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.

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