Saturday, January 28, 2012

This Week's Review -- January 28, 1978

There were eight new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and six of those would eventually work their way into the Top 40. Additionally, two reached the Top 10 and one traveled to #1. That chart-topper was one of the many songs helped by its inclusion in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, a record that was fast becoming one of the best-selling albums in history at that point. The other Top 10 hit is one that is well-identified with its group even though it was different stylistically over what they had done before. Another movie theme appears as well, which was from a Richard Pryor film. Van Halen makes its first appearance, as does Warren Zevon as a songwriter (Linda Ronstadt handled the song). Bob Welch continues his post-Fleetwood Mac comeback. The two songs that missed the Top 40 are both by groups that had already made the Top 10.

Among the archive of past Billboard magazines at Google Books is the January 28, 1978 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 108. An ad on page 7 announces that The Doobie Brothers will be appearing on the TV show What's Happening. An article on page 8 has suggestions for retail store owners that is not only fundamental information, but is still valid advice today. A bit on page 34 explains that the Supreme Court would be hearing the case that was brought up by a lsitener complaint after New York station WBAI (misnamed in the article) aired George Carlin's notorious "Seven Dirty Words" routine. Finally, a front-page article that continues inside explains that the FCC was investigating payola accusations at a Los Angeles-based Latin music station.

Linda Ronstadt - "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" Poor, Poor Pitiful Me - Simple Dreams

(Debuted #78, Peaked #31, 9 Weeks on chart)

The protagonist of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" starts off the song by trying to kill herself, only to realize that the train whose tracks she's laid down on no longer runs. It sets off a series of unfortunate events, the product of the often sardonic style of Warren Zevon, who wrote the song. When Linda Ronstadt's take on his song charted, he hadn't yet made his presence with the Excitable Boy LP or the song "Werewolves of London," so this track was a breakthrough of sorts for him.

In Zevon's original version, the main character still tries to kill himself and gets a little more graphic about S&M in the third verse. In order to make it more radio-friendly, Ronstadt's version was toned down in addition to changing the gender of the main character. For an artist who was becoming regarded as an entrepreneur of song of the 1950s and 60s, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" was a reminder that she could do more contemporary material as well.

Kansas - "Dust In The Wind" Dust In the Wind - Point of Know Return

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Dust in the Wind" was one of those accidental songs that almost wasn't. It was a last-minute addition to the Point of Know Return LP that started out as a finger-picking exercise that group member Kerry Livgren used on his guitar. His wife liked it and encouraged him to write lyrics to the tune. Taking inspiration from philosophy contained in a book of Native American poetry, he came up with the words.

That last-minute addition to the album that Livgren hesitated to play for his bandmates because it didn't follow their normal progressive material became the group's signature hit. It was their only Top 10 pop hit and remains a steady radio presence today.

Bob Welch - "Ebony Eyes" Ebony Eyes - French Kiss

(Debuted #88, Peaked #14, 17 Weeks on chart)

The lyrics of "Ebony Eyes" are pretty basic. Man sees a woman sitting in a corner and is entranced with her eyes. However, instead of going over to talk with her, he gets the feeling that she's holding something back.

"Ebony Eyes" was the second hit from Bob Welch's French Kiss LP, a harder-edged song than the earlier "Sentimental Lady" and tailor-made for radio airplay in 1978. The lyrics suggested the setting was a dance club (a big deal that year), the production was clean and featured the best L.A.-based studio musicians. The album was originally scheduled to be the third for his post-Fleetwood Mac band Paris, but the group fell apart before the project was started.

Yvonne Elliman - "If I Can't Have You" If I Can't Have You - Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Soundtrack) [Remastered]

(Debuted #89, Peaked #1, 22 Weeks on chart)

The backstory behind "If I Can't Have You" was interesting. It seems that when Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were writing the material that would appear on the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, they actually intended to record the song themselves. They had a song for Yvonne Elliman (which was "How Deep is Your Love") that was perfectly suited to her style as a pop balladeer. At some point, their manager Robert Stigwood determined that the two songs would be switched. It was a great move in retrospect, as both would become pop #1 hits.

It would also be the biggest hit of her career and the song she's most identified with today. It's a shame, though, considering that she originated Mary Magdalene's part on Jesus Christ Superstar, was a noted backup singer for Eric Clapton and had a handful of other hits.

Van Halen - "You Really Got Me" You Really Got Me - Van Halen

(Debuted #91, Peaked #36, 11 Weeks on chart)

Van Halen's first hit was quite an introduction. While it helped point toward the future, it was also a remake of a Kinks classic from 1964. It's ingrained itself in Van Halen's legacy enough that many of the group's fans fail to realize it had been done before, a fact that has long bothered Kinks member Dave Davies. Apparently, Davies has been congratulated by the group's fans after Kinks concerts over the years for doing such a great version of "Van Halen's song." Songwriter Ray Davies, however, has gone on record as a fan of Van Halen's version of the song.

Although it was issued separately as a single, on the Van Halen LP it was paired with a song called "Eruption," a minute-and-a-half guitar workout that often precedes it on rock stations today.

Pablo Cruise - "Never Had A Love" Never Had a Love - A Place In the Sun

(Debuted #94, Peaked #87, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Never Had a Love" was the third and final single from Pablo Cruise's breakthrough LP A Place in the Sun. It was a disappointing showing, coming off the Top 10 success of "Whatcha Gonna Do?" (reviewed on this blog a couple of years back), but its style and production were a little cliched even by 1977/'78 standards. From the piano chords that open the song, to the guitar interludes to the vocal harmonies to the way the piano comes back near the end of the song, all of it makes for a sum that really isn't as good as the sum of its parts.

Compared to the earlier hit single, it didn't really have a hook that kept listeners interested. Fortunately for the group, the song died a quick death on the chart and another Top 10 hit -- "Love Will Find a Way" -- appeared on the horizon later that year.

Stargard - "Theme Song From Which Way Is Up"

(Debuted #96, Peaked #21, 14 Weeks on chart)

Stargard was a female R&B trio, but weren't going to be mistaken for the likes of The Supremes or The Three Degrees. Although they had a gospel background, they were influenced by the likes of LaBelle and the Pointer Sisters.

"Which Way is Up" is the theme from a movie of the same name where Richard Pryor played three different roles. It was written and produced by Norman Whitfield and was a #1 R&B hit. The gritty disco-fueled hit should have been a precursor to future hits, but the group only had one more pop single and a handful of songs on the R&B chart before splitting in the early 1980s.

Brick - "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody - The Best of Brick

(Debuted #97, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

After two hits by Brick that featured titles that combined the words "dance" with other words ("Dazz," "Dusic"), the Atlanta band's third pop chart single was a more conventionally-named tune. Apparently, they didn't want to find themselves coming up with songs called "Dock," "Dunk" or "Dew Wave." However, "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" failed to get too far up the charts and was their final hit on the Hot 100.

That's too bad, as it is a really good song that should have gotten a better chance to make a splash. It's a straightforward song with an R&B edge (and a Top 10 R&B hit) but is fairly close to rock in its performance and sound. There may be a funky horn section and synthesized keyboards here, but there is also a guitar solo in the instrumental break that would have been welcome in any rock-oriented song of the era.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rewind -- January 19, 1974

(This is part of a series where I go back to the posts from the first year of this blog and bring them up to speed.)

This was the first week in the time I've been writing this blog where every song has been available from both iTunes and Amazon as downloads as well as having an available YouTube video. However, having only five new songs in total helps those odds tremendously. Of the five debuts in Billboard's Hot 100 survey, only two would reach the Top 40 and one was a #1 hit. Interestingly, all five acts had long and multi-faceted careers, even if there were some rough stretches along the way.

Many past issues of Billboard are available through Google Books, but the January 19, 1974 edition is not among them. It's a shame, as I've enjoyed reading through them and seeing that while technology has changed (back then, vinyl was king, cassettes and 8-tracks were considered inferior but were being improved and nobody yet knew what CDs or digital recordings there were things like cartridge television and other oddities), many of the business fundamentals have remained the same. After all, the bottom line is still the most important part of the business, no matter what era. Perhaps some of today's music executives could pay attention to the history lessons contained in some of these issues.

Ashford & Simpson - "(I'd Know You) Anywhere"  Ashford & Simpson - Gimme Something Real - Anywhere

(Debuted #94, Peaked #88, 3 weeks on chart)

Although the table linked above shows this as the first hit for husband/wife duo Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, they had been enjoying hit singles for years as songwriters. During the 1960s they wrote "Let's Go Get Stoned" (along with former Ikette Josie Jo Armistead) for Ray Charles and later became staff writers for Motown. There, they wrote several hit duets for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"). When Diana Ross parted from The Supremes, two of her earliest solo hits were Ashford & Simpson tunes: her #1 hit version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)."

Before becoming songwriters, Ashford & Simpson had tried unsuccessfully to work as a recording act. After having others hit with their material, they decided to try again in the early 1970s. Valerie Simpson had a minor hit as a solo artist in 1972 with "Silly Wasn't I" and began teaming with Ashford on record in 1974 when they left Motown for Warner Brothers. Their first LP Gimme Something Real contained "(I'd Know You) Anywhere," a song that began as a slow ballad and then picks up a little bit two minutes in. Opening with a piano and sparse instrumentation accompanying Ashford and Simpson as each do solo vocals, the full orchestra (complete with backing singers, which sounds to me like multitracked recordings of Ashford and Simpson) kicks in just as the song becomes a true duet. 

As an entrance for the duo as performers, the song was decent and should have been a bigger hit than its #88 peak would indicate. It hit the R&B Top 40, reaching #37. The duo would continue to score on the R&B chart and begin getting some Top 40 LPs before finally reaching the pop Top 40 for the first time in 1979. As they built their own career together, the duo also did commercial jingles, worked as DJs for New York's KISS-FM and worked with other artists like Quincy Jones (Simpson sings on "Stuff Like That"), Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan, among others.

Cher - "Dark Lady" Cher - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Cher - Dark Lady

(Debuted #82, Peaked #1, 16 weeks on chart)

This is a fine example of what I call a 1970s melodrama: a song that tells a story, has music that wouldn't be out of place on a movie or TV show and has an ending that isn't exactly out of any storybook. The lyrics spin the tale of a woman seeing a fortune teller. The all-knowing seer says her man has been unfaithful and that the other woman is "someone else who is very close to you." Upon returning home, she catches the scent of the fortune teller's perfume, realizes she was the other woman, then goes back to catch her and the man together. A violent end follows.

The song was written by John Durrill, a member of The Ventures. He had submitted some of his songs to Cher's producer Snuff Garrett; "Dark Lady" was one of them but it hadn't been completed yet. Upon getting the gist of the song, Garrett suggested, "make sure the bitch kills him." Once he finished with it, Garrett had Cher record it and it was a hit single.

This was the third and final #1 single Cher had during the 1970s. All three came during the run of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, a variety show on CBS that achieved excellent ratings but wasn't actually considered to be much more than mindless TV with Cher's one-liner put downs of her husband and her elaborate but 1970s tacky clothing styles. The show would be canceled soon after "Dark Lady" fell off the charts, as Sonny and Cher began divorce proceedings. By an odd coincidence, Cher's next husband would be Gregg Allman and his band had a song debut this week as well.

The Dells - "I Miss You" The Dells - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Dells - I Miss You

(Debuted #91, Peaked #60, 7 weeks on chart)

The Dells are a Chicago-based group that has weathered many decades and musical styles. Beginning in the mid 1950s, they have recorded in the doo-wop, soul, jazz, disco and R&B genres. More incredibly, they have had a consistent lineup for many of those years. From 1960 onward, the same core group of five remained together until Johnny Carter's death in August 2009. The group's peak hitmaking years spanned the late 1960s through early 1970s, and "I Miss You" was near the end of that run. It would be their last Top 10 R&B hit and second-to-last Hot 100 entry. Even after the hits stopped coming and new recordings became less frequent, The Dells continued touring.

"I Miss You" is a basic R&B song that isn't much different from other soul emanating from the radio early in '74. The music has the same urban quality heard on songs from The O'Jays, The Chi-Lites, The Spinners and the post-Norman Whitfield Temptations. The vocals sound almost like Levi Stubbs in The Four Tops' post-Motown material. It's a shame to say the song sounds like an imitation of other 1970s soul artists, as The Dells certainly held their own over the years adapting to many changes in styles.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Jessica" The Allman Brothers Band - Brothers and Sisters - Jessica

(Debuted #90, Peaked #65, 6 weeks on chart)

As familiar as "Jessica" is to many listeners, a lot of people would be surprised to see that it only peaked at #65. It's a familiar instrumental that many will know by ear even if they don't recognize the song title. Despite its relatively poor showing on the Billboard chart, the song has lived on for years through radio airplay, use in movies (like "Field of Dreams") and as a theme song to shows such as Dr. Dean Edell's radio program and the BBC series Top Gear.

Written by Dickey Betts and named after his daughter Jessica, the song was a seven-and-a-half minute jam on the group's Brothers and Sisters LP. The single version only excised about 30 seconds from the tune, and its running time likely helped keep its chart position low. However, the longer version is the one that has been included on The Allman Brothers' greatest hits packages and is played on most radio stations.

Rick Derringer - "Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo" Rick Derringer - All American Boy - Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo

(Debuted #100, Peaked #23, 14 weeks on chart)

Although it shows as Derringer's first chart single, he had already been part of two #1 singles, as a member of The McCoys ("Hang On Sloopy" in 1965) and The Edgar Winter Group ("Frankenstein" in 1973). He was also a guest guitarist for Alice Cooper ("Under My Wheels") and Steely Dan ("Show Biz Kids"). Originally named Rick Zehringer, his last name was changed to reflect the Derringer pistol in the logo of The McCoys' record company, Bang. 

"Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo" is probably best remembered as a classic example of 1970s guitar-driven rock, included on dozens of compilations and played incessantly on classic rock radio. It probably also sounds dated as a result of that saturation. At first, it sounds like a basic rock song with a great guitar riff propelling it...and in that sense it's a really fun song. That said, it also conveys all the excess and hard-living that went with the 1970s hard rock lifestyle even though it's a great song to crank the volume up whenever it begins playing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This Week's Review -- January 22, 1977

This week's entry features eleven new singles that debuted on the Billboard Hot 100. Out of those, only two would reach the Top 40. However, they were extremes, as one went to #1 and the other barely dented the Top 40. That #1 was the first for a duo who'd rack up many more chart-toppers in the next decade. The entire list features some surprises, though. An O'Jays song that hit #1 on the R&B chart and deserved to get a petter shot on the pop side. A surprisingly funky song by a singer not known for that. A guy who wrote two hits for England Dan and John Ford Coley and ended up sounding exactly like them. The guy who played Mr. Kotter on TV. Not surprisingly, with the disco movement in full swing, several songs feature a dance beat. Three songs are instrumentals, which were slowly becoming rarities.

Among the large archive of past issues of Billboard is the January 22, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 118. An article on page 35 explains the way European discos had become a springboard for breaking hit singles. Since most radio stations were run by governmental organizations and adhered to strict playlists, discos offered a way to take advantage of the active nightlife in many European cities and "test" songs in a way Continental radio stations couldn't. In fact, some of the biggest disco hits rose from Munich, Paris and Rome, even seeing an American-born artist named Donna Summer breaking out from Germany. Interestingly, one of those songs originating from the Munich scene is in this week's debuts.

The O'Jays - "Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love)" Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love) - Message In the Music

(Debuted #80, Peaked #72, 4 Weeks on chart)

Although "Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet Tender Love)" was a #1 R&B hit for the O'Jays, it also marked a sad milestone. It was the final pop hit to feature group member William Powell, who passed away from cancer in May 1977 at the age of 35.

It's yet another example of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's "Philly Soul" sound, with its lush string arrangement and great vocal interaction between the group's members. A song of devotion, its lyrics express the realization that he's in a really good place with his "old lady" and he's not going to do anything to change that.

Despite being the seventh of the group's nine #1 singles on the R&B chart, it fared poorly on the pop chart, topping out at #72. If there's a song that really deserved a better chance, this was it. It's a great tune that is backed by a classic (regardless of the era) arrangement.

Daryl Hall and John Oates - "Rich Girl" Rich Girl - Bigger Than Both of Us

(Debuted #81, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

The top musical duo of the 1980s earned their first #1 record during the 1970s. In it, they made a song that had more in common with the "blue-eyed soul" sound of its era than the pop confections of the new decade.

The funny thing, "Rich Girl" was originally written about a guy. Daryl Hall said that his girfriend's ex was the son of a very wealthy man, and as he watched the way he acted, he came to the realization that if he was to ever get into any type of trouble, it would be easily remedied with money. Thus, the idea for the "old man's money" was planted. However, Hall was unable to make the song work about a man, so he switched the gender.

"Rich Girl" was suggested by David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz as a song that encouraged him to kill, even though he had actually begun his spree before the song's release. It was also rumored to be about Patty Hearst, which persisted despite Hall's explanation about the real person behind the lyrics.

Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. - "Bless the Beasts and the Children" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #82, 5 Weeks on chart)

After the surprise success of "Nadia's Theme," writer/conductor Barry DeVorzon and arranger Perry Botkin, Jr. went to the well with the main song of the film score that produced the earlier hit. However, this song didn't bring to mind a 14 year-old Olympic gymnast scoring a perfect ten and failed to get much father than its starting position on the Hot 100 before disappearing.

Bless the Beasts and Children was a 1971 film about a group of misfit children that intervened to save a herd of buffalo from being slaughtered by a group of hunters. It was intended to be a message about guns and violence, which had an impact with the memories of Kent State and Vietnam still fresh. However, by 1977, those memories were much more distant. At that time, the movie's theme was recorded by The Carpenters and was a flip-side to their hit single "Superstar."

Hearing DeVorzon's orchestrated version, it sounds exactly like a film score from the early 1970s, but it also sounds like the stuff Muzak would have piped into elevators. If anything, it brings to mind that Karen Carpenter had quite a tool (pun intended) at her disposal when she lent her voice to a project.

Parker McGee - "I Just Can't Say No To You" I Just Can't Say No to You - Parker McGee

(Debuted #84, Peaked #42, 7 Weeks on chart)

Internet DJ Music Mike handles the intro of the video shown above. He'll be back before this blog entry is finished.

As 1977 began, Parker McGee had written two big hits for England Dan & John Ford Coley ("I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" and "Nights Are Forever Without You"), and released his own self-titled solo album on the tail of those hits. The Mississippi-born singer/songwriter sounds an awful lot like that duo on his only hit single "I Just Can't Say No to You," which not only reflects on his songwriting but the fact that the same producer (Kyle Lehning) and session musicians were used on all of the songs mentioned so far.

Perhaps the similarity killed off any chance McGee had of sustaining a career. While he barely missed the Top 40 on his own, it's likely that if it had been issued as a single done by England Dan & John Ford Coley, it may have done a little better. As a result, he doesn't seem to have released a major-label follow-up and no additional hits followed.

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils - "You Know  Like I Know" You Know Like I Know (Edit) - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

(Debuted #85, Peaked #74, 12 Weeks on chart)

Once again, Internet-based DJ Music Mike gives as good an introduction to this song in the video above as anything I can pull up. So I'll pick up where he left off.

"You Know Like I Know" was written by band member Larry Lee, who had also co-written their biggest hit "Jackie Blue." The soft ballad was one of the standout tracks of the group's LP Men From Earth. However, their chart fortunes were declining and the song ended up being their only chart single from that album. In fact, it was their last appearance on the Hot 100 at all until 1980.

Boney M - "Daddy Cool" Daddy Cool - Frank Farian - The Hit Man

(Debuted #87, Peaked #65, 5 Weeks on chart)

Here's something I don't understand. When Frank Farian assembled Boney M, he used attractive people who could dance well for the performance and relied on session musicians (usually himself and two of the group's three female members) to craft the vocals in the studio. This was fairly well-known in the 1970s and early 1980s. Yet, when Farian did the exact same thing with Milli Vanilli a decade later, it was somehow a "scandal" that led to lawsuits, refunds to consumers who bought the record and the return of a Grammy award. I'm no fan of Milli Vanilli (not in the least), but even I knew at 17 that they weren't singing the stuff live.

Boney M's first hit in the U.S. was "Daddy Cool," a song that was fairly typical of the Disco coming out of Munich at the time (click on the link for the Billboard magazine in the intro above to read more about that). A song that was more about the background music than the vocals, it was designed specifically to be an incentive to get on the dance floor and start stepping. While that didn't make it unique in 1977, the fact that the group was put together with an eye toward performing on stage helped set them apart from many of the studio-based groups putting out similar music in that era.

Phoebe Snow - "Shakey Ground" Shakey Ground - It Looks Like Snow

(Debuted #88, Peaked #70, 4 Weeks on chart)

Phoebe Snow passed away last year. While it's sad to reflect on those who've left this mortal plane, it's a sad truth that many of those passings expose just how good the artist was and that their work was somehow taken for granted when they were still alive. While most casual fans remember Snow for "Poetry Man" and possibly the Paul Simon duo "Gone At Last," her story was one that shows just how sudden life can make a quick turn and how fickle the music business can be.

By 1977, Snow had begun caring for her young daughter, who was mentally impaired. While that definitely affected her career, she was also involved in a dispute with her former record company when she moved to Columbia, the label that released her LP It Looks Like Snow. That album included the song "Shakey Ground," a song that had already been a hit by The Temptations in 1975.

While the song begins with a really funky groove, Snow's rendition of the lyrics is something of an acquired taste. It is a lot different than you might expect if you're only familiar with her work from the songs mentioned above.

Silvetti - "Spring Rain" Spring Rain (Radio Edit) - Spring Rain

(Debuted #96, Peaked #39, 15 Weeks on chart)

Bebu Silvetti was a pianist, producer and arranger originally from Argentina but based in Miami by the mid-1970s. Though "Spring Rain" would be his only U.S. pop hit, he would become a Grammy-winning prosucer of Latin muic and a giant in the international music scene.

"Spring Rain" is an instrumental, with backing (wordless) vocals performed by female singers. A Salsoul production mixed down by legendary disco producer Tom Moulton, it sounded like it should heve been used as the theme song for a TV show or played during a film. It just peeked into the pop Top 40 during its chart run but also made a showing on the R&B and adult contemporary charts.Today, it has a classic sound, which doesn't sound at all like a lot of the disco material of its era.

Grace Jones - "Sorry" Sorry - Portfolio b/w "That's The Trouble" That's the Trouble - Portfolio

(Debuted #98, Peaked #71, 7 Weeks on chart)


The songs from this double-sided single were taken from Grace Jones' first album Portfolio, yet another of the many projects of disco producer Tom Moulton. Before beginning her singing career, Jones had been a fashion model, a muse of Andy Warhol and a regular patron of Studio 54. While the idea of a singing career may have seemed liek an afterthought for Jones (indeed, that first album's music was recorded before she was brought in to lay down her vocals), she eventually had a very successful run of club-oriented hits.

"Sorry" was a slower tune, while "That's the Trouble" was a more uptempo song. They were the middle two songs on the second side of the album; interestingly, the other two songs ("La Vie En Rose" and "I Need a Man") are probably better-known and more well-regarded by her fans.

The Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Theme From King Kong (Part 1)"

(Debuted #99, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

The instrumental was already in a downward spiral by the late-1970s despite the fact that there were three of them making their debut in this survey. In fact, only of of the three would reach the Top 40 (and even then, only barely). This one didn't fare well at all.

In 1976, a remake of the classic 1933 film King Kong was released that placed the story in the then-modern era. Instead of the iconic scene of the big gorilla climbing the Empire State building, he instead went to the World Trade Center where he had two structures to use as he fought off the military helicopters (rather than the biplanes of the original). Fay Wray's character was played by Jessica Lange; her name was Dwan (yes, that is spelled correctly) and she was an aspiring actress. While the movie was largely considered a failure by critics, it actually made a tidy profit for Paramount.

The film score was done by movie maestro John Barry but wasn't given a release to Top 40 radio. Instead, Barry White performed it as part of his Love Unlimited Orchestra. However, the song was tilted more towards funk than the lush strings of the ensemble's biggest hits. The bass line is very prominent, with interjections from a brass section before the strings finally swell up midway through the song. Fittingly for a movie that starts off on a remote island, tribal-like drumming is also prominent in the song.

Gabriel Kaplan - "Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

That's right, this is the actor who played Mr. Kotter using a catch phrase from the show Welcome Back, Kotter. Coming off the heels of the show's theme song hitting #1 and co-star John Travolta reaching the Top 10 with "Let Her In," this record probably didn't seem as odd at the time as it does today. In that sense, it may be fortunate that it stalled at #91, or else there may have also been a "Boom-Boom Soul" record by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs or a disco song with Ron Pallilo screeching "Oooh! Oooh!" during the breakdown segment.

What may seem weird to those of us who were fans of the show is that the "Up your nose" line actually originated with the Sweathogs (Vinnie Barbarino was the first to say it in the pilot episode). The song isn't done in the character of Mr. Kotter, was a return to Gabe Kaplan's roots as a comedian.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rewind -- January 17, 1970

(This is part of a series where I take one of the posts from the first year of this blog and give it a makeover.)

Of the nine songs making their debut during the third week of 1970, three would go on to make the Top 40 and two would be Top 10 hits. However, one of the songs that missed the Top 40 would come back later -- sung by the group's singer as a solo effort -- to become a huge hit. A wide variety of music is represented in the list: rock, blues, jazz, crossover country and several varieties of soul (Detroit, Philly, white soul and early funk).

When available, I provide a link to the Billboard issue for the week being reviewed but January 17, 1970 is missing from the online archive at Google Books.

The Cannonball Adderly Quintet - "Country Preacher"Cannonball Adderley Quintet - Country Preacher - "Live" at Operation Breadbasket - Country Preacher

(Debuted #98, Peaked #86, 3 weeks on chart)

Julian "Cannonball" Adderly was a well-regarded jazz musician. An alto saxophone player, he had worked with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and dozens of others as a sideman before forming his own quintet along with his brother Nat Adderly. Jazz artists are normally shut out of the Billboard Hot 100 but Adderly managed to score a few entries in his career, including one Top 40 hit (the #11 "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" in 1967). "Country Preacher" would be his final entry on that chart before his death in 1975.

The song was recorded live at a meeting of Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket event in Chicago (The Reverend Jackson is the "country preacher" of the title). There are two different moods for the song; the first, slow and sad but the tempo picks up to a more hopeful sound. If there's anything negative to be said about the song, it's far too short at three minutes (the LP version is more than four minutes but includes a spoken intro by the Reverend Jackson). Granted, jazz gets precious little exposure on the Hot 100, but it would be nice if the few singles that do make the survey could feature more of the music.

The Chairmen Of the Board - "Give Me Just a Little More Time" Chairman of the Board - Semi-Pro (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Give Me Just a Little More Time

(Debuted #85, Peaked #3, 15 weeks on chart)

"Give Me Just a Little More Time" was the first and most successful of six pop hits for The Chairmen of the Board. The group was part of the Invictus label, one of Holland/Dozier/Holland's post-Motown ventures. Sung by General Johnson, the song sounds much like a classic Motown single for a couple of good reasons: not only was it written by Holland/Dozier/Holland (under the pseudonym Ron Dunbar & Edyth Wayne) it also featured several members of Motown's house band The Funk Brothers to back up the vocals. Evidently, the "fake" pen names were an attempt to circumvent a contract that Holland/Dozier/Holland still had in place with Motown and using several members of the Motown house band went undetected at the time since that label still wasn't giving any credits to the musicians who played on their records.

Before joining The Chairmen of the Board, Norfolk, Virginia native General Johnson was a member of The Showmen, singing the classic "It Will Stand" in 1961. He was a songwriter as well as a singer, penning "Patches" (a big hit for Clarence Carter although The Chairmen did it first) and many hits for other Hot Wax/Invictus acts The Honey Cone and Freda Payne.

Nazz - "Hello it's Me"The Nazz - Open Our Eyes - The Anthology - Hello It's Me

(Debuted #83, Peaked #66, 6 weeks on chart)

Fans who weren't around to experience the 1970s probably know "Hello it's Me" as a Todd Rundgren song that gets played an awful lot on oldies radio. However, Rundgren began his career as a member of a group called Nazz and "Hello it's Me" was one of their tunes. To fans who are only familiar with the 1972 Rundgren single (reviewed on this blog last October), the original Nazz version sounds quite foreign: slower, more low-key and using different instruments and vocal harmonies. The differences are subtle but make the two songs distinct.

This was actually the second time on the Billboard chart for "Hello it's Me." Originally issued in 1968 as the B-side to Nazz's first single, the acid-rock tinged "Open My Eyes," it gained some radio airplay when that side failed to chart nationally. Issued in its own right, it reached #71 in 1969 before dropping off the chart. After the band fell apart later that year and Rundgren began doing solo work under the "group" name Runt, "Hello it's Me" was given a re-release and earned a higher peak than it did a year earlier. Interestingly, Rundgren's '72 reworking itself took yet another year after its release to become a hit.

Glen Campbell - "Honey Come Back"Glen Campbell - The Legacy (Box Set) - Honey, Come Back

(Debuted #78, Peaked #19, 9 weeks on chart)

Glen Campbell was one of the more successful pop/country crossover stars of the early 1970s.While several country artists scored crossover hits as the 1960s gave way to the 70s -- Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Lynn Anderson, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Loretta Lynn -- Glen Campbell was perhaps the most consistent artist on both charts. In addition to his musical success, he was being seen on TV (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour) and in the movies (True Grit, along with with John Wayne, and Norwood), which no doubt helped his chart fortunes.

As somebody who was so successful on the pop charts, it's safe to say that Campbell's music wasn't always "country" in the same sense as contemporaries like Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty or George Jones. Being a former L.A.-based session musician who made his living playing a lot of diverse styles in recording studios (he played on records by The Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and even toured in 1965 as a member of The Beach Boys), his range went well beyond what many would assume from a man who grew up in rural Arkansas. "Honey Come Back" is a example of his dual identity: it has the "I miss you since you left me" and "I'll walk away because I can't give you what he can" lyrics that fill many country songs but has an orchestra behind Campbell's vocals. In other words, the fiddles are played as violins and there are no steel guitars or dobros to be found.

Little Milton - "If Walls Could Talk"Little Milton - Blues - Gold - If Walls Could Talk

(Debuted #97, Peaked #71, 5 weeks on chart)

A well-respected bluesman, Little Milton was part of the staple of artists at Chess records through its Checker imprint. In addition to being a singer/guitarist, he was also a manager and producer of other acts. While never a big hitmaker like B.B. King, he gathered some modest but respectable R&B hits through the 1960s and '70s. Some, like "If Walls Could Talk" were excellent examples of soul/blues mixes, sounding a lot like they could have been capably performed by Wilson Pickett. "Walls" has a great organ line punctuated by a horn section that drives the song.

The Temptations - "Psychedelic Shack"The Temptations - Gold - Psychedelic Shack

(Debuted #95, Peaked #7, 11 weeks on chart)

After replacing David Ruffin with Dennis Edwards, The Temptations began using Norman Whitfield as their producer. Taking a cue from the music of Sly & the Family Stone, Whitfield made The Temptations into Motown's "psychedelic soul" act with hits such as "Cloud Nine," "I Can't Get Next to You" and "Ball of Confusion." With its new lead singer, the band took a very different direction than its pre-1968 lineup had and helped usher Motown into the new decade.

"Psychedlic Shack" contains one of the first instances of sampling. At the beginning of the song (often cut for radio play to avoid listeners thinking the DJ was late cueing up the song), a record is heard dropping onto a player and the opening to "I Can't Get Next to You" is heard before that song is "interrupted." The song is heavy on wah-wah guitar, distortion and deep bass and uses the range of other singers in the group, notably Eddie Kendricks' high register and Melvin Franklin's deep voice.

Despite becoming one of Motown's best-charting groups with its "psychedelic soul," the group began suffering internal struggles. After 1972, they would part ways with Norman Whitfield, Eddie Kendricks (who preferred the group's ballads) would leave for a solo career and Paul Williams would take his own life. A totally different Temptations -- with a revolving door of members -- would soldier on to the present day, even after the hits stopped coming.

The Flaming Ember - "Shades of Green"Flaming Ember - The Best of Flaming Ember - Shades of Green

(Debuted #100, Peaked #88, 3 weeks on chart)

A white soul group from Detroit, The Flaming Ember was a group that -- true to its name -- would enjoy a few decent hits for a short time and then simply fizzled out. From late 1969 through late 1970 the group had three Top 40 singles and one minor hit. That minor hit was "Shades of Green," which had two short runs on the chart but never got higher than #88. Compared to the three hits ("Mind, Body & Soul," "Westbound #9" and "I'm Not My Brother's Keeper"), "Shades of Green was an inferior, almost generic record. That's not to say the song was was merely a rehash of material they did better on the other tunes.

Donny Hathaway - "The Ghetto (Part 1)"Donny Hathaway - A Donny Hathaway Collection - The Ghetto, Pt. 1

(Debuted #99, Peaked #87, 4 weeks on chart)

Chicago-born Donny Hathaway was a bright star on the horizon as the 1970s began but wouldn't live to see the decade end. His singing was an inspiration to many but his personal struggles with depression would alienate him from many of his friends (including duet partner Roberta Flack) and often require hospital stays. Although hindsight gives Hathaway's records some added context, his music is both hopeful and tragic because it hints at what might have been. Sadly, because his biggest hits have been his Flack duets his solo material hardly gets heard by casual fans (unless they happen to watch TV, that's his voice doing the theme for Bea Arthur's show Maude).

One of Hathaway's earliest singles was "The Ghetto," a glimpse into an inner-city landscape released several months in advance of his debut LP Everything is Everything. On that LP the song was a six-and-a-half minute epic, but on the single it was divided into two parts. The song is mostly instrumental, with few lyrics beyond a chant-like repetition of the song title except indistinct "street corner" talking and a baby. Handclaps and Latin percussion keep time for Hathaway's electric piano and the funky rhythm.

Brenda and the Tabulations - "The Touch of You" Brenda and The Tabulations - The Top & Bottom: Singles Collection 1969-1971 - The Touch of You

(Debuted #84, Peaked #50, 8 weeks on chart)

One of the better-regarded Philly soul acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Brenda & the Tabulations was a vocal combo led by Brenda Payton. As the 1970s dawned, the group was made up of Payton and three male singers but later in 1970 the men left and were replaced by two female singers. "The Touch of You" was a single released before the personnel change, as there are definitely men singing the background harmonies.

A great example of late 1960s Philly soul before the Thom Bell/Gamble & Huff material of the 1970s supplanted it, "The Touch of You" was a modest hit. Besides peaking at #50 on the Hot 100, it reached #12 on the R&B chart and would be the group's second-biggest 1970s single.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Week's Review -- January 12, 1974

This week had some potent hits. Seven new singles debuted in this week's Billboard Hot 100, and six of them went on to become Top 40 hits. Additionally, three would enter the Top 10 and the lowest-charting debut went on to reach #1. That chart-topper is among the handful of songs that are among those tossed out by fans as a great example of 1970s music, as well as those who find it among the worst things ever etched into vinyl. The other Top 10 singles include a song that has aged well over the years as well as a rare song sung entirely in a foreign language. A gritty performance by The Stones, a celebration of the American spirit as viewed by an outsider and an R&B hit by The Moments are included, as well as a group effort credited to Joe Walsh.

There is a large archive of Billboard issues over at Google Books, but the issue from January 12, 1974 is not among them. Instead, I'd like to point out the tabs hanging off the picture of the 8-track tapes above. Each one has its own year listed, and clicking on them will bring up all the weeks (and songs) I have featured on this blog so far in that year. I update the list with each new post, so if there's a favorite year you want to look through or even a song you'd like to find from a particular time, check them out.

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The Rolling Stones - "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) - Goats Head Soup (Remastered)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #15, 11 Weeks on chart)

A lot of roles are switched around on this song. Keith Richards plays the bass, while Mick Taylor takes over on lead guitar. Two of the more prominent instruments don't feature members of the Stones at all but prominent sidemen: Billy Preston does the opening clavinet and Bill Price blows on the trumpet.

The situations mentioned in the lyrics (police shoot a man in a case of mistaken identity, a young girl overdoses on drugs) weren't actual events. Instead, Mick Jagger's words are meant to paint an image of life in inner-city America (as Stevie Wonder's "Living For the City" did around the same time). As he unleashes one of his more memorable performances, other group members add in their own "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo" refrains, which are present enough to have been included in the song's title.

While not one of the band's most-requested tunes or even one that gets a lot of play on the radio, it's definitely one of their high points during the 1970s.

Redbone - "Come And Get Your Love" Come and Get Your Love - Come and Get Your Love

(Debuted #85, Peaked #5, 23 Weeks on chart)

The term "redbone" comes from a Louisiana Cajun term for a person of mixed racial ancestry, and the group Redbone was fronted by a pair of brothers named Pat and Lolly Vegas, who were of mixed heritage themselves. They were Mexican (their real last name was Vasquez) and Native American, which would be a large influence on their music.

The group's biggest hit was "Come and Get Your Love," a song that has stayed in the collective American conscience over the years thanks to its use in commercials in addition to its inclusion in many retro radio formats. Despite the fact that Lolly Vegas sounds like he's singing despite the fact he's fighting a cold, the song has actually aged quite well in comparison to much of the contemporary material it competed with on its way up the chart. The band's singalong in the chorus, the subtle string arrangement, the use of a guitar that sounds vaguely like a sitar and the funky-but-not-really bass all combine to give the song a timeless feel that works even in later eras.

Mocedades - "Eres Tu (Touch the Wind)" Eres Tú - Eres Tu

(Debuted #90, Peaked #9, 17 Weeks on chart)

In Europe, the annual Eurovision concert is a big deal, as several nations bring out their best and brightest stars to vie for the title. Over the years, the contest has expanded to include other nations that aren't exactly European. "Eres Tu" was the runner-up in the 1973 contest; however, few would be ready to name the song that beat it out without looking it up (I definitely can't).

Hailing from Bilbao, Spain, Mocedades was originally known as Voces y Guitarras ("voices and guitars" in their native language). They were founded in the mid-1960s and went through some lineup changes before producer Juan Carlos Calderon changed their name around 1970. The success of the group (and the song) at Eurovision spurred a single release of the song, with its original lyrics on one side and an English translation -- called "Touch the Wind" -- on the other.

The Spanish-language version was a surprise hit in the U.S. and became one of the few songs sung entirely in Spanish to make the Top 10. There were others that were sung partially in the language (Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls"), there were others that were technicalities (I'm not counting The Champs' "Tequila," but it can be argued that its one word in the lyrics is Spanish), but for a nation with an ever-growing Hispanic population, there haven't been a whole lot.

Joe Walsh - "Meadows" Meadows - The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get.

(Debuted #97, Peaked #89, 4 Weeks on chart)

The only one of the songs on this week's list that failed to make the Top 40 might not come as a surprise once you hear it. It's just not a song that was meant to be commercial. From the screaming that started off the song to the swing between light vocals and more bombastic instrumentals, it might have felt more at home on college radio during the 1990s.

"Meadows" was the first track on side two on the LP The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Though the album was credited solely to Joe Walsh it was meant to be a project for his band Barnstorm. His record company opted to make it a solo release to capitalize on Walsh's fame. The song featured Walsh on vocals and guitars, but the rest of the band is just as prominent throughout the song.

Gordon Sinclair - "The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #24, 7 Weeks on chart)

Gordon Sinclair's only "hit" was a spoken-word recording that started out as an editorial made after the news that the U.S. Red Cross had run into financial trouble. Sinclair was a journalist and read it in his position on the air at radio station CFRB in Toronto. After going on record to stand up in support of his neighbors to the south, U.S. News and World Report ran an article with the commentary.

Some other stations recorded the bit along with a patriotic background "bed" (as instrumental backgrounds are called in the business), including one by fellow Canadian broadcaster Byron MacGregor, whose single was released ahead of the "official" version by Sinclair. They would fight their way up the Top 40 -- with MacGregor winning the dogfight -- and a third version by Tex Ritter eventually charted as well. With the single, Sinclair became the second-oldest person to have a Top 40 hit at 73 years old.

"The Americans" was resurrected in 2001, after the events of September 11. They were often erroneously attributed as a response to the airplane attacks, even though Sinclair had been dead for 17 years and the "draft dodgers" alluded to in the piece had long since returned home.

The Moments - "Sexy Mama" Sexy Mama - Love On a Two-Way Street - The Best of the Moments

(Debuted #99, Peaked #17, 13 Weeks on chart)

The Moments were a trio of Billy Brown, Harry Ray and Al Goodman that formed in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1960s. Ray had joined the group after the 1970 hit "Love On a Two-Way Street," and sang lead on "Sexy Mama." He had taken the lead vocal duties from Goodman, who was experiencing issues with his throat at the time, and his sensual reading of the lyrics over the lush orchestration really fit the song well.

"Sexy Mama" would be the group's biggest hit under that name other than "Love On a Two-Way Street." In 1979, contractual problems forced them to change their name to Ray, Goodman and Brown for future recordings.

Terry Jacks - "Seasons In The Sun" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

"Seasons in the Sun" is one of the many songs of the 1970s that are polarizing to fans. There are a lot of people who love it, but there are also a lot of people who would prefer extensive root canal surgery without any anaesthetic rather than listen to it again.

While known primarily as a Terry Jacks song, "Seasons in the Sun" predates him by more than a decade. It was originally written with French lyrics by Jacques Brel in 1961, while Rod McKuen penned a much different English translation. Jacks had originally worked with the song as part of a Beach Boys project, but it was never released.

What probably bothers many people about the song is that it's told from the perspective of a man who's about to die. Jacks' version doesn't necessarily state whether the person is suffering from a terminal disease or is about to be executed (or, as critics contend, simply from realizing that he's singing that song). Songs where somebody's getting ready to meet his doom aren't usually well-suited for pop music. The tenor of the song is appropriately downbeat, but maybe the cheerfulness of the chorus and its optimistic look at past events doesn't sit well with some.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rewind -- January 7, 1978

(This is part of an ongoing series to bring the posts from this blog's first year into the format I have established as the blog has evolved. Videos have been added, typos have been fixed and stuff has been relived. If you missed this one the first time, I certainly hope you enjoy it now.)

Ten new songs made their debut in Billboard's Hot 100 this week. Four would go on to reach the Top 40 but only one would get into the Top 10. After the success of the film Star Wars (still running in many theaters as 1978 began), science fiction had become mainstream. To mirror that, three of the songs in this week's review have "outer space" imagery. Another big trend as 1978 was getting underway would be disco, which had just become huge with the release of Saturday Night Fever. While no songs from that movie were among the debuts, several have a dancefloor beat to capitalize on the sound.

This issue of Billboard magazine is available online. Read the issue at Google Books. The full Hot 100 chart can be found on page 104. For those who like to read the articles, the scan of page 3 has a tear-out subscription insert blocking much of the page that prevents reading some of the industry news.

Heatwave - "Always And Forever"Heat Wave - The Best of Heatwave - Always and Forever - Always and Forever

(Debuted #78, Peaked #18, 20 weeks on chart)

While not their biggest-charting pop hit ("Boogie Nights" was a #2 hit and "The Groove Line" would reach #7), this may be Heatwave's best-remembered because it's been played often on adult contemporary radio and in wedding receptions for more than 30 years. A romantic ballad expressing true devotion, it's become a wedding-day standard for its timeless quality. Released at the height of disco, it proved that people still sometimes liked to dance slow.

The story of Heatwave begins with two brothers who were stationed in West Germany with the U.S. Army. Johnnie and Keith Wilder sang at local bars and venues with various German bands and remained there once they were discharged from the service. Eventually they moved to London to collaborate with Rod Temperton and built a multiracial, multinational band. Heatwave's first single ("Boogie Nights") was a huge smash in several countries and they were able to follow up that success with more hits. However, tragedy struck the group. Singer Johnnie Wilder was paralyzed in a car accident in Dayton, Ohio and bassist Mario Mantese was stabbed by an unknown assailant in London. Other members quit, including Temperton. By 1979, the band was very different and the hits dried up.

Temperton would go on to write many hit songs afterwards, especially Michael Jackson ("Rock With You," "Off the Wall," "Thriller"). Among his other hit compositions were George Benson's "Give Me the Night," "Stomp!" by The Brothers Johnson and a couple of James Ingram duets ("Baby Come to Me" and "Yah Mo B There").
Al Green - "Belle"Al Green - The Belle Album (Expanded Edition) - Belle

(Debuted #98, Peaked #83, 5 weeks on chart)

Al Green had an exceptional run of Hot 100 singles during the 1970s and this would be his final hit of the decade. It was the lead song from The Belle Album, which marked some major changes for the star. It was his first album away from producer Willie Mitchell and the Hi Records Rhythm Section, which shaped many of his big hits. It also marked the end of his R&B era; Green had a religious awakening and the album was his last secular LP before he began a new phase of his career as a gospel performer. Unfortunately, "Belle" didn't pack quite the punch of many earlier songs and wasn't around long.

Without the horns that flavored nearly all of Green's familiar hits, "Belle" sounds like a decent R&B song but not one that's distinctively Al Green. Instead, there is a synthesizer, an electric piano and some sparse guitar strumming. There is some indication of Green's newfound religious direction in the lyrics "Belle, it's you I want but Him that I need." Since religious fervor wasn't exactly in vogue during the hedonistic disco era, fans weren't as likely to listen as they might have been earlier in the decade when Jesus Christ Superstar was a hit, The Staple Singers were scoring hits and "Spirit in the Sky" extolled the virtues of having "a friend in Jesus."

The Pockets - "Come Go With Me"

(Debuted #94, Peaked #84, 9 weeks on chart)

The Pockets were a group from Baltimore that was under the wing of Earth, Wind & Fire member Verdine White (brother of EW&F frontman Maurice White). "Come Go With Me" was an uptempo number with forward-looking lyrics and a bright outlook that wouldn't have been out of place on an EW&F LP from that era, but that's not saying it would have been a standout track. However, the record-buying public didn't really see the need for another Earth, Wind & Fire when that group was still cutting their own albums. After two more Pockets LPs and no more hit singles, the group called it quits after 1979.

Heart - "Crazy On You" Heart - Dreamboat Annie - Crazy On You

(Debuted #82, Peaked #62, 6 weeks on chart)

This was a return to the charts for a song that reached #35 in 1976. After the success of that year's LP Dreamboat Annie, a dispute between the group and its record company (Mushroom) caused them to leave for Portrait records in 1977. By 1978, Mushroom Records was trying to get as much money out of Heart as possible so they re-released "Crazy on You" as a single in advance of the LP Magazine that was at the heart -- pun intended -- of the dispute with the company. It didn't do as well the second time around, missing the Top 40 but it didn't stop the song from remaining one of the group's best-known tunes.

Beginning as an acoustic guitar solo, a blistering guitar riff takes the song to Ann Wilson's lyrics. Beginning with little more than a whisper, she builds to a crescendo where her delivery of the chorus near the end of the song is nearly maddening. All the while, the music fuels the fire. It was an interesting song in its day, as female singers generally weren't as hard-edged. There were exceptions to the rule (like Fancy or Patti Smith), but by early 1978 Janis Joplin was dead, The Runaways couldn't get a break and punk bands hadn't yet gained a toehold on American radio. The 1980s would see more female acts that weren't afraid to crank up the volume (Pat Benatar, The Go-Go's, ex-Runaway Joan Jett, among others) so Heart was a trailblazer in that respect.

War - "Galaxy"War - The Very Best of War - Galaxy (Edit Version)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #39, 9 weeks on chart)

War was a very underrated 1970s band. Despite their influence on later artists from several different genres, the band gets little recognition beyond their fan base. To make it worse, there are some music fans out there who assume they were little more than Eric Burdon's backup group on "Spill the Wine." However, the L.A.-based group was a blend of many different sounds -- rock, jazz fusion, funk, reggae, Latin and R&B -- that gelled when they added two white Europeans (Burdon and Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar). Burdon left after two LPs but the band was more than up to the task of continuing without him.

"Galaxy" was War's final Top 40 hit of the 1970s. With a spacey sound, there are some added sound effects that sound like they came from the Cylons in the old Battlestar Galactica TV show (which hadn't yet debuted when the LP was recorded). Although given a somewhat danceable beat for disco play, dance music wasn't really War's forte. Their laid-back California beat and socially-aware lyrics weren't a good fit with the superficial disco scene and their music soon fell out of favor on Top 40 radio. Even though the records stopped coming out, the group has soldiered on through the years and still tours regularly (even though only one original member is left in the lineup).

Eric Clapton - "Lay Down Sally"Eric Clapton - Slowhand (Remastered) - Lay Down Sally

(Debuted #75, Peaked #3, 21 weeks on chart)

Many fans know that "Lay Down Sally" was a big pop hit for Eric Clapton. But few know it was a Top 40 country song, peaking at #26 on that chart as well. The song is performed with a shuffle and is much more of a country-style song than may of Clapton's fans may realize. Clapton wrote the song with two members of his backing band: guitarist and Southern native George Terry, and singer Marcy Levy (later known as Marcella Detroit), whose voice is clearly heard behind Clapton's. Rather than being a country fan, Clapton has acknowledged the influence in writing "Lay Down Sally" to J.J. Cale, an Oklahoma native who contributed another Clapton staple (and "Lay Down Sally" B-side), "Cocaine" as well as his 1970 hit "After Midnight."

The lyrics are straightforward ("stay with me tonight, lay here and talk") but the music is what propels the song. The shuffle beat sounds like a locomotive chugging down the tracks, Clapton's guitar solo is understated but terrific and the band is in fine form. While it's little surprise that "Lay Down Sally" wasn't a bigger country hit, it's worth noting that in 1978 there were many country artists -- Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, Dolly Parton -- having crossover success and artists like Linda Ronstadt who courted both audiences, there were also pop and rock artists (Clapton, The Carpenters and Neil Diamond, among others) earning modest success on the country charts as well.

George Duke - "Reach For It" George Duke - Reach for It - Reach for It

(Debuted #87, Peaked #54, 6 weeks on chart)

This song was one of the few Hot 100 singles George Duke would get, but that doesn't begin to show his wide-reaching influences. Duke had been a collaborator with Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Zappa and Billy Cobham. From his beginnings as a jazz keyboardist, Duke explored R&B, funk and Latin rhythms as he began recording his 1977 Reach For it LP. Although the LP was more an R&B groove than jazz fusion, it wasn't exactly a "sell-out" like critics were tagging George Benson with at the time. The song "Reach for it" sounds a lot like something from Parliament from its instrumental interplay and female vocalization or The Gap Band (and their song "Oops" in particular) in its male lead vocal.

Prism - "Take Me To The Kaptin" Prism - Best of Prism - Take Me to the Kaptin

(Debuted #90, Peaked #59, 7 weeks on chart)

Here's a song that is nearly four minutes of pure power pop. It has many of the requisite ingredients: the guitar attack, the tight production, the disposable lyrics, even a cowbell. While not memorable, it isn't a bad song and sounds similar to some harder-edged but still inoffensive corporate rock hits from the early 1980s. Perhaps the similarity has a little to do with the fact that the song's producer was the same person who crafted many of those 80s arena rock anthems.

The five-member Vancouver-based Prism was the first group produced by Bruce Fairbairn, who would go on to become tremendously sought-after by bands in the 1980s and '90s for his hard-edged style. Fairbairn produced multiplatinum LPs (and later CD releases) for Loverboy, Bon Jovi, AC/DC and Aerosmith.While critics often considered Fairbairn's production to be antiseptic and sterile, artists usually paid attention to the fact that they often had their best-selling LPs under his direction.

David Castle - "The Loneliest Man On The Moon"

(Debuted #89, Peaked #89, 2 weeks on chart)

The video above features a nice introduction from the Internet-based DJ Music Mike.

This was one of the shortest-lived chart hits for all of 1978: it debuted at #89, held the same position a week later and then disappeared. The song's quick death on the charts also marked the end of Castle's short career as a prospective hitmaker. While songs that took place in space like David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Elton John's "Rocket Man" were big in the early 1970s, the fact that the Apollo program was still going on at the time may have helped them. Unfortunately, by 1978 astronauts weren't going to the moon anymore and the public wasn't buying a lot of records that took place beyond the stratosphere. Of course, any mention of the moon in the song is purely metaphorical; the lyrics mention waiting for a lover to return and a feeling of loneliness.

David Castle was a staff writer for United Artists during the mid-1970s and released his debut LP Castle in the Sky in 1977. Although he hailed from Texas, he recorded his album at the famed Abbey Road studios in London and had some help in the background from the London Symphony Orchestra (who provide much of the "spacey" music in this song).

Meco - "Theme From Close Encounters" Meco - The Best of Meco - Theme from Close Encounters

(Debuted #61, Peaked #25, 10 weeks on chart)

For the second time in less than a year, Meco did a discofied version of a movie theme composed by John Williams. The first time out, Meco's version of the Star Wars theme (with "Cantina Band" inserted into it) went to #1 while Williams settled for a #10 peak with his original. Fans of Star Wars -- so often easily agitated in regards to "authenticity" -- weren't overly thrilled by the result, but disco was hot enough in 1977 to vault Meco's version into the #1 spot even if it was seen as a novelty. For Close Encounters of the Third Kind however, it was Williams who won the race, peaking at #13 with his film score as Meco stalled at #25.

Meco was the stage name of Domenico Monardo, an Italian-American born in Pennsylvania. While in high school, he jammed along with friends Chuck Mangione and jazz musician Ron Carter. After being in a service band during his Army hitch, he became a studio musician and arranger. Among his contributions: the horn section on Tommy James & the Shondells' "Crystal Blue Persuasion" and Neil Diamond's series of Coca-Cola commercials. As a producer, he handled Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Carol Douglas's "Doctors Orders." After going platinum with his first LP Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, he decided to see if lightning struck twice with Encounters of Every Kind. It didn't sell as many copies, but Meco continued with movie-themed singles, including selections from The Wizard of Oz, Superman, The Black Hole, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.