Saturday, September 1, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 4, 1976

There were nine singles debuting on this week's Billboard Hot 100, with one being a double-sided hit. Five of the singles went into the Top 40, with one reaching into the Top 10. That Top 10 hit is the two-sided hit, a single that reaches into two entirely different sources. Several of this week's songs are looks into the past, with The Carpenters doing a Tin Pan Alley song, The Bay City Rollers looking back at a previous British Invasion and Diana Williams doing an "answer" song. ABBA defines the international appeal of its music, The Average White Band charts unexplored territory, John Valenti channels Stevie Wonder, The Attitudes predate Toto...and Mother's Finest just blows down the door.

There are a bunch of Billboard magazines archived at Google Books, but the September 4, 1976 edition is missing.With that, I once again bring up my other music-related site, 80s Music Mayhem. Last week, the focus was on songs from 1988 and several of them had some personal point. I close out the decade next week, and once again return to 1980 after that. While the posts there aren't often as deep as they are here, I still have some connection to that music as well and hope you can check it out, too.

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ABBA - "Fernando" Fernando - Arrival (Import Bonus Tracks  Remastered)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #13, 11 Weeks on chart)

"Fernando" is one of ABBA's biggest hits, but it wasn't actually recorded by them as a group effort. It was actually concieved as a solo effort by group member Anni-Frid Lyngstad and composed in Swedish with totally different lyrics than the English version that followed. Where that version offered a condolence to a man who has lost his love (though I'm not sure whether by death or convenience), it was rewritten as a group effort after being successful in the group's native country.

The more familiar English version has two veterans talking about a lost battle. Interestingly, a pair of Swedish singers sing in English about the reminiscences of two former Mexican soldiers...and that resulted in an international hit. Opening with flutes, it definitely made an impression -- good or bad -- and its melody was much different than what 1976 usually had to offer.

The MP3s here are for the Arrival LP..."Fernando" was actually left off that record originally despite being recorded at the same time and restored with its B-side during a later CD reissue.

Kiss - "Beth" Beth - Destroyer (Remastered) b/w "Detroit Rock City" Detroit Rock City - Destroyer (Remastered)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #7, 21 Weeks on chart)

Speaking of B-sides, this one was listed during the single's chart run, so here's the video for that as well, and we'll get into it in a minute:

The two sides of this single could not have been any more different: one was a tender, heartfelt ballad with an orchestra, while the other was taken straight from the "car crash" era of rock and updated with the guitars that weren't yet present in the genre. Of course, "Detroit Rock City" was the intended A-side because it was the more standard Kiss song. However, "Beth" was the surprise hot and the highest-charting single the band ever had.

"Beth" is a song that basically apologizes for the writer being a musician. While he and the band are working hard to find a "sound," she's at home waiting for the singer (Peter Criss here). While the other members chime in with "Just a few more hours," the protagonist is trying really hard to walk the line...and the band eventually wins out. As a writer, I definitely understand the allure once inspiration takes over: it's currently 5:19 in the morning as I write this. Believe me, I understand.

While "Beth" is essentially an explanation given in a syrupy tone that tries to sooth the other person, "Detroit Rock City" is much more direct. The guitar, bass and drum that kick the song off make that pretty clear. This time, the protagonist (Paul Stanley) is stopping at a few places to socialize before "The Midnight show" and gets in a beer and cigarette in the meantime. Finally, he's jumping in the car and speeding up to get there. Just in time for the truck to come out of nowhere. Before the coda, the narrator is witnessing his own death.

I can't think of two more different sides to the Rock & Roll lifestyle.

The Average White Band - "Queen Of My Soul" Queen of My Soul - Soul Searching

(Debuted #82, Peaked #40, 8 Weeks on chart)

"Queen of My Soul" was a departure from the "usual" Average White Band song. Rather than the straight R&B-influenced funk the band used earlier, it was a dream-type soundscape. It only went to #40 pop and #21 R&B; however, despite its disappointing chart showing, the LP that included the song (Soul Searching) is considered one of the band's better albums despite its lack of hit material.

"Queen of My Soul" was written by band member Hamish Stuart, who played with Paul McCartney in the late 1980s. It was their final Top 40 hit, even though the group had several more albums before breaking up in 1982.

The Bay City Rollers - "I Only Want To Be With You" I Only Wanna Be With You - Dedication

(Debuted #83, Peaked #12, 16 Weeks on chart)

In an effort extend Rollermania a little bit longer, the Bay City Rollers reached back to a 1963/'64 Dusty Springfield hit to record. And they gave it a good blast of music, featuring a great guitar line, popping bass and solid drums...and still fit in a string section. It went to #12 in the U.S., which equaled the chart peak of the original, and was their last U.K. Top 10 hit.

"I Only Want to Be With You" is a song that I really couldn't stand as a kid. I was partial to the Dusty Springfield version (and still am), but now that I've had more of a chance to put the decade's music into perspective, I find that it's not that bad. I'm not a big fan of the Rollers at all, but I see that they've given a really solid performance here. They don't remake the tune into their own, but they sure seem to have fun while they do it. 

The Carpenters - "Goofus" Goofus - A Kind of Hush (Original Recording Remastered)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #56, 5 Weeks on chart)

While The Carpenters were known to be performers and rarely only sometimes wrote their own material -- and never recorded their own material for singles (See the comment below) -- they really went back in time for "Goofus." It had been written in 1930 by Wayne King and William Harold, and Gus Kahn created the melody. Les Paul and Phil Harris recorded versions of it in 1950. Say what you want about the duo blandness, but some of the choices made after their decline were pretty gutsy. This likely wasn't a song listened to by Richard and Karen as kids.

Gutsy or not, "Goofus" was the first single from the duo to miss the Top 40 since 1970, as well as the first that didn't peak in the top 2 on the Adult Contemporary survey. While 1930s nostalgia wasn't new in 1976 (the year of "Baby Face" and a year after "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes"), this one wasn't trying to cash in on the Disco movement.  It was an unashamed look back at the past, using state-of-the-art recording technology.

Diana Williams - "Teddy Bear's Last Ride" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #66, 6 Weeks on chart)

The third straight song that looks at the past is a tune that continues the story spun by Red Sovine's "Teddy Bear" earlier in the year. In it, the young boy of the original song finally lets go. He gets sick and dies, and the "last ride" of the title is the one in the Hearse.

While the original "Teddy Bear" is a great tear-jerker (during my country DJ days, I never spoke after the song was over; I always played something else. YOU try talking out of that, because it's hard to do), there isn't the same sentiment in Diana Williams' answer song. Red Sovine spun a story about the trucker who makes friends with what turns out to be a crippled boy and discovers that his fellow truckers -- as mean as they might appear on  the outside -- are nothing more than big kids at times, Williams doesn't spin the same yarn. It would be the Nashville-born chanteuse's only hit on both the pop and country charts, but didn't make it high up either one.

John Valenti - "Anything You Want" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #91, Peaked #37, 12 Weeks on chart)

Though "Anything You Want" is shown as John Valenti's debut, he had a 1975 hit under his birth name John LiVigni and was a member of one of Motown's few white bands Puzzle. The Motown connection comes through here, as you might be fooled into thinking the voice above belongs to Stevie Wonder on an outtake.

That said, his accompaniment here is a little more generic than the star-studded material Wonder had at his disposal. The Chicago-born Valenti took "Anything You Want" into the pop Top 40 and #10 on the R&B chart, but never managed another hit after that.

Mother's Finest - "Fire" Fire - Mother's Finest

(Debuted #94, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

"Fire" brings to mind Jimi Hendrix, or the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, or even The Ohio Players. This song isn't a remake of any of those. It was something different, and so was the group Mother's Finest, a Georgia-based interracial band that blended funk, R&B, hard rock and boogie into its own unique blend. In a way, the band offered fans a look at what Sly & the Family Stone might have been like if they were from the South and didn't fall apart after their leader's drug-induced psychosis.

Don't believe me? Click the video above and see if the live version of "Fire" doesn't immediately stand out. 

The Attitudes - "Sweet Summer Music" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #97, Peaked #94, 6 Weeks on chart)

The Attitudes were made up of the cream of L.A.'s crop of studio musicians (David Foster, Danny Kortchmar,Paul Stallworth and Jim Keltner), which was essentially Toto before that group was formed. The group was brought together for George Harrison's Extra Texture (Read All About it) LP, and ended up recording two albums for Harrison's Dark Horse imprint. Unlike Toto, the Attitudes basically played out their contract and resumed their lucrative studio jobs.

"Sweet Summer Music" has the laid-back feel of the group War but without the diverse nature of their music. They even feature a harmonica (just like Lee Oskar's), just to set the mood right. It was the group's only Hot 100 single, reaching #94 before sinking back into the radio ether. 


  1. Not sure what you mean when you say the Carpenters never released songs they wrote as singles. Richard co-wrote a number of the duo's biggest hits including "Goodbye To Love" "I Won't Last A Day Without You" "Top Of The World" "Only Yesterday" "Yesterday Once More" and "I Need To Be In Love".

  2. Is that what I need to do to get some more comments on this blog? Get the facts wrong?

    Thanks for the correction, I've altered the entry.