Saturday, March 24, 2012

This Week's Review -- March 22, 1975

There were eight new singles debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with three reaching into the Top 40 and one going all the way to #1. Some of the hits were also popular on other formats, hitting #1 on the R&B, country and disco charts.

The March 22, 1975 issue of Billboard is missing from the archive over at Google Books, so I'll mention again that I write another blog that looks at 1980s music as well. 80s Music Mayhem just finished looking at 1985 this week, including the song that set Casey Kasem off on his now-famous tirade while recording American Top 40.

MP3's at

The Temptations - "Shakey Ground" Shakey Ground - Number 1's: The Temptations

(Debuted #81, Peaked #26, 14 Weeks on chart)

Just last month, Phoebe Snow was featured on this blog with a cover version of "Shakey Ground" (reviewed here), but there wasn't an available video for anybody who wanted to listen to it. With the original Temptatios version, that's not a problem, even though it's lip-synched "live" performance.

The studio recording of "Shakey Ground" was a funk-fueled number that was written by Funkadelic member Eddie Hazel, who also played lead guitar on the song. Dennis Edwards handled the lead vocal. It was the group's best showing on the pop chart since 1973's "Masterpiece" and was their final #1 R&B single.

John Denver - "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" Thank God I'm a Country Boy (Live) - John Denver: 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #82, Peaked #1, 19 Weeks on chart)

For all the talk about how there was a country "revival" that resulted from the success of the film Urban Cowboy in 1980, those critics obviously weren't paying attention. Just five years earlier, there was a big country/pop crossover movement, with six songs that topped both charts. "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was one of those six singles and John Denver notched two of them ("I'm Sorry"/"Calypso" was the other).

While identified solidly with John Denver, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was actually written by his fiddle player and guitarist John Sommers. Fittingly (since it was penned by a fiddler and mentioned the instrument in its lyrics), it featured a very noticeable fiddle solo in its instrumental bridge. Originally, the song was an album cut on Denvers' 1974 Back Home Again LP, but wasn't issued as a single until it appeared in his live album An Evening With John Denver a year later. Placed in a live setting, the performance was one of the most memorable of Denver's career.

Ramsey Lewis and Earth, Wind and Fire - "Sun Goddess" Sun Goddess (feat. Special Guest Soloist Ramsey Lewis) - Sun Goddess

(Debuted #84, Peaked #44, 7 Weeks on chart)

During the late 1960s, Maurice White was the drummer in the Ramsey Lewis Trio and performed on nine of that band's albums. So when Lewis looked to branch out in a different direction during the 1970s, he called on his old friend, who was then leading a new group called Earth, Wind & Fire. Together, they recorded an LP called Sun Goddess that was Lewis's biggest-selling album in a decade.

The album's title track was essentially an instrumental that featured Lewis on the electric piano and the members of Earth, Wind & Fire performing their own instruments. Don Myrick gets in a nice saxophone solo, stretching out a little more in the jazz genre than EW&F's records usually allowed him to. There are also vocals heard throughout the song, but they're scat-like words, rather than the lines of a standard lyric.

If you're a fan of Earth, Wind & Fire but not acquinted with this song, check it out. Their accompaniment on a jazz tune is really in keeping with their later funk-based material.

Gloria Gaynor - "Reach Out, I'll Be There" Reach Out (I'll Be There) - Gloria Gaynor - I Will Survive: The Anthology

(Debuted #86, Peaked #60, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Reach Out, I'll Be There" was best known for being a classic Motown tune written by the label's team of Holland/Dozier/Holland, which hit #1 for the Four Tops in 1966. Merilee Rush and Diana Ross also charted with different-styled versions in the meantime, but Gloria Gaynor gave the song a disco treatment that seemed to be inevitable in 1975.

This version was part of what is called the first "Megamix," a common concept over the years but first introduced along with "Honey Bee" and "Never Can Say Goodbye" on the first side of Gaynor's debut LP Never Can Say Goodbye. Presented together in a 19-minute suite, the three songs were mixed by Tom Moulton as an extended dance track with no interruptions. The idea of an album-length "song" really wasn't new (Jethro Tull had taken two album-length compositions to #1 on the LP charts and they weren't even pioneers), but it was significant as the first to appear in a dance genre.

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes - "Bad Luck (Part 1)" Bad Luck - The Ultimate Blue Notes

(Debuted #88, Peaked #15, 17 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that proves the point that presentation is everything in a song. Take the lyrics of "Bad Luck," for instance. The singer is explaining about having a bad time (using the second person, so it's not coming off as a personal account), where the house is being foreclosed, the woman is gone, playing the "lucky" number turned out to be lucky for the bookie. By the end, Teddy Pendergrass is even rapping -- in the old sense of that word -- about Nixon quitting, but asserting his ambivalence about whether it will bring about any real change for those who are down and out.

With all the negative vibes of the lyrics, you might never even realize the guy's feeling any pain. Not with MFSB's expert musical accompaniment behind him. They cut a fairly deep groove, and when Pendergrass takes the podium to testify, you're ready to give him an "Amen!" It helps explain the allure of church to many people, and he's not even doing this as a gospel song.

In addition to its Top 20 pop showing, "Bad Luck" was a Top 10 R&B hit and spent a record 11 weeks at #1 on the Disco chart. The writer/production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff was able to take a song about one man's troubles and set it to a beat that got people to want to dance. If that doesn't make "Bad Luck" a quintessential 1970s song, you'd be hard pressed to explain why.

Donna Fargo - "It Do Feel Good" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

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

"It Do Feel Good" was the final song that Donna Fargo took onto the Hot 100, and wasn't able to last very long on the chart. However, it went into the Top 10 on the country chart, where Fargo was able to continue charting into the early 1990s.   

An uptempo song about the euphoria that accompanies love, "It Do Feel Good" may be grammatically correct, but it certainly showcases Fargo's North Carolina accent. It was one of several songs that Fargo sang that was devotional and was likely a reflection of her marriage to Stan Silver...who was also her producer and manager.

Solomon Burke - "You And Your Baby Blues" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

When Solomon Burke signed with Chess Records in 1975, his first LP for the new label was called Music to Make Love By. He was clearly treading the same territory owned by Barry White, even starting off "You and Your Baby Blues" with a half-whispered spoken vocal, just as White had been doing to to make a name for himself over the previous two years. However, while Burke was able to hold his own on a soul record, he wasn't going to outdo Barry White.

"You and Your Baby Blues" was Burke's final appearance on the Hot 100, ending a run that began in 1961. He continued to record music afterwards, switching labels at will and releasing new material right up until his death in 2010.  

Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners - "Where Have They Gone" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 1 Week on chart)

"Where Have They Gone" was The Skyliners' first single since 1965. They had previously charted a handful of times from 1959 through '64, including three Top 40 hits. A nostalgia craze that renewed many 1950s acts had brought many groups back into the spotlight, and four of the original Skyliners agreed to reunite in 1974. However, they didn't want to be relegated to the "oldies" circuit and agreed to do new material based on their familiar style. And with "Where Have They Gone," they went with a song that was written by a songwriter from the same era as their glory days, Doc Pomus.

A mournful ballad that asks where the past has gone, and not necessarily about a departed friend (though that might be a metaphorical understanding anyway, as the mention of seasons can be interpreted as a type of physical passing), it is punctuated by the a piano, the swelling string arrangement, a trumpet call and the sound of a beach at the end. In a way, it is also an epitaph for group member Janet Vogel, who committed suicide in 1980. This would be her final appearance on the Hot 100.  

When "Where Have They Gone" debuted an peaked at #100, it established an unusual chart "first;" Jimmy Beaumont had peaked at #100 with his solo single "Ev'rybody's Cryin" in 1961, and now had accomplished the feat as part of a group.

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