From Henry Mancini To MFSB

Among the least used books in my musical reference library is Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top 10 Album Charts, and I’m not entirely sure why. Back in 2008, when I was doing a monthly look at music and events of 1968, I used the book for most of those posts, tracking albums through the year. Since then, however, I’ve rarely pulled it off the shelf.

I think it’s because the book has few surprises. I might not know right offhand what the No. 10 album was during the first week of April in 1970, but when I see that it was Willy and the Poorboys by Creedence Clearwater Revival, I think, “Yeah, that make sense.” Digging in a Top Ten list is not like digging in the Hot 100, where unknown gems reside in the lower depths.

But an occasional dip into the book might be fun, so I thought I’d take a look at the Top Tens from the first week of a few Aprils past. The book begins with Billboard magazine’s first comprehensive album chart in August 1963, so the first April in the book is from 1964. Here’s the Top Ten from April 4 of that year:

Meet the Beatles by the Beatles
Introducing . . . the Beatles by the Beatles
Honey in the Horn by Al Hirt
Hello Dolly! by the Original Cast
The Third Album by Barbra Streisand
In The Wind by Peter, Paul & Mary
Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues by Nancy Wilson
There! I’ve Said It Again by Bobby Vinton
Peter, Paul & Mary by Peter, Paul & Mary
Charade (original soundtrack) by Henry Mancini

The second album on that list is the famous Vee-Jay album, now a valuable collector’s item, especially in stereo, with prices for a near-mint copy reaching as high as $40,000, according to the “Ask ‘Mr. Music’” feature at DigitalDreamDoor.com.  But according to Wikipedia, nearly every circulating copy of the record – and this is especially true for those labeled as stereo – is a counterfeit. That includes the copy that sits on my shelf. Oh, well.

As to that Top Ten itself, it shows the shift underway from middle of the road tunes, show tunes and soundtracks to rock and pop. I have half of those albums on the shelves – the Beatles, Al Hirt and Peter, Paul & Mary – and I’m a little bit interested in hearing the Nancy Wilson record.

As to the others, neither Hello Dolly! nor the Streisand or Vinton records interest me, but being a soundtrack geek, I like Mancini’s work for Charade a lot, especially the title tune. A single release of the title tune had gone to No. 36 earlier in 1964, and the soundtrack album peaked at No. 6 a week later.

Let’s jump ahead five years to the Top Ten albums from the first week of April 1969:

Wichita Lineman by Glenn Campbell
Blood, Sweat & Tears by Blood, Sweat & Tears
Ball by Iron Butterfly
Goodbye by Cream
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Donovan’s Greatest Hits by Donovan
Greatest Hits by the Association
Cloud Nine by the Temptations
Help Yourself by Tom Jones
Bayou Country by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Yes, there was a time when Iron Butterfly ruled the land. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard Ball, but I think I had a copy of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at one time, and I know I had a copy of the group’s live album. Lots of folks did. Whatever Iron Butterfly I had on vinyl, though, I sold long ago. (I do have digital files of the seventeen minute album version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the single edit as well as the group’s 1970 album, Metamorphosis, which isn’t bad.)

As to the rest, it’s a decent set of records, and they all have a place in my stacks except for the Tom Jones album. I do recall the title track, “Help Yourself,” which went to No. 35 on the singles chart. The album peaked at No. 5.

And we’ll jump another five years to the first week of April 1974:

John Denver’s Greatest Hits by John Denver
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings
Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield
The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand
Love Is The Message by MFSB
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Rhapsody in White by the Love Unlimited Orchestra
Hotcakes by Carly Simon
The Sting (original soundtrack) by Marvin Hamlisch

Boy, that’s a jumble of stuff. The soundtrack to The Sting was notable for its resurrection of the music of Scott Joplin, and two more of those albums were connected with movies: The title track of the Streisand album was also the title track of the movie in which she starred with Robert Redford, and excerpts from Oldfield’s side-long suites were used in The Exorcist.

Beyond that, folks looking for classic albums could find two, perhaps three here: Band on the Run and Court and Spark are great records, and some will make the argument for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, but I’m not sure I’d be persuaded. As long-time readers might anticipate, I’m ambivalent about the John Denver album, and singles are all I really need of MFSB, the Love Unlimited Orchestra and Carly Simon.

Thinking about the way things sound, however, it comes to mind that nothing sounds to me more like 1974 than almost anything from Court and Spark, which peaked at No. 2. We’ll close this brief exercise with the title track.

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One Response to “From Henry Mancini To MFSB”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    I do like the way Carly Simon sets the stage lyrically for the opening track on ‘Hotcakes’ (“Safe And Sound”):

    “Strange times in Portland, Maine
    lobsters dancing on the dock…”

    Would have made for an unusual music video, that’s for sure.

    The open-reel tape of Iron Butterfly’s ‘Ball’ I bought back then is still lurking around here in some dark corner. Haven’t dared to actually play the fragile thing in decades, though, let alone take it out of its box. The “Soul Experience” 45 seems to have been the better long-term investment.

    Most of the “single version” edits of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” I’ve heard on CD aren’t correct. The edit point on the original 45 was quite obvious, given the gradual tempo increase over the course of the album track. It would be comparatively easy to make a seamless edit digitally at the same spot nowadays, but part of the fun was always listening for the “giveaway” of the 45 edit whenever the song was broadcast.

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