Saturday, July 7, 2012

This Week's Review -- July 2, 1977

There were seven new singles debuting in the Billboard Hot 100. Two of the songs made the Top 40 and one went Top 10. The biggest hit was a standout track from a group who had already caught the attention of Quincy Jones. The other Top 40 was a remake of a Beach Boys classic. As for the hits that missed the Top 40, there are some surprises. A duo who are best known for a sappy ballad show up ready to rock, a classic "punk" band shows up for the first time, a fan recaps his life following The Beatles, and a song appears that was already a hit for somebody else. Finally, George Benson plays a song by Morris Albert...and no, it isn't "Feelings."

Over at Google Books, there's an archive of past Billboard issues, but the July 2, 1977 edition isn't among them. Once again, I'll plug my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. Interestingly, this entry has a George Benson song and a different song that was produced by Quincy Jones...and over there, a song this week has both of those things in common.

The Brothers Johnson - "Strawberry Letter 23" Strawberry Letter 23 - Right On Time

(Debuted #,71 Peaked #5, 19 Weeks on chart)

"Strawberry Letter 23" was a funky song with abstract lyrics that stood out even in its own time. Written and originally recorded by Shuggie Otis, the title was a reference to love letters written on strawberry-scented paper. After getting the twenty-second letter, he was anxiously waiting the twenty-third. That's Otis's explanation as to why the title mentions the number 23, while the lyrics don't.

If you listen to the original Otis version from 1971, you can hear that The Brothers Johnson's version was quite faithful, but the production (by Quincy Jones) was sweetened to help give it a wider audience. However, it maintains an atmospheric vibe and its trippy lyrics make it one of the best songs the brothers ever recorded.

LeBlanc and Carr - "Something About You" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #48, 6 Weeks on chart)

If you based Lenny LeBlanc and Pete Carr's material simply on their biggest hit "Falling," you might be a little surprised by "Something About You." While the other hit was so mellow that some found it to be almost comatose, this one rocks.  

LeBlanc and Carr had been friends while growing up in Florida, and each was a renowned studio musician. Atlantic Records paired them up as an act, and "Something About You" was their first single. An LP called Midnight Light soon followed, and the duo was sent out to tour as an opening act for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Sadly, that tour ended when a plane crash killed three members of that band. Though neither LeBlanc or Carr were on board the plane, the crash caused them to reevaluate their priorities. Carr decided to return to the studio, while LeBlanc became a born-again Christian in 1980. 

George Benson - "Gonna Love You More" Gonna Love You More - In Flight

(Debuted #82, Peaked #71, 5 Weeks on chart)

In the wake of "This Masquerade," George Benson's vocal skills were as in-demand as his guitar picking was. Though he was transitioning to pop success, Benson was still a jazz musician at heart, something that he showed with "Gonna Love You More." It is performed in a style that was more suited to jazz improvisation, especially in the live setting similar to the video above. And of course, he gets to pull out his patented scat that accompanies his guitar work.

"Gonna Love You More" was written by Morris Albert, who is best known for singing "Feelings." But, don't let that fact get in the way of what you think of this song. Benson gives it his unique spin, and makes the song his own.

Bruce Foster - "Platinum Heroes" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart )

A lot of people were introduced to music by The Beatles, and many were influenced to write and perform because of them. In 1977, a singer named Bruce Foster wrote about how the group affected him from 1964 and throughout his adolescence. Interspersed are familiar guitar licks and references to songs and albums that any Beatle fan will recognize.    

"Platinum Heroes" would be Foster's only hit. Foster claims to be a descendant of the 1800s songwriter Stephen Foster and was a session keyboardist who played on albums by Kiss and Gladys Knight & the Pips. After "Platinum Heroes," he contributed the song "Look Out For #1" to the Staying Alive soundtrack in 1983 and headed a group called Shark Frenzy that included a pre-stardom Richie Sambora.

B.J. Thomas - "Don't Worry Baby" Don't Worry Baby - Golden Collection

(Debuted #86, Peaked #17, 17 Weeks on chart)

The video above is a Music Mike production, and -- as usual -- he gives as good of an intro as anything I can dig up. However, if you aren't clicking the videos here, he does mention one very important distinction between B.J. Thomas's remake of "Don't Worry Baby" and the original 1964 side by The Beach Boys. Originally, the song was about a drag racer who's compelled by his love for a girl to defend her honor. In 1977 it was performed as a more generic love song, with the drag racing dropped from the lyric sheet altogether. In a way, it reflected the maturing of the pop audience.

It was the biggest hit Tomas had in two years; in addition to its #17 peak on the Hot 100, it also went to #2 on the adult contemporary chart. It would also be his last Top 40 hit. Between Thomas's increased focus on gospel and country and his maturing audience, his sound shifted accordingly.

Donna McDaniel - "Save Me" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #90, 5 Weeks on chart)

I really wish there was a YouTube video of this version of "Save Me," as it's a really good song that's been forgotten. The female narrator is begging a man to "save" her from what she calls a boring party. She's noticed him from across the room, and just wants to get to know him better...what better reason to get away from the crowd and the distractions from others? 

This was actually one of two versions of "Save Me" that was on the Hot 100 this week. A competing rendition by Merrilee Rush was at #55 as McDaniel's version debuted and would peak one position higher the next week. For what it's worth, Billboard misspelled her last name as "McDanile" for those two weeks; the fact that it was her only hit and it peaked at #90 didn't excuse that. The song sounds like it could have been a Countrypolitan hit as well; Louise Mandrell thought that, too, and had a Top 10 country hit with the song in 1983.

Before "Save Me," the Buffalo, New York-bred McDaniel sang the theme song for the 1975 Sabres as they unsuccessfully faced down the Philadelphia Flyers for the NHL's Stanley Cup. Afterwards, she worked as a backup singer for a few acts (including Billy Joel and Motley Crue) and acted in some films. She also performed in the Disneyland house band.

The Ramones - "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" Sheena Is a Punk Rocker - Rocket to Russia (Deluxe Version)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #81, 13 Weeks on chart)

The Ramones' Hot 100 debut was a song that was a perfect example of their style. That said, most of the songs they released as singles in that era exemplified that. There wasn't much to it...a count-in by Joey Ramone, and then the group gets right to it with a basic structure. All they needed was three chords -- no need for complicated music theory -- and most of their songs were over before the three-minute mark. It was a back-to-basics approach, but in an era of disco and classically-inspired progressive rock it sounded like a new style.

Other writers can provide an explanation about The Ramones' significance, or what the lyrics were supposed to mean. For me, "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" is about having fun. The song's basic backbeat gives credence to that belief, and even watching it live it's silly to delve too deeply into what it's all about. The rest is for the more serious critics; I'm just going to turn up the volume and enjoy it. 

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