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.

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