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.