Saturday, November 26, 2011

This Week's Review -- November 25, 1972

There were twelve new hits on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with four that eventually reached the Top 40. Two of them would also reach the Top 10. Two of the singles feature the same song recorded by two different performers. The biggest hit of the bunch was a surprise due to its minimal production. A song celebrates the singer's new adopted home state, while another mentions an ancient promised land. A Raspberries hit touches on a subject that is more common than listeners might be willing to admit, and a song from a duo that had already split up appears. In the mantime, songs by Mac Davis and David Bowie failed to reach heights expected of them, while a song by an actress proves she's unable to improve upon an original. Finally, two songs foreshadow future success: a relative flop would later hit as a live version and a singer would resurface as a huge star in the next decade.

Google Books has a vast archive of Billboard magazines going back to 1944, including the November 25, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 55. An article beginning on page 3 explain that there were still obstacles for some black businessman wanting to get into the jukebox business in many urban areas, even after the Civil Rights movement was underway.

iTunes & App Store

The Raspberries - "I Wanna Be With You" I Wanna Be With You - Fresh

(Debuted #77, Peaked #16, 11 Weeks on chart)

Before I began reviewing the songs that debuted in Billboard on this blog, I focused on some of what I felt were my favorite singles of the decade. "I Wanna Be With You" was the third song from that series. Here's a link to that review, which is a bit rambling. I'll edit it down here:

Two horny teens.

It's the main topic of a whole lot of rock 'n' roll songs, going back as far as the genre itself. In fact, the term "rock & roll" was itself regarded as slang for sex. But the fact remains -- despite the revisionists who try to convince us that the 1950s were somehow more pastoral or innocent -- there has been an undercurrent of sex running through the music for its entire history.

The lyrics are certainly a lot more "in your face" now than they were in past decades, but for those trying to say that there wasn't a lot of sexual subject matter in the past must not have been paying attention. Any fan of 1970s music only has to pull out the catalogs of Barry White, Al Green or Marvin Gaye to poke holes in that argument. Even the easy-listening stuff: "Afternoon Delight" anyone? When Toni Tennille sang "You Never Done it Like That," I'm guessing she wasn't complimenting her Captain on his handling of a keyboard.

"I Wanna Be With You" was likely seen as a second helping of "Go All the Way" when the single was shipped in the Fall of '72 as a follow-up to the earlier hit. While "Go All the Way" is the more obvious pop tune, with a catchy melody, Roy Orbison-inspired phrasing and guitar hook, "I Wanna Be With You" is faster, more impatient, more immediate, direct and aggressive -- in short, a lot like I was at 16 -- and even the guitar line conveys the urgency that only a teenager can come up with in his efforts to get his girlfriend to let him get past second base.

At just over three minutes, it's a perfect length for a pop tune. It's long enough to satisfy but still leave you wanting more after it was finished. Kind of like the song's subject was for me when I was a lot younger; sadly, about three minutes was usually all I needed then.

John Denver - "Rocky Mountain High" Rocky Mountain High - Rocky Mountain High

(Debuted #81, Peaked #9, 19 Weeks on chart)

Born in New Mexico, John Denver was a military kid, which meant that he moved around a lot. As a result, he never really had a place he considered to be home until he was an adult. That place became Colorado, the state whose capital city was his last name on stage. The lyrics of "Rocky Mountain High" begin with that revelation "He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he'd never been before."

The lyrics express the natural wonder of the area around Colorado, but the song was interpreted by some as a song that glorified drug use (when Denver wrote, "I've seen it fire rain in the sky," he meant a meteor shower, but others assumed he was on an acid trip). As a result, the song was banned by several radio stations.

Even with the unexpected controversy, the song managed to reach the Top 10 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts and even generated some exposure on country radio. That would generate more controversy later in the decade.

Mac Davis - "Everybody Loves A Love Song" Everybody Loves a Love Song - Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me

(Debuted #83, Peaked #63, 7 Weeks on chart)

Mac Davis's followup to "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me" was not the big hit expected just after a #1 single. That said, his style was multi-faceted and he wasn't about to be boxed into a corner by that hit song. With "Everybody Loves a Love Song," Davis went with a more positive message and came up with a lyric from his softer side.

Though it missed the Top 40, "Everybody Loves a Love Song" managed to reach #13 on the adult contemporary survey, where it was probably more suited. Davis continued to hit those two charts as well as the country survey throughout the decade, rather than focusing all of his efforts in one area. In addition to performing, he remained a songwriter and dabbled in acting.

Carole King - "Been To Canaan" Been to Canaan - Rhymes & Reasons

(Debuted #88, Peaked #24, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Been to Canaan" was the only chart single from Carole King's LP Rhymes & Reasons. The album was unlike her earlier output by the fact that it was made up entirely of new material, rather than an occasional pick from the archive of songs she'd written with Gerry Goffin. Critics have tagged it as an eneven collection, but it's probably tough to come up with followups to an album like Tapestry, which was still riding the charts when Rhymes & Reasons was released.

Historically, Canaan was the name of the area that is now called Israel. Considering that King is ethnically Jewish, it makes sense that the song is a reference to the homeland of her religion (indeed, there is a mention of "Promised Land" in the lyrics). Accompanied by a piano riff, King's words convey a desire to find a place -- not necessarily a specific land -- where she can feel comfortable in the arms of a loved one.

Though it stopped at #24 on the pop chart, "Been To Canaan" would hit #1 on the adult contemporary survey, her second as a solo artist.

Rick Springfield - "What Would The Children Think" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #70, 4 Weeks on chart)

Thanks to Rick Springfield's success during the 1980s and his role as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital,  his early career as a singer in the 1970s is largely forgotten. Long before he was a hearthrob, he was a member of Zoot, a popular Australian teenybopper band.

"What Would the Children Think" was his second Hot 100 listing, following his first Top 40 hit "Speak to the Sky." It was a cut from his first American LP titled -- appropriately enough -- Beginnings. Although the lyrics aren't much compared to what he later recorded (a man refuses to leave a relationship for the good of his kids), it's a glimpse into Springfield's roots.

David Bowie - "The Jean Genie" The Jean Genie - Aladdin Sane

(Debuted #90, Peaked #71, 5 Weeks on chart)

"The Jean Genie" was part of David Bowie's Aladdin Sane LP,  a record that was recorded after (and inspired by) Bowie's tour of the United States to support The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. While most of the music was recorded in London, "The Jean Genie" was cut while Bowie was still in New York, which gives it perhaps the most "American" flavor of all the songs on the album.

In a sense, it is another of the many phases of Bowie's work. It is driven by a guitar riff, which is provided by Mick Ronson.It may surprise some to learn that the song only reached #71, since it's one of the more visible tunes in Bowie's catalog.

Foghat - "I Just Want To Make Love To You" I Just Want to Make Love to You - Foghat

(Debuted #91, Peaked #83, 5 Weeks on chart)

"I Just Want to Make Love to You" is one of the few songs that has charted both as a studio version and in a live setting. This was the second of two chart runs for the studio track, reaching #83. It would eventually reach the Top 40 in 1977 when the  Foghat Live LP brought it back from its status as an album cut. The resurgence was a result of several factors: Foghat was better known, the timing was right, and some songs just sound better on stage.

This wasn't the first appearance of "I Just Want to Make Love to You," however. It was originally a hit for Muddy Waters in 1954, Etta James put her mark on it in 1961 and The Rolling Stones performed it on their first album. It was also the first hit Foghat placed on the national chart. With its driving beat and guitar-driven sound, it was quite a way for the blues-influenced act to kick in the door.

Timmy Thomas - "Why Can't We Live Together" Why Can't We Live Together - Why Can't We Live Together

(Debuted #94, Peaked #3, 15 Weeks on chart)

"Why Can't We Live Together" is a song with a message of brotherhood. It's also a song that is about as stripped down production-wise as you can get. According to the backstory, it was recorded as a demo with Thomas playing an organ and accompanied by a rhythm machine. It was slated to have a full orchestra filling in the details, but producer Steve Alaimo liked it the way it was.

The song was an immediate smash, hitting #1 on the R&B chart as well as #3 pop as it sold more than two million copies. It also proved that it wasn't always necessary to fill in extra instruments to detract from teh vocals, especially when they are sung in a soulful manner and conveyed an inpassioned plea.

Peter Skellern - "You're A Lady" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #50, 8 Weeks on chart)

The first of two versions of the same song, "You're a Lady" is performed here by the English singer Peter Skellern, who also wrote the song. The song features the backing of The English Congregation, who had a minor hit of their own with "Softly Whispering I Love You" earlier in the year. Performed in a low-key manner until the coda kicks in, the song is an affirmation of the value of a woman's love.

Although "You're a Lady" would be Skellern's only hit in the U.S., he has remained busy writing music for television shows, stage shows and chorale groups over the years.

Simon and Garfunkel - "America" America - Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits

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

Two things happened in 1972 that helped "America" become a single more than four years after it was included on the 1968 LP Bookends. First, the progressive group Yes released a remodeled version of the song (reviewed in this blog in August 2010) and then it was included on Simon & Garfunkel's LP Greatest Hits album. The duo, which had split in 1970, never released the song as a single in 1968 but it had become a notable track due to its non-rhyming lyric and its tale about a metaphorical search of oneself by traveling across the country. The song performed poorly, never exceeding its #97 entry position.

In the 2000 film Almost Famous, William's sister plays the song as her explanation for leaving home.

Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando - "You're a Lady" You're a Lady - Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Definitive Collection

(Debuted #98, Peaked #70, 8 Weeks on chart)

The second version of "You're a Lady" to debut this week sounds like a Tony Orlando solo project even though it is credited to his group Dawn. At the same time, the backing track sounds very much like the one used in the original Peter Skellern version. It definitely isn't Joyce Wilson and Telma Hopkins behind him.

I can't find anything to back me up on this, but the song was likely recorded during the period when the permanent members of Dawn were still being decided. Sensing a chance to get an American version of a song that might not chart on this side of the Atlantic, Orlando likely went in the studio to record it. Interestigly, both songs were on the chart for 8 weeks, with the original faring better.

Joey Heatherton - "I'm Sorry" Joey Heatherton

(Debuted #100, Peaked #87, 9 Weeks on chart)

"I'm Sorry" was originally a #1 hit in 1960 for Brenda Lee, who was 15 years old when she recorded it. At the time, her record company was worried about such a young girl singing about unrequited love. It was relegated to a B-side but ended up becoming one of the songs Lee is best-remembered for singing. For Joey Heatherton, she was in her late twenties, so the song should have been perfect.

However, Joey Heatherton was no Brenda Lee. That's not meant to be an insult, as very few singers are. It's just that Joey Heatherton was one of many actresses given the chance to record their own albums. It doesn't appear she was given a chance to record a second one.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This Week's Review -- November 17, 1973

There were twelve new songs debuting this week in Billboard's Hot 100, with three making their way into the Top 40. However, two of them reached the Top 10 and one rose all the way to the #1 position. That chart-topper was unfortunately boosted by a tragedy, despite the fact that it was an excellent song regardless. The other Top 40 tunes included a Chicano classic and a country tune sung by a foreign artist. The other songs included early hits by artists who became superstars (like Earth, Wind & Fire), songs by established R&B artists (Ray Charles, Joe Simon, Smokey Robinson, The Chi-Lites) that got lost in the shuffle, a blues artist who was enjoying a career renaissance,  and a duet by a couple who had recently married.

Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard to read Online, including the November 17, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 64. Fans of The Carpenters might enjoy the extended section about the group celebrating their success.

Jim Croce - "Time In A Bottle" Time In a Bottle - You Don't Mess Around With Jim

(Debuted #79, Peaked #1, 14 Weeks on chart)

There were two posthumous #1 singles in the 1970s. The first was Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," which was a reminder of the talent that was wasted by drugs. The second, "Time in a Bottle," was a reminder of the cruel hand of Fate that caused a plane to crash with Jim Croce aboard. 

Ironically, "Time in a Bottle" wasn't intended to be a single at all. Written shortly after Croce's wife Ingrid told him she was pregnant, it was included on his You Don't Mess Around With Jim LP in 1972 and was passed over as a single release in favor of the title cut and "Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)." However, it would get a reprieve thanks to its inclusion at the end of a TV movie called She Lives! that aired eight days before the crash. That helped sell more albums, but the song wasn't slated as a single until Croce's death gave the lyrics an entirely different message than the one he originally intended.

On its face, it was a great song that wasn't considered commercial enough for hit radio. With its new poignancy due to the tragic way Croce's story turned out, it became magnificent.

Earth, Wind & Fire - "Keep Your Head To The Sky" Keep Your Head to the Sky - Head to the Sky

(Debuted #82, Peaked #52, 11 Weeks on chart)

When Earth, Wind & Fire released their Head To the Sky LP in 1973, they were still making a name for themselves. The LP ended up being their first Top 40 pop album and its two singles, "Evil" and "Keep Your Head to the Sky" were the group's best-performing singles up to that point. Although neither made it past #50 on the pop chart, they helped set the sound that would propel them to much larger hits in the future.

If anything, the song "Keep Your Head To the Sky" was another example of a positive message in the group's lyrics matched with exemplary rhythm and vocal harmonies. The vocal features a tremendous effort by Philip Bailey, and features an atmospheric guitar-based riff in the absence of any of the horn section that would later become a hallmark of the group's sound. If you're a fan of Earth, Wind & Fire's bigger hits, give this song a spin and see if you're not wondering how this song missed the Top 40.

El Chicano - "Tell Her She's Lovely" Tell Her She's Lovely - Viva El Chicano! (Their Very Best)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #40, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Tell Her She's Lovely" was the third and final Hot 100 chart hit for El Chicano. As the name implies, the band was made up of ethnically Mexican musicians who were from Los Angeles. Although the group was often confused with Santana (and were clearly influenced by them), they were a band with their own identity and sound.

The light-funk, Latin-flavored "Tell Her She's Lovely" only reached #40 on the national charts, but was as big in Chicano neighborhoods as anything from War in its day. It has an easy beat and a lovely melody that is easy to follow.

Olivia Newton-John - "Let Me Be There" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #6, 19 Weeks on chart)

Australia has had a long history of country music, which seems appropriate when you consider how much of that nation is made up of bush country and the image of Australian men as rough-and-rugged types. However, when Olivia Newton-John began recording songs in the style during the mid 1970s, her critics questioned the authenticity that a foreign singer might have. That is seen as silly today (especially when one of its biggest stars is Keith Urban, who is also Australian) and exposed a similar view that Southern country fans had against atrists from the Northeast.

Olivia's first country crossover hit was "Let Me Be There," which was recorded as a straight country tune complete with the steel guitar. It featured the distinctive deep voice of Mike Sammes, who would also accompany her on the future hit "If You Love Me, Let Me Know." Despite the fact that teh presence of a steel guitar was often the kiss of death with pop songs, the song went Top 10 in both formats, as well as on the adult contemporary chart.

First Choice - "Smarty Pants" Smarty Pants - The Best of First Choice

(Debuted #89, Peaked #56, 8 Weeks on chart)

First Choice was a female R&B trio from what was perhaps the best location for that genre in 1973: Philadelphia. They were under the aegis of producer Norman Harris, which also meant that the bulk of the MFSB instrumental ensemble was able to back them up on their records. They were part of the Salsoul label and remained there until that company folded in 1983.

"Smarty Pants" was the followup single to First Choice's breakthrough hit "Armed and Extremely Dangerous." Compared to that hit, "Smarty Pants" may seem like a different vibe. This time around, the narrator has fallen under the spell of a smooth-talking man and is now carrying his child. The arrangement is less slick than what the previous hit featured, even venturing into more of a bubblegum sound.

The Independents - "It's All Over" It's All Over - Discs Of Gold

(Debuted #93, Peaked #65, 4 Weeks on chart)

One of the more common misnomers about 1970s R&B concerns singer Chuck Jackson of The Independents. He's not the same Chuck Jackson who sang solo in 1960s, despite the fact that both Wikipedia and Allmusic both link to his biography from their pages about the group. Instead, this Chuck Jackson was the younger brother of the activist Jesse Jackson and would later go on with fellow group member Marvin Yancey to help get Natalie Cole's career started as The Independents fell apart.

"It's All Over" was a ballad that had its narrator pleading to keep a relationship going even if it means he has to change his ways. A piano accompanies Jackson, with an organ, brass section and chorus mixed in as well. Though it covers a different topic, it sounds like it has been largely influenced by gospel.

The Chi-Lites - "I Found Sunshine" I Found Sunshine - The Ultimate Chi-Lites

(Debuted #94, Peaked #47, 10 Weeks on chart)

The Chi-Lites were originally called The Hi-Lites, but added the extra letter to their name in 1964 to pay homage to their home city of Chicago. In the early 1970s, they stood out among the big R&B groups coming out of Detroit and Philadelphia by largely writing and producing their material, rather than attaching themselves to a star producer. Their biggest contributor was singer Eugene Record, who wrote "I Found Sunshine."

"I Found Sunshine" is an upbeat tune with a funky clavinet riff coursing through it. Since it missed the pop Top 40 and peaked at a relatively modest #17 on the R&B chart, it's become a forgotten hit from the group. That's unfortunate, and is worth a few minutes of listening time.

Bobby "Blue" Bland - "This Time I'm Gone For Good"

(Debuted #96, Peaked #42, 13 Weeks on chart )

"This Time I'm Gone for Good" was the biggest hit of 70s for Bobby "Blue" Bland on the pop chart and his best showing on the survey since 1964. That said, Bland's influence as a blues singer won't really be reflected well by looking at the pop charts because it wasn't his arena. In that decade since he's reached the Top 50 of the Hot 100, he had been a constant presence of the R&B chart and had scored a number of Top 10 hits there.

By the early 1970s, Bland was redirecting his life and career. He gave up drinking in 1971 and in 1973 changed record companies, moving over to MCA under Steve Barri, who was able to get L.A.'s top session players to play at the studio for him. "This Time I'm Gone For Good" led off the first LP he recorded there, and shows the benefit of his new arrangement. While the music is top-notch, it's Bland's emotive voice that got him where he was, and he uses it to its full effect.

Smokey Robinson - "Baby Come Close" Baby Come Close - The Ultimate Collection: Smokey Robinson

(Debuted #97, Peaked #27, 16 Weeks on chart)

The term "Quiet Storm" hadn't been applied yet, but Smokey Robinson was preparing it. The funny thing about it is that he stepped away as the lead singer of The Miracles the previous year to focus on his position as a VP at Motown, but was soon back in the studio to record his own LP after writing a few more songs. His first solo album was simply called Smokey, and it signaled a direction he may not have pursued with the group. "Baby Come Close" was the last track on that record, a slowed-down tune to bring the album to a close.

As the title indicates, "Baby Come Close" is a come-on accompanied by a lush orchestra and Willie Hutch's sharp production. It was something that never would have appeared on a Miracles record, but yet pointed to many of the best-remembered songs Smokey Robinson would record later.

Joe Simon - "River" River - Joe Simon: Greatest Hits - The Spring Years

(Debuted #98, Peaked #62, 7 Weeks on chart)

A year after the hit single "Drowning in the Sea of Love,"Joe Simon returns to the water metaphor on "River," a song that may not have been far from the gospel music he grew up singing. In the lyrics, this "river" flows everywhere and eventually reaches everybody. If that isn't religious imagery, I don't know what it is.

As Simon goes through the verses about a river, a light, meadows and a song, he is accompanied by a great guitar lick, a backing chorus and eventually a saxophone solo. In its purest form, "River" had the same spirit as The O'Jays' "Peace Train" did earlier in the year, a song that reminded us that we're all in this big world together.

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge - "A Song I'd Like to Sing" A Song I'd Like to Sing - Delta Lady - The Rita Coolidge Anthology

(Debuted #99, Peaked #49, 10 Weeks on chart)

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge were married in 1973, and it was likely no surprise that the two would soon release their own duet album together. That LP, Full Moon, showed up in September of that same year and "A Song I'd Like to Sing" was the last cut on the record. One thing that was unusual about the collection was that most songs were from other writers, but "A Song I'd Like to Sing" was a Kristofferson original.

The calypso-inspired rhythm that kicks off the song soon sways into a Mexican-derived chant and what sounds like a Cajun infusion during the bridge helps remind listeners of Coolidge's versatility and also overpowers Kristofferson's vocal (which, to be fair, was never his strongest suit anyway). However, the question arises: If this is a song you'd like to sing, what is it now that you've sung it?

Ray Charles - "Come Live With Me" Come Live With Me - Come Live With Me

(Debuted #100, Peaked #82, 6 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned in this blog that R&B and country have a lot in common when it comes to topics. Over the years, a number of country hits have been remade into an R&B format and vice versa. What is less common is the R&B artist who has taken a series of country songs and reinvented them for his own fans the way Ray Charles did in the 1960s. With two volumes of LPs he called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in 1962, "Brother Ray" came out as a big fan of country music even if he didn't mimic its style. The albums were successful, and he continued to look to country songs for material as his career continued.

In 1973, he cut a song that had been a hit by Roy Clark earlier in the year (reviewed here in May 2010) and made it his own. Although Clark's version was a #1 country hit, it's possible that more people know it as a Ray Charles song. That's not to say that Clark's version was inferior; it's just that Charles was that much more famous than him worldwide.

"Come Live With Me" was written by the husband-and-wife team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant specifically for Clark to sing, but it seemed to be well-suited for Ray Charles's style as well. His version would make Billboard's pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts, not busting records on any of them but still showing Charles's cross-cultural influence.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This Week's Review -- November 7, 1970

For the third time in the past few months (and the last time in a while if I can help it), there are 16 new singles that debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Of those, six would reach the Top 40 and two would climb into the Top 10. Two of the songs are by Neil Diamond, thanks to his former record company diving into the archive to capitalize on his new-found success. Motown also gets into the business of reaching into its vaults, pulling out a track from 1965 as the group was working through issues. At the same time, a Canadian singer was remaking a classic "girl group" song from the 1960s and a Georgia native sings about a California street in a song that sounds like it came from an old movie. This week's new songs weren't all looks at the past, however. A song that will be forever linked to James Taylor appears by a different act, Gene Chandler continues with the sound from his last hit and a Florida-based group trip out with an instrumental. The Mike Curb Congregation do a movie theme and some short-lived groups perform music that was obviously a 1970s vintage. Speaking of that, two singles have the word "Stoned" in the title; one was said to be a mistake, but I doubt the other one was.

There is a large archive of Billboard issues over at Google Books, including the November 7, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 64. Several articles on the front page mention how the music business was responding to the drug influence exposed by the (then) recent deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Canned Heat's Al Wilson. One article mentions the rise of religiously-themed material (what I like to call "God Rock"), and another explains that MGM head Mike Curb fired 18 acts that he deemed to be promoting drug use. Since one of the stories had little to do with the deaths and the other was essentially a knee-jerk reaction by a man who eventually followed political aspirations, it probably isn't a surprise that the music business of the 1970s isn't well-renowned for its ability to keep away from drugs. On a different tangent, an article on page 26 has Mercury head Irwin Steinberg explaining his ideas about how obscenity really is in the eye of the beholder; it's both a response to his label's recent single "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus" and a neat piece from before WBAI was sued for playing George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" bit.

iTunes & App Store

The Supremes - "Stoned Love" Stoned Love - The Supremes: The '70s Anthology

(Debuted #61, Peaked #7, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Stoned Love" was the Supremes' biggest hit after Diana Ross departed for a solo career, reaching #7 on the pop chart, #1 on the R&B survey and #3 in the U.K. In a way, it sounded much like a song that Sly & the Family Stone would have released with its message of brotherhood (which made it topical for 1970), but the title was seen by some as a drug reference.

When Kenny Thomas wrote "Stoned Love," there was no "d" at the end of the first word. According to the legend behind the tune, that letter somehow found its way onto the label sometime during the mastering process, which makes sense (since it's sung as "Stone Love" on the record). However, you'd think that Berry Gordy could have fixed the issue if it were that big a problem.

The vocals by Jean Terrell are good enough to make the listener forget the group's previous lead singer had left, the backing music was -- as always -- flawlessly done by Motown's unheralded house band The Funk Brothers, and the record carries enough of a "now" sound to make it memorable.

Neil Diamond - "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother" He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother - Tap Root Manuscript

(Debuted #68, Peaked #20, 11 Weeks on chart)

Neil Diamond covered a tune that had been a hit earlier in the year for The Hollies, but its story begins before that group got hold of it. The title was a variation of the motto of Father Edward Flanagan's fabled Boys Town orphanage, but can be traced back to the 1800s. The song itself was written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell (who shouldn't be confused with the Bobby Russell who was a singer, songwriter, producer and onetime husband of Vicki Lawrence). The fact that Russell was dying of cancer while the song was written lends it a poignant quality that goes beyond the sometimes maudlin arrangement the lyrics convey.

When Neil Diamond cut the song, it was the only song from his Tap Root Manuscript LP that he hadn't written. Considering the sometimes experimental nature of that album, that speaks to how much he was affected by the song. He gives it a low-key rendition, which wasn't as hopeful as The Hollies when they recorded it. Starting slow, he picks up the pace as he goes along, as if the spirit behind the words is helping him keep on going.

Chicago - "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? - Chicago Transit Authority (Remastered)

(Debuted #72, Peaked #7, 13 Weeks on chart)

After the breakout success of Chicago's second album, there was a second look at their first LP Chicago Transit Authority, which had gone largely unnoticed when it first arrived in 1969. One of the songs on that debut records was "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?" which wasn't issued as a single the first time around (like "Questions 67 &68" and "Beginnings") but would reach #7 on the pop chart anyway.

The song was written by Robert Lamm, one of the three primary voices heard on Chicago's records at the time. He said in an interview that he was given the title as a teenager when he asked a theater usher taking a smoke break if he knew what time it was, and it stuck with him for a few years after that. In the years since it appeared on vinyl, it has come to be debated countless times about whether it's a philosophical statement or simply an observation.

There have been a number of different edits of the song over the years. The original LP version was preceded by a piano solo by Lamm, which was edited out for the single. A different mix of the song was included in the band's Greatest Hits album, while a different mix altogether showed up on the CD version when it came out. Another different version of the mix was included in another compilation of the group's hits later on. As a result, sharp-eared fans might have been confused about which version was the right one.

Andy Kim - "Be My Baby" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #17, 11 Weeks on chart)

"Be My Baby" was a remake of a song that hit #2 in 1963 for The Ronettes and was an example of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." It was written by the husband-and-wife team of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, and Barry was the producer of Andy Kim's version of the song. Kim's take does little to supplant the immediacy of the original (in fact, his voice was sped up on tape to make him sound younger), but it's the highest-charting version among the dozens of versions cut over the years.

"Be My Baby" followed another Kim-recorded remake of a Barry/Greenwich/Spector song that had originally been a hit for The Ronettes, after "Baby, I Love You" was a #9 hit early in the year. For a singer who was also known as a songwriter, those two hits might have seemed odd if it weren't for Kim's connection to Jeff Barry (they co-wrote the 1969 Archies hit "Sugar, Sugar"). Fortunately, Kim manged to notch his own self-penned #1 hit later in the decade.

Neil Diamond - "Do it" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #36, 10 Weeks on chart)

Originally recorded in 1966, "Do It" was one of three chart hits Bang records pulled from its archives after Neil Diamond became a star on Uni Records. Its first appearance was on the B-side of his first Bang single (also re-released in 1970) "Solitary Man." Bang would continue to release songs from Diamond's back catalog well into the decade.

At the time Diamond was writing and recording "Do It," it was during that period where he was writing big hits for other artists ("I'm a Believer," "Kentucky Woman," "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind"). He was becoming better-known as a songwriter than a singer, but he kept on plying his trade. Considering there were two Diamond songs debuting this week, the two show his evolution as a performer.

Clarence Carter - "It's All In Your Mind" It's All In Your Mind - Patches

(Debuted #79, Peaked #51, 9 Weeks on chart)

"It's All in Your Mind" was Clarence Carter's followup to his #4 hit "Patches"and had a very similar structure, with a spoken intro and the discussions with a parent. This time, however, the parent wasn't dying. Instead, it was Mama giving advice about how to deal with a broken heart and that there were other fish in the sea.

Carter performs the song with a horn section backing him up, along with a backing chorus. The advice in the chorus is sung with enough conviction, you figure he was ready to ask one of the ladies providing supporting vocals to accompany him out the door.

Fantasy - "Stoned Cowboy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #77, 6 Weeks on chart)

Fantasy was a Miami-based band whose only national hit was "Stoned Cowboy," a trippy instrumental. It was climbing the chart for the second time after falling off the previous month, and the second push took it higher up the chart -- but not much farther -- than it achieved in its first run.

"Stoned Cowboy" was nearly six minutes long on the album, but was cut down to less than three for the single. The fuzzy guitar interacting with the organ give it a 1970 "feel" and having the melody to "Shortenin' Bread" (I swear that's what it sounds like) interspersed makes for an interesting listen.

The Crystal Mansion - "Carolina In My Mind" Carolina On My Mind - The Heritage Colossus Story

(Debuted #84, Peaked #73, 6 Weeks on chart)

Before he became a renowned singer/songwriter, some of James Taylor's songs were on the charts by other acts before he could hit with them. This blog has already chronicled two versions of "Fire and Rain" (by R.B. Greaves and Johnny Rivers) from earlier in 1970, and this version of "Carolina in My Mind" beat Taylor to the Hot 100 by a week. Taylor's version would pass the The Crystal Mansion's rendition the week in peaked at #73, and is the better-remembered version today. 

Taylor had a number of future hits, but "Carolina in My Mind" would be the last single The Crystal Mansion would chart. The Crystal Mansion was a band based in Philadelphia, led by Johnny Caswell and driven by psychedelic sensibilities. Although "Carolina in My Mind" showed a pop-oriented direction, the band turned back toward psychedelia and light funk for their next LP. That didn't get much attention and the band soon split.

As for "Carolina in My Mind," James Taylor wrote the song during his late 60s residence in London, where he was an artist on the Apple Records roster. Homesickness got the better of him, and he channeled it into a song. It has since become one of the tunes most associated with him.

Ray Stevens - "Sunset Strip" Sunset Strip - Unreal!!!

(Debuted #87, Peaked #81, 4 Weeks on chart)

Ray Stevens is best-known for his novelty songs, but he's adequately served as a performer of straight-laced songs as well. He's also been a songwriter and producer, and served in those capacities for the song "Sunset Strip." Despite sounding like it was a relic from an earlier time, "Sunset Strip" was an original composition that led off Stevens' LP Unreal!!!

Considering that Stevens was a Georgia boy who worked in Nashville, it may have seemed odd to have him singing about a road in the Los Angeles area. However, he does it with a voice that hearkens back to the Western "singing cowboy" films of the 1930s and 40s.

Gene Chandler - "Simply Call It Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #75, 5 Weeks on chart)

Gene Chandler's followup to "Groovy Situation"probably suffered from its musical similarity to the earlier hit, which is a shame because it is a decent song in its own right. Majestic in its orchestration and capable in Chandler's delivery, it expresses the euphoria of falling in love.

Despite its short trip on the pop chart, "Simply Call it Love" managed to reach #24 on the R&B survey, where Chandler would enjoy more success throughout the decade.

Redeye - "Games" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #27, 14 Weeks on chart)

Redeye was a four-man bad from Los Angeles that enjoyed two hits on the Billboard Hot 100 before disappearing into the mist of history. Singer and guitarist Douglas "Red" Mark had previously been in The Sunshine Company, the first act to record Jimmy Webb's song "Up, Up and Away."

"Games" is the better-known of the band's two chart singles. It sounds like a product of its time, from the harmonies that sound like they came from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to the fuzz box that is used on the guitar solo.

Dunn and McCashen - "Alright in the City" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #91, Peaked #91, 2 Weeks on chart)

There really isn't a lot to be found about the duo of Don Dunn and Tony McCashen. Their only chart hit was "Alright in the City," another song that sounds like a product of 1970. The song features a guitar solo with plenty of reverb (to give it an adequately "heavy" groove) and features a brass section that was obviously influenced by Blood, Sweat and Tears.

The Mike Curb Congregation - "Burning Bridges " (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #89, 2 Weeks on chart)

"Burning Bridges" was the opening title track from the film Kelly's Heroes. Though set in World War II, the war weariness of the soldiers in it could be seen as analogous to the country's view of the conflict in Vietnam, much in the same way as M*A*S*H; oddly, both were set in different wars, and probably because the nation wasn't yet ready to get into a meaningful dialogue about the War. Not while the soldiers were still over there, and not with the memory of Kent State still fresh.

In any case, such a movie was an interesting place to find Mike Curb, given his notoriety for straight-laced behavior. It was short-lived on the Hot 100 (falling off after two weeks), but would reappear a month later and rise into the Top 40.

The Flame - "See The Light" See The Light - The Flame

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

While "See the Light" would appear to be a perfect title for a single by a group called The Flame, it was the only hit for this South African group that was discovered by Beach Boy Carl Wilson. Wilson produced the single and two of their members (Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar) would play on the Beach Boys' records as associate group members later in the 1970s.

The group was tagged with the "Beatlesque" label that has been ubiquitous ever since that band was still together, but it actually sounds apt in the case of "See the Light"because it sounds like it might have fit in with some of the material on Abbey Road or the recordings that led up to Let it Be even if it may not have made either of those albums. The song has a guitar-based rock foundation as well as pop sensibilities. It makes me wonder what they may have come up with in the future had two members not been co-opted by The Beach Boys.

Later in the decade, band member Ricky Fataar would revisit his "Beatlesque" roots by playing Stig O'Hara in Eric Idle and Neil Innes's parody film The Rutles.

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas- "I Gotta Let You Go" I Gotta Let You Go - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970

(Debuted #98, Peaked #93, 3 Weeks on chart)

In addition to the fact that Motown Records was focusing on other acts, Martha and the Vandellas went through a bunch of tribulations in the late 1960s: infighting between the members took its toll, Motown officially added Martha Reeve's last name to the group's billing, and then Reeves had issues related to a nervous breakdown that caused her to step away from the group. With the issues facing the group, Motown chose to simply bide their time by releasing a song that was recorded in 1965 and sat in their archives.

While "I Gotta Let You Know" may have sounded dated by 1970 -- for good reason -- it served two purposes for the label. It kept a group in the public eye while they were suffering from personnel issues, and it was a reminder that Motown was able to draw from its vast archives (and did) when it needed to. Fortunately for the label, 1965 was a good vintage; on the other hand, that wasn't helpful in the case of this song as it sang quickly off the pop and R&B charts.

Ringo Starr - "Beaucoups Of Blues" Beaucoups of Blues - Beaucoups of Blues (1995 Remaster)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #87, 5 Weeks on chart)

When The Beatles were together, Ringo Starr wasn't considered in the same league as his three bandmates. However, when the group split in 1970, he was the one who released two solo albums during the year. Each of those LPs represented a separate musical interest: the first was Sentimental Journey, an album of standards, and the second was Beaucoups of Blues, which reflected an interest in country that Starr had shown during his days in The Fab Four.

The album's title song was Starr's debut chart single as a solo artist -- he declined to release any singles for Sentimental Journey -- and showed the same affinity for country and western that he showed on his Beatles songs "Act Naturally," "Honey Don't" and "What Goes On" was not an act. The song is performed well, with Ringo being accompanied by some of Nashville's best session players and The Jordanaires. For some odd reason, the record didn't sell well and Ringo moved on to acting and other interests until getting back into the recording studio in 1973.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

This Week's Review -- November 2, 1974

Nine singles took their first bow in Billboard this week, with five reaching the Top 40. Two of those would find their way into the Top 10 as well. Those two Top 10 hits would also also appear on the earliest Disco charts Billboard would feature as that style became more pervasive. The other Top 40 songs would feature a soul song about a cheating man, a progressive FM hit and a remake of a 1950s hit. Finally, there are some gems in the songs that missed the Top 40, with a reissue of a song that had stiffed in 1971, a R&B song that should have been a bigger hit and a song that was typical of Ike & Tina Turner. The last song was a "break-in" single that tried to celebrate the icon that was Evel Knievel.

There are a number of past issues of Billboard magazine over at Google Books, including the November 2, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 58.An article on page 20 discusses the DJ known as Dr. Demento (whose real name is Barry Hansen) and features his then-current Top 10 list. One of the songs listed was "Shaving Cream," a song that would chart in the Top 40 the following year. Another article on page 66 explains that some things have been with us for a while; it says how a large number of records on that week's album chart are either compilations of live sets.

iTunes, App Store, iBookstore, and Mac App Store

Barry White - "You're The First, The Last, My Everything" You're the First, the Last, My Everything - Can't Get Enough

(Debuted #60, Peaked #2, 15 Weeks on chart)

"You're the First, the Last, My Everything" has become one of the most recognizable songs Barry White ever did as a solo artist. It would go to #2 on the pop chart, was his third #1 on the R&B chart and was a #2 disco hit. It started out as a country song, of all things. Peter Radcliffe had written it during the 1950s as "You're the First, the Last, My In-Between" but was never able to get it recorded. White rewrote the lyrics and cut it as a dance tune.

During the 1990s, "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" was frequently used in the show Ally McBeal, as the motivation for John Cage (Peter MacNichol's character) whenever he needed to draw on his inner strength.

Shirley Brown - "Woman To Woman" Woman to Woman - Woman to Woman

(Debuted #68, Peaked #22, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Woman To Woman" begins with a spoken-word intro setting up the song. See, Shirley has gone through her man's wallet and found the number for a woman named Barbara. Calling Barbara up on the phone, Shirley stakes her claim and says in no uncertain terms that the man is hers and she's ready to do what she needs to in order to keep him. He's a lucky man; if that were me, my wife would have made sure nobody found my body.

"Barbara" is a reference to Barbara Mason, whose songs had frequently covered the topic of adultery. Mason followed up with a "response" record called "From His Woman to You" soon afterward. Not letting go of the fact that an adultery song would be great for the country audience, another Barbara -- Mandrell -- remade it in 1978.

Eric Clapton - "Willie And The Hand Jive" Willie and the Hand Jive - 461 Ocean Blvd. (Deluxe Edition)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #26, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Hand jiving" is a name for a type of dance that involved hitting and clapping against various body parts in a simulation of percussion. It probably had its heyday in the 1950s. "Willie and the Hand Jive" was a song originally written and recorded by Johnny Otis in 1958. When Eric Clapton remade it a generation later, he stayed fairly true to the original, probably out of respect. Fans of Grease probably recognize the term from a song featured in the stage show as well as the movie.

Clapton's version was one of the tunes that came off his LP 461 Ocean Boulevard, which was a collection that showcased his various interests and influences. The bluesy feel of the song fit in nicely with the latter.

The Doobie Brothers - "Nobody" Nobody - The Doobie Brothers

(Debuted #80, Peaked #58, 6 Weeks on chart)

The recording in the YouTube video above is a newly recorded version -- but still true to its original form -- from 2010, but "Nobody" was still an "old" song by the standards of 1974. It had originally been the first track of their first LP and their debut single in 1971, but failed to chart. It was brought back to life by the band's later success. Despite being an early track for the group, it captures the sound that they would become known for quite nicely.

"Nobody" is one of Tom Johnston's contributions, recorded at a time when there were only four members in the band: Johnston, Patrick Simmons, drummer John Hartman (when there was only one drummer in the band) and original bassist Dave Shogren, who left the group as they laid down their second album.

Jethro Tull - "Bungle In The Jungle" Bungle In the Jungle - Warchild (Remastered)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #12, 16 Weeks on chart)

After two concept albums that were essentially long-form stories that contained one song that spanned the two sides of the record, Jethro Tull returned to a more standard convention for their War Child LP. The album was originally intended as a more grandiose statement (a double-LP set that was also a movie soundtrack), but eventually saw light as a ten-song, single LP. Of those songs, "Bungle in the Jungle" was the one that generated the most attention.

When frontman Ian Anderson began writing "Bungle in the Jungle," he was working on an album project after Thick as a Brick that he eventually scrapped in favor of A Passion Play. He wrote it during a period where he was interested in psychology and the human condition, and used the animal kingdom as a metaphor. The lyrics use animals to describe the actions of people ("I'm a tiger when I want love, I'm a snake when we disagree") and equate the concept of a Supreme Being ("He who made kittens put snakes in the grass") as a chess master who is playing a game.

Grand Canyon - "Evil Boll-Weevil" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #72, 5 Weeks on chart)

Evel Knievel was an icon in the 1970s. Kids on bicycles pretended to be him in the same way kids of the 1950s stood up with a stick and pretended to be Mickey Mantle. He had his own action figure, complete with a stunt cycle that could be wound up.

"Evil Boll Weevil" is a "break-in" record parodying Evel Knievel and his jump over the Snake River canyon on September 8, 1974. Featuring a jock doing an impression of Ed Sullivan (as "Ed Peachtree"), the song features a mix of bits from current songs and sound effects that shouldn't have been mistaken for a project from Dickie Goodman, who popularized the style.

Gloria Gaynor - "Never Can Say Goodbye" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #9, 17 Weeks on chart)

Gloria Gaynor's debut chart single was "Never Can Say Goodbye," which was a high-energy version of a song The Jackson Five had taken into the Top 10 in 1971. However, Gaynor took the song and made it her own with her rendition. It was part of her first LP (which was also named Never Can Say Goodbye), which was among the first aimed at disco clubs in that it eliminated breaks between the songs. It might have been considered Gaynor's signature hit, but she would come back strong with an even bigger single in the late days of the Disco era.

Its place in history is secure, though: when Billboard included its first Disco chart in its magazine in 1975, the #1 song on that list was Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye."

Ike & Tina Turner - "Sexy Ida (Part 1)" Sexy Ida (Part 1) - Proud Mary - The Best of Ike & Tina Turner

(Debuted #90, Peaked #65, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Sexy Ida" was recorded during what eventually became the end of Ike and Tina Turner's personal and professional partnership. Due to Tina's book and the movie, that era is famous for its excess and abuse, but that wasn't known to fans in 1974, nor did it seem apparent in the Soul Train performance shown in the video above.

"Sexy Ida" boasted a funky rhythm and a typically sassy performance by Tina warning to stay away from another woman, but it failed to reach the Top 40. It was also a low-carting song on the R&B survey, reaching #29.

The Dynamic Superiors - "Shoe Shoe Shine" Shoe Shoe Shine - Heart of Soul Classics 2

(Debuted #92, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

The Dynamic Superiors were a soul band based in Washington, D.C. The had formed in 1963 but never reached a level that contemporary groups from Detroit and Philadelphia achieved at the time. Their lead singer was named Tony Washington, who was very flamboyant and occasionally dressed in drag onstage. Perhaps the fact that he was open about his lifestyle was one reason they never reached a bigger stage, but it points to the fact that the group may have been ahead of its time.

Their only pop hit was "Shoe Shoe Shine," which has much of the feeling of hit songs from groups like The Stylistics and the Spinners even as it failed to catch on. It's a shame, since the song -- written by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson -- is a beautifully-done slice of 1970s pre-disco soul, complete with a magnificent brass section. As a song whose lyrics express the way mony didn't go as far as it once did, it's appropriate that the song is now considered a classic "old school" performance. Unfortunately, further success eluded the group, so they split up around 1977.