Chart Digging: Love Songs

It’s Valentine’s Day today, so I thought I’d resurrect something I came across while I was posting some archival stuff the other week. It ran here three years ago today:

It being Valentine’s Day today, Blogworld is filled with love songs.

And that’s okay. If there’s one thing that should be celebrated more often, it’s love. And I can’t think of a more appropriate day to do so than today.

But what is there to say that hasn’t been said already, here and in a thousand thousand other places? Well, I think we can say that love – like the songs we write about it – is really about hope, promises, fear, joy, sorrow, yearning, bliss, despair, isolation, companionship, contentment and finally, peace.

I’ve heard it said – heck, I may have said so myself at one time or another, as many times as I’ve taken a climb on this Matterhorn of a topic – that we don’t really choose who we love. We just love, and we recognize the objects of our love when they enter our lives. The choices we make then are: first, whether to acknowledge the love, and second, how to express it. Those choices determine which of the feelings in the above list – hope, promises and so on – will embrace the two lovers.

Sometimes we choose badly. Most of the time, we hope, we don’t. And when one chooses well, when one acknowledges and expresses love in ways that nurture both souls, then the worst things on that list – isolation and despair – can be minimized, if not entirely avoided. What about fear and sorrow? Well, no person who loves another can avoid them. That’s not cynicism talking, that’s – to quote Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield by way of Marvin Gaye – the way love is. Fear and sorrow are the B-Side of hope and joy, and souls who love each other fear the inevitable parting and the resulting sorrow that comes even to those who have loved well and long.

I’d almost presume to say that if we do not grieve at a loved one’s leave-taking, we have not loved.

So, am I some kind of expert on love, to be throwing epigrams and lists of words around this morning? No, I’m just another pilgrim, one who has at times loved less than wisely and now – I believe – has learned to love well. These words are a description of my life, not a prescription for others. The only advice I would have for others on this day when we celebrate love is something someone told me long ago: Embrace love, wherever you find it.

Beyond that, all we need is a song.

One song would do, but I’ll offer a few more than that today. I thought I would dig into a number of Billboard Hot 100 charts for various February 14ths and find records in the lower reaches of those charts with “love” in their titles. We’ll start our digging in 1976 and go back a few years at a time.

The sound of “Love Fire” by Jigsaw – sitting at No. 79 on February 14, 1976 – was familiar to anyone who had heard the band’s No. 2 hit, “Sky High,” the autumn before. This time, however, the band was singing this time about love that was soaring rather than having been blown apart. Still, the twanging and booming introduction didn’t spark another Top Ten hit: “Love Fire” peaked at No. 30.

The Whispers were a Los Angeles soul group that notched twenty-one records in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1990; a few of those made the Top 40, and one – 1987’s “Rock Steady – went to No. 7. (During the same general time period, the Whispers had fifteen records reach the R&B Top Ten, with “Rock Steady” and 1980’s “And The Beat Goes On” both reaching No. 1.) On Valentine’s Day of 1973, “Somebody Loves You” was at No. 94. It would go no higher.

In late 1969, Peggy Lee had reached No. 11 with the idiosyncratic “Is That All There Is,” a single pulled from the well-regarded (at least by All-Music Guide) album of the same name. By the time Valentine’s Day rolled around in 1970, Lee’s version of Randy Newman’s equally idiosyncratic “Love Story” was sitting at No. 105 in the bubbling under section of the Hot 100 chart. It went no higher and has the distinction of being the thirteenth and last of Lee’s singles to be listed in or near the Billboard Hot 100.

The Woolies were a garage rock band from East Lansing, Michigan, and as Valentine’s Day dawned in 1967, their cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” was parked at No. 113 in the Hot 100’s Bubbling Under section. Originally released on the Spirit label in 1966, the energetic workout was released on Dunhill in early 1967. The record – the only Hot 100 hit for the Woolies – eventually peaked at No. 95.

Little Johnny Taylor showed up here the other week when I dug into a chart from February 1972, and it’s never too soon for more. In mid-February 1964, Taylor’s “Since I Found A New Love” was sitting at No. 109. It would peak at No. 78. (The video shows the flip side of the Galaxy single and uses what seems to be the longer LP version of the track rather than the single, but so it goes.)

Ernestine Anderson was a jazz singer from Houston, and – like the Woolies – she shows up in the pages of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles just once: As Valentine’s Day 1961 came by, her very nice cover version of “A Lover’s Question” was bubbling under at No. 103. Clyde McPhatter’s original recording of the tune had gone to No. 6 in 1959, and Anderson’s fell far short of that, peaking a little later in 1961 at No. 98.

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