More Chart Digging, August 1969

August 20th, 2014

Yesterday, as we dug in the Bubbling Under section of the Billboard Hot 100 released August 23, 1969, we pulled out Henry Mancini’s truncated version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” At the same time, we ran across five other records in that Bubbling Under section that seemed worth notice, if not exactly deserving of more attention than they got forty-five years ago.

The New Colony Six kind of baffles me. They had two medium-sized hits – “I Will Always Think About You” (No. 22) and “Things I’d Like To Say” (No. 16) – in 1968, but I have no recollection from the time of having ever heard the records or having even heard of the group. Admittedly, I wasn’t listening to Top 40 very avidly in 1968, but it was all around me, and most records of the time were familiar to me in later years when I finally was catching up. So I was a little taken aback in the early 1970s when a couple of college friends sang the praises of the group and I had no clue what they were talking about. Ah, well, I’ve been clueless plenty of other times in this life, too, so we’ll just note that the New Colony Six’s “I Want You To Know” was parked at No. 105 during this week in August 1969; it would eventually climb to No. 65.

Just below that, at No. 106, the Isley Brothers were offering the world the notion that “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” The thundering, almost lumbering “Black Berries – Pt. 1” was ostensibly about life in the berry patch as the Isleys grew up in Cincinnati, but the just-naughty-enough tagline was perfect for an era during which racial attitudes and sexual mores were changing rapidly and becoming suitable topics for (slyly coded) pieces of pop culture. The record made it to No. 79, one of more than fifty records the Isleys – in various combinations – put in or near the Hot 100 between 1959 and 2004.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Marva Whitney was a soul/R&B singer from Kansas City, Kansas, who toured between 1967 and 1970 as a featured performer in the James Brown Review. She recorded a fair number of singles during that time and on into the 1970s, with most of them released on the King label. Earlier in 1969, the Brown-produced “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” an answer record to the Isleys’ “It’s Your Thing,” went to No. 82 (No. 19, R&B). In late August, “Things Got To Get Better (Get Together)” – also a Brown production – was sitting at No. 112; it would move up only two more spots, but it would get to No. 22 on the R&B chart.

By August 1969, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass had not had a Top 40 hit since “A Banda” went to No. 35 in September 1967. (“This Guy’s In Love With You,” which went to No. 1 in the spring of 1968, was credited to Alpert alone.) And a summer 1969 cover of the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” didn’t do it for Alpert and his men. The record, which was sitting at No. 118 forty-five years ago this week, isn’t all that great and actually seems kind of joyless, which to me is the antithesis of the best TJB records. It would spend one more week at No. 118 and then go away for good.

In the spring of 1969, long-time band leader and arranger Dick Hyman had a mild hit (No. 38) with “The Minotaur,” a synthesizer piece credited to “Dick Hyman & His Electric Eclectics.” The record was three minutes of the kind of noodling that ends Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s 1970 single, “Lucky Man.” Hyman stayed with the synthesizer as the summer came on, releasing the album The Age Of Electronicus, from which he offered “Aquarius” as a single, which was okay, if you like a healthy dose of R2-D2 with your music. Forty-five years ago this week, Hyman’s “Aquarius” was at No. 126. It got no higher.

One Chart Dig, August 1969

August 19th, 2014

I’ve told the tale before: It was about this time of year in 1969 when I pulled the RCA radio that had been my grandfather’s from a shelf in the basement, took it up to my room and tuned it, most likely, to KDWB, the only Twin Cities Top 40 station that we could get in St. Cloud. After several years of ignoring pop music – though I heard it all around me – it was time to listen, and to learn.

Why then? I’ve addressed that question here at least once and thought about it many more times, and I’m still uncertain. Part of it was hearing the radio in the football locker room and wanting to fit in there. But part of it was just that the time was right, and I can’t explain that except to say that I was at a point where I needed something musically that I wasn’t getting from Al Hirt and John Barry and the rest of my regular listening.

So what did I hear that day or maybe that evening, when I would have tuned the radio to WJON just across the tracks or to Chicago’s WLS? Well, here’s the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1969, forty-five years ago:

“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells
“Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Laughing” by the Guess Who

That’s a hell of a Top Ten although I know many folks might want to edit out the Zager & Evans single. And as I scan the Billboard Hot 100 for August 23, 1969, I know nearly all of the Top 40 and most of the Hot 100. It’s when we drop below No. 100 and get into the Bubbling Under section of the chart that things become much less familiar. There were twenty-eight records listed in that week’s Bubbling Under section, and only one of them made it into the Top 40: “Sugar On Sunday” by the Clique, which went to No. 22. So what else was down there?

Well, I’m going to throw one onto the table today and probably deal out four more bubblers tomorrow.

Earlier in 1969, Henry Mancini had topped the Hot 100 for two weeks (and the Adult Contemporary chart for eight weeks) with the “Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet,” his sixth Top 40 hit. The follow-up was Mancini’s abridged version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

The record made it only to No. 87, which I think is too bad. I like it a lot, as it scratches my itch for easy listening while at the same time reminding me of the many times I tried to play the Moonlight Sonata (and I may try the piece again; my book of Beethoven sonatas is on the shelf on the other side of the room). Mancini would get back to the Top 40 in early 1971, when “Theme From Love Story” would go to No. 13.

Saturday Single No. 407

August 16th, 2014

There’s been kind of a slow-motion Levon Helm festival going on here for the past few months. A while back, I picked up a CD/DVD combination pack titled Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn, documenting an October 2012 concert aimed at raising funds to preserve the Woodstock recording studio and performance venue of the late musician, who passed on earlier that year.

The line-up for the show was pretty impressive. Along with the Levon Helm band, which counts as one of its members Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, those who performed included Roger Waters, Mavis Staples, Garth Hudson, Marc Cohn, Gregg Allman, John Mayer, Ray LaMontagne, Dierks Bentley, John Hiatt, Jakob Dylan, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Potter and quite a few more.

It took me a couple days to get through the concert, as I generally do my DVD watching for an hour or so late in the evening after the Texas Gal has retired for the night. And of course, tracks from the CDs of the show occasionally popped up randomly before, during and since the time I finished the film. My favorite performances? Three of them stand out: Marc Cohn’s “Listening to Levon,” which comes from his 2007 album Join The Parade; Mavis Staples’ take on “Move Along Train,” a 1966 Staple Singers’ track covered by Levon on his final album, 2009’s Electric Dirt; and Grace Potter’s rendition of “I Shall Be Released,” which The Band recorded for its 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.

Another DVD I’ve been taking in even more slowly is the 2011 release titled Ramble At The Ryman, chronicling a 2008 performance by Levon and his band – with a few guests – at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, the one-time home of the Grand Old Opry. As does Love For Levon, the Ramble At The Ryman draws significantly on the catalog of The Band as well as wide swaths of American folk and country music. I’m not sure why I’m going more slowly on viewing Ramble At The Ryman; perhaps it’s because I had the CD of the performance long before I got the DVD, and there are no real surprises. (Conversely, I got Love For Levon as a CD/DVD package, so most performances on the DVD were new as I watched.)

But there was a third portion to the Levonfest this week. Digging in the catalog of the local Great River Regional Library, I found the DVD Ain’t In It For My Health, a film by Jacob Hatley that shows Levon at home in Woodstock and on the road in early 2008 as Levon is recording Electric Dirt. During the film’s shooting, Levon learns that The Band will be given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and that his 2007 album Dirt Farmer was nominated for (and won) a Grammy for best traditional folk album. He dismisses the lifetime achievement award as – I think I have the quote correct – “something for the folks in the suits,” but he’s clearly delighted near the end of the film to hear the news about the Grammy for Dirt Farmer.

Beyond those bits, two portions of Ain’t In It For My Health stick with me: There is a sequence showing Levon with some of his farming neighbors, and at one point, Levon drives one of their tractors around a field with a huge grin on his face. And several times during the shooting, we see Levon and Larry Campbell of the Levon Helm Band working on an unfinished Hank Williams song called “You’ll Never Again Be Mine.”

The unfinished lyrics were among those found by a janitor for Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2006. After some legal wrangling, Sony sent the lyrics to Bob Dylan, asking him to complete the songs. Levon was one of those invited to take part in the project, along with Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell and others. Ain’t In It For My Health shows several brief scenes of Levon and Campbell crafting a melody and filling in lyrics for the song’s bridge.

And in the last portions of the film, we see other members of Levon’s band laying down their parts for the track. Near the end of the film, Levon, with his voice diminished by age and ravaged by illness but still vital, adds the lead vocal.

Here’s how “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” turned out on the 2011 album The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams. It’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘Gotta Get Down On Friday . . .’

August 15th, 2014

Somehow here at the EITW studios, we have lapsed recently into a Wednesday/Friday/Saturday schedule instead of the preferred Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday package. And then a Friday like today makes its entrance, one of those days when I stumble to the kitchen at my normal hour of 7 a.m., feed the cats and then decide that more rest is necessary for the back muscles I evidently strained yesterday climbing up and down the kitchen stepstool and dusting shelves.

So I went back upstairs, told the Texas Gal as she rose that she would have to get by without me, and I went back to sleep. I did not think to tell her that the cats had been fed. She told me a few moments ago that as she collected their bowls and opened a can of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast,” they gathered at her feet and, like hobbits, happily accepted second breakfast.

Obviously, I did not stay in bed all day. I have some things to do, but I shall do them slowly. Before I get to those things, though, I wanted to put something here, so I dug into my small assortment of Friday songs. And I came across something I found at YouTube three years ago, when Rebecca Black’s video of her recording “Friday” went viral and was vilified as perhaps the worst pop song ever. (It was bad, but “worst ever” is a difficult hurdle to slide under. I suppose we could begin taking nominations . . .)

Shortly after Black’s video went viral, a YouTube user named HeyMikeBauer uploaded a performance of the song and said in his notes, “The source of Rebecca Black’s hit single ‘Friday’ is revealed in this lost recording from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.”

So here’s Bob Dylan’s “Friday” (put together, obviously, by someone with a great sense of humor, a good deal of affection for Bob Dylan and a great Dylan imitation). Do yourself a favor: Click through to YouTube and read the comments; some folks get the joke (and expand on it), others don’t get it at all.

Hash Browns & All-Nighters

August 13th, 2014

The Texas Gal and I headed out early this morning, grabbing breakfast at a Perkins restaurant just down the block from her office in downtown St. Cloud. She and her co-workers pop in frequently for muffins and such, so she knows many of the folks who work there.

“There’s one hostess who’s been working in this restaurant for forty years,” she told me as we ate. “I can’t imagine working in one place that long.”

I nodded and took another bite of hash browns, and as I did, two things crossed my mind. First, working in the same place for forty years (or more) used to be common in the U.S. Second, the hostess the Texas Gal knows likely started working at that downtown Perkins when it opened its doors. I’m not exactly sure when the place was built, but it was sometime in the early 1970s. I vaguely remember stopping there for snacks after movies during my college years (not often, though; I was a regular at the Country Kitchen on the East Side).

I remember more clearly having breakfast at that Perkins very early on several Monday and Thursday mornings during the spring and summer of 1977, when I was the arts editor for St. Cloud State’s University Chronicle. Our Sunday and Wednesday evening paste-up sessions often ran into early Monday and Thursday. The long hours weren’t because there was so much to do to get the paper ready for the press run but because were so disorganized and frankly, not yet very good at newspapering.

We did have the occasional late-written story, like the time I assigned a reporter to review a Wednesday night Cheap Trick concert on campus. I evidently wasn’t clear that I wanted the review the night of the show, because after the reporter did not show up, I called her at home. She apologized and came in and wrote the review, leaving behind – based on the voice I heard in the background on the telephone – a disgruntled boyfriend.

Most of the time, though, our stories were finished by the time paste-up started at 5 p.m. or so, and then we struggled to assemble the twelve tabloid pages, most of the time finishing about midnight a task that should have taken no more than three to four hours. On those evenings, we all headed home. But on the nights that stretched into the early morning, say 3 or 4 o’clock, we’d head downtown and crowd into a corner booth at Perkins.

That corner booth is still there, empty this morning but filled in memory with the laughter of exhaustion and the exhilaration of once more completing a task as a team. As I glanced at that corner booth this morning, I heard a snippet of music coming from the speakers in the ceiling: Jim Horn’s saxophone solo on Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter In The Rain.” And I wondered for a moment what music would have been coming from those speakers during the summer of 1977. Probably something middle-of-the-road, very unlike the stuff we’d been listening to as we did our paste-up.

And Perkins’ music in 1977 was no doubt very different from a minor gem I found this morning below the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on this date in that long-ago year of 1977. Thirty-seven years ago today, “Funky Music” by the Ju-Par Universal Orchestra was bubbling under at No. 109.

Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles tells us that the Ju-Par Universal Orchestra was “a funk group assembled by Juney Garrett and Richard Parker,” and that tells us where the Ju-Par came from. (As you can see in the video below, “Ju-Par” was also the name of the label on which the record was released.) The record, which is indeed pretty funky, would bubble up to No. 101 the next week and then disappear (though it went to No. 32 on the R&B chart).

Saturday Single No. 406

August 9th, 2014

Given yesterday’s post about the events of August 8, 1974, I thought that this morning we’d bounce around in 1974 some more, hitting six tracks from the year by random and then choosing one for today’s featured single. But my first random track hit so close to home that I saw no point in going further.

What I found is “Hang On To Your Happy Days” from Toni Brown, one of the two women who were central in Joy of Cooking, one of my favorite bands from that era. The track comes from Brown’s solo album Good For You, Too, on which she got some help from Joy-mate Terry Gathwaite.

As I wrote to a blogging pal in 2007, the album “tends to drift a little more closely than the group’s albums did toward the shallow end of the singer-songwriter pool. It’s still a nice listen, though, and the songs show Brown’s craft and talent well, even if the production by Chip Young sometimes threatens to overwhelm them.”

And the track I fell into this morning provides a cautionary statement that works as well in 2014 as it did forty years ago: “Someday, you might know how it feels to be hanging on. You better hang on to your happy days.”

So here’s Toni Brown’s “Hang On To Your Happy Days,” today’s Saturday Single.

An Odd Sorrow Recalled

August 8th, 2014

I remember sitting on the green couch in the basement rec room, flanked by my parents, forty years ago tonight. I was twenty, and the three of us rarely watched TV together anymore, but that night, we watched as President Richard Nixon told us and the rest of the world that he would resign the presidency.

(As to why Nixon resigned, folks my age and nearby will likely remember very well the crimes, the cover-ups, the dirty tricks and the secret tapes; if, by chance, you’re younger than that or have amnesia, two books would provide a good start: All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon by Judge John J. Sirica.)

I don’t know how my folks felt about the president’s resignation. I’m pretty sure my mom was a Republican at the time and happily voted for Nixon in both 1968 and 1972. I think my dad was generally a Democrat, and almost certainly voted for Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968. I think that the ultra-liberal leanings of Democratic candidate George McGovern troubled Dad in 1972, but I’m not sure if that resulted in a vote for Nixon or not.

Me? I happily cast my first presidential vote for George McGovern in 1972, wrongly thinking that he might have a chance at winning the election but rightly thinking even as the electoral votes were totaled that night that the iceberg that was Watergate would eventually sink the S.S. Nixon, an opinion that my folks tended to greet with skepticism.

In many other cases, it would have been pleasant to sit on that green couch forty years ago tonight and know that I had been proven right (and would continue to be proven right for the next few years as trials went by and books and then more books came out). But the moment seemed too serious that night forty years ago to indulge in any kind of satisfaction about having been prescient. Instead, there was relief that the saga was coming to an end, there was some disgust at the repetition of old tired justifications for unacceptable actions, and there was an odd sense of sorrow.

I disagreed with almost everything Richard Nixon said and did, and his crimes and those committed by his people in his name were too serious for him to remain in office. I felt no sympathy for the man. But I felt that odd sorrow. Why? I’m still not sure.

Maybe it was for those who were duped by the president and his men for so long, which was most of us in the U.S. Maybe it was for the country having been so preoccupied for two years when other issues remained unattended and unresolved. Maybe it was because there was a thought that it didn’t have to turn out the way it did, that one bad choice in the Nixon camp led to another bad choice and then another and another. (If that thought lingered, it wasn’t for long, as I soon came to the conclusion that very little – for good or ill – happened by accident or without forethought in the Nixon White House.)

Whatever its genesis, there was that small sorrow as I watched the president announce his plans to resign. And when the speech was over, Mom and Dad and I went upstairs and went about whatever we did to fill the remainder of an August evening in 1974, me with that bit of sorrow hanging around for some time.

In retrospect, that evening’s address and the actual resignation of the president the next day was the first of three events in a little more than a year’s time that I think closed the door on the era that we call the Sixties. The other two? At the end of April 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, and the Vietnam War was over. In September 1975, Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress who might have been turned into a radical, was arrested in San Francisco. And we moved on.

And what music from early August 1974 fits the mood that I find myself in while writing this piece? Well, there’s “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” by Bobby “Blue” Bland. Ostensibly written about the absence of a woman, it can be heard as being about the absence of any cherished thing. As I look back to that evening forty years ago tonight, I think the sorrow I felt was because we’d lost something, even if I couldn’t – and still can’t – put a name on it. And even if the words aren’t quite right, Bland’s record sounds like I remember feeling that night.

In the Billboard Hot 100 released two days after my folks and I watched the president announce his resignation, Bland’s plaint was sitting at No. 100. It would move up to No. 91 and to No. 9 on the R&B chart.

My Russian Fascination

August 6th, 2014

At the top of my reading pile these days is The Zhivago Affair, the tale of how Russian author Boris Pasternak came to write the novel Dr. Zhivago, how he came to have the novel first published in 1957 in Italy (to the absolute dismay and anger of Soviet authorities who wanted it not to be published at all), and how the United States’ CIA used the novel as an anti-Soviet tool.

I’m about halfway through the book, written by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée, and I find it fascinating, as I do many books, movies and pieces of music that have any connection with Russia. That fascination has endured for many years, built on a number of things, including (but likely not limited to) watching and reading the news of the Cold War centered on Moscow and Washington during my childhood; playing the many pieces of Russian and Eastern European music that my orchestra director at St. Cloud Tech High School selected for our repertoire; seeing the 1965 film version of Dr. Zhivago not long after it came out; spending six days in 1973 in Moscow and the city that was then called Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg, as it was at its founding in 1703); and learning (and watching as an adult) the arc of Russian history from ambitious empire to Soviet linchpin to chaotic democracy to today’s authoritarian state.

When that fascination was developing, in the late 1960s, I tried to read Pasternak’s novel and found it confusing and not a little boring. For years, as an adult, I had a leather-bound copy of the novel on my shelf and never read it. That copy is gone now; I evidently sold it during the lean years of the late 1990s. And as I read The Zhivago Affair, I’m tempted to try Dr. Zhivago once again. I’ll also likely take another look at the David Lean film. I ordered it several years ago from Netflix but for some reason never finished watching it; what I did see confirmed my long-standing impression of it as sprawling but likely easier to digest than the novel itself.

With the movie, of course, comes the music: Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack, for which he won a deserved Academy Award. During recent late evenings, I’ve been using the expanded version of the soundtrack as background music for The Zhivago Affair just as I once used Tchaikovsky’s music – including, of course, the “1812 Overture” – for a long-abandoned reading of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Another book I need to try again, I guess.) Jarre’s themes and motifs echo Russian music; the real thing also comes out of the speakers here frequently, from Tchaikovsky to Borodin to Glinka to a scavenged collection of maybe 300 Russian folk songs and the two-CD set The Best of the Red Army Choir.

The listening is easy. Reading, of course, takes more time (and sometimes much more effort). There are Russian books beyond Tolstoy’s masterpiece that I need to read, including a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment that was signed and dated by my dad in 1948. And I need to accelerate my reading of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, at which I’ve been poking for years. (Fortunately, Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Soviet forced labor camps – and of the various government agencies that sent millions to those camps – is more anecdotal than narrative, so reading bits and pieces at a time is an approach that seems to work.)

So is this fascination of mine with things Russian – especially with the period from, oh, 1900 through 1950 – just a historical interest? I don’t think so. It feels deeper than that, like the grip that Stonehenge has had on me over the years. I think that the soul I carry through this life – or that carries me, more fittingly – knows Russia well. That’s all I can say. Would I like to be able to say more? Well, yes, but the best I can do is guess at this point. And beyond indulging in a little bit of supposition over a beer with friends, I’m better off finishing The Zhivago Affair and then turning my attention to other works that might enlighten me, helping me to know (once again, I think) the history and culture of a place that seems so alien and yet so familiar.

Here’s Maurice Jarre’s “Main Title” from the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago.

Saturday Single No. 405

August 2nd, 2014

I’m feeling old and battered this morning. I had a visit with Dr. Julie yesterday, and today, two new bottles of pills sit on the counter here in the EITW studios: an antibiotic for whatever it is that has annoyed my sinuses and lymph nodes, and a heartburn remedy for the gastric inflammation that’s arisen in the last two weeks.

It seems to be a given in our culture, with its miracle medicines and its resulting reliance on pills (not always a good thing, that last), that the older we get, the more bottles of pills gather on our counters and in our medicine chests. And they’re beginning to accumulate here, which makes me aware – as do a few other things – that in just more than a month, I’ll turn 61.

Still, I have to think myself lucky for at least two reasons: First, my collection of active prescriptions still numbers less than ten, far less than my mother’s current total and far less as well than my father’s total in the months before he passed on eleven years ago. Second, we have decent health insurance, at least as far as prescriptions go; other aspects of our current coverage have not yet, happily, been tested.

As to the “battered” portion of the lead sentence above, well, about two-thirds of the way down the stairs this morning, I stepped on a cat toy and thumped the rest of the way down the stairs on my posterior. That did no favors for any portions of my aging body. And the cats were distinctly unsympathetic. Two of them looked at me as I sat at the bottom of the stairs, shaking my head, and then they headed toward the kitchen and their breakfast.

Ah, well. I broke no bones and pulled no muscles. And if yesterday’s new prescriptions do their work, I should be feeling better in ten days or so. So I’m okay. And having decided that, I made my way through the Billboard files this morning to see if I could find out anything interesting about August 2, and I found a Hot 100 released that day in 1975.

The top five are familiar:

“One Of These Nights” by the Eagles
“I’m Not In Love” by 10 c.c.
“Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees
“Please Mister Please” by Olivia Newton-John
“The Hustle” by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony

Familiar, inoffensive and not at all inspiring. So, I thought, what about albums? Here are the top five albums from this week in 1975:

One Of These Nights by the Eagles
Love Will Keep Us Together by the Captain & Tenille
The Heat Is On by the Isley Brothers
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy by Elton John
Venus & Mars by Wings

All well-known albums, three of them – those by the Eagles, the Isleys and Wings – very good, but again, nothing that inspires this morning (although I suppose I should give another listen to the Elton John album as I’ve read that it’s a great album, which is a judgment I’ve never reached).

So I went back to the August 2, 1975, Billboard Hot 100, turned August 2 in No. 82 and scrolled down the list. And there I came upon a bouncy single titled “Rock & Roll Runaway” by Ace, the British group that in the spring of 1975 had a No. 3 hit with “How Long.” “Runaway” didn’t do nearly as well, peaking at No. 71.

And I wondered how many stations popped the single on their playlists. Probably not many, based on the station surveys available at ARSA. Three stations’ surveys gathered there list the record: WNCI in Columbus, Ohio; KLWN in Lawrence, Kansas; and KLIK in Jefferson City, Missouri, where the record was listed in the “Extras” section.

And that’s all I know. But this morning, it’s enough. So here’s Ace’s “Rock & Roll Runaway,” today’s Saturday Single.

Sitting Near The Bottom

July 31st, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, Odd, Pop and I spent some time looking at records that over the years on July 8 had perched at No. 100 in the Billboard Hot 100 and at the bottom of the magazine’s Bubbling Under section. The exercise brought our attention back to the music of B.W. Stevenson, which provided two CDs’ worth of new listening and fodder for a few posts in this space.

I don’t expect anything quite as cool as that to come out of a similar exploration for three charts released on July 31 in the 1960s and 1970s, but we’ll see what we find.

We’ll start in 1961, when the No. 100 record was a lugubrious bit of wedding bell doo-wop by a New York-based R&B group called the Van Dykes. “The Bells Are Ringing” had been released in 1958 on the King label and went nowhere; this release, on the Deluxe label, would climb one more spot, to No. 99, before disappearing. (Earlier in 1961, “Gift Of Love,” a re-release on the Guardian Angel label of a recording that had been released on the Spring label in 1960, had done a little better, climbing to No. 91.)

Parked at No. 120, the bottom of the Bubbling Under section on July 31, 1961, was “Johnny Willow” by Fred Darian, the ludicrous tale of a World War II infantryman who, if I hear the record correctly, helped hold off the enemy while holding a letter to his girl in his left hand and his rifle in his right hand. The record, which accelerates alarmingly to an almost tongue-twisting speed, eventually spent one week in the Hot 100, making it to No. 96. It was Darian’s second low-charting record based on things military; the Detroit native saw his spoken word “Battle of Gettysburg” spend one week at No. 100 in February 1961. (Darian was also a co-writer of “Mr. Custer,” Larry Verne’s No. 1 hit from 1960.)

And we’re off to 1965, when the No. 100 record on July 31 was a single recorded live that in ten weeks would peak at No. 5 (No. 2 R&B): “The ‘In’ Crowd” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. It was the sole Top Ten hit for the jazz pianist, but he’d put three more records into the Top 40 in the next year: “Hang On Sloopy” went to No. 11, a cover of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” went to No. 29, and “Wade In The Water” went to No. 19. Lewis’ 20th and last record in or near the Hot 100 was “What’s The Name Of This Funk (Spiderman),” which went to No. 69 in 1976.

The Bubbling Under section that July 31 was thirty-five records deep, and sitting at the very bottom of that section was a record by young English singer who in a little bit more than a year would become a television and recording star. “What Are We Going To Do” by David Jones is a lightweight record that to my ears owes a lot to Herman’s Hermits. In a couple of weeks it would move into the Hot 100 and peak at No. 93. Starting in September 1966, Jones would be better known as Davy, and with the other three members of the Monkees, would star in the hit television show and record and release numerous hit records, including three that went to No. 1.

In her first hit record, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (No. 1 pop and country, 1968), Jeannie C. Riley took on small-town hypocrisy. In 1971, in the last record she had in or near the Hot 100, Riley took on cohabitation, telling her beau in “Good Enough To Be Your Wife” that shacking up wasn’t gonna happen. The record was at No. 100 as July 1971 ended, and it would only move up three more notches before disappearing. On the country chart, however, “Good Enough To Be Your Wife” went to No. 7, the sixth and final record Riley put into the country Top Ten.

The horn band Ides of March had a No. 2 hit in early 1970 with “Vehicle” and kept throwing singles at the wall for the next eighteen months or so, hoping something would stick. Nothing really did, with “Superman,” the immediate follow-up to “Vehicle” doing the best, getting to No. 64. In the last days of July 1971, the band’s “Tie-Dye Princess” was parked at No. 124, smack on the bottom of the Bubbling Under section. It would get up to No. 113, and it was the last time the Ides of March would be in or near the Hot 100. (The single version of “Tie-Dye Princess doesn’t seem to be available at YouTube; you can find the eleven-minute album track here.)