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.

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