Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

What’s At No. 68?

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

I can’t resist today’s date: 8/20/2020. So we’re going to play Games With Numbers and turn those numerals into sixty-eight, and then we’ll check what was at No. 68 in the Billboard Hot 100 on this date during the seven years that make up my sweet spot, the years 1969 through 1975.

So, during the third week of August 1969, when the No. 1 record was “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones, what was parked at No. 68? Well, it’s a record I don’t think I’ve ever heard: “I Do” by the Moments. The R&B trio from Hackensack, New Jersey, was eight months away from breaking through with the sweet “Love On A Two-Way Street,” and “I Do” went only to No. 62 in the Hot 100 (and to No. 10 on the Billboard R&B chart). Listening this morning, it sounds shrill.

A year later, the third week of the eighth month of 1970 found Bread’s “Make It With You” at No. 1. Our target spot down the chart was occupied by a short version of one of my favorite tracks from that summer fifty years ago: A cover of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” by drummer Buddy Miles & The Freedom Express. The link is to the single version, which I don’t recall hearing; Rick and I heard the album track – a much better piece of work – on WJON during late evenings in his screen porch that season. We’ve caught the record at its peak; it would go no higher than No. 68.

Sitting at No. 1 forty-nine years ago this week was the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” The No. 68 record during that week in 1971 was one of the two hits I recall from my college years to feature a banjo solo: “Sweet City Woman” by the Stampeders, a trio from Calgary, Alberta. (“Dueling Banjos” from the movie Deliverance is the other I recall; there are likely more.) The Stampeders’ record went to No. 8 in the Hot 100 and to No. 5 in the magazine’s Easy Listening chart. And you know, you can do lots worse than love and tenderness and macaroons.

On to 1972, when the No. 1 record as August 20 went past was “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by the Looking Glass (and its mention brings back radio memories as Rick, Gary and I drove to Winnipeg, Manitoba). As we drove, we likely also heard the A-side of the single at No. 68 that week: “Burning Love/It’s A Matter Of Time” by Elvis Presley. (I don’t know that I’d ever heard the B-side until today.) “Burning Love” was Presley’s last big hit in the Hot 100, as it peaked at No. 2. (He would still have Top Ten hits on the Easy Listening and Country charts.) On the Billboard Easy Listening chart, the record – with “It’s A Matter Of Time” listed as the A-side, according to Joel Whitburn’s top adult songs book – went to No. 9.

“Brother Louie” by the Stories sat atop the Hot 100 as the third week of August 1973 ended and the fourth week began. Down at our target slot that week was the title track from Alice Cooper’s current album, “Billion Dollar Babies.” I admit that I’ve listened to very little of Cooper’s work over the years, and in 1973, I was, I guess, pointedly ignoring it as gauche or something. The record had guest vocals from Donovan, but still disappointed, peaking at No. 57, considerably lower than Cooper’s last few singles.

Perched at No. 1 as the third week of August 1974 passed was “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka and Odia Coates. Hoping for better, we drop down to our target at No. 68 and find “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man)” by the Impressions, a record I do not recall and honestly doubt that I’ve ever heard until today. It’s a sweet soul/R&B side, underlaid with the social awareness that ran through much of Curtis Mayfield’s work. The record peaked at No. 17 in the Hot 100 and spent two weeks on top of the Billboard R&B chart.

Forty-five years ago this week, as August 1975 spooled out, the No. 1 record was “Fallin’ In Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds. Sixty-seven spots further down the chart, we find, again, the Impressions, this time with “Sooner Or Later,” a tale of romantic consequences told with an irresistible groove. The record went no higher on the Hot 100, but went to No. 3 on the R&B chart.

Saturday Single No. 495

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

So we’ll cast our glance at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 7, 1966, exactly fifty years ago today, and see what we can find. And yes, we’ll play some games with numbers, taking today’s date – 5/7/16 – and turning it into No. 12, No. 23 and No. 28 to find a single for a Saturday.

But we’ll start with a quick look at the No. 1 record of the week, which turns out to be “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & The Papas, the second charting record for the quartet (“California Dreamin’” had gone to No. 4 in early 1966). They’d have seven more Top 40 hits and a bunch more in and near the Hot 100 before the magic ran out. They were, it seems to me, one of those groups – like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the best of the Motown groups – than even an unhip kid could not miss in the mid-1960s. I remember hearing their stuff and liking it long before I was a dedicated Top 40 listener.

Sitting at its peak of No. 12 fifty years ago today was a record I do not remember ever hearing until this morning, “Try Too Hard” by the Dave Clark Five. I imagine I did hear it somewhere, but it clearly made no impression. Nor did anything by the Dave Clark Five. I have none of the group’s LPs although I imagine some of their singles are on some of the various anthologies, but those tracks certainly weren’t the reasons for buying the collections. And I find only two mp3s by the group on the digital shelves, and both of those came my way in the portions of the massive Lost Jukebox collection I found somewhere in the wild. I clearly never cared for or about the Dave Clark Five, and I doubt that will change now.

The record parked at No. 23 fifty years ago today is one that I did hear back then and still like today: “A Sign Of The Times” by Petula Clark, coming down the chart after peaking at No. 11 (and at No. 2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart). I remember hearing – probably because of her presence on the AC chart – and liking everything Petula from 1964’s “Downtown” through her last Top Ten hit, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway,” in mid-1967. I guess you could call her one of my faves: I’ve got maybe five of her LPs on the shelves and about fifty mp3s tucked away in the chips, including a 1975 cover of Mocedades’ “Eres Tu,” which is one of those songs I collect in as many versions as possible.

And at No. 28 in the Hot 100 from fifty years ago today, we find an Elvis Presley track from one of the many movies Elvis starred in that are pretty lightly regarded these days (and likely were similarly regarded when they came out): the title track from Frankie and Johnny. It’s another record I don’t recall ever hearing, interesting to me for two reasons: The record features a faux Dixieland arrangement, and Elvis sings the old song about a cheating lover in the first person, taking the role Johnny as he does Frankie wrong. It’s a little odd, but it’s not awful. It didn’t do all that well, either, as it had already peaked at No. 25.

So, three records to choose from, two of which I’d never heard before. Well, there are days like that. I do like the Petula Clark record, but it’s very familiar. And choosing between the other two, I find that I really don’t like the Dave Clark Five. So here’s Elvis Presley’s take on “Frankie and Johnny,” today’s Saturday Single.

Let’s Go To Town

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Every once in a while, you just gotta go to town and find out what’s there for you.

So you need an invitation? Okay, you’ve got one from Joe Therrien & His Rockets, who recorded “Hey Baby Let’s Go Downtown” on the Brunswick label in 1957. The rockabilly invitation turned up a few years ago on That’ll Flat Git It, a massive (twenty-six volumes) collection of generally obscure country and rockabilly singles.

So, once we’re in town, we need to find out what’s going on. That means we need to listen to the “Small Town Talk” as offered by Rick Danko from his 1977 self-titled album. The tune, written by Danko and Bobby Charles, was first released on Charles’ 1972 self-titled album (which Danko co-produced with John Simon). It’s since been covered on occasion, most recently by Boz Scaggs on the album A Fool To Care, released in March.

If we’ve been gone a while, well, we might find it kind of hard to fit back in, even after several years. That’s what happened to Percy Mayfield (or at least he imagined it did) to inspire the song “Stranger In My Own Home Town.” There are a few versions of the tune out there, but the one that gets me going is Elvis Presley’s, recorded in Memphis in February 1969 and originally released on the 1970 album, Back In Memphis.

And of course, there might be some folks in town that we’re not all that happy to see, as the Tokens noted in “He’s In Town” in 1964. The record, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, made it to No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. If he’s back in town, and she’s thrilled about it, it might be kind of hard to stay.

We might stay anyway, but I have a sense that we’d be wandering the streets late at night, murmuring to ourselves about “Love On The Wrong Side Of Town” just like Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes were back in 1977. The track, written by Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt, was originally released on the album This Time It’s For Real.

But you know, if we get past all that and hang around town for a while, we might find ourselves in a place where we belong, and someone else might come along from somewhere else who needs what we have to offer. In that care, we’d be the “Home Town Man” that Terry Garthwaite and the rest of Joy Of Cooking were thinking about on their Castles album in 1972. And we’d be home.

Saturday Single No. 424

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Wanting to dig around in some radio surveys this morning, I fired up the search engine at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive and checked out the site’s holdings for December 20, 1974, forty years ago today. Sometimes when I lay a bet on a single date, the results overwhelm me, and I’m forced to figure out which four or five out of twenty or so surveys I want to examine.

Sometimes, however, there are so few surveys for a specific date – two or three, maybe – that I’m forced to improvise. And sometimes, I hit the Goldilocks zone, where things are just right. So it is today, with five surveys available from that date forty years ago, and they’re nicely spaced across the U.S., too.

So we’ll check them out, looking at – since today is 12/20 – the No. 12 and No. 20 records in search of a single for the day. We’ll also, as we generally do, note the No. 1 record at each of the five stations. We’ll start with the two East Coast stations and then head west.

Sitting at No. 20 in the “Big Hit Survey” at WHYN in Springfield, Massachusetts, was one of those records that either makes folks get misty-eyed or makes them head off somewhere to puke in privacy: Barry Manilow’s “Mandy.” As most readers here might imagine, I’m one of the misty-eyed bunch. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m just a softy in general or whether it’s because hearing the record during that late autumn forty years ago reminded me of my first real college girlfriend just months gone at the time. Just to keep track of these things, the record peaked at No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 (and at No. 1 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart).

The No. 12 record at WHYN forty years ago was the much funkier “Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied),” by B.T. Express, one of those records that I don’t recall hearing at the time but have gotten to know in the years since. Every time I do, it reminds me of the Isley Brothers. The record, which peaked at No. 2 in Billboard (and at No. 1 on the R&B chart), was the first hit for the group from Brooklyn; five more made the Hot 100 in the next couple of years.

The No. 1 record at WHYN forty years ago this week was Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle,” a record that wore out its welcome in these parts long, long ago.

From Springfield, we head pretty much straight south to Hartford, Connecticut, where WDRN issued its “Big D Sound Survey.” Parked at No. 20 in Hartford forty years ago this week was “I’ve Got The Music In Me” by the Kiki Dee Band. This one, which went to No. 12 in the Hot 100, popped up this week when the Texas Gal and I had the cable system’s Seventies Channel playing. She was less than thrilled. I was pleased. It also popped up this week in a post by my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. His reaction? “Imagine not-yet-famous Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting by the radio in Seattle in 1974 going ‘damn, THAT’S the stuff.’”

The No. 12 record in Springfield was Neil Diamond’s “Longfellow Serenade,” a record that I’ve never liked all that much. But like many such records from the years 1968 through 1975, I know every twist, turn and flip of the melody and the production, which just goes to show how much I heard even when I wasn’t listening. The record went to No. 5 in Billboard (No. 1, AC).

The No. 1 record on the “Big D Sound Survey” that long-ago week was “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas.

West we go, to WYSL in Buffalo, New York, and its “Singular Singles” survey. Sitting at No. 20 was Al Green’s “Sha La La (Make Me Happy),” a Hi Records confection that, like all of Green’s great work, rides a Willie Mitchell production for nearly three exquisite minutes. It went to No. 7 on the Hot 100, No. 28 on the AC chart and No. 2 on the R&B chart.

Sitting at No. 12 among the “Singular Singles” was “I Feel A Song In My Heart” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, a record that’s not nearly as familiar to me as the others we’ve run into so far. It went to No. 21 in the Hot 100 (No. 1, R&B), and its lack of familiarity here might mean only that it didn’t make it to the Atwood Center jukebox at St. Cloud State, which is where a lot of my Top 40 listening went on in those days. Familiar or not, I like the record a lot.

No. 1 at WYSL that week was “Kung Fu Fighting.”

We head next to the Midwest for a stop at WHB in Kansas City, Missouri, and its “40 Star Super Hit Survey.” The No. 20 slot was occupied forty years ago this week by Elvis Presley’s “Promised Land,” a pretty good cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 single. Berry’s single went to No. 21 in the Hot 100 (No. 16, R&B), and Elvis’ cover went to No. 14 (No. 8, AC).

Taking up the No. 12 spot at WHB was Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” Wonder’s groove took the record to No. 3 on the Hot 100 (No. 2, R&B), and the mere sound of the record – one of my favorites on the Atwood jukebox during that time – puts my soul back into 1974 in a way that many of the other records listed here do not.

No. 1 at WHB forty years ago today was, as it was in Hartford and Buffalo, was “Kung Fu Fighting.”

Our fifth and last stop this morning is KYA on the West Coast, where we dig into the station’s “San Francisco Hits.” The No. 20 record all those years ago, speaking of records I don’t particularly like but know well enough to play them in my head, was “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates. The record went to No. 7 in the Hot 100 (No. 5, AC). As I think about it this morning, my disdain for the record must come from the fact that its theme and message just seemed so square and out of touch with the social realities of college students back in 1974, because today, those aspects of the record are much more reasonable. Musically, though, it’s still L-7.

Taking up the No. 12 spot at in the “San Francisco Hits” forty years ago was Rufus’ “You Got The Love,” a great bit of funk and chunk that went to No. 11 in the Hot 100 (No. 1, unsurprisingly, on the R&B chart). I must have heard it back then – I’m not sure I did – but I sure do love it now.

And finally, sitting at No. 1 at KYA was Neil Sedaka’s sweet “Laughter In The Rain.”

Well, we’ve got some good candidates (and a clunker or two). I’m tempted by the Gladys Knight record, but it feels like an Elvis day here this morning, so Elvis Presley’s cover of “Promised Land” is today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 408

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Well, preparations continue. I have trash to haul, barbecue buns and potato chips to buy, a cooler and a washtub to rinse, carpets to vacuum and on and on.

One thing I don’t have to do is clean up the back yard, because the yard behind the house is pretty small and we spend little time there, so when our guests arrive tomorrow, they’ll gather in the large front yard.

Elvis Presley had a different kind of cleaning in mind, anyway, when he released “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” in 1969. It was from the soundtrack to the movie The Trouble With Girls, and went to No. 35. Given its sound, and given that its release falls in the timeline between “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” I’d assume that it was among the tracks recorded in Memphis that year at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio. But it wasn’t included in the 1999 double-CD package The Memphis 1969 Anthology, so I’m a little puzzled.

But no matter where it came from, it’s a great recording of a song written by Billy Strange and Mac Davis, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘That Big Eight-Wheeler . . .’

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

So what other covers did I run across this week as I dug into Hank Snow’s 1950 classic song “I’m Movin’ On”? Well, using the list at Second Hand Songs and the list of performers available at BMI, I found a bunch that I thought were interesting and a couple that I really liked.

My favorite? Well, that can wait for a bit, but second place goes to the version that Leon Russell released in 1984 recording as his alter ego, Hank Wilson. Here’s that rollicking cover, from Hank Wilson Vol. II.

As I dug, I was particularly interested in giving a listen to the first cover listed at SHS, a performance by Hoagy Carmichael, but I think that’s an error, maybe a different song with the same (or a similar) title, as Carmichael is not included in the BMI list of performers who’ve recorded the song. Given that, it seems – and I’m not at all certain, as the BMI listings don’t include dates – that the first cover of “I’m Movin’ On” came in 1955 from Les Paul and Mary Ford.

In 1961, a rockabilly musician named Dick Hiorns – whose resume included a couple of daily performances during the early 1950s on WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin – recorded a version of Snow’s song for the Cuca Record Company of Sauk City, Wisconsin. A year later, Jerry Reed – at the time a session guitarist in Nashville – teamed up with some background singers who were called the Hully Girlies for a version of Snow’s tune, and a few years after that, in 1965, the Rolling Stones took on the tune and released it on the EP Got Live If You Want It!

Genius organist Jimmy Smith took a whack at the tune in 1967, and two years later, Elvis Presley included it on his From Elvis in Memphis album. In 1978, New Orleans’ Professor Longhair (aka Henry Byrd) took Snow’s song, altered the verses and made it into a Crescent City shuffle. It’s included on Big Chief, a 1993 Rhino album. (And I have no idea if the fourteen tracks on Big Chief were released during the intervening fifteen years).

There were others, of course: Versions that I didn’t track down or that didn’t grab me came from, among other, Del Reeves, Clyde McPhatter, Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Burl Ives, the Box Tops, Sammy Kershaw, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Mickey Gilley, Loggins & Messina and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

But after all of that, I think my favorite cover of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” that I found this week was actually a rediscovery. Rosanne Cash included the tune on her 2009 CD The List, an album of songs pulled from a list her famous father once gave her of essential American music. I’ve often thought that too many versions of the song – Snow’s included – have sounded almost celebratory. Not Cash’s. She pulls the tempo back, and amid a nest of atmospheric guitars and percussion, she makes the song something closer to a dirge, and that fits.

‘Beauty In That Rainbow In The Sky . . .’

Friday, May 17th, 2013

So, about “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” . . .

As I noted yesterday, and as was the case for a couple of other sturdy songs I’ve written about in the past ten days or so, it was Glenn Yarbrough’s 1967 album, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, that introduced me to “Tomorrow,” which I’ve long thought to be one of Bob Dylan’s most beautiful songs.

The first released version of the song was recorded by Ian & Sylvia for their 1964 album, Four Strong Winds. Regular reader David Leander noted in a comment yesterday that “at one point Dylan told them he’d written it for them to record, but I think he told anybody that might record one of his songs that he’d written it for them.” I’ve read in a number of places that the song was inspired by Dylan’s early 1960s relationship with Suze Rotolo (the young woman shown with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but that doesn’t mean that he might not have had Ian & Sylvia – or Judy Collins (from her Fifth Album in 1965) or someone else or no other performer at all – in mind when he wrote the song.

As I also noted yesterday, Dylan has officially released two versions of the song: The first recorded, a demo, was officially released in 2010 as part of the ninth volume of Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series, and – according to Wikipedia – has been available as a bootleg for years. The second version he recorded, a live 1963 performance of the song in New York City, was released in 1972 as a track on Dylan’s second greatest hits album. Wikipedia also notes that a “studio version of the song, an outtake from the June 1970 sessions for New Morning, has also been bootlegged.”

The first Dylan version I heard of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” was on that second greatest hits package. (The only video I can find at YouTube with that 1963 live version is from an episode of The Walking Dead. Zombies and a love song don’t match well for me.) By that time, of course, I’d absorbed the Yarbrough version from his For Emily album:

Over the years, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” has been a generally popular song for covers. Second Hand Songs lists a total of thirty-one English-language versions, and more (I didn’t bother to count) are listed at Amazon. I imagine that iTunes and other similar sites would have more yet. As is generally the case, the list of folks and groups who’ve covered the song include the unsurprising and the surprising alike: Among the first category are the Brothers Four, the We Five, the Kingston Trio, Linda Mason, Chris Hillman, Bud & Travis, the Silkie, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Sandy Denny. Less expected (or even unknown in these parts) are Hipcity Cruz, Deborah Cooperman, Barb Jungr, Sebastian Cabot, Magna Carta and Danielle Howell.

I’ve heard at most bits and pieces of those covers in the above paragraph, but over the years, I’ve listened to many other covers of the song, and I’ve tracked down even more in just the past couple of days. One version that’s been mentioned here at least twice in the past six years is the version by Elvis Presley that showed up in his 1966 movie Spinout. Regular reader Porky noted yesterday that Elvis “supposedly learned it from Odetta’s version,” which was on the 1965 album, Odetta Sings Dylan. I like Elvis’ version more than I used to, but the austere dignity which Odetta brought to her music doesn’t seem to work for the song.

I was surprised to find the name of Hamilton Camp among those who’d covered “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” Camp, a mid-1960s folkie, released the song on his 1964 album Paths of Victory. That album is likely better known for his version of Dino Valente’s “Get Together,” which became a No. 5 hit for the Youngbloods in 1969 (after being a No. 31 hit for the We Five in 1965).

Another, far more recent name that surprised me was that of the country-folk group Nickel Creek, which put the song on its 2005 album, Why Should the Fire Die? I enjoyed the group’s self-titled debut in 2000, but wasn’t at all pleased with the follow-up, This Side, in 2002. I may have to give the group another try.

The most enjoyable version of “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” that I came across this week came from a one-off album from 1973. Several blogs have featured the album Refuge by the duo calling itself Heaven & Earth, and one of my favorite blogs, hippy-djkit, calls the album a “psych folk funk beauty from the early 70’s featuring the gorgeous voices of Jo D. Andrews & Pat Gefell.” There are a couple of other notable covers on the album, specifically takes on Stephen Stills’ “To A Flame” and the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, “60 Years On,” but the best thing on the album – and maybe the prettiest version I’ve ever heard – is Heaven & Earth’s take on “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

Reference to “Get Together”  corrected June 8, 2013.

Love Means What?

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Forty-one years ago this week, a sweet little ditty occupied the No. 45 spot on the Billboard Hot 100: “Love Means (You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry)” by the Sounds of Sunshine. The Sounds of Sunshine were actually three brothers from the Los Angeles area – Walt, Warner and George Wilder – and the sound they offered on their only hit record owed a lot to the Lettermen and the Sandpipers (and probably a few other vocal groups that don’t come to mind at the moment).

For a one-shot hit, the record did pretty well, peaking at No. 39 in the Hot 100 and at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The album from which the single was pulled got to No. 187 on the Billboard 200.

The source of the song – written by Warner Wilder – is, of course, the most famous line from the movie Love Story, a 1970 film “about a girl who died” co-starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. Here’s the scene in which the impossibly young McGraw delivers that line:

The line became the 1970s equivalent of a meme: It was impossible to avoid and to ignore. The same was true of the movie’s theme, of course (“Where do I begin . . .”). The theme made the Hot 100 in versions by Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, Tony Bennett, the duo of Nino Tempo and April Stevens and its composer, Francis Lai. It was a pretty tune, very hummable and generally inconsequential. The famous line of dialogue offered by McGraw (and originated by Erich Segal, who wrote the screenplay and the novel on which the film is based) is, however, bullshit.

Now, pop culture offers all sorts of twaddle to its audiences as wisdom. Listeners, viewers and readers can, if they are so moved, pull epigrams or advice on living well from almost any bit of pop culture ephemera. (Well, “Disco Duck” might be a stretch.) And if those epigrams help those pop culture consumers make their ways through the crabgrass of life, that’s just fine.

But I think that a large swath of the Baby Boomer demographic closed Segal’s book or walked up the theater aisle during the closing credits of the movie with the thought circling through their minds that maybe love really does mean never having to say you’re sorry. I wonder how many college relationships foundered because one or the other of the individuals involved held to the wisdom of Segal and McGraw during a disagreement when a simple “I’m sorry” would have repaired a lot of damage.

Well, maybe not all that many. I don’t know. I’m sure there were those who thought “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was a sweetly romantic idea, but I’d also like to think that most of those folks realized that what works in the movies rarely works in real life. For my part, I was not all that experienced in what worked in love at the time, but even at seventeen, I knew that a philosophy of no apologies would be more nearly lethal than nurturing to a romantic coupling.

Ah, well, it’s a line from a movie that inspired Warner Wilder to write a pretty song. If we dismissed all the songs based on bullshit, then the pop charts would be a lot shorter and not nearly as much fun.

So what else was going on in the Hot 100 during the week that the Sounds of Sunshine saw their single sitting at No. 45? Here’s the Top Ten:

“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King
“Indian Reservation” by the Raiders
“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor
“Don’t Pull Your Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Draggin’ The Line” by Tommy James
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees
“That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” by Carly Simon

The only one of those I would wince at as it came out of the speakers today would be the Bee Gees’ record; I didn’t like it that much when it came out, either (and I would have guessed its time in the Top Ten to be much closer to February 1972 than the summer of 1971). I’ve written about “It’s Too Late” and “Treat Her Like A Lady” before (and they both popped up this week on the little mp3 player that holds the Ultimate Jukebox), but there are three other records here I like nearly as well: “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Don’t Pull Your Love” and “Draggin’ The Line,” and my regard for that last record is a surprise to me. It must be the purple flowers.

I found a few other surprises looking further down in the Billboard Hot 100 from July 17, 1971. We’ll jump off from No. 45, where we found the Sounds of Sunshine’s single, and drop down from there.

Finding an Elvis Presley record I’ve never heard before isn’t all that startling. My Elvis listening has focused mostly on the work at Sun Records in the 1950s and in Memphis in 1969 (with a little bit of digging into a few of the soundtracks from the early 1960s). So until this morning, I’d never heard “I’m Leavin’,” which was sitting at No 59 during this week in 1971. It’s a record with a different (some might say “odd”) sound to it; the original poster at YouTube had some comments about that. “I’m Leavin’” was heading to a peak at No. 36 and a surprising (to me, anyway) peak of No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Someday, I’m going to burn myself a CD of covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs. One of the tunes on that CD will be “The Last Time I Saw Her” as performed by Glen Campbell. It’s a very good version of a song I know much better from Lightfoot’s 1968 album, Did She Mention My Name. Campbell’s version was at No 69 forty-one years ago this week; it peaked at No. 61 on the pop chart and went to No. 21 in the country chart.

The Continental 4 was an R&B vocal quartet from Pittsburgh, and during this week in 1971, their only hit was sitting at No. 84. “Day by Day (Every Minute of the Hour)” is a sweeping piece of Philadelphia-style soul that didn’t sound a lot different than a lot of other records fighting for airplay at the time. Still, the record got to No. 19 on the R&B chart even as it stalled at No. 84 on the pop chart.

Sorting out the history of the Nite-Liters, a group started in Louisville, Kentucky, by Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill, is a little confusing. Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that the project evolved to include seventeen people in three groups: the vocal groups Love, Peace & Happiness and the New Birth as well as the band still called the Nite-Liters. All of that was yet to come during mid-July 1971, when the Nite-Liters’ “K-Jee” was sitting at No. 92.  The record, the first of ten in the Hot 100 for the Nite-Liters and the New Birth, peaked at No. 39 and made it to No. 17 on the R&B chart.

When I glanced at Sonny James’ entry in Whitburn’s Book of Top 40 Country Hits, I did a double-take. Between November of 1964 and July of 1972, James had twenty-five consecutive records reach the top three spots on the country chart; one of those peaked at No. 3, three of them went to No. 2, and the other twenty-one records, including a remarkable sixteen in a row, went to No. 1. Those years were, of course, only a portion of James’ long career: Between 1953 and 1983, he placed sixty-four records in the Country Top 40. His presence on the pop chart was a little less daunting but still notable: Twenty-six records in or near the Hot 100 between 1956 and 1972. He’s here today because forty-one years ago, his “Bright Lights, Big City” was sitting at No. 100. It would peak at No. 91 on the pop chart, and it was the fifteenth of those sixteen consecutive No. 1 hits on the country chart.

And At No. 33, We Find . . .

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

It’s been one of those weeks: Medical appointments for both of us, a quick trip to Little Falls for me, a research paper for the Texas Gal, an impending visit – routine, we think – by the city rental inspector, and some planning for a weekend trip to see a concert. And we’re both feeling a slight bit frazzled.

So instead of working real hard to find something to write about this morning, I let the calendar do the lifting, as I sometimes do. It’s March 3, or 3/3, so I decided to look at some tunes that were No. 33 on 3/3 over the years.

During this week in 1959, the 33rd spot in the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by Johnny Cash’s cautionary tale, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town.” The tale of Billy Joe’s deadly visit to a cattle town had peaked at No. 32 and was on its way back down the chart, one of fifty-nine Hot 100 singles Cash would notch during his career. On the country chart, the record spent six weeks at No. 1.

During the first week of March in 1963, Marvin Gaye’s first Top 40 hit was encouraging listeners either to dance or to get out on the highway and catch a ride out of town. “Hitch Hike” was at No. 33 forty-eight years ago this week, heading for a peak position of No. 30. The record, the second of an eventual fifty-nine Hot 100 hits for Gaye, went to No. 12 on the R&B chart.

Fifty-nine charting hits, like Cash and Gaye each marked, is a lot. But four years later, in March of 1967, the No. 33 record in the Hot 100 was one from the record holder for the most charted hits ever. Elvis Presley’s “Indescribably Blue,” as melodramatic a record as there is, was the ninety-eighth of an eventual 165 charting hits for Presley. It went no higher than No. 33.

Another performer who racked up an impressive total of chart hits was in the 33rd spot in the Hot 100 when March 3, 1971 rolled around. Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman” was on its way back down the chart after peaking at No. 9 (and its writers – Clay McMurray, Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer – get bonus points for the correct use of the subjunctive with the word “were”). The record was the twenty-first of an eventual forty-eight records in the Hot 100 for Knight, forty-six of those – if I’m reading things correctly – coming with the Pips.

The first week of March in 1975 finds another major chart machine in the thirty-third spot in the Hot 100, as Chicago’s “Harry Truman” was on its way to No. 13. The ode to the thirty-third (there’s that number again!) president of the United States was a nostalgic post-Watergate expression of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. It was also the nineteenth of an eventual fifty charting hits for Chicago.

And we’ll end today’s exercise in 1979. Sitting at No. 33 during the week of March 3, 1979, was “Shake It,” the fifth of six charting hits for Ian Matthews. The first three of those hits had come with his group Matthews Southern Comfort; he had also been a founding member of the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention. As well as peaking at No. 13 in early 1979, “Shake It” shows up in a couple of different places in pop culture, according to Wikipedia: It was used in the opening moments of the 1980 movie Little Darlings, and it can be heard on a radio during the video game The Warriors.

Eighties Music Hasn’t Changed, So I Must Have

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

As happens to – I think – every music lover during one era or another, while I was living through the first years of the 1980s, I didn’t have much use for the music of the times. That’s not news to those who’ve been reading this blog for a while; I’ve written before about how I felt about the music of the 1980s at the time that decade was unspooling.

What interests me now, though, is how I’ve come to appreciate more of that music these days than I ever thought I would. I grant that I’m still not accustomed to tunes from those years showing up in the playlists of the Twin Cities oldies station I listen to, but that’s a simple matter of disbelief at the march of time; it’s not an aesthetic comment on the music that’s new to that playlist.

There’s no doubt, though, that I quit listening regularly to pop music during several stretches of the 1980s, and that was especially true during the first few years of that decade. As I more and more disliked what I heard when I listened to Top 40 and other popular radio formats, my radio at home was frequently tuned to a jazz station, and I dabbled in country music at the time, too. I also listened to a lot of classical music, and I dug into the Big Band music of my parents’ youth. None of those satisfied me in the end, and I was a musical nomad for a while.

The funny thing is, I look at the records that were hits in the 1980s – either the lists of No. 1 songs week by week or the list of the biggest hits of the decade – and they don’t seem so awful now. Some of them, in fact, seem pretty palatable. There’s still a lot of piffle, but when wasn’t there piffle? The Sixties and Seventies each had their shares of bad singles rising to the top, and some of those bad singles – “bad” in the aesthetic sense – are among the records I still enjoy from those formative years of mine. (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” is a prime example: It’s at the same time an awful song and a great record if you were a listener then; but it’s not necessarily what I would want the aliens from Altair to hear first as they approached our blue planet. What would my choice be? I have no idea this morning.)

One thing is certain: The music I dissed between twenty and thirty years ago hasn’t changed. So if I like more of that music today than I did then, the change must have come from me. And, having thought about this at least a little, I think my reaction to the tunes of the time was more than anything else a reaction to the times. Politically, culturally, a lot of things changed in the years just before and just after 1980, with the changes adding up to one of those shifts in the zeitgeist that take place in our culture every twenty or thirty years or so.

And since one of the things that pop culture does well is to reflect that zeitgeist back to us through the mass media (though they become less mass year by year, a topic we might explore here another day), the music I was listening to and finding wanting was showing me – imperfectly, to be sure – the larger culture surrounding pop culture. I didn’t like what I saw, and in the first instance of old-fogyism that I can recall in my life – certainly not my last – I gave a “hrmmph” and turned my back on almost all pop music to find a more comforting current form of musical sustenance. I never did find it, which isn’t a surprise, as what I was looking for was 1970 or 1975 or something very much like that. And those years and their times were gone.

I think this is not a unique tale. Though the details – and the specific times – may differ, I think the first adult instance of noticing the world changing greatly around us is a universal experience. Sometimes we swim as hard as we can against the current, and sometimes we float and bob along. Some of us, I suppose, have boats and ride through the changes without much effort at all, and some very few of us – to stretch the metaphor to its elastic capacity – sit on the shore and watch the river flow and thus never move away from, oh, 1972 or whenever.

That last reaction – inaction, if you will – was never an option. Even though I felt more comfortable with those earlier times, and as much as I love memoir and memory, I still – as a reporter, as a writer, as a reader, as a person – had to be in the present. So I eventually made my peace with the fact that the times had shifted. Some of that peace was easier found when I went to graduate school; a university environment encourages exploration and acceptance of new ideas, and I found that to be true in the lesser matters of pop culture as well as the larger matters of social policy and all the other things that make the world run.

And being drawn back to pop culture and pop music — I still didn’t like everything I heard, but I was at least listening again – brought me to one of the best records included in this long project of the Ultimate Jukebox. I imagine that if I took the agonizing time to rank all 228 songs in the UJ – and I won’t do that; I have better things to invest my hours in – this record by the Cars from the late summer and early autumn of 1984 would fall securely in my Top Twenty, if not higher.

“Drive” was written and performed by the late Benjamin Orr of the Cars, and it spent the last two weeks of September and the first week of October 1984 at No. 3. It was also No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 36
“Down in the Alley” by Elvis Presley from Spinout [1966]
“Back in the U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles from The Beatles [1968]
“Fishin’ Blues” by Taj Mahal from De Ole Folks at Home [1969]
“Eight Miles High” by Leo Kottke from Mudlark [1971]
“Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle, Epic 50048 [1975]
“Drive” by the Cars from Heartbeat City [1984]

The various movie soundtracks that Elvis Presley found himself entangled in during the 1960s weren’t often well-received when they came out, and they’re not often highly regarded today. Some Elvis fanatics – and I am not one of those – might find more in those releases than others, but generally, there aren’t many great Presley performances among those albums. There are, however, a couple of tracks from the soundtrack to Spinout that grab my ears. The first – and I’ve gone back and forth over the years on its value – is his cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” I’ve finally settled on the view that it’s a good performance. But as good as the Dylan cover is, Presley’s take on “Down In The Alley” is the best track on the Spinout album. The tune was originally written and recorded by the Clovers in the mid-1950s, and I assume the record made some dent in the R&B chart, but I don’t know for certain. (I’m also uncertain about the year the Clovers’ version was released; I’ve seen both 1956 and 1957 at various sources.) The only release from Spinout that I can find on the Billboard Hot 100 is the title tune to the movie, which peaked at No. 40 in November of 1966, but from where I listen, “Down In The Alley” should have been a hit.

When listing my favorite singles for a post a couple of years ago – and I think all but one of those I listed have found their way into this project; a Rolling Stones track that I listed in that post as an honorable mention did not make the cut – I said that if the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” had ever been released as a single, there would be no doubt about my favorite single of all time. I’m not sure that’s honestly the case – it would be tough to knock “Cherish” out of the top spot – but “Back in the U.S.S.R.” would be in the top five, I think. (The other three? “We” by Shawn Phillips, “Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt.) And hearing the song live at a Paul McCartney concert in 2002 remains one of the highlights of my musical life. (As for the video I’ve linked to, it’s labeled as a 1970s promo video. I have my doubts about that; for what it matters, a lot of the visuals seem to have been shot in the Netherlands. The other interesting thing about the video is that the audio is a different mix than is on the album, with a slightly different introduction, for one. And the song ends on its own. What I mean is that the sound of the airplane takes the record to its fade out without the opening guitar part to “Dear Prudence” overlapping. I’d never heard that before. Anyone out there know anything about any of it?)

I tend to forget that I saw Taj Mahal in concert once. He performed a Sunday afternoon show in St. Cloud’s new municipal arena in the spring of 1972, I think. (It might have been a year later.) The place was crowded, hot and uncomfortable. I knew very little of the man’s music at the time; in fact, I think “Fishin’ Blues” was the only song I recognized all afternoon. I know a bit more about the man and his music now, having collected several of his LPs and CDs. But he remains an enigma to me, maybe because he moves from place to place musically, always exploring and never settling down to one genre although All-Music Guide notes that “while he dabbled in many different genres, he never strayed too far from his laid-back country blues foundation.” As much as I’ve dug into the man’s work, I may need to dig more. Beyond that, one thing comes to mind: “Fishin’ Blues” was written by early 20th century songster Henry Thomas (a fact that Taj Mahal has always acknowledged; the writing credits on De Ole Folks At Home list Thomas and a J. Williams, whose identity is a mystery to me). Thus, “Fishin’ Blues” is the second song in the Ultimate Jukebox that came at least partly from Thomas’ pen. As I mentioned a while back, the flute riff that opens Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” is pretty much the same as the quills riff that opened Thomas’ “Bull Doze Blues.”

Leo Kottke once likened his voice to the sound of “geese farts on a muggy day.” Never having heard the latter, I can only guess that he was wrong, as I like Kottke’s voice. I especially like it on his cover of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” on his Mudlark album. Along with his brilliant guitar work, Kottke’s vocal brings something to the surreal song that the Byrds’ swirling psychedelic single doesn’t deliver. On the other hand, my preference for Kottke’s version simply might stem from the fact that when my sister brought Mudlark home, it was probably the first time I’d ever heard the song. And I still prefer the cover to the admittedly brilliant original.

So what do we get from LaBelle’s No 1 hit? Beyond, that is, a lesson in French that college boys of all generations since 1975 have hoped to be able to put to use? We get a sly and funky piece of R&B that sounds as good today as it did thirty-five years ago when it spent a week at No. 1 on both the Top 40 and the R&B charts. “Lady Marmalade” still slinks, bumps, grinds and rocks.