Saturday, May 19, 2012

This Week's Review -- May 23, 1970

This week was another busy one, with 14 new songs (including a two-sided hit) making their debut on the Billboard Hot 100. Nine would reach the Top 40, with five making the Top 10 and two reaching #1. An end of an era was reached, as The Beatles called it a career. A new decade was beginning, and songs by The Temptations and War stretched the boundaries of what was "normal." On the other side of the coin, The Pipkins show up with a song targeted to kids that was seen as a novelty. Aretha Franklin gives us religion, as do Delaney & Bonnie. Two versions of the same song even appear.

Google Books has a large archive of Billboard issues, including the May 23, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 74. An article on page 1 announces an upcoming weekly radio show that will use the magazine's Top 40 as a basis. The show was set for distribution through Watermark Enterprises and Los Angeles-based DJ Casey Kasem was set to be the host. If you didn't know that would be the American Top 40 radio show, you must have missed out on the 1970s. Interestingly, the very first #1 record played on that show is among this week's debuts.

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The Beatles - "The Long And Winding Road" The Long and Winding Road - The Beatles 1967–1970 (The Blue Album) b/w "For You Blue" For You Blue - Let It Be

(Debuted #35, Peaked #1, 10 Weeks on chart)

Since this was a two-sided hit, here's a video of the often-forgotten B-side:

As "The Long and Winding Road" was beginning its climb up the chart, fans already knew that The Beatles had broken up. All four members recorded solo albums that year -- and all would be relatively successful during the early 1970s -- but fans held out hope that the band would get the itch to assemble in the studio once again when the hard feelings abated. Of course, we know that never happened, but it was a hope that many fans held onto until a fateful day in 1980.

While internal strife played a part in the band's dissolution, many of the tracks on the Let it Be LP hastened the decision, "The Long and Winding Road" in particular. The song was one of Paul McCartney's contributions to the album and was recorded as a simple ballad, but producer Phil Spector remixed it with a chorus and orchestra, which infuriated McCartney enough that it was one of the points he made in his letter that announced his desire to break up the band.

The B-side was "For You Blue," a song that George Harrison wrote as a 12-bar blues song. In fact, he even ad-libs "there go the 12-bar blues" during the song. It's been largely spared the overbearing Spector touch, so much that the two sides of the single seem to be from two entirely different bands.

When the dust settled, "The Long and Winding Road" was the last of 20 #1 singles in the U.S. for The Beatles in just over 6 years. While that seems an appropriate title for a group's final #1 song, it should be noted that the members were all still in their twenties at the time -- Ringo was the oldest and turned 30 that July -- so the long, winding roads were up ahead as the four musicians went along their own paths.

The Pipkins - "Gimme Dat Ding" Gimme Dat Ding - Gimme Dat Ding!

(Debuted #65, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

"Gimme Dat Ding" is one of the four hit singles of 1970 that featured Tony Burrows on lead vocals but used a generic studio group name. In fact, it was one of three songs he sang for different acts on a single Top of the Pops program on the BBC, which might seem like a stunt but wasn't intended to be one. Burrows sings both the gravely "deep" voice and the high tenor on this quasi-novelty tune.

"Gimme Dat Ding" was co-written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood. Originally written as part of a British children's show that had a boy searching for parts to mend a grandfather clock, the "ding" in the title makes perfect sense in that context. However, that show wasn't aired in the U.S., so American listeners never had the chance to make that connection.

The Pipkins were a duo consisting of Burrows with Roger Greenaway, who had played together in a British band called The Kestrels in the 1960s. The group also consisted of Roger Cook, who wrote a number of hit records with Greenaway druing the era including the White Plains hit "My Baby Loves Lovin'," which Burrows also sang. It's never a bad thing to stay in touch with old mates.

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles - "Who's Gonna Take The Blame" Who's Gonna Take the Blame - Ooo Baby Baby: The Anthology

(Debuted #73, Peaked #46, 7 Weeks on chart)

The Miracles was Motown's first group, and their first act to sell a million records. They were led by William "Smokey" Robinson, who was also a songwriter for Motown and had as much of a hand in the label's success as anybody including owner Berry Gordy. While the 1960s were good to the label and the group, the road eventually wore on Smokey and caused a rift in his marraige. He was ready to move to a "desk" job and leave the touring to the younger guys. He was expected to quietly leave the group by 1970, which would have given "Who's Gonna Take the Blame" an ironic title. However, a quirk of fate gave the group a surprise hit later in the year with "The Tears of a Clown," which led him to stick it out for a couple more years.

"Who's Gonna Take the Blame" was written by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and is a song about several times in life where the singer accepted the blame for bad things a girl did as they were growing up, and was forced to feel responsible when that girl grew up and went in a different direction. It was the band's first single to miss the Top 40 (not counting "Darling Dear," a B-side that charted separately), though it did make the Top10 R&B singles chart.

Aretha Franklin with the Dixie Flyers - "Spirit in the Dark" Spirit In the Dark - Aretha Franklin: 30 Greatest Hits

(Debuted #74, Peaked #23, 8 Weeks on chart)

The album Spirit in the Dark was overlooked, as hard as it is to believe that any project of that era by her would ever have that label. At the time, it was her first Atlantic LP to miss the Top 20 on the pop albums chart (though it did reach #2 on the R&B chart) despite having two hit singles. However, time has been kind to the album, and most critics have given it a considerable bump among her output. In some ways, it pointed to the more disappointing chart fortunes Franklin experienced later in the decade, but it really didn't deserve it as much as the later efforts did.

The album's title song was written by Franklin herself, and showed the gospel influence she carried from her childhood. From the piano riff to the imagery to the call-and-response Aretha does with the backing chorus, all the hallmarks are there. Eventually, the song breaks out into jubilation, as if to swat any unbelievers with a Bible.

Sly and the Family Stone - "I Want To Take You Higher" I Want to Take You Higher - Anthology

(Debuted #76, Peaked #38, 9 Weeks on chart)

A battle of competing versions of the same song broke out this week in 1970. Both went on to make the Top 40 (which was fitting, since both are good) but the original's inclusion was odd on the surface. It was recorded the previous year, was the B-side of Sly & the Family Stone's hit "Stand" and had been part of their Woodstock performance. Today, it's more common for a song to stick around like that, but in the fast-evolving musical world of 1969-'70 it was unheard of.

Yes, the Woodstock film had just been released in March 1970, but the song was used as a brief interlude during the band's set in the documentary. Instead, Epic records may have put it out simply because of the Ike & Tina Turner cover that competed with it, and because Sly Stone had entered one of his long periods where he wasn't producing any new music.

As part of the album Stand!, "I Want to Take You Higher" breaks from the "messages" that many of its songs stress. Instead, it's a celebration about the effect that music can have on a person (although, when Sly's own personal history is factored in, the "higher" in the title probably has a double meaning). It was one of the songs that used the different voices of the "Family Stone": Larry Graham's deep baritone is the most prominent, but Freddie and Rose Stone add vocals as well.

Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes - "I Want To Take You Higher" I Want to Take You Higher - Proud Mary - The Best of Ike & Tina Turner

(Debuted #78, Peaked #34, 18 Weeks on chart)

With two versions of "I Want to Take You Higher" entering the chart in the same week, there was a battle of the bands to see who got the most exposure. Normally, competing versions would beat each other up, but in this case both versions made it into the Top 40. However, that's just as far as both would go, with Ike & Tina Turner getting four places "higher" than the Sly Stone original. On that note, maybe the competition did weigh both versions down, since they definitely could have done better than they did.

Where Stone featured some of the other members of his "family," this was all about Tina Turner vocally. The rest of the voices merely serve as backup material.

The Temptations - "Ball Of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today) [Alternate Mix] - Psychedelic Soul

(Debuted #80, Peaked #3, 15 Weeks on chart)

"Psychedelic soul" was the name used to describe The Temptations' move away from the songs about love and loss they performed in the 1960s to the more socially-aware material they began doing as the decades changed. And it was apt; no only was there a sense of realism in their vocals, but the music behind the voices was grittier and hewn from rougher material. That's not to say they went away from the sweeter material (you just need to listen to 1971's "Just My Imagination" for proof of that), but they definitely steered into a different direction beginning with 1968's "Coud Nine."

"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)" is an example of the new direction, even if it stays with a general point of view in its lyrics. Writer/producer Norman Whitfield specifically avoided being specific after the band's version of "War" was blocked by Motown and he was forced to tone it down for Edwin Starr's version. At first, the group's members weren't certain they could handle the song, as a result of the often rapid-fire tempo of the words. However, the song did a great job of showcasing the members. The main lyrics were assigned to Paul Williams and Dennis Franklin, who was given the lines that needed to be delivered the quickest. Eddie Kendricks was assigned a tenor, which was rare at the tame but soon became his trademark. Finally, the bass "and the band played on" that ended each verse was handled superbly by Melvin Franklin.

Speaking of bass lines, Funk Brother Bob Babbitt kicks off an ominous groove to begin the song. That type of instrumental never comes before anything that carries a positive message.

Three Dog Night - "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" Mama Told Me (Not to Come) - The Complete Hit Singles

(Debuted #83, Peaked #1, 15 Weeks on chart)

Three Dog Night was one of the biggest acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and their reputation allowed them to choose songs from a wide array of talented songwriters. Randy Newman was the writer of "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)," a tune that was written in 1966 for Eric Burdon and the Animals. A tale by a naive outsider who's walked into a party only to find that it isn't exactly a "sock hop," the song is performed in an almost comical style by Cory Wells.

Kicking off with a distinctive Wurlitzer electric piano riff that sets the mood, "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" became the group's first #1 single. In fact, it was the song sitting at #1 the same week as the first-ever week that Casey Kasem counted down the American Top 40 radio show. The song already had a timely vibe that heralded the fact that the 1960s were indeed over, but that cemented its place in history.

Delaney and Bonnie and Friends - "Free the People" Free the People - Rhino Hi-Five - Delaney & Bonnie - EP

(Debuted #84, Peaked #75, 4 Weeks on chart)

Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were heavily regarded by other musicians. In fact, Eric Clapton was fond enough of them that he would show up at several of their concerts to sit in because he was more interested in their material than he was with what his own group Blind Faith was doing. Dave Mason, George Harrison, Duane Allman and even Little Richard were known to stop by and play with the group in the studio.

"Free the People" was the final song on the duos third album From Delaney to Bonnie. Written by Barbara Keith, it had a message of brotherhood and a heavily religious feel. The fact that it starts with the hymn "Rock of Ages" sets that mood, and the lyrics continue, alluding to imagery of fire and seas, about salvation from The Devil, and even as the horn section begins to sound like it's blowing Gabriel's horn.

Ginger Baker's Air Force - "Man of Constant Sorrow" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #85, 2 Weeks on chart)

Interestingly, this blog goes from one band that (inadvertently) contributed to Blind Faith's early demise to another that rose out of its ashes. After Eric Clapton went his own way, drummer Ginger Baker persuaded the other members Steve Winwood and Rick Grech to stay with him and form a new group whose influences were more diverse: blues, jazz, African rhythms, bluegrass, whatever their muse dictated. They ended up assembling a ten-piece group that also included Denny Laine, Chris Wood and Graham Bond, and recorded a live show at London's Royal Albert Hall that appeared as their first LP.

"Man of Constant Sorrow" is a traditional American fiddle song popularized in 1928 by fiddler Dick Burnett and was a staple of The Stanley Brother's act. When the Air Force recorded it, they kept the words and melody but improvised the arrangement for the live recording. Laine was the lead vocalist.

Movie fans might recognize the song (albeit in a faster, more bluegrass-inspired style) from the 2000 Coen Brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Luther Ingram - "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)" Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One) - The Best of Luther Ingram

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

Luther Ingram served as Isaac Hayes' opening act on tour for several years and used Hayes' studio musicians and backup singers in the studio, so it's only logical that Hayes would provide him with material from time to time. In the case of "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)," the song was written by Hayes and his long-time collaborator David Porter. It appeared as a Sam & Dave performance in 1967, with Hayes and Porter cutting it themselves in 1972.

Though Ingram's version fell just short of the pop Top 40, it became his first R&B Top 10 hit. Featuring the smooth horns and lush strings in the background, it was a fine vehicle for Ingram's vocal stylings.

The Flaming Ember - "Westbound #9" Westbound #9 - The Best of Flaming Ember

(Debuted #97, Peaked #24, 14 Weeks on chart)

Detroit is best known as the home of Motown, but its influence in soul music extends well beyond that label's acts. When the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland wanted to have greater control over their work, they broke from Motown to form their own Hot Wax imprint. One of their acts was The Flaming Ember, a local five-man "blue-eyed soul" outfit.

"Westbound #9" was The Flaming Ember's biggest hit on the pop chart. Using the imagery of taking a train to leave the old hometown for a seemingly better place away from the charlatans and hypocrites, the song mirrored the way a lot of people were migrating to other areas. In fact, even Motown did the same thing, a year after this song was a hit.

Eric Burdon and War - "Spill The Wine" Spill the Wine - Eric Burdon Declares War

(Debuted #99, Peaked #3, 21 Weeks on chart)

War's first hit was a collaboration with former Animal Eric Burdon. At the time, they were seen as just another backing band for Burdon (in fact, many of the members were recruited after backing NFL player Deacon Jones when he tried to start a second career as a soul singer), but Burdon eventually felt burned out and the band struck out on its own. Despite what may have been a major setback, they became a solid and innovative unit.

"Spill the Wine" would be a very notable introduction to the group, given the diversity of styles in the song's groove. Concocted inside the studio, the title came along after group member Lonnie Jordan reportedly spilled a bottle of wine on a recording console while enjoying a late-night recording session. Burdon thought that was pretty funny and penned some words around the theme as the session moved to another studio. The group members began coming up with their own improvisations, and the result was a unique record.

There are a few lines of Spanish in the song (supposedly from Burdon's then-girlfriend), which sound like they were inserted after the song was finished. Also, although Burdon wrote several lyrics, contractual issues did not allow him to take a songwriting credit.

Little Richard - "Freedom Blues" Freedom Blues - King of Rock & Roll: The Complete Reprise Recordings

(Debuted #100, Peaked #47, 9 Weeks on chart)

Though best known for his 1950s output, Little Richard was still recording and touring as the 1970s were getting underway. While remembered for giving up Rock & Roll for the ministry in the late 1950s, be returned to secular music in 1962. Though his sales weren't up to the same level of his earlier records, he continued performing and had many of his old hits brought back by a new generation of artists like The Beatles and introduced Jimi Hendrix as a backing guitarist in his band.

"Freedom Blues" was no look back at his 1950s glory. While nobody was going to ask Little Richard for his credentials, he was still dong his best to stay "with it" in the new decade rather that coasting by on his past glory. The result is a song that featured the familiar guitar licks of late 60s/early 70s Memphis soul even as it provided a saxophone solo and Richard's familiar "Whoo!" It may have missed the pop Top 40, but it was his best showing on the chart since 1958.


  1. Quite a few legends entered the chart that week. It's odd to think of the Beatles having a #1 hit in the 70's, as they are so closely associated with the previous decade.

  2. Funny thing is...they had two #1 singles as a group in 1970. "Let it Be" was the other one. Of course, all four members hit #1 by themselves in the new decade (Paul six times, George and Ringo twice, and John once).