Posts Tagged ‘Al Green’

Chart Digging, February 26, 1977

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

As February 1977 was ending, the coldest winter in some years in St. Cloud was also drawing to a close. That was a huge relief, as I was living in the occasionally mentioned house on the north side without central heating. My two cats and I shivered through the winter, spending evenings either close to the oil-burning stove in the living room or the space heater in my bedroom. I forget how many blankets I had piled on my bed, but I remember clearly waking up in the middle of many nights to find myself with a pair of living ear muffs, huddling close for extra warmth, on my pillow.

A look at the Billboard Top 10 released on February 26, 1977 – thirty-six years ago today – shows at least two singles that take me back to that cold house and season:

“New Kid in Town/Victim of Love” by the Eagles
“Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’” by Barbra Streisand
“Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
“Fly Like An Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band
“I Like Dreamin’” by Kenny Nolan
“Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons
“Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary McGregor
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger
“Dancing Queen” by Abba
“Weekend in New England” by Barry Manilow

Though I don’t particularly like either of them, the Nolan and McGregor singles pull me back to the north side of St. Cloud. I know well seven of the other eight records in that list, and I like two of them – the Bob Seger and Abba singles – very well. But none of the others have the visceral time/place tug for me that the Nolan and McGregor singles hold.

I was listening most often, I recall, to WCCO-FM from Minneapolis, which was playing (and I have no idea what the format would be called) most but not all of the hits: I don’t think I’d ever heard the Jacksons’ single until this morning. Nor, looking further down that week’s chart, am I as familiar with Kiss’ “Hard Luck Woman” as I am with the rest of the Top 20. Those omissions from my data bank should give a clue to the station’s format, whatever it was called. (And I bet regular reader and pal Yah Shure knows what the format was without needing those clues.)

Anyway, I shivered and planned my return to college in the spring, and I listened to the radio a lot. But I don’t think I heard any of the six records that sat at the very bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 thirty-six years ago today.

I don’t know the work of Norman Connors very well at all, but one listen to his version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” tells me that I need to know more. The track, featuring an amazing vocal by Phyllis Hyman, was on Connors’ 1977 album You Are My Starship, and a single edit (or so I assume, based on the length of the album track and the running time listed on the 45 label) was bubbling under at No. 105 thirty-six years ago today. The fourth single by Connors to reach or bubble under the Hot 100, “Betcha By Golly Wow” would peak at No. 102 and get to No. 29 on the R&B chart. (“You Are My Starship,” featuring a vocal by Michael Henderson, had reached No 27 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart in the autumn of 1976; the album would go to No. 39.) The lovely saxophone solo was evidently the work – based on the credits at All-Music Guide, which might be complete – of either Gary Bartz or Carter Jefferson

Speaking of saxophonists, Gato Barbieri is another name on my list of artists whose work I want to explore more fully. He came to my attention briefly in 1972 when I heard snippets of his work on the soundtrack for the steamy movie Last Tango in Paris, which went to No. 166 on the Billboard album chart and which I found on LP some years later. In 1976, his album Caliente! became his best-selling album to that point when it went to No. 75. (Ruby, Ruby would go to No. 66 in 1977.) Two singles from Caliente! bubbled under: “I Want You (Part 1)” – evidently an edit of the album track of the Marvin Gaye song – had gone to No. 110 in October 1976, and in the last week of February 1977, “Fiesta” entered the chart at No. 106 and would climb two spots further in an eight-week stay.

During the summer of 1976, a Philadelphia soul/disco group called Double Exposure got to No. 54 on the Billboard chart with “Ten Percent.” At the end of the next February, the follow-up single, “My Love Is Free” was bubbling under at No. 107. The catchy single would peak at No. 104. More than a year later, in late 1978, the group’s “Newsy Neighbors” would bubble under the chart for one week at No. 107, and in September 1979 the group’s chart presence came to a close when “I Got The Hots For Ya” went to No. 33 on the R&B chart.  Here’s Double Exposure performing “My Love Is Free” on Soul Train in April 1977.

Without researching the matter in minute detail, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that the Memphis Horns (which included Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, James Mitchell, Lewis Collins, Jack Hale and Ed Logan) played on pretty much every important session for Stax and Volt in the 1960s and early 1970s. The group finally released its first album in 1970, but that self-titled album and a couple of follow-up albums didn’t chart on their own and generated no singles. The Horns released Get Up & Dance in 1977 and as February waned, the funky title track was bubbling under at No. 108 before falling out of the chart the next week. Later that year, “Just For Your Love” would bubble under at No. 101 (No. 17 R&B), and the album itself would bubble under the Billboard chart at No. 201. (In 1978, The Memphis Horns Band II would get to No. 163 on the album chart, and in 1990, Midnight Stroll, credited to “Robert Cray Featuring the Memphis Horns,” would get to No. 51 on the album chart.)

By the time February of 1977 rolled around, Al Green, once a constant in the Top 10, hadn’t been there for two-and-a-half years, since “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” had gone to No. 7 during the autumn of 1974. “L-O-V-E (Love)” had gotten to No. 13 the next spring, and subsequent releases had stalled out short of the Top 20. During the last week of February 1977, Green’s “I Tried To Tell Myself” was bubbling under at No. 109. It would bubble up eight more places and stall at No. 101, though it went to No. 26 on the R&B chart. A few more singles would hang around the lower levels of the chart into 1978, and in 1988, Green hit No. 9 with his duet with Annie Lennox on “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” from the movie Scrooged.

Sporting a horn chart that reminds me very much of Chicago ca. 1970, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” by Brainstorm was bubbling and dancing at the very bottom of the chart at No. 110. The only chart appearance ever for the group from Detroit, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” would peak at No. 86. In June 1977, the group’s “Lovin’ Is Really My Game (Pt. 1)” would get to No. 14 on the R&B chart.

A Gem At The Library Sale

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

It was a pretty typical Saturday assignment for a weekly newspaper: Go to the library and get a few pictures of folks looking at books, records and anything else the library might be offering during its annual sale.

So I drove out to Eden Prairie that November Saturday and spent maybe an hour trying to be inconspicuous and stay out of everyone’s way. There was a crowd over by the shelves of children’s books, which was good. Shots of kids are almost always winners, especially if they’re so engrossed in something that they don’t notice the camera, and the kids at the library sale were focused on the books on the shelves and nothing else.

So I shot around and over the crowd, and I also got a few shots of adults poking in the mysteries and the cookbooks. Then I backed off and got some wide-angle shots. After an hour and a roll of film, I figured I had at least one shot that would work for the next week’s paper, so I let my camera dangle on its neck-strap and began to dig into the books and records myself.

I don’t remember if I bought any books that day, but I did grab one LP. Now, I’ve been to a lot of library sales and dug through many, many boxes of surplus records that libraries often keep on hand regularly. You can find some interesting titles, but rarely do you find anything really good. But on this Saturday, I came across a keeper, an LP titled Cover Me, which was a collection of songs by Bruce Springsteen as performed by other folks. Some of those performers were Southside Johnny, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Patti Smith Group, the Pointer Sisters and Johnny Cash.

The record was from the library’s collection, not from the donations that local folks brought in, which meant it might not have been treated gently by those who checked it out, so I scanned the record for scratches and hacks, and it looked pretty clean. It went home with me, and there was in fact only bad spot on the record: during Johnny Cash’s take on “Johnny 99,” the needle jumps into the air and moves ahead about an eighth of an inch. So I put the record on the shelves, used some of the tracks when I made mixtapes for friends and told myself I’d get a clean copy of it someday.

I think that record was the first time I’d run across a phenomenon that’s gone crazy in the past ten years or so: the tribute record. Maybe there were similar releases earlier, but I don’t recall running into any of them. In the case of Cover Me, the producers pulled together – for the most part – recordings already done of Springsteen songs. I can’t find any earlier listing for two of the performances – the Reivers’ take on “Atlantic City” and the Greg Kihn Band’s version of “Rendezvous” – but the other thirteen tracks had been previously released. (The Reivers and Kihn tracks might have been also, but I’ve dug around a little, and I can’t find anything that says so; if someone knows, enlighten me, please.)

Having resumed the digging after returning home from a baseball game late last evening, I can now say that the Greg Kihn Band released “Rendezvous” on “With the Naked Eye” in 1979, as I noted in a comment, and the Reivers’ version of “Atlantic City” was recorded and released  as a twelve-inch single in 1986, when that band was still called Zeitgeist.

As I said, the vinyl had one bad spot on it, and in the early years of this decade, as I made a mental list of LPs that I wanted to duplicate on CD, Cover Me was one of the first titles I listed. For about five years, I’d check four or five times a year at the website named for a South American river, seeing if any copies of the CD – long out of print – were available.

There often were one or two copies available, but for prices running from $50 to $100, which was far more than I was going to pay for a CD. And then in May of this year, it was like a switch flipped somewhere. I checked for copies of Cover Me, and there were a few for the exorbitant prices I’d regularly seen, but there was one for something like five bucks. I grabbed it. And in the months since, used copies of the CD have regularly been available for less than five bucks. (There are still some high-priced copies out there; this morning’s listings at Amazon for a used copy range from $3.47 to $60. It makes no sense to me.)

Anyway, once I got the CD and ripped it into the RealPlayer, it reminded me that among the very good performances gathered for the album, there was one track that’s among the best things I’ve ever heard, and hearing it again pointed out to me how easy it is to lose track of music I like when it’s awash in a sea of tunes.

The tune is “This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, taken from his 1981 album, Dedication, an album produced for Bonds by Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt. I was a little chagrined to realize I’d kind of forgotten about the track, as the album was one of those I shared during the first iteration of Echoes In The Wind. And as I think I said then, although “This Little Girl” is the standout track to me, the entire album is worth a listen. I do have one caveat: Given the deep involvement of the E Street Band –all of the members circa 1981 were involved in the project: Gary Tallent, Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons, Roy Bittan, Van Zandt and Springsteen – the effect is sometimes like listening to a Springsteen album with a different vocalist.

But that’s something to consider when listening to the entire album. Track by track, mixed in with other things, that’s less of a concern. And in the Ultimate Jukebox, “This Little Girl” – which spent the last two weeks of June and the first week of July of 1981 at No. 11 – meshes right in with the rest of the tracks.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 37
“Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1011 [1961]
“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, Dunhill 4134 [1968]
“Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green, Hi 2194 [1971]
“Disco Inferno” by the Trammps from Disco Inferno [1977]
“Giving It Up For Your Love” by Delbert McClinton from The Jealous Kind [1980]
“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds from Dedication [1981]

Though it wasn’t one of Gene Pitney’s biggest hits – it topped out at No. 42 – “Every Breath I Take” has solid credentials. It was written by the team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King and produced by Phil Spector, coming in the years when Spector was just beginning to formulate the Wall of Sound. There are hints of that sound in “Every Breath I Take,” but it’s not quite there. I’ve tried to figure out in the past few months what I hear that elevates this record above the rest of Pitney’s work – sixteen Top 40 hits with four in the Top Ten (“Only Love Can Break A Heart” earned Pitney his highest rank when it went to No. 2 in 1962) – but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the contrarian point of the lyrics. Maybe it’s the “dit-dit” background vocals. I dunno. I just know it belongs here.

I think “MacArthur Park” is one of those records that has no middle ground. Folks either love it or find it ridiculous. Obviously, I’m I the first group, and have been from the first time I heard it. (One day in the summer of 1968, my sister called me to the radio to hear “this stupid song that goes on forever about leaving the cake out in the rain.”) I recognize its flaws: Harris’ vocals are overblown. The lyrics – even without the cake in the rain – are overwritten. The backing, with its lengthy instrumental passages, is too big for the song. But you know what? From where I hear the record, every one of those things – the over-reaching vocal, the over-written lyrics, the overwhelming backing – is a virtue for a record that went to No. 2 during the summer of 1968. Baroque and excessive “MacArthur Park” may be, but it’s also brilliant.

I don’t have a lot to say about Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.” From the instant it starts, the record – like much of Green’s early 1970s output – rides on the signature sound that Willie Mitchell crafted for his performers at Hi Records. Mellow and sharp at the same time, it’s a sonic formula that worked well enough for Green alone to record thirteen Top 40 hits on Hi between 1971 and 1976. “Tired of Being Alone” was Green’s first hit, peaking at No. 11.

“Disco Inferno” was released first as a single in 1977 – the 45 labels I’ve seen show a running time of 3:35 – and went to No. 53. When the album track was used in the film Saturday Night Fever – clocking in at 10:52 – the single was re-released and went to No. 11. The long version might get a little tedious unless you’re on the dance floor channeling your best Tony Manero, but even just listening, it still works for me. (The single edit is here.)

I’ve told the story before: I was driving one day in early 1981, maybe from one reporting assignment to the next or maybe to lunch, and I was listlessly pushing buttons on the car radio, trying to find something I liked, anywhere. Then I heard the chugging guitar riff and horns of Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up For Your Love” coming from the speaker, and at least for the next few minutes, I was happy with the state of Top 40 radio. The record went to No. 8, providing the Texas singer his only hit. (It should be noted that McClinton played the harmonica part that figures largely on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby,” which spent three weeks at No. 1 in 1962.)