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
LP: Sometimes a Great Notion (soundtrack)
45: "All His Children" / "You'll Still Be the One
Producer: Jack Clement
Label: Decca (LP); RCA (45)
Charts: Billboard Hot 100 (#92); Billboard country (#2)

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. (Cross-posted at The Song ID Blog) ("All His Children")

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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

Tom Jones - "She's a Lady" 
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)

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 the glory years of women's lib. 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 song--will 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 me--a 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.  Listen:  "She's a Lady"

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 above (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 and Kim Darby and used a Glen Portis novel as source material. Unlike True Grit, an esteemed classic, Norwood is a forgotten 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).

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. Listen: "Everything Man Could Ever Need"

"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)
LP: Song Painter (Columbia)
Produced by Jimmy Bowen
Arranged by Artie Butler
Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#110); country (#68)

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. Listen: "I'll Paint You a Song"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jack Jones - "Get Together" (1970)

Jack Jones - "Get Together" (1970)
Written by Chet Powers
Produced by Ernie Altschuler
LP: Jack Jones in Person at the Sands, Las Vegas
Label: RCA Victor
Billboard charts: —

Jack Jones, with his silky-bourbon voice, was born to sing in Vegas, so it's surprising that this is the first live album he'd ever record. He'd gotten his start as a kid, in fact, singing with his dad, the actor Allan Jones, at the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino. In Person at the Sands, which appeared on a 1970 playlist of the high-powered Los Angeles MOR station KMPC, contains renditions of Jones signature songs like "Wives and Lovers" and "Lollipops and Moonbeams," but it also includes 1970 "brotherhood" songs like the Youngbloods' "Get Together," John Sebastian's "I Had a Dream," and Joe South's "Games People Play." (In spite of these motions, Jones takes a few minutes at the beginning of side two to ridicule Cubans and gays.) Joe Kloess directs the orchestra and would do the same for many of Jones's future seventies LPs.

Although Jones never charted in Billboard's Hot 100 after 1968, he'd appear with regularity on the easy listening/adult contemporary charts all the way up until 1980, the year his "Love Boat Theme" barged into our collective consciousness.

Jack Jones - "Get Together"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: Claudine (1974)

Directed by John Berry, Claudine infiltrated the early seventies blaxploitation film market with something different: a sympathetic look at a single mother, played by Diahann Carroll, who struggles to raise a large family in the deep city. James Earl Jones plays her love interest, a strong garbage collector whose laudable sensitivity threatens to function as a fatal flaw.

Although the film posters billed Claudine as "a heart and soul comedy," the sobering food-for-thought factors overshadow any laughs. (The American Welfare System turns in an especially fine performance as the villain.) Giving the film added edge are the Harlem visuals and the music written and produced by blaxploitation VIP Curtis Mayfield.

"On and On" (1974) - Gladys Knight and the Pips
Written and produced by Curtis Mayfield.
45: "On and On"/"The Makings of You"
LP: Claudine
Label: Buddah
Billboard charts:  Hot 100 (#5); soul (#2).

Gladys Knight and the Pips perform all the music on Claudine, with the hit single "On and On" exploding in the opening credits as the big-screen urban scenes unfold. Here's a rare situation, though, where a film made a song seem better than it actually was. (It's usually the other way around.) No one who experiences "On and On" away from the film would rank it with Knight's or Mayfield's best work. Listen: "On and On"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Baltimore/Washington D.C. breakout hits

The following two singles are the only ones to be listed in Billboard between 1970-1974 as regional breakout hits in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area that never moved any higher.

"Cracker Jack" (1970) - Mickey and His Mice
Written by Mickey Fields, Eddie Drennon, and Martin Cantine
Produced by Martin Cantine
45: "Cracker Jack"/"Abraham, Martin and John" (Marti)
Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Washington D.C.

Question: Hey baby, what is this cracker jack thing? Answer: Ain't nothin' but the popcorn with some sweet jive on it.

The "popcorn" was a James Brown concoction - a dance he'd started doing onstage in 1968, according to some accounts, to the song "Bringing Up the Guitar." He then recorded a stack of popcorn-oriented records, including "Mother Popcorn" (1969), an unassailable highlight in the James Brown hall of finest funk. But "popcorn" might have had more to do with the Godfather of Soul's personal lexicon of booty synonyms than with any specific dance moves.

"Popcorn music" has also become a term adopted by soul music aficionados in Europe to describe a sweeter strain of the obscure vintage sixties dance cuts you see categorized as "Northern soul" (so named for their popularity in certain Manchester clubs). It's safe to assume, though, that Mickey Fields, the tenor sax man and bandleader answering the lady's question at the beginning of "Cracker Jack," is referring to the James Brown popcorn sound.

The single showed up on Billboard as a regional breakout hit in Washington D.C., having likely racked up some airplay on WPGC or WEAM. It might have gotten more traction if Fields wouldn't have refused to ever leave the Baltimore area. Listen: "Cracker Jack"

"Hey Romeo" (1970) - The Sequins
Written by O. Denise Jones
Produced by Crajon Entertainment
Arranged by Willie Mitchell
45: "Hey Romeo" / "I've Got to Overcome" (Gold Star)
Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Baltimore/Washington D.C.

Between 1964 and 1975, at least three different vocal groups called the Sequins, each of which included a trio of African-American females, released records that found local popularity oblivious to the others' existence. Such was the regionality of pop music in that era. One of these hailed from Los Angeles and recorded for Renfro. Another one, from Detroit, recorded for Detroit Sound, while a third one, from Chicago, recorded for Crajon/Gold Star and saw their "Hey Romeo" get enough airplay in Washington D.C. to appear on Billboard's regional breakout list in 1970. The record is notable for the involvement of Denise LaSalle as songwriter (credited as O. Denise Jones, her legal name as the wife of label head Bill Jones) a few years before she'd get a much bigger hit of her own with "Trapped by a Thing Called Love." Recorded in Memphis, it also benefited from an arrangement by Willie Mitchell, who was in the meantime keeping busy getting Al Green ready for the big time. "Hey Romeo" would be the Sequins' final release. Lead vocalist Lyn Jackson, now based in Phoenix, remains musically active. Listen: "Hey Romeo"