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.

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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.

1 comment:

  1. Re your last sentence for Ringo's single: He didn't completely avoid the studio before 1973. Remember that he scored Top 10 singles in '71 and '72 with "It Don't Come Easy" and "Back Off Boogaloo."