Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Week's Review -- October 21, 1972

This week's review is another one that will require extra time to read all the way through. There were 16 new singles listed in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and seven of them worked their way into the Top 40. Additionally, four would get into the Top 10. Any list of 16 songs is bound to show some diversity, and this is no exception. A hit by America that recalls California shows up on the list, as well as a song by Albert Hammond about trying to make it in the same state. There was a Presidential election a few weeks away, which inspired a "break-in" novelty record. Isaac Hayes does a TV soundtrack theme and The Osmonds do a single that flies in the face of their "bubblegum" image. New songs appear by Melanie, Harry Chapin, and Tower of Power that have a different vibe to them, as well as a Sammy Davis, Jr. song that sounds exactly like "The Candy Man" did. The Supremes do a song from Pippin, Joe Simon does a song that will be a bigger hit later on and The Raiders try to appeal to their promotion guys.

The October 21, 1972 edition of Billboard is missing from the archive at Google Books, so I'll once again offer a shameless plug for my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. Last week, the focus was music from 1983 and many of the songs I featured were ones that missed the Top 40 altogether. One was a TV theme that many may not have even realized was a single. If you're a fan of 80s music as well, check it out.

America - "Ventura Highway" Ventura Highway - Homecoming

(Debuted #63, Peaked #8, 12 Weeks on chart)

America's third straight Top 10 hit is one that I can definitely relate to. In the lyrics, a man finds himself in a snow-covered area and really wishes he was somewhere warmer. As a kid who grew up in northern New York -- where we certainly had a lot of white stuff and freezing cold every winter --  I remember being ready for the day I could find myself in a location where hard winters were little more than a memory.

"Ventura Highway" was written by Dewey Bunnell, who also sings the lead vocals. As a military brat, he did his share of moving around. One year, he was living in Omaha, Nebraska and remembered being in California several years before that. The images in the song came from those memories.

One of the more memorable features of the song is the way the two acoustic guitars harmonize in the intro. Also, the lyrics "Alligator lizards in the air" have made some listeners wonder what the heck Bunnell may have been smoking when he wrote the words, but I always assumed he was describing a cloud formation.

Albert Hammond - "It Never Rains In Southern California" It Never Rains In Southern California - It Never Rains In Southern California

(Debuted #65, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on chart)

There's a story in the lyrics of "It Never Rains in Southern California." A man heads to Hollywood in search for fame and fortune but finds neither. Instead, he gets rejection as he tries to get his big break (a common result, as my friends there have told me). At the same time, he's dealing with homesickness, which doesn't help his feelings of inadequacy at all. In the song, the title is soon followed by the rest of the saying: "It pours. Man, it pours."

Albert Hammond was born in London during World War II after his parents evacuated Gibraltar when the Germans approached. They returned after the war and Hammond grew up there. Before charting in the U.S. as a singer, Hammond wrote material that charted for others, including Leapy Lee's "Little Arrows" and the Top 10 Pipkins hit "Gimme Dat Ding." "It Never Rains in Southern California" would be his biggest American hit as a singer, but he continued to chart minor hits as a solo artist through the decade and continued writing hit singles well into the 1990s.

Isaac Hayes - "Theme From The Men"

(Debuted #73, Peaked #38, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Theme From The Men" is a song that sounds like it would be perfect in one of those prototypical 1970s chase scenes. Not just the ones involving cars, but the ones where an antagonist is getting away on foot as well. Not surprisingly, it was composed as the theme to a TV series.

The Men wasn't a show in the stricter sense we know today; rather, it was a rotating slot of three different shows (Assignment Vienna, Jigsaw and The Delphi Bureau) with a common thread of having a single individual who was able to get his job done with little outside help. The series didn't prove to be popular and was canceled before the 1972-'73 TV season was over.

Despite that, the theme is a great example of 1970s soundtrack work.

The Delegates - "Convention '72" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #8, 8 Weeks on chart)

As you may have guessed from the title and the name of the artist, "Convention '72" was a politically-themed record. Using the "break-in" style that was pioneered by Dickie Goodman, there was probably some confusion that Goodman had actually been behind the record even though his distinctive voice was nowhere to be heard on it. Instead, it was a bit done by Pittsburgh-area DJ Bob DeCarlo with a couple of record company executives to cash in on the election cycle.

Using the guise of a joint convention between both parties, the record features bits of other hit singles as "responses" to questions posed by reporters. While the newsmen were given altered names -- Walter Klondike, David Stinkley, Larry Reasoning -- the politicians were public figures and weren't afforded the same courtesy.

"Convention '72" is a glimpse into political discourse in 1972, even if it is a little long at five minutes. Plus, the coming election would give the single a short run on the chart. Finally, calling it a "break-in" record is pretty funny, considering what happened with Watergate that year.

Donny Hathaway - "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know - A Donny Hathaway Collection

(Debuted #87, Peaked #60, 6 Weeks on chart)

It's tough to review a Donny Hathaway song without focusing on his tragic story. Instead, I'll offer a suggestion that if you (or someone you know) exhibits signs of mental illness, get help. There is no longer the same stigma attached to it as there once was, and treatment is often sensible. While taking your own life -- as Hathaway did -- is often seen as the "easy way out," it's still a burden your loved ones will deal with and agonize over for the rest of their lives. I'm seeing that with a good friend of mine whose 20-year old son killed himself over the summer. His questions can only be answered by one person, who's no longer able to explain what he was going through. No matter what we say about being there for him, there is no way to bring back what he really wants: his son.

Somehow, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" is appropriate here. Even after I've gone in a different tangent. My friend has been saying that ever since that tragic day that changed him forever. Hathaway's family likely said it, too. So please get help if you think you're at the end of your rope and that nobody cares. Because you're wrong.

Melanie - "Together Alone" Together Alone - Beautiful People: The Greatest Hits of Melanie

(Debuted #88, Peaked #86, 4 Weeks on chart)

Melanie's career had its share of highlights, with an appearance at Woodstock and a resulting Top 10 song about that experience called "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" that showed depth. At one time, she even had three songs in the Top 40 at the same time. Unfortunately, one of those songs was "Brand New Key," a smash hit that also sunk her credibility.

In 1972, she came up with an album called Stoneground Words, a record that showed her maturity, but the double entendre of "Brand New Key" would overshadow the sincerity of that entire LP. "Together Alone" was the first track, a song about two people preparing to walk through life together. It's a little slow but that helps set the mood of the song. Melanie's music has often been something of an acquired taste, so those who aren't already open to her message likely wouldn't care to hear it.

There's a lesson to be taken away from this: when you're trying to build up a reputation as a serious artist, a one-shot novelty hit with a sexual double meaning might cause people to pay less attention to your later work regardless of its sincerity.

Harry Chapin - "Sunday Morning Sunshine" Sunday Morning Sunshine - Sniper & Other Love Songs

(Debuted #89, Peaked #75, 6 Weeks on chart)

One thing for certain with a Harry Chapin song is that it will tell a story. In "Sunday Morning Sunshine," he takes the persona of a man who feels the need to get away and see the world, but he's drawn back to home by a woman's love. The "Sunday morning sunshine" in the title is the antidote to his "Monday morning rain" and the reason he feels compelled to return to her.

It's not nearly as memorable as "Taxi" was or compelling as WOLD," which explains its low peak position. However, "Sunday Morning Sunshine" also leaves out the sometimes grating manner Chapin exhibits in those hits. In the end, it's a very pleasant folk-based tune and will be well-received by fans of his.

The Osmonds - "Crazy Horses" Crazy Horses (Original) - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #90, Peaked #14, 12 Weeks on chart)

I was born too late to experience "Osmondmania" when it first swept the country. As a result, I've really never gotten around to hearing much of their material, and what I've paid attention to was colored by the later material Donny and Marie did, as well as the bubblegum label handed to the brothers after their biggest hit "One Bad Apple."

In short, I wasn't expecting "Crazy Horses" when I first heard it a few years back. The song is a solid rocker, complete with what can only be described as an unsettling keyboard wail, gruff backing vocals on the chorus and a brass section barrage. While it's not exactly what I'd expect from The Osmonds, I'm guessing that any other act handling this song would have gotten a different look from critics.

One thing I do notice, though: Donny Osmond isn't singing on this song. The vocals are done by Alan, with Merrill coming in just before the chorus.

Al Green - "You Ought To Be With Me" You Ought to Be With Me - Call Me

(Debuted #91, Peaked #3, 15 Weeks on chart)

Al Green was at the peak of his game late in 1972. "You Ought to Be With Me" would be his fourth Top 10 pop hit in the year and his third #1 R&B single. While his smooth delivery of the song could arguably be considered quite close to a "formulaic" manner, it was a formula that was definitely working for him.

Al the elements you'd expect in an Al Green song are here: the solid Memphis brass section, Green's method of singing that got the ladies in the right mood, the polished production. Call it going back to the well, but it sounds great.

Mouth and McNeil - "Hey, You Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #92, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

The followup to "How Do You Do" isn't going to make anybody forget the earlier hit. Actually, in Europe, "Hey, You Love" was released first but wasn't issued in the U.S. until after "How Do You Do" was a surprise hit in the Summer of '72. After its disappointing showing, the duo never returned to the American chart again despite more success in their native Holland.

Tower of Power - "Down To The Nightclub" Down to the Nightclub - The Very Best of Tower of Power: The Warner Years

(Debuted #94, Peaked #66, 8 Weeks on chart)

"Down to the Nightclub" uses Tower of Power's signature horn section and funky rhythms, but there are some times where they sound a lot like Rare Earth vocally. It was a track from the groups Bump City LP, and the words "Bump City" are interjected into the lyrics. Rick Stevens handles the lead vocal, as Lenny Williams had not yet joined the band at the time.

The YouTube video above has a 1976 live version, with a different lineup of the band.

Joe Simon - "Misty Blue" Misty Blue (Original) - Joe Simon Selected Hits Vol. 1

(Debuted #95, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Misty Blue" is best-known for its version by Dorothy Moore, but it was written a decade earlier as a country song. Originally meant for Brenda Lee, she turned it down and it was recorded both by Wilma Burgess and Eddy Arnold in 1966. Joe Simon was the first R&B artist to chart with it.

Simon was noted as a "country soul" performer early in his career, so the tune was well-suited to his talent. However, the rendition Dorothy Moore turned in four years later made many forget his own, even though he was the artists who likely laid the groundwork for her single.

Sammy Davis Jr. with the Mike Curb Congregation - "The People Tree" The People Tree - Mr. Bojangles

(Debuted #96, Peaked #92, 5 Weeks on chart)

Sammy Davis, Jr. received a great deal of flak for his version of "The Candy Man." It was the biggest hit of his career, took him to #1 on the pop chart and reiterated his position as one of the most popular entertainers. However, the song was foisted on him by his record company (MGM) and its head Mike Curb and Davis had to grudgingly accept the fact that the song would become a signature tune.

As a result of the goodwill (and the river of cash that flowed in) because of that song, MGM brought in "Candy Man" songwriters Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for his next album Portrait of Sammy Davis, Jr. and had The Mike Curb Congregation provide the backing vocals as they had for the hit song. The followup single was "The People Tree," a song about brotherhood that sounded a lot like "The Candy Man" did.

Fortunately for those who felt "The Candy Man" was a waste of Davis's incredible talent, the followup stiffed and he wasn't forced to bring out retreads of the song by his label anymore.

The Raiders - "Song Seller" Song Seller - The Legend of Paul Revere

(Debuted #98, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Song Seller" was another try at sustaining the momentum The Raiders picked up from "Indian Reservation." Rather than appealing to DJs as other groups might have, they directly asked their A&R people "can you help me get this record played?" Ironically, their own record company's song sellers didn't promote the band as much as they did acts like The Blue Oyster Cult and Aerosmith and the song never managed to get out of the lower reaches of the pop chart.

There were changes on the horizon for The Raiders. Guitarist Freddy Weller, who'd been recording country music as a solo artist, and drummer Mike Smith left the band for the second time. Before long, the group was being relegated to the "oldies circuit" that eventually led to singer Mark Lindsay's departure. Later, Lindsay became something of a "song seller" himself, working as an executive for the United Artists record label.

Dennis Yost and the Classics IV - "What Am I Crying For" What Am I Crying For - A New Horizon

(Debuted #99, Peaked #39, 13 Weeks on chart)

"What Am I Crying For" was the last of the Top 40 hits by The Classics IV, after a string of hits in the late 1960s. This time around, Dennis Yost had been given top billing, which often portends that the cohesive group concept was falling apart. Soon afterward, the group soon splintered, with several members forming The Atlanta Rhythm Section in 1974 even as Yost was still touring under the band's name with different musicians.

Yost had been called the originator of the "Southern Soft Rock" sound because of the way he used emotion in his voice as he sang. This quality can clearly be heard in "What Am I Crying For." Sadly, Yost passed away in 2008 from respiratory failure, two years after sustaining brain trauma during a fall down a flight of stairs.

The Supremes - "I Guess I'll Miss The Man" I Guess I'll Miss the Man - The Supremes: The '70s Anthology

(Debuted #100, Peaked #85, 7 Weeks on chart)

"I Guess I'll Miss the Man" was a song from the show Pippin, which also produced the Jackson 5 single "Corner of the Sky." With Jean Terrell taking the lead duties, it was done in a style that would be more understated even while it sounded like it could have been a great version if Diana Ross was still with the group. However, like much of Terrell's material with the group, it was overlooked despite its inner beauty and the song wasn't much of a hit on the pop chart. It was a modest adult contemporary hit ( reaching #17) and didn't chart at all on the R&B survey.

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