Saturday, September 15, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 15, 1973

There were ten singles debuting on this week's Billboard Hot 100, with only two of those reaching into the Top 40. Both of those hits made the Top 10 as well, but many of the "misses" represent some real forgotten gems. Both of the big hits are debuts by artists who were already known by their names, but there are some really nice songs here that weren't Top 40 hits. In fact, there is a diverse mix here that isn't reflective of what many think of music in 1973; I'm sure that few radio stations would have played them all.

There is a large archive at Google Books of Billboard magazines, including the September 15, 1973 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 56. A front-page article explains that the availability of Super 8 was showing a market for prerecorded material, but the high price point was an issue. Page 23 has more about the argument about using color-coded jukebox labels. The large pull-out section is of interest to those of us who are historically-minded: it celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Deutsche Grammophon company.

Concert Video

Garfunkel - "All I Know" All I Know - Garfunkel

(Debuted #79, Peaked #9, 14 Weeks on chart)

On the label he's listed simply as Garfunkel, but "All I Know" was the solo debut of Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon's former duet partner. It was written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by several artists, but Garfunkel's version was the best-performing, reaching the Top 10 pop chart and hitting #1 on the adult contemporary survey. It featured the high vocal register that Garfunkel contributed to his well-known duets and showed that he was able to craft a hit without Simon by his side.

At the time of the song's release, it had been three years since the split between Art Garfunkel and his boyhood chum. That was an eternity in the music business then, but he had kept himself in the public spotlight as an actor in the films Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge while his former partner kick-started his own solo career. While it wasn't necessary because their performing styles are different, his passions outside of the music business helped to keep the questions at bay about whether one member of the duo was competing with the other the way that certain ex-Beatles were.

The Eagles - "Outlaw Man" Outlaw Man - Desperado

(Debuted #81, Peaked #59, 8 Weeks on chart)

While the members of The Eagles are well-regarded as songwriters on their own, it's worth mentioning that "Outlaw Man" is the only song on the Desperado LP that wasn't at least co-written by one of the group's members. Instead, it was written by David Blue, who originally recorded it for his own album Nice Baby and the Angel.

It's also one of the least-known songs of the group's singles. In fact, the album's songs "Tequila Sunrise" (which charted lower) and "Desperado" (not released as a single at all) are better-known today. In a way, it's a relic of the time where they were still trying to find their sound; it's definitely rooted in the Southwest, but the synthesis that brought multiplatinum success was still an album or two away. The vocal harmonies are there, but the instrumentation is still all over the place stylistically. 

Bloodstone - "Never Let You Go" Never Let You Go (Single Version) - The Essentials: Bloodstone

(Debuted #84, Peaked #43, 14 Weeks on chart)

The followup single the "Natual High" was a much more standard R&B track than the hit was. As a result, it fell just short of the pop Top 40 even as it was a Top 10 hit on the R&B survey. Showcasing the high register of singer Henry Williams, he starts out in his normal voice and breaks out into a higher-pitched assertion in the chorus as he pleads his devotion. All the while, the rest of the band show their Doo-Wop influences as they lend their support to him.

Part of the Natural High LP, "Never Let You Go" was the second overall hit for the Kansas City-bred, Los Angeles-based band.   They weren't yet finished, though: they had more hits to come.

Dr. John - "Such A Night" Such a Night - In the Right Place

(Debuted #85, Peaked #42, 9 Weeks on chart)

If "Such a Night" sounds a little out of place as a 1973 single, there's a reason: Mac Rebennack (the New Orleans-based musician who created Dr. John as his alter ego) wrote it a decade earlier, which gave it an old-time quality. Some call it "timeless," but the times really didn't give Dr. John style points for his effort. The song feel barely short of the Top 40 but is worth a listen if you're not familiar with it.

"Such a Night" definitely had a timeless quality, with its rolling piano, its striding beat and its smooth female chorus. Even though it just missed the pop Top 40 during its chart run, the song appeared in the movie The Last Waltz and has gained some fame that eluded it initially.

Marie Osmond - "Paper Roses" Paper Roses - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #86, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on chart)

With "Paper Roses," Marie Osmond became the newest member of the Osmond family to hit the pop charts. Her brothers had already charted at the time with their act, her brother Donny had a successful solo career apart from the act, and even her youngest brother Jimmy hit the chart with a novelty hit. So it might have been inevitable that another member of the Osmond family was standing by with a microphone in her hand.

"Paper Roses" -- a song where the roses are a metaphor for a false love -- was a #5 hit in 1960 for Anita Bryant. While Osmond matched that peak pop position, she also took it to #1 on the country chart. At the time, she became the youngest artist to top that chart and the first female artist to take her debut to #1. It was her way of adding credence to the "little bit country" when she and Donny had their TV show later in the decade.

Leon Russell - "Queen Of The Roller Derby" Queen of the Roller Derby (Live) - Leon Live (Remastered)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #89, 2 Weeks on chart)

Leon Russell may have seemed like he was everywhere in the early 1970s. After Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen showcased him and his band, and The Concert for Bangladesh featured him as well, he came along with his own set Leon Live in 1973. The version of the song above features the song as it appeared on the 1972 LP Carny, but the single was a shortened version recorded live.

Live, the song was performed at a slightly faster pace, mimicking the performance that Little Richard might have given in in the 1950s. In fact, the song appears to be a "callback" to that era, with its pounding piano as well as the call-and-response by the female backing chorus. It failed to get any higher than #89 on the pop chart, but it was a great listen and deserved a better chance than the one it received.

Tower of Power - "This Time It's Real" This Time It's Real - Tower of Power

(Debuted #91, Peaked #65, 6 Weeks on chart)

The video clip is a little out of register and tinny, and looks like it was recorded directly off a mono TV set. However, it captures Tower of Power doing their thing live on Soul Train, with Lenny Williams out in front and the band's famed horn section making themselves known. It's a great period piece, so I decided to go with that, rather than a performance of the song from later and sung by a different vocalist.

"This Time it's Real" was one of three songs that charted off of the band's self-titled second LP. It missed the Top 40, but the beat was timeless, with the feel that it could have been a hit during the Big Band era. The horn section was at the peak of its form, and it's aged a lot better that many of the songs that played around it at the least, the places that actually played it, given it's #65 peak.

10cc - "Rubber Bullets" Rubber Bullets - 10cc

(Debuted #96, Peaked #73, 8 Weeks on chart)

10cc established their twisted sense of humor even before they were a group, when they recorded "Neanderthal Man" as Hotlegs in 1971. While the song "Rubber Bullets" takes place at a "local county jail" when a dance there goes awry, the fact that the British Army was using rubber bullets against activists in Northern Ireland almost sunk the song. BBC radio programmers banned it because of the possibility that fans might think the wrong thing. However, the gatekeepers over at BBC-TV may have actually heard the catchy tune and allowed it to play. It was the group's first #1 hit in the U.K. and was their first hit in the U.S. after taking the new name.

Written by group members Kevin Godley, Lol Creme and Graham Gouldman, "Rubber Bullets" was often the song the group used to finish its concert sets.

Jean Shepard - "Slippin' Away" Slippin' Away - Slippin' Away

(Debuted #97, Peaked #81, 6 Weeks on chart)

Jean Shepard was a long-time country singer whose insistence on staying with the honky-tonk style limited her chart success when country shifted toward the Nashville Sound in the 1950s. With "Slippn' Away," it was the fist time Shepard had been on the pop chart since 1953, when she had a pair of hits based on the "Dear John" letters that military men have come to dread.

"Slippin' Away" was written by Bill Anderson, a Nashville legend in his own right. That said, it was composed in the harder Bakersfield style and used the double meaning of the title to describe the erosion of love and hinted at the well-known suggestion of infidelity that was a staple of country music. It was Shepard's only Hot 100 hit, her last Top 10 country hit and her biggest hit in nearly a decade.

John Denver - "Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)" Farewell Andromeda (Welcome to My Morning) - Farewell Andromeda

(Debuted #100, Peaked #89, 5 Weeks on chart)

When the album Farewell Andromeda hit the shelves, it was moderately successful, hitting the Top 20 on Billboard's album chart. However, its three singles all failed to reach the Top 40 pop chart. While Denver had scored two Top 10 singles by then ("Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Rocky Mountain High") and written a #1 hit for another act ("Leaving On a Jet Plane"), the album may have seemed like an indication that his career was slowing down. However, the next year his career kicked into a higher gear, one that would define him for the rest of his life.

The song ""Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)" ended the LP, and was a pleasant enough acoustic guitar-backed song with a sing-along chorus. In a way, it perfectly fit his early 1970s "sound" but wasn't an indication of what his appeal would be. Blame it on the silly title, or you can blame the way his simple vocal/guitar intro has more and more elements added to it as the song goes on. By the end, I think he was trying to sound atmospheric but there is a certain point where enough is enough.

1 comment:

  1. In case readers of this blog haven't heard, Chris passed away today, Sept 21st. I've been friends with Chris for almost 10 years, and read this blog every week since he started it.
    You will be missed Chris, both for this, and all the other things that you have written and done that have kept me and others entertained and informed.
    And Melissa, if you are reading this, please know that your dad absolutely adored you and talked about you constantly. Our deepest condolences for your loss.