Archive for the ‘Chart Digging’ Category

No. 50, Fifty Years Ago (September 1969)

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Around here, we like our game of Symmetry. It gives us an excuse to dig into old Billboard charts and listen to old records (as if we ever lack for reasons to do either of those things anyway). So we’re going to lean on the idea again today, heading back to mid-September of 1969, fifty years ago.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school, right around the time I got my first Beatles album in almost five years (Abbey Road, on a cassette my sister brought home from the mall), right around the time I began standing on the sidelines of the football field as a manager for the St. Cloud Tech Tigers, and right around the time I first noticed the new violinist in the high school orchestra (whose tale I told long ago).

The RCA radio newly installed in my bedroom was tuned during the early evening to WJON across the tracks and to Chicago’s WLS when I went to bed. And as I listened, I began to learn about music – and things about that music – that my peers had known for, oh, at least five years.

As always, we’ll stop first at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Here was the Top Ten as of September 20, 1969:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash
“Easy To Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods
“Jean” by Oliver
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations

Now, that’s forty minutes or so of radio bliss. The only one of those that doesn’t immediate play clearly in the radio of my head is the Tom Jones single, a re-release – as we discussed a little more than a month ago – of a 1967 single. The other nine make up a solid vein of AM gold for me.

And I am not at all surprised to find all nine of those records among the 3,900-some on the iPod and thus a part of my current playlist. I talk often about times that were formative for me; given my passion for music, those first months of Top 40 listening fifty years ago were just that.

But let’s go find our target for today, the single parked at No. 50 on the Hot 100 fifty years ago this week. And we come across a record by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles originally released as a B-side: “Here I Go Again.” It would peak at No. 37.

It’s a dreamy tune, perfect for a slow dance. And Smokey’s lyrics, well, as he did so many times, he knew exactly what so many of us were feeling in those days:

Saw you there and your laughter seemed to fill the air
A scent like perfume from your lovely hair
I said that I do adore

My heart said to me, don’t walk head on into misery
Hey, with your eyes wide open can’t you see?
A hurt’s in store just like before

Oh ho ho, but here I go again walking into love
Here I go again never thinking of
The danger that might exist
Disregarding all of this just for you

I ignore the detour sign
I won’t stop until you’re mine
I’m past the point of no return

Girl, you walk by and I said to me, myself and I
Now we’ve got to give it one more try
I know somehow the time is now, right now

Oh whoa, here I go again walking into love
Here I go again walking into love

Here I go, here I go
Here I go, here I go again

It’s probably just as well that I never heard the record fifty years ago.

What’s At No. 100? (August 1969)

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

It was in August 1969, as I’ve noted before, that I went down to the basement one evening and adopted my grandfather’s old RCA radio, which had been sitting on a shelf near my dad’s workbench, mostly unused, for some time. (As I think about it this morning, the radio might not actually have been that old: I vaguely recall that Grandpa had won it in a contest or something and didn’t need it, so he gave it to us, and it went on the shelf in the basement, obviously waiting for me to need it.)

I was just becoming interested in pop/rock radio in August 1969, so I asked if I could bring the brown and white radio up to my room. Dad had another radio by his workbench (always tuned to the country sounds of WVAL in nearby Sauk Rapids), so the RCA became mine.

So, as August 2019 nears its end, I thought we’d play What’s At No. 100, taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from the last week of August fifty years ago. But since we looked a 1969 Top Ten the other week when considering Woodstock Weekend, we’ll do things a bit differently this time. We’ll look at the records at No. 10, No. 20, and so on until we get to No. 100. Most of the records we chance on, I assume, will be familiar; some may not. (The number in parentheses at the end of each entry is its peak in the Hot 100.)

No. 10: “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells (No. 2)
No. 20: “Workin’ On a Groovy Thing”: by the 5th Dimension (No. 20)
No. 30: “I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations (No. 1)
No. 40: “It’s Getting Better” by Mama Cass (No. 30)
No. 50: “Simple Song Of Freedom: by Tim Hardin (No. 50)
No. 60: “Lowdown Popcorn” by James Brown (No. 41)
No. 70: “Ease Back” by the Meters (No. 61)
No. 80: “You, I” by the Rugbys (No. 24)
No. 90: “I Want You To Know” by the New Colony Six (No. 65)

The first four of those are familiar, of course, with the 5th Dimension single being more familiar back then from my having the album than from radio play. I noted the other week that I had to go to YouTube to refresh my memory of the Mama Cass single.

The lower five of that list, though, are fuzzy shading to blank. I doubt that I’ve ever heard the Tim Hardin single until today, although I’ve heard covers of the tune by Bob Darin and by the Voices Of East Harlem. I’ve also likely never heard “Lowdown Popcorn” or “Ease Back” until today, which is a result of my digital shelves having not nearly music from James Brown or the Meters. Too much music, too little time.

The Rugbys’ fuzz-charged single is vaguely familiar only because I came upon it not quite ten years ago when I dug into a WDGY survey from September 1969, and “I Want You To Know” is, again, only vaguely familiar.

So that didn’t go so well. But what’s at the bottom of the chart, right at No. 100? Well, we find a piece of funky blues from B.B. King, “Get Off My Back Woman.” That one is on the digital shelves here although I’m not at all certain where I found it. And it was received by listeners about the way most of his singles were received: It peaked at No. 74 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 32 – a little lower than I would have guessed – on the magazine’s R&B chart. (In just a few months, though, King would release the biggest hit of his career, “The Thrill Is Gone,” which went to No. 15 on the Hot 100.)

Chart success or not, “Get Off My Back Woman” is exactly what you want a B.B. King record to be: funky, melodic and plaintive.

‘Go Now!’

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

So what have I been doing lately, besides misreading data and taking away a No. 1 hit from Paul McCartney and Wings by saying “Listen To What The Man Said” peaked in Billboard at No. 13?

(In my defense, well, I’m battling my annual summer sinus infection, and the files I have for the weekly Hot 100 are not always clear. But I really have no defense, as within ten feet of where I sit as I write, there are at least five reference books that would have given me the correct information; and there’s always Wikipedia. I just blew it.)

Other than making stupid mistakes, I’ve been sorting CDs that have come in the mail. As I noted the other day, I’m expanding my collection of the Moody Blues in hopes that I can craft a series of posts assessing the band’s work, probably in three different temporal segments. Those would be the band’s beginnings as a British R&B band in the mid-1960s, the evolution from that phase into pop culture’s mystics and seers from 1967 into 1972, and the less mystical and sometimes less complex music the Moodies released from 1978 through 1999, when Strange Times was released.

(The group released December in 2003, and as I’ve noted over the years, I don’t really do Christmas music, but I’m pondering at least adding the album to the stacks and making a comment or two about it. I don’t know.)

I said I was sorting CDs. All the albums I ordered last week have arrived. The last to get here came yesterday. The Magnificent Moodies CD release has lots of bonus material, offering the group’s 1965 album as it was presented in the U.K. as well as various singles and B-sides that, as I had hoped, include the material that was slipped onto the group’s first U.S. album in place of some of the tracks from the U.K. edition.

So I have lots of listening to do as well as some research. I also have to keep my regular appointments with my physical therapists (and continue to find time to do my home exercises so my visits with those therapists are not wastes of my time or theirs). So let’s get started! We’ll begin at an obvious place: The Moody Blues’ first hit, “Go Now!”

Written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, “Go Now” was first recorded by R&B singer Bessie Banks in 1963 and, Wikipedia says, released in early 1964 on the Blue Cat label, the R&B and soul imprint of Red Bird, owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Banks’ original reached No. 40 on the Billboard R& B chart.

The Moody Blues recorded “Go Now!” – adding an exclamation point to the song’s title – during the summer of 1964. (An unreleased first version of the song, dated to July 24, 1964, is included in the bonus material on the CD of The Magnificent Moodies.) The single was released in the U.K. in in November 1964 and in the U.S. in January 1965, says Wikipedia.

The website notes, without citation, that “[i]n contrast to other songs from their debut album The Magnificent Moodies, ‘Go Now!’ contained many early elements of what later would become progressive rock, such as the lush instrumentation, the innovative variations of the Fifties Progression, as well as strong baroque elements that would later become hallmarks of progressive rock.”

The so-called “Fifties Progression” is, of course, the I-vi-IV-V pattern (C-Am-F-G in the key of C) used in many songs over the years, perhaps most notably in doo-wop. And maybe it’s me, but I don’t hear much of that in the Moodies’ “Go Now!” I hear more of a partial reliance in both verses and choruses on a descending bass pattern and the resulting chord progression that comes from that. The rest of that quote from Wikipedia makes sense, though.

The single was a major hit in the U.K. reaching No. 1 in late January 1965; in the U.S., it entered the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-February and peaked at No. 10. Here’s “Go Now!”

No. 44, Forty-Four Years Ago

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

We’re in the mood for some Symmetry again, this time heading back to the summer of 1975, one of the great seasons of my life: I spent it clearing my general ed requirements in preparation for graduation from St. Cloud State in February 1976, casting a wide social net, working half-time on a campus-wide audio-visual equipment inventory with my pal Murl and some other good folks, and generally enjoying life in a way I hadn’t for some months.

So how good was the music I heard in the car, sometimes at home, and a lot of time at Atwood Center as I whiled away free time with other summer members of the The Table? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from August 23, 1975, forty-four years ago tomorrow:

“Fallin’ In Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
“One Of These Nights” by the Eagles
“Get Down Tonight” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band
“Jive Talkin’” by the Bee Gees
“Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell
“Why Can’t We Be Friends” by War
“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” by James Taylor
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” by Elton John
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian
“Please Mister Please” by Olivia Newton-John

That’s a decent set, with only one record that I did not – and still do not – care for. “Why Can’t We Be Friends” sounded kind of stupid to me then, and forty-four years of hearing it on occasion have not changed that opinion. I wasn’t crazy about “Rhinestone Cowboy,” but I like it a lot more now. And the James Taylor record is not nearly my favorite of his, but when it pops up on the radio I don’t reach for the buttons.

The rest are all fine listening, some of them favorites. And nine of the ten – even “Why Can’t We Be Friends” – are on the digital shelves. (The only one that wasn’t, surprisingly, was the Elton John single, an oversight that’s being corrected as I write.)

As to the stricter measure I use – checking to see if tracks show up in the iPod – well, six of those records show up at the moment. Those missing are the records by War, James Taylor, Olivia Newton-John and Elton John (and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” will be in the iPod by the end of the day).

So that’s seven out of ten that I like hearing yet today, and yet, only one of those records actually says “1975” to me when it comes out of the boom box in the kitchen: “At Seventeen” hung around into the autumn and got a lot of play on the juke box across the room from The Table, so that’s often where my mind goes when I hear it.

But what about our other focus for today? What do we find when we drop down that chart from August 23, 1975, to No. 44? What do we find?

Well, we run into a single from Paul McCartney & Wings that was on its way down the chart after having fallen a few spots short of the Top Ten: “Listen To What The Man Said.”

The record, with Tom Scott on saxophone, peaked at No. 1. (Not No. 13; thanks, Yah Shure.) It’s an immediate earworm and a good listen for a Thursday (and it, too, needs to be added to the iPod).

No. 45, Forty-Five Years Ago

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, this time looking at a Billboard Hot 100 from August 1974. (There were editions of the magazine released on August 17 and August 24 that year; we’re going with the latter edition.) As always, we’ll take a look at the top ten first:

“(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates
“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack
“I Shot The Sheriff” by Eric Clapton
“Waterloo” by ABBA
“Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford
“I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim
“Keep On Smilin’” by Wet Willie

Okay, that starts badly. “(You’re) Having My Baby” is certainly in my list of the ten worst singles, so close to “Seasons In The Sun” territory that I don’t want to think about it much. And while “The Night Chicago Died” is not nearly as awful, it’s still thought of as cringe-worthy around here.

A little further down, we hit two more that don’t get much of my affection: I always thought “Wildwood Weed” was a bad joke gone very wrong, and while Donnie and Marie handled their cover of “I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” all right, it missed the mark by a little when compared with the 1963 version by Dale & Grace. (And, of course, it didn’t come anywhere near the quality of the 1957 R&B original by Don & Dewey.)

That leaves six records from that August 1974 Top Ten that I generally enjoy, and three of those six – the records by Roberta Flack, Andy Kim, and ABBA – are among the 3,900 or so on the iPod and are thus part of my current listening. (The Rufus record may get added the next time I shuffle things around.)

But our business here is lower in that August 1974 Hot 100, as we check in on the No. 45 record from forty-five years ago. And we find “Sugar Baby Love” by the Rubettes, which was on its way up the chart to No. 37.

When last I chanced on the record not quite seven years ago, I wrote:

The Rubettes were a pop rock sextet from London who put nine singles into the U.K. Top 40 between 1974 and 1977. Their “Sugar Baby Love,” a marvelous pop-rock confection that I don’t ever recall hearing (and that I might have thoroughly disdained at the time), went to No. 1 in the U.K.

The record – the Rubettes’ only entry ever in the Hot 100 – has since made its way onto the digital shelves here, where it had stayed unnoticed (except by my imaginary tunehead Pop, who no doubt grieves that his friend Odd and I are slow to comprehend the record’s greatness). Perhaps I should move it into the iPod.

Saturday Single No. 653

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

As this month opened, we did here one of our exercises in Symmetry, matching the number of years in the past with a position on the Billboard Hot 100. In that particular case, we were in the year 1963, and we ended up listening to a dismal Al Martino ditty, “Painted Tainted Rose,” that topped off at No. 15 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the magazine’s Middle-Road Singles chart, the chart that these days is called Adult Contemporary.

It was a dissatisfying conclusion, as sometimes happens when blindly heading toward specific positions on specific charts. But as we seek a Saturday Single this morning, I thought we’d head back to the summer of 1963 and take a look at the top ten on the Billboard Middle-Road Singles chart during the second week or August.

That’s the kind of stuff that was playing on the radio stations we listened to on Kilian Boulevard at the time, when I was preparing for fifth grade and reading news stories in the Minneapolis Star that I didn’t entirely understand about places like Mississippi and Vietnam. I imagine I’ll recognize some of that top ten and find a tune suitable for an August morning fifty-six years later. So here we go:

“Blowin’ In The Wind” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“More” by Kai Winding
“Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” by Rolf Harris
“Hopeless” by Andy Williams
“Abilene” by George Hamilton IV
“Green, Green” by the New Christy Minstrels
“Detroit City” by Bobby Bare
“Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton
“My Whole World Is Falling Down” by Brenda Lee
“True Love Never Runs Smooth” by Gene Pitney

Well, I’m familiar with seven of those, and I’d say I remember four of them from that long-ago season. The three I’m not familiar with by title are those by Andy Williams, Brenda Lee and Gene Pitney; none of the three show up in the digital stacks. (I thought the Pitney might, as I seem to recall scavenging a Pitney anthology once upon a time.) Even after a trip to YouTube, I recall none of the three.

And then there are the three I know most likely from other times: “Danke Schoen,” “Abilene” and “Detroit City.” I know Newton’s single, and I’ve never liked it (just as I’ve never liked anything I’ve heard from Newton, probably because of his voice). I know the song “Abilene,” most likely from a different version, as I have no memory of Hamilton’s version, which was itself a cover of Bob Gibson’s 1957 recording. And I know Bare’s “Detroit City,” but only because I’ve come across it in the many years since. I doubt I knew any of those three back in the summer of 1963.

Then, there are four from that top ten that I generally recall hearing from the radio either at home or at friends’ homes or wherever: “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “More,” “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” and “Green, Green.” I recall the Rolf Harris single mostly because I didn’t understand that the word “me” in the title was a possessive; I wondered why the singer wanted to be tied down like a kangaroo.

The other three have been part of my musical environment since that summer, especially the Peter, Paul & Mary and New Christy Minstrels singles. In the case of “More,” I have no doubt recalled the song itself over the years more than the specific single; versions of “More” floated around the easy listening world in amazing numbers. (I once put up a post here that offered the original version of “More” from the film Mondo Cane and eighteen covers of the song.)

Still, when I plunged into music collecting online in early 2000 and came across Winding’s version of the song, I was pretty sure it was the version I recalled hearing when I was a sprout. Call it eighty percent certainty.

As to the other two singles, I’m not sure I need to say anything. I remember hearing them – and liking them – in 1963, and Peter, Paul & Mary have popped up here often enough to make my opinions of them obvious. I also recall assessing “Green, Green” here favorably.

So how to decide between the two records this morning? Well, I’ve featured “Green, Green” here before at least once, and as far as I recall (and I may be wrong), for as many times as I’ve written about the music of Peter, Paul & Mary, their cover of perhaps Bob Dylan’s greatest song has seemingly never been featured here. And it was omnipresent during the summer of 1963. It was No. 1 on the Middle-Road Singles chart for five weeks and went to No. 2 on the Hot 100. And the album from which it was pulled – In The Wind – was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for five weeks.

So here’s Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 652

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Top 40 didn’t always thrill me, as those who’ve been regular readers here know well, so looking at the Billboard Hot 100s from those years doesn’t seem to work when I’m looking around for a topic.

But, I wondered early this morning, what about the Adult Contemporary chart? That’s where KSTP-FM, the station that the Other Half and I listened to most evenings at home, had its niche. And quite often on those long ago evenings, one or the other of us would turn a page in a book or a magazine and say, “Good music tonight.” And the other would murmur an assent.

The station – which called itself KS-95 – used as its tag phrase in the early 1980s something like “The hits of the Sixties, the Seventies and today.” These days that would be a pleasant place to park my radio dial. So lets’ take a look at the AC Top Ten from the first week of August 1979 and see how it would sound today:

“Lead Me On” by Maxine Nightingale
“Morning Dance” by Spyro Gyra
“Mama Can’t Buy You Love” by Elton John
“Shadows In The Moonlight” by Anne Murray
“The Main Event/Fight” by Barbra Streisand
“I’ll Never Love This Way Again” by Dionne Warwick
“Different Worlds” by Maureen McGovern
“Heart Of The Night” by Poco
“When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman” by Dr. Hook
“Suspicions” by Eddie Rabbit

Well, this might not have been that good an idea. Many of those titles ring faint bells at best, and most of those I recall clearly would not inspire a murmur of “Good music tonight.” Time to head to YouTube.

Having refreshed my memory, those ten records wouldn’t have been as dismal a stretch as I first thought, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as I hoped. I don’t remember fondly the records by Maxine Nightingale, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick or Dr. Hook, and I’m not that sure about the Eddie Rabbit single. As it happens, the only one of those five that I find among the 78,000 tracks in the main digital archive is “Suspicions,” and its low bit rate tells me that I grabbed it early in my excavations of the ’Net when I was not being at all particular. I’ll have to listen to it again and see what I think.

How about the others? Four of them are okay, but the only record I really like there is “Heart Of The Night,” which turns out to be the only one of that bunch that’s on the digital shelves here. (It’s also the only one of those ten that’s in my current listening on the iPod.)

As it happens, “Heart Of The Night” has been mentioned here only once in these twelve years, and that was in passing. That’s a little surprising. It went to No 20 in the Billboard Hot 100, and forty years ago this week, it was at No. 8 on the AC chart, heading down after peaking at No. 5.

I imagine that those who celebrate Poco for its country rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s find “Heart Of The Night” to be a weak reminder of what the band once was. It’s true that it’s neither very adventurous nor really very country-ish (beyond some twang in the guitars). But it’s a lovely record and its first lines set a tone that – even if I have almost entirely ignored the record in this space – I still find affecting:

In the heart of the night
In the cool Southern rain
There’s a full moon in sight
Shining down on the Pontchartrain

And it’s today’s Saturday Single:

‘Truck Stop’

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

So, still hanging around in July 1969, here’s the top ten albums from the Billboard 200 from fifty years ago this week:

Blood, Sweat & Tears
Hair, original cast recording
Romeo & Juliet soundtrack
This Is Tom Jones
The Age Of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension
A Warm Shade Of Ivory by Henry Mancini
Tommy by the Who
Crosby, Stills & Nash
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan

It’s entirely possible I had a copy of the No. 1 album in the house at the time. I had recently acquired my cassette tape recorder, and soon after I did, my sister came home from her waitressing shift at the mall with a gift for me: a cassette of Blood, Sweat & Tears. It had been on sale somewhere at the mall, and knowing I had no music for my new machine, she stepped up.

It’s an interesting ten, and music from four of them – the BST, the 5th Dimension, the Dylan and the CS&N – still show up on the iPod regularly. Eight of those albums would find their ways into the LP stacks over the years, everything except the Iron Butterfly and Tom Jones albums.

Which did I enjoy the most? Probably either the BST or the CS&N. The least? Most likely Tommy, which I got for my birthday in 1988 and played no more than two or three times until I sold it not quite thirty years later. (In fact, I have only two tracks from the album on the wide-ranging digital shelves, the overture and – for some reason – “Hawker.” I suppose I should get “Pinball Wizard” in there, some day.)

But anyway, let’s drop further down that fifty-year-old chart and take a look at the albums at Nos. 40, 80, 120, 160 and 200.

Parked at No. 40, we find another Tom Jones album, Help Yourself, on its way down the chart after peaking at No. 5. It was his first Top Ten album; he’d have three more in the next year or so, but it contained only one hit single, the title track, which had gone to No. 35 in October 1968. Jones’ larger hit during the late summer of ’69 was a re-release of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” which had stalled at No. 49 in 1967 but entered the Hot 100 in this last week of July 1969 and went to No. 6.

We find another album on its way down the chart at No. 80: Cream’s Goodbye, which had peaked at No. 2. The last studio album for the bluesy and improvisational rock trio, Goodbye featured the perennial “I’m So Glad,” a live cover of the Mississippi Sheiks’ 1930 recording “Sitting On Top Of The World,” and “Badge,” a minor hit (No. 60 on the Hot 100) co-written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison (although Wikipedia notes that Harrison credits an inebriated Ringo Starr with the line about the swans living in the park).

Having never done this kind of digging into the Billboard 200 before, I’m not sure how obscure an album one might find at No. 120 or lower. For the moment, we’re not worried, as the No. 120 album fifty years ago this week was Crimson & Clover by Tommy James & The Shondells. Home to the group’s last two hits – “Sweet Cherry Wine” went to No. 7 and the album’s title track was No. 2 for two weeks – the album was heading out of the chart after peaking at No. 8. It was the only Top Ten album in the group’s history.

We chance on a favorite album of mine when we get to No. 160, where we find King Curtis’ Instant Groove. It showed up in my collection in 2008, when I bought the vinyl version online because it included Curtis’ version of “The Weight” and because Duane Allman was among its studio musicians. The LP was in decent shape, but a few years later, I added the CD version of the album to my stacks. Back in 1969, the album would go no higher than No. 160. Only two of the eight King Curtis albums that Joel Whitburn lists in Top Pop Albums did better: 1964’s Soul Serenade went to No. 103, and the 1971 album Live At Fillmore West went to No. 54.

And speaking of No. 200, the bottom record in the chart at the end of July 1969 was Truck Stop by Jerry Smith & His Pianos. The record by the Philadelphia-born pianist and songwriter – Whitburn calls him “a prolific session musician” – stalled at No. 200 for two weeks and then fell out of the chart. Two singles from the album showed up in Top Pop Singles: “Truck Stop” went to No. 71 and “Drivin’ Home” bubbled under at No. 125. Whitburn notes that Smith also recorded as Papa Joe’s Music Box; as Cornbread & Jerry, he wrote and sang on the Dixiebelles’ No. 9 hit in 1963, “(Down At) Papa Joe’s.” He also recorded as The Magic Organ, and Street Fair, his 1972 album under that name, went to No. 135 on the Billboard 200.

I was leaning toward posting “Badge” for our listening this morning, especially since I discovered that I’ve not mentioned the track even once during more than twelve years of blogging. But I’m fascinated by the weirdness of our final entry and by the multiple guises under which Jerry Smith recorded. And how often do I get a chance to post honky-tonk piano, anyway? So here’s “Truck Stop” by Jerry Smith & His Pianos, a No. 71 single from the No. 200 album fifty years ago this week.

‘Up To Abergavenny . . .’

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

We may as well hang around in 1969 for a while, so here’s the top ten from the Billboard Easy Listening chart fifty years ago this week:

“Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet” by Henry Mancini
“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder
“Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver
“Quentin’s Theme” by the Charles Randolph Grean Sound
“Love Me Tonight” by Tom Jones
“Yesterday When I Was Young” by Roy Clark
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“With Pen In Hand” by Vicki Carr
“In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley
“The Days Of Sand & Shovels” by Bobby Vinton

Lots of familiar stuff there. In fact, only two of the records listed there are unfamiliar by title: The Tom Jones and the Bobby Vinton. So, off to YouTube. I vaguely recall the Tom Jones record (noting that it sounds like a lot of his other stuff), and hearing the Vinton record, I recall writing about it about a year ago, when I called it “dreadful.” That judgment still holds.

(Seeing the Elvis record in that top ten, I’m reminded of a comment I saw on Facebook this week at a Sixties group I frequent, asserting that Elvis was done by 1965. I replied that the commenter needed to check out Presley’s Memphis recordings from 1969.)

There’s some decent listening in that top ten (with the exception of the Vinton record). Favorites there include the records by Mancini, Oliver, the Lettermen and Presley, and I like the Vicki Carr record, too.

What do we find of interest in the lower portions of the Easy Listening chart from fifty years ago?

At No. 12, we find Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 covering Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”

At No. 14 sits Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525,” heading to a two-week stay at No. 1 (and a six-week stay at No. 1 on the Hot 100).

At No. 20, Booker T & The MG’s cover Simon & Garfunkel with their version of “Mrs. Robinson.”

And for all of my love of 1960s easy listening, there are more records – a lot of them – that don’t sound at all familiar: “Think Summer” by Ed & Marilyn at No. 25. “Forever” by Mercy at No. 28. “First Hymn From Grand Terrace” by Mark Lindsay at No 30. “The Girl I’ll Never Know” by Frankie Valli at No. 32. “Abergavenny” by Shannon at No. 36.

That last entry caught my eye, and I headed to Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Songs and found something odd. “Abergavenny” is listed in the title index, but there is no listing for a performer named “Shannon” in the book. I ducked into Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles and found a cross-reference from “Shannon” to Marty Wilde, an English singer-songwriter whose birth named was Reginald Smith. He’s listed in Top Adult Songs, too (and both entries note that he’s the father of 1980s singer Kim Wilde).

Abergavenny, it turns out, it a Welsh town six miles from Wales’ border with England. The record is, well, a mixture of pop vocal (with slightly surreal lyrics) about a trip to Abergavenny with some oddly pounding percussion in the background and a brass band instrumental in the middle.

It peaked at No. 22 on the Easy Listening chart and went to No. 47 on the Hot 100.

Back In ’72

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

I shared here the other day a repost from 2007, a piece about my high school friend Becky and how I found a track from her 1972 album, A Special Path, on an anthology titled Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon. I admit that I likely never listened more than once to Becky’s album – Christian folk was never my genre – but I made sure that I kept it the other year when I sold about two-thirds of the LPs on my shelf.

And thinking about July 1972 – when Becky delivered her album to my door – I got to wondering what I was listening to at the time. Part of that was easy. I was working half-time as a janitor at St. Cloud State’s Campus Lab School that summer, and a radio tuned to the Twin Cities’ KDWB was never far away (though never turned up very loud).

Neither Oldiesloon nor the Airheads Radio Survey Archive has a KDWB survey from July 1972, but Oldiesloon has the July 7 Star Survey from WDGY, the Twin Cities’ other Top 40 station of the time. The Top Ten at ’DGY was:

“Lean On Me” by Bill Withers
“Too Late To Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Layla” by Derek & The Dominos
“Rocket Man” by Elton John
“Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton
“Brandy” by Looking Glass
“Day By Day” by the cast of “Godspell”
“Conquistador” by Procol Harum & The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan

A few of those underline the summer for me. The first, the O’Sullivan single was omnipresent; I recall hearing it at work, in the car, around me as I wandered around with friends, just everywhere. I got tired of it rapidly and dismissed it when it showed up again over the years (until a recent hearing of it on one of our cable channels reminded me how tightly crafted a pop song it is).

The other two that hang in the air of my summer of ’72 memories are “Brandy” and “Layla.” The Looking Glass single was a large part of the soundtrack to the trip that I took with Rick and our pal Gary to Winnipeg in August. No matter what Top 40 station we found on the radio of my 1961 Falcon, “Brandy” was sure to pop up very soon. As to “Layla,” well, I’d heard the first half of the classic track two years earlier when Atco released an edited version that ended before Jim Gordon’s lyrical piano coda. The 1972 single from Polydor included that portion, which I’d never heard before, being clueless about Derek & The Dominos to that point in my life.

(Beyond being a beautiful piece of work, Gordon’s piano part – which, given things I’ve read over the years, should also have been credited to Rita Coolidge [not Bonnie Bramlett, as reader David helpfully pointed out] – was the first piece of pop music that I was able to play on piano simply by listening to it on the radio. My two recently completed quarters of music theory along with lots of piano practice had given me new tools that I was thrilled to use.)

There are a few other records a bit lower on that WDGY survey that immediately say 1972: “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway is one that I singled out a few years ago as the record of the summer, and the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman,” America’s “I Need You,” and Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” also bring back that time pretty vividly.

Wandering afield from what I was listening to that summer, there are a couple of records listed on the WDGY survey from July 7, 1972, whose titles I do not recognize: “We’re Free” by Beverly Bremers at No. 15 and “We’re On Our Way” by Chris Hodge, at No. 18. So I head to YouTube.

Bremers’ record, a paean to being lovers without being married – a topic at least slightly controversial for a record in 1972– is utterly unfamiliar to me. According to ARSA, it went to No. 2 or No. 3 in a number of markets: in Anchorage, Alaska, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and – surprisingly –in Nashville, Tennessee, and Lynchburg, Virginia. And it went Top Ten in about ten more markets across the country. Overall, though, its performance was just so-so, as the record peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 40.

A quick listen to Hodge’s record – a release on the Beatles’ Apple label – reminds me that I sought it out once and dismissed it. It’s a mid-tempo rocker about UFOs, a woman riding on moonbeams, and bringing the “truth to planet Earth,” all of which, one would think, would have played well in 1972. The surveys gathered at ARSA show the record making the Top Ten in Syracuse, New York, and Saginaw, Michigan. It went to No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Of the two, Bremers’ record is more interesting, and it made the Top 40, if only barely. So here it is: