Posts Tagged ‘Blackbyrds’

Chart Digging, September 21, 1974

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I was going to write something this morning about chemistry classes, as I took the subject twice during my college days, but I’m not sure how much there is to write about. I failed basic chemistry during my disastrous – 1.87 GPA – first quarter on campus in 1971 because I never really understood what we were supposed to do. The concept of conducting chemical experiments whose outcomes we already knew in order to write accounts of those same experiments, well, that escaped me entirely. So I quit going to class and, unsurprisingly, failed the course.

I tried again in the fall of 1974, taking a section of the class that met at 4 p.m., which was not a good idea. By that time of the day, my attention span was minimal, and three years of getting by in general education classes had increased neither my interest nor my facility in writing lab reports. A small voice in my head tells me that I was bored with college, but that’s not entirely so: I enjoyed my other three classes that quarter – announcing, broadcast news writing and classical music history, all offered during morning hours – so it must have been chemistry or afternoon or a combination thereof.

Whatever the reason, I rarely attended the class and was certainly heading for another failed course. But I ended up missing a chunk of the quarter after an auto accident and dropped the course. (I took incompletes in the other three courses and ended up with two As and a B.)

So how was I spending those afternoon hours during the fall of 1974, when I should have been playing with chemicals and making notes? Most likely I was sitting at The Table in the student union, sharing tall tales and jokes, sipping coffee and smoking Marlboro Lights. And I was also plugging quarters into the jukebox not far from where I sat. As a result, I recall hearing most of the Billboard Top Ten from September 21, 1974, thirty-eight years ago tomorrow:

“Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” by Barry White
“Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim
“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John
“Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston
“I Shot The Sheriff” by Eric Clapton
“Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick & The Spinners
“(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka (with Odia Coates)
“Clap For The Wolfman” by the Guess Who
“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” by Stevie Wonder
“Hang On In There Baby” by Johnny Bristol

I recall hearing nine of those tunes that autumn. The only one I seem to have missed is the Bristol, and having sought it out this morning, I wish I’d heard it long ago. On the other hand, I could have lived quite nicely without ever having heard the Anka record, and I never cared that much for “Clap For The Wolfman.” Of the others, there are some good records with two standouts: I still groove gently to the Warwick/Spinners record. And then there’s “I Honestly Love You,” which I consider the one great record in Newton-John’s career. Is it sentimental? Yes. Is it overwrought? Maybe. Is it a record that reflected my life at least once during the years before I got where I am now? Undeniably.

What, though, was lying in the records lower on the chart in Billboard that week?

Exactly midway down the chart was a record that had poked its head into the lower reaches of the Top 40 three weeks earlier, spending two weeks at No. 37. The Rubettes were a pop rock sextet from London who put nine singles into the U.K. Top 40 between 1974 and 1977. Their “Sugar Baby Love,” a marvelous pop-rock confection that I don’t ever recall hearing (and that I might have thoroughly disdained at the time), went to No. 1 in the U.K. and was sitting at No. 50 thirty-eight years ago this week:

Earlier in 1974, the Righteous Brothers “Rock and Roll Heaven” (a record that once resulted in my having an exchange of emails with co-writer Alan O’Day) had gone to No. 3. In September, “Give It To The People” – the title track of the Brothers’ new album – was climbing the charts, having reached No. 52 by the third week of the month on its way to No. 20. The duo pulled one more hit single in late 1974 from the album – “Dream On,” which went to No. 32 – and then were gone from the charts for almost sixteen years. In 1990, a reissue of their 1965 hit “Unchained Melody” went to No. 13 as a result of its use in the film Ghost, and a newly recorded version of “Unchained Melody” went to No. 19.*

A research paper or perhaps a dissertation might lie in the future of anyone who wants to dig into the origins of the phrase “party hearty” (often misstated as “party hardy”). Whitburn’s Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits lists “Party Hearty,” a great instrumental by sax player Oliver Sain, as going to No. 16 in 1976. (In the pop chart, the record bubbled under at No. 103 as the B-Side of a two-sided single.) I also have found references to the group Atlantic Starr having used the phrase “party hearty” although I cannot figure out this morning on which record that happened. Why does it matter? Because when I listened to “Do It, Fluid” by the Blackbyrds, I was struck by the use of “party hearty” in the opening verse of the lyric, and that puts the phrase securely in the late summer of 1974. Are there earlier uses of the phrase? Quite possibly, and I would not be at all surprised to find that some student of pop culture has already researched the origins of the phrase. In any case, “Do It, Fluid” was sitting at No. 76 during the third week of September thirty-eight years ago, on its way to No. 69 (No. 23, R&B). In February of 1975, the Blackbyrds would hit the Top Ten on both charts when “Walking In Rhythm” went to No. 6 on the pop chart and No. 4 on the R&B chart.

I don’t remember the Hudson Brothers, nor do I know anything about them beyond what Whitburn tells me: They were a pop vocal trio from Portland, Oregon, and they hosted their own television variety show during the summer of 1974. They also hosted a kids’ television show. Oh, and member Bill Hudson was married to Goldie Hawn; their daughter is actress Kate Hudson. The Hudson Brothers had six records in or near the Hot 100 between 1972 and 1976. The best performing of those – “So You Are A Star” – was sitting at No. 86 during this week in 1974, on its way to No. 21. As far as I know, I’d never heard the record until this week, and my first thought – reinforced by my second, third and fourth thoughts – was that it’s a record that owes an amazingly large debt to the Beatles around the time of Magical Mystery Tour. (If “So You Are A Star” hadn’t predated the 1978 spoof The Rutles by four years, I’d have said that’s where the Hudson Brothers’ debt lies. Maybe Eric Idle was listening.)

During mid-July, when I dug into a Billboard Hot 100 from 1971, I mentioned the group the New Birth: “Sorting out the history of the Nite-Liters, a group started in Louisville, Kentucky, by Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill, is a little confusing. Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that the project evolved to include seventeen people in three groups: the vocal groups Love, Peace & Happiness and the New Birth as well as the band still called the Nite-Liters. All of that was yet to come during mid-July 1971, when the Nite-Liters’ ‘K-Jee’ was sitting at No. 92.” Much of that “yet to come” had come to pass by September of 1974 when “I Wash My Hands Of The Whole Damn Deal (Part 1)” was bubbling under at No. 104. The single, the eighth to reach the Hot 100 for the combination of the Nite-Liters and the New Birth, would go to No. 88.

Mention Dobie Gray and the mind hears the smooth R&B of “The In Crowd” from 1965 or “Drift Away” from 1973. Or maybe the mind recalls the sweet and sad “Loving Arms,” also from 1973. But as summer was turning to autumn in 1974, Gray’s “Watch Out For Lucy” showed a different side of the performer as it bubbled under at No. 107. I’m not sure that Gray’s effort to rip it up worked all that well. Radio program directors evidently thought the same: The record was gone from the chart a week later.

*Those final entries in the Righteous Brothers’ discography mean that “Unchained Melody” has reached the Billboard Hot 100 ten times, and I think that’s more than any other song. (Can someone confirm or deny that? Are you out there, Yah Shure?) Along with the three chart entries by the Righteous Brothers, Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Hits lists charting versions by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, Roy Hamilton, June Valli (all 1955), Vito & The Salutations (1963), the Sweet Inspirations (1968), and Heart (1981). Gerry Granahan, the founder of Caprice Records, had a version of the song bubble under the Hot 100 (1961), and Elvis Presley and LeAnn Rimes (1977 and 1996, respectively) are credited with “classic” versions of the song that did not chart. In addition, the Presley and Rimes versions, along with a cover by Ronnie McDowell (1991), reached the country Top 40, and the versions by Hamilton, Hibbler and the Righteous Brothers – the original 1965 single – reached the R&B Top 40. I’d probably also find a few entries in the Adult Contemporary listings, but that volume is still on my wish list.)

Saturday Single No. 289

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

 Traffic was backed up over a good portion of the East Side yesterday, complicating things considerably as my mother and I went to lunch and as I ran several errands. The cause of the back-up was easy to find: Authorities had closed a two-block section of Minnesota Highway 23 – the main east-west artery through the city – to replace the Fifth Avenue walking bridge across the highway.

The walking bridge has been there for about fifty years, since shortly after Highway 23 was expanded to four lanes and sliced portions of the city in two. One of those portions thus sliced was the neighborhood right near Lincoln Elementary School. The reconfigured landscape had the Lincoln playground area overlooking the new highway, with its traffic buzzing past about twenty-five feet below. On the north side of the canyon created by the new highway were St. Augustine Elementary school – one of several thriving Catholic schools in the city – and the empty lot where the city recreation department installed a skating rink during the winter.

Now, it’s not like it was the Berlin Wall. Anyone who wanted to get from the south side of the highway to the north side could walk a block west to Wilson Avenue; there were stoplights where Wilson met the highway, and one could cross there. But many of the students from St. Aug’s (as we all called it) lived south of the highway, and a good portion of the students who went to Lincoln lived north of the highway. Add in the attraction of the skating rink during the winter months, and there was a lot of kid traffic that needed to get from one side of the new highway to the other, and the intersection of Wilson and Highway 23 was a busy place that could be risky to those with short legs.

I don’t recall any incident that might have propelled the decision to install the bridge. I was, after all, only about five when the new highway opened and there are limits to even my memory. But it wasn’t long before the walking bridge went up, allowing easier access to both schools and to the skating rink for those on the wrong side of the concrete canyon.

The bridge was not an aesthetic marvel. It was, frankly, ugly. Painted battleship gray, it arched gracelessly over the traffic on four ungainly legs. But it served its purpose, seeing thousands of kids – and many adults, too, of course – safely across the river of traffic flowing about twenty-five feet below. And, as it was right next to Lincoln School, I saw it every school day for years. I rarely used it, but it was part of the background of my life.

I’m not sure how busy the bridge has been in recent years. The two schools are still there, although St. Aug’s was merged with a couple other parochial schools some time back, with the resulting school now called St. Katharine Drexel School. The city quit flooding the nearby vacant lot years ago and tore down the little shack that served as a warming house. But there are still plenty of folks, I imagine, who need to get from one side of the highway to the other and prefer to do so without dealing with the busy intersection a block west.

The new pedestrian bridge that will go up will be more pleasing to the eye, according to accounts in the local paper. Its design will include what the paper called “bridge aesthetics” that will match the nearby bridge across the Mississippi River that opened a few years ago with the ludicrous name of the Granite City Crossing.

Now, I’m not entirely a grump, at least not yet. But there are a few things that make me more curmudgeonly year by year. One of them is the unnecessary dressing up of simple public facilities, whether in name or design. In this case, they’re just bridges. They do not need aesthetic consideration. But in these days, it seems, form follows marketing rather than function. And I suppose that, having gussied up the Granite City Crossing with the aforementioned “bridge aesthetics,” it does make some sort of sense to have the new walking bridge match its appearance. If, however, the authorities name the new walking bridge anything fancier than the Fifth Avenue Pedestrian Bridge, I imagine my grumbles will be heard in Australia.

Even if I never use the new pedestrian bridge, it will be good to have it there, safely channeling school children and the occasional adult over the increasingly busy Highway 23. And that calls for a song about walking. I seriously doubt whether any of those crossing the bridge will be walking in rhythm, but that’s okay. I’m still choosing the Blackbyrds’ “Walking In Rhythm” – this version from the twelve-inch 45 from 1975 – as today’s Saturday Single.