Saturday, April 14, 2012

This Week's Review -- April 15, 1972

There were seven new singles making their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. None of them made it into the Top 40, though. In the nearly three years I've been writing reviews on this blog, that's only the second time that no songs were strong enough to reach the Top 40. Granted, many of the artists featured hit the Top 40 at other times, and one of them will probably be a surprise, but the songs that miss the chance to have Casey Kasem introduce them on his weekly show are sometimes just as interesting as many that do.

Google Books has a large archive of past Billboard magazines to read, including the April 15, 1972 edition.  The full Hot 100 can be found on page 64. Those of you interested in radio will find the extended section about the NAB convention interesting, if for no other reason than to remember the "good old days."

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Dr. John - "Iko Iko" Iko Iko - Dr. John's Gumbo

(Debuted #86, Peaked #71, 5 Weeks on chart)

Fans who know this song from its inclusion in the film Rain Man (a version The Belle Stars took to the Top 40 in 1989) might be surprised to see it here, but the roots of "Iko Iko" go back to a song called "Jock-a-Mo" written by James Crawford in 1953. It was a tale of a confrontation between two bands of Mardi Gras revelers who dressed as Indian tribes as their parade routes crossed. The song was morphed into "Iko Iko" by The Dixie Cups in 1965 when an impromptu practice session was caught on tape by producers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.

A song about Mardi Gras festivities fit in perfectly for the New Orleans-born Mac Rebbenack, who used the stage name of Dr. John. In fact, it came from an LP called Dr. John's Gumbo, which was a tribute to his home city. "Iko Iko" was the song that kicked off the festivities, and melds the original Crawford version with the words of the later hit.

R. Dean Taylor - "Taos New Mexico" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #83, 3 Weeks on chart)

Taos, New Mexico is a unique community. There is a highly active artist society there, tourists arrive each year to ski, and it is a historic area which has more than a millennium of continual residency. In this song, however, the narrator isn't worried about any of that. He's locked up in prison and just wants to go home.

And while he's sitting in his cell, he's thinking of his Maria. At the beginning of the song, he's reading a letter from his mother saying that Maria is looking around for another man...and he wants to get back and "never leave Maria alone." In the second verse, he explains that her demands for expensive items is what likely led him to get locked up. In my opinion, he'd probably be better if she went her own way, but love makes us do crazy things.

Of course, a song called "Taos, New Mexico" wouldn't be complete without a Mariachi band, and there they are, in the background with the flute player. It was R. Dean Taylor's last single on the Hot 100.

Ken Loggins with Jim Messina - "Vahevala" Vahevala - Sittin' In

(Debuted #90, Peaked #84, 5 Weeks on chart)

Jim Messina decided it was time to get off the road after several years as a member of The Buffalo Springfield and Poco. He had experimented with sound engineering and production when he was a member of The Buffalo Springfield, and wanted to give it a try full time. Enter Kenny Loggins, who was a songwriter and folk-leaning performer but wasn't signed as an artist. Messina convinced his label to sign Loggins, and he would "sit in" and help with the recordings while producing the album. That idea even led to the title of the LP, Sittin' In

It ended up being more successful than anybody expected. Instead of "helping" a new artist get started, Jim Messina ended up being part of a duo. Their debut Hot 100 single was "Vahevala," a song that Loggins co-wrote but not one that made much of an impression chart-wise. The low-key hit with a Calypso interlude followed "Danny's Song" on that LP. Ironically, more fans remember that song (which wasn't issued as a single) today.

The hits would soon come, though, and Loggins' star rose enough to let him eventually go on to the solo career that Messina knew he was capable of having.

Jerry Garcia - "Sugaree" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #94, 2 Weeks on chart)

When The Grateful Dead re-signed with Warner Brothers in the early 1970s, several members of the band were able to record solo albums. Bob Weir recorded one, as did Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia. That may seem a little disconcerting while a band is still together, but the strength of The Grateful Dead was that the group's freeform jams allowed the individual members to do their own thing without feeling a desire to walk away.

Among Garcia's assets was his wide range of influences. "Sugaree" reflects folk, blues and -- to a lesser extent -- country. The lyrics were written by longtime Dead associate Robert Hunter and Bill Kreutzmann does the drumming, but Garcia plays all of the other instruments on the recording. For this album, Garcia wasn't really looking to expand away from his group. Instead, it was just a conduit for him to keep busy until the band was ready to hit the road again. 

David Bowie - "Changes" Changes - Hunky Dory (Remastered)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #66, 7 Weeks on chart)

Of all the debut songs on the Billboard Hot 100 list this week, "Changes" may be the one that most fans would be surprised to discover it missed the Top 40. As time has passed, it's become one of David Bowie's best-known songs and has frequently appeared on his "Best of" compilation LPs. It was even quoted at the beginning of the 1985 film The Breakfast Club. Yet, it was a relative failure upon its release in both the U.S. and U.K. Even a 1974 re-issue of the single failed to make the Top 40, peaking at 41.

"Changes" was the first chart single for Bowie in the U.S., which partially explains its low peak on the chart on this side of the "Big Pond." In the U.K., it was felt that "Oh! You Pretty Things" was a more natural candidate for a single from the Hunky Dory LP, but Peter Noone covered it and released the song as a single.

"Changes" started out as a throwaway song, which might explain why it works so well. It doesn't aspire to be a "voice of a generation" or even an explanation of disaffected youth despite lines like "these children that you spit upon." Over time, it's been picked up by listeners as one of Bowie's finest tunes.

Solomon Burke - "Love's Street And Fool's Road" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #89, 5 Weeks on chart)

"Love's Street and Fool's Road" is mentioned by Solomon Burke in the song as his location in a telephone conversation. He's in a phone booth, waiting for his woman to arrive. The title is a metaphor, and the funk and brass section in the song backs up his exhortation that he's not in as deep as everybody around him thinks.

The song was part of the soundtrack for the "blaxploitation" movie Cool Breeze. The flick was a remake of The Asphalt Jungle, where a man tries to use a jewel heist to finance a bank in the ghetto. Of course, the plan doesn't exactly work out as expected. Burke provided all of the music for the movie. 

Apollo 100 - "Mendelssohn's 4th (Second Movement)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #94, 3 Weeks on chart)

After scoring a surprise hit with its electronic version of a Bach tune, Apollo 100 returned with a second offering in hopes that lightning would strike twice. Of course, it didn't, and that would be the last time Apollo 100 appeared on the Hot 100.

Apollo 100 was an English studio under the aegis of arranger and multi-instrumentalist Tom Parker. As for the song, it was a reworking of "Symphony No. 4" by German composer Felix Mendelssohn, which is also known as the "Italian Symphony." He wrote it in 1833 after watching a religious procession in Naples as he took a tour around Europe. Mendelssohn was similar to Mozart as a child prodigy who was writing music from an early age; also like Mozart, he died in his 30s.

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