Saturday Single No. 482

It’s time for a random four-track jaunt through the 1970s. About a quarter of the 86,000-some mp3s stacked into the RealPlayer come from that decade, so it does take a while to search them out and then sort them by running time. But it’s a Saturday in January: There’s no football on television and it’s far too cold to laze outside with a beer, so what else have we got to do with our time?

So once the sorting is done, we’ll place the cursor in about the midpoint of the long list and go through four clicks to find a set of tracks from which to choose a single for the day.

We start with an example of one of my musical quirks: A cover of Paul Simon’s “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” as offered by easy listening master Hugo Montenegro on his 1971 album People . . . One to One. Only a few of Montenegro’s twenty-plus albums made it to the Billboard Hot 200, and only five singles made it to the magazine’s singles charts, either the Hot 100 or the Adult Contemporary chart. The best performing of those singles was “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” from 1968, which went to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and spent three weeks on top of the AC chart. Montenegro’s take on “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” showed up on none of the charts, but it’s got some quirky percussion and sound effects, and I can easily hear it coming out of the speakers on a Saturday morning in 1971 with the radio tuned to the Minneapolis powerhouse WCCO.

Along with writing some of the great records of the 1960s with Jeff Barry and a few others – “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Kentucky Woman” and many more – Ellie Greenwich went the performance route in both 1968 and 1973 and released two albums of some of her most famous songs. She’d released her first album, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces and Sings, in 1968, and “I Want You To Be My Baby” went to No. 83 on the pop chart. “Maybe I Know,” a single from the 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung, bubbled under at No. 122. In our travels this morning, we come across “Chapel Of Love” from the 1973 album. Greenwich is a good singer, her production is fine, and there’s a nice interlude midway, but the track pales in comparison to the Dixie Cups’ No. 1 hit from 1964.

In the early part of the 1970s, when my pal Rick and I first began to dig into the identities of the musicians who made our favorite acts sound like our favorite acts, we were intrigued any time any of those musicians stepped to the forefront. One of those was Nicky Hopkins, who played piano for the Rolling Stones and many, many other musicians from the late 1960s onward (including sitting in on electric piano for the Beatles’ “Revolution” single, a nugget I came across this morning that answers a question I’d often considered but never bothered to try to resolve). In 1973, Hopkins released an album, The Tin Man Was A Dreamer, something Rick and I talked about getting, though at the time it never went further than talk. The album came my way as mp3s sometime in the past ten years, and this morning, the track “Dolly” popped up for our consideration. It’s a sweet track: Hopkins’ vocals are light (by intention and not from limitations) and the backing is piano- and string-heavy. And midway through, we hear a sweet call and response between the strings and the guitar of Mick Taylor, according to All-Music Guide. The track, AMG notes, was “the closest thing to a potential hit” on the album. And taking that into consideration, we move on.

One of the sounds that drives the Texas Gal up the wall is Minnie Riperton flying into her upper register on her 1975 hit “Lovin’ You,” so when the RealPlayer fell this morning on “Only When I’m Dreaming” from Riperton’s 1970 album Come To My Garden, I wondered if I would have to turn the volume down so Riperton’s higher excursions wouldn’t shatter the peace of a quiet Saturday morning. I needn’t have worried; Riperton flies high in her range only once during the track and does so with subtlety and control, two qualities not evident in her 1975 hit. But that’s making the case for “Only When I’m Dreaming” in negative terms. It’s a decent track from an album that I don’t know particularly well but that I keep thinking I’ll dig into some day instead of letting the bits and pieces come to me randomly. Yeah, you see how that’s working.

So we have four candidates this morning, and it’s an easy choice: Nicky Hopkins has been mentioned in this space only a handful of times over the course of about 1,800 posts, and I’ve never featured his solo work. Even without that, “Dolly” is a lovely track, well worthy of being today’s Saturday Single.

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