Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rewind -- August 27, 1977

Every Wednesday, this blog pulls out one of its reviews from the first year of its existence. In the process, I add videos and some extra info...and in the case of this week's entry, I can listen to a couple of songs I wasn't able to when I did this the first time.

(This was from the original description, written when I had less of a clue what the feature would entail) Last week, I introduced a new feature where I take a look at all the new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 during a random week in the 1970s. The only stipulation I'm making is that the week be around the same time of the year as the week I'm writing the reviews. This week, I'll review the new songs that debuted on August 27, 1977.

I wasn't yet featuring any past issues of Billboard from Google Books when I first wrote this review, but the August 27, 1977 edition is missing from its archive.

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Stevie Wonder - "Another Star" Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life - Another Star

(Debuted #74, Peaked #32, 10 Weeks on the Chart)

Last week's review concluded with a tune that featured Stevie Wonder guesting on harmonica, so it's interesting to see this week's list leading off with a tune from the former wunderkind.

This was the third single from Stevie's classic LP Songs in the Key of Life. The first two were #1 smashes ("I Wish" and "Sir Duke"), so this single certainly had expectations. Unfortunately, the song just made the Top 40 before stalling at #32. Its follow-up ("As") didn't do any better on the pop charts; interestingly, one of that LP's best-known tunes -- "Isn't She Lovely" -- was never released as a single and didn't chart even after gaining a great deal of airplay.

While it was edited by more than three minutes for single release, the LP version of "Another Star" runs more than 8 minutes. The song almost sounds like it was recorded "live" in the studio, so its enjoyability might depend on whether the listener is in the mood for an extended jam session. Listening to the LP version, the brass backing band sounds like a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Latin percussion break is an interesting addition. As the final track of the "regular" LP (originally, it was a double LP with an extra 7-inch EP included; the CD version just adds the extra 4 songs from that EP to the end of the LP tracks), it was a great way to finish off what is generally considered to be Wonder's "masterpiece."

Peter Frampton - "Singed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" Peter Frampton - I'm in You - Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

(Debuted #75, Peaked #18, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

Speaking of Stevie Wonder, a remake of one of his songs debuted along with one of his originals. Peter Frampton was still riding the crest of his popularity from Frampton Comes Alive! and spent the summer of '77 on the charts with his follow-up LP I'm in You. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" was the second single culled from the album. Just to know there weren't any hard feelings, Wonder was a guest musician on the LP.

Frampton's cover included a faithful guitar lick and some musical bits recalling another Wonder tune ("For Once in My Life") but listening to this version right after the original shows just how underrated the Funk Brothers (Motown's house band) actually were. Not taking away from Peter Frampton's musicianship, but his version shows exactly how tight the Funk Brothers were in their rhythm as well as how great Wonder's backing singers were in their harmony.

The Commodores - "Brick House" The Commodores - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Commodores - Brick House

(Debuted #72, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

The Commodores are better known as the band that unleashed Lionel Richie on the pop audience but began life as a funk/R&B outfit. Before Richie's smoother compositions became the group's forte, many of their early hits were jams that encouraged listeners to get up off their seats and get down on the dance floor. Look no further than "Brick House" for proof of that.

Although "Brick House" is notable as one of the Commodores' big hits that wasn't sung by Lionel Richie (William Orange handled this song), it's also a song that has enjoyed quite a lot of staying power, appearing in movies, TV shows and on dozens of disco compilations. It's familiar to listeners who hadn't yet been born when it made its run through the Billboard charts.

Paul Davis - "I Go Crazy" Paul Davis - Paul Davis: Greatest Hits - I Go Crazy

(Debuted #89, Peaked #7, 40 Weeks on the Chart)

I've mentioned this song before on this blog, mentioning it as one of my picks for the best singles of the 1970s. Its appearance here is significant; the song set a record in its chart run by staying on the survey for 40 weeks. It would remain on the charts until the Spring of '78, during which time over 100 songs would rise and fall from the Hot 100.

The song's lyrics tell a story. A man is talking with his old lover, explaining that he's happy to see she's found another but inwardly fighting the urge to let go of her memory. It's a well-produced song, one that I don't find tiring even after repeated listenings.

Jigsaw - "If I Have to Go Away" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #93, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

1970s music fans know Jigsaw from their hit "Sky High" but few knew the group had other hits afterwards. In their native UK, the group had 9 albums and a string of hits. In the U.S., however, their chart success dropped off. With this song, the group went away from the sound of "Sky High" and its follow-up "Love Fire" and used a falsetto. It was a pale imitation of the Stylistics (another group whose chart success had fallen by that time). Aptly named, "If I Have to Go Away" stalled at #93 and the group never returned to the chart.

Boney M - "Ma Baker" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on the Chart)

Long before Frank Farian unleashed 1980s pop tarts Milli Vanilli on unsuspecting music fans, he enjoyed considerable international success in the late 1970s with Boney M. Making a disco song using the story of real-life Depression-era criminal Ma Barker seems like an awful idea, but the tune was a hook-laden confection and actually pretty good for a novelty disco song. In fact, the melody can stay in the listener's head for a while after the song ends. The song was a huge hit in the UK but only reached #96 in the U.S.

Eric Carmen - "She Did it" ERIC CARMEN - Boats Against the Current - She Did It

(Debuted #84, Peaked #23, 16 Weeks on the Chart)

After success with his group the Raspberries, Eric Carmen made his mark with his first solo LP in 1975. In 1977, he came out with his follow-up LP Boats Against the Current and "She Did it was the first single from the album. As the single was hitting music stores, two of Carmen's compositions were also on the charts: "That's Rock 'n' Roll" and "Hey Deanie," both by Shaun Cassidy.

As expected, this song is a hook-heavy, clean studio production. After two massive hits from his first LP ("All By Myself" and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again") that bemoaned lost love, this song is about finding love and sounds brighter than his better-known earlier hits. The chorus has a definite influence from the Beach fact, a few of the Beach Boys sang in the background. Adding a hand to the song was Andrew Gold, who played the guitar solo.

Leif Garrett - Surfin' U.S.A. (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #20, 15 Weeks on the Chart)

Speaking of the Beach Boys, here's a cover of one of their best-known hits. Leif Garrett's first appearance on the Billboard chart was a faithful note-for-note rendition; however, singing the same words doesn't always mean the same result. Let's just say Leif (that's pronounced "Layf", not "Leaf") Garrett was a 1970s teen idol who could sing capably enough to sell a lot of posters and lunchboxes to boy-crazy girls.

Watching VH1's I Love the 70s Volume II, there's a segment on Leif Garrett in the episode for 1977. In it, Loni Love mentioned that she remembered him, but also that "nobody knows any of his hits. How come?"

Sam Neely - "Sail Away" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on the Chart)

Here's the first of the two songs I wasn't able to listen to the first time. And now that I hear it, I've been familiar with the tune for years. The Oak Ridge Boys had a #2 country hit with the same song in 1979, and that was the version I was familiar with. Sam Neely, however, recorded it two years before that.

Written by Rafe Van Hoy, "Sail Away" was a laid-back ditty about sailing away, using nautical language as a metaphor for love. Neely's song was the last of his handful of Hot 100 entries. He was a country-styled Texan whose biggest pop hit "Loving You Just Crossed My Mind" came in 1972.

Hot - "The Right Feeling at the Right Time" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #65, 5 Weeks on the Chart)

"The Right Feeling at the Wrong Time" was the second song I wasn't able to listen to the first time around. Thanks to this little project, I've managed to find most of the songs I'm featuring, so this reboot is a way of getting back to the few songs I missed that first year.

Hot was on the heels of their only big hit "Angel in Your Arms" but couldn't capitalize on the success of that song. It was done in the same ballad style as the earlier hit, but the lack of the "gotcha" lyric made it seem more generic. The song sputtered out at #65, and the trio never managed to get that high on the charts again.

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