Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rewind -- March 14, 1970

(This is part of a series that runs here each Wednesday, where I revisit one of the early posts from this blog and get it up to date.)

Out of the ten singles debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, four would eventually reach the Top 40. Three of those hits went Top 10, with one making its way to #1. This is another week where you'd have been hard pressed to find a radio station that would play all of the songs due to their diversity. Motown's presence was felt (three songs including one that wasn't performed by one of the label's artists), and the songs ranged from pop to country, R&B, reggae, blues and hard rock.

Many past issues of Billboard magazine are available to read on Google Books. The March 14, 1970 issue is here, with the full Hot 100 list on page 62. Though it's pretty safe to say that music formats are much changed from 40 years ago, it's interesting to read in the magazine about those changes. For instance, a story beginning on the front page mentions that record executives were acknowledging that 4-track tape was a dead format, as consumers were opting for 8-track instead. Also on page 4 is a story about how Tower Records was testing the waters for the possibility of whether a 12-inch single would sell (the format didn't catch on until several years later, when disco mixes made them more useful). Finally, I am once again interested in the section covering coin-operated jukeboxes. On page 39 is an article that mentions the change in jukebox charges...from the old dime-a-song or 3 for a quarter to a new setup with 2 songs for a quarter, 5 for 50 cents and 12 for a dollar. Those prices were met with some resistance in 1970 but seem quaint today.

The Jackson 5 - "ABC" Jackson 5 - Anthology: Jackson 5 - ABC

(Debuted #41, Peaked #1, 13 Weeks on chart)

This week's review starts off with an undeniable 1970s classic. Kicking off with a fuzz guitar, the song sounds very much like the chorus from the Jackson Brothers' first big hit "I Want You Back." Not only are Motown's exceptional background musicians in top form on the record, the members of the Jackson 5 all get the chance to share in the vocals -- collectively and separately -- in what sounds like a fun song. However, despite the song coming off as simple (really..."A-B-C, easy as 1-2-3, oh, simple as do-re-mi" couldn't have been so difficult to come up with for ex-schoolteacher Freddie Perren, who helped write the song), the trick was having an 11-year old singing the song with an adult's vocal range. Not a lot of young singers would be up to that task, but Michael Jackson wasn't exactly an ordinary singer. The song was easily one of the biggest of the year.

Jimmy Cliff - "Come Into My Life" Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers to Cross - The Best of Jimmy Cliff - Come Into My Life

(Debuted #90, Peaked #89, 3 Weeks on chart)

Reggae wasn't able to make its way to the U.S. pop chart until 1969, when Desmond Dekker's song "Israelites" reached the Top 10. As the music enjoyed a surge of popularity during the 1970s, only a few artists were able to reach the Hot 100. Among the legendary artists known in the States, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh each managed to reach the pop chart once during the decade, while Toots & the Maytals missed it altogether. In fact, the biggest "reggae" hits of the decade were Marley songs that were adapted by non-reggae artists: "I Shot the Sheriff" by Eric Clapton and "Stir it Up" by Johnny Nash.

As for Jimmy Cliff, he was able to reach the chart twice in the 1970s: "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" was a Top 40 hit as 1970 began and "Come into My Life" was a followup that didn't manage to stick around long. Interestingly, Cliff is probably best known as the star of the 1973 film The Harder They Come but although the film is given credit for popularizing reggae in the U.S. and the soundtrack is considered an essential album, Cliff had no chart singles from it.

"Come into My Life" is a great song for those who'd like to get a basic taste of reggae. A song of devotion that basically asks his lady to join him, the song has a great rhythm. Taken from the U.S. LP Wonderful World, Beautiful People, itself a reworking of the Jimmy Cliff LP released elsewhere, a record containing both of his hit singles but also two other songs that are more associated with Cliff than the charters: "Many Rivers to Cross" and "Vietnam"

Bobbi Martin - "For The Love Of Him"

(Debuted #93, Peaked #13, 13 Weeks on chart)

I've been asked a few times by readers if I actually like the songs I'm writing about. The quick answer is "yes" but any era -- no matter how "golden" -- is going to have its share of lesser songs. Occasionally, when I decide which week to review, I'll see a song show up on the list that I know I don't care for. When that happens, I am already predisposed towards not liking the song at all. However, no matter how familiar I am with a song, my rule on this blog is that each song gets listened to at least three times, even if I don't want to. Who knows, perhaps I'll listen again and find a song is better than I'd remembered. As it happens, "For the Love of Him" is one of those songs. So keep that in mind as I continue.

Here's a song that could only be a hit before the 1970s Women's Movement was in full swing. It's a song about wifely devotion to her husband that makes "Stand By Your Man" seem radical. Backed by a horn and string section that seemed to show up on a lot of early 1970s hits and would have felt right at home in a Bacharach/David song, Bobbi Martin sings her little heart out about the ways a wife can make her husband's life better. While the sentiment may have seemed old fashioned even by 1970 standards, listeners may wonder if even Donna Reed might have told her to get out of the house a little more.

Bobbi Martin was a Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised singer who had occasional success on the pop charts between 1964 and '70, while faring better on the easy listening/adult contemporary survey until 1972. In fact, "For the Love of Him" would be a #1 on the AC chart. True to her biggest hit single, she stopped singing to marry and raise a daughter. Sadly, she passed away from cancer in May 2000.

Rare Earth - "Get Ready" Rare Earth - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rare Earth - Get Ready

(Debuted #91, Peaked #4, 20 Weeks on chart)

Rare Earth was signed to Motown records, issued under a subsidiary label named after the group itself. Made up of four white men and a Latin percussionist, the band became the first white Motown act to achieve success on the charts. Like many acts in the Motown universe, they would often perform songs from the company's other writers in addition to their own. In the case of "Get Ready," Smokey Robinson wrote it and The Temptations first made it a hit. After covers by Robinson's group The Miracles as well as The Supremes, Rare Earth's version of the song would become a bigger hit than any of the others managed.

On the Get Ready LP, the title song was a 21-minute workout that filled up the entire second side and featured an instrumental solo by each member of the band. After the album failed to get much attention, the first three minutes of that performance was made into a single for Top 40 radio play, and the resulting hit not only boosted the LP into the Top 20 but jump-started the band's career as well.

Charley Pride - "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone" Charley Pride - The Essential Charley Pride - Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone

(Debuted #94, Peaked #70, 7 Weeks on chart)

Several yeas ago, while reading some posts in a 1970s-themed online discussion group, somebody asked about songs that would give a good introduction to the decade's country music. I came up with a list of about  a dozen songs, including this one. Along with its lyrics about a man leaving his home for a new start elsewhere, its instrumental complement of two fiddles and a steel guitar is infectious.

Pride's career took some interesting turns. Beginning as a player in baseball's Negro League during the 1950s, he was drafted (by Uncle Sam, not a pro team) and spent two years in the Army before returning to the diamond. By 1960, he was playing for a Cincinnati Reds farm club in Missoula, Montana. Failed tryouts with the Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and New York Mets in 1962 convinced Pride that he needed to consider a different path. His other love was music; he had been playing the guitar since his early teens and did occasional recordings during his baseball career including one for Sun records. A Mississippi native, Pride grew up with country music and was inclined to play it professionally, but his skin color made him stand out in a field that was almost entirely white.

By 1966, Pride was recording for RCA as "Country" Charley Pride. His early records were released without any photos of him, as a way of letting the audience judge him with their ears instead of their eyes. Despite any reservations that country fans -- largely the same white Southerners who were being seen as segregationists at the time -- would tune him out, Pride would go on to become one of the genre's biggest stars. Between 1966 and 1987, he notched 29 #1 singles and 53 Top 10 hits on Billboard's country charts. However, his status as a "groundbreaker" might be a little bit of an overstatement: while he enjoyed a great career, there really wasn't an influx of country artists with an African heritage as a result. While some came and went (O.B. McClinton, Linda Martell, Big Al Downing, Cleve Francis, etc.) and other artists have shown their influence (Ray Charles, The Pointer Sisters, Darius Rucker), country music still remains a largely white medium. It's a shame, given that some of its influential artists like Johnny Cash and Jimmie Rodgers were themselves influenced by the sounds of black sharecroppers and laborers they worked with.

Ray Charles - "Laughin' And Clownin'"

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

Ray Charles is an American legend. I say "is" rather than "was" because even his passing from this mortal earth doesn't diminish his stature as one of the greatest American talents. He was a singer who could perform R&B, pop, jazz, country and the blues because he didn't see himself as belonging to any one genre. With "Laughin' and Clownin'," Charles eased into his blues-influenced side. The idea of laughing and clowning around while singing in such a sad manner is a contradiction, so the song gives the impression of the "sad clown." Sadly for Brother Ray, the song didn't fare well on the charts. It went from #100 to #98 and then fell off the survey into oblivion. In of this writing, Charles' discography on Wikipedia doesn't list the song at all.

Ray Charles' 1970s music didn't exactly pack the punch it did during the 1950s or '60s. Only two of his songs would reach the lower reaches of Billboard's pop Top 40 (and one of those was an instrumental) and what is probably his best-loved recording of the decade -- his iconic recording of "America the Beautiful" -- didn't chart at all. Despite his reduced stature on the hit survey, there was no question about his standing in American music.

Led Zeppelin - "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)" Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II (Remastered) - Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)

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

This was actually a B-side to the Top 10 single "Whole Lotta Love," which had dropped off the Hot 100 just a week before "Living Loving Maid" debuted. Allegedly written about a groupie the band knew in their early days, the song was one that rarely ever made its way into the group's live show because Jimmy Page allegedly hated it. At less than three minutes long, it's a great short burst of adrenaline. Taken from the LP Led Zeppelin II, the song was part of a very influential record for the burgeoning hard rock sound. As a kid, I owned that record even though I wasn't around when it was recorded and knew the songs well. On the album, the song followed the song "Heartbreaker" with nearly no break between the two. As a result, the two are frequently played together on classic rock stations.

Marty Robbins - "My Woman My Woman, My Wife" Marty Robbins - The Essential Marty Robbins (1951-1982) - My Woman, My Woman, My Wife

(Debuted #92, Peaked #42, 8 Weeks on chart)

The link above shows this to be Marty Robbins' only hit of the 1970s on the Billboard Hot 100. While that's accurate, it's worth mentioning that he was a consistent presence on the country charts throughout the decade, scoring 15 Top 10 hits and three #1s. "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" would be one of those chart-toppers but just missed the pop Top 40. That said, Robbins' work encompassed more than simply the country genre; his career also touched on pop, rockabilly, Americana, even Hawaiian music (which Robbins grew fond of while stationed there with the Navy during World War Two). From "gunfighter ballads" like "El Paso" and "Big Iron" to a calypso-tinged "Devil Woman," from weepers to gospel tunes and story songs, his music marked a diversity rarely seen in any musical style.

The story behind "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" was interesting. Robbins had recently had a major heart attack in August 1969 and needed triple bypass heart surgery. According to legend, as he recuperated from what was still considered an experimental procedure, he took his guitar and wrote the song as a way of thanking his wife Marizona for standing beside him -- through good times and bad -- since 1948. With a backstory like that, it's hard to dismiss the song as sentimental pap because it was (literally) heartfelt. Sadly, another heart attack would lead to Robbins' death in 1982.

Marmalade - "Reflections of My Life" Marmalade - Marmalade (The Ultimate Hits) - Reflections of My Life

(Debuted #96, Peaked #10, 15 Weeks on chart)

Marmalade was a group from Glasgow, Scotland. American music fans often think of them as a one-hit wonder based on their single Top 10 hit and two others that charted but missed the Top 40; however, they had scored a number of U.K. hits between 1967 and '76, including a version of The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" that went to #1 there.

"Reflections of My Life" was written by the band's guitarist Junior Campbell and singer Dean Ford. With introverted lyrics and a memorable chorus, the song also has an unusual guitar solo by Campbell which was produced by flipping the tape over so it was played "backwards." Therefore, a relic of psychedelia was preserved in a major international pop hit. The song has managed to stick around over the years, from oldies radio to appearances in films.

Lou Rawls - "You've Made Me So Very Happy" Lou Rawls - Love to Love - You've Made Me So Very Happy (Single Version) [Remastered]

(Debuted #99, Peaked #95, 3 Weeks on chart)

For a song that has been played continually on oldies radio for over 40 years in the form of a huge hit by Blood, Sweat & Tears, it's a little strange to hear anybody else besides David Clayton-Thomas handling the vocals. Done in an R&B style by a more polished singer like Lou Rawls, with a rolling piano preceding the horn section that led off the more familiar version and a female trio backing him, the song takes on a different feel.

You've Made Me So Very Happy was among the LPs Rawls made with producer David Axelrod, and its title song was actually written by a woman. Brenda Holloway wrote the song (along with sister Patrice, aided by Frank Wilson and Berry Gordy) while she was recording for Motown. Once Holloway barely made the pop and R&B charts with her song, it was recorded by many of her fellow Motown artists before BS&T made it their own.

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