Archive for the ‘1977’ Category

Another One On The Shelf

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

The mail carrier dropped off another reference book by chart maven Joel Whitburn this week: Billboard #1s, 1950-1991.

The book lists the No. 1 records on the magazine’s various charts for each week. For instance, in the edition published the first Saturday of September 1953, the day on which I made my debut, the magazine’s various No. 1 records were:

“Vaya Con Dios” by Les Paul and Mary Ford on the pop best-seller and jukebox charts.
“No Other Love” by Perry Como on the pop disk jockey chart.
“Crying In The Chapel” by the Orioles on the R&B best seller and jukebox charts.
“A Dear John Letter” by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky on the country best-seller chart.
“It’s Been So Long” by Webb Pierce on the country disk jockey chart.
“Hey, Joe” by Carl Smith on the country jukebox chart.

I’ve heard only two of those: “Vaya Con Dios” and “Crying In The Chapel.” I’ll have to spend some time at YouTube for the others. But in the meantime, let’s look at another week, say the first week of June 1971, when I graduated from high school. By that time, the magazine had four singles charts and three album charts. The No. 1 records on the various charts were:

“Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones on the Hot 100.
“Want Ads” by the Honey Cone on the R&B chart.
“You’re My Man” by Lynn Anderson on the country chart.
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters on the easy listening chart.
Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones on the pop album chart.
Maybe Tomorrow by the Jackson 5 on the R&B album chart.
Rose Garden by Lynn Anderson on the country album chart.

Those are more familiar, obviously, than the No. 1s from the 1953 charts. I don’t know the Anderson single, nor am I familiar with her album or the album from the Jackson 5.

We’ll look at one more list today, the No. 1 records from the first week of December 1977, which was my first full week as a reporter at the Monticello Times:

“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone on the Hot 100.
“Serpentine Fire” by Earth, Wind & Fire on the R&B chart.
“Here You Come Again” by Dolly Parton on the country chart.
“How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees on the easy listening chart.
Simple Dreams by Linda Ronstadt on the pop album chart.
Rose Royce II/In Full Bloom by Rose Royce on the R&B album chart.
Elvis In Concert by Elvis Presley on the country album chart.

I know all the singles, as might be expected. I had the LP of the Ronstadt album and it’s on the digital shelves. I’ve never owned the Rose Royce or Elvis albums although there’s a little bit of Rose Royce and a lot of Elvis on the digital shelves. (Oddly, I do not find a listing for an album titled Rose Royce II. The group’s second album was In Full Bloom, so maybe it was an informal title used somewhere. I dunno.)

As for a tune for today, I checked, and Earth, Wind & Fire has been featured here only three times in thirteen-plus years, so here’s “Serpentine Fire.” (This is the track from the album All ’N’ All. From what I can see at Discogs, the single was nine seconds shorter.)

Saturday Single No. 701

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

Of all the books about music on my shelves – and there are many, encompassing biographies, histories, chart references and more – the one that’s least used, I would guess, is The Billboard Book Of No. 2 Hits.

Written by Christopher G. Feldman, the book catalogs the records that have peaked at No. 2 on the magazine’s main singles chart(s) from 1955 through 1999. (Yeah, it’s more than twenty years out of date now, but since the focus of this blog is generally the years, oh, from 1965 to 1977, that doesn’t matter.) Feldman provides a brief history of the record and notes which record (or records) kept it from reaching the top of the chart.

(The book starts in 1955 because – and I don’t know why I’m explaining this to readers who most likely already know it – that was the year when “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & The Comets became the first rock & roll record to reach No. 1 on any of the magazine’s charts, kind of a Big Bang for chart geeks.)

The first entry in Feldman’s book is for “Melody Of Love” by Billy Vaughan & His Orchestra, which hit No. 2 during the first week of March 1955 on both the Best Seller and Disc Jockey charts. Vaughan’s instrumental version was one of five covers of the 1903 song (some with newly written lyrics) to chart in 1955. It was blocked from the top spot by the McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely.”

The year with the most records peaking at No. 2 was 1969 with sixteen, three of them – “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River” – by Creedence Clearwater Revival. (CCR also peaked at No. 2 twice in 1970 with “Travelin’ Band” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” but remarkably never hit No. 1.)

And because we looked at a chart from 1977 yesterday, I’m just going to list the records that peaked at No. 2 that year and see what we can find for a single this morning. The records from 1977 in Feldman’s book are:

“Fly Like An Eagle” by Steve Miller
“I’m In You” by Peter Frampton
“Your Love Has Lifted Me (Higher & Higher)” by Rita Coolidge
“Float On” by the Floaters
“Keep It Comin’ Love” by KC & The Sunshine Band
“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon
“Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle

Two of those – the singles by Frampton and Coolidge – were in the chart we looked at yesterday. A few of the others, I’ve featured before. But it seems I’ve never, in this blog’s thirteen-plus years, featured a record by KC & The Sunshine Band. So, okay. “Keep It Comin’ Love” was at No. 2 for three weeks in October 1977, kept from the top spot by “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco and “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

What’s At No. 100? (August 1977)

Friday, August 14th, 2020

Thinking, as we did a week ago, of years that we don’t often dabble in, we’re going to take a look at 1977 today. It’s a year we’ve featured only fifty times since setting up our own website ten years ago.

What was going on in mid-August of 1977? I was renting a small mobile home in the little burg of Sauk Rapids (just north of St. Cloud) finishing a minor in print journalism at St. Cloud State, thinking about newspaper employment, and reconnecting with the young woman who would in a year become the Other Half, as we’d taken an eight-week break from each other that summer.

So where was I getting my music? My bedroom radio was tuned to a Sauk Rapids FM station called WHMH, which I guess was programmed as adult contemporary; the radio in the kitchen was tuned to WJON, which I listened to mostly in the late evenings. I’d brought a few of my albums from Kilian Boulevard and borrowed Mom and Dad’s portable stereo and had it sitting on top of the refrigerator. And in the offices of the University Chronicle, where I was the arts editor, the radio was most often tuned to KCLD, a St. Cloud Top 40 station.

That means the Billboard Top Ten from August 13, 1977, should not be unfamiliar. We’ll start there and then drop down and check out No. 100.

“I Just Want To Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb
“I’m In You” by Peter Frampton
“Best Of My Love” by the Emotions
“(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher & Higher” by Rita Coolidge
“Do You Wanna Make Love” by Peter McCann
“My Heart Belongs To Me” by Barbra Streisand
“Easy” by the Commodores
“Whatcha Gonna Do?” by Pablo Cruise
“You & Me” by Alice Cooper
“You Made Me Believe In Magic” by the Bay City Rollers

I recall, without prompting, hearing seven of those during that distant summer, all except the McCann, Streisand and Bay City Rollers singles. I know I’ve heard the McCann since, and don’t much care for it. For the other two, a trip to YouTube may help. And it took only a few seconds for me to remember the Streisand record, and I think I like it more than I did then. The Bay City Rollers record, well, it’s not bad as I listen forty-three years later, but I don’t remember it.

Of the seven I do recall, the only ones I truly liked in 1977 were “Easy” and “Whatcha Gonna Do?” The Andy Gibb and Emotions records were fine and still are, but the Frampton, the Coolidge and the Cooper didn’t grab me then, and of those, only the Coolidge record, I’d guess, might catch my attention now.

So how many records from that Top Ten are in my current listening? A look at the iPod’s contents finds the tracks by Andy Gibb, the Commodores and Pablo Cruise. The records by the Emotions and Streisand may join them.

And now, on to our other business of the day, checking out the No. 100 record in that Billboard chart from forty-three years ago. And it turns out to be the Eagles’ “Life In The Fast Lane,” falling fast from No. 60 the previous week. It had peaked at No. 11.

The Eagles, for some reason, have hardly been mentioned in this space. “Tequila Sunrise” showed up in a random game in 2013, and “Take It To The Limit” was included in the Ultimate Jukebox in 2010. Why so little attention? I have no idea. I like the band’s work, for the most part, and there’s nothing in their catalog that makes me skip to the next track. And nine of their records are in the iPod. It’s a mystery, I guess.

And here’s another mystery: The Eagles’ studio version of “Life In The Fast Lane” is not available at YouTube. So here’s Joe Walsh’s performance of it as a member of Ringo Starr’s first All Starr Band in 1989. Joining Ringo and Joe onstage were Levon Helm, Dr. John, Rick Danko, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston, Clarence Clemons and Jim Keltner. (Zak Starr also played in this concert when his dad was at center stage.)

‘Sunrise’

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

I’m up early enough this morning to look through the window near my desk and see the sun just beginning to rise above the welter of branches on the eastern end of the block. This calls, of course, for an investigation into how many times the word “sunrise” shows up among the 79,000-some tracks in the RealPlayer.

The answer is forty-four, but as usual, some of the tracks that show up must be winnowed out, like both sides of a 1968 single by the group The Sunrise Highway and four releases on the Sunrise label from 1929 and 1930: “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes” by the Carter Family, “New Chattanooga Blues” by the Allen Brothers and two by Joe Stone, “It’s Hard Time” and “Back Door Blues.” We also lose a version of “Lonesome Blues” that Bob Dylan recorded on February 1, 2002, in Sunrise, Florida.

But that leaves us with plenty of tracks to mess around with as the sun climbs higher through the branches down the block, and we’ll look at a few of them. There are numerous duplicates to ponder. For example, there are four versions of “Blues Before Sunrise,” one each from Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and B.B. King. We’ll pass on all of them.

There are also two versions each of the Broadway tune “Sunrise, Sunset” (from Ferrante & Teicher and John Gary) and the big band standard “Sunrise Serenade (a 1939 version by Glenn Miller and a 1944 cover by Frankie Carle, who originally wrote the melody for the song). We’ll come back to one of those later.

We also find nine tracks titled just “Sunrise,” and we’ll highlight just one of them, the one found on the Grateful Dead’s 1977 album Terrapin Station. It’s notable because it was written and sung by Donna Godchaux, wife of Dead pianist Keith Godchaux. The song has been acknowledged, says Wikipedia, “as a tribute to the band’s recently deceased road manager, Rex Jackson.”

John Gary was a 1960s vocalist whose name rings louder in my memory than it does in the singles charts. He has two records listed in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “Soon I’ll Wed My Love” went to No. 89 in the Hot 100 in 1964 and “Don’t Throw The Roses Away” bubbled under at No. 132 in 1965. They both hit the magazine’s Easy Listening chart as well, reaching Nos. 19 and 21, respectively, and Gary had three other records in that chart during the Sixties: “Don’t Let The Music Play” (No. 24 in 1966), “Everybody Say Peace” (No. 10 in 1967), and “Cold,” which reached the chart in November 1967 and later was No. 1 for two weeks.

But I recall Gary’s name, I think, from the promotional Christmas albums that my dad brought home from the tire stores in many 1960s Decembers. We had none of Gary’s own albums – he had fourteen of them reach the Billboard 200 between 1963 and 1969 – in the house on Kilian Boulevard, so I’m not sure how I would have otherwise known his name back then. Our focus this morning is on his take on “Sunrise, Sunset” from the 1964 musical Fiddler On The Roof. The song was overwhelmingly present in the mid- to late-1960s, and it’s been some time since I’ve actually listened to it. Gary’s version was released as a single on RCA Victor in 1964, and is quite nice.

Gothic Horizon was the British folk duo of Andy Desmond and Richard Garrett from Hertfordshire. Discogs.com calls the group’s output “bright and breezy folk music.” The first of the duo’s two albums – The Jason Lodge Poetry Book – somehow ended on the digital shelves here, no doubt courtesy of a blog offering, and it’s on that 1970 album that we find the delicate-to-the-point-of-being-fey “Wilhelmina Before Sunrise.” I do have a fondness for pale Britfolk of that era, and “Wilhelmina Before Sunrise” falls nicely into that niche.

What’s At No. 100? (November 19, 1977)

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Of all the Billboard pop charts released on November 19 over the years – based on a quick glance this morning (meaning I might have missed something) – none falls into my sweet spot, into the time between the summer of 1969 and the beginning of 1976. The closest are the Hot 100s that were released in 1966 and 1977.

I was thirteen and in eighth grade at the time the first one of those came out and twenty-four, living in the little burg of Sauk Rapids and working for a government agency in St. Cloud at the time of the second. And the data tell me that we’ve dabbled in 1966 eighty-five times since February 2010 and in 1977 only forty-eight times. So we’ll look at the Hot 100 from November 19, 1977, forty-two years ago today, and play our game of “What’s At No. 100?”

First of all, here’s the Top Ten:

“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone
“Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle
“It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Beside Me” by Barry White
“Baby, What A Big Surprise” by Chicago
“How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees
“Heaven On The 7th Floor” by Paul Davis
“We’re All Alone” by Rita Coolidge
“Blue Bayou” by Linda Ronstadt
“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon

Listening this morning, I don’t recall the Barry White record at all, and the only reason I recognize “Boogie Nights” is because I sought out the Heatwave album Too Hot To Handle in the late 1990s when Chazz Nelson – Prince’s cousin – recommended it to me. (Most of Chazz’s tips were on target; that one wasn’t.) The rest of those, I remember well. Too well, in a few cases.

I liked five from that list mid-November 1977, when my radio listening was pretty much limited to drive time to and from work and a little bit of time in the evening puttering in my rented room in Sauk Rapids (unless I joined the other guys in the house in the living room for an evening of television). No doubt, I heard all of them except the White and the Heatwave more often after I moved to Monticello in just a week and spent more time in the car driving from one reporting assignment to another.

Anyway, the five records I liked were those by Crystal Gayle, the Bee Gees, Rita Coolidge, Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon. The Paul Davis and Chicago records I can take or leave these days, and I heard “You Light Up My Life” often enough back then to never need to hear it again. (It shows up on the digital shelves only as a cover by Ferrante & Teicher.)

How many of those records matter today? Well, of the five I liked back in the late 1970s, four show up in my current listening on the iPod. The one that’s missing is Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.” I think it will stay that way.

So let’s look at our other business today and check out the record at No. 100 in that Hot 100 from forty-two years ago today. Well, it’s a record I’ve almost certainly never heard from a group that’s only been mentioned twice here in the more than twelve years I’ve been throwing stuff at the walls: “Georgia Rhythm” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

ARS was, of course, a group that evolved from a cluster of Georgia studio musicians. Their biggest hits were “So Into You” (No. 7 in 1977) and “Imaginary Lover” (No. 7 in 1978). Three of their albums came home with me during my vinyl madness period in 1999 and 2000, but the only thing that’s ever made its way to the digital shelves is the 1974 single “Angel.” I’m not at all sure how it got there.

So here’s “Georgia Rhythm.” It’s not bad, kind of reminds me of a smoother Larry Jon Wilson, which I guess makes some sense. It didn’t do well on the chart, peaking at No. 68.

What’s At No. 100? (February 1977)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

As February turned to March in 1977, I found myself back at St. Cloud State after a three-month absence. In the autumn of 1976, I’d abandoned some post-graduate studies to work full time in a music store. A week after that, I’d lost my job.

I scuffled for two months in a poor economy, getting no nibbles on my attempts to find work in television news. One day I met my dad for coffee at the university.

“Whatever you’re doing,” he said, “it’s not working, so I have two suggestions.” He knew I had some extra credits in mass communications beyond what I’d needed for graduation, so he suggested that I talk to the department chair and see if those credits and some course work could be converted into a minor in print journalism. Even with my training in television, he said, the thing I did best that would bring me a job (and, he hoped, a career) was to write.

Otherwise, he said, I should join the Army.

I like his first suggestion immediately. I liked it even more after his second suggestion. So I met with the department chair, and he and I cobbled together a minor using those extra credits and a couple of courses and some summertime workshops.

I registered for spring quarter about three weeks before the quarter actually began, and that made me eligible for student employment, as Dad knew it would. After a quick meeting with Dad’s colleague who supervised student employment in the Learning Resources Center, I was working twenty hours a week for the rest of winter quarter, full time during quarter break and then ten hours a week after that.

The pay was minimal, but I was still living in the decrepit house on the North Side I’ve mentioned many times before, so my rent and other expenses were low. I took out a small student loan and jumped happily back into campus life, taking classes, working as the arts editor of the University Chronicle, and doing whatever projects I was assigned at the Learning Resources Center, where my years of experience allowed my supervisor to plug me pretty much into any project he had that needed doing.

There was plenty of time, as always, to listen to music. At home, I listened to a variety of FM stations, but the car was AM only, and the bulk of the Top 40 remained familiar. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1977:

“Love Theme From ‘A Star Is Born’ (Evergreen)” by Barbra Streisand
“New Kid In Town/Victim Of Love” by the Eagles
“Fly Like An Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band
“I Like Dreaming” by Kenny Nolan
“Blinded By The Light” by the Manfred Mann Earth Band
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger
“Dancing Queen” by Abba
“Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart
“Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary MacGregor
“Weekend In New England” by Barry Manilow

First off, I had to remind myself what “Victim Of Love” sounded like, and I had to take a another moment to remember the Manilow record. I recalled that I never liked “Victim of Love” and – sappy and Manilowesque as it is (and those might be the same thing) – I liked “Weekend In New England.”

Of the other nine in that list, there is one that I have always detested and another that I wonder about nowadays. From the first time I heard it, I have had a visceral dislike for the Streisand record, almost on the level of my antipathy for “Seasons In The Sun.” Time has not eased that distaste. Of course, I don’t like a whole lot of anything Streisand has ever recorded; the only work from her on the digital shelves is the album Stoney End and a 1971 cover of Carole King’s “Beautiful” that came my way in one of the mixes put out by the Halfhearted Dude.

The one I wonder about is “Torn Between Two Lovers.” I always thought it inconsequential, the tale of a woman wanting to have it both ways, which kind of summed up what some folks – supposedly lots of folks, according to occasional reports in the news magazines – were doing with relationships in those post-Nixon, pre-AIDS days. Then, after I went online in 2000 and began to frequent music blogs and boards, I learned that “Torn Between Two Lovers” was “Seasons In The Sun” for some folks. I never quite got that level of distaste, but okay. I still kind of like the record, maybe mostly as an artifact of its time.

The rest of those range from just okay to “Hey, let’s play that one five times in a row on the jukebox!” (“Year Of The Cat” and “Night Moves” are in that second category.)

As usual, the best way to see if I really like a record is to see if it’s one of the 3,900-some tracks in the iPod. So what do we find? Seven of those eleven records are there. Missing are the Streisand, the B-side of the Eagles single, the Steve Miller Band and Manilow. And I think that’s the way it’s going to stay.

But what of our other business today? What was sitting at No. 100 as February turned to March in 1977? Well, it’s a record I have never heard until today: “Dance Little Lady Dance” by Danny White, a New Jersey native described by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles as a pop-disco singer.

It’s White’s only entry in the Hot 100, and it spent two weeks at No. 100 and then went away. Probably a deserved fate, if for no other reasons than the screams, which seem most painful from the three-minute mark on. Still, I suppose that somewhere, there’s a middle-aged or older couple remembering Danny White’s single as their song. Good for them.

Saturday Single No. 623

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

We continue our increasingly frequent wandering through the EITW archives in search of posts that might have some interest. Today’s it a meandering look at the song I first heard from the Beatles about a city where you can hang around Twelfth Street and Vine. The piece first ran here in October 2008. I’ve made some minor changes.

For a time around 1969-70, the evening deejay at WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house, was a fellow who used the name Ron P. Michaels (his initials were then RPM, you see). And one evening during the summer of 1970, he put on a special show.

From seven o’clock to (I think) midnight one weekday evening, Michaels played nothing but the Beatles. From the hits like “Hey Jude,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to tracks from deep in the group’s catalog, WJON was all-Beatles for one five-hour stretch that summer night.

I was a fledgling Beatles fan, just beginning to learn about the Fab Four’s music. I had – and knew well – the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. I owned – with my sister – Beatles ’65, one of the albums of bits and pieces that Capitol had created in the early days of the group’s American success. Later that summer, I would buy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hey Jude, a package of hits and B-sides (also known as The Beatles Again).

There was still plenty I did not know about the Beatles’ music. I was determined to learn, however. So I stationed myself in my bedroom with my Panasonic cassette recorder and carefully stopped and started the tape to edit out commercial breaks. My recording technique was brutal: The radio was on the bed, with the microphone set down nearby, but the sound quality was good enough. I ended up with three-and-a-half hours of music, which was nothing near the group’s entire output on Capitol/Apple (During their active recording years, from Please Please Me through Let It Be, I estimated ten years ago that the Beatles released about eleven hours of music), but it was certainly a place to start learning about the deeper places in the group’s catalog.

I recall that some of the songs I heard for the first time that evening weren’t, to be honest, high points in the Beatles’ career: “Devil In Her Heart,” “Yes It Is,” “Act Naturally” and “Blue Jay Way” come to mind. On the other hand, that was the evening I was introduced to “In My Life,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” the last of which remains one of my favorite recordings by anyone, ever.

Another song that I heard for the first time that evening was titled at the time “Kansas City.” It started, “I’m goin’ to Kansas City, bringing my baby back home.”

Released on Beatles For Sale in 1964, the song was the Beatles’ cover of Little Richard’s version of the tune written in the early 1950s by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Little Richard’s indelible contribution to the song – beyond his lethal performance of “Kansas City” itself – was the “Hey, hey, hey hey” coda, which was his own creation. From what I’ve read, the Beatles were unaware of Little Richard’s addition; they called the song simply “Kansas City” and listed only Leiber and Stoller as the writers. (Eventually, the title of the Beatles’ recording was changed; it’s now called a medley of “Kansas City” and “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey” with Little Richard given a writing credit [as Richard Penniman].)

Looking a little bit deeper, there was no way the Beatles really could have known. After all, when Little Richard’s recording was released as Specialty 664 after it was recorded in 1955, its title was simply “Kansas City,” with only Leiber and Stoller listed as writers. As was the case with the Beatles’ omission, that error has since been corrected. The 1991 CD The Georgia Peach, a Little Richard hits package, lists the song as “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” and lists Penniman as a writer along with the team of Leiber and Stoller.

Anyway, that night was the first time I’d heard “Kansas City” with or without the Penniman addition. I thought it was a pretty good song, but I didn’t bother in those days to dig too deeply into the history of the music I was listening to. I was having a difficult enough time keeping track of current groups and their catalogs. So I didn’t know for years that “Kansas City” – sometimes listed as “K.C. Lovin’” – had been around since before I was born.

As noted above, the song came from the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a duo credited with writing hit after hit during the Fifties and early Sixties, including “Hound Dog,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me” (with Ben E. King), “Ruby Baby” and many more, including the very odd No. 11 hit for Peggy Lee in 1969, “Is That All There Is?”

Originally recorded in 1952 by Little Willie Littlefield, “Kansas City” is without doubt one of the most-covered R&B songs of all time. The listings at Second Hand Songs show more than 160 versions of “Kansas City” and fourteen additional versions of “Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” The most famous cover of “Kansas City” is most likely Wilbert Harrison’s 1959 version, which was No. 1 for two weeks. (As good as Little Richard’s version on Specialty was, it did not reach the Top 40.)

Other covers of the song that I have in my collection are from Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney (on his 1988 album Снова в СССР, originally released only in the Soviet Union) and Albert King. It’s not a song in which I’ve invested a lot of time.

I’ve since added more versions by artists including bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards, guitarist Billy Strange, Big Bill Broonzy, and Jan & Dean.

But there is one fascinating version I do have. In 1977, Libby Titus – who I think is generally forgotten today – recorded a version of the song that she titled “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’)” and released it on her self-titled album. The album is pretty good, but is, I think, of additional interest because Titus was once in a relationship with Levon Helm of The Band (and is the mother of musician Amy Helm, who’s been mentioned here a few times). Helm’s former bandmate Garth Hudson shows up on one track, and Robbie Robertson produced two tracks and plays on one. (Producing the remaining tracks were, in various combinations, the intriguing trio of Paul Simon, Carly Simon and Phil Ramone.)

Among the other highlights of the album – which used to be pricey on both CD and vinyl but has since been re-released on CD and is now available in both formats for reasonable prices – are Titus’ work on the classic song “Love Has No Pride,” which she co-wrote with Eric Kaz, and the slightly odd “The Night You Took Me to Barbados in My Dreams.” But “Kansas City (K.C. Lovin’),” with its own odd moment in the introduction, is likely the best thing on the album and one of the slinkier covers of the song I’ve ever heard.

And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

One Hit Wonder No. 1

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Having delved into the origins of the cult of Onehit, I thought we’d start looking at so-called One Hit Wonders on an occasional basis. Our basic guide will be a slender volume I picked up in the early 1990s, one titled Billboard Top 1000 Singles.

Compiled by chart maven Joel Whitburn, the book covers the period from January 1955 through February 1993. Obviously, much has happened since then, including – unless I’m mistaken – at least one very large change in how the various Billboard charts are calculated. Thus, I’d guess, a current book of the top 1,000 singles of all time would include many more current records than historic ones. That would no doubt be accurate but would be a hell of a lot less fun than looking into the 1993 book.

And here’s some necessary housekeeping before we dig in: What, exactly, is a One Hit Wonder? My definition: It’s a record by a group or artist who focused on releasing singles that was the only record by that group or artist to reach the Top 40. Similarly, one can call the group or artist a One Hit Wonder as well. (The bit about being focused on singles is the best way to accommodate records like Jimi Hendrix’ cover of “All Along The Watchtower,” which went to No. 20 in 1968. It would be ludicrous to call Hendrix a One Hit Wonder as an artist, as singles were clearly not his focus.)

And before we start, let’s remind ourselves of how the all-time singles chart looked in 1993. Here’s the Top Twenty in that Top 1000 book. All of then went to No. 1 for at least eight weeks.

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992, 14 weeks)
“End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men (1992, 13)
“Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley (1956, 11)
“Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell (1956, 10)
“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John (1981, 10)
“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone (1977, 10)
“Mack The Knife” by Bobby Darin (1959, 9)
“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley (1957, 9)
“Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes (1981, 9)
“Hey Jude” by the Beatles (1968, 9)
“Endless Love” by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie (1981, 9)*
“The Theme From ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith (1960, 9)
“Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets (1955, 8)
“The Wayward Wind” by Gogi Grant (1956, 8)
“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955, 8)
“Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley (1956, 8)
“Every Breath You Take” by the Police (1983, 8)
“Jump” by Kris Kross (1992, 8)
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees (1978, 8)
“Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” by Rod Stewart (1976, 8)

That Top Twenty serves as a reminder of the power of Elvis. Sixteen years after his death, he still had three of the top twenty singles of the Top Forty era, all of them nearly forty years old. And it’s actually not a bad bunch of singles, with only three I’d skip: I’m not fond of the Kris Kross record, but that’s a generational and societal thing. Neither am I crazy about the Whitney Houston single at the top of the list; I find it oversung and overbearing. And I’ve always believed the Rod Stewart single to be a blight on the world.

The other seventeen would be – in these precincts, anyway – a decent bunch of listening. Not really my favorites, but some fun listening, even the single One Hit Wonder of the bunch, a record that I admit I first kind of liked, then was tired of, and finally, was greatly annoyed by as it spun out its twenty-one weeks in the Top 40 in 1977 and 1978: Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.”

I was surprised when I began digging this morning to learn that “You Light Up My Life” was a One Hit Wonder. But then, being afflicted with Boone fatigue by late 1977, I paid no attention to Debby Boone’s career, not caring what she’d done either before or after her massive hit. And it seems, digging this morning into Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, there wasn’t much to pay attention to, as least as far as the Hot 100 was concerned.

“You Light Up My Life” was the first charting single for Pat Boone’s daughter. As well as topping the Billboard pop chart for the above mentioned ten weeks, the record was also No. 1 for one week on the magazine’s Easy Listening chart and went to No. 4 on the country chart.

After that, Boone had two singles reach the Hot 100, but both fell short of the Top 40: “California” went to No. 50 and the two-sided single “God Knows/Baby, I’m Yours” (the latter being a cover of Barbara Lewis’ 1965 hit) stalled at No. 74, both in 1978. Boone did have a better time of it on the Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary chart, with five more singles beyond “You Light Up My Life” reaching the Top Forty there into 1981.

“You Light Up My Life” was, of course, the title theme to a 1977 movie, sung for the soundtrack by Kasey Cisyk and lip-synched in the movie by actress Didi Conn. In the movie, it’s a love song, but the very devout Boone, according to Wikipedia, “interpreted it as inspirational and proclaimed that it was instead God who ‘lit up her life’.”

(There was some nasty hoo-ha in 1977 and beyond about songwriter and producer Joe Brooks not paying Cisyk or crediting her for her performance as well as something about Brooks’ recording Boone’s version of the song over the same instrumental tracks used for Cisyk’s version. But then nasty hoo-ha might have been Brooks’ default mode, as he committed suicide in 2011, says Wikipedia, while awaiting trial “on 91 counts of rape, sexual abuse, criminal sexual act, assault, and other charges.”)

Billboard has since released at least two more lists of its top all-time records; in the last of them, in 2013, “You Light Up My Life” was at No. 9. I do not know if any of the eight records ranked above it are One Hit Wonders, and I really don’t care. In the era I care about most, reflected by the 1993 volume, Debby Boone’s hit is the top-ranking One Hit Wonder of all time.

*One might argue that “Endless Love” is a One Hit Wonder as it’s the only time that the duo of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie charted. But that would be silly.

Six at Random

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

My iPod currently holds a total of 3,930 tracks, which – as iTunes helpfully tells me – is enough for ten days of listening. We’ll not run that type of marathon here; instead, we’re going to let iTunes supply us with six random tracks of music this morning, and we’ll see what we know and think about those six tracks.

First up is a lilting clarinet tune by Mr. Acker Bilk that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1962. “Stranger on the Shore” was originally titled “Jenny” but was renamed for the BBC television show that used it as a theme. I have vague memories of hearing the tune in 1962: I would have been eight, and it’s the type of record that would have found a good home on the Twin Cities’ WCCO as well as on St. Cloud’s local stations. I’ve heard it (and liked it) so many times over the years since that it’s impossible to say if I heard it back then, but I do know that when I started during the late 1980s to dig into the music of the early 1960s, “Stranger on the Shore” was familiar.

Our second stop is a track I first heard across the street at Rick’s house in early 1971. “Two Years On” by the Bee Gees was the title track to the album that was home to their No. 3 hit “Lonely Days.” The album was also the first since Robin Gibb had reunited with his brothers after a spat of two or so years, and we speculated that the title track was a reference to that time. It’s a good track, one that reminds me of the pleasant hours I spent across the street listening to albums, playing pool and pinball, and generally cementing a friendship that remains a vital part of my life after more than sixty years. (I also recall the bemused smile I got from Rick maybe a dozen years ago when he discovered Two Years On among my CDs.)

And we stay in that era, listening to a record that puts me in my own room with the sound of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” coming from my old RCA radio. It’s probably an evening in early 1970 – the record went to No. 7 that March – and I’m holed up in my room after surviving another day of my junior year of high school. It’s a good record (despite the mournful intro) and not a bad memory, and I know it instantly, as I do most Top 40 hits from that season. But the record wasn’t a big deal to me then and it’s not now. Having come across it this morning, I’m likely going to pull it from iTunes and the iPod and replace it with a record that means something to me.

While restocking the iPod after last autumn’s external drive crash, I tried to include records from a wider time frame than I previously had. Since I’ve tended to slight the 1980s over the years, I consciously dropped more tracks from that decade into the playlist this time around. And this morning we fall on “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, a one-hit wonder* that went to No. 8 in 1982. So I look at the other tracks in the iPod from 1982 and think that including the mechanical-sounding cover of Sharon Jones’ 1964 record was a mistake. And I realize that having to stop and think about the tracks as they come up, rather than just letting them roll by in the background as I cook dinner or do some other task, makes me a great deal more critical. There might have been a time when I liked the Soft Cell track, but that time is past.

And iTunes offers us the sharp and somewhat dissonant intro to “Home At Last” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album, Aja. Last September, noting the death of the Dan’s Walter Becker, I selected “Home At Last” as my salute to his passing: “I know that Steely Dan and a romantic notion seem as odd a pairing as cognac and Cheez Whiz, but it would be nice to think that Becker is – in whatever way he might have wished – home at last.” And my friend jb – who blogs at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and understands more about Steely Dan than I ever will – left a trenchant comment:

“Home at Last” seems like a good choice for him, as it’s not so much about finding an idealized home with Mom and chocolate chip cookies as it is getting past the place with the monsters that want to kill you and into a somewhat safer harbor. And if you’re not as free as you’d like to be (“still I remain tied to the mast”), who is?

And we end with one of the records of my life, one of those whose introductions make me take a sharp, short breath as memories instantly cascade. With some of those – and there may be hundreds in that category of “Records of My Life” – it’s the record alone; there is no tale from my years attached to them. Most, though, have a connection with my times, with my joys or sorrows, my roads and my homes. Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky” is one of the latter. The title track of his 1974 album, the song depicts a pairing once filled with hope gone hopelessly awry, a scene sadly familiar to me (as it no doubt has been to most of the folks who’ve listened to that tune and the other sad songs the album offers). Even as I live now in a better and sweeter time, the memories of those other times are potent, and I sometimes need those memories to remind myself how far the grace of my life has brought me.

Saturday Single No. 558

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Looking for inspiration this morning, I took a glance at the top ten albums in the Billboard 200 from September 24, 1977, forty years ago this week:

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
Star Wars soundtrack
Moody Blue by Elvis Presley
JT by James Taylor
Shaun Cassidy by Shaun Cassidy
Commodores by the Commodores
CSN by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Foreigner by Foreigner
Going For The One by Yes
The Floaters by the Floaters

We were slowly moving into a time when what was popular was no longer what I wanted to hear. Only three of those albums – the Fleetwood Mac, the James Taylor, and the Star Wars soundtrack – ever made it onto the vinyl stacks.

But there were no surprises as I scanned my way down the list this morning, at least until the very end. The Floaters? Who in the hell were the Floaters? As I limped to the shelf where I keep my reference books, I surmised that the Floaters were likely an R&B group, as it wasn’t rare for an R&B act do well nationally but get little exposure or airplay in the St. Cloud of the late 1970s. Or maybe there had been airplay, but I wasn’t paying attention.

And I was right. The Floaters – as maybe most of those who stop by here already know – were an R&B group, hailing from Detroit. The self-titled album that was No. 10 forty years ago was their first; they recorded three more albums in the next four years, according to Discogs, the last with, evidently, a female vocalist named Shu-Ga. Their single history goes back to 1965, when they released a record – “Down By The Seashore” – with Kenny Gamble before he was Kenny Gamble. It didn’t chart, and it wasn’t until 1976 that the Floaters were heard from again, with “I’m So Glad I Took My Time” released as a non-charting single ahead of its being included on The Floaters.

So there’s all of that (and more, if I wanted to go through every single the Floaters released), but our interest is that debut album, the one that peaked at No. 10, because it did sprout one massive single: “Float On.”

The single topped the Billboard R&B chart for six weeks during a seventeen-week run that started during the summer of 1977. Over on the Hot 100, “Float On” peaked with a two-week stay at No. 2, blocked from the top spot by first, Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” and then, the Emotions’ “Best Of My Love.”

The single is not quite my deal; having each member of the group introducing himself to some imaginary lady is, to me, lame. But the chorus hangs with me, and anyway, when I discover a smash hit forty years late, I sort of feel as if I need to acknowledge it. That means that the Floaters’ “Float On” is today’s Saturday Single.