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.

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