Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Week's Review -- September 20, 1975

This is going to be a bigger task than usual this week. There were 16 Singles that debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week (one of which was double-sided), giving me 17 songs to review. That is more than twice last week's total; played all at once, there is 64 minutes' worth of music. Of those, nine ended up in the Top 40 and one reached the Top 10. Interestingly, the songs were all over the place stylistically. In fact, there are songs on the list that went to #1 on Billboard's R&B, country and adult contemporary charts, even though none topped the pop list. In between are folk, the signature tune from The Boss, songs influenced by a previous generation's 78 records and a song that has been eagerly embraced by Chicanos. For those who say that the mid-70s was a wasteland musically, this weeks' list might come as a refreshing surprise. It may have been hard to find a radio station that would play all of the songs here, but it's a reminder that there was more to the contemporary music scene than what its critics claim.

The September 20, 1975 edition of Billboard is missing from the archive at Google Books, so I'll once again shamelessly plug my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. Over there, the new posts arrive every weekday and each week features a different year. This past week's focus was 1989 and the songs featured included a "comeback" by Alice Cooper and a song that had George Harrison lending his distinct slide guitar to the instrumental bridge. Next week, the blog returns to 1980 once again.

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The Ohio Players - "Sweet Sticky Thing" Sweet Sticky Thing (Quad Mix) - Honey

(Debuted #64, Peaked #33, 8 Weeks on chart)

A mention of The Ohio Players usually brings up memories of funk-rooted hits and racy album covers. In the case of "Sweet Sticky Thing," the LP cover (titled, appropriately enough, Honey) still featured a naked model but the music was rooted in a spacey jazz mixed with some Quiet Storm and even a dash of New Age tossed in. It's quite a departure from the full-on funk that coursed through "Fire," "Love Rollercoaster" and "Who'd She Coo?"

In the midst of the sonic atmosphere is some great saxophone work from Clarence "Satch" Satchell throughout the song. It brushed into the lower reaches of the pop Top 40, but spent a week at the top of the R&B chart as well.

Bruce Springsteen - "Born to Run" Born to Run - Born to Run

(Debuted #68, Peaked #23, 11 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes a song is so well-known and highly regarded, I really can't add much to it. There's so much that has been written about "Born To Run" that it's really futile to try and add anything. In my own case, I was born too late to appreciate the song in its initial run; in fact, I was familiar with Born in the U.S.A. long before "Born to Run" ever popped up on my radar.

While I definitely understood the yearning that made the song's narrator look toward hitting the road on a motorcycle in my youth, what stands out now for me with the song is its bombast. It was almost as if Springsteen and producer Jon Landau wanted to channel the spirit of Phil Spector when they laid down the track. Plus, the saxophone solo gives me a moment to reflect on how much "The Big Man" Clarence Clemons is missed. Springsteen may be called "The Boss," but not when Clemons took center stage.

George Harrison - "You" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #20, 10 Weeks on chart)

"You" is a track from George Harrison's Extra Texture LP, his "contractual obligation" album to finish up his time with Apple before beginning Dark Horse. Though infused with his unique self-deprecating sense of humor, it was one of Harrison's least favorite records. It took a long time to see a CD release and still isn't available digitally.

"You" was written in 1970 for Ronnie Spector to record, but she passed on it. At the time, Harrison was working with Phil Spector for his All Things Must Pass project. Without being used, the musical track was set aside and largely forgotten. However, with the need to get a final LP out for Apple, Harrison used the old backing track and recorded his lyrics. As a result, the song sounds like an outtake from that album (for good reason) even with the seemingly tossed-off lines.

Time has been kind to much of Harrison's solo material. Hopefully it won't be long before songs like "You" are more readily available for consumers.

Olivia Newton-John - "Something Better to Do" Something Better to Do - Gold: Olivia Newton-John

(Debuted #77, Peaked #13, 11 Weeks on chart)

"Something Better To Do" pretty much defines Olivia Newton-John's MOR period, which would see lower pop chart peaks through her starring role in Grease and less crossover success on the country chart. It did, however, spend three weeks at #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

The song features a sound that seems like it hearkens back to an earlier decade (its lead instrument is a clarinet, with a piano and sparse percussion) and her vocal sounds like she's doing a 1930s-era waltz. The lyrics weren't from a long-past era; they were written by Olivia's frequent collaborator John Farrar. The words express disappointment over the end of a relationship. It's a different tune than many might expect from her, designed to show her ability to adapt to different styles on record, but it may be too different for some.

War - "Low Rider" Low Rider - Why Can't We Be Friends?

(Debuted #78, Peaked #7, 15 Weeks on chart)

A celebration of the hot-rod, hydraulic-equipped "cruisin'" culture, "Low Rider" is a mix of rock, soul, funk, and Latin rhythms that capably reflected the multi-ethnic collective that was War. Over the years, it has come to be embraced by the Chicano culture, appearing in the opening credits of the 1978 Cheech & Chong film Up in Smoke and being used as an opening theme for George Lopez's 2002-'07 sitcom and his late-night talk show.

It's a very familiar song that has largely avoided the ignominy of the "worst of" lists that seem to be filled with 1970s music despite the fact that it gets an awful lot of exposure. Perhaps the fact that its tight groove and the easy roll of its smooth lyrics have lent a veneer to the song. Its laid-back groove has suited it well over the years and kept it from sounding like a 1975 artifact.

Melissa Manchester - "Just Too Many People" Just Too Many People - Melissa

(Debuted #79, Peaked #30, 12 Weeks on chart)

After the pop sheen Melissa Manchester gave to "Midnight Blue," the followup single may have seemed to be more upbeat, but it also showed another side to the singer that doesn't always come out in the material that gets played ("Don't Cry Out Loud," "Looking Through the Eyes of Love" and "You Should Hear How She Talks About You"). 

"Just Too Many People" was co-written by Manchester with producer Vini Poncia and is a forward-looking song, despite having a title that appears to be complaining. Basically, the message is that too many people are afraid to take the next step and we don't need to be two more of them. It's an interesting "let's take this to the next level" lyric.

B.J. Thomas - "Help Me Make It (To My Rockin' Chair)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #65, 9 Weeks on chart)

From a song about taking a relationship to the next level, here's a "grow old with me" song. It's an interesting choice to follow up after a hit like "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," it missed the pop Top 40 and was a lesser hit on the country chart as well. However, on the adult contemporary chart (where the sentiment is more welcome), it was a #5 hit.

"Help Me Make it (To My Rockin' Chair" sounds like it could have been from the 1930s, with its piano intro and the mention of going to "the picture show." That seems to be a running theme with this week's songs.

Waylon Jennings - "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way - The Essential Waylon Jennings

(Debuted #82, Peaked #60, 9 Weeks on chart)

Thanks to a career that was cut short far too early, Hank Williams had one of the most significant "what if?" stories in musical history. He was only 29 years old when he died and left a very strong body of work as a songwriter, which has led to numerous discussions about what he could have done if he'd only had more time and maturity. Not only have his songs been recorded countless times over the years, he's been mentioned in country songs ever since. His music has been addressed in song ("Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life" by Moe Mandy), his ghost has made its appearance in song ("The Ride" by David Allan Coe and Alan Jackson's "Midnight in Montgomery") and "Are You Sure Hank Done it this Way" asks the question about what it takes to make it in Nashville.

"Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way" was a two-sided #1 country song (the flip side, "Bob Wills is Still the King," honored another country legend) and one of Waylon's best-known tunes.

Aretha Franklin - "Mr. D.J. (5 For the D.J.)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #53, 5 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes, artists feel the need to give appreciation to the radio disc jockeys to get their record played. That reflects the influence DJs once had in radio but have lost over the years as things like computer-controlled playlists, automation and other factors have come into play. While Arteha Franklin is praising a radio jockey in this song, the role of the DJ in her target audience was soon going to evolve and become a big deal at parties and clubs.

"Mr. D.J. (5 For the D.J.)" is an upbeat tune with a funky undercurrent. The "5" in the parentheses refers to a needed break -- as in "take five" -- but the lyrics keep imploring the poor guy to "hang on in there." Though not a Top 40 pop hit, it did reach #13 on the R&B chart.

B.T. Express - "Peace Pipe" Peace Pipe - Non-Stop b/w "Give it What You Got" Give It Whatcha Got - Non-Stop

(Debuted #85, Peaked #31, 18 Weeks on chart)


B.T. Express made a name for itself with funky tunes that were big on instrumentals but featuring sparse lyrics that were little more than chants of the title. "Peace Pipe" followed the format. The lyrics are pretty much "Put it in your peace pipe...smoke it all up," which reminds me of a high school buddy of mine who used to say "put that in your pipe and smoke it" whenever he made a point.

The flip side was "Give it What You Got," which actually has more lyrics and a more defined verse/chorus structure, but that song is more about funk rhythms and dance grooves than the "always do your best" advice in the lyrics.

The Manhattan Transfer - "Operator" Operator - The Very Best of the Manhattan Transfer

(Debuted #87, Peaked #22, 12 Weeks on chart)

The Manhattan transfer was a vocal group that drew its influences from the past. Big Band, jazz, barbershop harmonies, doo-wop, Dixieland, and more were likely to show up in their material.In the case of "Operator," the influence was gospel.

Using a telephone as a metaphor for talking to Jesus, "Operator" showcased the group's four-part harmonies and gave Laurel Masse a chance to show off her vocal skills. Part of the group's charms was the way they drew so often from the past, so their act was too eclectic for a wide audience, but familiar to those who remembered the original material. In a way, it's not much different from writing about 1970s music nearly four decades after the fact.

Joan Baez - "Diamonds And Rust" Diamonds and Rust - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Joan Baez

(Debuted #89, Peaked #35, 11 Weeks on chart)

I was torn between two different YouTube videos for this song. One had her performing it in concert and the other featured a recording of the album track. Normally, I'd go with the stage performance if it's from the same period as the song came out and was close to the single version. In the end, I went with the recorded version of the song so I could feature the accompaniment as well.

Joan Baez's final Top 40 hit was a reminiscence about her personal relationship with Bob Dylan in the 1960s. Affectionate but unsentimental, she sings with an intensity that wasn't matched by many of her fellow singer/songwriters circa 1975. Evidently brought about by a telephone call out of the blue, it was a recounting of random images from an old flame that has long burned out, with no "misty-eyed" nostalgia about what used to be. As a result, "Diamonds and Rust" is perhaps Baez's best performance on a single.

Buddy Miles - "Rockin' And Rollin' On The Streets Of Hollywood" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

In 1975, Buddy Miles switched record labels again. He ended up signing with Casablanca, the home of the group Kiss and a label that would soon become known for its disco artists. The first cut from the first LP he recorded for Casablanca was "Rockin' and Rollin' On the Streets of Hollywood," a song that is more of a solid rock tune than many would expect.

It was Miles' first chart single since 1972 and would also be his last under his own name, as personal and legal issues led to a lack of new releases. His stay at Casablanca was short, and he wasn't back in the spotlight until being the voice of the California Raisins in a series of TV ads in the 1980s. Sadly, Buddy Miles passed away from congestive heart failure in 2008.

David Bellamy - "Nothin' Heavy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #77, 6 Weeks on chart)

The first chart single by David Bellamy (even before anything he and his brother Howard did as a duo) was about being young and enjoying love without responsibility. "Nothin' Heavy" had an autobiographical air, but sounds different than the material he and his brother would later perform.

David Bellamy was the writer of Jim Stafford's 1974 hit "Spiders and Snakes," which gave him enough money to move out to Los Angeles while his brother Howard worked as a road manager for Stafford. After "Nothin' Heavy" fell off the charts, the two brothers teamed up on a song written by Neil Diamond's roadie. That song, "Let Your Love Flow," would be the song that changed the direction of their careers.

Duke and the Drivers - "What You Got" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

After a short two-week stay in August that failed to get any higher than position #100, "What You Got" was given a second chance. Its #97 peak immediately gave it a better showing than it was initially given, but an additional week at #95 was all they could get before the song fell off the Hot 100 for good.

Duke and the Drivers were a Boston-based band that had an R&B-infused rock sound that was similar to The J. Geils Band, another local group. However, they weren't doing similar material and both bands drew large crowds at their performances. When Duke & the Drivers released their first LP in 1975, "What You Got" was a decent regional hit and the band was known to drop by radio stations unannounced to get more airplay.

The song sounds like it could have been performed by Kiss or maybe Grand Funk, but it failed to catch on nationally and the band never managed to get a followup single to chart. Duke & the Drivers took occasional hiatuses over the years, but still get together and perform and are still a legendary "party" band in New England.

Poco - "Keep On Tryin'" Keep On Tryin' - Head Over Heals

(Debuted #99, Peaked #50, 9 Weeks on chart)

In keeping with Poco's country-rock roots, "Keep On Tryin'" features a sparse accompaniment (just an acoustic guitar) that gives an emphasis to the band's tight vocal harmonies. The song opened their Head Over Heels LP, a record that veered more toward pop material than the group usually performed. In a sense, it was a short bit that satisfied their fans before getting into their newer sound.

"Keep On Tryin'" was written by band member Timothy B. Schmit, whose voice is out in the front of the recording.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This Week's Review -- September 18, 1971

There were eight new singles making their debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with five that made their way into the Top 40. One of those even went to #1. The first five are sung by females, including a self-contained all-female band, a singer who once fronted Smith and another who was best known for singing with her husband. A group whose name reflected their interest in the Occult perform a song from which many have picked up a religious message. A group that had already racked up several hits perform a live version of a song that had already been a big hit four years before. Finally, there were three singles done from a male perspective, and all three have different styles: one is a pop-like tune, another a rock song and one an R&B tune about what happens after the woman threatens to leave.

Among the archive of past issues of Billboard magazine at Google Books is the September 18, 1971 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 66. A feature on Page 17 recounts the career of Dick James, a man whose publishing business included The Beatles and Elton John/Bernie Taupin as clients.

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Fanny - "Charity Ball" Charity Ball (Single Version) - First Time In A Long Time: The Reprise Recordings

(Debuted #81, Peaked #40, 10 Weeks on chart)

Fanny was an all-female group -- self-contained, rather than relying on others to play the music --  that was among the first to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. Led by sisters June and Jean Millington, they've been largely (and oddly) overlooked despite their historical significance. They weren't the first to record or get a major record label, but they predated The Runaways, who often get that credit.

"Charity Ball" was the lead track and title of the group's second LP, which was produced by Richard Perry. The song is a straight-ahead rocker that may have been quickly forgotten due to its short stay at the bottom of the Top 40. However, for two and a half minutes, it's a great piece of ear candy.

Coven - "One Tin Soldier (The Legend Of Billy Jack)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #26, 12 Weeks on chart)

"One Tin Soldier" is probably best known for its appearance in The Legend of Billy Jack, but it was originally an anti-war song written during the late 1960s and recorded by a Canadian group called The Original Caste, who had a minor hit with the song in 1970. Jinx Dawson sang it for the opening credits of the first Billy Jack film and the recording was credited to her band Coven.

During its run into the Top 40, there was some question about who held the rights to the song and it was pulled from airplay, which means it may have gotten higher than its #26 peak if fate hadn't intervened. The band rerecorded the song in 1973 (at the same time a second Billy Jack movie was being filmed) and returned to the Hot 100 with it.

Ironically, a band whose members were interested in witchcraft and Satanism (hence the name) made a song that has often been remembered for its religious imagery. However, the message of the song seems to serve as a warning that doing sin in the name of the Lord is still sin...and practitioners will still be judged for their actions. In any case, it's a relic of the early 1970s, a time where the nation was still reeling from Vietnam and a generational shift.

Cher - "Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves"  Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves - Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves

(Debuted #88, Peaked #1, 16 Weeks on chart)

Cher's first #1 hit without Sonny was a "cycle tale," where the story is repeating itself at the end. A baby is born in a traveling show, where Mama has to dance and Dad (later Grandpa) sells snake oil. The girl ends up getting pregnant during her teens after listening to a sweet-talking Southern boy, and the cycle begins again.

"Gypsys, Tramps & Theives" began life as a song called "Gypsies, Tramps and White Trash" but producer Snuff Garrett told writer Bob Stone that he'd have a better time pitching it if he changed the title. There is some confusion over the spelling of the title (the original was "Gypsys..." but later releases have changed it to the more correct "Gypsies..."), and the success of the song led to a reissue of Cher's self-titled LP with the song's name (again, as "Gypsys...") to capitalize.

At the same time, Cher and husband Sonny began their TV variety show a month earlier. It would provide an outlet for the duo (together and separately) to get additional hits due to its popularity. It revived both their careers.

The 5th Dimension - "Never My Love" Never My Love (Live) - The 5th Dimension/Live!!

(Debuted #89, Peaked #12, 10 Weeks on chart)

Recorded live and included on their LP The Fifth Dimension/Live!!, their rendition of "Never My Love" is a slowed-down, more adult version of a song that The Association took to #2 in 1967. The group missed the original's placement on the pop chart, but took it to #1 on the adult contemporary chart (their fourth chart-topper there).

While not as familiar as the version by The Association, its delivery by Marilyn McCoo can be seen as an expressive way to use her voice and give an inner power the original didn't have. Both songs were produced by Bones Howe, so there is little difference in the arrangement aside from its tempo.

Gayle McCormick - "It's A Cryin' Shame" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #44, 12 Weeks on chart)

Actually, "It's a Cryin' Shame" this song missed the Top 40.

Once again, Music Mike takes care of most of Gayle McCormick's background during his introduction in the video above. In short, McCormick was the female lead for the group Smith, whose breathy vocal on "Baby, It's You" in 1969 was a lot more nuanced than in The Shirelles' hit version or the remake done by The Beatles.

McCormick's biggest of her three solo hits was a lot more upbeat musically. The lyrics are about a broken relationship, with little more than resignation that it's over. Yes, she thinks back about the times they shared together but there's no dramatic element to be had. She's ready to tuck his faded picture in a book somewhere, wish him good luck and keep walking on. That's pretty healthy.

The 8th Day - "You've Got To Crawl (Before You Walk)" You Gotta Crawl Before You Walk - The Best of 8th Day

(Debuted #91, Peaked #28, 11 Weeks on chart)

From a song about cutting losses after a bad relationship, here's one about swallowing your pride and doing whatever is necessary to keep it together. In this case, though, the narrator knows he's been wrong.

The 8th Day was initially a studio creation by Holland/Dozier/Holland to prevent any loss of sales for 100 Proof (Aged in Soul)'s "Somebody's Been Sleeping." When that group's song "She's Not Just Another Woman" began attracting attention, the songwriting/producing trio simply issued the song on a record and credited it to "8th Day." For the followup single, they actually assembled a group to perform it.

"You've Got to Crawl Before You Walk" was the group's second Top 40 pop hit, and matched the earlier singles #3 peak on the R&B chart. Future releases by the group, however, were disappointing and they would split apart by 1973.

Springwell - "It's For You" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #60, 10 Weeks on chart)

"It's For You" was the only Hot 100 listing for Springwell, a group from Detroit. It wasn't the first time for the song, though. Written by Lennon/McCartney, "It's For You" was a 1964 hit for Cilla Black, who took it to the Top 10 in the U.K. but peaked at #79 in the States. Three Dog Night also recorded a version of the song in 1969.

Springhill's rendition sounds like it came from a garage band, quite different from what Black had done with it. Though it surpassed the chart showing of her version in America, it didn't get enough of a chance to be memorable, even as it sounds like a 1971 relic in its sound and production style.

Nolan - "I Like What You Give"  I Like What You Give - Nolan

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart )

This was the first of two different runs on the Hot 100 for "I Like What You Give." This time, it spent only two weeks on board and dropped after reaching #98. A month later, it would get another chance and went to #70.

At first listen, the song sounds like it came from a young Kenny Nolan. That's not correct, as it was Nolan Porter, who later hit under the name "N.F. Porter." A guitar-accented stroll, "I Like What You Give" is a breezy pop song that deserved its second chance. An instrumental bridge in the song starts off as if it's been influenced by the 1968 hit "Tighten Up" but then segues back into the main rhythm of the song. It features a nice drum part as well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This Week's Review -- September 8, 1973

Ten new records debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with seven of those making their way into the Top 40. Two of those were Top 10 hits, with one going all the way to #1. The chart-topper was a rare ballad from the band that is often called "The Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World" by its fans. The other Top 10 was a family act whose singer was compared to Donny Osmond. Coincidentally, Donny's family act is here as well, along with a comedy act that parodied "Love Jones" and a hit from the film "Cleopatra Jones." Kool & the Gang get their first of many Top 40 hits with a tune that promises what its title offers. As for the songs that fell short of the Top 40 were a retro-styled song, a remake of a French-language 1970 hit and a nostalgic look at the things of childhood.

Among the large archive of past issues of Billboard over at Google Books is the September 8, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 58. An article on Page 32 explains how jukebox programmers were having some difficulties getting into new venues that weren't known for having them. There was outright restance from fast food places (evidently, McDonald's wasn't quite so youth-friendly then), and a swimming pool found that water and sunlight were harmful to the metal exterior and the records inside.

Where Rock Art lives

The Rolling Stones - "Angie" Angie - Goats Head Soup (Remastered)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #1, 16 Weeks on chart)

There are a lot of accounts about "Angie." Some say it was about David Bowie's then-wife, others say it could have been about Bowie himself. Keith Richards says he used his newborn daughter's middle name and that the song was written about breaking a heroin habit. In any case, it's one of the few ballads the Stones put out as a single, as well as a rare acoustic-based tune.

The lyrics explain that a relationship is drawing to its inevitable end, and it's not a pleasant ending. However, the acoustic accompaniment and Nicky Hopkin's piano work (not to mention the strings, another thing that seems out of place on a Stones song) mix with Mick Jagger's vocal to express the emotional toll of the decision.

It's a deeper song than earlier tunes like "Under My Thumb" or "Get Off of My Cloud" suggested.

Millie Jackson - "Hurts So Good" It Hurts So Good - Millie Jackson: 21 of the Best (1971-1983)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #24, 12 Weeks on chart)

Millie Jackson specialized in songs about cheating, told from the viewpoint of the "other" woman. However, her biggest pop hit was a track from the soundtrack to Cleopatra Jones that seemed to be more about masochism than it was about satisfying another woman's husband.

The lyrics tell the story of a very unhealthy relationship. The guy is playing with her mind, talking bad about her to his friends and tears down her self-esteem. Yet, she doesn't want to walk away. In fact, she's telling him to keep it up. All the while, she's joined by a gospel-inspired backing unit, lush strings and horns that punctuate the feelings she's having.

The DeFranco Family Featuring Tony DeFranco -  "Heartbeat - It's a Lovebeat" Heartbeat It's a Love Beat - Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat (feat. Tony DeFranco)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on chart)

The DeFranco Family was a Canadian act consisting of five siblings -- three brothers and two sisters -- with the youngest member on lead vocals. Tony DeFranco was 13 at the time he recorded "Heartbeat - It's a Lovebeat" and was compared to Donny Osmond, who at 15 was outgrowing the fan base we now call "tweens."

"Heartbeat" was the group's first single and a surprise hit, a bubblegum confection in an era when that sound was supposed to have been dying. As we have found out from New Kids on the Block, Hannah Montana and others throughout the years, there's no denying the effect of prepubescent girls on pop music.

Cheech & Chong - "Basketball Jones Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces" Basketball Jones - Los Cochinos

(Debuted #84, Peaked #15, 11 Weeks on chart (Debut))

"Basketball Jones" isn't the name of a character (he's Tyrone Shoelaces). It's a subtle parody of the hit "Love Jones" from earlier in 1973 and about a guy who's obsessed with hoops.

Cheech & Chong's LP Los Cochinos featured a spoken segment leading in to "Basketball Jones" called "White World of Sports" that introduces the character. A coach (who is also heard during "Basketball Jones") brings him in and he breaks out in song. Using a falsetto, Tyrone (voiced by Cheech Marin) brags about his abilities and asks everybody (except for Chris Schenkel) to join him in the chorus.

"Basketball Jones" was a star-studded affair in the studio. George Harrison plays guitar, Carole King plays the electric piano, Tom Scott adds his saxophone and Billy Preston mans the organ. The "cheerleaders" include Darlene Love and Michelle Phillips. It must have been a blast to lay down on tape.

The Osmonds - "Let Me In" Let Me In - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #86, Peaked #36, 10 Weeks on chart)

After several years of constant touring, recording and appearances, The Osmonds began looking at other issues in life. By 1973, some of the brothers had gotten married or were of the age where Mormons are asked to go on missions for the church. Of course, they were well-known as members of their faith so their touring was seen as a type of "mission" on its own, but the idea sprouted that led to the "concept" LP The Plan.

"Let Me In" was sung by Merrill Osmond and featured the other four brothers harmonizing on the chorus. It's one of those songs that across as a devotional song, one that is addressed either to a prospective mate or a deity. Though I'd likely assume it's the former, the name and concept of the LP that contains it might suggest the latter.

Ike & Tina Turner - "Nutbush City Limits" Nutbush City Limits - Proud Mary - The Best of Ike & Tina Turner

(Debuted #89, Peaked #22, 15 Weeks on chart)

From a song about looking ahead, we go into a few that look back.

After more than a decade together, the tempestuous relationship between Ike and Tina Turner was winding its way down. As a result, "Nutbush City Limits" would be the final Top 40 hit for the duo. Though few (even Ike and Tina) would know what was about to happen over the next couple of years, it was quite a finale.

The song was semi-autobiographical for Tina (who wrote it), as she was born in Nutbush, Tennessee. The lyrics paint a picture of small-town life, not as a wistful memory or a reminder of how bad it was; rather, the words are presented in a matter-of-fact way, as if she was just telling it the way she remembered it. However, there is an undercurrent of funk that propels the song forward and makes it impossible to miss.

Ironically, Nutbush is an unincorporated area, so it doesn't technically have "city limits."

Kenny Karen - "That's Why You Remember" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #82, 4 Weeks on chart)

There isn't a lot of information out there from the usual sources about Kenny Karen. From what I can tell, he's a Montreal native who made his name writing and singing jingles for radio and television ads. He also spent several years recording demos for songwriters to pitch to established stars.

"That's Why You Remember" was his only hit on the pop chart in the 1970s. A list of items from childhood memories as a reminder that there will always still be part of a kid inside each of us, it touched on the nostalgic feeling that was cresting at the time. However, it was also likely seen as maudlin with its slow melody. At just over two minutes, it seems to drag on longer.

The J. Geils Band - "Make Up Your Mind" Make Up Your Mind - Bloodshot

(Debuted #98, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

Speaking of the nostalgic feeling that rose in the 1970s, here is a tune that evoked the 1950s rock & roll style and didn't need to bring up a list of items to jog anybody's memory. Though it sounds like it's a remake of a song from the past, "Make Up Your Mind" was written by band members Peter Wolf and Seth Justman. It's purely retro, with its R&B-influenced beat.

The YouTube video above is a live version of "Make Up Your Mind," captured by George Corneliussen,  the man who ran the mixer board during the late 1970s. It features a harmonica solo by Magic Dick that wasn't on the original single but still should be heard.

Sylvia and Ralfi Pagan - "Soul Je T'aime" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #99, 2 Weeks on chart)

Several months removed from the success of the hit "Pillow Talk," Sylvia went back a few years and did a new version of another breathy tune, the 1970 Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin hit "Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)." I'm not really sure if this is an English translation (as I don't understand French), but I do recognize the climactic "Oh, my God" near the end that Sylvia "borrowed" from "Pillow Talk."

Ralfi Pagan was a Latin singer from The Bronx who sang in both English and Spanish. He had a large fan base in Latin America, he was tragically murdered in Columbia in 1978. "Soul Je T'aime" represents his only entry on the pop charts, but his work continues to sell well and is perhaps better-known today than it was during his too-brief lifetime.

Kool and the Gang - "Funky Stuff" Funky Stuff - Wild and Peaceful

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

Don't believe the saying...sometimes, you can judge a single by its label. When Kool & the Gang promise to deliver "Funky Stuff" on their record, they certainly deliver.

Taken from their LP Wild and Peaceful, "Funky Stuff" was the band's first Top 40 pop single as well as their first Top 5 R&B hit. It was also the first of three hits from that album ("Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging" were the others) that established the band's tone and style until James "J.T" Taylor's arrival in 1979. It was a three-minute funk workout, yet solidly rooted in pop. Their horn section was bright, the saxophone swinging, and the vocals boisterous.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This Week's Review -- September 2, 1978

This week's review is a lot shorter than usual. There are only five new songs this week. However, only one of those songs would make it past a #67 peak position. That one song became a monster hit, but three of the other four are from fairly well-known acts.Rupert Holmes appears for the first time as a solo artist, while Seals & Crofts are on the pop chart for their last run. The group once known as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band appears with a new name, and a female group from South Africa appears for the only time in America. Above all that is a song that has become an easy-listening juggernaut.

There is a large archive of past issues of Billboard magazine to read at Google Books, including the September 2, 1978 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 86. An article on page 60 shows that the language we speak has evolved a little. The headline reads "Retarded Get a Club." while the article is about a special disco club for what are now called "special needs" people, the use of the word "retarded" is now seen as unflattering.

Get Goin South Platinum - As Seen on TV!

Seals & Crofts - "Takin' It Easy" Takin' It Easy - Takin' It Easy

(Debuted #81, Peaked #79, 3 Weeks on chart)

Surprisingly, there is no YouTube video for this song.  Seals & Crofts is popular enough that even their album tracks have been given the YouTube treatment, but it appears their later LPs didn't have the same hold as their earlier recordings did.

Their final hit on the pop chart is called "Takin' it Easy," a song that described the duo's style...except that the song had more of a bite than you might expect. Rather than a soft arrangement and lilting harmonies, the song has a guitar foundation and its production seems to have been influenced by ELO.

Prophetically, the words "soon I'll be saying goodbye" appear at the end of the chorus, since that's exactly what Seals & Crofts did once the song dropped off the chart. It wasn't an intentional swan song; the duo released the LP The Longest Road in 1980 but only managed one entry on the adult contemporary chart. Warner Brothers dropped them from the label and they put their singing career off for a while. There have been occasional reunions, but they essentially ceased being a recording duo after that.

Rupert Holmes - "Let's Get Crazy Tonight" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #72, 6 Weeks on chart)

Although "Let's Get Crazy Tonight" is listed as Rupert Holmes' debut hit, he had been recording the entire decade. He was a part of the group Street People and sang on their hits "Jennifer Thompkins" and "Thank You Girl" (reviewed here last April) as well as The Buoys' 1971 hit "Timothy," an ode to cannibalism. He also wrote songs for and produced Barbra Streisand's Lazy Afternoon LP in 1975. Though the song didn't get far up the charts, he would go on to score the final #1 hit of the decade with "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)."

While not nearly as memorable as that big hit, "Let's Get Crazy Tonight" is a suggestion to take off on a Saturday and mix it up in a different part of town. He could be singing about going to the disco (which would be appropriate, given the era), or he could simply be suggesting painting the town red and tearing something up in an alcoholic rage. That's probably less likely...but you never know what to expect from a songwriter who touches on cannibals or spouses cheating on each other with each other in his songs.

Ambrosia - "How Much I Feel" How Much I Feel - Life Beyond L.A.

(Debuted #90, Peaked #3, 21 Weeks on chart)

Many of us have that road we didn't take at some time in our lives. Whether there was a good reason it went untraveled, or whether fate intervened, or it was all a product of rotten luck or bad planning...there's a natural part of us that wonders what might have happened "if only..." That's the theme of "How Much I Feel," where a man walks away from a relationship and thinks back on it years later, even after he's gotten married.

"How Much I Feel" was the biggest hit of the 1970s for the L.A.-based group Ambrosia and was an example of the California "sound" of the era. Ironically, its pop sound was a change of pace for a band who leaned more toward progressive music on their albums. In fact, the group's biggest hits were all pop confections. That must have irritated them even as it made their record company demand more of the hit material.

The Dirt Band - "In For The Night" In for the Night - Dirt Band

(Debuted #92, Peaked #86, 3 Weeks on chart)

In 1978, the band formerly known as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band unveiled their newly shortened name, reflecting the fact that they had switched some members and pared down their sound. Though they occasionally pulled out the banjo for some of their songs (like "In For the Night"), they were largely oriented toward pop and soft rock.

"In For the Night" was written by Ed Sanford and Johnny Townsend, who recorded it in 1977 for the same album that contained their hit single "Smoke From a Distant Fire." The Dirt Band's take is a pure pop tune, with an occasional banjo and a "country" (meaning not in the city, rather than a musical style) topic tossed in. The band had definitely gone a long way from recruiting Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter and Earl Scruggs to help record a concept LP.

Clout - "Substitute" Substitute - The Best of Clout

(Debuted #94, Peaked #67, 7 Weeks on chart)

Clout was an all-female band from South Africa. They were moderately successful in Europe as well as their native country, but "Substitute" would be their only hit in the U.S. While the title brings to mind a 1966 song by The Who, this was a different song, where the singer is telling another person (here, it's "Sam") that she'll gladly stand in when the girl he's wanting breaks his heart again.
This version is sung from a female point of view, but it was originally recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1975. Clout's version rose to #2 in the U.K., but fell far short of the Top 40 in America. A short time later, Gloria Gaynor released a version as a single to capitalize on Clout's lack of success; however, the B-side (called "I Will Survive") attracted more attention. It's a shame Clout's version wasn't given a better chance, as it's a great song.