Digging A Bit Deeper In The Chart

A radio listener was doing pretty well forty years ago this week. As the month of July moved into its second week and a sixteen-year-old whiteray got ready for his four days of work at the state trapshoot, the radio supplied some good company. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending July 11, 1970:

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“The Love You Save/I Found That Girl” by the Jackson 5
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” by the Temptations
“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image
“Band of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” by Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“The Long And Winding Road/For You Blue” by the Beatles
“The Wonder of You/Mama Liked The Roses” by Elvis Presley
“Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare

An interesting week in the Top Ten: A little bit of R&B, some folkie stuff, some mainstream pop-rock, some pure pop, a bombastic ballad from Elvis with a countryish flipside, a ballad from the Beatles with a three-chord blues on the flipside, and some Randy Newman surrealism filtered through Three Dog Night’s production values.

Things would get a little more interesting and surreal yet the next week when the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” moved up two places and took up residence at No. 9. By then, I think, I was spending ten hours a day in a gunproof blockhouse, loading targets onto a machine so men and women with shotguns could shoot the targets and win trophies, money and more guns. I didn’t mind; I got paid pretty well for a kid in 1970: $15 a day. The worst part was that the dust from the targets – made from some kind of brittle tarry substance – burned my face, and during the week after the trapshoot, the skin on my face would crinkle for a few days and then peel off in large chunks.

But during the week in question, the first full week in July, my skin was blissfully uncrinkled, and aside from chores at home – mowing the lawn, picking up sticks after storms, patrolling the yard for dandelions (all of which I could do with a transistor radio in my pocket and an earpiece in my ear) – my time was pretty much my own. And I got a lot of listening done, the vast majority of which came from the Top 40.

Had I dug a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100, I would have found some interesting bits and pieces.

Sitting at No. 31 was the 5th Dimension’s cover of a Laura Nyro tune: “Save the Country.” In its fifth week in the Hot 100, the song was already the group’s thirteenth Top 40 hit (the final total would be twenty Top 40 hits) and was heading for its peak position of No. 27.

 

Moving out of the Top 40 and further down the Hot 100, we run into a Chicago soul group at No. 56. The Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick, And Wicked” would eventually rise to No. 30 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart. The record would also inspire separate groups in Cleveland and Los Angeles to name themselves “Sly, Slick & Wicked,” ensuring confusion for music researchers for years to come.

I never cared much for Kenny Rogers as a country singer, the niche he fell into in the late 1970s with “Lucille” and many more, including the execrable “Coward of the County.” But there’s no denying that most of his hit records with the First Edition – seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1970 – also had a country tinge to them. Looking at the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits this morning, the only one of the First Edition’s hits that didn’t have at least some kind of countryish feel was the trippy “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a No. 5 hit in 1968. Sitting at No. 65 during the second week of July 1970 was one of those records with a country/gospel feel to it. “Tell It All Brother” would eventually make its way up the chart to No. 17. (The video credits the recording to Rogers alone, but it was released under the name of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.)

As is pretty widely known, the female voice doing the high-pitched end-of-the-world vocals on the Rolling Stones’ track “Gimme Shelter” was that of Merry Clayton. One of the most active and sought-after background vocalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clayton also released three solo albums on the Ode label during the early years of the 1970s: Gimme Shelter in 1970 and Merry Clayton and Celebration in 1971. Ode would release another album, titled Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow in 1975 before Clayton moved to MCA for 1979’s Emotion and eventually to A&M for the 1994 Gospel CD, Miracles. But a lot of that was yet to come during this week in 1970, when the Ode single, “Gimme Shelter,” was sitting at No. 76. The record would peak a week later at No. 73 and would fall off the chart entirely during the next week.

And then we go from the horror of a world falling viciously apart to a sweet recording about an idyllic small town in California. Rita Abrams was a singer-songwriter who in1970 was teaching elementary school in the town of Mill Valley, California, located in Marin County about four miles north of San Francisco (via the Golden Gate Bridge). According to Wikipedia:

“On Christmas Day 1969, [Abrams] wrote a song about the town for her kindergarten class to sing. It was heard by record producer Erik Jacobsen, who recorded Adams with the children from the third grade class at the school, and took it to Warner Bros. Records where the label management ‘guys in suits stood up and gave it a standing ovation’. Released in June 1970 on the Reprise label, the record reached # 90 on the Billboard pop chart. Promotional photos of the singers were taken by Annie Liebowitz, and Abrams appeared on several networked TV shows and in national magazines, while also turning down an opportunity to advertise Jell-O. A performance for the Mill Valley Fourth of July celebration was filmed by Francis Ford Coppola, then a little-known documentary maker. Following the song’s success, Abrams, Jacobsen and the children recorded and released an album, entitled Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class as the children had by then moved up a grade. According to reviewer Greg Adams, ‘Only the most hard-hearted cynic could find no enjoyment in this minor masterpiece of early-’70s soft pop.’”

And here’s “Mill Valley” by Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point Third Grade Class:

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2 Responses to “Digging A Bit Deeper In The Chart”

  1. porky says:

    Interesting job!!

    Many of these tunes were on the 1st Casey Kasem show last week-end. “The Long and Winding Road” came out of nowhere; I don’t remember it mixed in with that batch at all, seems like it’s from another time.

    I also liked how “Ball of Confusion” lyrics said “the Beatles’ new record’s a gas” but thought surely they couldn’t be referring to “Long and Winding Road.”

    Melanie gets a little over-wrought but her record is one of the best by-products of the over-wrought Woodstock, in my opinion.

  2. Paco Malo says:

    You’ve covered so much ground ; I’ve got so much to say. But I’m going to keep my focus. Thank you for giving a platform to Merry Clayton’s cover of “Gimme Shelter” that it’s never properly had. Spectacular.

    Regarding her work on the Stones original, it’s the benchmark I judge all covers by, even the Stones’ playing the song live, as in “Shine a Light”. Just how close can the female vocalist charged with singing Merry’s part comes to the perfection of her original is the standard I use. Straight up, Merry’s is one of the hottest, most soulful performances in all rock ‘n’ roll.

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