Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rewind -- March 29, 1975

(This is another in a series where I take a review from this blog's first year and bring it in line with its current format.)

Eleven singles made their debut this week on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart, with one being a re-entry that had fallen off the chart a month before. This was truly a week packed with hits, as seven of the singles made the Top 40 and two earned Top 10 status. Perhaps not so surprising given the popularity of singer/songwriters at the time, six of the songs were performed by their authors.

While I often post a link to Google Books' online archive of Billboard editions, the issue from March 29, 1975 is unfortunately missing from the archives.

Lobo - "Don't Tell Me Goodnight" Lobo - The Best of Lobo - Don't Tell Me Goodnight

(Debuted #86, Peaked #27, 9 Weeks on chart)

Since 1971, Lobo had scored a bunch of hits. His laid-back style was well-suited to the popular music of the time, but the looming rise of dance-oriented music would affect his hitmaking potential later. While "Don't Tell Me Goodnight" would be his 12th chart single and seventh Top 40 hit, it would also be his last hit for the next four years.

Lobo wrote this song under his real name, Ronald LaVoie. While "Don't Tell Me Goodnight" seems at first to be a plea to his lover to not go home, the lyrics indicate that he's dreading the idea of going to sleep. From the words, he just wants to stay awake and let the moment last as long as possible. I remember that feeling from earlier in my life, when love was still in bloom and it was still a thrill to just sit up late and spend time together. While that may seem like I just said I wouldn't do that now, from the perspective of being married for 16 years, having a kid and a job and responsibilities that often lead us to nod off a lot sooner at's nice to be reminded of those simpler times when different things seemed important.

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

(Debuted #87, Peaked #14, 11 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" was a re-entry; Mann had spent four weeks on the chart in February and peaked at #93. His second try 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.

Major Harris - "Love Won't Let Me Wait" Major Harris - My Way - Love Won't Let Me Wait

(Debuted #81, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

One of the most sensual hits of the decade, "Love Won't Let Me Wait" was a lush Philly soul ballad. With its romantic instrumental background and Harris's silky smooth vocal, there's no need to read the lyric sheet to get an idea of what he's singing about. In an era where singers like Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Barry White were making songs that can be called "music to set the mood for sweet lovin'," this song actually stands out among the rest, which says a lot. It was an unqualified smash, reaching #1 on Billboard's soul chart in addition to its #5 peak on the Hot 100.

Major Harris was born into music. His grandparents played Vaudeville, his father was a guitarist and his mother sang in a church choir. His brother was a singer and songwriter and his cousin was producer Norman Harris. Before "Love Won't Let Me Wait," he was a member of several vocal groups. Among those groups were a post-Frankie Lymon lineup of The Teenagers, The Jarmels (but after they hit with "A Little Bit of Soap") as well as The Delfonics (also after they scored their biggest hits). Despite the breakout success of "Love Won't Let Me Wait" after so many years of paying his dues, Harris had some lesser soul hits and a couple poor-charting pop hits. Once the solo hits dried up, Harris returned to The Delfonics, touring with one of the two different groups using the group name.

Bloodstone - "My Little Lady" Bloodstone - The Essentials: Bloodstone - My Little Lady (Single Version)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #57, 7 Weeks on chart)

Though best known for their slow ballad "Natural High," Bloodstone was as capable as any 1970s R&B group of cutting loose. Formed as a doo-wop group in Kansas City in 1962, they evolved along with the music, picking up instruments and developing a solid funk/R&B vibe melding their vocal roots with rock-influenced rhythm. With "My Little Lady," the group had a chance to show its more upbeat side. Sadly, it would be their last pop hit.

The song is fun and contains elements of many R&B styles. There are Motown-like guitar licks, strings and flute reminiscent of Philly Soul, the doo-wop inflections of Chicago's Chi-Lites, a Curtis Mayfield-sounding bridge and a falsetto lead like The Stylistics. The song even ends with the "shave and a haircut, two bits" melody most of us learned as kids.

Ecstasy, Passion and Pain - "One Beautiful Day" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #48, 6 Weeks on chart)

"One Beautiful Day" was the highest-peaking of four songs Ecstasy, Passion & Pain would score in the Hot 100 during the 1970s. During the disco group's existence (1973-'77) it had a virtual revolving door of members, with only singer Barbara Roy remaining for the duration. The band was made up of musicians who could play their instruments on the road but for their recordings MFSB (the band that had a #1 hit with "T.S.O.P.") was used instead.

Upon listening, "One Beautiful Day" seems like a good example of the era between Philadelphia Soul's heyday (probably due to MFSB's appearance on the track) and the time when Disco dominated. In a way, it also sounds a little like Gladys Knight but with female Pips backing her up.

The Carpenters - "Only Yesterday" Carpenters - Horizon - Only Yesterday

(Debuted #74, Peaked #4, 13 Weeks on chart)

After being one of the top-selling acts of the 1970s and becoming an international sensation, The Carpenters were beginning their inevitable decline. "Only Yesterday" would be the final Top 10 pop hit for the brother/sister duo. They would still notch several #1 singles on Billboard's adult contemporary charts (a list which included "Only Yesterday") but their mainstream success was beginning to fade.

In the sense that the sibling duo's best chart-topping days were behind them, "Only Yesterday" comes off as an ironic title. The song was written by Richard Carpenter and college buddy John Bettis -- who also co-wrote another "looking back" song, "Yesterday Once More" -- the song lyrics open up with a downbeat state of loneliness before perking up for the chorus. As usual, Richard and Karen Carpenter provide their own backing vocals, multitracked onto the song along with Karen's lead.

Speaking of Karen Carpenter, I've never understood why she so often gets maligned by those who don't like her music. If the group's music seems bland and pedestrian, that's an adequate argument and many will certainly agree; if that's the case, blame Richard Carpenter for arranging it. However, Karen Carpenter was blessed with a tremendous voice and doesn't deserve the derision. She could have sung the words from a phone book and sounded good.

Brian Protheroe - "Pinball" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on chart)

This was the only U.S. hit for Brian Protheroe, a British singer and actor. Since he essentially recorded and released his albums in between his acting gigs and spent little time on the road to support them, he had only moderate success in his native country and even less fortune on this side of the Atlantic.

Prior to this week's review, I had never heard "Pinball" before. My first time listening, I think I assumed the song was a recollection of his youth, with lyrics about being bored by his music, how he no longer knows it all and a mention of "Monroe" (the next line mentions "she" so I can't help but guess he's talking about Marilyn). However, upon further listening, I pick up lines about running out of pale ale (which is more of an adult activity) and feeling "like a pinball" -- hung over, perhaps? -- as a result. Protheroe is accompanied by only an acoustic guitar for the song's first verse, but a drum, bass, saxophone and backing singers arrive later. Nice sax solo before the final verse and fade, though.

Gordon Lightfoot - "Rainy Day People" Gordon Lightfoot - Cold on the Shoulder - Rainy Day People

(Debuted #84, Peaked #26, 11 Weeks on chart)

A typically low-key effort from Gordon Lightfoot that evokes his two previous hits ("Sundown" and "Carefree Highway") in style and performance but has a lighter mood, "Rainy Day People" failed to make the Top 10 as both songs did. Nevertheless, it is among his better-known 1970s singles.It was even a minor hit on Billboard's country chart.

Accompanied by his trusty acoustic guitar and a backing band that includes drums, bass, steel guitar and string section, Lightfoot sings in a conversational tone. The song doesn't tell a story as much as it simply tells about regular folks and how they roll with life. When it's raining, people are often forced to stay inside; Lightfoot's description tells me his "rainy day people" would be great company to wait out the bad weather with. Of course, if one reads deeper and thinks of a rainy day as a time of hardship (as in the term "save it for a rainy day") the song has an entirely different outlook.

Neil Sedaka - The Immigrant" Neil Sedaka - Laughter In the Rain - The Immigrant

(Debuted #83, Peaked #22, 10 Weeks on chart)

Fresh off the success of his "comeback" hit "Laughter in the Rain," Neil Sedaka issued "The Immigrant" as the followup. While not able to match the earlier hit's #1 position, it still made the Top 40 and kept his name on the radio just as one of the songs he wrote ("Love Will Keep Us Together") was about to become a huge hit.

"The Immigrant" has a nostalgic tone, with lyrics telling how America once opened its arms to immigrants and a second verse mentioning that a man was being held back from that promise. Sedaka, a Brooklyn native whose own grandparents had come through Ellis Island, was certainly acquainted with the historical aspect. However, according to Wikipedia, it was written in response to John Lennon's issues at that time with the U.S. Immigration service and their efforts to deport him. That said, Wikipedia also claims it was the flip side to "Laughter in the Rain" (actually, "Endlessly" was the B-side of that single) so it's important to consider the source when reading that.

Whatever Sedaka's inspiration of the song, he wasn't alone in pointing out the change in U.S. policy on immigration. Even today, it's still a topic of heated debate. Since this blog isn't political in nature, we'll move on to the next song.

Michael Murphey - "Wildfire" Michael Murphey - Blue Sky - Night Thunder - Wildfire

(Debuted #99, Peaked #3, 19 Weeks on chart)

Little girls sure seem to love songs about horses. My daughter is 13 years old and has loved this song ever since the age of 6, when she first learned it was about a pony. Back then, she was still in that inquisitive stage younger kids go through and was constantly asking me about the story in "Wildfire" as I played it for her. Why did the horse break out of its stall in a raging blizzard? Why did the girl chase after it? Did she die or just the horse?

What I didn't tell her then was that the girl in the song was a ghost, haunting the storyteller at night and making him believe she'd come back for him, riding down Yellow Mountain atop her magnificent horse. Since he's living a hard life of sodbusting in Nebraska, there's not much he'd rather do than follow her and leave the bitter cold behind him. Of course, the song doesn't dwell on the fact that in order to run off with a ghost, he'd have to be dead himself...but I grew up in another remote location known for its extreme cold (Northern New York) and understand the sentiment of wanting to get away, regardless of the means.

There are two versions of "Wildfire" heard on the radio today. The album version included a classically-inspired piano intro and outro, while the single version omits both and fades out early. Another version was recorded by the artist -- now named Michael Martin Murphey -- for a 1982 Best of LP that sometimes shows up, masquerading as the real version. The fact that it appeals to younger listeners like my daughter has lent a timeless quality to the song.

Evie Sands - "You Brought The Woman Out Of Me" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #50, 8 Weeks on chart)

Evie Sands' biography reads like a music business version of Murphy's Law. During the 1960s, she had three singles dashed before they had any chance of becoming hits. First, the recording of her 1965 debut single "Take Me for a Little While" was taken by an unscrupulous engineer and submitted to Chess Records as a demo, so they were able to rush a version of the song by Jackie Ross (who didn't know she was part of the ruse) before her song could be released. As the fallout from that mess was being cleaned up, her followup "I Can't Let Go" would be ignored; the song was soon recorded by The Hollies, and once again she was beaten out by another act. Finally, the bankruptcy of her record label Cameo-Parkway, doomed her single "Angel of the Morning" so Merilee Rush ended up having a big hit with the song. Sands finally made the Billboard chart in 1969, but spent most of the 1970s focusing on songwriting (Chip Taylor was the writer for all three of the songs mentioned earlier) rather than performing.

In 1975, she released the LP Estate of Mind, which contained ten songs she'd written. One of those songs was "You Brought the Woman Out of Me." And as you might guess from the title, it's about a sexual awakening. Her performance of the song was like a slightly harder-edged take on what Carly Simon had already been doing for the previous five years as a confessional singer/songwriter. By 1975, there were enough female singer/songwriters in the business to prevent Sands from standing out enough to be noticed. Neither this song or its followup made much of an impact on the charts. After sporadic recording throughout the 1970s, Evie Sands stopped performing altogether around 1979 and was out of the business for nearly two decades.

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