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.

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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.

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