Archive for the ‘1976’ Category

‘Can This Road Be Taken . . .’

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Things come together and things fall apart.

I read in the last week or so news accounts from the world of Crosby, Stills & Nash indicating that the journey of the three is over. Evidently David Crosby has said or done something that offended Graham Nash on such a basic level that Nash had said he’ll no longer work with Crosby.

It wasn’t surprising reading. The clashes and estrangements of the three men – Crosby, Nash and Stephen Stills – from one another over the years (and the same with the occasional fourth, Neil Young) are long the stuff of newspaper, tabloid and blogpost headlines. It’s been a dysfunctional family for years, one that occasionally gathered to make music, some of it great. The fact that the dysfunction has finally outweighed the benefits makes me wonder, honestly, how someone’s limits weren’t reached long ago.

The news of Nash’s pronouncement wasn’t something I planned to mention here. But this morning, I asked the RealPlayer to find me tracks recorded in April, wondering if I were lucky enough to find something recorded on some April 1 years ago. And the RealPlayer gave me, among many other tracks, an unreleased version of “Taken At All,” a song written by Crosby and Nash and released in a country-folk version on the duo’s 1976 album Whistling Down The Wire.

The unreleased version showed up on the 1991 box set CSN, credited to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and it was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami on April 1, 1976, forty years ago today, which makes for a nice accident of timing.

This is me. Can you take another look?
Did I see you looking blindly at your book?
Is it all that you thought, that you thought it took?
Can it be taken, taken at all?

Were you looking for signs along the way?
Can you see by your lonely light of day?
Is this road really the only way?
Can this road be taken, taken at all.

We lost it on the highway
Down the dotted line
You were going your way
I was going mine

We lost it on the highway
Things were out of sight
You were going your way
Trying to make a light (along the way)

Can you see by your lonely light of day?
Is this road really the only way?
Can this road be taken, taken at all?
Can this road be taken, taken at all?

Saturday Single No. 484

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

Because we landed on the 1976 hit “Tangerine” by the Salsoul Orchestra yesterday, and because that year came to our full attention only three times during 2015, I thought we’d run a four-tune random 1976 draw this morning as we look for a single for the day.

We start with “You’re The Best Girl In The World” by Johnnie Taylor, a B-side from his album Eargasm. The A-side, “Disco Lady,” was the big single from the album, spending four weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 and six weeks on top of the magazine’s R&B chart. The album went to No. 5 on the Billboard 200. As to the track itself, it’s got chunky guitar, lots of cymbals, sweet strings, a good vocal, a nice saxophone break in the middle, some unexpected chord changes, and a tempo guaranteed to get you and your sweetie out onto the dance floor for a while. That’s a pretty good mix of stuff, and it’s a nice way to begin our search today.

We get a quick organ break followed by a chorus of doleful horns (with a bit of light single-string guitar on top) and then a weary voice:

Workin’ your whole life away
Hopin’ to get ahead some day
Tryin’ to keep what we got
and Lord knows we ain’t got a lot
Still, we’re doin’ alright.

“Doin’ Alright” comes from Tower Of Power’s album Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now, and the weary vocal from Edward McGee, punctuated with back-up from singers Melba Joyce, Pat Henry and Ivory Stone and laid on the controlled work of the band’s renowned horn section, is honey to my ears this morning. The album had some success, reaching No. 42 on the Billboard 200.

“Sunshine Holiday” is a light, tropical excursion by Carolyn Franklin (sister of Aretha) from her last album, If You Want Me. Flutes, island rhythms on the bass, and light strings (and probably guitar) in almost a pizzicato style all give Franklin a sweet foundation for a frothy lyric that seems to do little more than list the benefits of such a vacation and invite the listener to come along. It’s over in a little more than two minutes, leaving the froth behind. Other tracks on the album were likely more substantial (I don’t know the record well), but from what I see online, the folks at RCA Victor didn’t hear a single, and the album didn’t make the Billboard 200.

The Faragher Brothers were in fact brothers from Redland, California. (Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles lists six brothers, but Wikipedia clarifies that by noting that four brothers began the group and recorded two albums; two other brothers joined in for the last two albums the group recorded.) Our stop this morning, “In Your Time,” is a track from the first of those four albums, the group’s self-titled debut. In one of two times I’ve mentioned the band before this, in 2007, I wrote, “It’s inoffensive pop rock with mellow vocals and a few horn flourishes, kind of a Pablo Cruise meets James Pankow of Chicago.” That still sounds about right, only “In My Time” seems to lack the horn flourishes. The album did not chart, nor did the first single from the album, “It’s All Right.” A second single, “Never Get Your Love Behind Me,” went to No. 46 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

We’ll dispense with the Carolyn Franklin and Faragher Brothers tracks right off the top. Long-time readers might think at this point that I’m going to pull the Tower Of Power track as our feature, and it’s true that I like “Doin’ Alright” a lot. But Tower of Power has been featured here at least fifteen times over these nine years (with the last half of 2009 and January 2010 to still be filed, and thus be easily searched, at the archives site), and Johnnie Taylor has been mentioned only four times and featured only once.

If the record weren’t a good one, I’d go with “Doin’ Alright.” But Taylor’s record has all of the virtues I listed above, and those are more than enough to make Johnnie Taylor’s “You’re The Best Girl In The World” today’s Saturday Single.

One Chart Dig: February 1976

Friday, February 12th, 2016

It’s a little bit disconcerting to realize that it’s almost forty years since I graduated from St. Cloud State. That happened at the end of February 1976, after my one-quarter internship in the sports department of an independent television station based in a Minneapolis suburb.

I know I’ve mentioned the internship frequently over the past nine years, just as I’ve mentioned fairly frequently the stunning redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department and indicated a clear interest in me. There are reasons those things remain large in my rear-view mirror, I think.

First, I was good enough at the internship that after the first couple of months, I was occasionally – five or six times, I would guess – asked to assemble the entire evening sports segment and hand the script to the on-air talent. I was listed those five or six times as a producer in the broadcast’s credits, and that’s pretty heady stuff at the age of 22.

And the redhead? Well, even though I was seeing a young woman in St. Cloud, the other intern’s obvious interest in me was flattering and, frankly, gave me confidence in what we might call today my social game. I didn’t really follow up on her interest beyond a little flirtation, but it boosted my ego a little bit, and at that time, that was a good thing.

Anyway, that’s what comes to mind when I think of that February now forty years gone: Writing a script, choosing visuals for that script and taking a few minutes most days to grab a cup of coffee in the break room with that lovely young lady.

And, of course, music. There was none in the newsroom, of course. There, we had televisions that tracked our own programming and the programming of the three other stations in the market; music would have been a distraction. But I heard tunes driving between the station and my shared apartment in a nearby suburb, and my roommate and I – he was another young St. Cloudian, working his first job out of school – had the radio on a lot during those three months.

So the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 from this week forty years ago was very familiar:

“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon
“Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer
“You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate
“Theme From S.W.A.T.” by Rhythm Heritage
“Sing A Song” by Earth, Wind & Fire
“I Write The Songs” by Barry Manilow
“Love Rollercoaster” by the Ohio Players
“Love Machine (Part 1)” by the Miracles
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” by Neil Sedaka
“Evil Woman” by the Electric Light Orchestra

That was pretty much what we heard. At the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, there is a KDWB survey from February 10, 1976, and six of those ten show up in the top ten, with “You Sexy Thing” topping the survey. The Earth, Wind & Fire track and the bottom three from the Billboard Top Ten are gone. (Three of those four show up lower among the twenty-five records on the KDWB survey; the only one missing is the Miracles’ record.)

Taking their place were Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” at No. 3, C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” at No. 4, the Who’s “Squeezebox” at No. 9, and Foghat’s “Slow Ride” at No. 10. The Carmen record is especially evocative of those days; there were at least two weekends when my roommate went back to St. Cloud and I was working, and I think I heard the record on the radio late at night both weekends, and yeah, I was a bit lonely.

But we’re going to find today’s nugget further down in the Hot 100 from forty years ago today, at – appropriately – No. 40. It’s “Tangerine” by the Salsoul Orchestra. (I took a look a few years ago at the song’s history in posts found here, here and here.) The record was the first of a couple of Top 40 hits for the Philadelphia-based orchestra (which included for a while, says Wikipedia, musicians who’d previously been part of Philadelphia International’s MFSB). Eight other records reached the Hot 100 or bubbled under it until the string ran out in 1979.

“Tangerine” peaked at No. 18, and went to No. 11 on the Adult Contemporary chart and to No. 36 on the R&B chart. And it no doubt got a lot of folks out of their chairs and out onto the dance floor.

What’s Being Watched?

Friday, November 20th, 2015

It’s been just more than four and a half years since I started putting my own videos up on YouTube. I started making my own videos because either the tunes I wanted to share here weren’t available at YouTube or because I didn’t care for the visuals that were available. And I decided to keep my stuff simple. As the audio is the point, my visual content is either a record jacket or label or a static visual I’ve created to illustrate the track.

(Most of the videos I make and upload to YouTube are for this blog. Every once in a while, there will be some back-and-forth on Facebook and I’ll make a video to throw into the conversation, but that’s happened maybe ten or fifteen times.)

It’s been interesting over these four-plus years to see which of my 346 videos attract the most interest. By a wide margin, the most-played piece I’ve put up at YouTube is “Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters, which as of this morning has been viewed 544,647 times. A total of 2,403 of those viewers have given the video/track a “thumbs up” and 72 folks have given it a “thumbs down.”

After that, the views drop off considerably, but the numbers are still pretty large. Here are the next ten:

“Love Has No Pride” by Bonnie Raitt, 99,661 views (426 thumbs up and 14 down)
“Rør Ved Mig” by Lecia & Lucienne, 95,321 (282 and 9)
“Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock & Roll” by Long John Baldry, 81,674 (547 and 14)
“Tangerine” by Eliane Elias, 79,843 (335 and 5)
“The Windmills Of Your Mind” by Michel Legrand, 78,556 (218 and 8)
“Misty” by Groove Holmes, 70,808 (181 and 2)
“Anything For Love” by Gordon Lightfoot, 68,557 (262 and 2)
“Ballad Of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn, 65,602 (277 and 3)
“Banana Boat (Day-O)” by Stan Freberg, 63,668 (437 and 2)
“Theme from ‘Summer of ’42’” by Michel Legrand, 60,926 (321 and 9)

It’s interesting that two of those top eleven are from Michel Legrand. And the presence of Stan Freberg in the top ten kinda tickles me.

I’ve put up as well a few long-form pieces and full albums. The most popular of those is the live version of “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, which ranks thirteenth overall with 58,180 views (324 and 6) in the year-and-a-half it’s been up.

As in all counting statistics, longevity has its rewards. Most of those videos are from 2011 and 2012. The highest-ranked video from 2013 is Long John Baldry’s classic track (and I find it hard to believe there are fourteen folks who disliked it enough to give it a thumbs down). The highest ranked from 2014 is the Roger McGuinn track. The most-viewed video from this year is Billy Preston’s live version from The Concert For Bangla Desh of “That’s The Way God Planned It,” which ranks 33rd, having garnered 13,561 views (87 and 3) since it went up last March.

And we’ll close this with one of the videos I originally made to share on Facebook: Ray Conniff’s cover of Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” from Conniff’s 1976 album If You Leave Me Now. When I posted it at Facebook last March, jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ noted that the similarities between Conniff’s instrumental track and Boz Scaggs’ original were a little bit disturbing. As of this morning, it’s had 166 views (1 and 0).

Saturday Single No. 452

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

So as the summer of ’15 turns the corner from June into July, my mind turns to summers past, trying to reckon if this summer’s heat is equal to that of last year’s, if its sunshine is as bright as that of twenty years ago, or if its pleasures are the same as those of forty years ago.

It’s sometimes tough to keep track of the years, just like anything is when enough similar items accumulate: When I was twenty, or even when I was forty, I knew what albums I had in my collection. When I was at the record store or the pawnshop or even the flea market and I ran across a record that looked interesting, I’d know without thinking about it whether it was already on the shelves at home.

These days, I don’t always know. The other day, the Texas Gal and I were wandering around a second-hand shop west of downtown. She looked over the fabric scraps and the recliners while I poked around the books and the CDs. In the latter place, I found a sealed copy of the Indigo Girls’ 1990 album Nomads Indians Saints. Thinking that I might not have a copy of it, I paid something like two bucks and brought it home. Of course, it was already on the shelf.

It’s no big deal. It was only a couple of bucks, and I’ll likely drop the extra copy off at the library bookstore, and the Friends of the Library can sell it for a buck. But it shows that the more one has of something, the harder it is to keep track of them. It’s true of records and CDs. And it’s true of summers.

A game I sometimes play with myself at quiet times is to recall what I was doing during various portions of my life: I might find myself lazing about in, say, October, and try to recall Octobers past. What was I doing in October 1969? Or October 1992?

I was playing that little game the other day with summers in mind. There are – as I’ve noted here before – some summers that have memories stacked on memories. But the nearer summers are to the present, the less they seem to stand out: For many, I recall where I was living and – in the years through 1999 – where I was working but little more than that. The summers since 1999 – for the most part – are even more indistinct. For someone who relies a lot on memory for his writing and for his navigation through life (though much less so now than in the past), that might be troublesome. But I’m not finding it so.

This summer, unless I’m horribly wrong, will be very much like the last several: We’ll water the garden and eventually pick tomatoes and cucumbers and more. We’ll grill a few times. We’ll spend a portion of as many evenings as we can in lawn chairs with beverages at hand. We’ll go to the farmers’ market downtown several times and maybe spend an evening at the county fair.

And if there’s nothing specific that makes this summer all that much different from the ones that have come before it, well, that’s fine. It’s summer, and it’s sweet no matter what, and that’s what I will remember during the next winter and all the seasons that follow it.

So here’s “Summer” by War. A single version of the tune went to No. 7 in 1976, but this is the version that showed up on the group’s greatest hits album that same year, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Missing The Midnight Special

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Rummaging around on Facebook over the weekend, I came across a link to a piece at the Rolling Stone website offering seventeen reasons to adulate Stevie Nicks. Now, I don’t adulate Nicks, nor do I need reasons to do so, but I do admire her and like a lot of her music, both with and without Fleetwood Mac.

So I didn’t need to click through for those seventeen reasons, but the video that was embedded in the piece tempted me. And I found myself watching the Mac’s performance of “Rhiannon” on the June 11, 1976, episode of The Midnight Special.

I loved pretty much everything about that clip and wished for maybe the thousandth time that I’d paid more attention to The Midnight Special. The late-night Friday show* ran from February 1973 into May 1981, and I’m not at all sure why I didn’t watch it even occasionally, much less regularly.

During most of the early years – up to the middle of the summer of ’76, not long after above Fleetwood Mac performance – I could easily have watched the show on the old black-and-white in my room (with the sound turned down some so as not to wake my folks in the adjacent bedroom). After that, at least in a couple of places, I might have had to persuade a couple of roommates (or for a few years, the Other Half) to watch with me. But I never even tried.

So I never got on board, and I wish I had. There are selected performances from the show’s nine seasons available commercially, but I’m not about to spring the cash that Time/Life is asking for discs of those assorted performances. Instead, I wander on occasion through the valley at YouTube, finding bits and pieces of things I missed half a lifetime (or more) ago, things like Linda Ronstadt (introduced by José Feliciano as a country performer) making her way through a December 1973 performance of “You’re No Good” and a May 1977 performance of “Smoke From A Distant Fire” by the Sanford/Townsend Band.

It’s a seemingly bottomless trove of long-ago treasure, and I can easily get lost clicking from video to video (something that happens occasionally anyway, though with less of a focus). Well, there are worse things to get hooked on, I suppose. And for this morning, we’ll close with a performance by Redbone from February 1974, when they opened “Come And Get Your Love” with a Native American dance quite possibly pulled – though I’m not certain – from the Shoshone heritage of Pat and Lolly Vegas, the group’s founders.

*The show followed The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which meant that for most of its run, The Midnight Special actually started at midnight here in the Central Time Zone. When Carson trimmed his show to an hour in late 1980, The Midnight Special aired at 11:30 our time.

Saturday Singles Nos. 428 & 429

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Casting about for some music for a Saturday morning, I was looking at the Billboard Hot 100 from this date in 1976, thirty-nine years ago. I was living in the Twin Cities at the time, interning for the sports department of an independent television station and wrestling with at least two heavy questions: I was wondering if I’d be able to make a living in television sports, and I was wondering as well if I should pursue the stunning redhead who was interning in the station’s promotions department.

(The answer to the first of those was negative, and I ended up in newspapering, a direction that was far better for me. The answer to the second was likely positive. I should have pursued the gorgeous redhead, as in hindsight, she had made it very clear that she would welcome my attentions. But being both artless and clueless when it came to women, I missed her signals. I continued my flirtations, but I did no more, a lack of action that I used to regret, if only at low volume.)

As is often the case when looking at a Hot 100 from my high school or college years, the records in the upper portions of the chart are familiar (sometimes overly familiar, even after nearly forty years), and as my gaze moves down the chart, records are less and less so, to the point where there may be three or four or five records in a row that I either do not remember or have never heard.

And I maybe should have recognized the name of Houston Person. A jazz saxophonist, Person’s credits, as noted at both All-Music Guide and Wikipedia, are extensive. I’ve probably heard his horn in many of the tracks I have by various jazz organists, from Johnny “Hammond” Smith onward. (I note as I write that Person is credited by Wikipedia with accompanying organist Charles Earland on his 1969 album Black Talk!, a copy of which came to me from a friend recently; I will have to make sure to give it a close listen.)

But I did not recognize Person’s name as I saw it at No. 93 in the Hot 100 from January 17, 1976. It was the title of Person’s record that caught my eye: “Disco Sax/For The Love Of You.” As most readers know, I love the sound of a saxophone, and I do like early disco – from 1974 to 1976 – a fair amount. So I found and listened to Person’s record.

The two-sided single didn’t stay long on the Hot 100 or move too much. That listing thirty-nine years ago this week was its first in a four-week stay, and the record moved up only two more spots, to No. 91, before disappearing. (It went to No. 30 on the R&B chart.) But both “Disco Sax” and “For The Love Of You” sounded good enough this morning to be today’s Saturday Singles:

Here’s “Disco Sax,” the A-side:

And here’s “For The Love Of You,” the B-side:

Out From The Sun, Part 2

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Having safely crossed the Asteroid Belt beyond Mars, we continue our trek outward from the Sun and approach Jupiter, the largest of the planets. Fittingly, our tune here is one that is related to spaceflight: A search for information about the 1958 instrumental “Jupiter-C” by Pat & The Satellites brings us, among others, a link to Wikipedia, where we learn that Jupiter-C was an American rocket used to test re-entry nosecones during three sub-orbital spaceflights in 1956 and 1957. The rocket, Wikipedia says, was one of those designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of Wernher Von Braun (whom I once met). The record spent four weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 81, and as I check that out in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, I learn that the studio musicians who recorded “Jupiter-C” included the great King Curtis, whose sax is front and center for much of the record.

From Jupiter, we head on toward the beautiful rings of Saturn, and our tune is a Stevie Wonder track titled “Saturn” and found on Wonder’s 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life. The track was never used as even the B-side of a single, but the album was No. 1 for fourteen weeks, beginning in the middle of October 1976. And even though it’s an album that I heard frequently if not constantly in the spring of 1977 as I hung out with friends from the St. Cloud State student newspaper, I’m sad to say don’t recall “Saturn” and its message:

There’s no principles in what you say
No direction in the things you do
For your world is soon to come to a close
Through the ages all great men have taught
Truth and happiness just can’t be bought – or sold
Tell me why are you people so cold?

We’ll hang around
Saturn for a while yet and make a stop at Titan, the largest of Saturn’s many, many moons. And as we gaze at – as Wikipedia says – “the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found,” we listen to “Sirens of Titan” by Al Stewart, a track from his 1975 album Modern Times. The album sold decently, reaching No. 30 on the Billboard 200, but that pales, of course, compared to the reception received by Stewart’s next two albums, Year Of The Cat and Time Passages, which went to No. 5 and No. 10, respectively. Sonically, Modern Times is similar to the next two albums – all three were produced by Alan Parsons – but it sounds to me just a shade thinner than Cat and Passages. Stewart’s voice is, of course, unmistakable.

And we find ourselves approaching Uranus, the planet whose name is the source of thousands of schoolboy giggles, some of which have found themselves attached to some sophomoric song titles. But we don’t need to go there. Digging through the mp3 files and related tunes this morning, we find “Uranus” by the Brunning/Hall Sunflower Blues Band. According to All Music Guide, Bob Brunning was the bassist for the band that became Fleetwood Mac, but was let go by Peter Green once John McVie had left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to join Green’s band. Brunning went on to teach and continue recording part-time, and he and pianist Bob Hall formed the Sunflower Blues Band. In 1969, the band, with some participation from Green, recorded the album Trackside Blues, which included the track “Uranus.” It’s a decent blues track, but its primary appeal this morning is its title.

Heading on, we stay in the realm of the gas giants and find ourselves at Neptune, with the music provided by Nicole Atkins, herself a native of Neptune, albeit the city in New Jersey instead of the distant planet. “Neptune City” was the title track to her 2007 solo debut album. As I wrote in 2010, the album is “lushly produced pop with some tricks and warbles that made it clear how much Atkins listened to – among other things – the Brill Building sounds of the early 1960s.” And it’s an album that I like very much, one that stays pretty close to the CD player that I use for late-night listening.

Pluto is either a planet or a dwarf planet, depending on which cadre of astronomers you talk to, but all I know is that it’s out there and we need to stop by on our way toward the edge of the Solar System. Music was hard to come by here, and we had to dig deep into the digital shelves before finding a song that originally came from a Dutch pop duo called Het Goede Doel. In 1982, the duo’s single “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)” – which translates to “Belgium (Is There Life On Pluto?)” – went to No. 4 in the Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the duo also recorded a version of the song in English. I didn’t look for that, though, because I have a cover of the tune in its original Dutch by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, the Belgian girls choir that has popped up here at least once before. From a bonus disc included with the 2010 album Circle, here’s “België (Is er leven op Pluto?)”

Out From The Sun, Part 1

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

It’s time for a trip, starting right at the center of the Solar System. Along the way, we’ll check in at the eight planets, a couple of moons and maybe a comet. Why? Well, maybe I’m in a space/science mood from watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series Cosmos. Whatever the reason, it seemed like a good idea this morning.

We’ll start at the center, with the Sun. There were lots of titles to choose from on the digital shelves, even after I weeded out all the mp3s originally released on the Sun label. I dithered a while, and then remembered something I read long ago written about solar exploration either by a second-grader or a slow learner: If the surface of the sun is too hot for humans to survive, then we can go at night. Well, we’ll go at sundown and listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” as we travel. Pulled from his 1974 album of the same name, “Sundown” went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts and to No. 13 on the country chart.

Heading outward from Sol, our first stop is Mercury. After we eliminate the records on the Mercury label, we’re left with a few tracks about the element and a few tracks about the car but none about the planet itself. That’s okay. We’ll settle for the car, which might as well be our mode of transport on this journey. So here is “Mercury Blues” from Fly Like An Eagle, the 1976 album by the Steve Miller Band that went to No. 3 in the Billboard 200. The band had recorded a much more up-tempo version of the tune for the soundtrack to the 1968 movie Revolution, but I like the slower version. After all, we may as well take our time and see the sights.

Next stop as we head out from the Sun is Venus, and there are a few tunes to choose from about the goddess, if not the planet. Considered for an instant and discarded just as quickly was Frankie Avalon’s “Venus,” a No.1 hit from 1959, although I considered for a moment a 1962 version of the same tune by the Ventures. But if we’re going to land on Venus, then we’re going to land on “Venus” by the Shocking Blue. The record was a No. 1 hit for the Dutch group in February 1970, jumping out of millions of radios around the world – including my old RCA upstairs on Kilian Boulevard – with its ringing introductory riff. (I passed a little regretfully on a 1972 cover of the same tune by organist Zygmunt Jankowski. Maybe another time.)

Leaving Venus and its clouds and ringing riff behind, we head to our home planet. And we dig deep into Motown’s huge catalog for the 1970 cautionary tune “You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth” by the Temptations. I’ve noted in the past my general preference for the Four Tops over the Temptations, but I do love the freaky, funky and atmospheric production that Norman Whitfield brought to this tune and the others that he and Barrett Strong wrote for the Psychedelic Shack album. The album went to No. 9.

Leaving Earth, we’ll make a brief stop at the Moon before heading further out into the Solar System again. I was very tempted to go into my Al Hirt collection for his 1963 rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon,” but having dropped Big Al in here the other week when I looked at “I’m Movin’ On,” I passed on the horn. Instead, I opted for a track by the Doors that I first heard in 1971 when I picked up 13, the band’s greatest hits album. The slightly spooky “Moonlight Drive” comes from the 1967 album Strange Days and showed up as the B-side to “Love Me Two Times” late that year.

Our last stop today, as we cross the Asteroid Belt and finish the first half of our trek out into the Solar System, is Mars. A search for “Mars” in the RealPlayer’s files brings up a lot of stuff we can’t use, including lots of music from Marsha Hunt, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wynton Marsalis. But one single stands out among the unusable: “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” by Wings. Pulled from the Venus and Mars album, the record went to No. 12 in December 1975, and it provides a very hummable tune as we pause here on Mars before continuing our journey and heading to the giant planets.


Thursday, March 6th, 2014

And here, my friends, is a small portion of the tale of Andre Gagnon.


Well, I decided this morning to take a look at a Billboard chart from a March 6 in the past and share whatever record sat at No 100. I chose 1976, and sitting at No. 100 thirty-eight years ago today was a record titled “Wow” by The Disco Sound of Andre Gagnon.

Gagnon, says Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, is a dance pianist and composer born in 1942 in Saint-Pacôme-de-Kamouraska, Quebec. (Whitburn unaccountably omitted the “Saint,” a rare error in his work.) According to Wikipedia, Gagnon has had a prolific career in Canada, releasing forty albums and winning a couple of Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy).

As is true for most Canadian artists, though, things haven’t been as good on the southern side of the border. “Wow” was Gagnon’s only charting single in the U.S., peaking at No. 95 during a three-week stay in the Hot 100.

But there’s a bit of a mystery here. Wikipedia says, “In 1975, the album Neiges stayed on the American Billboard’s Top 10 for twenty-four weeks and sold 700,000 copies worldwide.”

I’m not sure what to make of that sentence from Wikipedia. Just in case I had a bad case of selective amnesia, I went through the Billboard Top Ten album charts for all of 1975 and saw no trace of Gagnon, either under his name or as The Disco Sound of Andre Gagnon. Nor does All Music Guide note any chart presence for Neiges in 1975. The album, Wikipedia notes, was released in New York in 1976 under the title Driven Snow, but there’s no sign of it getting any album chart action under that title, either. So I dunno what to think. Maybe “American Billboard” is something else. Anyone out there know anything?

I did notice at AMG that in 1976, “Wow” went to No. 5 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart and to No. 4 on the Disco Singles chart, so one can surmise that the single had a rebirth on the dance floor after that 1976 U.S. release of Driven Snow.

And that dance chart action is presumably the reason there are several videos of “Wow” available at YouTube. It’s nothing special to listen to, but I can hear how it would have been popular on the dance floor. (Maybe I should test it out in the kitchen.)