Saturday, March 10, 2012

This Week's Review -- March 11, 1972

There were 12 new songs debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Four of those made the Top 40, two went on to reach the Top 10 and one went to #1. The chart-topper was the only #1 in a long show business career, one that came from the score of an iconic movie but wasn't in the movie itself. Michael Jackson has a song here, and so does his later producer Quincy Jones. Paul McCartney's post-Beatles band Wings makes its first appearance here, as does Harry Chapin. Among the artists who failed to reach the Top 40 are artists such as Alice Cooper, John Denver, Dionne Warwick and Kris Kristofferson. Bullet shows up for the last time, a song that once appeared on a cereal box and the first ever British #1 single to feature a synthesizer also make an appearance.

Over at Google Books, there is a large archive of Billboard magazines to read for free, including the March 11, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 84. An interview with DJ Charlie Tuna starts on page 36. A special section of the magazine outlines information about voter registration, including the specific data in each state. That may seem quaint today, but the opportunity for 18-to-20 year olds to vote was a new concept, brought about by outrage that people could be forcibly inducted into the military by means of conscription without having a say in the electoral process.

Michael Jackson - "Rockin' Robin" Rockin' Robin - Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection

(Debuted #68, Peaked #2, 13 Weeks on chart)

Two seems to be a lucky number when it comes to "Rockin' Robin." When it was originally recorded by Bobby Day in 1958, it reached #2 on the pop chart. Michael Jackson's remake matched that peak and also went to #2 on the R&B survey.

Watching the 1992 TV miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, family patriarch Joe Jackson (played by Welcome Back, Kotter's Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) seemed to be obsessed with his family outdoing The Osmonds. With "Rockin' Robin," Michael Jackson does his best Donny Osmond, singing a remake -- as Osmond did on all of his solo hits -- with a piccolo behind him that was reminiscent of the flute on "Sweet and Innocent." However, while Osmond continued with the act, Jackson stretched out on his solo records and ended up enjoying a very different career.

Quincy Jones - "Money Runner" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #57, 8 Weeks on chart)

From an early solo hit by Michael Jackson, here's a song from the producer of his phenomenally successful LPs from 1979 through 1987.

"Money Runner" is a song from the soundtrack of $ (also called Dollar or Dollar$), which was a movie starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. The movie isn't very well-known today, but "Money Runner" sounds just like the type of song that plays onscreen as a getaway is being made (whether it's the good guys escaping the bad...or the other way around).

Wings - "Give Ireland Back To The Irish" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #21, 8 Weeks on chart)

On January 30, 1972, British soldiers fired into a crowd of protesters in Ireland, killing 13 (with another man dying later of the wounds he sustained that day). Though the soldiers who fired those shots were quickly exonerated in a tribunal, there was a great deal of controversy about the incident that still hasn't worked itself out. The day is known as "Bloody Sunday" and has worked its way into several songs: Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" was inspired by the incident, as was U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

Paul McCartney (who is of Irish descent) came up with "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" as a protest. He wrote it, recorded it and had it out as a single less than four weeks after the shootings took place. Predictably, it was quickly banned by the BBC due to its content.

"Give Ireland Back to the Irish" is also significant as the first single for McCartney's group Wings, who remained his backing unit through the rest of the decade.

Alice Cooper - "Be My Lover" Be My Lover - Killer

(Debuted #81, Peaked #49, 10 Weeks on chart)

After "Eighteen" became the band's first Top 40 hit, Alice Cooper sent three songs into the Hot 100 to shed the dreaded "One Hit Wonder" label but failed to take them to the Top 40. "Be My Lover" was the third of those, and the one that made the closest peak. The melodic song from the Killer LP has elements of the garage rock and doo-wop that influenced the members as kids, and points toward some of the more complex arrangements they would feature on their next few albums.

"Be My Lover" was written by rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, which shows up in the line "she asked me why the singer's name was Alice" even when that singer was delivering it. A false ending pops up in the song at about the two-thirds mark, followed by a slowed-down, grittier version that takes it the rest of the way.

John Denver - "Everyday" Everyday - Aerie

(Debuted #82, Peaked #81, 3 Weeks on chart)

Just as Don McLean's song "American Pie" was making its way down the charts, Buddy Holly's career gained more attention among the music press than it had at any time since he died 13 years before in a plane crash. However, his music didn't go away, as he recorded enough material that his record company managed to keep releasing new material well after his death. Among artists, his music stayed alive through renditions of Holly songs by The Beatles ("Words of Love"), The Rolling Stones ("Not Fade Away") and others.

In the case of "Everyday," the original B-side to Holly's single "Peggy Sue," it was recorded by John Denver for his 1971 LP Aerie. This was before "American Pie" became a hit, even though the single didn't appear until afterward (and probably picked out by RCA as a result).  It is done in Denver's own country/folk style, yet remains fairly true to the original but without the "hiccup" style that Holly gave the vocal. On the other hand, it's much rawer than the adult contemporary treatment that James Taylor gave to the song in 1985.

It makes me wonder how Buddy Holly might have been able to contribute to the country rock genre in the early 1970s if the plane could have managed to stay in the air. However, his influence on music was undeniable even before McLean's hit was recorded.

Dionne Warwick - "If We Only Have Love" If We Only Have Love (Album Version) - Dionne

(Debuted #90, Peaked #84, 3 Weeks on chart)

"If We Only Have Love" was the first single Dionne Warwick recorded for Warner Brothers after leaving a long and fruitful relationship with Scepter. While the six-year run at WB ended up giving Warwick her first #1 pop hit (1974's "Then Came You," a "duet" with The Spinners...which was on a different label), that would be her only appearance in the Top 40 in that span. The song would mirror the overall disappointment of her chart performance during that period, dropping off the pop survey after three weeks, reaching to #37 on the adult contemporary chart and failing to be listed on the R&B side at all.

Only half of the 1972 Dionne LP was produced by long-time Warwick collaborators Burt Bacharach and Hal David, presaging her eventual falling-out with them. Instead, "If We Only Have Love" was helmed by Bob James, who did his best to match the relative effortless ease that Bacharach and David gave to Warwick's best material but failed to recreate. While the arrangement sweeps behind her in dramatic fashion, something is missing: the bright sound that helped her out in the past. The fact that the song was partially co-written by Jacques Brel and Mort Shulman didn't help matters, either. It would take a reboot at the end of the decade (another new record label, a superstar sitting in the control booth, and another album called Dionne) to get her career back on track.

Chicory - "Son Of My Father" Son of My Father - Son of My Father

(Debuted #92, Peaked #91, 3 Weeks on chart)

Though Chicory's "Son of My Father" was a relative failure in the U.S., it was a #1 single in the U.K. (where the band was known as Chicory Tip) and is significant as the first chart-topper to use the synthesizer as a main instrument there. That makes them pioneers for later British acts that were synth-heavy, such as Depeche Mode, The Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and a long list of others. Though not nearly as complex as those bands were in their arrangement, the song contains a memorable sound and a chorus that is still used in football games -- or soccer matches, as we call them on this side of the pond -- in Great Britain.

"Son of My Father" was written by Giorgio Moroder (whose own version was reviewed here last year) and Pete Bellotte, who later went on to produce a long string of disco hits after establishing themselves in Munich. Though Moroder wrote the song, he originally recorded it with Italian lyrics and Chicory's version encouraged him to cover his own tune in English. He ended up getting the bigger hit in the U.S.

Bullet - "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

Once again, Internet DJ Music Mike provides the intro to this song that focuses mostly on the song itself, since he had already featured the group Bullet in another video (for their only Top 40 hit "White Lies, Blue Eyes"). There is a little confusion about the group, as they are frequently mistaken for a similarly-named British band made up of former members of Atomic Rooster. Instead, this Bullet was an American group whose keyboardist Roget Pontbriand when on to play in K.C.'s Sunshine Band and then Wild Cherry later in the decade. There really isn't a lot of information on the band, and much of it is just wrong.

Their second and final entry to the Hot 100 was "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong," a brass-infused song that only lasted two weeks on the chart and fell off after peaking at #96. It is definitely a relic of the early 1970s (you can hear elements of The Grass Roots and Lighthouse in the song), and a little more promotion for the single might have given it a better shot at heading up the charts. However, Bullet seems to have split apart soon maybe there was a good reason it wasn't pushed as hard.

Sammy Davis Jr. with the Mike Curb Congregation - "The Candy Man" The Candy Man - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Sammy Davis, Jr.

(Debuted #97, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

In its year-end issue for 1972, Rolling Stone gave an award to Sammy Davis, Jr.'s rendition of "The Candy Man." It wasn't meant to be a compliment, though: they called it the worst single by the worst artist on the worst album (and may have sprinkled in a few more derisive comments as well, but it's been a while since I've read the article).'s not much of a secret that the people who made up Rolling Stone's editorial staff wouldn't have cared for the song. It seems that Davis himself wasn't exactly fond of the song, either, but had done well enough earlier with Anthony Newley-penned material that he was willing to record it.

The song ended up becoming the first #1 pop song of Sammy Davis, Jr.'s 40-year career and eventually became one of his signature songs. A song that was featured in the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, though not Davis's version, "The Candy Man" has become one of those tunes that is still polarizing among music fans. Some love it, some hate it, and there really isn't a lot of middle ground.

Davis's version of the song (though not in the live version above) features backing vocals and instrumentation by The Mike Curb Congregation, who had issued their own version earlier but failed to chart with it.

The Sugar Bears - "You Are The One" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #51, 13 Weeks on chart)

The Sugar Bears wasn't a group as much as a studio creation, much like The Archies were. In fact, they sounded an awful lot like that group...which was entirely appropraite for a band whose song was available on the back of a box of cereal that was loaded with sugar. That's right, "You Are the One" was available as a cheaply-made cardboard-backed record (that needed a coin to weigh it own) on a box of Super Sugar Crisps.

Despite being targeted to the kids, it was also the only hit credited to The Sugar Bears. However, the voice that sang the song wasn't exactly new. It belonged to Mike Settle, a singer/songwriter who was previously in The New Christy Minstrels and The First Edition. While the song's bouncy pop beat and fuzz guitar licks make it perfect as a song for the Saturday morning crowd, it sounds odd to those of us who remember that when he appeared in TV commercials, Sugar Bear's speaking voice was modeled after Dean Martin's.

Kris Kristofferson - "Josie" Josie - Border Lord

(Debuted #99, Peaked #63, 8 Weeks on chart)

After Kris Kristofferson's breakout in 1970 and '71 as the writer of hit songs for other artists, his record company did what they always seem to do: ordered him to come up with more of what he was doing in his own singing career. By 1972, Kristofferson was back in record stores with the LP Border Lord, which largely recycled topics he'd explored already, went back as far as 1967 for material to fill out the record and was his third long-player in only 20 months.

In the case of "Josie," which led off the album, the lady in the title was one of the menagerie of hard-living women that made up six of the record's tracks. A girl who left her hometown to find the world that the song's narrator ended up crossing paths with later on, she ended up leading him to better things and then burned some bridges. Though alone at the end of the song, he concedes he might still chase after her if he ever finds himself in her presence again. Like men are often wont to do.

Harry Chapin - "Taxi"  Taxi - Heads & Tales

(Debuted #100, Peaked #24, 16 Weeks on chart)

Harry Chapin's first Top 40 hit established him right off the bat as a teller of tales. And while "Taxi" was partially made up, there's still enough of Chapin's personal life in the song that he's entirely believeable as he spins the yarn. While he was once a part-time cab driver to make some extra money and enrolled in the Air Force Academy to "learn to fly" (he dropped out after one semester), he was based in New York rather than San Francisco as the song says. However, the story of a chance encounter between two former lovers well after they went their separate ways established the style that Chapin carried onstage for the rest of his life.

Chapin's final Top 40 hit in 1980 was called "Sequel" and continued the story a few years later, with the former roles reversed. Ironically, his career began and ended with songs where he was driving...and that's what Harry Chapin was doing when he was killed in an accident in 1981.

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