Saturday, March 31, 2012

This Week's Review -- March 31, 1973

There were nine new singles making their first appearance in Billboard's Hot 100, with six eventually reaching into the Top 40. Additionally, one of those songs made it to the #1 position. Nearly all of the acts here are "names" who were hitmakers either before (like Brenda Lee) or later (Kenny Loggins). That said, the two acts least likely to be recognized here -- Gunhill Road and Nolan Porter -- might be the most interesting. And then there's The Blue Ridge Rangers, which was billed as a group but was really John Fogerty's post-Creedence Clearwater Revival solo project.

Among the back issues of Billboard over at Google Books is the March 31, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 72. Page 3 has a short article that mentions that the U.S. government was moving to deport John Lennon, a process that was politically motivated and ultimately failed two and a half years later. Page 10 mentions an upcoming concert by "Sunny & Cher," a typo that really wasn't necessary in 1973. Radio geeks will be interested in an article beginning on page 3 about syndication. Finally, there is an extended section about Jerry Lee Lewis, who was enjoying a career resurgence at the time.

Carly Simon - "The Right Thing To Do" The Right Thing to Do - No Secrets

(Debuted #70, Peaked #17, 13 Weeks on chart)

The lead track from Carly Simon's No Secrets LP isn't as much of a secret as the song it followed as a single. While "You're So Vain" was allegedly about a past relationship, "The Right Thing to Do" was definitely about her new husband James Taylor. Featuring Simon's signature lyric style and a gospel-influenced female choir backing her up, she expounds upon the feelings that led her to walk down the aisle with Taylor soon after the album's release.

Loggins and Messina - "Thinking Of You" Thinking of You - Loggins and Messina

(Debuted #79, Peaked #18, 13 Weeks on chart)

"Thinking of You" is the second song in a row about the feeling that results when love washes over you. In this case, Jim Messina wrote the song about his then-current girlfriend. It appeared on the self-titled second LP for the duo, an act that began by accident after Messina's attempts at simply producing Kenny Loggins as a solo artist took a different path than expected. While the duo's success forced Messina to stay out on the road after he decided to cut back, it may have helped Loggins take a big step towards a successful career on his own.

The YouTube video above features the album version, which was a different mix than what was on the single. That version was "sweetened" to better appeal to the listeners of AM radio, the "hit" stations of the day.

The Blue Ridge Rangers - "Hearts of Stone" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #37, 12 Weeks on chart)

After leaving Creedence Clearwater Revival for a solo career, John Fogerty decided to use a tactic that seems tame today, but was definitely a risky proposition in the early 1970s. Rather than release a record under his own name that would get immediately judged on his former band's merits, he gave the album a bogus group name and even recorded in a totally different format. Though five people were shown on the album cover in silhouette, The Blue Ridge Rangers was a one-man band that featured Fogerty.

Despite being done as a country song, "Hearts of Stone" was written as an R&B tune with a gospel influence. Written by Rudy Jackson of The Jewels in 1954, it was covered by The Charms, who took it #1 on the R&B chart the same year. It was also covered by Red Foley, who gave it a country treatment, as well as The Fontaine Sisters, who topped the pop chart with it. Later versions were done by Elvis Presley and The Bill Black Combo, which certainly lend it a Rockabilly quality that Fogerty features in his own rendition.

Don McLean - "If We Try" If We Try - Favorites & Rarities

(Debuted #87, Peaked #58, 7 Weeks on chart)

As a song that fell short of the Top 40, "If We Try" might be considered to be a disappointment after "American Pie" and "Vincent," but really deserves to be listened to without any regard for Don McLean's other hits. Starting off as a hopeful ballad that expresses the narrator's desire to take a relationship to the next level, he becomes more forceful in the "middle eight" as he wishes that fate would intervene before falling back into the ballad to finish the song.

In a more perfect world, "If We Try" would have been a bigger hit than it was, as the era of the singer/songwriter was in full swing. However, McLean's biggest hits were about others (at least on the surface); for some odd reason, the inward-looking lyrics that were hallmarks of other singers who performed their own material didn't need apply with McLean's material except among his most rabid fans. If you're not familiar with "If We Try," click on the video above and thank me later.

I had a misheard lyric one point, McLean sings, "well, you've got me standing deaf and blind." That makes perfect sense in the context of the song, but I can't help hearing the words as "well, you've got me standing effin' blind." That twists the mood of the song a bit.

Brenda Lee - "Nobody Wins" Nobody Wins - The Definitive Collection: Brenda Lee

(Debuted #94, Peaked #70, 5 Weeks on chart)

After a successful career in the early 1960s which included two #1 singles and a dozen Top 10 hits, Brenda Lee was one of the many artists who got pushed aside by the British Invasion. She never went away, but the hits dried up as public tastes changed. By the early 1970s, she re-channeled her energies to the more mature country audience in the same manner as many other artists from the era. Not yet 30, Lee still had the ability to be a hitmaker and the country audience was more than happy to accept her.

Her first Top 10 country tune -- and the last Hot 100 listing -- was "Nobody Wins," a song written by Kris Kristofferson. Like many of Kristofferson's songs, ithe lyrics mention the aftermath of a failed relationship; both sides are ready to walk away, and it isn't clear yet whether there will be better days ahead for either. Opening with a chorus's singing, the Owen Bradley-produced song tended toward the Ray Price sound of country music than the "Outlaw" sound that would soon kick in the saloon doors of the format. That change would throttle her momentum again, but not nearly as badly as The Beatles' arrival did. Lee managed to continue hitting the country charts for another decade, before settling into a "living legend" status.

Gunhill Road - "Back When My Hair Was Short" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #40, 15 Weeks on chart)

"Back When My Hair Was Short" is a series of reflections of life while growing up. The lines are wistful and often humorous, but were originally rawer when first recorded. That was in 1972, and when the song was given such a good review, the band was coerced to go back into the studio and do it again without the drug refences. It ended up being a surprise Top 40 hit, and was a hit in more places than expected due to its strength in both the FM listeners and the AM "hit" radio crowd.

I still haven't figured out if the final verse (which begins with "Soon when my hair is short, I'll make a full report of how I came back alive") is a reference to getting drafted into the military and sent overseas -- a real choice that was still vaild in 1972 -- or if it's just a reference to getting older and fitting into society. Really, it could be either choice.

The song was produced by Kenny Rogers (yes, the guy who later sang "The Gambler"), and its success was such a surprise to the band that they never bothered recording a follow-up LP. In fact, the album was re-released last year (see the Amazon link below for details, as no MP3 is available) which included both versions of "Back When My Hair Was Short" for the amusement of fans.

The J. Geils Band - "Give It To Me" Give It to Me - Bloodshot

(Debuted #98, Peaked #30, 16 Weeks on chart)

For a band that was renowned for reworking existing songs in their own style, "Give it to Me" was an original. Written by lead singer and keyboardist Seth Justman, the song closed out their Bloodshot LP.  Opening with a reggae-influenced beat, the song on the album devolved into an extended jam session that featured plenty of extended instrumental solos during its final four minutes. The solo version, however, cut out a lot of what made the song charming to better fit within the radio format clocks.

In the long term, cutting out the boogie was effective in getting their song into the Top 40.

Billy Preston - "Will It Go Round In Circles" Will It Go Round in Circles - Ultimate Collection: Billy Preston

(Debuted #99, Peaked #1, 22 Weeks on chart)

"Will it Go Round in Circles" was the first of two #1 solo singles for Billy Preston (and he was also given credit for The Beatles' "Get Back"). The Houston native made a long career as a sideman for others, between his billing on that Beatles song, touring along with The Rolling Stones, and even appearing uncredited on Sly & the Family Stone's material. After his solo career tailed off in the late 1970s, he largely returned to session work and generally backed other for the rest of his life. There were exceptions, like his 1979/'80 #2 duet "With You I'm Born Again," but his solo work took a back seat most of the time.

"Will it Go Round in Circles" is a song that plays with phrases. Going beyond the concept of the "full circle," Preston ditches the philosophical stuff and gets down to a jam that is influenced by both soul and funk. That showmanship helped propel the single to #1.

Nolan Porter - "If I Could Only Be Sure" If I Could Only Be Sure - Nolan

(Debuted #100, Peaked #89, 4 Weeks on chart)

Nolan Porter charted three songs, and each was billed differently. While "If I Could Only Be Sure" was credited to him by his full name, he also charted on the Hot 100 as Nolan and N.F. Porter. Each song was interesting, but a few listens to this one has convinced me that it is truly a "lost" hit that deserved better than the #89 peak it eventually reached.

"If I Could Only Be Sure" was co-written by Nolan with Gabriel Mekler, who helped get Steppenwolf started and once owned the record company that included Nolan on its roster. It featured a soul influence, but was also progressive enough for the times. As I said, it really deserved to get more airplay than it did.

1 comment:

  1. "If We Try" truly is a forgotten gem. I saw McLean do it on (probably) "The Midnight Special" at the time and just loved it.