Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Week's Review -- August 13, 1977

There were seven new singles debuting this week on the Billboard Hot 100, with three making the Top 40 and one reaching the Top 10. That Top 10 was huge, but was one of the several song that was prevented from reaching #1 by "You Light Up My Life." The other two Top 40 hits were songs that are still remembered today; one is an AC standard, and the other is a song that was the artist's signature tune. The four songs that missed the Top 40 were all Disco-influenced. One of the tunes comes from a group that isn't generally associated with the genre, one is a remake of a 1970 #1 song, one was recorded in conjunction with a popular TV show, and the last was a collection of stars recording a song that benefited a charity.

While there is a large archive of Billboard magazines to read over at Google Books, the August 13, 1977 edition isn't in there.So, I'll use this space to plug my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. I'm still featuring music there, and this past week I focused on 1985. It's a nice diversion, since I don't always dwell on just the biggest hits, I also dig a little deeper into the charts and pull out some gems that didn't make the Top 40. Take a minute and check it out if you aren't doing so.

Ted Nugent - "Cat Scratch Fever" Cat Scratch Fever - Cat Scratch Fever

(Debuted #70, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

How many of you think this song is actually about a cat? Back in the 1970's, "cat scratch fever" was slang for contracting a venereal disease...and the lyrics of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" acknowledge this by mentioning having to go see a doctor for the cure, and that having the "fever" can make a man insane. Otherwise, the lyrics are pretty boastful: "I make a pussy purr with the stroke of my hand" isn't exactly about petting a domestic cat.

That said, "Cat Scratch Fever" is probably Nugent's best-known song. The riff is immediately recognizable, as the vintage live clip above illustrates. At first, you can see that "Nuge" is showing off his skills, but once he starts riffing, the crowd erupts into cheering because they know what's coming. Actually, that's a poor choice of words...

Firefall - "Just Remember I Love You" Just Remember I Love You - Luna Sea

(Debuted #84, Peaked #11, 21 Weeks on chart)

"Just Remember I love You" has been a staple of adult contemporary and soft rock-leaning stations almost since it first appeared in 1977. Though it narrowly missed becoming Firefall's second Top 10 pop hit after "You Are the Woman," both songs have managed to live on in perpetuity thanks to their easygoing pace and inoffensive sound.

"Just Remember I Love You" was written by Firefall member Rick Roberts, who also contributed the lead vocal. A devotional tune to the love of a woman, it peaked at #11 pop and was a #1 adult contemporary single. Backing vocals were given by ex-Poco member and future Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, whose affected voice helped to give it that Southern California feel, but David Muse's saxophone solo really gave the track some texture.

Crystal Gayle - "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue - We Must Believe In Magic

(Debuted #90, Peaked #2, 26 Weeks on chart)

"Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" might be the perfect personification of a crossover hit. It's a country song, but a little bit jazz, a little bit pop, a little easy listening. The piano (by Hargus "Pig" Robbins) makes it sound like it was recorded in a smoky night lounge, and Crystal Gayle does her best to sound like a chanteuse as she sings it. And the song was a bona fide crossover smash: it was #1 on the country chart for four weeks, was a #2 pop hit and a #4 adult contemporary hit. It even was the only Gayle single to reach the Top 10 in the U.K., where it hit #5.

On the pop chart, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" spent three weeks at #2 behind "You Light Up My Life" as that song grabbed the top spot for 10 straight weeks. For a song identified so strongly with its singer, it wasn't originally written with Gayle in mind even though its writer Richard Leigh had enjoyed success with her before. Initially, it was written with Shirley Bassey in mind, but once producer Allen Reynolds heard it, he knew it had to go to Gayle first.

In a book I once read about Billboard's #1 country hits, it is said that Leigh had a dog who was hit by a rock thrown by a neighbor's kid. The impact of the rock eventually caused a cataract, which literally turned one of its brown eyes blue.

The Soul Train Gang - "My Cherie Amour" Soul Train Gang (T.V. Version) - My Cherie Amour

(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 3 Weeks on chart)

Once the Disco bandwagon started rolling, it was hard to stop it when it came to the breadth of past hits that could be recoded in the new form. This version, of course, took the 1969 Stevie Wonder hit and gave it (some suggest it was "forced") a dance-oriented sound. The Soul Train Gang weren't the first to do it (Rhythm Heritage recorded a dance version in 1976), but they were the first to take the single onto the pop charts. Being the house band for a weekly TV show didn't hurt them, either.

However, the generic-sounding dance beat and light groove didn't get the song far up the Hot 100. "My Cherie Amour" peaked at the same #93 position where it debuted. Having Stevie Wonder right there with Songs in the Key of Life and laying down a rhythm that was superb may have been akin to him committing a facial on the basketball court. You didn't need somebody else doing his music when we was scoring "I Wish," "Sir Duke" and "Another Star" at the same time. 

The Philadelphia International All Stars - "Let's Clean Up the Ghetto" Let's Clean Up the Ghetto - Pride (Original Film Soundtrack)

(Debuted #94, Peaked #91, 4 Weeks on chart)

Before the star-studded 1980s "cause" records by Band Aid and USA For Africa, you had records like this. While songs bemoaning the state of the ghetto weren't rare in the early-to-mid 1970s, such a large collection of stars was. The Philadelphia International All-Stars was the cream of the crop of the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff-run Philadelphia International label. Lou Rawls speaks at the beginning, with The O'Jays, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, Dee Dee Sharp Gamble and Teddy Pendergrass chiming in during the song. MFSB provides the funk-influenced groove, and Gamble & Huff produced the tune.

Gamble & Huff were no strangers to this type of song, having written "Love Train" and "Message in Our Music"  for The O'Jays, among others. As Rawls opens with a spoken-word passage, he mentions the mid-1970s New York City garbage strike, but the focus goes on to other issues including crime and poverty.

The bass-happy production was earnest, and its profits were donated to a five-year charity project. It was only a #91 pop hit, but it did mange to reach #4 on the R&B chart. It was also part of a socially-aware album whose profits were similarly donated to the charity.

Sweet - "Funk It Up (David's Song)" Funk It Up (David's Song) [Special Disco Version] [Special Disco Version] - Down To The Sea And Back: The Continuing Journey Of The Balearic Beat. Volume 1. (Bonus Track Version)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #88, 5 Weeks on chart)

Listening to "Funk it Up," you might be asking: is this the same group that did "Little Willy" and "Ballroom Blitz"? Well, yes and no. Sweet was definitely the glam rock band of earlier in the decade, but they strove in a different direction after splitting from their songwriters/producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. As part of that new artistic endeavor, the band decided to try stuff like this funky little tune.

Many of their fans hoped "Funk it Up" would be a short-lived fad. This was Sweet, after all, not The Ohio Players: the opening seemed to be forced and the band was essentially repeating themselves as the song ground to a conclusion. Fortunately for those fans, the group's next LP contained "Love is Like Oxygen," which hearkened back to their Chinnichap heyday.

The Whispers - "Make It With You" Make It With You - Open Up Your Love

(Debuted #96, Peaked #94, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Make it With You" is a remake of the 1970 Bread song that was a #1 smash (reviewed here for a second time in April). Where Bread's original was a light ballad, The Whispers gave it a disco infusion. Interestingly, the dance treatment takes David Gates' original statement of undying love and makes it sound more like a pick-up line.

As a disco song, "Make It With You" isn't bad, but it's done in a generic fashion that really doesn't let it stand out in any way. All the elements are there: the strings, the booming bass and the scratch guitar lines. That's too bad, as The Whispers definitely had the talent to make it work if they tried. However, the vocal talent only rises to the level of the accompaniment.

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