Posts Tagged ‘Funkadelic’

Let’s Get Mystical, Funky & Mellow

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Having landed in June 1972 for two earlier posts this week and having written a bit about what we might have been playing at KVSC-FM, the St. Cloud State student radio station, I thought I’d dabble a little more with what was going on forty years ago. So I headed to the Airheads Radio Survey Archive to see what the well-appointed progressive station had on its playlist during the first weeks of that long-ago month.

Well, pickings were pretty slim when I sorted for ARSA data for “progressive” stations, but I did come up with an album survey from KSJO-FM in San Jose, California, dated June 19, 1972. Here are the top twenty albums from that week at KJSO:

Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd
Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones
Honky Chateau by Elton John
Big Bambu by Cheech and Chong
America Eats Its Young by Funkadelic
Blue River by Eric Andersen
Foghat by Foghat
Rock and Roll Cutie by Randalls Island
Demons & Wizards by Uriah Heep
Grave New World by the Strawbs
Mousetrap by Spencer Davis
Sail Away by Randy Newman
Castles by Joy of Cooking
Roots and Branches by the Dillards
Lean On Me by Bill Withers
Angel Came by Black Oak Arkansas
Bump City by Tower of Power
So Tough by the Beach Boys
Preserve Wildlife by Mama Lion
Smokin’ OP’s by Bob Seger

Listed as “Hot Stuff” was All Day Music by War.

There is one bit of weirdness in that list: I find no evidence of a group called Randall’s Island or an album titled Rock and Roll Cutie. Randall’s Island was, however, the title of a 1970 album by Elliott Randall, and his next album was titled Rock and Roll City. That later album, however, was not released until 1973, according to both Wikipedia and All-Music Guide. I am baffled.

Beyond that, it’s an interesting mash-up, which was certainly the mode for a progressive station, I think. Several of those albums – the Eric Andersen, the Joy of Cooking and Exile on Main Street – are among my favorites, and I also enjoy the albums by Bob Seger, Bill Withers, Elton John, the Strawbs, the Dillards and Tower of Power.

Without listening to it for the first time in years, I would guess that Big Bambu is deeply dated, and I sadly have no clue about the Funkadelic and Beach Boys albums on that list, the latter of which was a roots-rock exercise that should really be given its full title: Carl & The Passions: So Tough.

Other than that, it’s an interesting mix, one that could provide a few hours of decent listening (and I chuckled when Mama Lion showed up here for the second time in just a few weeks). So let’s pull three tracks from that list of twenty-one albums, and we’ll try to make them something new to these precincts.

We’ll start with “The Wizard,” the opener to the Uriah Heep album. It’s a track that starts in a quiet acoustic mood and then works its way to something far heavier, a pattern that was especially popular with British bands, it seems to me. Led Zeppelin is the easiest other example to come up with, and the approach always sounds to me as if the bands were trying – purposefully or not – to bridge the gap between the British folk tradition (think of the quieter stuff of Fairport Convention) and the nascent heavy metal approach that now, actually, sounds almost sedate. The album, Demons and Wizards, went to No. 23; the best-known track from the album was the single “Easy Livin’,” which went to No. 39 in September of 1972.

Shifting gears, we’ll move to another opening track, this time “You Hit the Nail on the Head,” the opener to Funkadelic’s two-LP America Eats Its Young. Ned Raggett of All-Music Guide singles out co-producer and keyboard player Bernie Worrell for his “surging, never-stop keyboards . . . with his magnificent lead break on the opening ‘You Hit the Nail on the Head’ making for one of the best performances ever on Hammond organ.” The album went to No. 123 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 22 on the R&B Albums chart. One single, “Loose Booty,” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 118, while another, “A Joyful Process,” went to No. 38 on the R&B chart.

As I wrote and listened this morning, I was also digging around in the Echoes In The Wind archives and I was stunned to realize that I’ve never shared Eric Andersen’s original version of “Blue River.” I’ve told the tale before, how the album Blue River was supposed to have positioned Andersen as the next big thing but that the master tapes for his next album, Stages, were lost and it was three years and a label change until Andersen’s next record – Be True To You – came out. All of that, however, makes Blue River sound like a stage-setter when it’s actually one of the great albums of the singer-songwriter era: melodic, literate, sometimes sweet and sometimes melancholy. It went to No. 169 on the Billboard 200, but commercial success – or its lack thereof – doesn’t really matter when you spend a little time with Andersen down on the Blue River.

Chart Digging: Late October 1975

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

It’s been a gorgeous autumn around here: Warm days for the most part, followed by clear cool nights; our comings and goings have taken place – until just the past two weeks or so – under a vibrant canopy of brown, red and gold leaves. The colors this fall were the best we’ve seen in these parts in at least ten years. There’s a scientific explanation for that, something about rainfall and temperature ranges in spring, and that’s good to know, I guess. But that kind of rational assessment strikes me as something to think about during the long winter to come, not while even a remnant of the fall colors still glows.

And there are yet remnants: I saw a few stubborn maple trees still blazing redly as I was out on an errand the other day. On our lot, we have mostly bare trees; and since the lawn guy came with his mower and chopped the thick blanket of leaves into tiny pieces, I don’t even have the autumnal satisfaction of kicking my way through fallen leaves during my daily trek to the mailbox. Having the leaves chopped, however, means that we won’t have to rake soggy and moldy leaves from the lawn next spring, as we did this year. There are trade-offs in life.

One of those trade-offs, as I wrote a year ago, is that – like the other seasons – autumn is temporary: “It will end this year almost certainly as it has other years, in a four-week slice of rain and gloom and bitter wind.”

That’s true, except . . . I think we each choose our seasons of memory, and mine is autumn. Not every sweet memory of my life took place in those months, but it sometimes seems to me that all my memories – whether they’re of events that took place in the white chill of January, the greening of May, the hazy blue of August or the copper light of October – are autumnal. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think so.

I do know that I spend far less time these days in my interior autumn than I did in the past. The life around me now is far more interesting, challenging and rewarding than it used to be. And I would not change that. But much of that interior autumn came from autumns in the exterior world, and those defining seasons will be with me until the moment – and one would hope the moment will come only after many more autumns have passed –  when my soul enters that long tunnel and moves toward that bright light.

One of those defining autumns that I carry inside is, without doubt, the autumn of 1975. I’ve written about that season several times (here and here are two of those posts, for those interested), and I think I’ve told that season’s tale sufficiently. But I noticed this morning that I’ve evidently never done one of my chart digging posts about that autumn’s music. I found that fact surprising, and even more, I found it welcome, as it means I’m doing something new here.

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the last week of October 1975:

“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka
“Calypso/I’m Sorry” by John Denver
“Miracles” by Jefferson Starship
“Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles
“They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)” by the Spinners
“Feelings” by Morris Albert
“Who Loves You” by the Four Seasons
“Island Girl” by Elton John
“Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet
“It Only Takes A Minute” by Tavares

Well, there’s only one entirely awful record there: “Feelings.” I wasn’t crazy about the Sweet record but I didn’t hate it, and even the John Denver is only half-bad to me: I disliked “I’m Sorry” but I could put up with “Calypso.” I don’t know that I ever heard “It Only Takes A Minute,” so I listened to it this morning, but it rang no bells. “They Just Can’t Stop It” is a great record that I often forget about, and most of the rest is good listening. And then there’s “Miracles,” one of my eternal favorites.

Heading south in the Billboard Hot 100 from there, we pull up at No. 60, where we find “To Each His Own” by Faith, Hope & Charity. Described by Joel Whitburn as an R&B-dance vocal trio from Tampa, Florida, FH&C had two records in the Hot 100 in 1970 and then didn’t come back for more than five years, when “To Each His Own” became their best-performing record, peaking at No. 50 (and spending a week on top of the R&B chart). It sounds – unsurprisingly, I guess – like a lot of other R&B from 1974-75. (My ears hear a lot of the Three Degrees in the track.) I doubt that I ever heard it, but I like it a lot. Several versions are available at YouTube: The album track, an extended single, and the version I linked to, which I think is the single edit. Not quite a year later, FH&C showed up on the charts one more time, with a single that bubbled under for one week.

I’ve never listened much to Poco, the country rock group that included – among others – former Buffalo Springfield members Richie Furay and Jim Messina, but I’ve always liked what I’ve heard. That holds true for “Keep On Tryin’,” which was sitting at No. 61 during the last week of October in 1975. As it happened, “Keep On Tryin’” was the fourth Poco single to reach the chart, and it peaked at No. 50, the highest a Poco record had been at the time. The group would see “Crazy Love” go to No. 17 in 1979 although by then, Rusty Young – if I read Joel Whitburn’s notes correctly in Top Pop Singles – was the group’s sole remaining original member. Poco would wind up with a total of seventeen records in or near the Hot 100, with two more of them reaching the Top 20: “Heart Of The Night” went to No. 20 in 1979 and “Call It Love” went to No. 18 in 1989.

Another group I’ve not sought out much but whose music I’ve enjoyed when I run across it is the Pointer Sisters, who had thirty-one records in or near the Hot 100 from 1973 through 1987. (The sisters also placed twenty-one records in the R&B Top 40; one record – “Fairytale” – went to No. 37 on the country chart in 1974 and earned the sisters a Grammy for Country Vocal Group Performance.) Thirty-six years ago this week, it was the funky and infectious “How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side)” that was sitting at No. 76, having peaked at No. 20 three weeks earlier. The record also spent two weeks atop the R&B chart, and it’s one of those that – should I ever hear it in the kitchen – would tempt me to indulge in my own version of dance. I need to get more Pointer Sisters’ stuff in my library.

I know Kenny Nolan only from “I Like Dreamin’,” the mellow anthem that went to No. 3 in March 1977, so I was intrigued when I saw in Top Pop Singles that Nolan fronted two studio groups: the Eleventh Hour and Firefly. The Eleventh Hour had two singles reach the chart, one in the spring of 1974 and the other during the late summer of 1975. That second single – “Hollywood Hot” – was sitting at No. 59 during the last week of October that year, and it’s a fun piece of studio funk that peaked at No. 55, but “Hey There Little Firefly” by Firefly caught my ear as well this morning. It was sitting at No. 96 during the last week of October 1975, heading to No. 67. I think it’s the flute that pulls me in.

I have no real idea where Parliament ended and Funkadelic began. Whitburn lists the two groups as existing concurrently in one long listing, so I’m not alone in that confusion. And I wonder whether George Clinton – organizer, leader and producer of the two groups – really knows where the line lies between the two. Either way, it was Funkadelic that was on the chart during late October 1975 when the very cool “Better By The Pound” was bubbling under at No. 103. The record would only get to No. 99, not that much lower than most of the singles from Clinton’s two groups had been placing. The best to that point had been Funkadelic’s “I’ll Bet You” in 1969 and Parliament’s “Up For The Down Stroke” in 1974, both of which went to No. 63. In 1967, Clinton’s doo-wop group, the Parliaments, had reached No. 20 with “(I Wanna) Testify,” and by October 1975, Clinton wasn’t that far from reaching the Top 40 again: Parliament’s “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk)” went to No. 15 during the summer of 1976, and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove, Pt. 1” went to No. 28 during the autumn of 1978.

The Mystic Moods Orchestra, says All-Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the choice audio aphrodisiacs of the ’60s and ’70s,” mixing “orchestral pop, environmental sounds, and pioneering recording techniques into a unique musical phenomenon.” The orchestra, created and led by Brad Miller, released albums like 1967’s Mexican Trip, 1970’s Stormy Weekend and 1972’s Love the One You’re With (covering, presumably, Stephen Stills’ hit single). Several singles – credited to simply the Mystic Moods – showed up in the lower levels of the Billboard chart, first on Warner Brothers and then on Sound Bird. During the last week of October 1975, “Honey Trippin’” was bubbling under at No. 108; it would rise to No. 98 before disappearing. Later in 1975, the Mystic Moods’ last appearance on the chart was “Get It While The Gettin’ Is Good.” That last single, which only got as high as No. 109, was credited to Leo & Libra with the Mystic Moods, which sounds just perfect for 1975.