hang Loose" is a plea for peace and brotherhood, written by the group's keyboard player Claude "Coffee" Cave (who also sings the words on the record).

Here's a neat little factoid about Mandrill that could only have happened during the 1970s: Omar Mesa -- seen in the video above doing a guitar solo -- left the group in 1974 for"spiritual reasons."

Ronnie Dyson - "Just Don't Want To Be Lonely" Just Don't Want to Be Lonely - Soul Legend

(Debuted #84, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on chart)

What an interesting song to pop up during this anniversary post.

Though the service no longer wants to let me change it, there's a little section along the right side of this blog that has a few songs that I thought I'd feature back in the days before I began reviewing songs here. That was well over two years ago, and Ronnie Dyson's "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely" has always been a part of that list.

The lyrics of the song express that things can definitely go wrong with relationships, but enduring them is better than being alone. The strings and melancholy horns echo the sentiment. The more realistic tone is a far cry than the euphoria expressed in songs about the early stages of love that is normally found in pop music. I've mentioned here before that this dose of realism about personal relationships is something that draws me more to R&B (and country as well) as I've gotten older and deeper into the relationship I have with my wife.

"Just Don't Want to be Lonely" was also done by Blue Magic, and The Main Ingredient later had an even bigger hit with the song with a "brighter" arrangement, but to my ears it's Dyson's version that is definitive.

Rod Stewart - "Twistin' the Night Away" Twistin' the Night Away - Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings

(Debuted #87, Peaked #59, 7 Weeks on chart)

The Twist was a sensation in 1962. When Chubby Checker's single went back to #1 for its second time (it was also a chart topper in 1960), there were a bunch of songs that followed it that mentioned "twisting" in them. Among those hits was a number written and recorded by Sam Cooke called "Twistin' the Night Away." Like fads tend to do, The Twist faded into memories as the 1960s wore on, not totally forgotten but a relic of its time.
Cooke's single was a #6 hit in England as well, where Rod Stewart was a 17 year-old musician. Due to his interest in R&B, it would become a part of his routine over the years. As a performer who was comfortable with bringing out older tunes, it ended up making the track list of his LP Never a Dull Moment as the final song of the record. The song wasn't reworked, nor was it merely tossed off as album filler. As a fan of R&B and of Cooke in particular, Stewart gave the song all he had.

Stewart recorded "Twistin' the Night Away" again in 1987 for the soundtrack of the film Innerspace. The 1980s production style distracted the performance, but Stewart had long since changed the direction he showed during his first four solo albums. That version would hit #80 when it was released as a single.

Gladys Knight and the Pips - "All I Need is Time" All I Need Is Time - The Ultimate Collection: Gladys Knight & the Pips

(Debuted #94, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

After several years under the umbrella of Motown and feeling like a second-rate act there, Gladys Knight & the Pips moved on over to Buddah Records in 1973 and broke out in a major way. However, after the group parted ways with their old record company, Motown still had some singles to release under their Soul imprint, including "All I Need is Time."

The "time" in the title was needed to get over a failed romance. As always, Knight was able to show off her range and the Pips were there to punctuate the lyrics with their own backing accompaniment.
However, Buddah was getting ready to issue "Midnight Train to Georgia" as a single, which was a different take on a relationship...and quickly made listeners forget about "All I Need is Time."

Willie Hutch - "Slick" Slick (Soundtrack/The Mack) - The Mack

(Debuted #95, Peaked #65, 6 Weeks on chart)

"Slick" is from the movie The Mack, which starred Max Julien as a former drug dealer who becomes a pimp and Richard Pryor as his sidekick. And if you hadn't guessed, it was lumped in with the "Blaxploitation" flicks of the era even as its director claimed it was a social commentary.

Before becoming an artist, Willie Hutch was working on the other side of the business, as a writer, arranger and producer. He worked with The Fifth Dimension and later moved to Motown, where he was one of the writers of the smash hit "I'll Be There."  That opened the doors wide open for him.

"Slick" is well-named, as a slickly produced and orchestrated song that sounds like it came from a Blaxploitation film.

The Ohio Players - "Ecstasy" Ecstasy - Ecstasy

( Debuted #96, Peaked #31, 15 Weeks on chart)

For many casual listeners, The Ohio Players' pre-Mercury recordings (aside from "Funky Worm," possibly) have been largely overlooked.  What is better remembered from the group, their racy LP covers. Where their Mercury albums often looked like they were remainders from a Penthouse shoot, their Westbound LPs went with an S&M angle. That's not really surprising once you see that those LPs were called Pain, Pleasure and Ecstasy. 

The song "Ecstasy" was the band's second Top 40 pop hit. It was a short but funky little number. While a lot more understated than later hits like "Fire," "Love Rollercoaster" and "Who'd She Coo?," it was a nice little groove in itself. If anything, it was really short at two and a half minutes and really leaves the listener ready for some more. However, as the first song on the album, that's a really good hook.

Neil Diamond - "The Long Way Home" The Long Way Home (Remastered) [Mono] - The Bang Years

(Debuted #97, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

In 1973, Neil Diamond jumped from MCA to Columbia after signing a multi-million dollar deal. Hot Summer Night had just turned him into a superstar worthy of the large contract. Also that year, another former label, Bang, issued a compilation LP called Double Gold to try and get some of the residual effects of Diamond's star power.

"The Long Way Home" originally appeared on Diamond's 1967 LP Just For You. Recorded before he perfected his singer/songwriter style, it's a rawer version of Diamond's music than most listeners would recognize. During his tenure at Bang, label chief Bert Berns tried to market Diamond to the younger crowd, despite the promise shown in songs like "Shilo" and "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon." In that sense, its #91 peak is little surprise.

Joe Walsh - "Rocky Mountain Way" Rocky Mountain Way - The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get.

(Debuted #99, Peaked #23, 15 Weeks on chart)

The performance in the YouTube video above is from August of '73, which makes it about as contemporary as I am possibly going to able to get.

Peter Frampton gets a lot of credit for the "talkbox" on "Do You Feel Like We Do," but here's an instance of the device being used even earlier than that, on the distinctive guitar solo. There is also a baseball reference ("The bases are loaded and Casey's at bat"), which has helped it to be a fan favorite at the baseball field in the Rocky Mountains. the Colorado Rockies play the song whenever the team wins a home game.

Joe Walsh's "solo" debut after leaving the James Gang was actually a project for his new band Barnstorm. After the band's first LP gained less-than-expected results, the next album was credited only to Walsh despite the fact that it was a group effort. "Rocky Mountain Way" was written jointly by all the members of Barnstorm but was an ode to Colorado, where Walsh had moved in the early 1970s. Lyrically, it wasn't too far apart from John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as a celebration of a new home but the two songs were quite different stylistically.

The Hues Corporation - "Freedom for the Stallion" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #63, 8 Weeks on chart)

The Hues Corporation was going to call themselves The Children of Howard Hughes, but their record company forced them to change it. Taking the name of Hughes' company, they used the word "hues" as a reference to their African heritage.

They were best remembered for "Rock the Boat" -- a track from the LP Freedom For the Stallion -- but the album's title track was issued as a single first. It was a modest hit, but one that was largely forgotten once the follow-up appeared, flew to #1 and helped kickstart the burgeoning disco movement.

Written by Allan Toussaint, "Freedom For the Stallion" may come across as slow to those who expect another version of "Rock the Boat," but that hit was actually much different in style than the rest of the album. What many might perceive as "slow" is what others consider "soulful," and "Freedom For the Stallion" likely deserved a better shot without a massive hit to distract from it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This Week's Review -- August 8, 1970

There are eleven new singles appearing in the Billboard Hot 100 this week (one of which was two-sided). Five of them went on to make the Top 40, with two getting into the Top 10 and one reaching the #1 position. There is a common theme with some of the songs in this list. A couple of songs are remakes of earlier hits that have had a gospel chorus added to them, while another one is a B-side that has a religious "tone" even if it might be secular in nature. Another theme is the road, as three songs specifically mention traveling. A remembrance of a girl that got away appears in a song by a former Monkee, a hit appears for a band who later backed an ex-Beatle and a singer who appeaerd at Woodstock sings a song about getting along with others. Surprisingly, a band who had also appeared at Woodstock and was hugely influential in the 1960s are appearing on the Hot 100 for the very first time.

Along with a large archive of past editions of Billboard at Google Books, The August 8, 1970 edition is available to read for free. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 54. An article beginning on Page 8 explains how promoters of concert festivals were having trouble securing locations to hold them. Keeping in mind that this was still less than a year after the logistical nightmare of Woodstock and the resulting traffic issues around the site, as well as the tragedy of Altamont, it's little wonder that venues weren't exactly thrilled to deal with them.


Diana Ross - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" Ain't No Mountain High Enough (Long Version) - Diana Ross (1970)

(Debuted #46, Peaked #1, 14 Weeks on chart)

Diana Ross' first #1 hit after leaving the Supremes was a song that had already been a hit before for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967. While recording her debut LP, Ross was produced by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who had written the song. When they asked her to do the song, Ross was hesitant because she had already recorded the tune as a member of her previous group, in a "duet" with The Temptations.

As a result, the song was changed from its original upbeat tempo (which was the way it was done by The Supremes) and slowed it down. A string section and gospel-flavored background vocals were added, along with spoken-word recitations in two of the verses.

Despite Miss Ross' reluctance to record the song again, and Berry Gordy's reservations about the spoken passages, the song became one of Motown's best-remebered and cherished hits. It's just another example of how even the hitmakers don't always know when they've just laid down a million-selling record.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Lookin' Out My Back Door" Lookin' Out My Back Door - Cosmo's Factory (40th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] b/w "Long As I Can See The Light" Long As I Can See the Light - Cosmo's Factory (40th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered]

(Debuted #56, Peaked #2, 13 Weeks on chart)

Since this was a two-sided hit, here's a bonus video for the flip side:

From 1969 through '71, Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the top bands in the U.S. From "Proud Mary" to Sweet Hitch-Hiker," every one of their singles went into the pop Top 10. They had nine straight Top 10 singles, with the first seven reaching #4 or higher. Five of those singles reached #2...but none would hit the top spot. This time, they were held at bay by "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." It was assumed that the band was certainly going to reach the top position someday, but this would be the last time they would get this high up the charts.

Both songs appeared on the group's LP Cosmo's Factory. "Lookin' Out My Back Door" was marked by its general "down home" sound and its imaginative lyrics. While some critics assumed the words were inspired by an acid trip, John Fogerty insisted they were inspired by his young son. Whatever led it to be written, any song that mentions Buck Owens in its lyrics is okay with me.

There seems to be a religious undercurrent to "Long As I Can See the Light." While the lyrics describe going on a journey, the idea of a guiding light is common to songs that are spiritual in nature. The fact that Fogerty sings it in a mournful, respectful tone puctuates that possibility.

Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers - "Don't Play That Song" Don't Play That Song - Aretha Franklin: 30 Greatest Hits

(Debuted #59, Peaked #11, 10 Weeks on chart)

I wasn't born in 1970, so my introduction to Aretha Franklin consisted of some of her 1960s hits on oldies radio, as well as her 1980s material as it appeared on the Top 40 radio in its own time. For whatever reason, her 1970s material was overlooked entirely. I don't remember exactly when it was, but one day, I finally got a chance to hear "Don't Play That Song" as it played as a part of a documentary about Aretha. 

The piano opening made me take immediate notice, but the gospel-inflected "You Lied" part with its call-and-response interaction with the backing chorus locked the song in the recesses of my memory forever.

Written by Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, "Don't Play That Song" was a hit by Ben E. King in 1962. That version sounded similar to his "Stand By Me" with its Latin-influenced baion bass, and the chorus in the "You Lied" chorus uses a standard background vocal. With its added piano and inflected chorus, Aretha's version is quite memorable. Though it eventually matched King's #11 peak on the pop charts, it was a #1 hit on the R&B chart for five weeks (King reached #2 there).

Michael Nesmith and the First National Band - "Joanne" Joanne - Magnetic South

(Debuted #86, Peaked #21, 12 Weeks on chart)

Michael Nesmith's first hit single away from The Monkees was also the only Top 40 hit any member of the group would ever have on his own. I would say "solo," but that would take away some of the spotlight from his First National Band. Despite being a member of a noted pop/rock band, Nesmith showed off his Texas-bred country roots after embarking on his own career, which is certainly on display in "Joanne."

The song's lyrics were a remebrance of a girl the narrator once knew who eventually went away with another man. He had feelings for her (which were evidently unreturned) but isn't bitter that she got away. In fact, he even states in the song that his thoughts of her are "kind." If the song was written regarding an early crush or a first girlfriend, I can definitely relate.

Jackie DeShannon - "It's So Nice" It's So Nice - Classic Masters: Jackie DeShannon (Remastered)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #84, 2 Weeks on chart)

The lyrics of "It's So Nice" touch on a subject touring musicians know all too well: getting home after being away for a long period. After spending weeks or months away, the long stretches of highway in between the crowds can get monotonous, and returning to a familiar life is truly "so nice."

Interestingly, Jackie DeShannon moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and had to get used to a different place after coming off the road.

Despite falling off the Hot 100 after two weeks, "It's So Nice" would return for another five-week run in September. However, it didn't surpass it's original peak at #84.

Elephant's Memory - "Mongoose" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #50, 14 Weeks on chart)

Once again, Music Mike gives a little bit of background in the YouTube video above.

Although Elephant's Memory was best known for backing John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their 1972 tour and on the Some Time in New York City LP, they were a working band for a few years before Lennon picked up on them. "Mongoose" predated their association with the couple, having been recorded when Lennon was still a member of The Beatles.

Playing behind a former member of the biggest rock group was a great way for the New York-based band to be remembered, but it didn't do much to advance their career. "Mongoose" was their only charted single and they seem to have broken up sometime around 1974.

Bert Sommer - "We're All Playing In The Same Band" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #48, 8 Weeks on chart)

Not surprisingly for a song from 1970, "We're All Playing in the Same Band" is an appeal for brotherhood, using a musical metaphor to remind its listeners that people are all the same underneath the exteriors.

Bert Sommer was in original Broadway production of Hair and performed at Woodstock. That gig and the vibe it had may have helped Sommer decide to perform "We're All Playing in the Same Band." Sadly, he died of a respiratory illness in 1990.

Tony Joe White - "Save Your Sugar For Me" Save Your Sugar for Me - Tony Joe

(Debuted #94, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

Sadly, no YouTube video for this song seems to be available at the time of this writing. Louisiana-born Tony Joe White is best known for his 1969 hit "Polk Salad Annie" and also wrote songs that became hits for other artists, such as "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Steamy Windows."

"Save Your Sugar for Me" would be his only charted single of the 1970s, which is puzzling since the decade was so good to singer/songwriters. Perhaps White was a decade before his time, as the popularity of "outlaw" country acts like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings may have helped him considerably.

Marmalade - "Rainbow" Rainbow - Marmalade - Their Very Best - EP

(Debuted #96, Peaked #51, 8 Weeks on chart)

Marmalade's follow-up to the #10 hit "Reflections of My Life" may come as a pleasant surprise to those who've never heard it. Where the earlier hit featured an orchestral backing and dramatic undertones, this song has neither. This time, it's the band and their own instruments. Beginning with a mournful harmonica that pops up again in the middle and again at the end, there is an effortless feel of the way the words come that makes it easy to join in and sing along.

While not a big hit here in the U.S., "Rainbow" made it to #3 in the band's native U.K. However, Marmalade never managed to replicate their U.K. success in the U.S. and would split up soon afterward. They did manage to get one more minor hit in the U.S. with "Fallin' Apart at the Seams" in 1976, with an entirely different lineup that was pieced together when the band was reformed.

The Grateful Dead - "Uncle John's Band" Uncle John's Band - Workingman's Dead (Bonus Tracks)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #69, 7 Weeks on chart)

This may seem to be a typo for those who don't pay attention to chart minutiae...but "Uncle John's Band" was the very first single from The Grateful Dead that ever reached the Hot 100. That's right, all the influence that the band had through the late 1960s couldn't get them a hit single. However, it can be pointed out that many of their tunes really weren't suited for singles-based hit radio as they were as album-length sides or as live concert jams.

"Uncle John's Band" shows some of the Dead's influences in its style: bluegrass, folk and an acoustic setting. Originally an offering on the LP Workingman's Dead that ran for nearly five minutes, it was cut down to fit more nicely into radio playlists as well as to remove the word "Goddamn" that pops up in its lyrics. Ironically, Top 40 stations largely ignored it, and many of the more progressive FM stations just played it from the album.

The Poppy Family Featuring Susan Jacks - "That's Where I Went Wrong" That's Where I Went Wrong (US Version) - A Good Thing Lost 1968-1973

(Debuted #100, Peaked #29, 12 Weeks on chart)

The Poppy Family was built around the husband/wife duo of Terry and Susan Jacks. Terry largely wrote and produced that material, while Susan expressed the words with her voice. "That's Where I Went Wrong" was the followup to the #2 hit "Which Way You Goin' Billy?" and seems to be about a relationship that is about to fall apart.

The lyrics mention how the ring no longer means anything and how the bus ride is becoming eternal. That may seem interesting, as the Jackses -- is that right? -- would still be together for a couple more years. Besides, the tour bus (if I am getting the bus reference right) would continue to roll long after the song was written.

It would be the group's final Top 40 hit in the U.S. Several other singles would chart in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, and another would make the adult contemporary chart. However, the band and marriage would finally fall apart in 1973.