A couple of days ago, an online news site – it might have been the Christian Science Monitor; I’m not sure – asked readers to list their most memorable astronomical sights. The comments covered a lot of ground: Some comets (Halley’s and Hale-Bopp were, I think, the most frequently mentioned), an eclipse here or there, some meteor showers, and a couple of mentions of the Northern Lights.
That’s what I mentioned in my comment, the Northern Lights. The moment came in August 1972, when Rick, Gary and I camped under the stars during the first night of our trip to Winnipeg. We’d emptied a few cans of beer that evening in the provincial campground, and we were a bit wobbly as we unrolled our sleeping bags onto a tarp sometime after midnight.
A little bit later – maybe an hour, maybe two – Rick poked me as I slept. I rolled over. “What?”
He pointed to the sky. I put on my glasses and saw the Northern Lights rolling and rippling in shades of blue and green. I’d seen the aurora borealis before, but only on the distant horizon; this time, the lights danced across half the sky, stretching from the northern horizon to straight above us. We couldn’t rouse Gary, so Rick and I watched the eerie spectacle for a while, then went back to sleep.
That’s the most memorable single moment of that four-day trip. For me, nothing else quite touched those minutes lying on the dark prairie ground with the curtains of light waving above us.
Except for that moment, the trip was your standard road trip for three young men: We saw some museums, some music shops, a zoo, and bits of a downtown music festival. On our way home, we spent a few hours in a campground with two girls from Okemos, Michigan, who were traveling with their folks. (And why I remember Okemos, Michigan, I have no idea.) We drank a bit more beer on that first night than we should have. And we listened to a lot of music as we drove something like 1,200 miles.
We had a few tapes – the new Rolling Stones hits package Hot Rocks chief among them – but we generally saved the batteries in the tape player for the evenings in the campgrounds and in the motel in Winnipeg. On the road, we were able to find a listenable Top 40 station pretty much anywhere we were. As a result, the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1972 (released August 26) is filled with very familiar records:
“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” by the Hollies
“I’m Still In Love With You” by Al Green
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent
“(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” by Luther Ingram
“Goodbye to Love” by the Carpenters
Coconut” by Nilsson
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by Mac Davis
That Top Ten might set a record for the most record titles with parentheses. And, even with Nilsson’s silliness, it’s a good set. I – like many, I imagine – got tired of “Alone Again (Naturally)” that summer when it was No. 1 for six weeks, but now, it’s a nice period piece. And when the others show up during random play, they’re all very welcome here.
So, too, are some things found lower in the Hot 100 that was released thirty-nine years ago this week. And looking into a record found at No. 71 brought me one of the more interesting bits I’ve found in digging through charts, so we’ll go there first and then backtrack a little.
Jerry Wallace was a pop/country singer who was born in Missouri and raised in Arizona. From 1958 into 1972, he put seventeen records in the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section; the best-performing of those was “Primrose Lane,” which went to No. 8 in 1959. His success on the country chart covers a few different years; he hit the Country Top 40 nineteen times between 1965 and 1978. During the summer of 1972, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry” hit both charts, starting out on the country chart – where it spent two weeks at No. 1 – and moving to the pop chart, where it peaked at No. 38. What piqued my interest was the fine-print note under the song’s listing in Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles: “From TV’s Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Tune in Dan’s Café.”
Rod Serling’s Night Gallery was an extension of the idea of Serling’s late-1950s and early 1960s classic show The Twilight Zone: Tales of the odd, eerie, macabre and unexplainable. Instead of The Twilight Zone’s one episode presented in thirty minutes (sixty minutes in the case of several episodes in 1963), Night Gallery presented three tales in an hour (changed to one tale in thirty-minutes in its last season, 1972-73). The show ran more or less weekly, based on what I see at Wikipedia, and it was during the January 5, 1972, show that viewers saw ‘The Tune in Dan’s Café.”
The tune in question was Wallace’s “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” and the piece was centered around a jukebox in a small town bar and restaurant. I’ll say no more about the episode, except to note that its use of the record no doubt boosted the record’s sales. And Wallace’s position on the country chart wasn’t hurt, either: his next hit, “Do You Know What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” went to No. 2, and he was a regular presence in the country Top 40, with a couple more Top Ten hits, into 1978.
As to “The Tune in Dan’s Café,” it’s available on YouTube in two parts. Here’s the first part. (The link to Part 2 can then be found in the suggested links that follow.)
Joey Heatherton was a movie and television actress who did some singing, and I’m always surprised to see her pop up in the 1970s because I tend to lump her with Sandra Dee and Connie Stevens and a number of other young women who were similar performers during the late 1950s and early 1960s. But Heatherton was of the next generation, and in late August 1972, her cover of “Gone” – made famous by Ferlin Husky’s No 1 country hit in 1957 – was at No. 35, coming down after peaking at No. 24. Later in the year, Heatherton’s “I’m Sorry” – a cover of the tune made famous by Brenda Lee in 1960 – went to No. 87. Both singles came from The Joey Heatherton Album, an album that All-Music Guide likes a fair amount. (The album was released in an expanded version on CD in 2004 with a racy picture of Heatherton on the cover.)
The band Uriah Heep had one Top 40 hit: “Easy Livin’” was at No. 54 and was climbing up the chart during this week in August 1972. The record would peak at No. 39, by far the best-performing single for the English band; three other records would peak in the 90s, and one more would bubble under. But “Easy Livin’” deserved its place. In a time of singer-songwriter confessionals, light pop, Hi Records-type soul and lots of other mellow sounds, the Uriah Heep single was without doubt one of the toughest things coming out of the Top 40 speakers at the time. I was a mellow kind of guy myself in a lot of ways at the time – I was just beginning to dig into Eric Clapton and related musicians that summer and I was still more than a year away from the Allmans – but I loved “Easy Livin’” as it thundered out of the car radio, pulling us up the highway toward Winnipeg and beer.
The Janis Joplin remembrance “In The Quiet Morning” was written by Mimi Fariña and first appeared on Take Heart, a 1971 album she recorded with Tom Jans. In 1972, Joan Baez – Fariña’s sister – recorded the tune for her album Come From the Shadows and released the tune as a single. By the fourth week of August, the record was at No. 73. It would climb only a little higher, to No. 69, before falling back down the chart. Baez would have two more singles reach the pop chart: In 1975 “Blue Sky” would go to No. 57 and “Diamonds and Rust” would go to No. 35. (Before that, she’d had five singles hit the chart, with her 1971 cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” going to No. 3.) Whatever its chart failures, “In The Quiet Morning” is nicely done.
I’ve written about Leon Russell before, but the success in the past year of The Union, the CD he recorded with Elton John, has had me reviewing the work I knew by Russell and digging at least a little bit into the stuff I missed along the way. So when “Tight Rope” popped up at No. 82 in the Hot 100 from August 26, 1972, I knew I had to present it here. The record was in its first week on the chart, and it would peak at No. 11, by far the best performance on the pop chart of any Leon Russell single. (“Lady Blue” went to No. 14 in 1975; eight other Russell singles peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100 or bubbled under. He did hit No. 1 on the country chart in 1979 via a duet with Willie Nelson on “Heartbreak Hotel.”) I can’t say “Tight Rope” is my favorite Leon Russell track. Of the singles, I’d probably choose “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” which went to No. 105 in 1971; from the other studio tracks, I’d take “Beware of Darkness” from 1971’s Leon Russell & The Shelter People, but my favorite Leon Russell performance of all time is his “Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood” medley from The Concert for Bangla Desh.
The ills of society were always fair game for musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but a record addressing those ills that I’d never heard until recently popped up in the Hot 100 we’re looking at today: “A Piece of Paper” by the Texas group Gladstone. In short order, the group takes on marriage, religion, abortion (this was while abortion was still widely illegal in the U.S.) and war. Talk about a multi-purpose protest song! The record was at No. 99 during the week in question and would peak at No. 45. It was Gladstone’s only appearance on the pop chart.