Posts Tagged ‘ZZ Top’

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: September 10, 1983

Friday, September 10th, 2010

By the time the first third of September 1983 had passed, I had settled into a routine as a graduate student at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. I was living in a mobile home on the south edge of the city of Columbia, and early each weekday morning, I’d make my way to the north end of the nearby university campus, where I’d spend half the day in class and studying and half the day working as the arts and entertainment editor of the Columbia Missourian, a daily newspaper published by the School of Journalism and staffed by its faculty members and students.

Arriving early on campus on weekdays provided two benefits: I was able to find a parking place not far from the J-School, and I had time to start my day with a plate of biscuits and gravy at the Old Heidelberg, one of the long-time fixtures of the area around the J-School. Along with the biscuits and gravy, I also devoured the Missourian and the morning papers from Kansas City and St. Louis.

I was generally one of the few people in the Old Heidelberg early in the morning – the place would be jammed by noon – and as I read, I had no trouble hearing the current Top 40 coming from the speakers built into the ceiling. I didn’t necessarily care for everything I heard, but being back in a campus environment for the first time in six years and socializing with other students – most of whom were several years younger than I was – had made me more aware of Top 40 tunes than I had been in a while. And I did like a lot of what I heard.

Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from September 10, 1983:

“Maniac” by Michael Sembello
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” by the Eurythmics
“The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats
“Puttin’ On The Ritz” by Taco
“Tell Her About It” by Billy Joel
“Every Breath You Take” by the Police
“She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler
“Human Nature” by Michael Jackson
“I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” by Culture Club

That’s not a bad Top Ten at all. At least, it looks pretty good from a distance of twenty-seven years. I can do without “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” but otherwise, it’s a decent set of music that’s pretty representative of its era. And, as usual, there were some interesting things a bit lower down in the pop chart.

One of my favorite songs that during that first semester of graduate school was the Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer.” It sat at No. 44 the second week of September and would eventually peak at No. 9 during the third week of November. (The record would spend two weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.) The video’s a little cheesy, but the record is still fine, and I still do love Martha Davis’ voice.

And as long as we’re talking about cheesy videos featuring women singers with good voices, here is what I think is the official video for “I Can’t Shake Loose” by Agnetha Fältskog, who had been one of the A’s in ABBA. The record, which was at No. 56 on September 10, 1983, would peak at No. 29 in early November. It’s notable that the record was Fältskog’s only solo hit, and it was the sixteenth and final appearance in the Top 40 – through 2003, anyway – for ABBA and its two women singers. (The group had fourteen hits from 1974 through 1982, and Frida had one earlier in 1983.)

Sitting at No. 68 for the second week after peaking at No. 62 during the last week of August, we find “Words” by F. R. David, a Tunisian-born and Paris-based singer/songwriter. “Words,” according to All-Music Guide, was a “1982 monster hit . . . that topped the charts in a dozen European countries and even peaked at number two in Great Britain.”

Sometime during that first semester of graduate school, I was invited to a party at the home of some other Minnesotans who were grad students in photojournalism at the J-School. It was a pleasant evening, made memorable because the TV in the corner was on and I got my first look at MTV. The first video I saw was for Billy Joel’s “Uptown Man,” and later in the evening, I checked out “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top. The single had peaked at No. 56 during the last week of August (and at No. 8 on the Mainstream Rock chart), and was at No. 74 when the September 10 chart came out. I still like the video.

Not far below ZZ Top in the Billboard Hot 100 for that September week, at No. 80, we find Jim Capaldi, formerly the drummer for Traffic. His single “Living On The Edge” would peak at No. 75 for the next two weeks and then fall off the chart entirely. Earlier in the year, Capaldi’s single “That’s Love” had gone to No. 28, giving him his only Top 40 hit. Both singles came from his Fierce Heart album. Here’s the official video for “Living On The Edge.”

Just under the Hot 100 for that September week twenty-seven years ago sat “Party Train” by the Gap Band, lodged at No. 102. The record sat there for three weeks and then fell off the chart entirely. But “Party Train” did far better on a couple of other Billboard charts, getting to No. 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and Tracks chart and peaking at No. 3 on the R&B chart. The same is true for the rest of the band’s catalog: The Gap Band had two Top 40 hits, “Early In The Morning” and “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” both in 1982. But the group had nearly thirty singles hit various other charts – most often the R&B and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and Tracks charts – from 1979 through 1995. Here’s the wonderfully cheesy video for “Party Train.”

And that does it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a Saturday Single.

‘I’m Shinin’ Like A New Dime’

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

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 [1966]
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy 625 [1969]
“Hallelujah” by Sweathog, Columbia 45492 [1971]
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, London 203 [1974]
“Take It To The Limit” by the Eagles, Asylum 45293 [1976]
“Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart, Warner Bros. 22685 [1988]

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!

Have mercy.
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.
A-hmm, hmm.
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:

Thirty Years Ago At The Fish Fry

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

One of the classic small-town fund-raisers is the fish fry. During the years I lived in Monticello, we’d occasionally make our way to the American Legion club at the west edge of town and join our friends and neighbors at long tables. The menu was always deep-fried fish – probably haddock – with french fries and cole slaw.

We’d nibble on our dinners, sip coffee and chat with whoever ended up sitting nearby. Occasionally, I’d field questions or complaints about something the newspaper had published that week. Otherwise, we’d maybe talk about the city’s plans to redevelop downtown, the upcoming school board election or the prospects for the high school’s teams – still called, amazingly enough, the Redmen – in the coming winter tournaments.

But as we sat at the tables for the Rotary Club’s annual fish fry thirty years ago this evening, we talked about none of that. All anybody wanted to talk about was a bunch of college kids, kids with names like Broten, Johnson and Eruzione; Callahan, Craig and Pavelich; Morrow, Verchota and Suter and eleven more. And we talked about Herb Brooks, the hockey coach who’d molded those twenty American college kids into a hockey team that had defeated the legendary team from the Soviet Union 4 to 3 in an Olympic medal-round game late that afternoon.

I’ve never asked anyone, but I’ve always wondered how sparse the crowd was for the first hour or so of the fish fry that evening. The hockey game began at four o’clock Central Time – officials for the ABC network, which was broadcasting the Olympics from Lake Placid, N.Y., tried to have the game switched to seven o’clock, but Soviet officials refused – and was likely over a little after six o’clock. That’s when we – my wife of the time and I – made our way to the Legion club for dinner, as I’d been listening to the game on a distant radio station, struggling to make sense of the play-by-play through a forest of static.

I imagine that many others had done the same, as it seems in memory that we were among a large group of diners who showed up about the same time. Those already dining were already talking about hockey or related topics, like why ABC – which planned to air a tape of the game that evening – didn’t show the game live at four o’clock. And there were grumbles at the Soviet officials who refused to allow the game to be moved from late afternoon to the evening. (Wikipedia notes that such a shift would have meant a four a.m. start for the game in Moscow.)

But most of the time, it seems – in the soft light of a memory thirty years old – we were shaking our heads and marveling at what those twenty American kids and their coaches had done that afternoon. After all, the Soviet team had won five of the six gold medals in hockey since 1956 (with the U.S. winning in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif.). Since those 1960 games, the Soviets had gone 32-1-1 over the next four Olympic tournaments and the preliminary round at Lake Placid. Games between the Soviet teams and the professionals of the National Hockey League had started in 1972, and during the two most recent series, the Soviets were 7-4-1 against the NHL’s best. In addition, in the last exhibition game for the U.S. Olympic team before the competition at Lake Placid, the Soviets had defeated the U.S. team in New York City by a 10-3 score.

So I don’t recall talking to anyone during the preceding days who thought that the U.S. boys – who’d won four and tied one of their preliminary round games – could beat the Soviets. Watching the five earlier games had cued us – hockey fans and those who were only vaguely familiar with the sport alike – that the U.S. team might be something special. And it was, advancing to the medal round with what seemed like a good chance for silver or at least bronze.

But those American kids surprised everyone, including the experts in the sporting world who’d conceded the gold medal to the Soviet team from the start, the delirious crowd in the Lake Placid arena that afternoon, and those of us all across the country who would sit in their living rooms and watch the taped game that evening. The kids probably even surprised their own coach, Herb Brooks. And there’s no doubt that they surprised the supremely talented members of the Soviet Union’s Olympic hockey team.

There were overtones to the hockey game, of course: The general sense of unease in the U.S. at the time and the international rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union – heightened by the Soviets’ 1979 invasion of Afghanistan – all made the U.S team’s victory a template for something more than a hockey game. But even as only a hockey game, it was enough. And that’s what we chewed on that evening at the Rotary fish fry, thirty years ago tonight.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 23, 1980)
“Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson [No. 4]
“Sara” by Fleetwood Mac [No. 10]
“Fool In The Rain” by Led Zeppelin [No. 21]
“I Thank You” by ZZ Top [No. 42]
“Lost Her In The Sun” by John Stewart [No. 77] (Download)
“Stomp!” by the Brothers Johnson [No. 103]

These five videos and one download can all stand on their own except for noting two things: First, the original poster of “Sara” at YouTube unaccountably calls Stevie Nicks “Sara.” Second, the version of “Lost Her In The Sun” offered is the album track from Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies, not the single edit. Tomorrow or Wednesday we’ll dig into the Ultimate Jukebox.

What A Weekend!
I should note that the Texas Gal and I had a wonderful weekend visiting jb of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and The Mrs. in Madison, Wisconsin. Billed loosely as Blog Summit & Beer Spree III, the weekend included a men’s hockey game between the University of Wisconsin and St. Cloud State, some remarkably good meals and very good brews, as well as tours of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison and Middleton’s own Capital Brewery and its National Mustard Museum. Thanks for the fun and friendship!