Posts Tagged ‘Memphis Horns’

Chart Digging, February 26, 1977

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

As February 1977 was ending, the coldest winter in some years in St. Cloud was also drawing to a close. That was a huge relief, as I was living in the occasionally mentioned house on the north side without central heating. My two cats and I shivered through the winter, spending evenings either close to the oil-burning stove in the living room or the space heater in my bedroom. I forget how many blankets I had piled on my bed, but I remember clearly waking up in the middle of many nights to find myself with a pair of living ear muffs, huddling close for extra warmth, on my pillow.

A look at the Billboard Top 10 released on February 26, 1977 – thirty-six years ago today – shows at least two singles that take me back to that cold house and season:

“New Kid in Town/Victim of Love” by the Eagles
“Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’” by Barbra Streisand
“Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
“Fly Like An Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band
“I Like Dreamin’” by Kenny Nolan
“Enjoy Yourself” by the Jacksons
“Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary McGregor
“Night Moves” by Bob Seger
“Dancing Queen” by Abba
“Weekend in New England” by Barry Manilow

Though I don’t particularly like either of them, the Nolan and McGregor singles pull me back to the north side of St. Cloud. I know well seven of the other eight records in that list, and I like two of them – the Bob Seger and Abba singles – very well. But none of the others have the visceral time/place tug for me that the Nolan and McGregor singles hold.

I was listening most often, I recall, to WCCO-FM from Minneapolis, which was playing (and I have no idea what the format would be called) most but not all of the hits: I don’t think I’d ever heard the Jacksons’ single until this morning. Nor, looking further down that week’s chart, am I as familiar with Kiss’ “Hard Luck Woman” as I am with the rest of the Top 20. Those omissions from my data bank should give a clue to the station’s format, whatever it was called. (And I bet regular reader and pal Yah Shure knows what the format was without needing those clues.)

Anyway, I shivered and planned my return to college in the spring, and I listened to the radio a lot. But I don’t think I heard any of the six records that sat at the very bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 thirty-six years ago today.

I don’t know the work of Norman Connors very well at all, but one listen to his version of “Betcha By Golly Wow” tells me that I need to know more. The track, featuring an amazing vocal by Phyllis Hyman, was on Connors’ 1977 album You Are My Starship, and a single edit (or so I assume, based on the length of the album track and the running time listed on the 45 label) was bubbling under at No. 105 thirty-six years ago today. The fourth single by Connors to reach or bubble under the Hot 100, “Betcha By Golly Wow” would peak at No. 102 and get to No. 29 on the R&B chart. (“You Are My Starship,” featuring a vocal by Michael Henderson, had reached No 27 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart in the autumn of 1976; the album would go to No. 39.) The lovely saxophone solo was evidently the work – based on the credits at All-Music Guide, which might be complete – of either Gary Bartz or Carter Jefferson

Speaking of saxophonists, Gato Barbieri is another name on my list of artists whose work I want to explore more fully. He came to my attention briefly in 1972 when I heard snippets of his work on the soundtrack for the steamy movie Last Tango in Paris, which went to No. 166 on the Billboard album chart and which I found on LP some years later. In 1976, his album Caliente! became his best-selling album to that point when it went to No. 75. (Ruby, Ruby would go to No. 66 in 1977.) Two singles from Caliente! bubbled under: “I Want You (Part 1)” – evidently an edit of the album track of the Marvin Gaye song – had gone to No. 110 in October 1976, and in the last week of February 1977, “Fiesta” entered the chart at No. 106 and would climb two spots further in an eight-week stay.

During the summer of 1976, a Philadelphia soul/disco group called Double Exposure got to No. 54 on the Billboard chart with “Ten Percent.” At the end of the next February, the follow-up single, “My Love Is Free” was bubbling under at No. 107. The catchy single would peak at No. 104. More than a year later, in late 1978, the group’s “Newsy Neighbors” would bubble under the chart for one week at No. 107, and in September 1979 the group’s chart presence came to a close when “I Got The Hots For Ya” went to No. 33 on the R&B chart.  Here’s Double Exposure performing “My Love Is Free” on Soul Train in April 1977.

Without researching the matter in minute detail, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that the Memphis Horns (which included Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, James Mitchell, Lewis Collins, Jack Hale and Ed Logan) played on pretty much every important session for Stax and Volt in the 1960s and early 1970s. The group finally released its first album in 1970, but that self-titled album and a couple of follow-up albums didn’t chart on their own and generated no singles. The Horns released Get Up & Dance in 1977 and as February waned, the funky title track was bubbling under at No. 108 before falling out of the chart the next week. Later that year, “Just For Your Love” would bubble under at No. 101 (No. 17 R&B), and the album itself would bubble under the Billboard chart at No. 201. (In 1978, The Memphis Horns Band II would get to No. 163 on the album chart, and in 1990, Midnight Stroll, credited to “Robert Cray Featuring the Memphis Horns,” would get to No. 51 on the album chart.)

By the time February of 1977 rolled around, Al Green, once a constant in the Top 10, hadn’t been there for two-and-a-half years, since “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” had gone to No. 7 during the autumn of 1974. “L-O-V-E (Love)” had gotten to No. 13 the next spring, and subsequent releases had stalled out short of the Top 20. During the last week of February 1977, Green’s “I Tried To Tell Myself” was bubbling under at No. 109. It would bubble up eight more places and stall at No. 101, though it went to No. 26 on the R&B chart. A few more singles would hang around the lower levels of the chart into 1978, and in 1988, Green hit No. 9 with his duet with Annie Lennox on “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” from the movie Scrooged.

Sporting a horn chart that reminds me very much of Chicago ca. 1970, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” by Brainstorm was bubbling and dancing at the very bottom of the chart at No. 110. The only chart appearance ever for the group from Detroit, “Wake Up & Be Somebody” would peak at No. 86. In June 1977, the group’s “Lovin’ Is Really My Game (Pt. 1)” would get to No. 14 on the R&B chart.

Chart Digging: October 15, 1977

Friday, October 15th, 2010

As the month of October hit its midway point in 1977, I thought I’d found myself a pretty good gig. I was doing public relations work and some other tasks for the St. Cloud regional office of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a federal program that matched job seekers to positions in both the private and public sectors and also provided job skills training.

The public relations portion of my job was the more important and more interesting. I’d started in early September, and by the time mid-October came around, I was getting two routine news releases a week to the newspapers and radio stations in our area, and about once a week, I’d send out something softer, a feature story about our operations. I’d arranged for the radio production classes at St. Cloud State to produce public service announcements that we could take to area radio stations, and I was working with my counterpart at the CETA office in the northern town of Detroit Lakes to have our respective office directors be guests on a public affairs program at the television station in Alexandria, a station whose signal reached most of the homes in our four-county area and most of the homes in the service area of the Detroit Lakes office.

Public relations might not have been what I had planned to order from life’s menu, but since that’s what I had been served, I thought I might as well enjoy the meal.

Personally, things were fine, too. I was still living in the lake cabin about ten miles southeast of St. Cloud. My girlfriend had lived there with me during September, but at the start of October, she’d headed into St. Cloud after finding a gal who needed a roommate. I was going to have to do the same very soon; the cabin had no heat or hot water, and once November arrived, I was pretty sure the space heater would begin to lose its battle with the outside chill. So I was looking.

And sometime in mid-October – right about this time thirty-three years ago – I took a drive to visit the weekly newspapers in our coverage area that lay south of St. Cloud. I took along a general feature story about what a new arrival to our office and our program would experience. It was my third day over a two-week period that I’d spent on the road, trying to visit all the newspaper offices in the four counties we served. I had about eight newspapers left to visit, so I headed out early that day, stopping first at Kimball to visit the only Stearns County paper on that day’s route. From there, I headed into Wright County.

It was a gorgeous fall day, with the temperature rising to about sixty degrees as I drove. The leaves had turned and were still mostly on the trees, and I quite enjoyed myself as I made my way from town to town: Annandale, Maple Lake, Buffalo, Cokato, Howard Lake, Delano, St. Michael and onward.

Near the end of the afternoon, I made my way into Monticello. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in the little town just thirty miles from St. Cloud, but it was, I think, the first time I’d ever stopped there. At a gas station, I got directions to the newspaper office, drove up and parked. It was a modern building, the first I’d seen that day during a tour of weekly papers housed in old storefronts. The front half of the building was home to an office products store, with the newspaper’s offices in the back half.

I walked to the counter at the mid-point of the building, introduced myself to the woman there and asked to speak to the editor. A blond, bearded man a little older than I was came around the corner from a workspace, and I introduced myself, explained my job and my errand that day, and handed him a copy of the piece I’d crafted at my desk in St. Cloud. He skimmed it and said, “Looks good. I think we can use it.” He shook my hand, saying that I’d stopped by on one of the busy days of the week – it must have been Tuesday – and then he disappeared around the corner.

And I got back in my car and headed back to my federally funded desk in St. Cloud, having not a clue that in a little more than six weeks, I’d walk through that door to become a reporter for the Monticello Times and that the bearded blond man I’d just met would be the best boss I ever had and a friend for the rest of my life.

So what was I hearing on the radio as I drove through Wright County that day? Here’s the Top Ten from Billboard for the week ending October 15, 1977, thirty-three years ago today:

“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone
“Keep It Comin’ Love” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band
“Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon
“That’s Rock ’N’ Roll” by Shaun Cassidy
“‘Star Wars’ Theme/Cantina Band (Medley)” by Meco
“Boogie Nights” by Heatwave
“Cold As Ice” by Foreigner
“Brick House” by the Commodores
“I Feel Love/Can’t We Just Sit Down” by Donna Summer
“I Just Want To Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb.

Oh my. I like “Brick House” these days, and “Keep It Comin’ Love” is a nice exercise in nostalgia (though if I had had heard it yesterday, I might have mentally plugged it into early 1976). And the Meco medley would be fun to hear again. (I do not have it, although I do have the group’s deconstruction of the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz.) But I’d be content to never hear any of the other tunes for the rest of my life. Especially “You Light Up My Life,” which was in its first week at No. 1 and would stay there another nine weeks.

But, as usual, there was some interesting stuff lower on the chart.

Earlier in the year, David Soul had hit No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary chart with “Don’t Give Up On Us,” a slightly weepy ballad that I kind of liked. Now, in October, his single “Silver Lady” – which I like quite a bit more – was at No. 52 in its sixth week on the chart. It would get no higher.

 

A little further down the chart, we find a record that would in a few weeks become the first Top Twenty hit by an English group that had reached the Hot 100 once already and would do so a total of eight times between 1977 and 1980. “Isn’t It Time” by the Babys was at No. 69 in mid-October and would peak at No. 13 during the fourth week of December. I’m not sure I thought much of it at the time, but I like it a lot these days.

At No. 75, there’s a record that I’d never heard before this morning and I’m wondering how it managed to not be a hit. It’s “Ten to Eight” by David Castle, and it peaked at No. 68 a week later; three weeks after that, it was gone from the Hot 100. Castle is still recording; his current albums are available at his website. As he notes there, his two 1970s albums for Parachute – Castle In The Sky, which included “Ten to Eight” and Love You Forever – can easily be found for sale on the ’Net.

The band Crawler, says All-Music Guide, was an outgrowth of Paul Kossof’s Back Street Crawler, organized after Kossof’s death in March 1976. Crawler released two albums: 1977’s Crawler and 1978’s Snake, Rattle and Roll. One of the most memorable tracks by the reorganized band was “Stone Cold Sober” from the Crawler album. The track ran 5:38 on the album and a single edit – running 2:55 – was released in the autumn of 1977. By mid-October, the single was at No. 86, in its first week in the Hot 100. The record peaked at No. 65 for two weeks in November. I found the album track at YouTube, and unless the single was horribly edited, it should have done much, much better.

Bill Meredith of All-Music Guide wrote: “Georgia funk rock band Mother’s Finest might appear to be only a blip on the radar screen of rock history, but not to any of the headlining bands they’ve stolen shows from – or any of the audiences who saw it happen.” The group released five albums between 1977 and 1981 with one last album coming in 1989; all six albums made one chart or another, with the best performing being 1978’s Mother Factor, which went to No. 123 on the Billboard 200 and to No. 22 on the R&B album chart. In mid-October 1977, “Baby Love,” a single from the album Another Mother Further, was at No. 100, having peaked a week earlier at No. 58.

The Memphis Horns had been playing sessions since the late 1960s, adding their sound to a stack of classic soul records too tall to count. In 1977, the Horns released Get up and Dance, their fourth album of their own work since 1970. Mixing funk, soul and disco, the Horns invited several guest vocalists to the sessions, including Deniece Williams, D.J. Rogers, Jim Gilstrap and Lani Groves, according to All-Music Guide. The album went to No. 32 on the R&B chart, and three singles from the album hit the R&B chart as well; the best-performing of them was “Just For Your Love,” which went to No. 17.

Afternote:
Having completed my project of the Ultimate Jukebox earlier this week, I wondered if anyone out there would be interested in having a list of the 228 records I wrote about. So I uploaded the Excel file I used to guide me through the project, with most of the entries also listing the YouTube links that I used to illustrate the selections (though some of those links may no longer be valid.) If anyone is interested, the spreadsheet is here.