Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rewind -- July 31, 1976

Once again, I take the chance to revisit one of the posts from the first year this blog reviewed hit singles and give them a little tweak.

Six singles debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Only two would eventually make the Top 40, with one reaching the Top 10. Both of the songs that made the Top 40 are still played frequently on American radio stations today. One of the songs that missed was a rerecording of a song that had already hit #1 in 1967 and was competing with the original version, while another was one of three versions of the same song on that week's chart. The other two would be the final hits for their artists.

Although Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard available to read online, the July 31, 1976 edition is missing.

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Orleans - "Still The One" Orleans - Rhino Hi-Five: Orleans - EP - Still the One

(Debuted #69, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

Woodstock, New York is perhaps best remembered by music fans for a series of music festivals (1969, 1994 and 1999), none of which were actually held there. However, the small Upstate New York town has long been home to artists, writers and musicians and many acts (Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison and Todd Rundgren among them) recorded there. The group Orleans was founded there in 1972.

"Still the One" was written by group founder John Hall and his then-wife Johanna. A song about a couple still finding the spark after a long time together, the song remains very popular on AC (or "Lite FM") radio nearly 35 years later. It was sufficiently mellow for its time, good enough to latch on to the easy-listening crowd but still danceable at a family reunion or other get-together. It would become Orleans' highest-charting pop hit and was even used as a theme for ABC-TV's 1977 series promos. To underscore its timeless quality, the song would appear years later in commercials and even at political events, especially after co-writer John Hall was elected to Congress in 2006.

Ironically, for a song that is widely seen as a celebration of couples who can still find a reason to have fun even after years together...John and Johanna Hall are no longer married. They divorced in 2000.

Bobbie Gentry - "Ode To Billie Joe" (1976 Version, Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #65, 4 Weeks on chart)

In 1976, a made-for-TV movie based on the mysterious lyrics in Bobbie Gentry's 1967 #1 hit "Ode to Billie Joe" debuted. Though the beauty of the song was he way Gentry told the story with a matter-of-fact voice over the strums of an acoustic guitar and let the strings behind her add to the perceived mystery, leave it to Hollywood to take that and try to exhibit a similar feeling on a television set. Either the people who greenlighted the project weren't aware that adding a visual element ruins the way an imagination can concoct extra things in a storyline or else they just didn't care. Yet, I suppose if they made a movie based on any 1967 song, "Ode to Billy Joe" was a better idea than, say, "A Day in the Life" or Society's Child."

Along with the TV movie, Bobbie Gentry was sent back into the recording studio to sing a new version of her old hit. This time around, the voice was more mature and the words emphasized differently. The orchestration on the new version was more subdued, which seems to have made the lyrics less mysterious. Both versions would chart on the Hot 100 in 1976, with the original re-appearing on July 17 and the remake following two weeks later. Despite the exposure from the made-for-TV movie, neither one would make the Top 40; the original version eventually won the race, peaking at #54 before both versions fell off the chart at the same time.

Blue Oyster Cult - "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" Blue Öyster Cult - Agents of Fortune - (Don't Fear) The Reaper

(Debuted #83, Peaked #12, 20 Weeks on chart)

A while back in an online discussion forum, I was mentioning how many 1970s songs were about death. Not death like the 1960s car crash songs (though they appeared in 1970s songs as well) but in songs that either had somebody dying in the lyrics ("Dark Lady," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Rocky" by Austin Roberts or David Geddes's "Run Joey Run") or were somewhat philosophical about the topic. There were songs about men preparing themselves for their execution ("Renegade" by Styx, "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen) or simply realizing that death is inevitable, like in "Seasons in the Sun" or "Doctor My Eyes." I really don't know whether it was a product of a generation growing up in the face of Vietnam and watching their own countrymen get killed at Kent State, or musicians becoming aware of their own mortality as they watched friends like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and even Jim Croce get taken while still in their twenties. Of course, there's always stuff like The Buoy's "Timothy" that was rather macabre in its lyrics and Bloodrock's "D.O.A." that was just morbid.

Even though some critics have claimed it glorified suicide with its references to Romeo and Juliet, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" fell into the more philosophical camp. Written and sung by group member Buck Dharma, the song has its share of cryptic messages that have been parsed many times and have been interpreted several different ways. One interpretation by a childhood buddy assumed the song was about marijuana (he'd heard the title as "Don't Fear the Reefer"). Whatever Dharma was thinking about when he wrote the lyrics, his band certainly laid down a great track in the studio. From the guitar layers to the group's harmonies, it's a song that can be enjoyed even without paying a lot of attention to the words.

(I would be sorry if I didn't mention here that whenever I hear the clanking of the cowbell in this song, I always hear Christopher Walken's voice in the back of my mind yelling "More cowbell!" from that Saturday Night Live skit.)

Ronnie Dyson - "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done To Me)" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #62, 12 Weeks on chart)

Ronnie Dyson had entered the mainstream consciousness during the late 1960s when he was a cast member of the New York production of Hair. On the Broadway soundtrack LP, that's his voice opening up the song "Aquarius" with "When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars..." Afterward, he had a string of pop and R&B hits throughout the 1970s and established himself as a singer of songs that had a fragile vulnerability to them.

For his final pop hit, Dyson had a markedly different approach. "The More You Do it" was the title song from Dyson's 1976 LP and its only hit single. Performing with a gospel-style delivery, Dyson is backed by a call-and-response female chorus. While parts of the song sound musically similar to Natalie Cole's "This Will Be" from the previous year, it's probably due to the influence of writer/producer team Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey, who were responsible for that song as well. Though this would be his final pop hit, Dyson still managed hits on Billboard's R&B and dance charts into the 1980s. Sadly, his 1991 R&B duet with Vicki Austin "Are We So Far Apart" was a posthumous release; Dyson died of heart failure in November 1990.

John Sebastian - "Hideaway" John Sebastian - Welcome Back - Hideaway

(Debuted #96, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

After having his solo career boosted by the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter, John Sebastian stumbled out of the gate with his first single after his #1 single. Without the benefit of being led off by one of Gabe Kaplan's corny "uncle" jokes, "Hideaway" wasn't as well-received by radio. Two weeks after it appeared on the Hot 100, it was gone.

According to the lyrics, the "Hideaway" in the song was a secret clubhouse where he and a school buddy would hang out (presumably a memory from Sebastian's childhood in New York City) after school let out. From a basement window, they watch people walk by and talk about whatever they feel like discussing. At one point, Sebastian's lyrics mention that the friend was a girl, hinting that this friendship was one that was developing as a boy and girl were each beginning to discover the charms of the opposite sex. Despite a bouncy melody that was both contemporary for the 1970s and evocative of more innocent music from the 1960s, it wasn't quite as memorable as the TV theme was. The former leader of The Lovin' Spoonful never had another hit single.

Revelation - "You To Me Are Everything (Part 1)" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

With the entry of Revelation's only hit single, three different versions of this song would be on the Hot 100 at the same time. The original song by a group called (appropriately enough) The Real Thing had been a #1 single in their native U.K. However, its success in this country was stalled by competition with American cover versions. For the week ending July 31, 1976, The Real Thing's version was listed at #86, while the group Broadway was holding down #88 with the song and Revelation debuted at #98. All three songs would be listed in the next week's Hot 100 as well before the two remakes fell off the chart.

Revelation's version was produced by Freddie Perren and released on the RSO label. Vocally, it was a fairly faithful recreation of the British hit, with more lush orchestration backing up the singers. It was recorded as a 6-and-a-half minute disco single and split in two parts for the 7-inch single release. A song of devotion, it was a song that could have been a bigger hit for someone if there wasn't any confusion over three different singles.

1 comment:

  1. "Ode to Billie Joe" wasn't a TV movie. It was shown in theaters in 1976.