There were nine new singles in Billboard magazine this week. Six of them reached the Top 40, while four were Top 10 hits. Additionaly, there were two #1 singles, by Roberta Flack and Andy Kim. Elton John shows up with a song that would be a #1 single nearly two decades later. Chicago lends their own sound to a plea for unity as a marriage is falling apart. Joe Cocker and James Brown give their unique sounds an outlet as well, while The Temptations look to past glories. Curtis Mayfield does a "Kung Fu" song that predates the novelty single that Carl Douglas recorded. Finally, two nephews of an established singer show up with a remake.
There are several past issues of Billboard over at Google Books, including the June 22, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 64. An article on page 20 mentions the marriage of Sly Stone to Kathy Silva before a concert at Madison Square Garden. At least he didn't have too much trouble booking a band for the reception. Silva would eventually leave Stone in 1976. On page 46 is yet another story of a country singer having a song pitched in an opportune manner. This time, it was Don Williams and he was getting gas at the time. The attendant's song, "I Wouldn't Want to Live if You Didn't Love Me," would be his first #1 hit.
Elton John - "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
(Debuted #70, Peaked #2, 15 Weeks on chart)
When composing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me," Elton John and Bernie Taupin were interested in making it a little more complex than they usually did. So when they recorded it, they attempted to go all out on it. For the brass parts, Tower of Power was hired. When they tried to get a Beach Boys-type backing harmony, they brought in two of the members of that group (Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston) and Toni Tennille to provide the voices. Actually, what they tried was to add in several voices on top of those -- including members of America, Three Dog Night and Dusty Springfield -- but decided it was just too much.
Along with the non-single "Candle in the Wind," this would be one of the 1970s songs John would revisit later in his career. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" would hit again in 1991/'92 as a duet with George Michael, where it went to #1 on the Hot 100.
Roberta Flack - "Feel Like Makin' Love"
(Debuted #78, Peaked #1, 16 Weeks on chart)
Roberta Flack was at the top of her game between 1972-'74. In that span, she released five singles that made the Hot 100 and three of them reached the #1 position. And one of the other two (a duet with Donny Hathaway called "Where is the Love") went to #5. While that string would end with "Feel Like Making Love," Flack remained active, charting for another two decades.
A smooth vocal performance by Flack, "Feel Like Makin' Love" was a #1 single on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. This shouldn't be confused with a song she did in 1982 in a similar style called "Making Love" (and also charted on several formats) for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name.
James Brown - "My Thang"
(Debuted #79, Peaked #29, 13 Weeks on chart)
While many casual fans are pretty sure what they'll get in a James Brown single, "My Thang" definitely won't come as a surprise. The brass flourishes? The call-and-response with female background singers? Brown's spontaneous off-the-cuff shouts? They're all here.
That said, "My Thang" is a very good performance by The Godfather of Soul. The song is about as hard and tight as he ever got on vinyl. Even the Soul Train performance in the video above looks like a great time was had by all. The song was part of Brown's LP Hell, a double album that was as good as any he ever recorded.
Andy Kim - "Rock Me Gently"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)
There's nothing like a long dry spell to get an artist to try harder. In the case of Any Kim, the creative spell that saw him write several hits and chart a few more in the late 1960s and early 70s dried up in 1971 and left him without a label. To get himself back in the game, Kim financed a recording session out of his own pocket for another single. The original B-side was called "Fire, Baby, I'm On Fire" and was considered strong enough to release on its own (I reviewed it here in October 2010), and the A-side was a bubblegum-flavored tune called "Rock Me Gently."
Upon hearing the song, Capitol Records heard a hit and released it. Maybe it was the quasi-Neil Diamond vocal (as Kim was known to speed up his earlier recordings), maybe it was the irresistable beat with the everpresent clavicle, but the song spiraled its way to #1 a little more than three months after it debuted.
Joe Cocker - "Put Out The Light"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #46, 12 Weeks on chart)
The video above features a 1976 live performance, which is slightly outside what most people consider "contemporary," but no other recording of "Put Out the Light" seems to exist (as of this writing, that is) on YouTube.
For his 1974 LP I Can Stand a Little Rain, Joe Cocker returned to interpreting others' songs, after one album that saw him penning his own material with Chris Stainton. Daniel Moore (who also co-wrote "Shambala" and "My Maria" with B.W. Stevenson) wrote "Put Out the Light," which Cocker rips through with his customary blues-influenced style.
Chicago - "Call On Me"
(Debuted #89, Peaked #6, 15 Weeks on chart)
Hearing the name "Chicago" brings totally different images to one's mind than the ones seen in the video above. It was filmed at James William Guercio's Caribou studio in Colorado (also the site of Elton John's recording mentioned earlier), which is a very long way from the group's home city. The song has elements of the group's classic sound: the brass section, the shifting sounds from verse to chorus and some great drumming.
There was an interesting genesis to "Call On Me": according to group member Lee Loughnane, he wrote it as he was nearing the end of his marriage. While the title sounds like it's asking for a late-night hookup, a readin of the lyric sheet fleshes out the story. In effect, it's saying let's part as friends, let's eventually look back on this as a nice time even if it did go sour. And feel free to keep in touch whenever you need somebody to talk with.
I'm guessing he might have written it a little differently after the lawyers got involved.
The Temptations - "You've Got My Soul On Fire"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #74, 6 Weeks on chart)
"You've Got My Soul On Fire" was from The Temptations' 1990 LP, which would be the last one they recorded under the tutelage of Norman Whitfield. Yearning to return to the ballads that were their main calling card in the 1960s, they began growing tired of the world-weary "message" material that Whitfield was having them record.
That said, the song was a funk-driven jam that called the band's earlier hits "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and "Masterpiece" instrumentally even as it eschewed any "message" in its lyric. Instead of singing about a ghetto burning in the title of the song, the lyrics refer to the effect of a woman's love, or at least a burning desire to get to knocking the headboard. It missed pop the Top 40, but was a Top 10 R&B hit.
Curtis Mayfield - "Kung Fu"
(Debuted #96, Peaked #40, 13 Weeks on chart)
There was an interest in the martial arts during the 1970s, largely brought about by the rise of Bruce Lee's films. The TV show Kung Fu was already airing before Curtis Mayfield's song and had nothing to do with it. In any case, the #1 song "Kung Fu Fighting" came along later in 1974, so there was no effort on Mayfield's part to ride along on that novelty. Instead, his "Kung Fu" was a funk-infused story song.
"Kung Fu" was Mayfield's final song on the top 40 as an artist, but his influence and material would remain for years to come. The Staple Singers ("Let's Do it Again") and Tony Orlando & Dawn ("He Don't Love You") would return him to the #1 position as a songwriter the next year, but although his contributions to pop music tailed off, his material proved timeless enough to revisit. Sadly, an on-stage accident in 1990 left Mayfield in a wheelchair, and he died in 1999 from a number of health ailments.
Andy and David Williams - "What's Your Name"
(Debuted #98, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)
It seems the artist link above needs to be corrected. That link goes to the singer Andy Williams' entry and is credited there as a duet featuring him. That's not the case here; there is definitely an Andy Williams singing here, but he and David Williams are actually the then-14 year-old nephews of the "other" Andy Williams.
"What's Your Name" is a remake of a 1962 Don & Juan hit that reached #7. It's performed in a style you'd expect by two 14 year-olds. In fact, it's similar vocally to another singer associated with the more established Andy Williams: Donny Osmond. The backing music is laid down by established L.A.-based studio performers and is mixed high enough to drown out the limitations of the pubescent vocalists.
Andy and David Williams stayed in the music business, and returned to the Hot 100 in 1992 as The Williams Brothers. Their song, "Can't Cry Hard Enough," bettered their 1970s teen idol chart run but just fell two places short of the Top 40.