Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Week's Review -- August 26, 1972

There were ten new songs on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with five reaching the Top 40, and one making the Top 10. Many of the songs here are lesser-known followups to bigger hits, with only the Gladstone song being a single-time hit. Leon Russell charts for the first time under his own name, but he was no stranger to the charts. Emerson, Lake and Palmer reach the Top 40 for the only time in their career with a song that might surprise some. But for Bill Withers, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart, Bobby Womack, Glen Campbell, The Dramatics and Sammi Smith, they're better remembered for their other hits than the ones listed here. That actually makes the list here more interesting.

There is a large archive of Billboard magazines over at Google Books available, including the August 26, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 78. An article on page 4 explains how Don Cornelius was expanding his show Soul Train to a larger national audience. On page 40, the newest developments in car cassette players are explained. That leads into a lengthy section that tells all about cassette tapes, circa 1972.

Bill Withers - "Use Me" Use Me (Single Version) - Still Bill

(Debuted #80, Peaked #2, 12 Weeks on chart)

Bill Withers' followup to his #1 hit "Lean On Me" was almost  #1 itself. "Use Me" spent two weeks at #2, held out of the top spot by who of the decade's oddities: Michael Jackson's love song to a rat ("Ben") and Chuck Berry's sophomoric humor-laden "My Ding-a-Ling." 

Before you consider that novelty played a part in that, "Use Me" has a novel approach in its lyrics as well. While Withers' narrator is explaining that his well-meaning friends and relatives are telling him that his woman is just using him, he's explaining that he enjoys fact, he's using her, too. That's not always perceptible over such a deep groove.

Leon Russell - "Tight Rope" Tight Rope - Carney (Digitally Remastered '95)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #11, 12 Weeks on chart)

"Tight Rope" shows up as Leon Russell's first hit, but it was by no means his first trip up the chart. For more than a decade, Russell had been a supporting act on tour and in the studio as well as a songwriter. When he started performing solo in the early 1970s, he never really relinquished his former roles and continued filling in where he was needed. This led him to be featured on a lot of other people's records, and even led him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman.

"Tight Rope" was his biggest hit under his own name and was the first track on his Carney LP. Using circus imagery to compare with the life of a touring musician, it also features several chances for Russell show his chops on the piano. Interestingly, the song seems like a mix of ragtime and electrified Dixieland jazz but has aged better than most of its era's songs despite sounding old when it was released. Some call it "dated," others call it timeless, but either way, it was a standout cut from an interesting musician.

The flip side of the "Tight Rope" single featured the original rendition of "This Masquerade," which was later recorded by George Benson and The Carpenters. 

Bobby Womack and Peace - "Sweet Caroline" Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good) - Anthology: Bobby Womack

(Debuted #84, Peaked #51, 9 Weeks on chart)

Interestingly, one famed session player leads to another. Both Leon Russell and Booby Womack would return to session work after going solo, but Womack's solo success was longer and more sustained. His instrument was the guitar, and he played it well enough to be given the nickname "Womagic" by some of his peers.

With "Sweet Caroline," Womack did a remake of 1969 Neil Diamond song. It was during the period where Diamond was still a writer who expressed himself well enough to be covered in multiple formats, as opposed to his later image as an adult contemporary giant. Here, Womack takes the song and gives it an R&B spin...even tossing in some embellishments that remind the listener of his old mentor Sam Cooke.

Donny Osmond - "Why" Why - Donny Osmond: The Definitive Collection b/w "Lonely Boy" Lonely Boy - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #85, Peaked #13, 12 Weeks on chart)

Since this is a two-sided hit, here's a video of the B-side as well:

With the two sides of this single, one teen idol refers to a previous era dominated by them. Both songs had previously been #1 hits in 1959, with Frankie Avalon crooning "Why" and Paul Anka doing "Lonely Boy." Once again, Donny Osmond goes with the template that fit his solo hits: remake a song that had already been a hit in years past, and let the same girls who bought his posters do the rest. And once again, it was relatively successful...which kept the idea in place for the next single.

Osmond doesn't venture too far outside his comfort zone on either song. That's a shame, since the material he was recording with his brothers at the time was venturing into some wider ranges than what he did on his own. You can blame his handlers for that, but it was still a noticeable change.

Rod Stewart - "You Wear It Well" You Wear It Well - Never a Dull Moment

(Debuted #87, Peaked #13, 10 Weeks on chart)

At first, "You Wear it Well" sounds a lot like Rod Stewart's smash "Maggie May" but with a violin as the featured instrument instead of a mandolin. And with the common beat and similar vibe, that would seem correct. However, while both songs were addressed to former lovers, "Maggie May" was a lot more bittersweet while "You Wear it Well" comes off as something that might be mentioned while sitting at a bar and trying to figure out what the hell went wrong. And from what I've read about Stewart in the era, that might be precisely where he and guitarist Martin Quittendon wrote it.

The members of Faces help out in the background, just as they do in most of the songs on the LP Never a Dull Moment. It wasn't billed as a Faces record due to contractual obligations, but comes off as a brilliantly performed tune. This was before Stewart began both making records that betrayed his talent and gained him a wider audience, so "You Wear it Well" may be one of the last stops before his career went in a direction that required him to just hold on for the ride.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - "From the Beginning" From the Beginning - Come and See the Show - The Best of Emerson Lake & Palmer

(Debuted #89, Peaked #39, 11 Weeks on chart)

Here's something that might surprise you. "From the Beginning" was the only song that Emerson, Lake and Palmer took into the pop Top 40. And it didn't stay long there, peaking at #39 after only two weeks. For a band who charted high with all of their LPs through 1977 (including two live sets), that may seem odd.

"From the Beginning" was the one Greg Lake acoustic song that seemed to show up on every album. The song is accented by an electric bass and bongos at first, but is given an ELP flourish later on when Keith Emerson adds a synthesizer solo and random sound effects. It is performed as a collection of reassuring lines to a lover -- without a chorus -- and stands out due to its relative simplicity when compared to some of ELP's other material.

Glen Campbell - "I Will Never Pass This Way Again" I Will Never Pass This Way Again - Glen Travis Campbell

(Debuted #90, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

Glen Campbell was a busy man in the early 1970s. In fact, from 1967 through 1975, he released at least two albums a year of his own material in addition to touring, filling in as a studio musician and hosting a TV variety series, which wrapped production in June 1972. That's staggering to think he was able to come out with so much music during that time.

"I'll Never Pass This Way Again" was written by Ronnie Gaylord and is performed as an adult contemporary song with a full-throated delivery. Not surprisingly, it was a much bigger hit on that chart, hitting #14. On the pop and country surveys, the song charted but failed to reach the Top 40.

The Dramatics - "Toast To The Fool" Toast to the Fool - The Best of the Dramatics (Remastered)

(Debuted #95, Peaked #67, 9 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to The Dramatics, fans might be familiar with "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get" and "In the Rain," but they have a catalog that really deserves to be investigated more fully than just those two Top 40 hits. "Toast To the Fool" was the followup single to the latter hit and deserves to get a closer listen.

Though a part of Memphis-based Stax, the group recorded in its hometown of Detroit and used some of the local talent on instruments. Wee Gee Howard does the lead vocals on this one, and the group shows their Doo-Wop influence as they use a multi-layered performance on the song. The "fool" in the title is the one who left a woman behind (rather that the singer himself), so the song is a celebration of being in the right place at the right time to snag the one that got away from somebody else.

Gladstone - "A Piece Of Paper" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #45, 11 Weeks on chart)

There really isn't a lot of information to be found about Gladstone. They were a group out of Tyler, Texas and their guitarist was Mike Rabon, a former member of The Five Americans. That's about all there is to be found out there.

Their only hit was "A Piece of Paper," a song whose lyrics was socially aware for the times, using the piece of paper to signify a law, a marriage decree, a religious tithe and even a death certificate (the Vietnam War was still raging at the time). It also mentions abortion, a topic that was then being brought before the Supreme Court at the time. Using the phrase "In order to form a more perfect union" repeatedly to make its point, it was heavy stuff for a pop song. Not surprisingly, it fell short of the Top 40.

Sammi Smith - "I've Got To Have You" I've Got to Have You - The Best Of

(Debuted #100, Peaked #77, 7 Weeks on chart)

Sammi Smith will forever be known to pop fans for her smoky rendition of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night," but fewer fans realized that she charted again after that song. While she charted many times on the country chart as a member of the "outlaw" movement of the era, she only reached the Top 40 once more, with "I've Got to Have You."

The song seems to follow the template that was set by "Help Me Make it Through the Night." Smith sings it with the half-whispered voice, the strings are in the background and the subject deals with sexual release that may not lead to anything else down the road. However, lightning didn't strike twice for her and the song only made it to #77 on the pop chart and #13 on the country survey.

1 comment:

  1. "From the Beginning" is one of my favorite songs from the early 1970s. The entire mood of that recording takes me back to 1972. But yes, I assume by your post that it will come as a surprise to many that "Lucky Man" didn't make the Top 40. I've always thought "You Wear It Well" and the "Never a Dull Moment" album have been underrated, coming right after "Maggie May" and "Every Picture Tells a Story." But boy, Stewart's early '70s work still sounds wonderful, 40 years later. And there's a bit of sadness attached when we realize where his career would go after this.