Saturday, October 15, 2011

This Week's Review -- October 12, 1974

There were a lucky 13 singles making their debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Seven of them made their way into the Top 40, with one that rose all the way to #1. That chart-topper was one of those songs from the 1970s that tends to be polarizing, a song that is pointed out as an example by those who both love and hate the era's music. Once again, the songs here draw from several different influences, which might come as a surprise to those who like to ridicule the era's music. Several songs have soul and funk roots, some are rock-derived. Two songs are really interesting: one is a song about alcoholism that was penned by Gil Scot-Heron and another is a Paul Davis tale of a rodeo cowboy who's too proud to see that he's past his prime.

Google Books has a large archive of past Billboard issues, including the October 12, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 52. There is a large section of the issue devoted to U.K.-based producer Mickie Most to celebrate his 10th anniversary as a record label head. An article beginning on Page 3 explains that several record executives were concerned over battles between different versions of the same song impacting sales. That's interesting, since that had been an issue they had been fighting for decades before 1974. A review of Cheech & Chong's Wedding Album on Page 50 has the following warning for retailers: "Be careful on in-store play." You think?

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The Hues Corporation "Rockin' Soul" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #63, Peaked #18, 12 Weeks on chart)

Not feeling any need to (ahem) rock the boat, The Hues Corporation followed up their #1 smash with a song that wasn't too far removed from it stylistically. "Rockin' Soul" was the lead single from the group's first LP after their out-of-left field hit. While it was likely meant to capitalize on the success of "Rock the Boat," it reached #18 on the Hot 100 and #6 on the R&B chart. Those were respectable numbers but not as great as expected.

As a result, the band had no further hit singles except for one last low-charting song called "I Caught Your Act" in 1977. By then, the group that was credited for one of the earliest disco hits had long been surpassed by the same acts for which they'd opened the door.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - "Battle of New Orleans" Battle of New Orleans - Stars & Stripes Forever

(Debuted #78, Peaked #72, 4 Weeks on chart)

"The Battle of New Orleans" is probably best-known as a song that Johnny Horton took to #1 in 1959, but the song was around for several years before that. The words had been written by Jimmie Driftwood in the 1940s. He was a teacher who used music to get his students interested in history. He took a traditional fiddle tune called "The 8th of January" (the date of the battle) and wrote lyrics around them.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's version was a slowed-down rendition, done in a more subdued style than the boisterous nature of Horton's hit. The military-style drums and cadences are gone, replaced by bagpipes at the fade. It was a cut from the LP Stars & Stripes Forever, which delved pretty deeply into Americana and ended up being the band's highest-charting album.

George McCrae - "I Get Lifted" I Get Lifted - Rock You Baby

(Debuted #80, Peaked #37, 9 Weeks on chart)

As JB said in the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin', "I Get Lifted" prevented George and Gwen McCrae from earning the title of husband-and-wife One Hit Wonders. That's if you take only the Top 40 into account, though, George McCrae racked up three other chart singles that failed to get beyond #50.

If this song sounds a lot like some of the early work of KC & the Sunshine Band, there's good reason. Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch both lent their talents behind the console on this song, just as they did for much of McCrae's work for T.K. Records. In fact, the breathing you hear at various parts of the song sound like they were the inspiration of the "uh huh, uh-huh" refrain in "That's the Way (I Like It)" from the following year.

It's an entirely different vibe than "Rock Your Baby" gave off, but one that deserves a listen.

Fancy - "Touch Me" Touch Me - Wild Thing / Turns You On

(Debuted #87, Peaked #19, 10 Weeks on chart)

I discovered this song on an old K-Tel record the older sister of one of my friends gave me. I was a teenager at the time, and its lack of any subtlety certainly made an immediate impact on me. The record didn't come with any pictures of the band and it would be years before I ever saw one, but at that time it seemed that any woman who could purr like that would get my attention, regardless of what she looked like.

Fancy was set up as a one-off studio group by British producer Mike Hurst, but their debut single "Wild Thing" was such a big hit that the arrangement was made more permanent. However, the vocalist from that single (former Penthouse pet Helen Caunt) was replaced for the group's debut album by Annie Kavanaugh, who handles the lead on "Touch Me." Kavanaugh was able to replicate the sultry style of the earlier hit over the guitar breaks in the background, but the sound was likely seen as an effort to strike while the iron was hot and ended up being the last chart single for the group.

Paper Lace - "The Black-Eyed Boys" The Black-Eyed Boys - Their Very Best - EP

(Debuted #,88 Peaked #41, 9 Weeks on chart)

Paper Lace's followup to "The Night Chicago Died" was a song that went in a different direction from the period pieces their first two chart singles offered. It was a fun song about a motorcycle gang that was also a band. It will definitely sound different to those who might peg the group by their #1 hit, but "The Black-Eyed Boys" is a fun song that sounds like it was written to be sung in a pub somewhere in England.

It just missed the Top 40. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be their final hit in the U.S.

Steely Dan - "Pretzel Logic" Pretzel Logic - Pretzel Logic (Reissue)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #57, 5 Weeks on chart)

At the time Steely Dan released its third LP Pretzel Logic, it was still a band in nature rather than a studio comglomeration. The album was a lot more complex than their previous ones were, which pointed to the group's future direction. It would be considered one of their best recordings.

The album's title track is a mix of random images, with a verse that expressed the desire to travel with a minstrel tour around the South, another that mentioned meeting Napoleon and one that had somebody making fun of a pair of shoes. Interviews with Donald Fagen have revealed that he was thinking of time travel when he wrote the song, but the minstrel shows fly in the face of his well-known distaste of touring and the style critique could have been applied to 1970s fashion in general. In this case, it's likely better to pay more attention to the groove than the lyrics.

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan - "You Got the Love" You Got the Love - Rags to Rufus (feat. Chaka Khan)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #11, 16 Weeks on chart)

On the heels of "Tell Me Something Good," Rufus followed it with "You Got the Love," which proved the initial hit was no fluke. A song with a funk undercurrent and a memorable turn by singer Chaka Khan, "You Got the Love" would reach #1 on the R&B chart and peak just outside the pop Top 10.

"You Got the Love" was co-written by Chaka Khan and Ray Parker, Jr. It begins with a guitar line that sounds like it could have been Parker's, but the liner notes credit Al Ciner for the licks. The song was the first to credit the group as "Rufus featuring Chaka Khan" rather than simply as Rufus, in order to recognize the increased attention her vocals brought the group since joining in 1972.

The New Birth - "I Wash My Hands Of The Whole Damn Deal (Part 1)" I Wash My Hands of the Whole Damn Deal, Pt. 1 - The Very Best of The New Birth

(Debuted #91, Peaked #88, 3 Weeks on chart)

The New Birth was originally founded by producer Harvey Fuqua as a vocal complement to
 his instrumental band The Nite-Liters. Eventually, the two bands merged, along with the group Love, Peace & Happiness to form a new group, which took The New Birth's name.

"I Wash My Hands of the Whole Damn Deal" featured a kicking guitar line, solid brass section and a funky bass line, but its title would soon prove proficient when the group broke with Fuqua in 1975. Though they would have a quick rebound with "Dream Merchant" the next year, the band was heading toward its ultimate fate.

Gladys Knight and the Pips - "I Feel a Song (In My Heart)" I Feel a Song (In My Heart) - Love Finds Its Own Way - The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips

(Debuted #92, Peaked #21, 17 Weeks on chart)

Before getting into this song, let me point out something in the YouTube video above. While it's not uncommon for a video to be playing a record as it spins on the turntable, not every video has a cat hanging around and watching it spin.

"I Feel a Song (In My Heart)" was the first cut and title song for the third LP Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded for the Buddah  label. Co-written by producer Tony Camillo, the song had originally appeared in 1971 from Sandra Richardson, and was a B-side for The Persuaders the next year. Starting off sounding it was part of a film soundtrack, Knights vocal sets the pace early and the Pips soon jump in to back her up.

The song only reached #21 on the pop chart, but would hit the #1 position on the R&B survey.

Brother To Brother - "In The Bottle" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #46, 7 Weeks on chart)

Gil Scot-Heron passed away earlier this year. While he was definitely an acquired taste musically, he had no trouble with vocalizing what he felt needed to be said. In that sense, he was an American original. One of the songs he wrote was "In the Bottle," a song about alcoholism and how it doesn't discriminate against anybody.

Scot-Heron wasn't a member of Brother To Brother, though. Michael Burton of St. Louis founded the group with a trio of studio musicians. "In the Bottle" would be their only listing on the pop chart and the first of three hits on the R&B survey.  It missed the pop Top 40 but reached #9 R&B. Using a flute as the main instrument in the song, the group did a great job on the song and deserved a better chance than the one it received.

Carl Douglas - "Kung Fu Fighting" Kung Fu Fighting - The Soul of the Kung Fu Fighter

(Debuted #94, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

A blog that focuses on the music of the 1970s is going to hit some of the more polarizing singles of the decade eventually, and this is definitely one of those.

This song is pretty well-known. In fact, it's one of those songs that is held up by those who love 1970s music as an example, and pointed out by just as many who don't. There was an interest in martial arts during the decade, fueled by Bruce Lee movies and the TV show Kung Fu, so it was only a matter of time before somebody came up with a song that had people dancing around like they are in the video above, where there are two guys in the back who appear to be making moves on each other. Viewed through that prism, the song can be seen as a novelty; however, the song's ascension to the #1 position made it a part of the 1970s culture, for better or worse.

Not surprisingly, it started out as a B-side. Carl Douglas was hired by U.K.-based producer Biddu to sing a song called "I Want to Give You My Everything" and Douglas offered the song as a quick thing that would fill out the other side of the single. It was recorded in the last ten minutes before the session was over. The record company felt it was a better song and released it as a single with an entirely different song on the flip side.

Needless to say, "Kung Fu Fighting" has overshadowed everything else Carl Douglas has recorded. The Jamaica-born, U.K.-reared singer only had one more chart single in the States. Not surprisingly, it was a different take on his big hit, but listeners declined his call to "Dance the Kung Fu."

Sammy Johns - "Early Morning Love" Early Morning Love - Sammy Johns

(Debuted #95, Peaked #68, 8 Weeks on chart)

For those of you who've been told that the music of years past was somehow more "pure" than the ones that play on the morning today, I present this song, which is about a man asking for sex when he wakes up in the morning. In a way, the song exemplifies that way a guy can get a girl simply by being able to play a guitar, but this song certainly doesn't skirt the issue of why he's playing it.

"Early Morning Love" was Sammy Johns' first chart single. At the time, he was a singer/songwriter based out of Atlanta. It didn't end up giving him much exposure, but the followup "Chevy Van" certainly did. The success was short and Sammy eventually moved on to writing material for soundtracks and other artists, notably in the country genre. His later hits included John Conlee's "Common Man" and Waylon Jennings' "America."

Paul Davis - "Ride 'em Cowboy" Ride 'em Cowboy - Paul Davis: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #98, Peaked #23, 18 Weeks on chart)

Former major league pitcher Jim Bouton said in his book Ball Four that he had spent so much time gripping the ball that he never realized until it was too late that it was actually the other way around. That is something that happens in a lot of areas in life, and "Ride 'em Cowboy" switches that to the rodeo circuit. The story in the song has an experienced cowboy who's well past his prime but still trying to keep up with the youngsters. He's feeling the pains that come with his age, the ladies are no longer paying attention to him and he's getting fewer chances to show he can still ride. The effect of age isn't only affecting him, either; even the one horse who was once too wild for him to break is blind and giving rides to the kids.

I've often claimed that Paul Davis was horribly underappreciated, a fact that hasn't gotten any better now that he's passed away. The Mississippi native drew from a lot of diverse influences in his songs, and "Ride 'em Cowboy" is definitely from the country side he'd explore deeper later in his career. Needless to say, I recommend taking a listen if you're not familiar with the song.

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