Archive for the ‘Symmetry’ Category

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

Friday, November 20th, 2020

We’re playing Symmetry today, checking out the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1970. We’ll look at the top five and then see what was hanging on the hook at No. 50 fifty years ago.

Here’s the top five from the Hot 100 as of November 21, 1970:

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
“We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“The Tears Of A Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“Fire & Rain” by James Taylor

I don’t think I was particularly thrilled by that set of five records fifty years ago, as my senior year of high school was sliding by. I noted earlier this week that at the time I thought “I Think I Love You” was a little too poppy but that I admire its craft now.

One of the best things about the records we love is that they connect with us emotionally, tie in somehow to what we’re feeling at the time they come along. Over the fifty years that I’ve been seriously listening to and thinking about music, there are no doubt hundreds of records with which I’ve connected emotionally.

None of these five are among those hundreds of records.

They’re fine records all, but not one of them has ever meant anything to me. (There is that one fleeting memory of hearing the Partridge Family record during a long-ago date, but that’s it.) Even James Taylor’s classic, ushering in (kind of, sort of, maybe) the era of the singer-songwriter (a genre I loved then and still love) has no emotional resonance for me.

I would guess it’s one of the few times that would happen during the years of my so-called sweet spot, running from the late summer of 1969 to the late autumn of 1975. Four of the five – all except “I’ll Be There” – are in the iPod and thus are a part of my day-to-day listening, but the prospect of deleting them would bring no distress (except, and this make sense, a slight bit of regret at losing “I Think I Love You”).

But what do we find when we get to our other business this morning? What was at No. 50 during the third week of November 1970?

We find the record that in a very few weeks would become Neil Young’s first Top 40 hit: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” Pulled from the stellar album After The Gold Rush, the record had been No. 60 a week earlier and would rise to No. 33. It’s a good record. (For what it matters, it’s not in the iPod either, though maybe it should be.)

No. 50, Fifty Years Ago (October 1970)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

Despite the concern at plowing fields already set into furrows, we’re going to play a game of Symmetry this morning and check out the record that was at No. 50 in the Billboard Hot 100 during the first portion of October fifty years ago, in 1970.

We’ll start with a look at the top five from the Hot 100 as offered in the magazine’s October 10 edition:

“Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“Candida” by Dawn
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“All Right Now” by Free

That’s a pretty decent quarter-hour of listening. There might have been times over the past half-century when I would have looked askance at the Jackson 5 or Dawn singles, finding them a little bit lightweight, but these days, they’re fine. Neither one of them has been plugged into the iPod, where I find my day-to-day listening, but after this morning, they’ll be on the short list, with “Candida” a little closer to the top than “I’ll Be There.”

The Diana Ross and Free singles are in the iPod, but somehow while I was reloading the device after getting a new computer during the summer. I managed to do so without selecting any tracks by Neil Diamond. That oversight will be corrected today, and “Cracklin’ Rosie” will be one of the tracks selected.

And what of our main business today? Well, sitting at No. 50 fifty years ago this week was a record that takes me back to late autumn evenings in 1970, when it was just me and my RCA radio killing time in my bedroom. Among the songs I heard that autumn was the only Top 40 hit by the English band named after its vocalist: “Yellow River” by Christie.

The record, says band leader and writer Jeff Christie, was inspired by the thoughts of a soldier going home after the American Civil War. Given the era in which it was released, with the U.S. still entangled in the Vietnam War, many listeners thought the record was about current events. On a page on his website, Christie has collected comments he’s received about the record over the years from Vietnam vets and others who lived through the times.

Fifty years ago this week, “Yellow River” was on its way to a peak of No. 23 in late November. The record also went to No. 22 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. A later single from the group, “San Bernadino,” got to No. 100 in late January 1971. (And yes, the record’s title misspelled the name of the California city.)

Here’s “Yellow River.”

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago (September 1970)

Friday, September 18th, 2020

As promised earlier this week, we’re playing Symmetry, looking back fifty years to whatever record was sitting at No. 50 in the Billboard Hot 100 at this point in September 1970. First, though, we’re going to take a look at the Top Five released fifty years ago tomorrow:

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross
“War” by Edwin Starr
“Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See The Light” by CCR
“Patches” by Clarence Carter
“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman

This is not a particularly great five (or six) from where I listened long ago. There are some nice moments here, especially the intro to the Diana Ross single (although the spoken word portion of the record tamps that down a bit for me), and “War” is always going to get one’s attention. I like the CCR B-side, and the Bobby Sherman single always reminds me that there was a young lady named Julie during that long-ago season who was – clearly in retrospect but not evident to my seventeen-year-old self – interested in me.

As to the CCR A-side and the Clarence Carter single, I’ve never been interested, though I could no doubt sing along without errors as each of them played.

The four I dealt with two paragraphs above are in fact in the iPod and thus are part of my current listening, but if I were forced to trim, say, a hundred tracks from the device, three of them would likely be among those culled. Julie would stay.

And what do we find when we drop halfway down the Hot 100? We chance on one of the great singer-songwriter singles, one that’s been, I think, devalued and set aside somewhat as a result of its prominence, its ubiquity, and its status as one of the foundations of the decade’s singer-songwriter movement: James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain.”

I don’t remember the first time I heard the record, but I do know that as I heard it frequently during the autumn of 1970, its personal and confessional lyrics touched something in me. I’d guess – not for the first time – that the record was part of what moved me to begin writing my own stuff later that school year. (The other part, of course, was an unrequited affection for a sophomore girl, the tale of which I told in 2009 and revisited some years later in a post found here.)

If one tries to listen to the record with fresh ears – an almost impossible task after so many years and so many hearings – it remains a remarkable piece of work, one that went to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 7 on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart.

No. 40 Forty Years Ago

Friday, August 7th, 2020

We’ll dabble in 1980 today, a year we don’t often visit. (The search function at the right side of the page tells me we’ve featured the year just twenty-eight time since we set up our own site on the ’Net nearly 1,600 posts ago.)

Why so few? Well, it was about that time, as I’ve noted here before, that Top 40 music began to speak less and less to me, and I certainly had less time to listen, anyway, being busy with reporting and husbanding.

So, let’s take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 9, 1980. I’m relatively sure most of the records in its Top Ten will be familiar, but I’m not at all certain how favorably they will be remembered. Then we’ll play Symmetry and see what was sitting at No. 40 forty years ago this week.

Here’s the Top Ten from August 9, 1980:

“Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
“It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” by Billy Joel
“Little Jeannie” by Elton John
“Take Your Time (Do It Right) (Part 1)” by the S.O.S. Band
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross
“Shining Star” by the Manhattans
“Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones
“Cupid/I’ve Loved You For A Long Time (Medley)” by the Spinners
“Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)” by Paul McCartney
“Upside Down” by Diana Ross

Well, they’re all familiar, though I had to head to YouTube for a reminder of the S.O.S. Band’s single and, oddly, the Stones’ record.

Did I like any of those records forty years ago? The Elton John single was all right, as was the Christopher Cross, and I kind of like the Newton-John and Manhattans records, too. I thought “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me” was wooden and silly, and the Spinners’ medley was a long distance from their greatness only a half-decade before. The McCartney/Wings record didn’t matter, and although I wasn’t fond of “Upside Down,” it turns out today to be an earworm of great power.

Do any of them matter today? Only one. “Sailing” is the only one of those ten records among the 2,700-some in the iPod. Having been reminded of “Little Jeannie” and “Magic,” I might drop them into the device.

Now, on to our other task, checking out the record that was at No. 40 forty years ago.

Well, it’s a record that I recall hearing back then, though I haven’t thought about it for years: “Someone That I Used To Love” by Natalie Cole. The record was in its eighth week on the chart, and would hang around for another thirteen weeks, peaking at No. 21. That was also where it peaked on the magazine’s R&B chart. It did much better on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart, peaking at No. 3.

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago (May 1970)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, and today, we’ll head back to the last month of my junior year of high school, a time I recall as being among the best musical seasons of my life. (As to the other aspects of my life, well, I was sixteen and learning.)

Here’s the Top Ten from Billboard for the second week in May 1970:

“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“ABC” by the Jackson 5
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
“Vehicle” by the Ides Of March
“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“Love Or Let Me Be Lonely” by the Friends Of Distinction
“Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens
“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” by John Ono Lennon
“Turn Back The Hands Of Time” by Tyrone Davis
“Reflections Of My Life” by Marmalade

There’s no way I can critically assess most of those eleven records. They were my afternoon and evening companions during that long-ago spring. Ray Stevens’ record would elicit a groan when it came through the radio speakers, but the others were always welcome.

My rankings at the time would have put the records by the Friends Of Distinction and Tyrone Davis in ninth and tenth place, and they might have deserved better, being fine pieces of pop soul, a genre that wasn’t really in my wheelhouse back then. Even today, the best either one of them could do is sixth place, behind “Let It Be,” “Instant Karma,” “Spirit In The Sky,” “Reflections Of My Life,” and “Vehicle.”

I should note that the version of “Let It Be” I heard on the radio was the version produced by George Martin, and I was startled not long after this Top Ten came out when I bought the Let It Be album and heard the very different version Phil Spector came up with when he produced the album. Fifty years later, I still prefer the single version (though Spector’s version is not nearly as jarring now as it was then).

I think I’ve made reference over the years here to the three-day performing and touring trip by the St. Cloud Tech Concert Choir in the spring of 1970. Somebody brought a radio, and I’m certain we heard all eleven of those records. I specifically recall two of them – “Spirit In The Sky” and “Instant Karma” – competing with the conversation and laughter of about sixty high school seniors and juniors as we headed through the Minnesota night toward the Canadian border and the city of Winnipeg.

So those records are part of my musical DNA, and I’d guess that ten of them are in the iPod and thus are still part of my day-to-day listening. And I’m right. The only record of the eleven in that list at the top of the page that is not in the iPod is the Ray Stevens record. I imagine that somewhere from the years 1969 through 1972, I could find a Top Ten that’s an iPod sweep, but until that shows up, ten out of eleven is pretty damned good.

But what about our other business this morning? What do we find when we drop to No. 50? Well, we find a record that’s not on any of the shelves here: “Chicken Strut” by the Meters. So all we can do is note that the record went no higher, and then listen . . . and cluck.

No. 47, Forty-Seven Years Ago

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

We’ve not done anything in 1973 since sometime last year, so I thought we’d fire up the Symmetry machine and jump into the middle of April 1973.

I was finishing my second academic year at St. Cloud State, but I recall at most two of the classes I took. I think I repeated the basic history class I’d failed during my first quarter on campus, replacing African history with a look at Nineteenth Century anarchism in Europe. And with more than a hundred other folks, I was taking an orientation to Denmark (once a week, I think), and as we met, I had no clue that most of the people in that room would become friends with whom I would still gather more than forty years later.

(Of course, at nineteen, I couldn’t conceive of things being forty years later. Hell, I trouble trying to figure out what life was going to be like five months later when most of us in that room headed out to Denmark. And I kind of knew that however I envisioned it, it would be different.)

Otherwise, I was hanging around at The Table in the student union, laughing and sipping coffee with about ten other folks, three of whom remain in my life today. And I assume we heard at least some of mid-April’s Billboard Top Ten as we gathered not far from the jukebox:

“The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence
“Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye)” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn feat. Tony Orlando
“Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” by the Four Tops
“Sing” by the Carpenters
“The Cisco Kid” by War
“Danny Song” by Anne Murray
“Break Up To Make Up” by the Stylistics
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Call Me (Come Back Home)” by Al Green

Well, the records by Gladys Knight, the Four Tops, the Stylistics, Roberta Flack and Al Green save that set of ten, although “Neither One Of Us” is one of Knight’s lesser efforts (and the same might be said of the Four Tops’ record).

Lawrence’s attempt at a southern gothic tale of good ole boys, illicit romance, murder and lynching has always fallen flat to me, with too much pop sheen and too lilting a chorus. Slow it down a fair amount, add some swamp, and have Cher include it on her Muscle Shoals album, and I’d probably like it.

I tuned out “Yellow Ribbon” and “The Cisco Kid” whenever I heard them, and even though I liked some of the Carpenters’ stuff, “Sing” was just too saccharine. As to “Danny’s Song,” I much prefer Loggins & Messina’s 1971 version.

So, how many of those ten have stayed with me for nearly fifty years? Among the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod, I find only the records by Gladys Knight and the Stylistics. I’m surprised by the absence of the records by Al Green and Roberta Flack; those will be added by the end of the day.

And what of our other business today? When we drop to No. 47 in that long-ago Hot 100, what do we find? Well, we find the only Top 40 hit for an R&B group from Harlem, and it’s a record I remember well, one I liked a lot. And it was in fact one of the first tracks I dug out of the LP stacks to rip to an mp3 when I got my digital turntable: “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” by New York City.

Released on the Chelsea label, the record went to No. 17 in the Billboard Hot 100, No. 14 on the magazine’s R&B chart, and No. 8 on the Easy Listening chart.

No. 48, Forty-Eight Years Ago

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, and today, we’re wandering back to January of 1972, a time when I was kind of figuring out college life. I was learning how to study, how to enjoy coffee, and how to put together a late-night, five-minute, top-of-the-hour newsbreak for St. Cloud State’s KVSC-FM that wouldn’t sound stupid being bracketed by Mason Proffit and Long John Baldry.

We’re going to change the game a little bit today, calling it Album Symmetry and instead of looking at the top singles, we’ll look at the album chart. The top ten albums in the Billboard 200 forty-eight years ago today were:

Music by Carole King
American Pie by Don McLean
Chicago at Carnegie Hall
The Concert for Bangla Desh
Led Zeppelin IV
Teaser & The Firecat by Cat Stevens
Tapestry by Carole King
All In The Family soundtrack
There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone
Black Moses by Isaac Hayes

Eight of those eventually ended up on the vinyl stacks here. At the time this chart was released, two, maybe three, of those albums were in the cardboard box in the basement rec room: The Concert For Bangla Desh and Tapestry were for sure, but I’m not certain about the Cat Stevens album.

Tapestry and Teaser . . . were my sister’s LPs, and she’d take them with her when she got married and left Kilian Boulevard during the coming summer. I’d eventually get my own copies of those two records and copies of five more of the ten albums listed there. The only two that didn’t ever show up were the All In The Family soundtrack and the Isaac Hayes album. (The Isaac Hayes album is on the digital shelves, but oddly, the Sly & The Family Stone album is not; all of the others except the All In The Family soundtrack are there.)

So of those, how many matter today? Well, most of Tapestry is in the iPod, as well as selected tracks from Music, American Pie, The Concert For Bangla Desh, and the albums by Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens. It’s the stuff that – if you’ve been reading this blog even semi-regularly – you’d expect to be there. So no surprises there.

But what about our ostensible purpose for being here today? What album sits at No. 48 on that chart released forty-eight years ago today?

Well, it’s an album that never had a chance of getting onto my shelves: Cheech & Chong. I heard the 1971 debut album by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong often at friends’ places, and I laughed along with everyone else. But comedy albums have never been a big deal to me. In fact, the only comedy album I ever sought out for myself was Bill Cosby’s Wonderfulness, which my folks bought for me, most likely in 1967. (A few other comedy records have come and gone in box buys at flea markets and garage sales.)

Enough people elsewhere loved Cheech & Chong for it to get to No. 26 during a sixty-four week run on the chart. And here’s the opening bit from the album, a bit that lives on in a lot of people’s heads when they meet someone named Dave.

No. 45 Forty-Five Years Ago

Friday, December 20th, 2019

I thought we’d drop back to the last month of 1974 today for a quick look at the Billboard Hot 100 and a game of Symmetry. Much of the music in the top of the chart, I imagine, will be familiar from the jukebox near The Table in St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center. Here’s the Top Ten from forty-five years ago:

“Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin
“Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas
“Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy
“When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees
“You’re The First, My Last, My Everything” by Barry White
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by Elton John
“Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” by Al Green
”Junior’s Farm/Sally G” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“I Can Help” by Billy Swan
“Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied)” by B.T. Express

That’s an okay set, I guess. I had to remind myself about the Al Green single with a trip to YouTube, and the very first strains of the record touched a vein of melancholy, an emotion not in short supply that month. The others are all familiar to varying degrees, but none of them were overly important during that long-ago December (although the Three Degrees single became very important not quite a year later when I was courting the young woman who eventually became the Other Half).

Even at the time, I was tired of the Harry Chapin and Billy Swan singles, and my occasionally faulty memory wants me to think that “Kung Fu Fighting” was a hit in the summer instead of the autumn. Was there a favorite among that bunch of eleven records as December 1974 headed into its last ten days? Well, maybe “Angie Baby,” Reddy’s surreal tale about the crazy radio-loving girl.

And today? How many of them are in the iPod? Only two: “Angie Baby” and “When Will I See You Again.” That says something, I guess.

And how about our work a little lower down, when we drop to No. 45 in that long-ago chart, what do we find?

Well, we find a double-sided single from James Brown, the first side of which – “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – has the singer testifying about the sad state of the nation, ending with Brown stating, “I need to be the governor. I need to be the governor . . .” On the B-side, “Coldblooded,” he reminds us that “Every trip you got to be hipper than hip!”

The double-sided single didn’t go much further on the pop chart, peaking at No. 44. On the R&B chart, the A-side went to No. 4, so we’ll go with “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” this morning.

No. 50 Fifty Years Ago

Friday, October 25th, 2019

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, and today, we’ll go back to the last week of October in 1969 during my first autumn as a dedicated Top 40 listener. We’ll take a look at the top of the chart and then drop down to No. 50.

The top five records in the Billboard Hot 100 released fifty years ago today were:

“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Jean” by Oliver
“Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley

As most top fives from that season would be, that’s a nice eighteen or so minutes of music. I don’t recall the Temptations’ single getting as much airplay as a No. 1 record would get. And it turns out the record is absent from all the autumn 1969 surveys from the Twin Cities’ KDWB that are offered at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. And that leaves me wondering how many No. 1 singles over the years failed to reach the station’s survey. Can’t be many.

As to the other four, I recall hearing all of them often and liking them all. My favorite among them is “Suspicious Minds,” which I think is the best post-1950s single Elvis ever released, maybe the best ever. (I’m not going to wade into it today.) And four of the five – all except “Sugar, Sugar” – are among the 3,900 or so on my iPod, meaning they’re still among my current listening.

But how about our other business? What was sitting at No. 50 fifty years ago today? Well, it’s not in the iPod, and it’s not one I recall. It’s “Time Machine” from Grand Funk Railroad, the first Hot 100 hit from the band from Flint, Michigan. It would rise two more spots and peak at No. 48. The band’s first Top 40 hit would be “Closer To Home (I’m Your Captain),” which went to No. 22 in 1970, and the trio would hit No. 1 in September 1973 with “We’re An American Band” and in May 1974 with “The Loco-Motion.”

Here’s “Time Machine.”

No. 41, Forty-One Years Ago

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

We’re playing Symmetry again today, looking back forty-one years to the autumn of 1978 and seeing what record was at No. 41 at October’s mid-point.

A quick glance at the top five in the Billboard Hot 100 released on October 14, 1978 – forty-one years ago yesterday – shows five records that are familiar but not loved:

“Kiss You All Over” by Exile
“Hot Child In The City” by Nick Gilder
“Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste Of Honey
“Don’t Look Back” by Boston
“Reminiscing” by the Little River Band

I know all of those – though I’m oddly a little fuzzy on the Boston record – but none of them matter much to me. That, I think, is a function of age and busyness. I was twenty-five and working long hours at a job I loved during my first autumn at the Monticello Times. I listened to the radio during some evenings at home and in the car as I drove to and from interviews. But it was background, not foreground. No one at work was saying anything like, “Hey, did you hear the new record by Boston?”

So, none of those five rate very high on any list I might make. All of them are on the digital shelves here, which means I don’t detest any of them. None of them were included in the 228-record Ultimate Jukebox I offered here long ago (and only five records from 1978 were included). Two of them – “Reminiscing” and, oddly, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – are in the iPod.

So though I didn’t notice it at the time, by the autumn of 1978, music had become far less central to my life than it had been (and far less central than it would, happily, become again).

So let’s get to what was supposed to be our main business today: Checking out the record at No. 41 on that Hot 100 from mid-October 1978. And we fall into instrumental disco weirdness: Parked at No. 41 is “Themes From The Wizard Of Oz” by Meco.

The record was the third by Pennsylvania-born Domenico Monardo to hit the Hot 100: “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” had spent two weeks at No. 1 during October 1977, and “Theme From Close Encounters” had peaked at No. 25 in early 1978.

After “Themes From The Wizard Of Oz” peaked at No. 35, Meco would see “Empire Strikes Back (Medley)” go to No. 18 in 1980, and – amid a series of similar but less successful releases (including a couple records tabbed as novelties by Joel Whitburn) – “Pop Goes The Movies (Part One)” would go to No. 35 in 1982.

But hey, it’s fun, it’s got a good beat, it’s easy to dance to . . . and it was 1978.