Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sha Na Na's 2 Early '70s Charting Singles

Here's what I wrote about them in my book (p. 66): "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.'"

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. The full page ad above 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. (Their third, a disco-tinged 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," another song on the outer edges of the typical Sha Na Na sound, still managed to tap into nostalgia, radio format lingo, and the concurrent God rock trend while sending up the Statler Brothers. (Both of the 1971 A-sides were written by group keyboardist "Screamin'" Scott Simon.)

Sha Na Na - "Only One Song" (Billboard #110, entered 5/15/71). Written by Scott Simon. Produced by Eddie Kramer. 45: "Only One Song"/"Yakity Yak [sic]/Jailhouse Rock (Medley)" (Kama Sutra 1971). LP: Sha Na Na (Kama Sutra 1971).

Side B contains the more standard representation of the Sha Na Na sound.

Sha Na Na - "Top Forty" (Billboard #84, entered 8/7/71). Written by Scott Simon. Produced by Eddie Kramer. 45: "Top Forty"/"I Wonder Why" (Kama Sutra 1971). LP: Sha Na Na (Kama Sutra 1971).

The picture sleeve for this showed the song title as "Top Forty of the Lord" but with the label simply as "Top Forty." Side B, as with the previous single, delivered a truer rendering of the band's live sound, covering the Dion and the Belmonts classic.

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