As often as I’ve messed around over the past six years with Billboard Hot 100 charts from one week or another, and as often as I’ve looked for cover versions of familiar records, I’ve never taken the time to look at one specific Hot 100 for cover versions. So I don’t know if the Hot 100 from June 20, 1970 – forty-three years ago today – was typical or atypical.
I do know that it was a mother lode for those seeking covers of familiar records.
The riches begin at No. 25, where we find “It’s All In The Game” by the Four Tops. It’s a cover of the song that was No. 1 for Tommy Edwards in 1958 and that’s also charted for Cliff Richard (No. 25, 1964) and Isaac Hayes (No. 80, 1980) and bubbled under for Jackie DeShannon (No. 110, 1967). It’s also the only hit ever written by a vice-president of the United States, as it uses a tune that was called “Melody in A Major” when it was written in 1912 by Charles Gates Dawes, who later served as vice-president from 1925 to 1929. The Tops’ version of “It’s All In The Game” peaked at No. 24.
From there, we head to No. 28, where Wilson Pickett’s two-sided entry “Sugar, Sugar/ Cole, Cooke & Redding” sat on its way to No. 25. The B-side is a tribute to Nat “King” Cole, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but it’s “Sugar, Sugar” on the A-side that matters today, as it’s Pickett’s cover of the Archies’ hit – No. 1 for four weeks – from 1969.
Earlier in 1970, Brook Benton had a No. 4 hit with “A Rainy Night In Georgia” and had followed that up with a cover of Frank Sinatra’s No. 27 hit from 1969, “My Way,” which stalled at No. 72. Benton’s next single came from the catalog of a fellow Southerner, as he turned to “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South. The original version of the tune, credited to Joe South & The Believers, had gone to No. 41 in 1969; Benton’s version would peak at No. 45.
Maybe Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” didn’t carry in 1970 the mythic weight it seems to have today, or maybe that weight is just something I perceive because “Into The Mystic” is a song that is dear to both the Texas Gal and me, but it seems to me that it took a lot of guts for Johnny Rivers to cover Morrison’s tune so soon after Morrison released it on Moondance in February 1970. Rivers’ version of the classic tune – the only version ever to hit the Hot 100 – was at No. 58 forty years ago today, having peaked earlier at No. 51. As the tune played this morning, I took a look at the credits for Rivers’ Slim Slo Slider, the album that includes “Into The Mystic,” and I learned that the gorgeous saxophone solo comes from Jim Horn, the piano work is from the late Larry Knechtel, and the drum work is from either Hal Blaine or Ronnie Tutt. I’d bet on Blaine.
According to the website Second Hand Songs, Neil Young released his single of “Cinnamon Girl” in April 1969, just ahead of the May release of the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but the single didn’t enter the Hot 100 until more than a year later. It entered the chart forty-three years ago today, starting out at No. 95. Its presence on the chart was spurred, I would imagine, by the fact that the Gentrys’ very similar cover of “Cinnamon Girl” was in its tenth week on the chart, sitting at No. 63 after peaking at No. 52. Young’s version of the song didn’t do quite as well, peaking at No. 55.
The gorgeous song “Maybe” first showed up on the charts in 1958, when the Chantels’ version went to No. 15. Since that time, charting (or near-charting) versions had come from the Shangri-Las (No. 91, 1965), the Chantels (No. 116 with a 1969 re-release on a new label) and Janis Joplin (No. 110 in 1970). Next came the Three Degrees, adding a spoken soap opera introduction to “Maybe” that – from the vantage point of more than forty years – doesn’t seem to work. Listeners back then seemed to like it, though; the record, which was sitting at No. 69 on June 20, eventually peaked at No. 29.
Well, that’s six, and that’s more enough for today. But I could go on for a while yet, as that chart from June 20, 1970, also included Merry Clayton’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Peggy Lipton’s take on Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” Rare Earth’s cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” the Assembled Multitude’s version of the Who’s “Overture from ‘Tommy’,” Paul Davis’ cover of the Jarmels’ “A Little Bit of Soap,” Ike & Tina Turner & The Ikettes’ take on Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” Vic Dana’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine,” Johnny Taylor’s cover of Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away,” the Satisfactions’ version of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” and Miguel Rios’ reworking of the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 into “A Song of Joy.” And I probably missed some.
While I was wandering around YouTube this morning, cataloging tunes from early 1972, I ran across a juxtaposition – an original track and a cover – that I found fascinating. Others have no doubt discovered the pairing long ago, but that’s okay: I find it enlivening (if occasionally humbling) that I still have so much to learn about the music I love.
As I happen to think about these two particular tracks, however, it’s really not surprising that I’d not come across them earlier: One is the title track to an album by a group I’d only known through one single from late 1970, and the other was a minor Top 40 hit during my freshman year of college, a time when I was slowly moving away from Top 40 toward album rock.
The song is “Fire and Water,” which was the title track of a 1970 album by Free, the British band best known for the classic “All Right Now,” which went to No. 4, also in 1970. Free’s take on “Fire and Water” – written by the group’s Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers – is very much of its time and is pretty typical of the blues-based band’s power-chord approach. It got my head bobbing as I sat here writing.
I should note that I’m a little chagrined to acknowledge that I’d not heard Free’s take on “Fire and Water” before today, but Free’s audacious boogie was not a style I gave much attention. When “All Right Now” was getting airplay in late 1970, I was still catching up with the Beatles and the Guess Who. A little more than a year later, when another version of “Fire and Water” got some attention, I was spending my time trying to catch up with Bob Dylan and the Doors. So I never dug too deeply into Free’s music (although “All Right Now” did end up on 2010’s Ultimate Jukebox).
That second version of “Fire and Water” – the one I heard first – is one I found this morning through the Billboard Hot 100 for January 15, 1972, forty years ago this week. There, sitting at No. 37, was Wilson Pickett’s cover of “Fire and Water,” which was pulled from Pickett’s 1971 album Don’t Knock My Love.
Having listened to the two versions several times this morning, I still have no clue how Pickett managed to hear the R&B record sitting inside Free’s crunchy chords. But Pickett confounded me – and others, I assume – with other intriguing covers over the years, most notably his unlikely take on the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (after some encouragement from Duane Allman, or so the story goes) and his even more unlikely version of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come.”
From what I can tell, there aren’t many other covers of “Fire and Water.” A glance at All-Music Guide and at the website Secondhandsongs finds listings for versions by Far Corporation, Joe Lynn Turner, Great White, Pat Travers, Joe Moss, Michael Burks and a few more. I’ve listened to some of those and not found anything nearly as intriguing as Pickett’s version. And it’s worth noting that when Pickett’s cover of “Fire and Water” peaked at No. 24 in early 1972, it was the last of his sixteen Top 40 hits. (The record also hit the R&B Top 40, spending two weeks at No. 2 on that chart.)
As the winter of 1971-72 was thinking about loosening its grip, right about this time thirty-nine years ago, I spent the second of two weekends visiting friends in Stearns Hall, one of the men’s dorms at St. Cloud State.
I was staying with a couple of guys I knew, the guys who were the foundation of my social life on campus for a good chunk of that freshman year. I’d met them late the previous summer, when we’d occupied adjacent rooms during an overnight campus orientation for incoming freshmen. Living no more than a mile from the campus, I really didn’t need the overnight accommodations for the orientation, but I signed up anyway, hoping to meet some people.
And I did. Rick from Wyoming, Minnesota, and Dave from (I think) St. Paul were good guys, and through them, during the school year, I met others, guys and gals both. We all ate lunch together almost every day. We spent good chunks of a couple evenings a week and most weekends together. And twice during the year, I packed a small suitcase and rolled up a sleeping bag on a Friday afternoon and stayed on campus for the weekend.
During the first weekend, which took place in October, I think, we’d spent Friday evening (and early Saturday morning) at one of St. Cloud’s nearly countless keggers, sipping foamy beer from plastic cups. The party was on the northwest end of town, some distance from campus. I recall riding in the back seat in the early morning with one of the other guys driving vaguely and amid much laughter in the general direction of the college, which we eventually found. (From the perspective of almost forty years, that drive was, of course, chillingly unwise and unsafe, but that didn’t deter us.)
After whiling away Saturday’s daytime – spent hanging around with other dorm friends, shooting hoops on the parking lot, visiting a downtown record store or two and buying snacks at the nearby grocery store – we again found a party on Saturday night, this one close to campus, so our drunken post-party trip back to the dorm was shorter and on foot. On Sunday, sometime after lunch, I went home.
As I planned my February stay with the guys, I expected the weekend to be similar. It was and it wasn’t, but two things make that second weekend I spent on campus stand out:
First, somehow – and the details were cloudy then and are even more so after nearly forty years – Rick from Kilian Boulevard joined us in our Saturday evening partying. That was fine with my on-campus pals; they’d met Rick during visits to the East Side, so he came along as we found a party or two close to campus for the evening and then made our ways back to the dorm sometime after midnight.
Second, while chatting earlier that week with a secretary in Headley Hall – one of the buildings where I’d scrubbed and polished floors the summer before – I’d been introduced to a young woman who was a student worker there. Near the bookstore Friday morning, I ran into the same young woman. In the course of our conversation, I asked her if she wanted to hang around with us on Friday evening. She did so, and we got along well, which led to me spending a couple of hours with her on Sunday. That pairing didn’t last long, but its beginnings made the on-campus weekend more memorable yet.
There were no more on-campus weekends for me that year, but I continued to spend a lot of my free time with Dave and Wyoming Rick until the academic year ended and they went home for the summer. By fall, however, I found myself moving in other directions and spending time with other people.
So it’s likely very normal that I’ve lost touch over the years with the folks from my freshman year of college. The college friends I still know come from three sources: The Table in Atwood, my Denmark group, or my fellow mass communications students. I do know where a couple of those first-year friends are: One of the women – Dave’s girlfriend for a good chunk of that freshman year – teaches in the same school district as my sister. And Dave is a writer based in Colorado, and has done some teaching. But beyond some perfunctory emails – “Yeah, life is fine and didn’t we have a good time back then?” – they’re gone from my life and I’m gone from theirs.
Their entrances and exits mattered, though: I recall the months before I met the Texas Gal in early 2000. During the summer of 1999, I was in a romance, the first I’d had in about ten years. It didn’t last long as a romance – a friendship still exists – and eleven years ago this week, the Texas Gal and I met. I believe that the summer pairing that didn’t last – as painful as that was – prepared me for the one that did last. In other words, as well as being enriching and difficult and fun and all the other stuff, that first romance in years helped make me ready for the Texas Gal.
And I think the same thing holds true about those friendships from my freshmen year, when all of us, I think, were trying to find out where we fit in. Even though none of those friendships has lasted, they did their work: In the years that followed, I found the places that Wyoming Rick and Dave and the others had helped me look for during that first year.
Part of that looking involved music, of course. It was Dave who introduced me to the Doors’ The Soft Parade and the long version of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” two of his favorites. When records weren’t turning during our gatherings, the radio was on. And I know that I heard at least one of the records in the Billboard Top Ten from February 19, 1972 during those quiet Sunday hours I spent with my new young ladyfriend:
“Without You” by Nilsson
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Hurting Each Other” by the Carpenters
“Precious and Few” by Climax
“Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night
“Down by the Lazy River” by the Osmonds
“American Pie (Parts 1 and 2)” by Don McLean
“Joy” by Apollo 100
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John
“Everything I Own” by Bread
That’s not a very distinctive Top Ten. The Nilsson, the Al Green and “American Pie” are welcome any time. Other than that, there’s nothing that I either really like or really dislike today although I was not fond of “Down by the Lazy River” at the time. I did hear “Precious and Few” far more often than necessary back then as Dave and his ladyfriend had tagged it as their song.
One record I didn’t hear enough back then – I’m not sure I heard it at all – is Wilson Pickett’s R&B version of “Fire and Water,” the title tune to Free’s 1970 album. Pickett’s brilliant reimagining of the tune (Free’s version is here) was sitting at No. 24 – its peak position in the Billboard Hot 100 – thirty-nine years ago this week. On the R&B chart, Pickett’s cover version spent two weeks at No. 2.
In 1970, Paul Revere and the Raiders had dropped Revere’s name to become simply the Raiders, and in 1971, they’d scored a No. 1 hit with “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian Reservation)” and reached No. 23 with “Birds of a Feather.” Their next appearance in the Hot 100 came from “Country Wine,” a pretty decent record that brings back memories of Boone’s Farm wine shared with those freshman year friends. (Hey, we were young and poor and knew no better!) The record was at No. 51 this week in 1972 and would go no higher.
Dropping a little bit further, we find a striking bit of vocal R&B at No. 64: “Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)” by the Persuaders. The record was the second by the Harlem group to hit the Hot 100; the classic “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” had gone to No. 15 in 1971 and had spent two weeks on top of the R&B chart. “Love Gonna Pack Up . . .” didn’t do quite as well, peaking at No. 64 on the pop chart and making it to No. 8 on the R&B chart. But it’s just as atmospheric as “Thin Line . . .” and maybe more interesting, at least to me, for not having been heard as much over the years.
The Grass Roots’ “Glory Bound” doesn’t wander far away from the sound that had brought the band – staffed by a changing group of players behind singer Rob Grill – a total of eighteen Hot 100 hits through 1971. Well, maybe the piano is a bit more prominent than usual, but once the record gets going, the sound is familiar. And that sound worked again, to a degree, as “Glory Bound,” which was at No. 72 during this week in 1972, eventually made it to No. 34. It’s a good record, which I’m not sure I would have said back then, being pulled toward more “serious” rock music by the people I knew at the campus radio station. (The Grass Roots would have three more hits in the Hot 100, with one of them – “The Runaway” from later in 1972 – barely reaching the Top 40 and peaking at No. 39.)
The Fabulous Counts were a funk band from Detroit, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and they hit the Hot 100 in the spring of 1970 with “Get Down People,” which went to No. 88 on the pop chart and to No. 32 on the R&B chart. In early 1972, the group was back in the Hot 100 but had changed its name to Lunar Funk. The group’s single “Mr. Penguin, Pt. 1” was a funky instrumental with brief spoken interjections by the titular Mr. Penguin. The record was at No. 82 during the third week of February 1972 and would peak at No. 63. It was the last hit for the group under any name.
Terry Black was a Canadian singer who (barely) hit the charts in 1964 at the age of fifteen: “Unless You Care” reached No. 99. More than seven years later, he and his wife, Laurel Ward, got almost halfway up the Hot 100, reaching No. 57 with “Goin’ Down (On the Road to L.A.).” During the third week of February, the record was in the second week of its climb and was sitting at No. 87. There’s nothing remarkable about the record, but it’s got a decent hook and decent production, and it sounds like a lot of other stuff from the time. (The record was also released in Canada, but I don’t know how well it did there.)
By the time 1989 rolled around, a casual fan might have thought – hell, I did think – that even though he was still recording, the creative portion of Rod Stewart’s career was done, leaving behind four superb albums and a lot of work that was both difficult and painful to listen to. As brilliant as his work with Faces had been, his early solo work was better, with The Rod Stewart Album, Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment following one after the other during the years from 1969 through 1972.
And there were some hits in those albums: “Maggie May” was inescapable during the autumn of 1971, perching at No. 1 for five weeks. That was undoubtedly Stewart’s biggest hit, but there were others, as measured by making the Billboard Hot 100: “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (credited to Rod Stewart & Faces), “You Wear It Well,” a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Angel,” “Cut Across Shorty,” “Reason To Believe” and “Twisting the Night Away.” And all of them were good listening.
And then, for me, Rod Stewart disappeared and some artless lookalike with a similar voice and horrible taste took his place. There are those who will argue the merits of the Tom Dowd-produced pair of Atlantic Crossing and Night on the Town, but I found both albums too slick by far, and with the puzzling success of the latter’s hit single, “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)” – it spent the last seven weeks of 1976 and the first week of 1977 at No. 1 – I bailed on Rod Stewart for the rest of the 1970s and nearly all of the 1980s, never seeking out his music, wincing when I saw him perform on television and hitting the buttons on the car radio to change stations whenever I heard his voice coming from the speakers.
And then, one evening in late 1989, as I sat reading with the radio in the corner playing low, I heard an immediately haunting introduction of woodwinds and strings over piano. I stopped reading, and then Rod Stewart sang: “Outside, another yellow moon has punched a hole in the night time mist. I climb through the window and down to the street. I’m shinin’ like a new dime.”
The record blew me away, and I spent several fruitless weeks trying to find it on vinyl. It was, of course, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train,” and Stewart’s savvy reading of the tune was the best thing he’d done in about seventeen years. (He’d had nineteen Top 40 hits in the intervening years, when I was paying no attention.) Others seemed to like the record as well: It reached No. 3 in the Top 40, and went to No. 1 for one week on the Adult Contemporary chart and for two weeks on the Mainstream Rock chart. And in doing so, it fulfilled its commercial purpose, which was to draw attention to the release of Stewart’s sixty-four song Storyteller anthology, released in December of 1989.
From there, of course, Stewart continued to release albums and have hits, none of which grabbed me too much, and after the turn of the century, he devoted much of his effort to four albums of songs from what he calls “The Great American Songbook,” covering tunes like “Someone To Watch Over Me” and “Thanks for the Memory.” He’s also released one album covering classic rock songs. For my purposes, he’s become irrelevant again. But I can still listen to those four great albums from long ago and to that one incandescent single from 1989 that reminded me how great Rod Stewart could be.
A note: My pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’recommended in a post this week the 1985 collaboration between Stewart and Jeff Beck on the Impressions’ 1965 hit “People Get Ready.” The track, from Beck’s album, Flash, reached No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Being disconnected from a lot of stuff – including music – in 1985, I missed it. Go watch the video at jb’s place and you’ll know why I wish I hadn’t. Great find, jb!
A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 25
“Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic 2365 
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 
“Hallelujah” by Sweathog, Columbia 45492 
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 
“Take It To The Limit” by the Eagles, Asylum 45293 
“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. 22685 
Is “Mustang Sally” the quintessential Wilson Pickett hit? It’s a tough question to ask about a performer who had thirty-two records in the Billboard Hot 100 – sixteen of them in the Top 40 – between 1965 and 1972, as well as thirty-six hits on the R&B chart, a run that ended in 1987. I suppose one could choose between the two Top Ten hits – “Land Of 1000 Dances” went to No. 6 in 1966 and “Funky Broadway went to No. 8 a year later – but there’s something about the insistent beat underneath “Mustang Sally” that continues to pull me in, almost forty-four years after Pickett covered Sir Mac Rice’s 1965 hit. (Rice’s version went to No. 15 on the R&B chart.) And once the beat pulls me in, the rest of it – the sax honking underneath, the organ dancing above, the horn accents, Pickett’s gritty vocal, and above all the story of Sally who just wants to ride – gets me bobbing my head for a good chunk of the day.
“Green River” wasn’t the first Top Ten hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising” predated “Green River by six and three months, respectively – but it should have been. I’ve always heard “Green River” as the band’s statement of purpose, telling its listeners that even in the confused and shattered times of 1969, there was a place where things remained as they should:
Old Cody Junior took me over,
Said, “You’re gonna find the world is smold’rin’.
And if you get lost, come on home to Green River.
John Fogerty’s memories of bullfrogs, dragonflies and a barefoot girl dancin’ in the moonlight went to No. 2 for one week in September 1969.
I’ve written about Sweathog and “Hallelujah” a couple of times before, once calling the band kind of a Steppenwolf Light, and then wondering later if that was fair. I’m still not sure if that assessment is fair or not, but I can say this, for whatever conclusions it might inspire: There are no records by Steppenwolf in the Ultimate Jukebox, and Sweathog’s lone hit – it topped out at No. 33 during the last week of 1971 – is here. From the clanking introduction with its gospel piano and percussion through the workmanlike vocal and jubilant choruses, Sweathog’s single hit is fun. It doesn’t tap any major memories; it’s more of a dimly recalled artifact that it would have been nice to hear more often long ago. And that’s reason enough for it to be here.
La Grange, Texas, is a burg of less than five thousand folks lying about midway between Austin and Houston, and I would imagine that, like its not-too-distant cousin of China Grove, La Grange has had its share of visitors coming to town over the past thirty-some years with their car stereos blasting as they cross the city limits. The song, of course, would be ZZ Top’s superb boogie with indistinct lyrics, “La Grange.” Since I’ve never understood the lyrics to the song, and the LP The Best of ZZ Top doesn’t have a lyric sheet, I thought I’d clarify things for myself and perhaps provide a public service for others by putting the lyrics in this post. I found the lyrics at sing365.com, and I’ve made a revision or three based on my own listening this morning:
Rumor spreadin’ ’round in that Texas town
’Bout that shack outside La Grange.
(And you know what I’m talkin’ about.)
Just let me know if you wanna go
To that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls, ah!
A-heh, how, how, how. A-heh!
A-how, how, how.
Well, I hear it’s fine if you got the time
And the ten to get yourself in.
And I hear it’s tight most ev’ry night,
But now I might be mistaken.
Hmm, hmm, hmm.
“La Grange” just missed being ZZ Top’s first Top 40 hit, peaking at No. 41 during the last week of June 1974; the band’s string of eight Top 40 hits began during the summer of 1975 with “Tush,” which went to No. 20.
“Take It To The Limit” is the only record by the Eagles to make my final two-hundred and twenty-eight. Now, I enjoy the Eagles’ music just fine when it pops up on random. But back then, during the years from 1972 through 1981 when the band had sixteen Top 40 singles, I could take the Eagles or leave them. And although I enjoyed most of the singles when they came my way, I never sought the group’s music out. I didn’t add any Eagles LPs to the shelves until 1988, when I picked up Their Greatest Hits; I’ve added a few others since then. This is not to knock the group, but the music of Glenn Frey, Don Henley et al. almost never grabbed me. So why “Take It To The Limit,” which went to No. 4 in early 1976? Because more than a decade later, the song surfaced in my life as a talisman, encouraging me do everything I could to make some major and necessary changes. And that makes the song good for a smile: