Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Stills’

Chart Digging: Early June 1972

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

I was introduced to beerball in the spring of 1972. The concept was simple: Everyone in a group – in this case, the staffers at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student radio station – chipped in a minimal amount of money, and two or three drinking-age staffers headed to the liquor store. Those two or three staffers would then meet the rest of the crew at a softball diamond somewhere near campus, bringing with them a couple of cases of cheap beer. With teams somehow selected, softball play began, except everyone always had a bottle of beer at hand.

If you were at bat, you placed your bottle a short distance from home plate. If you got a hit or otherwise reached base, there was an automatic time out for you to go back to home plate, retrieve your beer and bring it with you onto the base paths. Fielders had their bottles nearby, and if a batted ball hit a beer bottle, it was an automatic out. And when a player in the field emptied his or her bottle before the inning was over, it was his or her right to call a timeout in order to come in to the cooler to get another beer to take back into the field.

The weekly games usually took place on Wednesday afternoon, beginning sometime after three o’clock or whenever enough of us could break away from classes and our duties at the radio station. They ended, if memory serves me, somewhere between seven and eight o’clock, when many of us would wobble downtown for something to eat. (And for those who, unlike me, were of legal drinking age in the spring of 1972, most likely more beer or related beverages: Wednesday night was party night in St. Cloud in the early 1970s, as early classes did not meet Thursday mornings.)

Sometimes, we drank Cold Spring, a beer brewed in the little town of that name just fifteen miles southwest of St. Cloud. The brewery still exists, now producing microbrews and beers for various other brewers; its best product is probably John Henry Three Lick Spiker Ale. Forty years ago, in the days before craft beers and before any of us had full-time paychecks, we drank the cheap stuff. And Cold Spring was cheap and not all that good.

Other times, we’d dig into a couple of cases of Buckhorn, a budget beer brewed – if I read Wikipedia correctly – by the folks who brewed Lone Star Beer in Texas. Buckhorn was bad beer, too. I knew that even then, but it was a perfectly good beer at the time to carry on the way from first to second base.

As we played beerball, we had music, of course. Sometimes we’d listen on a portable FM radio to whichever poor schmuck was stuck on air back at the KVSC studios and couldn’t get out to play beerball. More often than not, though, we had an AM radio tuned – most likely – to KDWB in the Twin Cities. And if – as seems likely – we played beerball forty years ago this week, we no doubt heard (and groaned at) a good share of the Billboard Top Ten:

“The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr.
“I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers
“Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
“Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
“Nice To Be With You” by Gallery
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack
“Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens
“Outa-Space/I Wrote A Simple Song” by Billy Preston
“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” by the 5th Dimension

I didn’t care for much of that Top Ten forty years ago, and time has not changed that. Out of those, there are only three that I’d enjoy hearing with any regularity: The Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites and the first of the two Billy Preston titles. And I can gladly go years without hearing “The Candy Man” ever again.

Luckily, there are some better things lower down in the Hot 100 from June 10, 1972, so let’s head that way.

When Stephen Stills released Manassas in the spring of 1972, it was a solo album with a stellar supporting cast (Chris Hillman, Dallas Taylor, Paul Harris, Fuzzy Samuels, Al Perkins and Joe Lala with cameos from Sidney George, Bill Wyman and Byron Berline). A year later, recording under the name of Manassas, the same group of musicians (with a few extra folks) released Down the Road. That always kind of confused me when I was a casual record buyer and didn’t really have any reference books to figure out stuff like that. Anyway, sitting at No. 62 forty years ago this week was “It Doesn’t Matter” from Manassas. A decent enough record, it would go one spot higher.

Just two spots further down, at No. 64, sits a great piece of power pop/boogie from the Raiders. “Powder Blue Mercedes Queen” was the Raiders’ third record to hit the Hot 100 since “Indian Reservation” went to No. 1 in early 1971. But like the previous two entrants, “PBMQ” would fall short of that rarified position, peaking at No. 54. Stylistically, it was a long way from the Raiders’ two country-rock-ish previous releases (“Birds of a Feather” and “Country Wine,” which went to Nos. 23 and 51 respectively). As good as it was, I imagine it didn’t sound the way folks expected the Raiders to sound.

According to the legend, Ringo Starr caught a performance by English singer-songwriter Chris Hodge and got him signed to Apple Records. Hodge’s website says, “Ringo and Chris shared a common interest in sci-fi and UFOs,” which led to Apple releasing Hodge’s trippy “We’re On Our Way” with its references to saucers and astral moonbeams. The record was sitting at No. 69 forty years ago this week, on its way to No. 44. It was the only release by Hodge to reach the chart.

Just a little further down, we find some early boogie by ZZ Top. The first charting single for the Texas trio, “Francene” was sitting at No. 77 and would eventually get to No. 69. As the Seventies moved along and turned into the Eighties, of course, ZZ Top became a fixture in the Top 40 with a couple of No. 8 hits (“Legs” in 1984 and “Sleeping Bag” in 1985). As for “Francene,” one of the commenters at YouTube noted the Rolling Stones-like cries of “Whee!” (or however one might spell it) in the last few moments. Not sure about anyone else, but they work for me.

Sitting at No. 83, we find what I think is one of Rod Stewart’s best vocal performances ever with “In A Broken Dream” from the Australian group Python Lee Jackson. The song was recorded in the 1960s, before Stewart became a star, according to Wikipedia: “Believing his vocals were not correct for the song, [songwriter and Python Lee Jackson member Dave] Bentley brought in Rod Stewart . . . as a session musician for the song.” Wikipedia goes on to note that Stewart was paid for the session with a new set of seat covers for his car. First released in 1970, the record did not make the charts. In 1972 (not coincidentally after Stewart was a star), the record went to No. 56 in the U.S. before becoming a No. 3 hit in the United Kingdom.

I’ve written about my admiration for Jackie DeShannon before, and I was hoping to share a video of her “Vanilla Ólay,” which was sitting at No. 99 forty years ago this week. But that’s not possible, says YouTube. A closer look at the copies I have of the Billboard Hot 100, however, shows that “Vanilla Ólay” was the A-Side of a double-sided single, with DeShannon’s cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” on the B-Side. That’s not the way Joel Whitburn has it listed in Top Pop Singles, but I’m going to give you “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” anyway. The single – however it was promoted – went to No. 76.

Chart Digging: Early August 1971

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

It was about this time forty years ago that I got my first television. I got it from my co-worker and pal Mike, with whom I was scrubbing and polishing floors at St. Cloud State. That wasn’t a bad gig. It was certainly better than the lawn-mowing assignment I’d had – and not done so well with – at the beginning of the summer.

I think Mike and I worked the standard daytime shift about half of the time we were together that summer, cleaning floors in classroom buildings. The rest of the time, when we were working on buildings that housed mostly offices, we’d work from four in the afternoon to about half-past midnight. Either way, it wasn’t a horribly difficult assignment: Clear a room of its furniture, use a mop to spread detergent on the floor and then clean the floor with the electric scrubber. Rinse-mop the floor, and then use a third mop to spread floor wax. Polish the dried floor wax with a soft pad on the scrubber.

There was a lot of down time: After the rinse and after spreading the wax, we had to wait for the floor to dry. In a classroom building, we might be working on two, maybe three classrooms at a time: Mike would scrub floors, and I’d rinse-mop behind him, then I would wax and he would polish. But even working as efficiently as possible, there would be times when we’d have to wait for drying floors. And we were young – I was seventeen and Mike was maybe twenty-two – and there was sometimes more chit-chat and laughter than efficiency.

Along the way, we became friends, for that summer and for the next few years. Mike was going to school part-time and I worked as a janitor a couple hours a day for the next year; our paths crossed frequently.

(During the fall of 1971, we ended up in the same basic African history course. I don’t know how he did in the class, but I failed it, not yet having any clue how to really study. A few years later, as I wandered along a corridor in Stewart Hall, where the history department had its offices, I met the professor whose class I’d failed. I greeted him, and he smiled back. “I don’t remember your name,” he said, “but I remember the face.” I reminded him who I was and told him I’d taken his basic course a while back. He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “You were kind of a bullshit artist, weren’t you?” I could only laugh and acknowledge that he was right.)

Anyway, Mike and I spent hours that summer waiting for floors and wax to dry, and among the things we ended up talking about was his new color television. He had an older one – black and white – that he was going to sell. He asked if I wanted it. I offered twenty bucks, and he took it. So one night as he took me home after our shift – I didn’t yet have a car, and Mike didn’t mind going a bit out of his way – we stopped at his place and picked up the television.

I put it in my room, and a few days later, my dad and I hooked the set up to the rooftop antenna. My television watching back then was mostly sports (some things never change, I guess), and I watched a lot of pro football on that set. But it also became a routine for me in the late evening to watch the local news and then the opening half-hour of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. I’d lie on my bed, propped up on pillows piled against the wall, and listen to Carson’s monologue and then watch his opening bit, usually a comedy routine using long-time sidekick Ed McMahon as his foil. If there were a musical guest I was interested in, I might stay up until just before midnight to catch that performance, but that was infrequent.

Given the omnipresence of media today – the house I’m in has two computers, four televisions, five CD players with radios, three clock radios, an iPod and two other mp3 players, for two people – I find it quaint that a black and white television provides some of my fondest memories. But it does. A couple years later, I spent a portion of a grey Danish Sunday feeling lost and homesick. So I started listing the little things I was missing about life back home. Third on the list was watching Johnny Carson on my TV.

Having a television didn’t mean I stopped listening to the radio, though. And almost all of the records in the Billboard Top Ten that came out during the first week of August 1971 are greatly familiar:

“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees
“Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” by the Raiders
“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor
“Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight
“Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King
“Beginnings/Colour My World” by Chicago
“What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin and John” by Tom Clay
“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye

Tom Clay’s entry is listed in Top Pop Singles as a spoken word piece; I’d call it a sound collage instead. It pulls together audio bits from the major events of the 1960s and lays them over a medley of the two songs listed in the title. I don’t know that I’d ever heard the piece until I went looking for it this morning. And that’s despite the fact that the KDWB 6+30 from forty years ago today has the record at No. 1. (Across the Twin Cities at WDGY, the Tom Clay single was not listed. I can only assume that it got little airplay on St. Cloud’s WJON, too.)

As interesting at Clay’s work might be, our business – as it almost always does – lies in the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100. We’ll start at the very bottom and work our way up.

The names of producers and occasional performers Terry Cashman (Dennis Minogue) and Tommy West (Tommy Picardo) – with and without the addition of Eugene Pistilli – pop up frequently on records of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Top Pop Singles lists nine singles by various combinations of the three that either reached the Hot 100 or bubbled under. The best performing of the records came from Cashman & West, whose “American City Suite” went to No. 27 in 1972. In the early days of August 1971, recording as Morning Mist, Cashman and West had “California On My Mind” on the charts. As of the August 7 chart, the record was at No. 100. It would peak at No. 96.

I’ve mentioned this at least once before, but it still baffles me that the Fifties revival group Sha Na Na was considered good enough and hip enough to perform at Woodstock in 1969. I dunno. Maybe I haven’t listened enough to the group, but I find myself not at all interested in finding even the group’s earliest albums. I guess if I want Fifties rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop, I’ll go to the originals. One of the oddest items in the group’s catalog, though, has to be “Top Forty (Of The Lord),” which was sitting at No. 90 during the first week of August 1971. A country-ish encouragement of the Christian good life with a radio-friendly hook, the record would peak at No. 84.

John Kongos’ record “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” is another tune that I’d never heard until this morning, and I regret that very much. I’m not entirely sure what the song is about, but its dense, complex sound had to have been unlike most anything else in the charts forty years ago, when it was at No. 70. The only Hot 100 hit for the South African singer/songwriter (“Tokoloshe Man” bubbled under at No. 111 in 1972), it went no higher on the charts. Wikipedia notes that Kongos’ record has been “cited by the Guinness Book of Records as being the first ever song to have used a sample.” The entry goes on to note, however, that “according to the sleeve note of the CD reissue of the Kongos album, it is actually a tape loop of African drumming; and the use of tape loops and instruments using prerecorded samples such as the Mellotron and Optigan were well established by this time.”

Some time ago, when I listed the albums I turn to on bad days, I included Stephen Stills’ self-titled first album, a record I still play frequently. His second, imaginatively called Stephen Stills 2, had much the same sound and – I think – quality of performance, but I’ve never found myself turning to it as much as I do the first. Seeing Stills’ “Change Partners” sitting at No. 67 in the Hot 100 from forty years ago this week – it had earlier peaked at No. 43 – reminds me that I should reacquaint myself with that second album and see if it needs to be placed in a more frequent rotation.

During the summer of 1971, I would hear Bobby Russell’s “Saturday Morning Confusion” coming from the radio speakers and smile at the depiction of suburban domestic chaos. I don’t know that I ever caught the subtext that the narrating dad had tipped a couple too many on the way home from work the evening before and was paying for it with a hangover headache on the Saturday morning in question. It doesn’t matter, I guess. The record, which was at No. 60 and would peak at No. 28 (No. 24 on the country chart), remains an affectionate look at one slice of American life ca. 1971.

One more record that rings no bells from the summer of 1971 is the deliriously fun “Resurrection Shuffle” from British pop trio Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. I know I listened to radio when I was at home, and some of that had to be on KDWB from the Twin Cities. I listened to WJON at night, after KDWB’s signal had been powered down (jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ provided a primer the other day on powering down and related topics), but KDWB was almost certainly my daytime choice. How is it, then, that I do not recall “Resurrection Shuffle,” which went to No. 40 nationwide but was at No. 13 on KDWB’s chart forty years ago today? Well, it doesn’t matter. I know the record now. Here’s Ashton, Gardner & Dyke performing the tune on the British television show Top of the Pops, a show I’d gladly have watched on my new used television.