Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Womack’

Six From The ’70s

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

So we’ve sorted the tracks in the RealPlayer and found about 24,000 from the 1970s. Let’s go find six at random to think about this morning.

“In the corner of my eye, I saw you in Rudy’s. You were very high.” So starts “Black Cow” from Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja, one of two Steely Dan albums I had before the 1990s (when I, as is well-known around here, went a little mad and bought more than 1,800 LPs over those ten years). My memory, aided by a look at the LP database, tells me that I won Aja for answering a trivia question on WJON while I lived in St. Cloud in late 1977, but there was a delay on the radio station’s part in getting the album, and then there was a delay on my part in getting to the station after I moved to Monticello. The delays didn’t bother me because Steely Dan wasn’t really in my sights at the time. I had Pretzel Logic on the shelves because of the presence of “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (and I liked the rest of the album), but the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wasn’t high on my list. Still, I wasn’t going to pass up a free album, so I took Aja home, and I liked it okay. But it’s probably not on my Top 200. So, “Drink your big black cow and get out of here.”

Canny marketers as well as classically trained musicians, the duo of Ferrante & Teicher rarely missed a trend in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the world hit the dance floor in the late 1970s, Ferrante & Teicher followed, providing us in 1979 with Classical Disco, one of the stranger albums of the duo’s nearly forty-year recording career. Covering pieces ranging from composers Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian to Grieg and Tchaikovsky, the album closes with a thumping version of Felix Mendelssohn’s famed “Wedding March” (cliché that it is). Given the move in recent years toward massively choreographed wedding processionals and recessionals (some staid, many not), I can see a couple and their friends putting together a disco processional to the beat of the Ferrante & Teicher track. If it were my wedding and up to me, I’d save it for the reception.

Head On was a late 1975 release from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and its relative failure in the charts portended the end for the rockers from Canada. The group’s previous three albums of new music had all gone Top Ten in the Billboard 200, but Head On stalled at No. 23. A single from the album, “Take It Like A Man” (with a backing vocal from Little Richard) went to No. 33 in early 1976, but the band’s moment had passed. Fittingly, then, the track titled “It’s Over” is the one that pops up from Head On. It’s a decent enough track, not unlike most of the stuff in the group’s catalog, but its unsubtle pleasures didn’t offer listeners anything new as 1975 was turning into 1976.

As an object lesson that one can find almost anything online these days, we move next to “Tiffany Case” from John Barry’s soundtrack to the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. When the RealPlayer offered the track to me this morning, I winced, but not because of the music. (It’s a decent bit of quiet and pretty musical fill for the movie, nicely portraying the soft side of Ms. Case, played in the film by the lovely Jill St. John.) The wince was for an expected difficulty in finding the track at YouTube. (I’d already made and uploaded one video this morning.) But there it was, and a quick click on the #JohnBarry hashtag shows me that what appears to be the vast majority of Barry’s work is now officially available at YouTube. I will have to do some digging there soon.

Whenever I write anything about Bobby Womack, I always feel as if I don’t know enough about the man or his work to write anything substantial. Today is no different, even though I know more about him and have heard more of his stuff now, thanks to a little bit of concentrated effort in the past few months. Anyway, what we have this morning is “Natural Man” from Womack’s 1973 album Facts Of Life. It’s a gender-flipped version of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” best known for the 1967 hit version by Aretha Franklin. It doesn’t seem to work, but then covering a classic is risky territory, and doing so with a gender-flip seems to make things all the more awkward. Womack’s delivery is fine, as usual. But it just feels, well, odd.

Speaking of covers of classic records, we close our expedition this morning with Ellie Greenwich taking on “Chapel Of Love” from her 1973 album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. Greenwich, of course, wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector, and the Dixie Cups had a massive hit with it in 1964, with the record sitting at No. 1 for three weeks. For her own album, Greenwich and co-producers Steve Tudanger and Steve Feldman take the song in an interesting direction, with bare-bones instrumentation and layered and entwined vocals, coupled with some ringing bells in the middle. It works for me.

Chart Digging: August 1974

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

I’m a beer aficionado: I like trying different beers from different parts of the country and the world, and – to a degree – I keep track of which brews I’ve tried and what I’ve liked or not liked about them. And since I’ve begun taking beer seriously – in the last ten years or so – I’ve mostly bought my beer in glass bottles, not in cans. I think it tastes better coming from glass.

But sometimes, you can’t avoid cans. The local liquor store – Westside Liquor here on the East Side – has been promoting for the past few months a brew from the Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas, called Buffalo Sweat Stout. It comes in packs of four sixteen-ounce cans.

I’m not fond of the name; I think it’s gross, as does my pal and self-acknowledged beer snob jb from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, who says the brand name falls into a trend: Titling brews with odd or grotesque names that make the brew more notable for its moniker than for its drinkability. (One example of that comes from Wasatch Beers of Park City, Utah, brewers of Polygamy Porter, which is marketed with the slogan, “Why Have Just One!” I have a t-shirt celebrating the brew, a gift from the Texas Gal after a business trip to Utah; I have yet to wear it out in the world.)

Whatever the “ewww” factor of the brand name, Buffalo Sweat is a darned good brew – it carries nice hints of coffee, chocolate and, to my palate, raisins – so it’s become a regular part of the regiment of beers standing at attention in the fridge, waiting for my thirst. I pulled one out for dinner last evening, popped the top on the can and, without thinking about it, turned the metal tab sideways. I paused and chuckled for a moment, and then poured the brew.

That habit – turning sideways the metal tab on the top of a beer (or soda) can – dates from the summer of 1974. I didn’t do much partying the first half of that summer; I was recovering from a mysterious lung ailment. But once I got the go-ahead from my doctors to resume life at full speed, I spent a fair number of evenings tasting the brews available in St. Cloud. I did so carrying nearly nine months’ experience of quaffing European brews, and for a time I left the darker stuff behind. My favored brew for a month or so that summer of 1974 was one new to Minnesota: Olympia.

I think back now, and I shudder. It was a light and clean beer and, as I now recall, almost tasteless. But having been legendary in Minnesota as a great beer that was unavailable – much like Coors was at the time, too – Olympia was the newest fad among young beer drinkers. And I was one of those. So at every party I went to during the last half of the summer of 1974 – maybe a dozen total – there were more than a few folks drinking Olympia beer, with all of us trying to keep track of which can of beer was ours.

Thus, as I arrived at a party one evening, I popped the top on my can of Olympia beer and turned the tab to the right. That, I hoped, would make it a little easier to keep track of my beers as the number of beer cans multiplied and my concentration most likely diminished. That one quirk – turning the tab to the right – soon became a habit that was useful for the remainder of my college days. And it’s a habit that’s stayed with me for thirty-seven years.

So every time I pop a can of Buffalo Sweat and turn the tab to the right, a little bit of the summer of 1974 pops its head into our kitchen in this summer of 2011.

Most of those parties during that summer long ago likely had music supplied by stereos, but I imagine that at least one of those dozen or so gatherings must have relied on the radio for its music. If so, we’d have heard at least some of the Top Ten from the Billboard Hot 100 that was released on August 17, 1974, thirty-seven years ago yesterday:

“The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace
“Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Roberta Flack
“(You’re) Havin’ My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus
“Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins
“Call On Me” by Chicago
“Waterloo” by Abba
“Wildwood Weed” by Jim Stafford
“I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” by Donny & Marie Osmond
“Sideshow” by Blue Magic

Wow. At most parties in that era, at least four records in that list that would have incited jeers from the folks sitting on the couch, followed by calls for the Allman Brothers or Pink Floyd. I know that these days, hearing the opening strains of either the Anka record or the Osmonds record on the oldies station would make me change stations. Then, Jim Stafford’s ode to accidental marijuana cultivation is funny maybe twice (though it would be a kick to hear it on radio these days). And I never liked the Paper Lace record.

On the plus side, “Tell Me Something Good” still pops and slinks along nicely, and Chicago’s “Call On Me” was a good one I’d forgotten about until it showed up on the list today.

As I tend to do, though, I looked further down that Hot 100 to see what might be found there, and there were a few interesting things. The television series Kung Fu – starring David Carradine as a martial arts expert in the American west of the nineteenth century – and the martial art it introduced to pop culture were becoming cultural phenomena that year. In the autumn of 1974, Card Douglas would reach No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts with “Kung Fu Fighting” (a record I still hear as almost a novelty record). But during the summer of 1974, Curtis Mayfield released his own “Kung Fu” and saw it get to No. 40 on the pop chart and to No. 3 on the R&B chart. During this week in 1974, the song was at No. 52, and like much of Mayfield’s work during that time, the record was a statement about social justice:

Our days of comfort, days of night
Don’t put yourself in solitude
Who can I trust with my life
When people tend to be so rude

My mama borned me in a ghetto
There was no mattress for my head
But, no, she couldn’t call me Jesus
I wasn’t white enough, she said

And then she named me Kung Fu
Don’t have to explain it, no, Kung Fu
Don’t know how you’ll take it, Kung Fu
I’m just trying to make it, Kung Fu

I’ve got some babies and some sisters
My brother worked for Uncle Sam
It’s just a shame, ain’t it, Mister
We being brothers of the damned

Keep your head high, Kung Fu
I will ’til I die, yeah, Kung Fu
Don’t be too intense, no, Kung Fu
Keep your common sense, yeah, Kung Fu

Don’t mistake life for a secret
There is no secret part of you
You bet your life if you think wicked
Someone else is thinking wicked too

Betty Wright had hit the Top Ten in early 1972 when “Clean Up Woman” went to No. 6. In mid-1974, she released “Secretary” as an ode to the idea that the woman who takes dictation from her boss can take her boss from his wife. The record – a nice piece of funky R&B – was at No. 66 thirty-seven years ago this week, heading to No. 62 on the pop chart; it went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

One of the major music events of 1974 was the U.S. tour in January and February by Bob Dylan and The Band. It was Dylan’s first tour in eight years; since then, The Band had stepped out of its role as his back-up band and become a front-line act. The opening track of the eventual double-LP album from the tour – “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (video deleted) – was released as a single during the summer of 1974. During the third week of August, the single was at No. 75. It would peak at No. 66.

From 1968 through 1985, Bobby Womack had nineteen records reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section, and it seems like I run into his records more often than not when I do these Chart Digging posts. This week, “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” is the Womack record that showed up. It was at No. 100 during the week in question, coming down from its peak of No. 59 the week before. A nifty slice of R&B that I unfortunately missed at the time, the record went to No. 5 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at the very bottom of the Bubbling Under section of that August 17, 1974, Hot 100 was Harry Nilsson in his last appearance on the pop chart. Produced by John Lennon, Nilsson’s “Many Rivers To Cross” was a ragged performance, more clearly Lennon than Nilsson. (The backing track’s similarity to that used for Lennon’s “#9 Dream,” which would go to No. 9 later in 1974, is unmistakable.) Nilsson’s single would rise only one more spot, peaking at No. 109. (The video to which the clip links is the album track from Nilsson’s Pussy Cats; there was a shorter edit that was released as the single.)

And to end, we move up a little bit in the Bubbling Under section, to No. 107, where Brownsville Station sat with “Kings of the Party.” The record would peak at No. 31, giving the trio from Ann Arbor, Michigan, its second Top 40 hit; “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” had gone to No. 3 in the first weeks of 1974. While I couldn’t put my hands on the studio version of “Kings of the Party,” that’s all right, because YouTube has a clip of the band hamming things up and then doing a pretty good version of the tune on the television show Midnight Special.

Video deleted.

Chart Digging: June 14, 1975

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I was pretty busy during the summer of 1975.

I was clearing up the last of my general education courses at St. Cloud State. I was taking two required seminars for seniors and knocking off the four phy ed courses I was required to take. (Nothing too strenuous: I took archery, tennis, bowling and ballroom dancing.) And I was repeating a physics course I’d failed during my first quarter in the fall of 1971.

I didn’t have to repeat the physics course. I’d taken another science course somewhere along the way that satisfied the general education requirement. But I had the time, and I wanted to get the F off my academic record or at least out of my grade-point average. And I got lucky: Instead of being an introduction to pure physics with lots of lab work, I was able to take an introduction to astronomy. I’d taken a rigorous astronomy course during my last semester of high school and had done well, so I eased through the college intro with no worries.

So I might have been busy academically through the two five-week summer sessions, but I wasn’t really working hard. Nor was my half-time summer job very arduous: That was the summer that a crew of about ten of us, headed up by Murl – who would be one of my best friends by the end of the summer – made our way across the SCS campus doing an inventory of every piece of audio-visual equipment. We got a lot of work done, had a lot of laughs and got to move around a lot.

On a personal level, I was busy, too. I dated about eight women that summer, and a couple of those pairings lasted the summer though nothing serious came out of either. I also spent some time with a group of folks from the astronomy class, and hung around after working hours with folks from the inventory crew. Still, as the season went on, I was unattached. I heard Paul Williams’ “Waking Up Alone” for the first time one evening in July. And it was during that summer that I began taking seriously the idea of writing a startling letter to a young woman in knew in Finland.

It turned out to be a great summer, and I think I realized by the middle of June that it was headed that way. And the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending June 14, 1975, was pretty good:

“Sister Golden Hair” by America
“Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille
“When Will I Be Loved/It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Linda Ronstadt
“Bad Time” by Grand Funk
“Old Days” by Chicago
“I’m Not Lisa” by Jessi Colter
“Love Won’t Let Me Wait” by Major Harris
“Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver
“Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John
“Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor)” by Joe Simon

I can do without the John Denver tune for the rest of my life, and I’d like to limit my exposure to the first two on that list, but other than that, that’s a good Top Ten. There are some I’d play on a jukebox – I recall actually dropping in a quarter to hear “I’m Not Lisa” during a coffee date at the local Country Kitchen – and some I wouldn’t, but beyond the three I singled out, that list would make a good slice of radio.

As always, though, I’m interested in records that were sitting below the Top 40 of the time, some of which I might have never heard or even heard of.

The O’Jays’ “Give The People What They Want” was sitting at No. 45, and it would move no further. I vaguely remember this populist and funky piece of R&B that calls for “freedom, justice and equality.” The record was the eighteenth by the Canton, Ohio, group to hit the Hot 100, with eleven more to come through 1997. Though it didn’t do all that well on the pop chart, the record did make it to the top of the R&B chart for a week.

“Shoeshine Boy” by Eddie Kendricks is one of those records that I have no memory of at all. And that’s odd, considering that it peaked at No. 18, and I was still spending some time listening to radio. You’d think I’d have run across it often enough to recall it. Or maybe it didn’t do as well in Minnesota as it did across the board. In any case, the record by the one-time member of the Temptations peaked in late May – topping the R&B chart for a week – and by the middle of June, it was heading down the chart and was sitting at No. 51. Kendricks would have four more Hot 100 hits to bring his total to fifteen, with the last coming in 1985.

By the end of 1975, I’d be hearing a little bit of country music, as the family of the young lady I was seeing at the time – all nine of her siblings and her folks – were country fans. But that was some months ahead, so I entirely missed the sweet “Blanket on the Ground” by Billie Jo Spears of Beaumont, Texas. The record was sitting at No. 78 by the middle of June and would go no higher, though that was a little better than Spears’ only other Hot 100 record, “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over,” which went to No. 80 in 1969. But “Blanket on the Ground” did very well on the country chart, spending a week at No. 1.

The entry for Blood, Sweat & Tears in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles shows an interesting arc. The group’s first three singles, in 1969, all went to No. 2. (They were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and “And When I Die.”) The next three listed singles were hits but didn’t fare as well, reaching the Top 40 at Nos. 14, 29 and 32, respectively. And from that point, BS&T had no more Top 40 hits (though they came close with “So Long Dixie,” which went to No. 44 in the autumn of 1972). In mid-June of 1975, the group was about to fall short again, as its cover of the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” was at No. 81 and would peak at No. 62. It’s actually a pretty good version of the Beatles tune, and it maybe should have done better, but BS&T’s trademark sound was no longer fresh by the middle of 1975. “Got To Get You Into My Life” was the last of ten BS&T records to reach the Hot 100 although “You’re The One” bubbled under at No. 106 in late 1976.

Bobby Womack never did as well as one might have expected on the pop chart: Four Top 40 hits between 1972 and 1974, with his highest placing coming from “Lookin’ For A Love,” which went to No. 10 in the spring of 1974. He had eleven other records reach the Hot 100, and four more bubbled under. (Unsurprisingly, he did much better on the R&B chart, where he had twenty-eight Top 40 hits including two No. 1 records and four that went to No. 2.) Now, fifteen records in the Hot 100 is a pretty good run, but when his stuff pops up in my player, it sounds like it should have done better. And that’s what I thought when I listened to “Check It Out” last evening. It was at No. 99 in the Hot 100 released June 14, 1975, and it peaked at No. 91. To my ears, it should have been a hit. (It did go to No. 6 on the R&B chart.)

Long-time readers know that one of my all-time radio horrors is Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun.” So they can imagine my reluctance to even go searching at YouTube when I saw that the No. 108 tune in the Hot 100 from mid-June 1974 was a record by Jacks titled “Christina.” I reminded myself that as part of the Poppy Family, Jacks had come up with some pretty good stuff, including the compelling and disquieting “That’s Where I Went Wrong” (with vocals by Susan Jacks, his wife at the time). So I checked out “Christina” and found an odd, unsettling record with some echoes of Helen Reddy’s 1974 hit ‘Angie Baby.” As strange as it is, it’s understandable that “Christina” peaked at No. 106, but I like it.