Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rewind -- February 24, 1979

(This is part of a weekly series were I revisit early entries to this blog. Sometimes, I correct little mistakes, and other time I'm presenting them for the benefit of newer readers who missed them the first time.)

Twelve new singles make their debut this week, with only three managing to reach the Top 40. Despite the seemingly sluggish performance, some artists would go on to reach bigger heights in the 1980s -- Kim Carnes, The Police and especially Michael Jackson -- while some were making their final chart appearance.

Past issues of Billboard are available to read for free online at Google Books. The February 24, 1979 editions can be found here. The full Hot 100 list can be seen on page 88. Beginning on page 3 and continuing on page 78 is an article about Casablanca Records, which was on top of the music world thanks to its association with the white-hot disco fad. It's interesting to read articles like that with 20/20 hindsight, knowing disco would soon fall out of favor and how the resulting backlash essentially doomed the label. Another interesting fact is how label head Neil Bogart mentions his love for New York, which seems odd because the label was famous for its place on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. However, Bogart himself was a native New Yorker and his roster included NYC-bred acts Kiss, Brooklyn Dreams and The Village People.

Speaking of Casablanca Records, two singles from this week's review were from the label. One of those songs is the first on the list.

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Parliament - "Aqua Boogie" Parliament - Motor-Booty Affair - Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)

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

Fans of George Clinton and his P-Funk universe probably don't mind his forays into the realm of the bizarre, but it can be something of an acquired taste even if it's as funky as on old pair of sneakers. While Billboard simply listed the song as "Aqua Boogie," on vinyl the song was followed by a parenthetical "A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop." That's quite a mouthful. Parliament would often take the idea of a concept album and stretch in to the point of melding it. For 1978's Motor Booty Affair, there was an underwater concept, which brings us to "Aqua Boogie."

Written by three of Parliament's huge talents, leader George Clinton, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, it features what fans expect from the three: Clinton's unique and bizarre humor, Bootsy's bass lines and Worrell's handiwork. In the song, Clinton channels an alter ego named Sir Nose D'Void of Funk, who is not only lacking in rhythm but afraid of water. I'm not going to even try to make sense of the words...the music is a tasty slice of funk from many of the genre's best practitioners. However, the song loses some of its luster when taken away from the entire LP, which is a small part of why the song was so short-lived on the pop chart.

Zwol - "Call Out My Name"

(Debuted #85, Peaked #75, 3 weeks on chart)

As I continue this blog project, I occasionally come across something I've never heard before that ends up being surprisingly good. Sometimes, I find those tunes running through my head later on after I've listened to them a couple of times. This was one of those songs.

Zwol sounds like a group name, but the name was a pseudonym for singer Walter Zwolinsky. For most of the 1970s, he was the singer for the Canadian rock band Brutus, a group that also introduced guitarists Jerry Doucette (who himself had a minor Hot 100 hit in 1978) and Paul Dean of the 1980s band Loverboy. Going solo in 1978, Zwol enjoyed two minor hits from his first LP and "Call Out My Name" was the second of those. The song is about a breakup; his lady has walked away and isn't answering the phone anymore but he still holds out hope she'll come back to him. As Zwol sings out the words, a keyboard and two guitars hide his pain well.

Despite the relatively poor chart showing and no followup hits in the U.S., Walter Zwol still performs around Toronto today. The YouTube video above will let you hear the song for yourself. By right-clicking and listening to it on its own page, one of the responses is purportedly from Zwol himself, with contact info (a MySpace page) for anybody who'd like to get a CD of his music, which isn't available through iTunes or Amazon right now.

Maureen McGovern - "Can You Read My Mind" Maureen McGovern - Maureen McGovern: Greatest Hits - Can You Read My Mind (Love Theme from

(Debuted #92, Peaked #52, 9 weeks on chart)

Released to theaters late in 1978, Superman: The Movie was a tremendous hit. During one scene from the film, Superman (played by Christopher Reeve) takes Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) for an evening flight around Metropolis. As they fly around -- aided by CGI special effects that were cutting-edge then but pretty basic today -- there is a theme playing as Kidder's voice recites a poem called "Can You Read My Mind." Soon after the film became a hit, a version of Lois Lane's theme sung by Maureen McGovern was released. While her interpretation of John Williams' score was lovely and well-suited for cinema (even though that version didn't appear in the film), it failed to make the Top 40.

McGovern was no stranger to movie themes. Her recording of "The Morning After" (from The Poseidon Adventure) was a #1 pop hit and "We May Never Love Like This Again" (from The Towering Inferno) was a minor hit. However, both songs would win the Oscar award for Best Original Song. McGovern also performed "Wherever Love Takes Me" for a 1974 British disaster film called Gold. These songs gave McGovern a reputation as a disaster movie "queen." After "Can You Read My Mind," she would go on to TV (with the title song for the series Angie) and appear in a movie spoofing some of those disaster flicks, as a singing nun in Airplane!

B.T.O. - "Heartaches" Bachman-Turner Overdrive - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Heartaches

(Debuted #94, Peaked #60, 7 weeks on chart)

The sound was similar, but the group was different. This single featured the group name B.T.O. as opposed to the full Bachman-Turner Overdrive because founder Randy Bachman had left the band and retained the rights to use the name. In fact, Bachman's new band Ironhorse would chart three weeks later with "Sweet Lui Louise" while "Heartaches" was still on the chart. Written and sung by C.F. Turner, it was the first charting B.T.O. tune since 1976. Two LPs were released in the meantime that failed to chart any singles, but the minor success of "Heartaches" didn't change the band' fortunes. The rise of disco likely killed the group's mid-70s success.

Kim Carnes - "It Hurts So Bad" Kim Carnes - Gypsy Honeymoon - The Best of Kim Carnes - It Hurts So Bad

(Debuted #78, Peaked #56, 5 weeks on chart)

After enjoying a Top 40 duet with Gene Cotton called "You're a Part of Me," Kim Carnes would get her first solo chart single with "It Hurts So Bad." Despite the fact it was her first hit, Carnes had spent more than a decade in the business. From a stint with The New Christy Minstrels in 1966-'67 (along with future duet partner Kenny Rogers), she would go on to release several independent LPs throughout the 1970s and wrote for other artists. Two of her compositions would end up being recorded by another future duet partner, Barbra Streisand, and those would help to get her more exposure.

"It Hurts So Bad" was taken from Carnes's first EMI LP St. Vincent's Court. Sounding somewhat like a female Rod Stewart and backed by a mandolin, piano and organ in addition to the more standard rock instruments, the song was written by Carnes. As somebody who started out as a songwriter, it's interesting to note that her two biggest hits would be other people's songs: 1980s "More Love" was a Smokey Robinson tune and the next year's "Bette Davis Eyes" was written by Jackie DeShannon.

George Benson - "Love Ballad" George Benson - The George Benson Collection - Love Ballad

(Debuted #81, Peaked #18, 15 weeks on chart)

George Benson didn't see a lot of success on the Hot 100 until the mid 1970s (beginning with his LP Breezin' and "This Masquerade") but he'd spent more than a decade before that as an accomplished jazz guitarist, working with greats like Miles Davis. Ironically, he reached a new level of success by adding his voice to the recordings when he was already notable for his guitar work.

This was the second appearance of "Love Ballad" on the pop chart. The first time was in 1976, as the first chart single for L.T.D. That version was handled by Jeffrey Osbourne, whose voice was far more powerful than Benson's.  However, by adding in Benson's guitar prowess -- even doing a duet with himself, scatting along with his own guitar solo, in the middle -- this version would eventually edge out the #20 peak of the original.

Brooklyn Dreams - "Make it Last"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #69, 4 weeks on chart)

Brooklyn Dreams was probably best-known for its association with Donna Summer (they sang backup on many of her hits and were the credited with "dueting" with her on "Heaven Knows") but were a group in their own right. Aside from that #2 smash Summer duet, the group had three Hot 100 entries on their own during the late 1970s and the ironically titled "Make it Last" would be their final hit. Bruce Sudano, a former member of Alive & Kicking (1970's "Tighter, Tighter") and Summer's future husband, handled the lead though all three members showcase their vocal talents.

Brooklyn Dreams was influenced by doo-wop and even appeared in the film American Hot Wax as a street corner group. However, they were under the umbrella of Casablanca records, which was the premier disco label in the U.S. so their harmonies were shifted to a more disco-influenced sound. As a result, the standard string-heavy Casablanca instrumentation detracts from the excellent three-part harmony the group exhibits in "Make it Last." A combination of the forced disco sound and the fact that "Heaven Knows" was already rising up the charts at the same time would doom the single.

The Police - "Roxanne"The Police - Outlandos d'Amour - Roxanne

(Debuted #82, Peaked #32, 13 weeks on chart)

It all started with a song about being in love with a prostitute. With lyrics about turning on the red light and selling her body to the night, there's little doubt about Roxanne's profession to anybody who pays attention to the lyrics. It wouldn't be the only song about a woman of the night to hit the Top 40 ("Lady Marmalade," "Bad Girls" and "Killer Queen" were 70s hits...even the time-honored song "Sweet Georgia Brown" originally had lyrics about a working girl), but the funny thing is that some casual fans don't realize that fact even when they sing along to it on the radio.

It was also the first chart hit for The Police in the U.S. With a different sound than what usually drifted from Top 40 radio stations in 1979, the group was too smooth and instrumentally proficient to be punk, too reggae-influenced to be rock and had a guitarist who was a veteran of the British Invasion (something the punks were rebelling against). Since there is a need to categorize musical acts into some type of ready-made all-encompassing "label" The Police would be lumped in with the New Wave acts for the coming decade. They would become one of the biggest groups of the early 1980s until internal strife split them up at the peak of their popularity.

The Faragher Brothers - "Stay the Night"

(Debuted #88, Peaked #50, 7 weeks on chart)

Beginning in their native California as a group of four brothers, the Faragher Brothers had expanded to include a fifth brother and one sister by the time their third LP Open Your Eyes, which included "Stay the Night." Before making a family band, brothers Danny and Jimmy Faragher had been members of the group Bones, which had a low-charting 1972 single called "Roberta." While "Stay the Night" was a good example of blue-eyed soul and the California "sound" that permeated the airwaves in the late 1970s, the song stalled halfway up the charts.

No followup single made the charts and the band would split in 1980. After that, some of the Faraghers stayed in the music business. Tommy would become a writer (Taylor Dayne's "Every Beat of My Heart") and producer. Davey became a highly-sought session bassist. Danny would also do session work as well as performing music for TV shows like The Facts of Life and Who's the Boss?

Dan Hartman - "This is it" Dan Hartman - Keep the Fire Burnin' - Countdown/This Is It

(Debuted #93, Peaked #91, 3 weeks on chart)

Following "Instant Replay" (reviewed here last October) both on the LP and as a 45 release, Dan Hartman's second single wasn't nearly as successful as his first. It rose only as high as #91 and died pretty quickly. Not much to write about...the song is about as heartfelt as a soda commercial and the band sounds like they drank their share of sweet stuff before rolling the tape.

While a video appears above, there is another promo video for this song on YouTube. While it shows just how silly the song is, it also shows future Kiss member Vinnie Vincent on guitar. Notice the bass player is placed behind the drummer and doesn't seem to be playing at all (Hartman did his own bass for the record). The absence of future Hall & Oates sideman/Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith (who played guitar for the LP) in the clip seems to indicate that he had the sense to stay away. That, or he was already paid for the studio gig and was happy without having to make a fool of himself too.

Eric Clapton - "Watch Out for Lucy" Eric Clapton - Backless (Remastered) - Watch Out for Lucy

(Debuted #77, Peaked #40, 7 weeks on chart)

After slowing down for "Wonderful Tonight" and flirting with country for "Lay Down Sally," E.C. returned to blues-based rock for "Watch Out for Lucy." Originally the B-side of his Top 10 hit "Promises," the song made the lower reaches of the Top 40 on its own merit. Taken from his LP Backless, the song sounds like it was recorded in a smoke-filled roadhouse. While it sounds so much differently than Clapton's other late 70s singles, it sounds like an old friend at the same time.

At first, it sounds that Lucy might be jailbait ("Excuse me, Lucy, Darling don't you use me, I don't want to land in jail.") but the song tells the story about a good-timer named Bill who fell for Lucy despite his friend's warnings that she was no good. Once that happens, she demands expensive presents. The story doesn't end well...Bill ends up lying in a gutter with a gun and a ring he tried to steal for her. Among Clapton's lesser-remembered hits, it's worth searching out.

Michael Jackson - "You Can't Win (Part 1)" Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones - The Wiz (Original Soundtrack) - You Can't Win

(Debuted #83, Peaked #81, 3 weeks on chart)

In a purely historical sense, this may be the calm before the storm. When this song was released, Michael Jackson was still seen as a member of The Jackson 5 (even after they had changed their name to The Jacksons) and occasional solo singer. He was still only 20 years old and was just getting ready to finish up his next LP Off the Wall. Of course, his life and career changed tremendously once that hit the shelves.

"You Can't Win" was taken from the soundtrack of The Wiz, a more "urban" take on The Wizard of Oz. Jackson played the Scarecrow in the film, joined by Diana Ross as Dorothy, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion and Richard Pryor as the man behind the curtain. The film's music was scored by Quincy Jones, which helped lead to his involvement with Jackson's hugely successful LPs Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. Interestingly, "You Can't Win" may not have been a single at all; it was written for the original stage play but discarded and later revived for the film. Listening to the song, some of Jackson's later hit formula is evident but it's unlikely the record-buying public recognized that at the time.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

This Week's Review -- February 24, 1973

This week, the numbers show up as "halves." There were 12 new singles in the Billboard Hot 100, with six making the Top 40 and three reaching into the Top 10. Though none of them went to the #1 spot on the pop chart, the other formats were covered: two would be #1 country hits, another pair topped the #1 R&B survey and one went to the top on the adult contemporary chart. One song looked back to a rock opera, while another would be a hit when it was remade 30 years later. The Temptations appeared with a new song, and so did one of its former members. The Beach Boys chart with a song that was far removed from its 1960s hits. The Ohio Players had their first Top 40 hit, The Association showed up for the last time and a Cleveland band called Circus shows up for the only time.

There is a large archive of past Billboard magazines at Google Books, and the February 24, 1973 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 52.An article beginning on page 13 has Burt Sugarman discussing the ideas behind his TV shows The Midnight Special and In Concert, even claiming that there would eventually be 24-hour music programming on television. At the time, that seemed like a grandiose statement. on page 39, jukebox operators explain the recent peace-themed songs and their reaction wasn't really based on concerns that they might lead to disagreement among patrons; instead, they were concerned that such records were short-lived, and therefore less profitable.

Where Rock Art lives

The Carpenters - "Sing" Sing (1994 Remix) - Carpenters Gold (35th Anniversary Edition)

(Debuted #61, Peaked #3, 14 Weeks on chart)

It's pretty well-known that "Sing" is a song from Sesame Street and is still frequently performed on that show, but The Carpenters weren't introduced to it through a TV set or an appearance with Jim Henson's creations. Instead, they heard Barbra Streisand's rendition of it in a medley of "Make Your Own Kind of Music" in 1972. Hearing a sure hit, Richard Carpenter was determined to make a version of the song despite the objections of many of his associates. It was definitely successful, reaching #3 on the pop charts and #1 on the adult contemporary survey.

Laid down for the duo's Now & Then LP, the song includes the notes of a recorder during its opening. They were played by Tom Scott, who is better known as a saxophonist. The song was written by Sesame Street staffer Joe Raposo, who also wrote the songs "Bein' Green" and "C is For Cookie" for the show, as well as the theme song for the show Three's Company. It's been rumored -- but never verified -- that Raposo's fondness for sweets was the inspiration for the Cookie Monster.

The Temptations - "Masterpiece" Masterpiece (Single Version) - The Complete Collection: The Temptations

(Debuted #63, Peaked #7, 14 Weeks on chart)

The word "masterpiece" doesn't appear anywhere in the lyrics of the song "Masterpiece," which is another song where The Temptations sing about the realities of life in the ghetto. The song's name comes from the fact that the song's writer, producer Norman Whitfield, felt that the instrumental arrangement was perfect. However, the way he had the band wait an entire minute before letting the intro build up before singing was seen by some as too similar to their previous hit "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and contributed to their increasing friction with Whitfield.

Using all five members' voices in the montage, it would be a #1 R&B hit and the group's final Top 10 pop hit until 1991, when a Temptations with four different voices guested on Rod Stewart's hit "The Motown Song."

Donna Fargo - "Superman" Superman - The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.

(Debuted #73, Peaked #41, 9 Weeks on chart)

 On the pop chart, Donna Fargo is largely remembered for her success with two hits ("The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A" and "Funny Face"), but never again made the Top 40 with any subsequent singles. However, on the country chart, she would continue to score Top 40 hits on a regular basis until well into the 1980s even after a multiple sclerosis diagnosis that eventually forced her to retire from recording.

"Superman" was the follow-up to "Funny Face," and continued a string of #1 country singles she began with the two songs mentioned earlier. An upbeat tune that showed a little swagger to go along with Fargo's North Carolina accent, it narrowly missed becoming her third Top 40 hit. Unfortunately, that's as close as she would get after that.

Dobie Gray - "Drift Away" Drift Away - Top Hits - Drift Away - EP

(Debuted #85, Peaked #5, 21 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that always puzzled me during my days as a country radio DJ in the mid 1990s. From time to time, "Drift Away" was played as a recurrent despite the fact that it wasn't even a country hit during its chart life. In fact, it was Narvel Felts who charted with the song on the country chart (with the lyric changed to reflect that format)...but by the 1990s, there weren't many country stations that had anything by Felts in their rotation, including the one where I worked the overnight shift. The fact that Dobie Gray was played there, despite the fact that he only charted four minor country hits well after his pop hits dried up, was part of an evolution in country that embraced artists like The Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd much more tightly than they were in their day. In short, it marked a shift in the audience, where many people who were listening to country at that point had grown up on Southern Rock and the country/rock hybrid that really wasn't accepted seriously by the Nashville establishment then. By that time, the easy beat of "Drift Away" was familiar to listeners and fit in well with the format.

"Drift Away" might be Dobie Gray's most familiar song to the casual listener nowadays. Written by Mentor Williams (brother of songwriter Paul Williams), it features a guitar riff by Reggie Young that has made it suitable for a concert's final song or to set up an encore. Its familiarity was obviously helped by a 2003 remake by Uncle Kracker that featured Gray himself on the last verse. That version returned Gray to the pop Top 10 for the first time in 30 years.

The New Seekers - "Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me (Medley)" Pinball Wizard / See Me, Feel Me - Their Very Best - EP

(Debuted #87, Peaked #29, 13 Weeks on chart)

The New Seekers had enjoyed a small amount of success in the U.S. during the early 1970s. They scored nine chart singles in the period, with three getting into the Top 40. They were much more successful in their native U.K. (as well as in Australia, where founder Keith Potger hailed from), but "Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me" would be their last single to reach the U.S. Hot 100 chart.

Most fans of the era's music will know "Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me" as a medley from the Who's rock opera Tommy. It was actually given a slightly harder arrangement than The Who put on their record, but eventually obscured the guitar with horns as "See Me, Feel Me" took over. The song may have been targeted to appeal both to younger listeners and to the adult contemporary crowd, the song highlights the group's vocal harmonies well. According to group member Lyn Paul's Website, songwriter Pete Townsend was pleased enough with the result to send them a congratulatory telegram.

The Beach Boys - "Sail On Sailor" Sail On, Sailor - The Beach Boys Classics (Selected by Brian Wilson)

(Debuted #92, Peaked #79, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Sail On Sailor" was a song from The Beach Boys' concept LP Holland but wasn't among the songs they recorded while in that country. When they submitted their version of the album to Capitol Records, the label rejected it because it didn't see any hit material. As a result, songwriter Van Dyke Parks suggested a demo he and Brian Wilson had recorded. The label dropped a song from the proposed LP and ordered the group to record that song instead. However, the lead vocal wasn't determined because Wilson had no intention of going into the studio. Dennis Wilson was asked first but wanted to go out and surf. After Carl Wilson attempted the lines, he asked associate member Blondie Chaplin to give it a try. Chaplin's voice eventually appeared on the album.

This was actually the first time on the Hot 100 for "Sail On Sailor." After reaching a high point of #79, it dropped quietly from the chart. However, the band was soon given another look as their back catalog (helped by the LP Endless Summer and an appearance on the American Graffiti soundtrack) placed the spotlight back on them. "Sail On Sailor" would get a second chance in 1975 and eventually surpassed its original high point.

The Association - "Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

The Association rattled off a series of hits during the 1960s including five Top 10 singles and two #1s ("Cherish" and "Windy"), but their only listing on the Hot 100 during the 1970s came with "Names, Tags, Numbers and Labels" in 1973. It wasn't exactly a comeback, as they had four other singles that had "bubbled under" the chart since their last hit in 1969 and five other singles that failed to chart at all. That was a big drop-off from the heady chart action they enjoyed from 1966-'69, and coincided with a period that saw not only a fluctuating lineup and record label switches, but also the drug-related death of founding member Brian Cole.

"Names, Tags, Numbers and Labels" was a light ballad written by Albert Hammond. In addition to reaching the Hot 100, it was also a #27 hit on the adult contemporary chart. Despite being their biggest hit in four years, it was seen as a disappointment and failed to stop the band's cycle of fluctuating lineups, sporadic tours and occasional recording sessions. They eventually split up in 1978, but reformed the next year with the surviving core of its original lineup and have been together on the revival circuit ever since.

The Ohio Players - "Funky Worm" Funky Worm - Pleasure

(Debuted #94, Peaked #15, 19 Weeks on chart)

"Funky Worm" was the first Top 40 pop hit for The Ohio Players and the first of their five R&B #1 singles. It was a breakthrough for a band that was paying its dues for well over a decade. It was also the biggest hit the group would enjoy outside of its "classic" era on Mercury Records.

A funky tune featuring the band's "Granny" character, "Funky Worm" features a bass line that has been sampled frequently by Hip-Hop groups and a jazz-influenced synthesiser line that gives the song its characteristic hook. Before living on in samples, a snippet of the song appeared on Dickie Goodman's "Watergrate" later in 1973, which shows how big a hit it was at the time.

Eddie Kendricks - "Girl You Need A Change Of Mind (Part 1)" Girl You Need a Change of Mind - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Eddie Kendricks

(Debuted #95, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

Eddie Kendricks was debuting with a song the same week as his old group The Temptations. Unfortunately, his solo career wasn't exactly a success right out of the gate. Two years in, he still hadn't charted a Top 40 pop hit, nor had he scored a Top 10 R&B hit (strings that remained unbroken with "Girl You Need a Change of Mind"). At the same time, he was being targeted by his former bandmates in their own hit single "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)." By the time 1973 was over, the situations would reverse for the acts.

An eight-minute workout on Kendricks' second solo LP People...Hold On, "Girl You Need a Change of Mind" was an early disco groove from before the genre was really given a name. In a way, it was a precursor to a style that brought bigger hits down the road for him. In essence, it was pointing the road for him to keep on truckin'.

Circus - "Stop, Wait & Listen" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #91, 4 Weeks on chart)

Once again, Music Mike gives plenty of information about the band Circus in his intro during the video above. They were a local bar band in the Cleveland area who remained local even when their song charted nationally; in fact, it is said they only left Ohio when they went to Chicago to record their LP. The #91 peak they achieved with their only hit single is the result of massive sales in their home area, since they never really tried to break through anywhere else.

"Stop, Wait and Listen" is a surprisingly good burst of power pop that should have been allowed to be a bigger hit if it were to break out in other cities. It has a guitar and organ riff that gives it a big sound, and enough reverb to make you realize this was from some of the musicians who later contributed to records by Eric Carmen and Michael Stanley.

Barbara Fairchild - "Teddy Bear Song" Teddy Bear Song - Teddy Bear Song

(Debuted #99, Peaked #32, 19 Weeks on chart)

Country music is well-known for its very adult take on many subjects. In the case of "Teddy Bear Song," the protagonist has broken off a serious relationship and used the things from her youth to describe how she wishes she could go back to that happy time...before the heartache kicked in.

"Teddy Bear Song" was a #1 country hit and Barbara Fairchild's first pop hit. She had been scoring with modest country singles since 1969, but the success of this song caught her in the gears of the "typecast" machine. Her next songs stayed on the "kid" topic, and her next two singles ("Kid Stuff" and Baby Doll") would also chart in the country Top 10. However, the one-dimensional nature of that stance was seen as a novelty on the pop side, so only "Kid Stuff" charted in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 before she disappeared from that chart altogether.

Fairchild eventually tired of the image, though. She began charting again with the tried-and-true country cheatin' song by 1976 but had given up the genre in favor of gospel by the time the 1980s rolled around.

Syl Johnson - "We Did It" We Did It - The Best of Syl Johnson: The Hi Records Years

(Debuted #100, Peaked #95, 3 Weeks on chart)

Like many of the great and soul players, Syl Johnson was originally from the Deep South. The Mississippi native went to both Chicago and Memphis to stake his claim. In Chicago during the 1950s, he was part of Howlin' Wolf's band as well as those of Magic Sam and Junior Wells; in the 1970s, he was part of Memphis-based Hi Records, backed by the same band that laid down the groove on Al Green's albums.

"We Did It" definitely sounds like it could have been a Green session instrumentally, but Johnson makes it his own vocally. It's an overlooked tune, one that might get the toes subconsciously tapping. It definitely deserved better than the #95 peak it eventually got.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rewind -- February 20, 1971

(This is part of a series where I revisit some of my earliest entries to this blog, both as a way of tying up loose ends and presenting these songs again to those who might have missed them the first time around.)

This week featured a pretty good crop of new singles. Out of eight new songs, six would make the Top 40 and one great tune would be Top 10 bound. Some pretty big names, too: Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Chicago, Santana. Helen Reddy made her first of many appearances on the chart, while The Detroit Emeralds made the first of...well, not quite as many. One of my absolute favorites from the decade was included as well.

I often provide a link to the Billboard issue from the week if it's available to read online through Google Books. The February 20, 1971 edition can be found here. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 64. Reading through the issue, I found the Jukebox section beginning on page 40 really interesting. While the articles give a glimpse into the business more than 40 years ago, it is interesting to read about jukebox companies adding more "oldies" (which appear to be songs from just a few years prior, judging from the list given) to the jukebox offerings in response to demand. Also mentioned were some small details I had forgotten about as jukeboxes evolved to CD-playing devices: the different label colors for different music styles, the idea that the placement of the labels had a big effect on what was played and the need for the workers who serviced the machines to have well-stocked trucks to keep up with new trends and be ready to replace the records before they're worn out. One thing that I really found article mentioned that when some jukeboxes were serviced, instead of replacing any records they were simply moved around for maximum effect and the jukebox owners often didn't realize that nothing new had been added. Even 40 years ago, presentation was everything.

As for this week's new singles, the list begins and ends in the Motor City...well, sort of. Read on for details.

MP3's at

The Detroit Emeralds - "Do Me Right"

(Debuted #92, Peaked #43, 9 weeks on chart)

While the group's name implies they came from Michigan, that's not exactly correct. Originally called The Emeralds, they began in the mid 1960s as a quartet of brothers in Little Rock, Arkansas. After two of the brothers quit, Ivory and Abrim Tilman added childhood friend James Mitchell to the group and the newly-made trio moved to Detroit and added that city's name to their own. By 1968, they were releasing R&B sides; in 1970 they signed with Westbound records and began recording their first LP. Do Me Right was released early in 1971, with the similarly-titled lead track being its first single release.

The song was a good example of early 1970s R&B even if it didn't exactly stand out above contemporary material. The standard brass section, the thumping bass line, guitars influenced by that other Detroit-based record label and solid background harmonies all show up here. Not bad for a first stab at the national chart, even though the song would fall just short of the Top 40. The Detroit Emeralds would go on to enjoy a handful of modest hits during the 1970s but would endure some lineup changes during the era, including a change that saw them become a quartet again. In 1977, former member James Mitchell would enjoy an even bigger hit as part of The Floaters.

Alice Cooper - "Eighteen" Alice Cooper - Love It to Death - I'm Eighteen

(Debuted #90, Peaked #21, 13 weeks on chart)

There are two different titles for this classic song. Most Alice Cooper compilations and the LP Love it to Death -- the album that contained it -- list it as "I'm Eighteen" but the 45 RPM single simply calls it "Eighteen." In cases of a disparity between what Billboard's survey says and what the artist's record sleeve says, I'll defer to what is actually listed on the single that charted if I can find the label. So you Alice Cooper fans can stop raising your hands to correct the title. In this case, we're both right.

I loved this song even before I was 18. I still enjoy it today, even though I am now a father and allegedly responsible adult. Of course, back then I never really paid a lot of attention to the words; it was the driving sound of the record and the refrain "I'm eighteen...and I like it!" that resonated with me when I was a kid. However, I certainly understood the line "I'm in the middle without any plans, I'm a boy and I'm a man" because I remember specifically being frustrated that I was too old for "kid stuff" but too young to be taken seriously by adults. Hopefully I'll remember that in a few years when my own child begins having a similar frustration.

Chicago - "Free" Chicago - Chicago III (Remastered) - Free

(Debuted #85, Peaked #20, 9 weeks on chart)

No other group during the 1970s placed more songs on Billboard's Hot 100 than Chicago. When their LP Chicago III came out in 1971, it appeared the group's act was beginning to wear thin. Their extended-length progressive compositions filling one side of a disc were great for ambient listening but didn't always translate into radio hits. In fact, all of their first three LPs were double albums; no other major act has released that many consecutive two-disc sets in such a short time. They followed Chicago III with a four-disc live set that led its record company to pull material from the group's first two albums (often cut out of their long-form compositions) for singles rather than culling any live cuts for radio play. Fortunately for the group, Chicago V was a single-disc package and the side-length workouts were toned down in favor of more radio-friendly arrangements, a formula which led to a great run of hits for several years.

The first single from Chicago III was "Free," which would be the first Chicago 45 of the 1970s to miss the Top 10. More of a showcase for the band's musical prowess than its singers or songwriters, there's more of the group's trademark brass section on the record, while they lyrics are limited to little more than "I just wanna be free." However, great musicianship doesn't always translate to increased sales in an era where many were looking for the perfect hook or gimmick to get airplay.

Helen Reddy - "I Don't Know How To Love Him" Helen Reddy - I Don't Know How to Love Him - I Don't Know How to Love Him

(Debuted #99, Peaked #13, 20 weeks on chart)

This was the song that introduced Helen Reddy to American audiences. It would be the first of 19 singles she'd place on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1970s. Despite her success -- three #1s and six Top 10 singles, as well as eight #1 adult contemporary songs -- she was among those artists that polarized listeners during the decade. There really wasn't a lot of middle ground with Reddy. She sold a lot of records, yet there were still reactions like the one placed in Cheech & Chong's "Let's Make a New Dope Deal": when given the choice between cutting off one of his fingers or listening to an entire side of a Helen Reddy album, a game show contestant says, "give me the meat cleaver."

Another 1970s phenomenon that people either loved or considered to be a sacrilege was the stage play Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical originally appeared as a concept album and its version of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" was sung by Yvonne Elliman in the role of Mary Magdalene. When the LP was a surprise hit, Reddy was asked to record a cover of the song to capitalize on its success after Linda Ronstadt turned down the chance. A slow rising song, it wouldn't make the Top 40 until May, where it would compete for airplay with the Elliman original that had also been released as a single. Both versions dueled on the Top 40 for more than a month; Reddy's version proved to be more successful, reaching #13 while Elliman stalled at #28.

Santana - "Oye Como Va" Santana - Abraxas - Oye Como Va

(Debuted #82, Peaked #13, 10 weeks on chart)

"Oye Como Va" is often remembered as a Santana song, but it was written and originated by Latin mambo artist Tito Puente in 1963. It's one of the few big U.S. hits of the 1970s to be entirely sung in a language other than English and has very few lyrics, letting the music speak for much of the song. The words "Oye com va, mi ritmo, bueno pa' gozar, mulata" (loosely translated: "listen how it goes, my rhythm, good for partying, mulatto") are repeated once and instrumental passages bookend the two verses. Guitar and organ solos complement the Latin rhythm nicely.

During my research, I actually learned something about the song I'd been getting wrong for many years. Since my days a high school Spanish student, I'd always heard the words "mi ritmo" as "peligro," meaning "danger." With Carlos Santana's guitar attack cutting through the steady rhythm, it seemed logical to think of it as some type of warning. As for the word "mulata," in the U.S. the term mulatto is often derisive due to its interracial context but in Latin culture multi-ethnicity is more widespread so the term likely isn't unfavorable. However, I'm not well-versed in the subject so if anybody who reads this can add some information about its inclusion in the song, feel free to add a comment below.

Billy Joe Royal - "Tulsa" Billy Joe Royal - American Legend: Billy Joe Royal - Tulsa

(Debuted #95, Peaked #86, 3 weeks on chart)

Best known for his 1965 hit "Down in the Boondocks," Billy Joe Royal had occasional success for the rest of the 1960s but nothing that matched that first hit. Despite an updated sound for his 1969 hit "Cherry Hill Park," he would return to his regular hit-or-miss routine with subsequent singles. However, in the 1980s, Royal would once again become successful by becoming a straight country singer. Unlike other crossover stars like B.J. Thomas, Kenny Rogers or Glen Campbell, Royal's country success wasn't preceded by a period of charting in both formats; in his case, his pop singles didn't chart country and his later country singles didn't hit the pop charts.

"Tulsa" was something of a precursor to Royal's later direction. It was a Western-themed song -- Waylon Jennings recorded it for the country market -- and had adult subject matter in its lyrics (his girl had gotten pregnant by somebody else and the father walked away from his responsibility, and this cowboy was looking to settle the score with him). It's a warning for the offender to leave town or be prepared for a showdown. That's a long way from running away from the shame (as the lyrics of "Down in the Boondocks" suggest). The tune may have seemed a little old-fashioned; perhaps actually having the shootout on the record (like in "Indiana Wants Me" or even "Run Joey Run") may have helped the tune rise higher on the charts.

Marvin Gaye - "What's Going On" Marvin Gaye - What's Going On - What's Going On

(Debuted #81, Peaked #2, 15 weeks on chart)

Without a doubt, this is one of the greatest songs of the 1970s. It was timely, coming after a period of unrest over racial matters and an unpopular war but done in a way that wasn't overly preachy or heavy-handed. Its message was simple yet succinct and universal.

While researching "What's Going On" I found that there are a lot of stories behind it. With the passage of time (and sadly, those who crafted the song) discerning truth and fiction might be difficult. Were Detroit Lions Lem Barney and Mel Farr among the voices heard in the conversation behind Gaye? Probably. Was there really an engineer error that led to the way that Gaye sounds like he's singing two different parts in the verses? Gaye produced the LP and isn't around to tell us. Was bassist James Jamerson really playing his part while laying on the studio floor because he was too drunk to sit up straight in his chair? Was the sax solo that begins the song a late-minute addition? In the grooves of the record that came out of those sessions, none of that really matters.

By 1970, Marvin Gaye was at a personal crossroads. Despite his massive success as a singer and songwriter, he was hungry for something more. When his friend and duet partner Tammi Terrell died at 24 from a brain tumor, Gaye stopped performing for a time and tried to decide what direction to take. Deciding to call his own shots, Gaye was determined to go against the grain of the Motown "assembly line" production process that helped make him a star. At the same time, "Obie" Benson of The Four Tops had been working on a song that had begun after watching an antiwar protest (the lines "picket lines, picket signs...don't punish me with brutality" came from that) and had fellow Motown staff writer Al Cleveland help flesh out some of the lines. His bandmates liked the song but weren't keen on recording it because it didn't really fit their musical style. When Gaye agreed to record the tune, he changed a few words and enough of the music to get a co-writing credit.

The result was a masterpiece. The LP What's Going On was a concept album that was written from the point of view of a soldier returning home from war (just like Marvin's younger brother Frankie). Using the experiences of his brother and his own pain from losing Tammi Terrell, Gaye made a record that still resonates almost four decades later. The single "What's Going On" would spend three weeks at #2 -- held out of the #1 spot by the top record of the year, Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" -- but its message is still as valid today as it was in 1971, even as other hits from the era asking why everybody just can't get along often come off as unrealistic, silly or dated.

Aretha Franklin - "You're All I Need To Get By" Aretha Franklin - The Very Best of Aretha Franklin - The 70's - You're All I Need to Get By

(Debuted #91, Peaked #19, 9 weeks on chart)

What's more fitting than to follow a classic Marvin Gaye song than with another song Gaye made famous, performed by another soul giant? Recorded to be included on Aretha's Greatest Hits, a compilation of her biggest 1967-'70 Atlantic hits, the song was part of a terrific package. Aretha's career was still in its prime hitmaking years so a hit with the single was certain, but placed next to the more familiar Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell version it isn't the same. Perhaps I'm simply used to the song as a duet, because it seems odd to hear Aretha take on the song even if she is backed by gospel-influenced singers. Aretha is in fine form on the record, but perhaps not having The Funk Brothers around to provide the music like they did for the Motown release hurts it. I'm not saying that Aretha's version is bad (it's not by a long shot), perhaps I've simply attuned my own expectations based on the Gaye/Terrell duet that has been heavily played throughout my lifetime.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

This Week's Review -- February 17, 1979

By listening to all the songs in this week's list of Billboard singles, you'll have a pretty good idea of when they came out even if you don't recognize many of the songs at first. There were nine singles but only three reached the Top 40. Of those three, two rose into the Top 10 and one reached #1. In keeping with the dance craze of the time, six of the songs are Disco tunes. Not surprisingly, the three non-Disco songs are also the three that fared the poorest among the list. However, they are among the three most interesting as well (not necessarily the best, mind you, but the most interesting).

There are several back issues of Billboard magazine over at Google Books, including the February 17, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 92. There's a little bit of history mentioned on page 1. Stephen Stills had just done the first-ever digital music session for a rock artist. Page 3 informs us that the Cultural Revolution didn't seem to prevent China from opening a Disco in Shanghai. Two pictures feature attempts at humor. One on page 59 shows Parliament head George Clinton visiting with a member of the "real" Parliament in London. A less subtle picture on page 40 (appropriately enough) has Ray Stevens getting a walker as a present for his 40th birthday. Finally, much of the issue is devoted to Epic Records and its 25th anniversary as a label.

Wolfgang's Vault - Deal of the Week

Sarah Dash - "Sinner Man" Sinner Man - Club Epic: A Collection of Classic Dance Mixes, Vol. 4

(Debuted #81, Peaked #71, 4 Weeks on chart)

While the records show that "Sinner Man" was Sarah Dash's first single to reach the Hot 100, she was no stranger to the chart. Before recording as a solo artist, she was one of the members of LaBelle (which were called The Bluebelles before 1971) and one of the voices on the million-selling "Lady Marmalade."

"Sinner Man" was a disco-fueled tune that definitely used Dash's voice as a tool. However, the song is more about the flash of its time than it is about Dash's voice, as it sounds like she's trying her best to sing above the rest of the musicians. It was the Disco era, and record companies were sometimes more interested in whether a song got the listeners out on the floor than whether it showcased the talent of the artist.

As a result, Sarah Dash would return to backing vocals in the 1980s, supporting The Rolling Stones as well as Keith Richards on his solo project. There were some additional attempts at solo material, but nothing ever really played out into a career like the one enjoyed by fellow LaBelle members Patti LaBelle and (to a lesser extent) Nona Hendryx.

The Jacksons - "Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) - Destiny

(Debuted #82, Peaked #7, 22 Weeks on chart)

"Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" shows Michael Jackson just before he became a phenomenon. He was still known primarily for the work he did alongside his brothers than for his solo work, even though he'd scored a #1 hit with "Ben" and a pair of Top 10 singles on his own earlier in the decade. By the end of the year, his LP Off the Wall came out and began to change that perception.

After leaving Motown and moving over to Epic in a celebrated split that caused them to change their stage name, the former Jackson 5 specialized in funky dance songs. That was a natural progression, as they were already starting down that path while still at Motown ("Dancing Machine" was their last major hit there). "Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" was written by Michael and his younger brother Randy, and was inspired by an ad-libbed line Marvin Gaye had tossed out in "Got To Give it Up."

Running eight minutes long on the Destiny LP, it was cut down to under four minutes for the single in order to fit into radio playlists. A 12-inch version ran more than five minutes and featured a different mix of instruments. The brothers sang it in 2001 for a 30th Anniversary concert. It would be the last song they performed together before Michael's death.

Blondie - "Heart Of Glass" Heart of Glass - Parallel Lines

(Debuted #84, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

Blondie was noted for experimenting with a wide variety of different styles on their albums. It probably wasn't a surprise when their LP Parallel Lines contained a Disco tune, and it was probably less of a surprise that it would become their first charted hit. It would be the first of four #1 singles for the group in the U.S. and also reached the top of the charts in the U.K., Canada, Australia and several European countries.

At the time, Blondie was accused of "selling out" by many of its fans and veering from the New Wave scene it had such a big part in building. That said, the same fans should have realized they were always experimenting with different styles and should have known the spinner would land on "disco" eventually. The song was produced by Mike Chapman, who had plenty of experience behind the board for some of the most popular British Glitter Rock bands and gave it a high gloss. Maybe the slick sound didn't sit well with those fans who complained, or maybe it was the promotional video they filmed for it at Studio 54.

There were two versions of the song released, in order to better conform to accepted norms. The album version (which also appears in the video above) contains a line in the final verse that says "soon turned out to be a pain in the ass." Since that would have limited airplay in parts of the U.S. and on the BBC, the line was changed to "soon turned out to have a heart of glass" as a compromise.

Gary's Gang - "Keep On Dancin'" Keep On Dancin' (Extended) - Keep On Dancin'

(Debuted #85, Peaked #41, 10 Weeks on chart)

Gary's Gang was the name given to a project by two Queens, New York based men named Joseph Tucci and Gary Turnier. Actually, despite the band name, it was Tucci who sang and played most of the instruments. Turnier played the drums, but was the person who "bird-dogged" the record to potential labels and finally landed it with Sam Records in Long Island City.

"Keep On Dancin'" was a pure shot of Disco adrenaline. In a way, it was like a cheap knock-off of an energy drink: it does the job for right now if you want it, but you know it might not be so good when the effects wear off. That said, all the instrumental elements of a "typical" disco single are there (albeit it a more synthesized version than the strings that appeared on songs from artists that enjoyed better budgets), and they even make sure a whistle gets added to the mix. It was generic enough to just fall short of the Top 40.

Gino Vannelli - "Wheels Of Life" Wheels of Life - Brother to Brother

(Debuted #86, Peaked #78, 5 Weeks on chart)

After getting a Top 10 hit with "I Just Wanna Stop," Gino Vannelli followed it up with another song from his Brother To Brother LP that was a lot more philosophical. It delved more into the idea of wanting to spend eternity with somebody, but the mention of a pending mortality looming at some point in the future (even though it is most likely a distant future) wasn't something that pop music fans were ready to embrace yet. Not when they were still in their 20s and 30s. As a result, "Wheels of Life" fell far short of the Top 40.

That said, it's one of those songs that I have grown to appreciate as time has passed. Honestly, I wasn't fond of it when I was much younger, as it seemed to drag on. However, it's grown on me. I haven't figured out whether it is a result of my maturity, or because I hear music differently than when I was teenager, or if my personal evolution has let me consider themes I hadn't wasted time with in my youth.

Queen - "Don't Stop Me Now" Don't Stop Me Now - Jazz

(Debuted #87, Peaked #86, 4 Weeks on chart)

Every so often, Google uses a "Doodle" on its home page to honor a special day or pay tribute to a person from the past. Last September, they used the one below to celebrate what would have been Freddie Mercury's 65th birthday using "Don't Stop Me Now." The artwork was well-suited to the band and the performer it spotlighted:

"Don't Stop Me Now" features a soft piano accompaniment below Mercury's vocals, with just the rhythm section keeping time. However, Brian May's guitar is standing by, ready to give a frenetic solo once the song breaks out of its opening gait into a more expressive pace. In a way, Mercury and the boys are letting it be know they aren't going to be held back, and then demonstrate it. The band's signature harmonies are also included in the chorus.

It's a shame the song fizzled out so soon during its chart run, and an even bigger shame that it hasn't really found its place among Queen's best-remembered material.

Kate Bush - "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" The Man With the Child in His Eyes - The Kick Inside

(Debuted #88, Peaked #85, 4 Weeks on chart)

Kate Bush's music is something of an acquired taste. During my college years, I got to see both sides of the equation...there were dedicated fans who listened intently and tried to decipher the message in the lyrics and those who listened more to the music and felt that her voice sounded like a cat whose tail had been stepped on. As I was in neither of those camps, I always saw her as that "weird girl" in school nobody admitted to liking but was sure to be a lot of fun you got her alone. And she's a redhead, which is one of my personal weaknesses when it comes to women.

Her first chart single in the U.S.was "The Man With the Child in His Eyes," a song that was included on her 1978 LP The Kick Inside but written when Bush was 14 and first recorded in 1975. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour paid for the recording as a personal favor. The words are obtuse enough, but can be about an older man who is seeing a younger woman (probably not Gilmour, though, despite his involvement), or it can be a song about maturing, and others claim it is about masturbation.

In the days before MTV, there really wasn't any outlet for Bush's highly visual expression. Add to that the fact that she did little touring and the record label emphasized Bush's looks a lot more heavily than they did the fact that she was a singer/songwriter, and you get an artist whose influence really didn't amount to chart success. It would take six more years before Bush would break the Top 40 for the first (and only) time in the U.S.

Voyage - "Souvenirs" Souvenirs - Twelve Inch Classics from the 70s, Vol. 1

(Debuted #89, Peaked #41, 9 Weeks on chart)

Voyage was often lumped in with many Eurodisco acts as little more than a faceless studio concoction behind a producer's vision, despite having a dedicated five-person lineup. Things like the Soul Train video above (no band to be seen, just a bunch of dancers "getting down") really didn't help matters. Their albums often borrowed different styles, giving the concept of a "voyage" around the world of music. "Souvenirs" came from their second LP Let's Fly, which continued that concept.

It ended up being the group's only Hot 100 entry, just missing the Top 40. It was, however, a #1 on the Disco chart as the lead track from Fly Away, where albums were included along with singles and 12-inch versions.

Instant Funk - "I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)"

(Debuted #90, Peaked #20, 18 Weeks on chart)

Instant Funk shows up as a One-Hit wonder, which would be correct if you just look at the pop chart. However, the New Jersey-based group had a handful of R&B and dance hits from 1977-'83 and served as the backing band for several singers. In fact, they provided the accompaniment on Evelyn "Champagne" King's hit "Shame" just before "I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get it Girl)" was a hit.

While "I Got My Mind Made Up" might seem like yet another disco song with a gimmick -- a lady asking "Say what?" -- at intervals, it has managed to become a classic over the years. The song (which hit #1 on both the R&B and Disco surveys) has found its way into numerous remixes and Hip-Hop samples, which have given it a second life and a new audience.