Wednesday, November 26, 2014

WPOP - The Music Revolution

The lifespan of WPOP in Hartford, Connecticut, paralleled the golden years of AM Top 40. At only 5,000 watts, it managed to generate enough energy and excitement to keep it running from the late fifties all the way to the the mid-seventies with on air alumni like Joey Reynolds, Lee "Baby" Simms, Jack Armstrong, and Greaseman. You can hear Greaseman's 1975 goodbye show on the station's last day (he was the morning man during its final two years) via his website. One of the many Top 40 stations that used "The Good Guys" as its slogan, it adopted "The Music Revolution!" in later years, as seen in this 1974 logo I found at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. A WPOP tribute site contains more info and memorabilia, including a forlorn photo of the abandoned transmitter station in Newington.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Memories of Elephant's Memory

Elephant's Memory - "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones" (1969, Billboard #120)
Elephant's Memory - "Mongoose" (1970, Billboard #50)
John Lennon/Yoko Ono - "Woman Is the N***er of the World" (1972, Billboard #57)

Elephant's memory is best known as the New York City band that backed up John Lennon and Yoko Ono between 1971 and 1973, including their 1972 Sometime in New York City album.  The 45 for that album's ham-handed "Woman Is the N***er of the World" is credited to "John Lennon/Yoko Ono with Elephant's Memory and Invisible Strings." (I talk about the single's soft rock aspects in my "Pillow Talk" chapter, along with its role as a manifestation of the feminized left.)

Before its alliance with Lennon, the group had roused the faith of Buddah Records chief Neil Bogart, much to the chagrin of future mega-manager and recent memoirist Ron Weisner:

"Like every A&R person in history, Neil's ears and heart sometimes led him astray, the most notable instance being a sloppy rock band called Elephant's Memory... How and why they managed to make a name for themselves was beyond me, because they were terrible, a true train wreck of a group...I knew that Elephant's Memory had no chance of succeeding beyond their core fan base of Lower East Side drug heads, because they themselves were Lower East Side drug heads..." (Listen Out Loud, pp. 20-21).

Aside from the Lennon single, the group had two other Billboard chart appearances. A rather catchy Harper's Bizarre-like 1969 single called "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones" bubbled under at #120 (with a B-side, "Jungle Gym at the Zoo," that appeared on the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack). After that, a single called "Mongoose," as I've pointed out earlier, charted alongside a mongoose single by Donovan in 1970. (Bonus Wikipedia factoid: Carly Simon briefly sang with the group in '68.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

God Rock Sunday: Pacific Gas & Electric


Pacific Gas & Electric - "Are You Ready?" (1970, Billboard #14)
Pacific Gas & Electric - "Father, Come on Home" (1970, Billboard #93)
PG&E - "Thank God for You, Baby" (1972, Billboard #97, soul #50)

The Los Angeles soul rock outfit Pacific Gas & Electric are best known for their 1970 Jesus hit "Are You Ready?," which acknowledges the Vietnam War and ecological concerns ("There's rumors of war/Men dying and women crying/If you breathe air you'll die") before launching into a fuzz guitar/gospel choir frenzy. The group had two lesser-known charting hits: "Father Come on Home," a 45-only release that also uses a gospel choir to addictive effect; and "Thank God for You, Baby," which evokes the Almighty in title only (and charted at #50 on the Billboard soul chart). This third one is billed to "PG&E" as a result of helpful feedback from a certain utility company.

Featuring lead vocalist (and Arthur Lee-lookalike) Charlie Allen along with former James Gang guitarist Glenn Schwartz, Pacific Gas & Electric likely had Schwartz to thank for its God rock tendency. He had been converted to Christianity by street preacher Arthur Blessitt, the "Minister of Sunset Strip" who is now best known for carrying a cross through every nation of the world. As for the wince-inducing album cover for the group's Are You Ready?, I'm curious if there's any more to the story than Columbia Records simply wanting to shake up perceptions.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Grand Central Shuffle" Mystery

Johnny Griffith, Inc. - "Grand Central Shuffle" (1972, Billboard Regional Hit: New York City)

Johnny Griffith was the keyboardist for the Funk Brothers, Motown's house band until the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972. Left to his own devices, Griffith tacked on an "Inc." to his name (echoing Motown's practice of giving songwriting and production credits to "The Corporation"), and kept busy recording, arranging, and producing for the GeNEVA label in Dearborn. As far as I can tell, the "Shaft"-like "Grand Central Shuffle" was his biggest post-Motown record. Picked up by RCA, it racked up enough airplay and sales in New York City to get listed as a "breakout" hit in Billboard.

Mysteriously, the original label for the track shows the following: "From the Neil Sullivan movie, 'The Candidate'." No such movie exists, as far as I can tell, although one starring Robert Redford and directed by Michael Ritchie, about a Senatorial race in California, certainly did. This is the one Joel Whitburn lists under the single's heading in Top Pop Singles, but nothing in the soundtrack for the Redford film sounds remotely close to Griffith's slick number, nor would any scene seem to call for it. Some other Candidate movie - possibly directed by the same Sullivan whose Why Russians Are Revolting found no love at the New York Times - likely fizzled in time for RCA to give Griffith's single some attention on its own merits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RCA Soul Ad

Early '70s child imagery in a Billboard ad for RCA's soul roster (1/29/72, p. 33):

"Tonight after dinner, when the dishes are all washed and the new young one is tucked in, a lot of young families are going to settle back and listen to our artists' music. We salute them, and thank you."

First on the artist list: Jimmy "Troglodyte" Castor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Primal Sounds of Jimmy Castor


Jimmy Castor Bunch - "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" (1972, Billboard #6)
Jimmy Castor Bunch - "Luther The Anthropoid (Ape Man)" (1972, Billboard #105)
The Delegates - "Convention '72" (1972, Billboard #8)
Jimmy Castor Bunch - "The Bertha Butt Boogie - Pt. I" (1975, Billboard #16)
Jimmy Castor Bunch - "King Kong - Pt. I" (1975, Billboard #69)

Listening to the Jimmy Castor Bunch today, one gets a transgressive twinge of political incorrectness. The New York City vocalist/saxophonist Castor's first charting hit was the 1966 boogaloo Top 40 party track "Hey, Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You," in which the African-American takes on a Puerto Rican accent. His 1972 "Troglodyte (Cave Man)" (mispelled on the original picture sleeve) told the story of a neanderthal who'd growl "gotta find a woman, gotta find a woman" before grabbing the hair of a female named "Bertha Butt" ("one of the Butt sisters"), who, after lying there "frightened and cold," comes around and says "I'll sock it to ya, Daddy!"

This was the stuff of Top Ten hits in 1972. A huge-selling novelty "drop in" track called "Convention '72" confirmed this. Recorded by a group of Tampa Bay DJs who called themselves "The Delegates," it relied on "Troglodyte" as its central gag. When Castor's follow up single, "Luther The Anthropoid (Ape Man)," conked out at #105, it indicated that he perhaps misunderstood his previous hit's appeal. His 1975 Top Twenty hit "The Bertha Butt Boogie - Part 1," though, showed him in a state of comprehension concerning the profitable side of primal.

Aside from all of this novelty song talk is the fact that Jimmy Castor - who wrote Frankie Lymon and the  Teenagers' "I Promise to Remember" and would often stand in for Lymon in the fifties - was an extraordinary entertainer, sax player, and vocalist who could lay down a monstrous groove with that band of his. You can see what I'm talking about if you watch this whole clip from a 1973 appearance on the SOUL! TV show. Here he leads his six-piece combo through the oft-sampled "It's Just Begun," "Hey Leroy," a savory instrumental version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," "Troglodyte," a timely investigation of the preteen condition called "I'm Not a Child Anymore," and a scorching "Foxy Lady."

Also worth checking out: "King Kong - Pt. 1," a 1975 Rufus Thomas evocation that followed up "Bertha Butt Boogie" and likely electrified dance floors in its day. By 1977, Castor's Hot 100 days were over, although his back catalog proved to be a borrower's wonderland.    

Sunday, November 9, 2014

God Rock Sunday: Sha Na Na's Top 40 of the Lordy

"Underneath the iconic [Woodstock] music festival's mud, grass, and layers of '60s hippy mythology, a quintessentially '70s seed flowered in the form of '50s revivalism when Sha Na Na, in pompadours and gold lamé, raved up on golden oldies like Danny and the Juniors' 'At the Hop.'" That's what I wrote about them (p. 66).

And here's what their one time manager Ron Weisner wrote about them in his Listen Out Loud (pp. 66-67): "On more than one instance, they duked it out before they took the stage...I often had to break it up; what usually put the kibosh on the scuffle was me telling them, 'If you guys don't get your sh*t together, they'll cancel the show, and if they cancel the show, you won't get paid.' That always ended the fight...for the time being. Sometimes they waited until after the show to beat the sh*t out of each other."

A hard working band, nonetheless, New York City's Sha Na Na was among the most visible manifestations of the seventies' yearning for a simpler time. It's easy to forget, though, that before the band's TV variety show years, which ran between 1977 and 1981, they were comparatively confrontational. This full page ad appeared on the back of the July 17, 1971, issue of Billboard and flashed their early '70s slogan: "Greased and Ready to Kick Ass."  In his Performing Glam Rock, Philip Auslander equates the group's implicitly violent disdain for the counterculture with that of Alice Cooper. He reports that the group "often taunted their audiences with such lines as 'We gots just one thing to say to you f*ckin' hippies and that is rock 'n' roll is here to stay!'" (pp. 33-34).

Interestingly, out of the three singles Sha Na Na charted with in Billboard, two of those happened in 1971. (The third one, a cover of "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet," reached #55 in 1975.)  The first of these, "Only One Song," was a ballad no one today would peg as the product of a '50s revival, while "Top Forty" managed to tap into nostalgia, radio format lingo, and the concurrent God rock trend all at once while sending up the Statler Brothers.

Sha Na Na - "Only One Song" (1971, Billboard #110)
Sha Na Na - "Top Forty" (1971, Billboard #84)