Saturday, March 3, 2012

This Week's Review -- March 6, 1971

Twelve new singles made their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week (one of which was a two-sided hit), with only four songs eventually reaching the Top 40. However, three of those four went into the Top 10. The first solo hit by one of The Beatles is among the hits, while the other two Top 40 hits would be the only ones enjoyed by those artists. That said, the singles that missed the Top 40 also offer some variety: an instrumental by the Godfather of Soul, an adapted operatic aria that was a #1 adult contemporary hit, a souple of songs that were solid soul hits, a retro-sounding but "new" song, a song that referenced cocaine and another that brought up the environment.

There is a large archive of Billboard issues over at Google Books, including the March 6, 1971 edition. The full Hot 100 appears on page 60. At the time the issue came out, the industry was still expecting cartridge TV to become the next phase of TV enjoyment. It allowed people to be able to watch TV on their own schedule...or at least be able to watch something besides what was airing at that moment. An article on page 1 and a section beginning on page 26 explain the efforts going on behind the scenes.

Paul McCartney - "Another Day" Another Day - All the Best b/w "Oh Woman Oh Why" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #55, Peaked #5, 12 Weeks on chart)

And here's the video for the B-side:

Paul McCartney's first solo single was actually a song he had originally written and demoed during The Beatles' 1969 sessions that produced the Let It Be LP. Once the group broke up, the song ended up finding its way onto a single (but not the Ram LP, although it eventually was included years later on a CD re-issue). It's another one of Macca's observational-type songs -- like "Eleanor Rigby" was -- which hit #5 in the U.S. and #2 in the U.K.

On "Another Day," a female voice is heard in the mix. That belongs to Linda McCartney, who is listed on the single as co-writer. While Paul assured fans and journalists that she had contributed to the song, it's undoubtedly his melody and critics often claimed she was listed to help circumvent certain legal issues that Apple was embroiled in at the time and assured that at least some of his songwriting royalties would come in through Linda. Paul would go as far as credit Linda as a duet partner with his next single, the #1 "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey."

The B-side, "Oh Woman, Oh Why" was a straight blues-based rocker that actually shows off McCartney's vocal range. Sadly, it is currently unavailable in a digital format, as is much of McCartney's solo material.

Engelbert Humperdinck - "When There's No You" When There's No You - Gold: Engelbert Humperdinck

(Debuted #67, Peaked #45, 7 Weeks on chart)

Engelbert Humperdinck missed the pop Top 40 with "When There's No You," he took it to #1 on the adult contemporary chart. It was the second of his four chart-toppers there.

Written by Les Reed and Jackie Rae -- who also penned "The Last Waltz" and others for Humperdinck -- the song makes use of his tremendous range. That's because the chorus is adapted from the music of the opera I Pagliacci (here's a video of Luciano Pavarotti performing it), which is a very emotional piece to begin with.  He does a great job of keeping control of the swings from his regular singing voice to one that is more operatic and back again.

Jerry Butler - "If It's Real What I Feel" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #72, Peaked #69, 8 Weeks on chart)

"If it's Real What I Feel" is credited as a solo performance by Jerry Butler, but a quick listen to it reveals that he's singing a duet with a female singer. That voice belongs to Brenda Lee Eager, who would eventually get credited on several later singles including the #22 pop hit "Ain't Understanding Mellow." At the time, Eager was the featured voice in Butler's backup group on the road and was also singing as part of Rev. Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket.

A standard soul duet that deserves a listen by anybody who digs the genre or wants to hear something from the period that should have been a bigger hit, "If it's Real What I Feel" was a poor performer on the Hot 100 but went into the R&B Top 10.

Sugarloaf - "Tongue In Cheek" Tongue in Cheek - Spaceship Earth

(Debuted #73, Peaked #55, 7 Weeks on chart)

After the success of "Green Eyed Lady," the Colorado-based band Sugarloaf recorded a followup LP called Spaceship Earth that was more in touch with the band's progressive roots than many casual fans would have expected. "Tongue in Cheek" reflected that focus, being more of a guitar-based tune than its previous hit. There is, however, the lengthy instrumental bridge with solos on the organ, piano and guitar.

As the closing track on the album, "Tongue in Cheek" clocked in at over seven minutes. The edited single version was much more radio-friendly, at just under four minutes.

Matthews' Southern Comfort - "Woodstock" Woodstock - Later That Same Year

(Debuted #83, Peaked #23, 15 Weeks on chart)

Joni Mitchell wasn't actually in attendance at the Woodstock festival. She had been persuaded that a guest spot on The Dick Cavett Show would be a better career move for her. Instead, she used the description from her then-boyfriend Graham Nash (who was one of the performers there) to write a song about it. She recorded it for her 1970 LP Ladies of the Canyon, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young placed a version on the Woodstock documentary film, but the British group Matthews Southern Comfort took it to #1 in the U.K.

Matthews Southern Comfort was led by ex-Fairport Convention member Ian Mattews. Essentially, it was a solo effort built from Mattews' desire to explore American rhythms rather than the English folk leanings of his previous band. Eventually, Southern Comfort became their own unit, releasing three albums even after Matthews left them.

The Mixtures - "Pushbike Song" The Pushbike Song - The Pushbike Song

(Debuted #84, Peaked #44, 11 Weeks on chart)

The Mixtures were an Australian group whose only hit in the U.S.might sound a lot like the Mungo Jerry hit "In the Summertime." Actually, the group had recorded a cover version of that song the previous year and took it to #1 for six weeks in their home country because a radio ban had made it nearly impossible for many U.K. acts to get airplay there. Their success with that song inspired them to record another song with a retro feel, and came up with "The Pushbike Song," another #1 single in their home country.

While the song sounds older due to being over 40 years old, the instrumentation gives it a skiffle-type sound that made it sound dated even in 1971. The band's hits dried up in Australia by the end of the year and they soldiered on through the rest of the decade despite a revolving membership. Ironically, Mungo Jerry covered it around 1990, perhaps because many fans assumed they'd done it as well.

Steppenwolf - "Snow Blind Friend" Snowblind Friend - Steppenwolf 7

(Debuted #85, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on chart)

It's little wonder "Snow Blind Friend" failed to get much traction on the pop charts in 1971. The "snow" in the song is a reference to cocaine, and while it's an anti-drug song it dealt with the issue in a straightforward manner. That approach didn't play in Peoria at that time, and wasn't radio-friendly in much of the country as a result. 

Written by Hoyt Axton, who also wrote Steppenwolf's similarly-themed 1967 song  "The Pusher," "Snow Blind Friend" told of a man who was content to space out on the drug at his own leisure ("he bought a one-way ticket on an airline made of snow"). He's a problem child to his parents, lying face-down on a sidewalk and perhaps dead.

Axton's lyrics were given a country-ish feel by Steppenwolf but the subject matter was really sensitive. Maybe that's part of why he wrote the #1 smash "Joy to the World" (the Three Dog Night song) later that year. Perhaps he realized people wouldn't focus on the words if the lyrics were a little more vague.

Daddy Dewdrop - "Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It)" Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It) - One Hit Wonders - Vol. 2

(Debuted #87, Peaked #9, 16 Weeks on chart)

Daddy Dewdrop was a stage name for the musician and songwriter Dick Monda, who released several novelty records in addition to the "straight" material that appeared under his own name. He wrote "Chick-a-Boom" for the cartoon show Sabrina and the Groovy Goolies, which had ironically already run its last original episode once the song made the pop charts. It managed to stick around for a few years in reruns and allowed "Chick-a-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love it)" to become enmeshed in the memories of those kids who were exposed to it through Saturday morning viewings.

James Brown - "Spinning Wheel (Part 1)" Spinning Wheel, Pt. 1 - The Singles, Vol. 7: 1970-1972

(Debuted #90, Peaked #90, 2 Weeks on chart)

Here's a rarity. While "Spinning Wheel" is credited to James Brown, the single was a live instrumental. Although Brown did chart an occasional song that didn't require his signature vocal style (and frequently took live cuts there as well), "Spinning Wheel" didn't chart on the R&B survey at all. 

Of course, the song is a version of the tune that Blood, Sweat & Tears hit with in 1969. That group's singer was David Clayton-Thomas, who wrote the song as well. He put his own unique vocal stamp on it, which might have been good enough for Brown to use as a between-the-songs intermission.

Ann Peebles - "I Pity The Fool" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #92, Peaked #85, 4 Weeks on chart)

Before Mr. T's character B.A. Barakas used it as a catch phrase in the 1980s, "I Pity the Fool" was a single by Ann Peebles in 1971. Even then, it wasn't an original, as Bobby Bland hit with the song in 1961.

Ann Peebles did a great Southern-fried rendition of the tune as part of Memphis-based Hi Records (also the home of Al Green). Although this was a remake of an earlier hit, Peebles was also a songwriter whose compositions included the phenomenal "I Can't Stand the Rain" and even "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," both of which were later hits for other artists.

The Bells - "Stay Awhile" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #7, 14 Weeks on chart)

The Bells were a Montreal-based group who were somewhat successful in their home country but only manged one Top 40 pop hit in the U.S. That song, however, certainly caught plenty of attention. "Stay Awhile" was a duet between members Jackie Ralphs and Cliff Edwards, with Ralphs pulling off a whispered vocal in the beginning. Some fans feel the song has a sentimental quality, while other critics point out that the lyrics are little more than pillow talk.

Frank Mills, who later hit with "Music Box Dancer," was a member of The Bells but departed just before "Stay Awhile" was a smash. I haven't been able to determine whether that's him playing the soft piano arpeggios on the song.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - "What About Me" What About Me? - Classic Masters (24-Bit Remastered 02)

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

There was a very fertile music scene around San Francisco in the 1960s, and Quicksilver Messenger Service was a part of it. While they never reached the heights of contemporaries like The Jefferson Airplane or The Grateful Dead, they were still fairly influential in their own way, especially on the local scene.

"What About Me" was actually recorded during a period where the band was taking a working vacation in Hawaii, and the beauty of the land around them may have contributed to the lyrics. The politics of the time was potent enough and well-used for songs of the era, but the ecological angle in the song was a new wrinkle that isn't surprising today but quite radical at the time.

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