Monday, October 16, 2017

Cleveland Regional Breakout Hits

The following two singles are the only ones to be listed in Billboard between 1970-1974 as regional breakout hits in Cleveland and never to have moved any higher.

"Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)" (1970)
Wild Butter

Written by John Senné * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)" / "Terribly Blind" * LP: Wild Butter * Label: United Artists * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1970-08-22

"Roxanna" will strike most listeners as a lost proto-power pop gem to be filed alongside Big Star or the American Dream, with its Beatle allegiances, airy melodicism, and odd refrain ("Naked heart and naked mind / Thank you Roxanna for getting me high"). The most available story about Akron's Wild Butter is that drummer/vocalist Rick Garen and keyboardist Jerry Buckner (who, alongside a man named Garcia, would later enrich contemporary society with "Pac Man Fever") scored a record deal with United Artists before having a full band. Their songwriter-guitarist friend John Senné, along with bassist Steve Price, then joined up to help get an album in the can. Most of the songs, including "Roxanna," are Senné's, but Price and Buckner also contribute alongside cover versions of the Bee Gees, Neil Young, and the Moody Blues. (The flipside "Terribly Blind" is a Senné/Price track.) Garen's lead vocal has a British affectation that's not uncommon for the era, but then it may remind you of Guided By Voices singer Robert Pollard (of Dayton), leading you to wonder if that's an Ohio thing.

An August 1970 issue of Record World mentions Cleveland's popular WIXY as a station giving "Roxanna" heavy rotation, which is no surprise because the record's producer and the band's manager was former WIXY program director Eric Stevens, who knew a thing or two about the radio biz and his city's musical tastes. He'd also produce and manage local heavy rockers the Damnation of Adam Blessing and—his biggest success—Brownsville Station. Stevens is quoted in a book called Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories as being frustrated with United Artists who didn't seem to know much about "bringing the record home," but Wild Butter's overt "getting high" references likely slowed things down some.

Side A: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High"

Side B: "Terribly Blind"

"Linda's Song" (1971)
Alex Bevan

Written by Alex Bevan * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Linda's Song" / "Brady Street Hotel" "Linda's Song" * LP: No Truth to Sell * Label: Big Tree * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1971-10-23

Like Wild Butter, singer-songwriter Alex Bevan was from Akron and had his first record produced by former WIXY program director Eric Stevens. Fans of be-denimed early seventies singer-songwriters should add Bevan's No Truth to Sell to their search lists. The two tracks on his "Linda's Song" 45, especially, have a haunted aura with their journeyman lyrics and echo chamber strings. For the rest of his career, through, Bevan would settle in as Cleveland's good time troubadour-in-residence, appearing regularly on WNCR and WMMS, doing commercials for the Cleveland Browns, and performing the local anthem and signature song "Skinny" that he'd written and recorded in 1976 ("I'm a skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio / Come to chase your women and to drink your beer"). In 2017, Bevan released his 25th album.

Side A: "Linda's Song"

Side B: "Brady Street Hotel"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WMEX (Boston): Top 40, circa 1957-1975

One of Boston radio history's fabled Top 40 stations is WMEX (1510 AM), whose star disk jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg held court noisily from 1957 to 1967. His departure brought in Dick Summer, a man with a psychology degree that matched him up well with a radio industry getting increasingly preoccupied with demographics and audience behavior. Pursuing his concept of the "human thing" in radio, Summer launched his "Lovin' Touch" program, in which he'd wax poetic in the manner of Ken "Word Jazz" Nordine. A 1972 Rolling Stone article wisecracked that Summer's sensitive shtick "would have made Rod McKuen look callous beside him." Summer's experiment, though, fell in line with radio trends such as Brother John Rydgren's syndicated "Love format" on ABC radio (from 1968 to 1970) and the forthcoming "feminine" formats.

In 1970, the station became a quintessential early seventies outlet with the arrival of music director John H. Garabedian, whose aggressive playlist-crafting and phone monitoring boosted the station's ratings, at one point, past WRKO, its higher-powered competitor. Among his winning programming strategies were a heavy reliance on album tracks and a willingness to test drive records before conducting any lengthy research. The above mentioned Rolling Stone article, "Boston Tests New Music and Flunks Out," by Timothy Crouse, mentions such songs as "Do You Know What I Mean" (Lee Michaels), "Maggie May" (Rod Stewart), "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (Paul and Linda McCartney), "Sunshine" (Jonathan Edwards), and "Looking for a Love" (J. Geils Band) as being direct beneficiaries of Garabedian's attentions.

Although new ownership in late 1971 would send Garabedian and his "John H." show packing, WMEX—although never to be the ratings success it once was—maintained an album track-inflected approach and a sufficiently influential ability to "break" records. Disk jockey Jim "JC" Connors reportedly earned gold records for "My Ding a Ling" (Chuck Berry), "How Do You Do" (Mouth and MacNeal), "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" (Wayne Newton), and "Power of Love" (Joe Simon), among others, in gratitude for his perceived role in popularizing the tracks. (Connors was also the acknowledged inspiration for Harry Chapin's "WOLD.") In 1975, the station would switch formats to easy listening, bringing its distinctive early seventies Top 40 run to a close.

A 1972 promotional charity album exists for WMEX, which you can perhaps search for at Boston thrift stores. It was one of the many cookie cutter records manufactured by Variety Club of Indianapolis for use by radio stations all over the US. They all sported duplicate covers and track lists but made space for personalized images of a station's airstaff in the gatefold. Coincidentally, one of the songs on this Solid Gold compilation is the Irish Rovers' "Unicorn Song," which Garabedian happens to ridicule in a 1970 aircheck (at 13:25). The deejays in the photos are Bill Lawrence, Connors, J. Michael Wilson, King Arthur Knight, and Tom Allen. (I copied these images from an eBay seller, so I can't tell who's in the obscured one. It could possibly be Dan Donovan or Jerry Gordon, but it also appears to say "Program Director" at the bottom. I thought Connors was the PD at that time, so I'm stumped.)


Most radio surveys for WMEX between 1971 and 1974 (nothing for 1970) are available at the Airheads Radio Survey Guide. They reveal, after a scan-through, the following songs to be among the station's unique airplay additions that never charted nationally:

Mike D'Abo - "King Herod's Song"
McGuinnes Flint - "Friends of Mine"
Lodi - "Happiness"
The Move - "Tonight"
Three Dog Night - "You"
Beach Boys - "Student Demonstration Time"
Grand Funk Railroad - "People Let's Stop the War"
Jake Jones - "Trippin' Down a Country Road"
Judee Sill - "Jesus Was a Crossmaker"
CCS - "Tap Turns on the Water"
Lighthouse - "Take It Slow"
The Rascals - "Lucky Day"
Poco - "Railroad Days"
Steve Martin (of the Left Banke) - "Two By Two"
Colin Blunstone - "Caroline Goodbye"
Newport News - "When the Bell Rings"
Tranquility - "Thank You"
Paul Williams - "My Love and I"
Robin and Jo - "Chapel of Love"
John Kongos - "Jubilee Cloud"
John Stewart - "Arkansas Breakout"
Sugar Bus - "Tramp"
The Eagles - "Train Leaves Here This Morning"
Michael Holm - "I Will Return"
Brewer and Shipley - "Yankee Lady"
Buckwheat - "Hey Little Girl"
Spyder's Gang - "Waiting in Line"
Sha Na Na - "Bounce in Your Buggy"
Tom Paxton - "Jesus Christ S.R.O."
The Lorelei - "Stop"
Peter Sarstedt - "You're a Lady"
Eric - "Wonder Where My Friend Could Be"
Barrabas - "Boogie Rock"
Livingston Taylor - "Over the Rainbow"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Early '70s Chart Singles of Andy Williams

The 1960s were Andy Williams's big decade, where his reassuring grin charmed TV cameras and his fail-safe croon comforted the generation gap's parental wing. His signature song "Moon River," from the 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's film, became the theme song for his Andy Williams Show, which ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971 and helped create the template for the variety show format that dominated television throughout the following decade. Among Williams's early seventies highlights as one of easy listening radio's most reliable voices were definitive versions of the Love Story and Godfather movie themes, although his presence on the Billboard charts would fade entirely by 1976.

"Can't Help Falling in Love" (1970)
Andy Williams

Written by George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti, and Luigi Creatore * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Al Capps * 45: "Can't Help Falling in Love" / "Sweet Memories" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#88); easy listening (#28) * Entered: 1970-02-28 (Hot 100/easy listening)

In the late sixties Columbia record executives determined that the way to keep their classic voices like Andy Williams and Tony Bennett commercially viable was through movie themes and contemporary hit covers. (Clive Davis, in his 1975 autobiography, reports Bennett as being none too happy about the strategy, favoring Great American Songbook standards.) Williams's first chart entry takes Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" and straps it onto a bolting horse; the heights to which arranger Al Capps pushes Williams's vocal make him sound like a jockey trying not to lose control. This was a single-only release in the US, with a flipside called "Sweet Memories" taken from his 1969 Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head album. Written by Mickey Newbury, that song seemed to have all sorts of natural, unappreciated hit potential. It featured a melodic hook in the verses later used by John Denver in "Sunshine on My Shoulders," while the choruses allowed Williams to sing falsetto and (unlike the A-side) to glide with grace.

Side A: "Can't Help Falling in Love"

Side B: "Sweet Memories"

"One Day of Your Life" (1970)
Andy Williams

Written by Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Al Capps * 45: "One Day of Your Life" / "Long Time Blues" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#77); easy listening (#2) * Entered: 1970-06-06 (easy listening); 1970-06-27 (Hot 100)

The Andy Williams Show ran on NBC from 1962-1971 and had served as a convenient springboard for the popular easy listening crooner's record releases. For eight episodes during the summer of 1970, the program morphed into Andy Williams Presents Ray Stevens. This was an apparent trial run for the comedy country singer who had scored a surprise #1 earlier in the year with the earnest "Everything Is Beautiful." A June episode of the show featured a Williams guest turn where (in addition to wrangling with the show's ever-present "Cookie Bear") he performed this hyper-arranged Neil Sedaka-Howard Greenfield number, which sounded made to order for a Kodak commercial. (It also seemed poised to merge into a medley, at any moment, with Gary Puckett's "Young Girl.") Although the A-side was a single-only release, the rural B-side "Long Time Blues," written by "Classical Gas" guitarist/comedy writer Mason Williams (no relation), had shown up previously on the 1969 Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head album.

Side A: "One Day of Your Life"

Side B: "Long Time Blues"

*Non-charting bonus*
"Joanne" (1970)
Andy Williams

Written by Michael Nesmith * Produced by Mike Post * LP: The Andy Williams Show * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: —

The Andy Williams Show LP, released in the fall of 1970, gathered up a handful of his previously recorded covers from the late sixties and added six freshly recorded ones ("Joanne," "Make It With You," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," "Close to You," "El Condor Pasa," and "Snowbird"), then added applause tracks and segue music. Produced by Mike Post, the album presented a more scaled-down band sound as opposed to the big, orchestral approach more typically found on an Andy Williams record, and sold respectably in the US while going top ten in the UK. "Joanne" is Williams's steel-guitar countrypolitan version of ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith's #21 hit from earlier in the year. The song's baying vocal hook is perhaps what got the dog on the cover participating. In 1971, the album appeared on one of the rare surviving playlists of Los Angeles MOR station KMPC, which justifies inclusion here.


"Home Lovin' Man" (1970)
Andy Williams

Written by Roger Greenaway, Roger Cook, and Tony Macaulay * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "Home Lovin' Man" / "Whistling in the Dark" * LP: Alone Again (Naturally) (1972, two years later) * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#10-1970; #27-1972) * Entered: 1970-10-24 and 1972-11-04

The three British songwriters Roger Greenaway, Roger Cook, and Tony Macaulay were late-sixties/early-seventies zeitgeist-crafting VIPs, generating between them such era-defining hits as "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," "Gimme Dat Ding," and "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)." Their evocative, seafaring "Home Lovin' Man," though, which featured a "Whiter Shade of Pale" organ intro and an uncredited pianist sounding very much like Nicky Hopkins, had all the earmarks of a big hit in Britain, where Andy Williams's recording of it peaked at #7. (According to Williams, in his Moon River and Me memoir, the song had originally been intended for actor-singer Richard Harris, who was "irate" over the interception.) In the US, though, it only managed to go top ten on the easy listening chart. The flipside contained a big, Al Capps-orchestrated version of Henry Mancini's "Whistling Away in the Dark," from the Darling Lili film (starring Julie Andrews). Both sides were non-album tracks, reflecting a possible short-term effort on Columbia's part to keep Williams's singles and albums as separate marketing entities.

In 1972, "Home Lovin' Man" would reappear on the Alone Again (Naturally) album, with a reissue of the track as a single maxing out at #27 on the Billboard easy listening chart. Although the album itself bore the title of a Gilbert O'Sullivan song, the O'Sullivan-penned flipside for the "Home Lovin' Man" single reissue did not make the cut. Entitled "Who Was It," the recording had appeared on O'Sullivan's UK chart-topping LP Back to Front and charted in the US the following year in the distinctive voice of Hurricane Smith. Williams's version, though, features an unsettling, double-tracked lead vocal.

Side A: "Home Lovin' Man"

Side B: "Who Was It"

"(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" (1971)
Andy Williams

Written by Carl Sigman and Francis Lai * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Richard P. Hazard * 45: "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story"/"Something" * LP: Love Story * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#9); easy listening (#1) * Entered: 1971-02-06 (both charts)

Although Erich Segal's Love Story was enough of a bummer to fit early seventies film trends, it also had a sentimental, tearjerker quality, rife with images of two lovers (played by Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw) frolicking in the snow, to function as an effective cultural escape. The pervasive title theme (which contained no vocalized manifestations on the soundtrack) was among the last of the big multiple-version hits, although the Godfather theme tried to keep the tradition alive the following year. Out of the five charting recordings of this song, all of which competed with each other in early 1971, the crescendo-heavy Andy Williams version climbed highest at #9. Columbia label-mate Tony Bennett would enter the charts with an equally dramatic iteration a week later, but wouldn't be able to contend with a Williams single that had already caught fire. Side B contains a comparatively soothing interpretation of George Harrison's "Something," which alternates between cheerful horns and moody strings.

Side A: "Where Do I Begin (Love Story)"

Side B: "Something"

"A Song for You" (1971)
Andy Williams

Written by Leon Russell * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Ernie Freeman * 45: "A Song for You" / "You've Got a Friend" * LP: You've Got a Friend * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#82); easy listening (#29) * Entered: 1971-08-21 (Hot 100); 1971-08-28 (easy listening)

Oklahoma songwriter/musician Leon Russell had long established himself as an in-demand LA session player and side man by the time he recorded his first solo album, A Song for You, in 1970. With its sophisticated structure and expressive melody, the title track became a favorite cover tune for big voices. Andy Williams was among the first to interpret it, adding it to his You've Got a Friend album, which rounded up eleven versions of contemporary hits. With its opening chord sequence mirroring the first two chords from "Love Story," among more general similarities in mood throughout, it sounded like a suitable follow-up. An Al Capps-arranged show band version of "You've Got a Friend" appears on the B-side, while the back cover depicts a flashy Elton John look.

Side A: "A Song for You"

Side B: "You've Got a Friend"

"Love Is All" (1971)
Andy Williams

Written by Jack Elliott and Norman Gimbel * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Dick Hazard * 45: "Love Is All" / "Help Me Make It Through the Night" * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#29) * Entered: 1971-12-04

"Love Is All" was part three in Andy Williams's early seventies run of minor-key chansons nouvelles, the idea clearly being to replicate the success of "Love Story." This was another vocalized version of an instrumental movie theme, this time for Herbert Ross's bummer film T.R. Baskin, about a newly-independent young runaway (Candice Bergen) struggling to get a footing in Chicago. The era's preoccupations with the cold muddle of modern life are on full display along with ripe thematic offerings for timely feminist cultural critique. Disadvantaged by the film's poor reviews and box office receipts, though, "Love Is All" only managed an easy listening chart appearance before vanishing, never even showing up on an album. In 1973, Engelbert Humperdinck would barely dent the Hot 100 with the song. Side B of Williams's single is a version of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," about a lonely one night stand, and in spite of Ernie Freeman's atmospheric string arrangement, it comes off as a cruel swipe at Bergman's sexually vulnerable film character.

Side A: "Love Is All"

Side B: "Help Me Make It Through the Night"

"Music from Across the Way" (1972) 
Andy Williams

Written by James Last and Carl Sigman * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Ernie Freeman * 45: "Music from Across the Way" / "The Last Time I Saw Her" * LP: Love Theme from "The Godfather" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#30) * Entered: 1972-01-29

Like William's previous three singles, "Music from Across the Way" sailed the same melodramatic, minor-key waters as "Love Story." That song's Carl Sigman even provided lyrics for it, with German show band maestro James Last handling the music. Last's own version, sung by an anonymous choral group, outperformed Williams's, reaching the Hot 100 at #84 around the same time. After a brief easy listening chart appearance, the track would eventually turn up on Williams's forthcoming Love Theme from "The Godfather" album. For the opening piano line, arranger Ernie Freeman borrows from the Carpenters's "For All We Know" refrain. On side B of the single is a treatment of Gordon Lightfoot's 1968 track "The Last Time I Saw Her," which Glen Campbell had turned into a charting crossover single in 1971.

Side A: "Music from Across the Way"

Side B: "The Last Time I Saw Her"

"Speak Softly Love (Love Theme from The Godfather)" (1972)
Andy Williams

Written by Nino Rota and Larry Kusik * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Al Capps * 45: "Speak Softly Love (Love Theme from 'The Godfather')" / "Home for Thee" * LP: Love Theme from "The Godfather" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (# 34); Easy listening (#7) * Entered: 1970-04-08 (both charts)

Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather turned Mario Puzo's best-selling mafia novel into the highest grossing film of 1972, demonstrating that the early seventies cinematic penchant for downbeat themes had blockbuster potential. Critical success accompanied it too, with many of its scenes and performances turning into cultural touchstones. Among the era's preoccupations playing out on screen were the plight of the antihero, a fascination with family and tradition at a time when both underwent unprecedented redefinition, and a "going back" instinct that reached toward ethnicity and roots.

In spite of this, Andy Williams, one of pop music's WASP-iest singers, ended up with the biggest hit version of the theme song, but he was primed and ready, having charted the previous four times with similarly sophisticated and stormy minor-key offerings. Composed for the soundtrack by the classically-oriented Nino Rota, veteran lyricist Larry Kusik then turned the theme into the vocal-friendly "Speak Softly Love." As Andrew J. Edelstein and Kevin McDonough said about the film in their The Seventies: From Hot Pants to Hot Tubs (1990), the record came off as "high art disguised as pop entertainment."

Aside from Williams, who had his final Top 40 appearance with the song, the only other singer to chart with it (#80) would be Al Martino, who had played washed up pop star Johnny Fontaine in the film. Instrumental versions by Roger Williams (#116), Carlo Savina (#66, from the soundtrack album), and Ferrante and Teicher (easy listening #28) also made chart showings.  Side B of "Speak Softly Love" contained the 45-only track "Home for Thee," written by Paul Parrish. (Final tangential tidbit: Lyricist Larry Kusik was the uncle of the musician and music writer Lenny Kaye, for whom Kusik had once written and produced a record called "Crazy Like a Fox," on which Kaye used the pseudonym "Link Cromwell.")

Side A: "Speak Softly Love (Love Theme from The Godfather)"

Side B: "Home for Thee"

"MacArthur Park" (1972)
Andy Williams

Written by Jimmy Webb * Produced by Dick Glasser * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "MacArthur Park" / "Amazing Grace" * LP: Love Theme from "The Godfather" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#102) * Entered: 1972-08-05

Its high angst levels, epic length and "cake in the rain" lyrics have always invited critics to call it overbaked, but Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" nonetheless touched some sort of psychological nerve in its time. Between 1968 and 1972, the actor Richard Harris (in the voice and persona of a mad Renaissance courtier), Waylon Jennings (with Grammy-winning dourness), the Four Tops, and Andy Williams all showed up on various Billboard charts with their own personalized recipes for it. No one did as well as Harris, who'd reached #2, but of the four, Williams served up the most palatable entry.

With an intro that hints at Burt Bacharach's "Trains and Boats and Plains" or the Bee Gees' "Words," the Artie Butler arrangement for this version bumps the severe minor-key verse section to the end while allowing the major-key bridge—in which Williams shames Harris on the high notes—to take precedence. In 1978 Donna Summer would elevate "MacArthur Park" to pop heaven, with a 45 that managed to clock in under four minutes and still seem grandiose. (She'd make an eighteen-minute behemoth available for discotheques.) The flipside of Williams's single was his contribution to Jesus Rock—a version of "Amazing Grace." This had previously appeared on his Alone Again (Naturally) album with an Al Capps arrangement taking cues from Judy Collins's acapella hit from early 1971.

Side A: "MacArthur Park"

Side B: "Amazing Grace"

"Solitaire" (1973)
Andy Williams

Written by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody * Produced by Richard Perry * 45: "Solitaire" / "My Love" * LP: Solitaire * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#23) * Entered: 1973-10-06

With his Solitaire LP, Andy Williams shook things up by getting in the studio with producer Richard Perry, who had been on a hot streak with hit albums by Carly Simon, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr, among others. The song selection included deeper album tracks along with the usual hit covers, while Williams's vocal sound now popped with slapback echo. Neil Sedaka's original 1972 recording of the album's title track had included more card metaphors in the chorus, which Williams and Perry had altered to Sedaka's apparent chagrin (as reported in Williams's Moon River and Me). After the song reached #4 in the UK and then became a Top 40 hit for the Carpenters, Sedaka likely set his grievances aside. The Solitaire version of Paul McCartney's "My Love," with an uncomfortable rendering of its "whoah whoahs," takes up the B side. Another song from the album—"Getting Over You" by the British singer-songwriter Tony Hazzard—rose to #35 in England.

Side A: "Solitaire"

Side B: "My Love"

UK chart bonus: "Getting Over You"

"Remember" (1974)
Andy Williams and Noelle

Written by Harry Nilsson * Produced by Richard Perry * 45: "Remember" / "Walk Right Back" (Andy Williams) * LP: Solitaire * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#30) * Entered: 1974-01-05

Seventies TV had a thing for variety shows, in which hosts would guide viewers through a bevy of skits and musical numbers. A standard Christmas device brought audiences into a celebrity's "home," as Andy Williams had done every year since 1962. Although his show had run its course by 1971, he was back on air in 1973 for a December 13 Christmas special, which treated viewers to songs by Andy, his own brothers, his teen idol nephews the Williams Brothers, and his then-wife Claudine Longet. In one segment, Williams sings Harry Nilsson's "Remember Christmas" to Noelle, his ten-year-old daughter. This prompted Columbia to release a 45 of the song—which had also appeared on his recently released Solitaire album—with added dialogue and a verse sung by Noelle. A product of the '73 Christmas season, the record made its first chart appearance in January 1974. (Neither the 45 nor the album version of the song use Nilsson's full title of "Remember Christmas.") The venerable British session man Nicky Hopkins handled the gorgeous piano part, as he had done on the original 1972 recording by Nilsson, while the ever-reliable Gene Page worked his magic on the string arrangement. An unembarrassing iteration of the Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back" from Solitaire, with tasteful Jimmy Calvert guitar lines, appears on the flipside.

Side A: "Remember"

Side B: "Walk Right Back"

"Love's Theme" (1974)
Andy Williams 

Written by Aaron Schroeder and Barry White * Produced by Mike Curb * Arranged by Don Costa * 45: "Love's Theme" / "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" * LP: The Way We Were * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#16) * Entered: 1974-06-08

After Andy Williams's flirtation with contemporary album artistry on Solitaire, he appeared to drift back into easy listening assembly-line mode for his follow-up, The Way We Were. Every song but one—a Mike Curb-Alan Osmond variation on "O Holy Night" (listen to the bridge) called "If I Could Only Go Back Again"—paid tribute to established hits. Even so, Williams's vocal version of the Love Unlimited Orchestra's "Love's Theme" went down like a sweet disco ambrosia. Love Unlimited, the vocal trio on whose Under the Influence of Love album Barry White's instrumental first appeared, did their own vocalized take, also using Aaron Schroeder's lyrics, for their late 1974 In Heat album. MGM mogul Mike Curb's involvement in the Columbia album as producer is a curiosity that perhaps had to do with some inter-label tit for tat. In 1966, MGM had released the soundtrack to the Columbia film Born Free, which may well have set the table for a deal like this. Williams's side-B easy listening performance of Jim Weatherly's "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" (with an added "You're" in the title), demonstrates the song's crossover elasticity—Gladys Knight had recently topped the soul chart with it while Ray Price did the same thing on the country chart, and both records appeared on the Hot 100 (Gladys Knight #3, Ray Price #82).

Side A: "Love's Theme"

Side B: "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me"

Bonus: "If I Could Only Go Back Again"

"Another Lonely Song" (1974)
Andy Williams

Written by Billy Sherrill, Norro Wilson, and Tammy Wynette * Produced by Billy Sherrill * 45: "Another Lonely Song" / "A Mi Esposa con Amor" * LP: You Lay So Easy on My Mind * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#29) * Entered: 1974-09-21

With country music going through such aggressive crossover experimentation in the early seventies, it wasn't any kind of stretch for Andy Williams to "go country" for one album. All he needed was some denim for the cover, a judicious steel guitarist, a Nashville producer, and a roundup of ten hits that already sounded like candidates for the easy listening charts. Tammy Wynette's 1973 chart-topping "Another Lonely Song" got the nod as the lead off single for Williams's You Lay So Easy on My Mind album, produced by countrypolitan king Billy Sherrill. An interpretation of acquired-taste vocalist Sonny James's 1973 country hit "A Mi Esposa con Amor (To My Wife with Love)" appears on side B.

Side A: "Another Lonely Song"

Side B: "A Mi Esposa con Amor"

"Love Said Goodbye" (1974)
Andy Williams

Written by Nino Rota and Larry Kusik * Produced and arranged by Marty and David Paich * 45: "Love Said Goodbye" / "One More Time" * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#24) * Entered: 1975-01-11

The December 1974 release of the second acclaimed Godfather film, complete with a new theme song by Nino Rota, called for another Andy Williams rendition. "Love Said Goodbye" was a similar-sounding but less-memorable track with lyrics again provided by Larry Kusik, and it greeted the market late in the year as a non-album one-off. The record signaled early success for future Toto member David Paich, son of veteran arranger/producer Marty, who'd already won an Emmy with his father in May 1974 for a song the two had composed for the Ironsides TV show. Side B of the Godfather Part II single included a song written by David called "One More Time," which was unavailable on any albums until it showed up as a bonus track on the 2002 CD reissue of the 1976 Andy album.

Side A: "Love Said Goodbye"

Side B: "One More Time"

"Cry Softly" (1974)
Andy Williams

Written by Buddy Killen, Billy Sherrill, and Glen Sutton * Produced by Billy Sherrill * 45: "Cry Softly" / "You Lay So Easy on My Mind" * LP: You Lay So Easy on My Mind * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#20) * Entered: 1975-04-12

In 1966, before the names Buddy Killen, Billy Sherrill, or Glen Sutton became such country industry fixtures, Nancy Ames crept into the Hot 100 (#95) with "Cry Softly"—a schlager welding-job the three men had done on the Franz Liszt melody "Liebestraum." Andy Williams's 1974 recording of the song gathered up enough momentum on MOR radio for it to see release as a single, which entered the Billboard easy listening chart in April 1975. Although Sherrill is listed as a songwriter on the label, he had only appeared as a co-producer on the 1966 Ames single for some reason.

One of the more memorable songs on the You Lay So Easy on My Mind album was the title track, which also served as the B-side of "Cry Softly." It took Bobby G. Rice's 1973 sexual revolution double entendre hit and traded its honky tonk gait and underwater guitar for crying lap steel and even more emphasis on the chorus's falsetto. Not released as a single in the US, it reached #32 in the UK. Only two more songs (in 1975 and 1976) would chart for Willliams in the US and UK until 1998, when TV commercials by Peugeot and Fiat would spark a UK revival.  

Side A: "Cry Softly"

Side B: "You Lay So Easy on My Mind"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Chart Song Cinema: Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)

"All His Children" (1971)
Charley Pride with Henry Mancini

Written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Henry Mancini * Producer: Jack Clement * 45: "All His Children" / "You'll Still Be the One" * LP: Sometimes a Great Notion (soundtrack) * Label: Decca (LP); RCA (45) * Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#92); Billboard country (#2) * Entered: 1972-04-01 (Hot 100); 1972-02-19 (country)

The 1971 Paul Newman film Sometimes a Great Notion (which had the much better overseas title of Never Give an Inch) put Ken Kesey's Oregon logging novel, with its gorgeous fir trees and coastal scenery, to the big screen. If early seventies media tended to splash its feet in post-sixties cultural bewilderment, this film submerged itself, with every development—all the way to the closing credits—feeling like a gasping lunge through political and interpersonal complexity. Charley Pride's theme song, written by composers who excelled in memorability, was surprisingly forgettable, and the odd paired billing of Pride and Mancini (who also gave his arrangement scoopfuls of stock background vocals) only added to the entire project's murkiness. What makes "All His Children" special, though, is Pride's final note, which sputters with knowing exasperation. A Johnny Duncan composition from Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs (1971) appears on the B-side.

Side A: "All His Children"

Side B: "You'll Still Be the One"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tom Jones - "She's a Lady" (1971)

"She's a Lady" (1971)
Tom Jones

Written by Paul Anka * Produced by Gordon Mills * 45: "She's a Lady"/"My Way" (Parrot) * LP: Tom Jones Sings She's a Lady (Parrot) * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#2); easy listening (#4) * Entered: 1971-02-06 (both charts)

Tom Jones's biggest hit of the early seventies distinguished itself by serving up the phrases "she always knows her place" and "she's never in the way" during an era otherwise known for heightened feminist awareness. Even so, its high ranking on the easy listening charts indicated that the minor-key sizzler had a sizable female listenership. Or did that ranking reflect older generation values?

Composer Paul Anka apparently regretted it. From Jones's Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography (2015), p. 298: "Paul Anka wrote ['She's a Lady'] especially for me, scribbling the lyrics on the back of a TWA menu, somewhere between New York and London, and adding the tune in an hour and a half at a piano later. Afterwards he'll declare that he hates the songwill claim that it's his least favorite number of any that he wrote and that he thinks it's chauvinistic. Maybe he's right. Actually, definitely he's right. But it was a hit for mea dance floor number in the earliest days of disco and the last significant hit I would have in America for a number of years."

In his My Way: An Autobiography (2014), Anka expressed his view as follows: "I dislike 'She's a Lady' more than anything else I've written. I'm not saying I don't have a chauvinistic side, but not like that. Still, I wanted to make it as realistic as possible, and Tom Jones is swaggering and brash as a Welsh coal miner in a pub on Saturday night." 

The 2013 Paul Anka Duets album includes a version of the song with Jones, featuring a remodeled first verse sung by Anka. Instead of "Well, she's all you'd ever want/She's the kind I like to flaunt and take to dinner/But she always knows her place/She's got style, she's got grace, she's a winner," he sings, "Oh she knows what love's about/She turns me inside out, that's not easy/She loves me through and through/She knows what to do and how to tease me." Verse two, though, about never being "in the way" gets a faithful, unaltered delivery by Jones. The original single's otherwise context-vacant cover of "My Way" on the B-side frames the product as something of a Paul Anka tribute.

Side A: "She's a Lady"

Side B: "My Way"

Monday, October 3, 2016

WQXI (Atlanta): Top 40, circa 1960 - 1984

With its nickname "the Quixie in Dixie," 790 WQXI launched itself as a Top 40 vehicle sometime in 1960, then shape-shifted according to subsequent eras' conceptions of the format until the mid-80s. In 1974, the station's FM signal became its mothership, billing itself as "94 QXI-FM," then becoming "94 Q" by 1977.

The rare Southern Gold promo LP images shown here (thanks to radio station vinyl resource Radio Use Only) come from 1973, during the station's final glory days as a classic AM entity that loomed large in reputation (if not wattage) throughout the Southern US. A typical umbrella format hodgepodge, the album does showcase a "New South" attitude with Charlie Daniels' "Uneasy Rider" and leads off with "Brother Louie," one of the era's quintessential black/white issue hits.

Among the disk jockeys who spun records for WQXI during the early seventies were longtime morning man Gary McKee, Dr. Don Rose (who left in 1972 and became a San Francisco institution), Scott Shannon, John Leader, and J.J. Jackson (who was neither the MTV personality nor the singer included on side 2 of the Southern Gold album). The station's long time general manager Jerry Blum became an inspiration for the character of Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati, having once pulled, in real life, the turkey stunt that inspired the show's most famous episode.

I'm hoping that a clearer album image of the jocks in front of the Peachtree Street sign eventually turns up. Clockwise from the top: Dave Smith, Dave Weiss,  Ron Parker, Tomm Rivers, John Leader, Lee Logan, Barry Chaser, and Gary McKee. (You can hear a full Gary McKee morning show from 1972 at Airchexx.)

Side 1:
Stories - "Brother Louie"
Climax - "Precious and Few"
Isley Brothers - "It's Your Thing"
Gallery - "Nice to Be with You"
Charlie Daniels Band - "Uneasy Rider"
Lobo - "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo"
Sylvia - "Pillow Talk"

Side 2:
Curtis Mayfield - "Superfly"
Melanie - "Brand New Key"
Freda Payne - "Band of Gold"
Focus - "Hocus Pocus"
J.J. Jackson - "But It's Alright"
Five Man Electrical Band - "Signs"
Sugarloaf - "Green Eyed Lady"

Monday, September 26, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: Norwood (1970)

Like True GritNorwood featured Glen Campbell (on screen and in the soundtrack) with Kim Darby and used a Glen Portis novel as source material. Unlike True Grit, an esteemed classic, Norwood comes off as a trifle. It tells the story of hayseed guitar picker Campbell who's come back home to Ralph, Texas, from the Marine Corps, and is fixated on getting a spot on the Louisiana Hayride radio show (which had actually stopped airing by 1969.)

A post-Midnight Cowboy rube-in-New York subplot plays itself out (Portis's novel, by the way, predated Midnight Cowboy by three years), while quirky characters come and go. Campbell, along the way, carries around a fancy Ovation with no case (Campbell was one of the carbon fiber guitar model's first endorsers) and serenades his co-stars to fully orchestrated soundtracks. Joe Namath, the Pennsylvania native who took his New York Jets to a 1969 Super Bowl victory, plays a marine buddy of Campbell who throws a football around at a fish fry and imitates the southern accents he heard as a college player at Alabama.

Of most interest here is the transitional bigger-picture awkwardness of the sixties turning into the seventies and of the old, isolated South morphing into a newer, mainstream version. Glen Campbell was a poster child for this process, hosting his Goodtime Hour on TV from 1969 to 1972, playing with the Beach Boys and the Wrecking Crew in the sixties, popularizing a more sophisticated brand of country song ("Gentle on My Mind," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and "Wichita Lineman"), wearing a peace symbol on his album with Bobbie Gentry, covering the black gospel song "Oh Happy Day," and endorsing non-standard acoustic guitars.

Equally awkward, but typical of 1970, are the real world complexities that—in a film that attempts to come off as a Disney live action film for adults—serve as glaring sexual revolution signifiers. Campbell's sister has shacked up with the effeminate moocher Dom DeLuise, Campbell racks up a shameless one night stand with his Big Apple host, and his eventual "right girl" Kim Darby, who dresses like the Flying Nun, is pregnant with another marine's child—a non-issue compared to Campbell getting to the Hayride.

Director Jack Haley, Jr. was the son of the same Jack Haley who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (and who appears in Norwood, in his final role, as Joe Namath's dad). Haley Jr.'s best loved movie moment came in 1974 when he put together the Hollywood musical retrospective That's Entertainment. (The other Wizard of Oz connection: he was married to Liza Minneli, daughter of Judy Garland, from 1974 to 1979.)

Two songs from Norwood made the charts thanks to their appearance in the film:

"Everything a Man Could Ever Need" (1970)
Glen Campbell

Written by Mac Davis * 45: "Everything a Man Could Ever Need" / "Norwood (Me and My Guitar)" * LP: Norwood * Produced by Neely Plumb * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#54); country (#5) * Entered: 1970-07-04 (Hot 100)

Written by future country-pop crossover star Mac Davis, Glen Campbell's "Everything a Man Could Ever Need," from the Norwood soundtrack, runs on "Gentle on My Mind" fumes, using that song's opening root to root-major7 sequence, which borrowed from Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly" (1966). Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey" also used it in 1968, as did Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin' " in 1969, giving Norwood another small connection to Midnight Cowboy (see above). That chord sequence became a familiar late sixties/early seventies sound on the radio, usually accompanying itinerant male self-analysis. "Everything a Man Could Ever Need" included Campbell's fellow Wrecking Crew alumnus Al DeLory as a co-arranger, who helped make the already too-crafty song sound even less likely to have stood a chance on the real Louisiana Hayride. Another Mac Davis composition from the soundtrack appears on the B-side.

Side A: "Everything a Man Could Ever Need"

Side B: "Norwood (Me and My Guitar)"

"I'll Paint You a Song" (1970)
Mac Davis

Written by Mac Davis * 45: "I'll Paint You a Song" / "Closest I Ever Came" (Columbia) * Produced by Jimmy Bowen * Arranged by Artie Butler * LP: Song Painter (Columbia) * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#110); country (#68) * Entered: 1970-07-18 (Bubbling under)

Mac Davis's second charting single as a vocalist was his own version of a song he'd written for Glen Campbell to sing on Norwood in a train car scene in the middle of the night—fully orchestrated but somehow waking no one. "I'll Paint You a Song," with its rainbows and bluebirds, featured a comparable easy listening backdrop arranged by Artie Butler that laid the groundwork for Davis's forthcoming stream of crossover MOR-country hits. By 1972, his "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" would turn him into a multi-media figure in the mold of Campbell. The Song Painter album was Mac Davis's debut and presented itself as a full-fledged "Meet Mac Davis-the-artist" affair, with numerous musical interludes. His "Babies' Butts" series might have inspired Tom T. Hall to write "I Love." It's not implausible. (A 1974 reissue of this album had an alternate cover.)

Side A: "I'll Paint You a Song"

Side B: "Closest I Ever Came"