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.


  1. The Gilder-led version of Sweeney Todd is the incarnation that debuted on the Hot 100 on August 21, 1976 at number 90. As your note suggest they were on one more (again at 90) and then fell off. On September 18, 1976, the Adams-led incarnation debuted at 99 with the "new" version of the song and fell off the following week.

  2. I certainly agree about "You are the Woman." I loved it when it came out and still do 35 years later. In fact, Firefall put out three consecutive great fall singles starting with this one. In 1977, it was "Just Remember I Love You," and in 1978 it was "Strange Way." I think Rick Roberts wrote and sang lead on all three.

    "Howzat" charted on the KHJ Thirty in Southern California. It was rare by then for the station to play anything that wasn't also a national hit, but this was an exception.

  3. 1976-08-21
    Billboard Hot 100 - No.90 Debut Sweeney Todd - Roxy Roller (Vocal- Nick Gilder)

    Billboard Hot 100 - No.99 Debut Sweeney Todd - Roxy Roller (Vocal- Bryan Guy Adams(Bryan Adams))

    I Totally Agree With First Anonymous!!