I suppose it was inevitable that I slept through most of the movie.
In the spring of 1970, St. Cloud Tech High School sent its Concert Choir on a two-day trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba. We performed three times: At a school, in a shopping mall and on the long steps inside the provincial capitol building.
We also took advantage of our free time during our one night in Winnipeg, heading in groups from the downtown hotel out into the Canadian evening. I really don’t recall with whom I hit the Winnipeg streets that night, except that I’m sure that my pal Mike and I were in the same bunch. We stopped for dinner and then headed into an area of the city that had a fair number of movie theaters.
We looked around at the marquees, the eight or so of us, assessing our options. Earlier that day, as we rode the bus through downtown to one of our performances, we’d seen the theater where the current feature was I Am Curious (Yellow). That had gotten our attention, as the Swedish film was quite notorious. Not only was the film revolutionary in its structure – Wikipedia notes that “the movie uses jump cuts and its story is not structured in a conventional Hollywood way” – but it was said to be one of the most sexually frank films ever. It had originally been banned in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, an action that was reversed by a U.S. federal court.
From where the eight of us stood after dinner that evening, we could see the theater where I Am Curious (Yellow) was playing. Were we tempted to head down the street and take in the steamy – and, based on my reading, politically turgid – Swedish movie? Perhaps, but we were certainly too timid. I’m not sure we could have gotten in; I imagine there were some age restrictions for steamy movies in Canada at the time, and the eight of us were all sixteen or seventeen.
But we didn’t even head that way. I’m not sure that any of us thought about it seriously. We considered seeing Midnight Cowboy, the Dustin Hoffman/John Voigt film that had recently won the Academy Award for Best Picture. (It remains the only X-rated film to have done so, although on a re-release without any changes, the film was re-rated R.) Some of the students in the choir saw Midnight Cowboy that evening. But not the group I was in.
For whatever reason – for many reasons, I imagine, including not wanting to tell our parents when we got home that we’d gone to a steamy Swedish movie or an X-rated film – the eight or so of us walked over to a third theater and bought tickets to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’m not sure about the rest of the guys, but I really didn’t see the movie. We’d spent the previous night riding the bus from St. Cloud to Winnipeg, and I’d gotten little sleep during the four-hundred mile trip. So as I sat in the darkened theater and the story of Butch and the Sundance Kid played out on the screen, I fell asleep. I do remember seeing the sequence showing Paul Newman’s Butch and Katherine Ross’ Etta Place riding a bicycle as B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” plays on the soundtrack. But that’s about all I recall of those hours in the theater.
(And though I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie here and there over the past forty-one years, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the entire movie at one time. Maybe I should.)
One memory from that choir trip to Winnipeg that’s certainly more vivid than the movie is connected to that long nighttime ride the night before. About ten minutes after we headed northwest out of St. Cloud, someone pulled a radio out a traveling bag, and we cruised through the Minnesota night to the sound of the Top 40. Here’s the Billboard Top 10 from that week:
“ABC” by the Jackson 5
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” by John Lennon
“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse
“Come And Get It” by Badfinger
“Love Or Let Me Be Lonely” by the Friends of Distinction
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“Turn Back The Hands Of Time” by Tyrone Davis
Boy, that would be a great hour or so of radio! I imagine we heard all of those during the hours we had the radio playing during that drive. And I imagine we heard tunes from lower in the Top 40 as well, and maybe a few that were lower down in the Billboard Hot 100. There would have been some interesting tunes to choose from once you dropped below No. 40.
One of those tunes was sitting at No. 47. Mark Lindsay – one-time lead singer for Paul Revere & The Raiders – had reached No. 10 earlier in the year with “Arizona.” And in late April, his “Miss America” was moving up the chart, having jumped seventeen places to No. 47 in the past week. It’s a political plaint posing as a love song, and it peaked at No. 44.
From there, we’ll head down to No. 67, where “Deeper (In Love With You)” had gotten the O’Jays into the Hot 100 for the ninth time since 1963. But the Canton, Ohio, group still hadn’t cracked the Top 40. They wouldn’t this time, either, as “Deeper” would peak at No. 64. It would take another two years for the O’Jays to get into the Top 40; “Back Stabbers” would go to No. 3 in 1972.
The Gentrys had made the Top Ten in 1965, when “Keep On Dancing” had gone to No. 4. A few singles after that had gotten into the Hot 100 (or bubbled under it), but nothing had clicked. In early 1970, the band from Memphis signed with its hometown label. The band’s first Sun single, “Why Should I Cry,” went to No. 61 in the late winter, and in spring, Sun sent the Gentry’s cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” out to play. The record went only to No. 52. But that was still better that Young did. Backed by Crazy Horse, Young released the song as a single during the summer of 1970 and saw the record stall at No. 55.
As I was scanning the Hot 100 from April 25, 1970, this morning, for some reason the title “I Got A Problem” by Jesse Anderson popped out at me, and I’m glad it did. A tale of juggling a wife and at least two lovers, it’s a funky piece of R&B that was sitting at No. 95 that week. It would go no higher, though it went to No. 35 on the R&B chart. Neither the book Top Pop Singles nor All-Music Guide knows much about Anderson. A note left at YouTube not quite a year ago says, “Jesse Anderson is alive and well, living in Wichita, KS. He has recently released Funk N Blues, an album compilation of his songs from the 70’s. He’s working again with Gene Barge on some new material and possible record deal. Good luck to him!” (Anderson’s compilation is available at cd Universe.)
Dipping below No. 100 and into the Bubbling Under section of that April 25, 1970, chart, we find the Canadian group the Original Caste and what appears to be the group’s follow-up to “One Tin Soldier,” which went to No. 34 in February 1970. “Mr. Monday” was sitting at No. 119; a week later it was gone. The same thing happened to two more singles by the band: “Nothing Can Touch Me (Don’t Worry Baby, It’s Alright)” spent one week at No. 114, and “Ain’t That Tellin’ You People” spent a week at No. 117.
Finally, we find Rare Bird’s “Sympathy” sitting at No. 121 in the last of its three weeks Bubbling Under. Rare Bird is listed by AMG as a British prog band, and based on the sound of the single – which I’d describe as naïvely charming – that’s probably accurate. The group would have one more single bubble under – the oddly titled “Birdman – Part 1 (Title No. 1 Again)” would spend one week at No. 122 – and a couple of its albums reached the lower half of the Billboard 200. As the band kept recording and releasing albums into 1975, I’m assuming that Rare Bird was more successful in Britain than in the U.S.