Monday, September 26, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: Norwood (1970)

Norwood shared a few similarities with True Grit (1969): it featured Glen Campbell and Kim Darby, and it used a Glen Portis novel as source material. Otherwise, True Grit remains an esteemed classic while 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, but he's fixated on getting a spot on the Louisiana Hayride radio show (which had actually stopped airing by 1969.)

A rube-in-New York City subplot plays itself out (Portis's novel predated Midnight Cowboy by three years), while quirky characters come and go. Campbell, along the way, slings around a fancy Ovation with no case (Campbell was one of the 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-wooden 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 New York City 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:

Glen Campbell - "Everything a Man Could  Ever Need" (Billboard #54, entered 7/4/70; country #5). Written by Mac Davis. Produced by Neely Plumb. 45: "Everything a Man Could Ever Need"/"Norwood (Me and My Guitar)" (Capitol 1970). LP: Norwood (Capitol 1970).

Written by future country-pop crossover star Mac Davis, "Everything a Man Could Ever Need" runs on "Gentle on My Mind" fumes, using that song's I to II min7 sequence (which borrowed from Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly" (1966)). That sequence became a familiar late sixties/early seventies sound on the radio, usually accompanying wordy male self-analysis. "Everything a Man Could Ever Need" boasted a co-arrangement by Campbell's fellow Wrecking Crew alumnus Al Delory, which ensured that the song - already too crafty - would never make the cut on the real Louisana Hayride.

Glen Campbell - "Everything a Man Could  Ever Need" 

Mac Davis - "I'll Paint You a Song" (Billboard #110, entered 7/18/70; country #68). Written by Mac Davis. Produced by Jimmy Bowen. Arranged by Artie Butler. 45: "I'll Paint You a Song"/"Closest I Ever Came" (Columbia 1970). LP: Song Painter (Columbia 1970).

One of Mac Davis's early singles was his version of another song Glen Campbell had sung on Norwood. The song relied on the trendy II min7 chord that signified thoughtfulness (discussed previously) and, like with the one on the soundtrack, it used an especially MOR-friendly arrangement. By 1972, Davis's "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" would turn him into a multi-media crossover figure in the mold of Campbell.

Mac Davis - "I'll Paint You a Song"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jack Jones - "Get Together" (1970)

Jack Jones - "Get Together" (did not chart). Written by Chet Powers. Produced by Ernie Altschuler. LP: Jack Jones in Person at the Sands, Las Vegas (RCA Victor 1970).

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 inclusions, 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"

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 Curtis Mayfield, Mr. Superfly himself.

Gladys Knight and the Pips - "On and On" (Billboard #5, entered 5/25/74; R&B, #2). Written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. LP: Claudine (Buddah 1974). 45: "On and On"/"The Makings of You" (Buddah, 1974).

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 would rank "On and On" - when it's removed from the film - with Knight's (or Mayfield's) best work.

Gladys Knight and the Pips - "On and On"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mickey and His Mice - "Cracker Jack" (1970)

Mickey and His Mice - "Cracker Jack" (Billboard regional breakout hit: Washington D.C., entered 6/27/70). Written by Mickey Fields, Eddie Drennon, and Martin Cantine. Produced by Martin Cantine. 45: "Cracker Jack"/"Abraham, Martin and John" (Marti, 1970). No album appearance.

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.

Mickey and His Mice - "Cracker Jack"

Friday, August 19, 2016

Andy Williams - "Joanne" (1970)

Andy Williams - "Joanne" (did not chart). Written by Michael Nesmith. Produced by Mike Post. LP: The Andy Williams Show (Columbia 1970).

In the late sixties Columbia records discovered that the way to keep its classic voices like Andy Williams and Tony Bennett commercially viable was to keep the movie themes and contemporary hit covers coming. (Clive Davis, in his 1975 autobiography, reports Bennett as being none too happy about the strategy, favoring the Great American Songbook.)

The Andy Williams Show LP gathered up a handful of previous Williams covers of hits 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. The album sold enough in the US to make it worthwhile and went 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.

Andy Williams - "Joanne"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The 5th Dimension - "One Less Bell to Answer" (1970)

The 5th Dimension - "One Less Bell to Answer" (Billboard #2, entered 10/24/70; easy listening #1). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Bones Howe. 45: "One Less Bell to Answer"/"Feelin' Alright" (Bell 1970). LP: Portrait (Bell 1970).

The plush "One Less Bell to Answer" is the sound of an abandoned housewife reclining on her personal crushed velvet chaise lounge; she'll miss her man and his company but she won't be going anywhere and won't be losing anything other than him. It's definitely a more complicated economic iteration of the breakup songs that were otherwise populating the soul and country charts in its day.

The other four members of the 5th Dimension are virtually absent on "One Less Bell to Answer," which was the group's first hit on the Bell label after switching over from Soul City. Marilyn McCoo contributed the lead vocal as she would do on all of their biggest subsequent hits. A classic entry in the Burt Bacharach-Hal David catalog, the song originally appeared as a 1967 Keely Smith vehicle, employing an opening doorbell gimmick and projecting an aura of despair. McCoo's version, in contrast, featured her cool composure and an elegant arrangement that gave the song a more sophisticated range of interpretive possibilities.

The 5th Dimension - "One Less Bell to Answer"

Monday, August 15, 2016

Luiz Bonfa - "Window Girl" (1970)

Luiz Bonfá - "Window Girl" (did not chart). Written by Luiz Bonfá. Produced by Ernie Alschuler. LP: The New Face of Bonfá (RCA Victor 1970).

Brazilian composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfa wrote the song of his career, "Manha de Carnaval, in 1959 for the Black Orpheus film. (Its many cover versions often show up as the "Black Orpheus Theme.") He released three albums for RCA in the early seventies, with the first of these, The New Face of Bonfa, showing up on Los Angeles MOR powerhouse KMPC's album airplay list. The lead-off track "Window Girl" showcased the 12-string guitar Bonfa was favoring at the time, although the flugelhorn of Alan Rubin took the lead. Bonfa, who did the arranging for most of the album, let Marty Manning do the honors on "Window Girl."

Luiz Bonfá - "Window Girl"