Posts Tagged ‘Blue Haze’

Chart Digging: December 9, 1972

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

As we sit in early December, the tale is well known among football fans:

The Minnesota Vikings, a good bet for the Super Bowl going into the season, have disappointed their fans with less than stellar play. Despite the return of a veteran quarterback bound for the Hall of Fame, the team has floundered. And fans are left wondering what the hell happened.

Football fans among my readers will recognize the scenario above. It sounds like this year, right? Yeah, but it’s actually about 1972. The quarterback in question was Fran Tarkenton, who returned to Minnesota via a trade with the New York Giants. Tarkenton was seen as the crucial piece for a team that had been defensively dominant but offensively challenged the previous two seasons. Certainly a team that had gone 23-5 during the past two seasons without a top quarterback would achieve greatness with a quarterback as gifted as Tarkenton under center.

Well, sometimes the ball bounces funny ways. The Vikings lost four of their first six games in 1972 – twice by three points, twice by two points – and couldn’t recover. They gave it a good shot, though. By this date  – December 9 – in 1972, the Vikes had won four out of five games and were 7-5 with two games remaining: One against Green Bay and one in San Francisco. If they won those two games, they’d win their fifth straight division title and head to the playoffs.

I’m tempted to say that I knew thirty-eight years ago today – it was a Saturday – that the Vikings would lose those final two games. But I was nineteen and blissfully unaware of the disappointments to come, both then and for the next thirty-eight years. So I had no doubts that the Vikings would take care of the Packers the next day and then defeat the 49ers. And on Sunday, a college friend and I headed to campus and joined a rowdy bunch in one of the dorms’ television rooms, where a newfangled thing called cable TV brought in the broadcast of one of the stations in Duluth. (The Twin Cities market was, as was the norm in those days, blacked out during Vikings home games.)

The rowdiness went away quickly that Sunday afternoon. And my pal Gary and I and a bunch of guys I never knew watched mostly in silence as the Packers of quarterback Scott Hunter and the marvelously named running back MacArthur Lane took down the Vikings 23-10 and quashed that season’s hope. (I wonder if the Packer fans among my readers recall that game.) On the following Saturday, I watched the Vikings blow a late lead and lose 20-17 to San Francisco and finish the season at 7-7.

But all that was ahead on December 9, 1972, the Saturday before the Green Bay game. There was hope. And, no doubt, there was music at one point in the day or another. If I turned on the radio at some time during that Saturday – and I probably did – I most likely heard something from the Billboard Top Ten released that day:

“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“You Ought To Be With Me” by Al Green
“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Ventura Highway” by America
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“I’m Stone In Love With You” by the Stylistics

Boy, there’s some good stuff in there, but there’s also some stuff that, well, overstayed its welcome in my ears after very few listens. I can live without ever hearing “Clair” again, and I was never fond of the Albert Hammond single, either. And I’m of two minds about “I Am Woman.” Its anthemic quality and its obvious popularity make it an aural landmark, one of those time-and-place tunes that can – when I am reminded of it – toss me back into the fall of 1972 when the only places I felt sure about what I was doing were my music theory classes and the college radio station, where I dabbled in sports reporting.

On the other hand, when I hear “I Am Woman” rather than just think about it – and I do hear it on occasion, as it is in the RealPlayer and shows up every couple thousand hours or so – I note immediately that the record’s deficiencies, chiefly its clunky earnestness, have not helped it age well.

Anyway, take “I Am Woman,” “Clair” and the Albert Hammond tune out of that bunch, and you’ve got a decent half-hour of listening with a few stellar moments from the Temptations, Harold Melvin and his guys and the Stylistics.

And there were – as there almost always are – interesting things a little lower in the Hot 100. Carole King’s “Been to Canaan” was sitting at No. 40. The record, King’s seventh Top 40 hit, would peak at No. 24, spending the first two weeks of 1973 at that spot. (“Been to Canaan” would top the Adult Contemporary chart for one week.) King would have six more Top 40 hits, with the last coming in 1980.

Two spots further down, J. J. Cale’s “Lies” was in its second week at No. 42 and would go no higher. Cale’s only Top 40 hit was 1972’s “Crazy Mama,” which went to No. 22.  According to All-Music Guide, Cale had two other records reach the Hot 100: “After Midnight” went to No. 42 in 1972, and “Hey Baby” got to No. 96 in 1976.

Blue Haze, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, was a group of studio musicians assembled in England by producers Johnny Arthey and Phil Swern. The group’s reggae version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” – the pop standard written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach – was sitting at No. 54 thirty-eight years ago today, on its way to No. 27 on the pop chart and to No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This was the second time a version of the song made the Top 40: The Platters’ version sat at No. 1 for three weeks in 1959. As for Blue Haze, AMG lists several other songs the group recorded, among them the standards “Unchained Melody” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Those might be interesting listening.

Dropping a little further down into the Hot 100, we find Tower of Power. “Down to the Nightclub” was sitting at No. 66 on December 9, 1972, but would go no higher. Earlier in the year, “You’re Still A Young Man” had reached No. 29. Two more Top 40 singles would follow: “So Very Hard To Go” would go to No. 17 in 1973, and “Don’t Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream)” would reach No. 26 in 1974. A few other releases over the years would hit the Hot 100, and ToP had – by AMG’s count – thirteen singles on the R&B chart in the 1970s. I can’t find a video of the studio version of “Down to the Nightclub,” but I did find a good recording of a 1986 performance at the Maintenance Shop at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

I don’t recall the group Brighter Side of Darkness at all, nor do I remember the group’s one hit, “Love Jones.” But listening to it this morning, it sounds exactly like 1972. Thirty-eight years ago today, the record was sitting at No. 80, on its way to No. 16. According to AMG, the group was made up mostly of high school students from Chicago, and lead singer Daryl Lamont was only twelve years old. (The video here presents, I think, the album version of the tune. The single ran about 3:20, from what I can tell.) The record was the group’s only hit, but when you come up with something as good as this, once is good enough.

Valerie Simpson is far better known as part of Ashford & Simpson, the stellar song-writing team she formed with Nickolas Ashford. (The duo then began recording and performing in 1973 and married in 1974, reaching the Top 40 twice – in 1979 and 1985 – and the R&B and dance charts many times.) In 1971, Simpson released the album Exposed and followed that a year later with a self-titled album. “Silly Wasn’t I” came from the latter album and was sitting at No. 96 on December 9, 1972. It would peak at No. 63 on the Hot 100 and at No. 24 on the R&B chart.