Saturday, July 14, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 18, 1970

There were eleven new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Six of them eventually reached the Top 40, with two making the Top 10. Several songs expressed the renewed optimism that often accompanies a new decade, but one sounded like an outtake from the Kennedy administration. A Canadian songstress appears for the first time, and a British studio group perform a song after a more established group turned it down. A former drummer for Jimi Hendrix does his own take on a Neil Young song. Several R&B veterans appear on the list, as does a rocking Canadian group and a paean to the town of Tucson.

There is an archive of past Billboard magazines over at Google Books, including the July 18, 1970 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 70. An article on page 49 has a retiring jukebox executive sharing the experience of a 40-year career (which started in 1930) in the Chicago area, through war, a ban on recordings by the musician's union, several shortages brought about by a lack of supplies and a switch from 78 RPM records to 45s. Also, the charges that the Mafia ran the business. It's an interesting read.

James Brown - "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine (Parts 1 and 2)" (Get Up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Pt. 1 [Single Version] - Number 1's

(Debuted #72, Peaked #15, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)" -- sometimes merely shortened to "Sex Machine" -- is a classic James Brown tune today, but at the time it came out, it was notable because it put less emphasis on the brass section employed in many of his 1960s hits. Indicating a new direction for a new decade, the stars of this song are brothers Bootsy and Catfish Collins on bass and guitar, as well as fellow vocalist Bobby Byrd (who contributes the other "Get on up" to the words and is called upon by Brown during the song).

There have been a few versions of the song through the years. The original 1970 version was a live recording from his LP Sex Machine, which included a spoken intro between Brown and his band that doesn't appear in the video above. Brown recorded a disco-friendly song called "Sex Machine Parts I & II" in 1975 that is a song that references this and other JB tunes. It has been covered several times by other artists (including a Spitting Image episode that had a puppet of Luciano Pavarotti doing it), but there's no denying that is was a James Brown tune to begin with.

The Supremes - "Everybody's Got The Right To Love" Everybody's Got the Right to Love - Right On

(Debuted #74, Peaked #21, 11 Weeks on chart)

The Supremes' post-Diana Ross era is a period that is sorely overlooked by many. That said, there's a lot of surprises to be found in their early 1970s catalog that might surprise fans who go back and check the music with a fresh perspective.

"Everybody's Got the Right to Love" was the second single of the Jean Terrell era, but it showcased all three members in the trio in a way that hadn't been done since the spotlight was shifted more onto Ross in the mid-1960s. In fact, the song opens with all three singing in harmony. Written by Lou Stallman and produced by Frank Wilson (both of whom were cogs in Motown's machine at the time), the song was one of many of the era to espouse a positive, socially-conscious message.

Anne Murray - "Snowbird" Snowbird - Anne Murray - The Best...So Far

(Debuted #86, Peaked #8, 16 Weeks on chart)

Around my former home in Florida, there is a name used to describe the Northerners who come down for the winter to enjoy the milder weather, but then go back north once it begins getting hot. That's funny when it's used as a derisive term, considering how many Northerners (myself included) made the state a full-time home. "Snowbirds" can be from the Midwest, the Northeast U.S., or Canadians. That said, how appropriate is it for a Canadian to sing a song called "Snowbird"?

Anne Murray was a former teacher from Nova Scotia, and "Snowbird" was the song that broke her career open. It was a Top 10 hit on both the pop and country charts, and topped the adult contemporary survey as well. It had a sound that was enjoyable to a wide audience, something that Murray could use to her benefit throughout her career. The lyrics of the song, which contrasts the ability to simply fly away like a bird with the way the heart causes a person to stay put, weren't Murray's, though. Instead, fellow Canadian Gene MacLellan (who also wrote "Put Your Hand in the Hand") penned it.

The Guess Who - "Hand Me Down World" Hand Me Down World - The Guess Who: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #89, Peaked #17, 11 Weeks on chart)

While I'm discussing socially-conscious tunes and Canadian acts in the previous two singles, let's juxtapose the two for this one.  "Hand Me Down World" was a song that was brought to The Guess Who after guitarist Randy Bachman left. He was replaced by two guitarists, Greg Leskiw and Kurt Winter, and the tune was one that Winter had written and recorded with his previous group Brother.

Though the album's liner notes credit only Winter with penning the tune, he had composed it with the two other members of Brother, Bill Wallace and Vance Masters. I'm guessing the fact that Winter's name was listed alone on the Guess Who album was merely due to his membership in the group. Though it was written in the late 1960s, it was yet another song that expressed hope that the new decade would be better.

Clarence Carter - "Patches" Patches - Patches

(Debuted #90, Peaked #4, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Patches" was the name of a song recorded by Dickey Lee in 1962, but this was a totally different story from the love-struck teen in Lee's song. This time around, the title character was a poor Alabama boy who was thrust into adulthood at a young age when his father passed away and had to take care of business in his place.

This "Patches" was written by General Johnson and originally recorded by Johnson's group The Chairmen of the Board. However, the blind singer Clarence Carter took it and made it his own. His expressive narration of the story makes you think he lived through it personally, while that backing vocals and accompanying instruments help push the drama along. While the original was relegated to a B-side, the cover version appeared and became a million-seller. It was a #4 pop hit, went to #2 on the R&B chart and also hit #2 in the U.K.

McKinley Travis - "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #91, 2 Weeks on chart)

McKinley Travis was a West Coast-based singer who performed a great deal of material for Bobby Sanders, who was the writer and producer of "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind." Travis seems to be poorly remembered, but his only 1970s pop hit showed an expressive range that should have translated to at least a successful followup.

On the other hand, "Baby, Is There Something On Your Mind" comes off as wonderfully "retro" with its Doo-Wop phrasing, saxophone backing, and guitar picking. There's also a string and brass section audible in the recording. While it sounds like it could have been issued ten years before, maybe the fact that the 1950s craze didn't kick off until a few years later kept this track relatively obscure.

Buddy Miles and the Freedom Express - "Down By the River" Down By the River - Them Changes

(Debuted #94, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Down By the River " was written by Neil Young, who admitted to being in a high fever and state of delirium at the time. The lyrics are about a man who's so enraged to discover that his woman has been unfaithful that he meets her by the river to shoot her. It's an interesting look into the mind of somebody who's bedridden and has probably been alone in thought since he can't do much else.

When Buddy Miles recorded the song for his LP Them Changes, he gave it a plain reading as if he was just going down to the river to catch some fish. On that record, Miles proved himself to be just as adept at translating the material of other writers as he was his own, which propelled the album onto the charts for a year. While it didn't make him a household name among pop stars, the former Hendrix associate and sometime Manavishnu Orchestra sideman made some heavy inroads among his fellow musicians for his expressive style.

Jim Campbell - "The Lights Of Tucson" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

There isn't much at all to be found about Jim Campbell, so I'm assuming he was simply a local artist who recorded one song that was a regional hit because it mentions a city. An ode to life on the road, he also makes a mention about "like Bronson, my wheels are turnin'," a reference to that year's TV show Along Came Bronson starring Michael Parks.

The country/pop record is flavored with little touches of the region, like the slight Mariachi dispersed throughout the tune. As a song that extols how nice it would be to get back home, it did quite well in the West, especially around the Tucson area.

Christie - "Yellow River" Yellow River - Christie

(Debuted #98, Peaked #23, 23 Weeks on chart)

I haven't really made it a secret here that I grew up during the 1980s and developed my interest in 1970s music as something of an antidote to the stuff that passed for Top 40 material during my high school years. I just don't mention it all that often, but here's an interesting personal story that shows the universal nature of music. I joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school. Shortly after my discharge in 1992 I picked up the CD Have a Nice Day: Super Hits of the 1970s, Vol. 4 and "Yellow River" was the very first song on it. As I first heard the lyrics of a soldier returning home, I knew I loved the song.

"Yellow River" was written by Jeff Christie, whose band took his name. However, it wasn't originally intended that way, as Christie wrote it for the group The Tremeloes. They recorded it, but when they decided to veer their sound away from pop music to something that seemed more "happening," Christie recorded his own vocals over the instrumental bed The Tremeloes laid down.

Though Christie was British and the song was written with a returning Civil War soldier in mind, "Yellow River" hit the ears of enough Americans -- some returning home from conflict themselves -- to become a hit. While the location of the river was never named, it reflected a longing for many to simply return to a place where it was quiet and familiar...much like I was hoping to find about the first time I heard it.

The Glass House - "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)" I Can't Be You, You Can't Be Me - The Best of Glass House

(Debuted #99, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart )

Interesting that "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)" debuted the same week as a tune by The Supremes. One of the members of The Glass House was Scherrie Payne, who later joined that group. Originally from Detroit, the band was assembled by Holland/Dozier/Holland for their Invictus label and enjoyed a handful of hits from 1969-'72. However, when the hits dried up, the group was disbanded.

This was the first of two runs for "I Can't Be You (You Can't Be Me)." It only reached #95 this time, but  a second run up the chart a month later pushed it a little higher. The Zodiac-inspired song with philosophical questions would be the last the group would score on the pop charts, though.

The Dells - "Long Lonely Nights" Long Lonely Nights - Bring Back the Love / Classic Dells Soul

(Debuted #100, Peaked #74, 4 Weeks on chart)

Though many songs that appear on this week's list of debut singles look toward the new decade, "Long Lonely Nights" sounds like a throwback to the pre-Beatles era. Of course, the Chicago-based Dells had been perfecting their craft since long before the Doo-Wop era, so the sound was natural for them. Backed by a string section, the members perform the song as if it were a classic R&B weeper, even inserting a low-register spoken line in the middle.

The dated sound -- though classic -- was likely a reason the song  stalled on the charts. It missed the pop Top 40, and only reached #27 on the R&B chart.

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