Saturday, June 30, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 1, 1972

Twelve new singles showed up in this week's Billboard Hot 100, with six reaching into the Top 40. Three would make the Top 10 and one went all the way to #1. Four songs are debuts, from artists who enjoyed repeat trips to the charts (though one of those was primarily a country artist). The chart-topper is a country/rock tune that defined the singer/songwriter genre. Jim Croce sings about another Jim who is a bad mother...("shut your mouth!"). The Isley Brothers sing a song that is slyly about sex, while The Raspberries are a lot more direct about it. A 13 year-old singer shows up with a mature theme, The Partridge Family remakes a tune from the past, and David Bowie indirectly references his own past. Teddy Pendergrass pleads for the first (but definitely not the last) time, Bob Seger tries out another writer's material, and The Temptations sing a song about how life should be.

Over at Google Books is an archive of past issues of Billboard, including the July 1, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 56. A column on page 40 notes the recent passing of Clyde McPhatter. He was 41, which seemed to be really old in my opinion not that long ago...but seems to be quite young in my perspective today. The former frontman for the Drifters and soul legend died of a heart attack, which definitely isn't expected of a person that age.

MP3's at

Jim Croce - "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" You Don't Mess Around With Jim - You Don't Mess Around With Jim

(Debuted #60, Peaked #8, 13 Weeks on chart )

A debut song is a perfect time for the artist who recorded it to let it be known they're around, and that messing with them is futile. In this case, however, the "Jim" in the title isn't Jim Croce at all. Instead, this is the story about "Big" Jim Walker, a badass pool hustler in New York. Croce goes on to tell how "Slim," an Alabama country boy, came back to get back what was his and how the story changes once the big man was ambushed. At the end of the song, Jim is out of commission (or dead) and now the guy to beware of is Slim.

So, at the end of a song that announced that Jim Croce had arrived, the "Jim" in the story has been taken out. The person in the song was based on a real person Croce knew in Philadelphia (not New York, as the song states), who was made into a composite of several people. Croce would go on to narrate other songs about social miscreants, most notably the lead character in "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown."

The Osmonds - "Hold Her Tight" Hold Her Tight - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #76, Peaked #14, 9 Weeks on chart)

In a case of stuff being recycled, the opening of "Hold Her Tight" is the same bass riff that leads off  Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." Don't believe me? Click the video above and see if you don't agree. In any case, the bottom-heavy arrangement and solid rock styling is not what you might expect from a group that counted Donny Osmond as one of its members, or from a group that made its mark playing Disneyland and The Andy Williams Show.

This was a track from the Crazy Horses LP, which also boasted a rocker in the title song. The story of The Osmonds might have been more interesting if they created an entire album of songs like this, but that wasn't going to be the case. But it proves that even a Mormon family can be subversive when they wanted to.

Mac Davis - "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me" Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me - Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me

(Debuted #77, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

Though he was noted for writing songs that others made into hits ("In the Ghetto," "Watching Scotty Grow"), Mac Davis's own career wasn't doing so well. As a result, Columbia Records demanded that he write a song with a "hook," rather than the country/rock material he was putting out. So, Davis put one in his title. 

The result was a #1 hit and a career-defining song. The lyrics were a warning to a woman to expect him to depart once he feels too closed in, and the music was definitely the country/rock sound Davis gave to his music. It's a well-crafted pop song, even with its country roots...and curiously, it peaked at only #26 country despite topping both the pop and adult contemporary charts.

A few years later, when Davis was singing "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me" to Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show (while she was dressed as a mermaid and sat on a giant fishhook), I wonder if any parents bothered to explain the adult nature of the song. I know mine didn't.

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes - "I Miss You (Part 1)" I Miss You - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

(Debuted #80, Peaked #58, 19 Weeks on chart)

For some, "I Miss You" was the first time the powerful voice of Teddy Pendergrass came over the speakers. It was the first pop chart entry for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and here Pendergrass explains how sorry he is while he commiserates about the fact that he's prepared to change in order for the woman he loves to return to his arms. He sounds like he's on the verge of losing it.   

Pendergrass's pleading is shifted into the background of the album version for one side of a telephone conversation where the protagonist lists all the ways he's changed. He picked up a job and is ready to take extra responsibility to show he's worth another chance. He's a little sore that she's ready to move on without him, and Pendergrass remains in the background, underscoring the point.

Once again, this song goes past the euphoria of falling in love that often appears in pop music, and is about the relationship after things get real.

Neil Young and Graham Nash - "War Song" War Song [Single Version] [Mono] - Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1 (1963-1972)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #61, 6 Weeks on chart)

Just like today, there was a Presidential election going on in 1972. And as the summer got underway, Democrat George McGovern (a Senator from South Dakota) was poised to unseat Richard Nixon from the Oval office. Although Nixon wasn't exactly popular, the race was no contest at all; McGovern received 17 electoral votes to Nixon's 520.

During the race, Neil Young wrote a protest song for the benefit of McGovern's candicacy. Called "War Song," the lyrics promised that "a man" was running who would put an end to the ongoing war in Vietnam (ironically, Nixon would do that after the election was over anyway). McGovern wasn't specifically named in the song, but George Wallce was. Young recorded the song with his former bandmate Graham Nash and a backing group called The Stray Gators. Interestingly, neither artist was an American citizen, as Young was Canadian and Nash was English.

The Isley Brothers - "Pop That Thang" Pop that Thang - Brother, Brother, Brother

(Debuted #87, Peaked #24, 15 Weeks on chart)

Once again, I'm a sucker for performance footage from Soul Train, even when it's a lip-synched rendition. It captures more than just the music, it's the styles, the dance moves and an atmosphere of a bygone time. Not only that, but it shows The Isley Brothers "singing" the funky "Pop That Thang."

The lyrics for "Pop That Thang" use metaphors to get around the suggestive nature of the song. Yes "pop" could mean a gunshot (and it's certainly followed by the words "bang bang bang" to illustrate that), or it could mean the same "pop" that sometimes signifies a climax. The line "look at that rooster running after that hen" gives credence to that theory.

The Raspberries - "Go All the Way" Go All the Way - Raspberries

(Debuted #88, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

Where the last song was suggestive, this one is a lot more straightforward. That said, when Eric Carmen wrote the song, he infused it with enough hooks to make it a classic. Phrasing that was broght about by "Let's Spend the Night Together" (another song witha fairly direct reference to what the singer wanted) and instrumentation that was inspired by The Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds LP mixed to make one of the earliest "power pop" songs. That made The Raspberries a very big influence for the same kids that were establishing their "new" sound at the end of the decade.

With "Go All the Way," the music is so immediate, it would be easy to avoid paying attention to the words. However, the feeling behind the guitar blasts pretty much mirrors what the singer's trying to say. As a result, it's a perfect soundtrack for two teens trying to figure out what they're doing in the back seat at the drive-in. It's a feeling that we've all had while growing up...and that's what makes it a classic song.

Tanya Tucker - "Delta Dawn" Delta Dawn (Single Version) - Tanya Tucker: 16 Biggest Hits

(Debuted #92, Peaked #72, 7 Weeks on chart)

Tanya Tucker's first hit was an auspicious one. She was 13 years old and had a voice that made her sound older, so she sang about adult topics. With "Delta Dawn," she told a story about a woman who was possibly demented, waiting patiently for a man from her past who promised to take her away from her Brownsville home but never returned. The smooth-talking suitor either died or left without her, but Dawn still waits for him to come and get her even at the age of 41.

Tucker's version fell far short of the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was a #6 country hit. Most pop fans know the song for its 1973 #1 rendition by Helen Reddy, who sang over an instrumental bed that closely mimicked Tucker's, but it was recorded by several artists as well. Bette Midler recorded it as well (her version actually predated Tucker's), but the original version was performed by co-writer Alex Harvey (not the Scottish rocker) in 1971. He wrote the tune with Larry Collins, one of the Collins Kids of the 1950s.

For Tucker, it was the beginning of a long and successful career, and the beginning of a style she continued as she matured.

The Temptations - "Mother Nature" Mother Nature - Emperors of Soul (Box Set)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

All Directions would become The Temptations' biggest-selling LP in four years, buoyed by the strength of their hit "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." However, the initial singles from the album was "Mother Nature," which may have seemed to be a disappointment when it fizzled out at #92 on the pop chart and barely dented the Top 30 of the R&B survey. Today, the song is all but forgotten.

Sung as a slow ballad by Dennis Edwards, "Mother Nature" was one of the socially aware songs that producer Norman Whitfield preferred the group to perform. The lyrics -- written by Dino Fekaris and Nick Zesses -- could be interpreted as a plea to Mother Nature (ecologically) or to the racial changes taking place. It was really up to the listener to determine which.

Bob Seger - "If I Were a Carpenter" If I Were a Carpenter - Early Seger, Vol. 1 (Remastered)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #76, 9 Weeks on chart)

I was actually a little surprised to find that "If I Were a Carpenter" is available on iTunes and Amazon, because Bob Seger is one of those artists who hasn't yet jumped to the new digital format. In interviews, he refers to it as a business matter, but some of his fans ask if he's missing out on new fans due to the lack of his music on as many streams as possible. Personally, it's his material, and if he wants to keep it pent up...that's his prerogative. It's not like classic rock radio doesn't give him plenty of opportunity for his music to be heard.

However, "If I Were a Carpenter" wasn't a Seger original. It was written by Tim Hardin and was a Top 10 hit for Bobby Darin that year. It has been recorded hundreds of times since then and has become something iof a standard. The album that contained the song was Smokin' O.P.s, a record largely made up of songs from other writers. It was a return to Seger's harder-edged roots, and that gives Seger's version of the song a little more of an edge because it isn't given the reverent treatment that others sometimes give to the song.

While Seger himself doesn't seem to favor his earlier material, I think it shows a lot of promise, and would quickly toss this one on the platter as an example of what he can do even with somebody else's composition.

The Partridge Family - "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" Breaking Up Is Hard to Do - The Definitive Collection

(Debuted #95, Peaked #28, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Breaking Up is Hard to Do" is a remake of 1962 Neil Sedaka song that remains fairly true to the original version, presented in a safe fashion by David Cassidy, Shirley Jones and a handful of studio musicians. While that may sound like I'm dismissing the song without giving it a listen, I'm really not. As part of a regular TV show, the song is defined as a middle-of-the-road type of song that will appeal to a wide range of people. However, even Sedaka managed to revisit his own song a few years later and give it a new interpretation (which mirrored Lenny Welch's 1970 treatment of the song), and that later version has really stuck with me as a much better rendition.

David Bowie - "Starman" Starman - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Remastered)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #65, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Starman" is one of the songs from David Bowie's concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and a Bowie classic that really isn't revisited as often as it should be. A song written from the perspective of a young fan hearing Ziggy on the radio, it has generated some debate among fans about its meaning. One of those involves the similarity of the "Starman" to Major Tom of "Space Oddity."

Featuring a unique guitar strum by Mick Ronson that sounded like a telegraph, the chorus that follows has some similarities to "Over the Rainbow," likely solidifying the child-like wonder of the lyrics. While it's hard to consider any Bowie song from this period "underrated," this one really deserves another listen if you're not that familiar with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment