Saturday, February 4, 2012

This Week's Review -- February 8, 1975

There were fourteen new singles debuting in this week's Billboard Hot 100, including one that was a two-sided listing. Nine of those eventually made their way into the Top 40 and five reached into the Top 10, which makes this a pretty potent debut week. While 1975 often gets little respect as far as its musical prowess, this is once again a fairly good representation of the different musical styles of the day.

At Google Books, there is a large archive of Billboard magazines that goes back to 1944 that can be accessed for free. The February 8, 1975 issue is among the offerings there.  The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 68. An article on page 3 explains that DJ Bob Grant has released a patriotic single with him giving commentary over a music bed (like "The Americans" was). Page 24 features part of an interview with former Seattle-area program director Pat O'Day, who explains that it was always hard to let DJs go.

Helen Reddy - "Emotion" Emotion - Free and Easy

(Debuted #72, Peaked #22, 9 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned in this blog before that I wasn't born until the 1970s were already underway. Though I have memories of the music around me by 1978, there are some artists whose reputations were entirely handed down to me. Some of them (notably The Carpenters and Barry Manilow) were known to me because my parents had their records, but in the case of Helen Reddy I really didn't pay a lot of attention to her work until I began doing these reviews. Although she still isn't among my favorite artists, I've been surprised enough to say that it may be time for a re-evaluation of much of Reddy's work.

Let's look at the song "Emotion," for instance. It was the follow-up to her #1 single "Angie Baby" and features a piano introduction for Reddy before the over-the-top instrumentation of the era builds up and allows her to show that she intends to be true to the title of the song. It doesn't have the "message" of "I Am Woman," or the mystery of songs like "Angie Baby;" instead, it's a pleasant tune that was perfectly suited to become her sixth straight #1 adult contemporary single.

"Emotion" originally appeared in 1972 as a song called "Amoreuse" by the French singer Veronique Sanson. While that song eventually had its lyrics translated to English (and recorded by Kiki Dee, among others), this was a separate translation into English that merely used the same melody.

Ringo Starr - "No No Song" No No Song - Goodnight Vienna b/w "Snookeroo" Snookeroo - Goodnight Vienna

(Debuted #78, Peaked #3, 14 Weeks on chart)

Since this is a two-sided hit, here's a YouTube video of the B-side:

I'm going to guess this was a two-sided hit for the benefit of those radio programmers who were a little reluctant to embrace the mention of drugs and alcohol, even while the song on the A-side was explicitly saying that he didn't do those things anymore. In reruns I've heard, it appears that Casey Kasem usually opted for the B-side during the song's run on the American Top 40 radio show, but I can't seem to find anything on the Web that breaks down which version was played each week.

Hoyt Axton wrote the words to "No No Song," where the narrator refuses the opportunity to try Columbian marijuana, Spanish cocaine and Tennessee moonshine. He wasn't trying to be a "square," though; he had simply been there and done that. That said, the accompanying background (provided by Harry Nilsson) and the festive mood of the song seemed to suggest that Ringo might have been just kidding, and probably contributed to the fact that the song wasn't always considered fit for a wider audience. It's still a great song.

"Snookeroo" seemed like an autobiographical account. In fact, it was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin specifically for Ringo to sing. "Snookeroo" is a term for an aficionado of snooker, and the song concerns a happy-go-lucky guy from the North of England. When one of the biggest songwriting teams of the era offer to toss something your way (even one that was destined to be a B-side to a single), it's a sign that Ringo was well-liked.

Ben E. King - "Supernatural Thing (Part 1)" Supernatural Thing Part 1 - Supernatural Thing

(Debuted #85, Peaked #5, 14 Weeks on chart)

(With the recent news of Don Cornelius's passing, here's a video from Soul Train, with a quick cut away from the impresario right at the beginning.)

"Supernatural Thing" was a comeback of sorts for Ben E. King. Though he never really went away, it was his first pop Top 40 hit in twelve years and his first R&B #1 in fourteen. Even during that dry spell on the charts, his material was brought back in remakes, as songs like "Spanish Harlem," "Stand By Me," "I (Who Have Nothing)" and "Don't Play That Song" were hits for other artists.

Driven by a steady rhythm and a slow but danceable groove, "Supernatural Thing" was different from his 1960s hits. Rather than being a song about aliens as the title suggests, it's another song about love and its power over mortal humans. It was co-written by Patrick Grant along with Gwen Guthrie, whose voice can be heard among the backup singers on the single. While the burgeoning disco sound helped bring King back to the charts, it wasn't going to last. He had one additional hit in the 1970s and another decade-long wait before nostalgia brought him back once again.

The Charlie Daniels Band - "The South's Gonna Do it" The South's Gonna Do It Again - Fire On the Mountain

(Debuted #86, Peaked #29, 10 Weeks on chart)

Today, Charlie Daniels is seen primarily as a country artist, but he has also been a major player in the Southern Rock genre, which is evident in "The South's Gonna Do it." It's a tip of the cowboy hat to many of the other acts that were then spreading their own unique sound across the region and through the country, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, The Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie and Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers Band.

There's one thing you'll expect in a Charlie Daniels song, no matter what the tempo, and that's him pulling out his fiddle and putting on a show. He does that right in the opening, but his bandmates get to show their stuff as well. A guitar and then a piano get their turns before the second verse, and Daniels himself gives his strings a workout before the full band kicks it up into a full-tilt Western Swing-influenced boogie. 

Loggins and Messina - "Changes" Changes - Mother Lode

(Debuted #87, Peaked #84, 2 Weeks on chart)

"Changes" was the first of two chart singles off of Loggins and Messina's LP Mother Lode. The record reached Top 10 on the album charts but neither of the singles taken from it would make the Top 40, continuing a trend that had begun in 1973. After that record, there was a collection of 1950s remakes, one studio LP, a live recording and a greatest hits compilation. And that was it for the duo. Their long slide arguably began with Mother Lode, which in retrospect was an uneven group of songs.

"Changes" was written by Jim Messina and sounds like it could have fit well on a Poco album. That's understandable, considering he was a member of that group before teaming up with Loggins. The instruments used included fiddles and the sound was a lot more country-and-Western influenced than the duo's material generally was.

The Blackbyrds - "Walking In Rhythm" Walking In Rhythm - The Blackbyrds

(Debuted #88, Peaked #6, 17 Weeks on chart)

The Blackbyrds were originally a group of students at Howard University's music department and were assembled by jazz musician Donald Byrd, who was a professor there. Rather than being an ensemble group supporting Byrd, the group was its own entity and Byrd took the reigns as their producer.

"Walking in Rhythm" would be their biggest hit single, with an easy feel and a memorable melody. A song about a man getting back to the arms of the woman who loves him, it contains a flute solo in the instrumental bridge. It was also a crossover hit, reaching the Top 10 on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary surveys.

Hot Chocolate - "Emma" Emma - Every 1's a Winner - The Very Best of Hot Chocolate

(Debuted #89, Peaked #8, 13 Weeks on chart)

Hot Chocolate was British band from the London suburb of Brixton and made up of a more ethnically diverse lineup than many of us outside the U.K. would consider. Many of the members were originally from Jamaica, The Bahamas and Trinidad. Though they enjoyed a handful of hit singles in the U.S., the group was very popular in their home country, scoring at least one hit every year from 1970 through 1984.

"Emma" was their first hit single in the U.S. and is a mournful tune that followed a woman from childhood through her marriage at an early age and then a suicide. The story -- told from the point of view of her husband -- says that she had aspired to be an actress and grew tired of living on dreams. Written and sung by group leader Errol Brown, the song was inspired by his own mother's death at 38 but was almost dropped from the recording session because producer Mickie Most found it too depressing. His mind was eventually changed, at it became one of the group's best-known hits.

The Love Unlimited Orchestra - "Satin Soul" Satin Soul (LP version) - White Gold

(Debuted #90, Peaked #22, 12 Weeks on chart)

The Love Unlimited Orchestra was part of the stable of artists under the tutelage of Barry White. It was formed by the singer, producer and impresario as a backing ensemble for the vocal group Love Unlimited, which included White's future wife Glodean James. After the success of their single "Love's Theme," they were featured on their own for several albums that suited White's style well.

Along the way, the group's ranks boasted several high-profile members, including Ray Parker Jr. (who may be the featured guitar player on "Satin Soul," because it sounds a lot like him), Lee Ritenour and a saxophonist named Kenny Gorelick, who later became a star under the name Kenny G. He wasn't a member of the group until after "Satin Soul," so he isn't heard here.

"Satin Soul" gave exactly what you might expect from a mid-1970s Barry White production: the background music to romance. The instrumental was the group's only other Top 40 hit aside from "Love's Theme."

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils - "Jackie Blue" Jackie Blue - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

(Debuted #94, Peaked #3, 21 Weeks on chart)

I can't hear this song without thinking of my sister. Yes, her name is Jackie and she happened to be born in 1975, the same year that "Jackie Blue" was a hit single. mother has assured me her name had nothing to do with the song.

It was the biggest hit The Ozark Mountain Daredevils had, reaching #3 on the pop charts. It was co-written by drummer Larry Lee, who also handled the vocals on the song. On the LP It'll Shine When it Shines, the song ran more than four minutes. For the single release, the final verse (the one that begins "everyday day in your indigo eyes") was dropped to make it a more radio-friendly three minutes and 16 seconds, even though the label showed a running time of 3:38. The lyrics tell about a girl who's too easily bored to take the time to stop and smell the roses. Ironically, the excised verse summed it up pretty nicely.

Tim Moore - "Charmer" Charmer - Tim Moore

(Debuted #96, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

Tim Moore was a New York-born, Philadelphia-raised singer/songwriter who wrote hits for Art Garfunkel and The Bay City Rollers, but was unable to reach the Top 40 with any of the songs he recorded on his own. He ended up placing four songs on the Hot 100 during the 1970s, and "Charmer" was the third.

It's a more upbeat tune that fans who only know his from "Second Avenue" might expect. If anything, it shows that Moore was definitely attuned to a good pop song and could use hooks at will. That might not be such a surprise to those fans who know that Moore was in an early band with Todd Rundgren (who was pretty good at crafting pop songs himself) and whose early self-taught work caught the ear of Frank Zappa.

The recently passed legend Etta James also did a version of "Charmer" but never released it as a single.

The Philly Devotions - "I Just Can't Say Goodbye" I Just Can't Say Goodbye - We're Gonna Make It - The Complete Recordings

(Debuted #97, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

As you might have guessed from their name, this group hails from the City of Brotherly Love. The Philly Devotions were a five-man group from Philadelphia and "I Just Can't Say Goodbye" was their only pop hit of any type. It was, however, the first of three minor R&B hits they would get over on the R&B chart.

Listening to the song, "I Just Can't Say Goodbye" is a nice Philly soul/early disco tune. It has all the hallmarks of the classic Gamble & Huff production, although those legendary songsmiths had nothing to do with the record (but some of the same players may have been sitting in the orchestra you hear behind the group). It really should have been given a better chance, but it is a testament to how good the material was coming out of the city to have a song this solid peak at #95.

Queen - "Killer Queen" Killer Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

(Debuted #98, Peaked #12, 19 Weeks on chart)

The first single from Queen to reach the American pop charts, "Killer Queen" was quite an introduction. Not only does the song introduce Brian May's nimble guitar fretwork, but also showcases the group's vocal harmonies and playful melody.

What might not be so evident is that the song's lyrics refer to a very upscale callgirl. The words are skewed enough to allow them to be interpreted differently (some say assassin, or spy, or perhaps a reference to drugs), but that's the main gist of who this lady is. But in the big picture, it's easy to see where a line like "Guaranteed to blow your mind" or "to absolutely drive you wild" would point to any one of those options.

In any case, it's a really fun song to listen to, and that's something that goes beyond the meaning of the words.

Herbie Mann - "Hijack" Hi-Jack (LP Version) - Discotheque

(Debuted #99, Peaked #93, 4 Weeks on chart)

Brooklyn-born flautist Herbie Mann was well-known in the jazz world but began expanding his horizons during the 1970s. Among the new directions in his work was exploration of pop, soul, reggae and disco. His 1975 LP was titled Discotheque, a nod to the dance music that was beginning to percolate at the time. However, as his wider variety brought him new fans, some jazz purists were turned off by his newfound commercial appeal.

"Hijack" spent four weeks on the chart and peaked at #93. He was given a second try in late March that saw the song propelled into the Top 20. The song was mainly an instrumental, with sporadic lyrics of "Hijack...your love" sung throughout and other vocal embellishments added. Latin percussion and a bass groove provide the rhythm, a keyboard and Mann's flute add to the mix along with a scratch guitar and an upbeat tempo. While buoyed by airplay on R&B radio, the song was a lesser hit on that chart (#24), but it would be #1 for three weeks on Billboard's disco survey.

Leon Haywood - "Believe Half Of What You See (And None Of What You Hear)" Believe Half of What You See (And None of What You Hear) - The Best of Leon Haywood

(Debuted #100, Peaked #94, 2 Weeks on chart)

Probably best known for the song "I Wanta Do Something Freaky to You," Leon Haywood was more than just a guy who found a sensual groove and rode it to the biggest hit of his career. He was raised on the blues, gospel and soul. He was also a member of Sam Cooke's band in the early 1960s. Those early influences are evident in "Believe Half of What You See (And None of What You Hear)," which sounds a lot like it was also influenced by the work The Staples Singers were hitting with in the era as well.

The lyric in the title was also used in "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," but was also a warning to not take everything at face value. Which is probably good advice, and that's all I have to say about the topic right now.

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