Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rewind -- June 13, 1970

It's here's another one of the posts from this blog's first year, polished up and presented freshly.

Ten new songs debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with half making the Top 40. One song would eventually make it all the way to #1 as well. The list is another one where it would have been a real task trying to find a radio station that would have played all the songs together. The very first song Casey Kasem played on his American Top 40 show was among the newcomers, as was a #1 country hit, a movie theme given a new treatment and a song based on a Beethoven composition.

Many past issues of Billboard magazine are archived at Google Books, including the June 13, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 84. Much of the issue is devoted to the fifth anniversary since the introduction of the 8-track. As a media format begun by Lear Jet and quickly adapted for the automotive industry as a way of giving travelers more control over the music they listened to, it became more widely accepted by consumers as they began to realize the value of being able to play the tapes endlessly. With such rapid growth in its five years on the market, the experts were praising the format and predicting its continued success for years to come. Of course, the 8-track format was incredibly popular during the 1970s but hindsight acquired over 40 years has made some of those predictions laughable. Then, what was a struggle between records, 8-tracks and cassettes for consumer market share seems quaint today because the experts in 1970 likely didn't see the possibility of digital equipment like the CD or the MP3.

Also worth mentioning: an ad on page 83 shows then-President Richard M. Nixon receiving a stack of cassettes with a smile. The funny thing is that he wasn't smiling quite so broadly four years later when he was asked to give up some other tapes.

Wolfgang's Vault

Miguel Rios - "A Song Of Joy" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #49, Peaked #14, 9 Weeks on chart)

Miguel Rios was a Spaniard born in Granada. Beginning his career as a teen, he recorded a series of singles and EPs and appeared in some movies. His only American hit came when he recorded an English-language version of his song "Himno de la alegria." Called "A Song of Joy" for the English-speaking market, it was based on the familiar final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As a piece of what was dubbed "symphonic rock," the song appeared at a time when the concept album had pushed some artists to consider incorporating elements of classical music into their music. While many of the results were overblown, there were some hits from the movement (Walter Carlos's LP Switched-On Bach, Apollo 100's "Joy," songs from progressive groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer).

Although the rise in classically-inspired music was helped by advances in electronics that allowed synthesizers to become more prevalent, Rios is aided by a full orchestra and choir on "A Song of Joy." While he never managed to chart a followup single after his worldwide hit, Rios would become a force in Spanish Rock into the 1980s.

Al DeLory - "Song From M*A*S*H" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #70, 10 Weeks on chart)

This version isn't the one used in the Robert Altman film M*A*S*H, nor was it the one used in the 1972-'83 television series. Instead, it was a jazz-infused adult contemporary hit that sounded like a mix between elevator music and a piano played at a lounge. While that may sound like a bad thing, it's actually refreshing to hear a familiar tune forged from years of TV exposure performed in a light manner.

While the music might seem to be done in a breezy manner, the song's lyrics (heard in the film but not in the TV theme or DeLory's song) weren't as light. Called "Suicide is Painless," the words were composed by 14 year-old Michael Altman, the son of M*A*S*H's director. While an air of resignation can be expected in words written by a teenager, the words "the game of life is hard to play, gonna lose it anyway" fits in a setting where a film's characters were dealing with death on an almost daily basis.

The performer of the hit version, Al DeLory, isn't widely known among many music fans but was a part of the industry for many years. From co-writing Larry Verne's 1960 #1 novelty hit "Mr. Custer" to playing hundreds of sessions during the 1960s (including The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds), to producing Glen Campbell's late 1960s hits and occasionally performing as a bandleader, DeLory's presence was felt even if many didn't recognize his name. Sadly, DeLory passed away earlier this year.

Norman Greenbaum - "Canned Ham" Norman Greenbaum - Spirit In the Sky - The Definitive Anthology - Canned Ham

(Debuted #84, Peaked #46, 6 Weeks on chart)

First, a song about having a friend in Jesus, followed by a song about ham. Not exactly stuff you expect to hear from somebody whose last name is Greenbaum. That may not seem "kosher" on the surface, but a listen to the song itself shows Greenbaum was remaining true to his psychedelic roots.

A song with what seems to be lyrics made up on the spot, it has some playful guitar licks, high-pitched (and borderline comical) female backing vocals and a shuffle beat. It's not far from something you'd expect from a guy who was once a member of Dr. West's Medicine Show and Jug Band, the psychedelic jug band that hit in the 1960s with "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago." With the surprise success of "Spirit in the Sky," Greenbaum didn't have a touring band ready to promote his music on the road and really wasn't interested in being caught up in the rock star lifestyle, so his followups didn't do as well.

Marvin Gaye - "The End Of Our Road" Marvin Gaye - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970 - The End of Our Road

(Debuted #85, Peaked #40, 7 Weeks on chart)

Though not considered among the greatest tunes in a catalog that's studded with gems, this song managed to achieve a significant honor. When Casey Kasem hosted the very first edition of his weekly American Top 40 countdown show in July, 1970, the first song he introduced -- #40 that week -- was "The End of Our Road." It peaked at #40 so it wasn't a song that would be heard much longer on the show.

The song's title refers to a failed relationship. As Gaye sings about the need to get away from his bad situation, he's backed up by Motown's famed house band The Funk Brothers. Written by Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong and Roger Penzebene, it was a hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips in 1968. Interestingly, that song was their followup to another song later recorded by Gaye, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Unlike that tune, Gaye's version wouldn't be the bigger hit.

The 5th Dimension - "Save the Country" The 5th Dimension - The Ultimate 5th Dimension - Save the Country

(Debuted #90, Peaked #27, 8 Weeks on chart)

1970 was an interesting time in America. Since the 1960s were such turbulent times with war, political assassinations, the rise of new and radical viewpoints and a long struggle for civil rights, it was hoped that the new decade would be better than the one it followed. However, the war in Vietnam was still raging with no end in sight, and a student protest at Kent State that ended up with four young Americans laying dead brought that hopeful optimism to a quick end. Some of the uneasiness of the era would find its way into popular music. "War" by Edwin Starr and "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were among the most prominent of these songs, and "Save the Country" was another example, albeit in a much more upbeat performance.

"Save the Country" was written by Laura Nyro, who had written The Fifth Dimension's earlier hits "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Stoned Soul Picnic" as well as "And When I Die" by Blood Sweat & Tears and "Stoney End" by Barbra Streisand. Some of the song's lyrics mention other songs used during the 1960s: "We Shall Overcome" from the civil rights movement and "I can't study war no more" (a line from "Down By the Riverside"). Another line "keep the dream of the two young brothers" was likely a reference to John and Bobby Kennedy. Unlike more provocative songs by other artists, having a song like this recorded by an adult contemporary-friendly band like The 5th Dimension was a sign that even the "over 30" crowd was beginning to change its outlook.

Mark Lindsay - "Silver Bird" Mark Lindsay - Arizona / Silver Bird - Single - Silver Bird

(Debuted #95, Peaked #25, 10 Weeks on chart)

After a great deal of success in the 1960s with several hit singles and featured roles in musical-format TV shows, the members of Paul Revere & the Raiders took a break as the 1970s began and did some different projects away from the band. Guitarist Freddy Weller became a country artist and singer/front man Mark Lindsay recorded his own solo material.

The "silver bird" of the title refers to an airplane, which in the lyrics is taking his lady away to follow her dreams. It's very similar to Art Garfunkel's 1975 hit "Break Away" (reviewed here in December 2009). Like that later song, the lyrics express the hope that she'll eventually return. Horns punctuate the song, much like the ones in his previous hit "Arizona." In a way, the song sounds like it could have been done by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, which is likely because the song's producer was Jerry Fuller, who manned the sound board for Puckett as well. For all its brassiness, the song would later be used in commercials for Yamaha motorcycles..

Bread - "Make It With You" Bread - Bread On the Waters - Make It With You

(Debuted #96, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

Bread's first hit single not only was an unqualified success, it also set a standard for the group's sound. It established them as a force among new acts at a time when maturing children of the 1960s were beginning to drift more into adult contemporary material than the rock they were enjoying just a few years before. However, while David Gates' material being placed on all the group's singles would guarantee them a large following among soft rock fans, it also took away the focus on the contributions of the group's other songwriter, James Griffin. Under another arrangement, Bread could have been seen more for its range of styles, rather than the more homogenized (a bad pun on the group's name, I know...) sound that would be tagged on them.

Although the title might bring to mind a lascivious request, the lyrics convey a sense of devotion and hope. As Gates sings the words, he's getting up the nerve to express his feeling ("but Baby, here goes..."), dismissing the notion that he's merely imagining her ("dreams, they're for those who sleep") and asking her to join him on his journey through life. The mellow tone of the song sets its mood,with soft guitar strums set to romantic strings. The soft sound made a big impact, sending the song to #1 and helping establish Bread as one of the hottest acts of the new decade.

Daybreak - "Good Morning Freedom" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

There isn't much info to be found about the group Daybreak. They appear to be an R&B group recording for Uni Records and had both male and female singers. The two weeks they spent on the Hot 100 with "Good Morning Freedom" would be the only chart action they'd ever get. According to the song's lyrics, it's time to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and the responsibilities of a job. The bags are packed, and it's destination Malibu. The female singers sound especially influenced by gospel (which is underscored by a line saying "love thy neighbor").

The Ray Charles Singers - "Move Me, O Wond'rous Music" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #99, 1 Week on chart)

With this group, Ray Charles isn't the music icon most fans would immediately think of. This Ray Charles was a singer, composer, arranger and conductor whose career began well before the legend who shares his name arrived on the scene. Best known for his work arranging music for television shows, he had a long association with Perry Como, conducted the orchestra for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, served as a mentor to Sha Na Na during their TV series and assisted Jim Henson for The Muppet Show. 1970s fans will be interested to learn he's the male singing the theme to Three's Company. Sometimes billing himself as "the other Ray Charles" as a way of saluting the more famous singer, he has continued consulting TV shows on music even into his 90s.

This song immediately comes off as an unlikely hit. The first minute is performed a capella, in the style of a church choir (that is, a protestant white church choir, not the jubilant Southern Baptist-style choir used in some R& tunes). Then, an organ and drums kick in and it's more upbeat even if it may be laughable. This is definitely one of the times you can judge the book by its title, and it's surprising the song made the Hot 100 for even the one week it did.

Tammy Wynette - "He Loves Me All The Way" Tammy Wynette - Tears of Fire - The 25th Anniversary Collection - He Loves Me All the Way

(Debuted #100, Peaked #97, 2 Weeks on chart)

Tammy Wynette really needs no introduction. Despite having only six chart singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during the 1970s, she was one of the most prolific country singers of the decade. When country fans and industry people talk about "Tammy," there's no question about who they're discussing.

"He Loves Me All the Way" was a short-lived, low-charting pop hit, but spent three weeks at #1 on the country chart. The song was specifically written for Wynette because her output had so little uptempo material. Driven by a great pedal steel line and powered by her tremendous vocal talent, the song's hook comes when Wynette opens up and belts out the chorus. That said, the lyrics explaining away the late nights waiting for her man to get home and excusing the fact that he is gone an awful lot because he takes care of her when he's home is a glimpse into a pre-Women's movement era. Of course, it's not unexpected from the person who famously sang "Stand By Your Man." But it's not something that'll happen in my own house.

No comments:

Post a Comment