Saturday, May 26, 2012

This Week's Review -- May 28, 1977

Seven songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week,with three reaching the Top 40 and two rising into the Top 10. Those Top 10s were Peter Frampton's highest-charting single and a "comeback" for Crosby, Stills & Nash after seven years. One of Heart's fiercest songs is here, as is an REO Speedwagon tune that will be an "evergreen" for as long as Mother Nature is around to show her fury. Maze debuts for the first time, Neil Sedaka "covers" his own tune and Dave Mason sets a mellow mood.

Over at Google Books, an archive of Billboard magazines that reaches back to 1944 is available, including the May 28, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 82. A story on page 57 has Kenny Rogers talking about "Lucille," which was his first solo pop/country crossover hit. Also, page 10 explains that a financial downturn was affecting the music business. Fortunately for them, that wouldn't last long.

Classic Concerts

Peter Frampton - "I'm In You" I'm In You - I'm In You (Remastered)

(Debuted #68, Peaked #2, 20 Weeks on chart)

With a title like "I'm in You," it's easy to let the mind slide right into the gutter when you think about what the song means. However, the lyrics speak in a metaphysical sense, where the narrator feels like he's a part of his other half, and that she's part of him. It was written after the separation of Frampton from his first wife. Of course, that little bit of 1970s New Age-inspired philosophy didn't stop the juvenile chuckling; Frank Zappa recorded a parody inspired by the song called "I Have Been in You" for his 1979 Sheik Yerbouti LP.

When he released his I'm in You album, Frampton was being asked to follow up one of the biggest-selling albums in history. Since that record -- Frampton Comes Alive! -- was a suprising success, following it up with the same result was no small feat. Though it went platinum and "I'm in You" became his highest-charting single (higher than the three from his live LP managed), it was a relative disappointment due to the immense pressure of catching lightning in the same bottle a second time.

Here's an interesting fact about the song: Mick Jagger is listed in the liner notes as a backup singer.

Heart - "Barracuda" Barracuda - Little Queen

(Debuted #84, Peaked #11, 20 Weeks on chart)

When Heart started picking up interest with their LP Dreamboat Annie, their label Mushroom Records ran a steamy ad campaign that hinted that sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson were lesbian lovers. One night after a show, a reporter asked Ann about that, and her seething resentment was channeled into a song for the bands second LP Little Queen. In that regard, "Barracuda" is a sonic representation of the old adage that "Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn."

And it's a withering attack. The guitar riff that kicks the song off is furious, the lyrics veiled but easily understandable (it's actually easy to see a salesperson or a corporate apologist as a "Barracuda"). With lines like "You're lying so low in the weeds" and "If the real thing don't do the trick, you better think up something quick," the implication really got stuck into Ann Wilson's craw. Yes, the campaign was sexist and unfair, but it produced one of the most memorable rock songs of the 1970s.

Neil Sedaka - "Amarillo" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)

With "Amarillo," Neil Sedaka does a remake of his own song. He wrote it with Howard Greenfield in 1971 for Tony Christie as "Is This the Way to Amarillo," and it was a big European hit for Christie that year and again in 2005. A popular football (we Americans call it "soccer") chant, it was never a hit in the U.S. despite being written by two Americans and referencing a city in the country. So, in 1977 Sedaka shortened the title and recorded it himself.  

The song's lyrics are about the singer's lovely Maria, who's waiting in Amarillo for him to return. And he's doing his best to get there. While he doesn't say what it was that kept them apart (military service, job, or some other reason), you can tell he's looking forward to the reunion.

Crosby, Stills and Nash - "Just A Song Before I Go" Just a Song Before I Go - CSN

(Debuted #86, Peaked #7, 21 Weeks on chart)

When Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded the album CSN in 1977, it was the first studio LP they had put out since Deja Vu in 1970. Seven years is a long time, and the climate had done a complete change in the meantime. The antiwar messages and politically-charged climate weren't going to sell records, so the members focused on their harmonies and reflected on their maturity.

At just over two minutes (short songs were becoming a rarity at the time), "Just a Song Before I Go"was relatively simple. The instrumentation was sparse; they are there, but Stephen Stills' guitar was the only real focal point beyond the three member's harmonies. Graham Nash wrote the simple but effective tune, which quickly became a staple of their live show.

Dave Mason - "So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away)" So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away) - Let It Flow

(Debuted #93, Peaked #89, 3 Weeks on chart)

Dave Mason seems to have played with everybody at some point in the 1960s and 70s, or at least wrote something for them to sing. A former member of Traffic (he founded the group but left it more than once), he was associated with Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac. He wrote "Feelin' Alright," which was recorded by several artists including Joe Cocker and Grand Funk Railroad.

"So High (Rock Me Baby and Roll Me Away)" was the first track on his biggest-selling LP Let it Flow, it was one of the rare singles he didn't write. Instead, Jack Conrad and Mentor Williams took care of the songwriter duties. As the first song on the album, "Rock Me" was able to set the mood for the flow, and it did that superbly with its slide guitar line. Listening to the song, it wasn't hard to imagine sitting on a beach chair and kicking your feet up. Of course, having the cream of the studio musician crop on hand helps, but Mason's influence is a steady factor here.

REO Speedwagon - "Ridin' The Storm Out" Ridin' the Storm Out (Live) - Live - You Get What You Play For

(Debuted #96, Peaked #94, 3 Weeks on chart )

It's appropriate that REO Speedwagon's first pop hit was a live track, since the band built its early reputation on concert appearances. "Ridin' the Storm Out" was originally on the group's 1974 LP of the same title, but that album featured Mike Murphy on vocals. He took over when Kevin Cronin left the group while that album was recorded due to internal differences. Eventually, Cronin and the band reconciled, and he was back in the lineup by 1976. The next year, the band's live performance was captured on the double LP Live: You Get What You Play For, and Cronin sang lead for the song this time.

This is a song that seems to get pulled out whenever a hurricane, tropical storm, blizzard or heavy storm front passes through. While the lyrics mention a winter in the Rockies, they could also parallel the fact that the narrator is adjusting to a new life after leaving the city. Either way, the guitar attack matches the fury of the weather outside, while the people inside just wait for everything to cease.

Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly - "While I'm Alone" While I'm Alone - Maze

(Debuted #98, Peaked #89, 11 Weeks on chart)

"While I'm Alone" was the first hit for the San Francisco-based group Maze, but this was no overnight sensation. Leader Frankie Beverly had been plying his trade for nearly 20 years since his school years in Philadelphia. Once he realized he was outside of the emerging "Philly Soul" sound, he moved west and formed a new group. Marvin Gaye brought them on board as an opening act and helped guide the group in a new direction. Now called Maze, they finally recorded their first LP in 1977.

The 1977 vintage and Beverly's Philadelphia pedigree might make you think "While I'm Alone" is going to be a disco-fueled hit, but you'd be wrong. In fact, the tune is rooted in Jazz and Quiet Storm and stays more firmly rooted in Soul. Doing the music in Beverly's own style, rather than what his record label thought would sell, brought Maze a very loyal following. 

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