Saturday, May 12, 2012

This Week's Review -- May 11, 1974

There were nine debut singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Four made the Top 40 and one reached into the Top 10. Among the bigger hits are Steely Dan's highest-charting song, a Golden Earring classic and two songs that were definitely reminiscent of their time. As for the others, one was a reimagined version of a 1960 "teen death" tragedy, two were remakes of hits from earlier in the 1970s, one was a playful Dr.John number and the other was a song that might have been overlooked because its singer was all over the place at the time.

Over at Google Books,you can read through a large archive of Billboard issues for free, including the May 11, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 88. A feature about Isaac Hayes' multifaceted career begins on page 16. Also, a short paragraph on page 20 mentions that Gabriel Kaplan opened for The Persuasions at The Bitter End in New York City. This was pre-Kotter, and he was still doing his schtick as a stand-up comic.


Eddie Kendricks - "Son Of Sagittarius" Son of Sagittarius - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Eddie Kendricks

(Debuted #74, Peaked #28, 8 Weeks on chart)

No discussion of 1970s culture would really be complete without getting to the topic of astrology and astrological signs, or to the pick-up line "what's your sign?" While I'm not generally drawn toward astrology at all, This song by Eddie Kendricks hits me on a couple of levels personally: Not only am I the son of two Sagittarians, but I'm a Sagittarius myself.

So, looking up the info about the traits of a Sagittarius, I see that it is a fire sign (something mentioned in Kendricks' song) which lends people born under the sign to be outgoing and seek spontaneous expression. Since I blog, I seem to show that. It's also mutable, meaning that the person has an instinct toward change and can adapt to environments easily. Actually, that's me, too...but I credit being a military brat for 10 years and constantly moving around for that. Wikipedia has this definition: "Correspondingly, Sagittarians are reputed to be drawn toward travel and philosophy, and to enjoy social contacts, meeting new people and exploring other cultures. They are said to be highly intelligent, broad-visioned, tolerant in their views, mainly concerned with the 'big picture' but with little patience for the details."

Actually, that's a really good description, even if it's just a little bit off. But that isn't going to get me interested in seeking out more information. I'm here to talk about a song. "Son of Sagittarius" is another song that fits the mold of Eddie Kendrick's hits of the period, featuring his high tenor and backed by Motown's underrated studio musicians. Though it's largely a period piece, it's a damned tasty one.

Carly Simon - "Haven't Got Time For The Pain" Haven't Got Time for the Pain - Hotcakes

(Debuted #80, Peaked #14, 12 Weeks on chart)

I'll be crass enough to bring this up right now...the cover of the Hotcakes LP shows a beaming, visibly pregnant Carly Simon, who was carrying her daughter Sally (a musician and activist today). How ironic is it that the album contained a song called "Haven't Got Time For the Pain" when she was on the verge of having her own concept of pain changed forever? 

Of course, "Haven't Got Time For the Pain" was about a different type of hurt: the emotional type. Introspective songs like that were Simon's specialty, and it can be safely assumed that she was writing the words with her husband James Taylor in mind. It was a decent pop hit, but it was an Adult Contemporary smash, reaching #2 on that survey. 

Steely Dan - "Rikki Don't Lose My Number" Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Pretzel Logic (Reissue)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #4, 19 Weeks on chart)

I've been a casual fan of Steely Dan since I was a teenager. That means that I've pretty much paid attention to their singles and had Aja and Gaucho on cassette back in high school. There was something about those two albums that was nice to play in the background as I did whatever I did in my bedroom to pass the time when I wasn't hanging with friends (reading, doing howework, writing, stuff like that). Looking back now, the jazz sensibilities of those records likely had a hand in it, but I wasn't in any position to realize that at the time.

Eventually, I delved a little deeper into their catalog but wasn't as entranced with the band's earlier output for some reason. However, I did notice one thing: the lyrics seemed to be obtuse enough to mean whatever the listener wanted them to be. That might have been a benefit to me back then, as I was learning how to think and expanding my idea of what I considered to be logical. However, I've since learned that when it comes to Steely Dan, I really don't need to find any deeper meaning in the words. They're meant to be taken at face value, but not really.

With that understanding, it's a good thing that the music was usually solid. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is from the band's Pretzel Logic LP, recorded when there was still a "group" called Steely Dan that would get on stage, rather than an amalgamation of studio musicians brought together by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and refined like a recipe until the mixture of any particular song was right. Reaching #4 on the pop chart, it would become the biggest single of their career. Not bad for a tune that sounds like it originated as a pick-up line in a bar.

Wednesday - "Teen Angel" Teen Angel - Last Kiss

(Debuted #89, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

Right on the heels of their Top 40 remake of the 1963 tragic teen car crash song "Last Kiss," the Canadian band Wednesday decided to dip into the same well and release a new version of Mark Dinning's 1959 hit "Teen Angel." I say "new version" rather than a remake of this one, because the words are changed slightly. In Wednesday's song, the person who "buys the farm" is male, not female. In this case, the narration comes from the deceased group of friends, rather than the grieving boyfriend. Also, the item that is retrieved from the stalled car just before the train took it out was a photo, instead of a class ring.

Alas, lightning didn't strike twice. The song fell off the chart quickly, peaking at #79. It was their last chart single.

Diana Ross - "Sleepin'" Sleepin' - Last Time I Saw Him (Expanded Edition)

(Debuted #92, Peaked #70, 5 Weeks on chart)

Diana Ross' work in the 1970s was largely uneven at times. Yes, she enjoyed some massive hits, but she also had an awful lot of misses. As one of Motown's featured performers, her work was targeted to several different audiences; the R&B crowd brought her to the dance, the Pop crowd brought her fame (and more importantly, money), the adult contemporary crowd was becoming a more lucrative venture. Add to that the exposure her movies gave her. The hits were expected, but some of the misses may have been disappointing because there was some real potential.

Ross was a very busy woman in 1973. On the heels of the Film Lady Sings the Blues, she recorded a duet LP with Marvin Gaye as well as two albums on her own, in between her regular performances in Vegas and elsewhere. That's exhausting work, but also enough to overload somebody in the public eye. "Sleepin'" was from the second of those solo LPs -- Last Time I Saw Him -- and may have had a better shot if it didn't follow all that exposure.

"Sleepin'" was a ballad that might have been a natural for the AC crowd, but oddly didn't chart on that survey. It peaked at #70 pop and #50 R&B, which were likely considered disappointing after Ross' previous success. However, it features a great (if slightly "over-the-top") performance that wouldn't seem out of place in the stage in Vegas. While nobody would call Ross "underexposed" by any yardstick, "Sleepin'" was likely a better song than its final chart history would indicate.

The New Birth - "Wildflower" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)

Most fans of 1970s music will recognize "Wildflower" as a #9 pop hit by the Canadian band Skylark in 1973, but it was given a salting of soul when it was covered by The New Birth the following year. At first, this new version doesn't offer much that the earlier hit didn't already do, but after a while the band's backing brass section fills in some of the difference, and the backing vocalists add a new dimension to the song. And there's even a spoken monologue in the bridge.

While "Wildflower" fell short of the pop Top 40, it was a Top 20 R&B hit and reached the U.K. Top 10. The video above contains the six-minute album track, which is a really good rendition. Like I said, it doesn't really start off as a unique piece, but evolves well on its own as the members of the ensemble are allowed to settle in and do their thing.

Dr. John - "(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away" (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away - The Essentials: Dr. John

(Debuted #96, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

After the success of his ablum In the Right Place, Dr. John went back to the studio and ordered up more of the formula that was seen by the public as tasty. He once again collaborated with Allen Toussaint and The Meters on the LP Desitively Bonnaroo, which included the single "(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away." However, the new record sold in lesser quantities than expected, and led to Dr. John switching the direction of his later releases.

It's a shame the song didn't do better than it did, however.

Maggie Bell - "After Midnight" After Midnight - Queen of the Night (Bonus Version)

Debuted #98, Peaked #97, 3 Weeks on chart

"After Midnight" is probably best known as a song that Eric Clapton charted twice. It was Slowhand's first solo hit in 1970, and was re-recorded in a slower, more blues-based style in 1988 and used in a beer commercial. However, it was written by Oklahoma native J.J. Cale, and the success of Clapton's version helped to get his own career jump-started. It has been rerecorded several times through the years, with Maggie Bell channeling Janis Joplin with her 1974 rendition.

Maggie Bell was a Scottish singer and had been with the group Stone the Crows. That band suffered a major setback when guitarist Les Harvey electrocuted himself onstage by grabbing an ungrounded microphone in May 1972. Future Wings member Jimmy McCullough was brought in to replace him, but it wasn't the same and the band split in 1973. Bell's first solo project was the LP Queen of the Night, and "After Midnight" would be her only charted single. Featuring a calypso breakdown in the instrumental bridge, Bell's take on "After Midnight" was interesting, even if it never registered in the collective conscience the way Clapton's version did.

Golden Earring - "Radar Love" Radar Love - Moontan

(Debuted #99, Peaked #13, 20 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned here before that despite my leaning towards 1970s music, I actually grew up during the 1980s. That said, I knew Golden Earring from their 1983 hit "Twilight Zone" and never even realized they'd had an earlier hit until after White Lion remade "Radar Love" in 1989. One of my high school friends ridiculed me for not knowing about it, since I'd already shown an affinity for the 70s. And that was yet another step down that road that led me to this blog.

Golden Earring was a Dutch band that was formed in 1961 and are still together more than 50 years later. In fact, their two founding members George Kooymans and Rinus Gerritsen have been there all that time. "Radar Love" was their first international hit and was about a man driving through the night to be in the arms of his lady. The title means they can communicate instinctively...which is fine as long as he doesn't pass through the radar of a traffic cop on is way.

"Radar Love" is a favorite driving song thanks to its steady rock beat and subject matter. There's even a mention of Brenda Lee's song "Coming On Strong," a #11 hit in 1966, which is referred to as "some forgotten song" despite the narrator immediately coming up with the title.

1 comment:

  1. Radar Love is probably my all-time favorite driving song