Friday, September 4, 2015

Chart Song Cinema: The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)

"Come Saturday Morning" (1969)
The Sandpipers

Written by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn * Produced by Allen Stanton * Arranged by Nick DeCaro * 45: "Come Saturday Morning" / "Pretty Flamingo" * LP: Come Saturday Morning * Label: A&M * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#8), Hot 100 (#17) * Entered: 1969-11-15 (easy listening), 1969-12-20 (Hot 100)

Reviewing Alan J. Pakula's The Sterile Cuckoo in late 1969, Roger Ebert complained about its reliance on the "Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interlude," a then-fashionable movie device depicting "lovers floating over the countryside" to the sound of the "hit single on the sound track." For Ebert, The Sterile Cuckoo's three such scenes interfered with its "rhythm" and wrongfully presented lead characters Pookie (Liza Minelli) and Jerry (Wendell Burton), who stumble together into an imbalanced college fling, as "conventional lovers."

More than a few listeners would likely be OK if those three scenes were all the movie contained, though, especially if the Sandpipers' lovely "Come Saturday Morning" (which climbed to #17 in 1970 and became an easy listening staple) is what drew them into it in the first place. The song features unambiguous lyrics by Dory Previn about a weekend-oriented relationship, a wistful melody by Fred Karlin, and the most sublime musical arrangement (courtesy of Nick DeCaro) the "Guantanamera" Sandpipers, a vocal trio from LA, would ever take part in. It's the song itself that gives those soft focus scenes an appropriately bittersweet context, and in his criticism, Ebert's tin ear is showing.

Without those scenes, all that's left is novelist John Nichols's not-so-inspiring story of two awkward college freshmen, Liza Minnelli's irritating chatter, and Burton's wishy-washiness. Those musical scenes really do help sustain the film and improve the odds of viewers sticking around past the mid-way point, at least. And in the present-day era, where pre-existing pop songs routinely appear as soundtrack filler, I honor films like The Sterile Cuckoo for commissioning songwriters to provide unique, story-enhancing material.

(Coincidence: The Sandpipers also performed the title track to the satirical film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which Roger Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for. The song appeared on the group's 1970 album Come Saturday Morning, named after the very hit single that accompanied The Sterile Cuckoo interludes Ebert disdained.)

The 1968 version of the Paul Williams-Roger Nichols tune "To Put Up with You" on side B (from Softly, a few albums previous—also arranged by Nick DeCaro) was an ideal aesthetic and contextual match for side A, and it must have been carefully selected, if not considered at one point for the soundtrack. (The hit version of "Come Saturday Morning" did not appear on Paramount's The Sterile Cuckoo soundtrack album.)

Side A: "Come Saturday Morning"

Side B: "To Put Up with You"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Early '70s Radio Hits of Brook Benton

Brook Benton had fifty-eight charting singles stretching all the way back to the numerologically coincidental year of 1958. The final series of five happened in the early seventies. Four of these - each seeming like symbolic variations on retirement - came from the Cotillion label, a subsidiary of Atlantic, while the final one, a charting "jingle single," came out on MGM.

1. Brook Benton - "Rainy Night in Georgia" (Billboard #4, entered 1/10/70; soul #1). Written by Tony Joe White. Produced and arranged by Arif Mardin. 45: "Rainy Night in Georgia"/"Where Do I Go from Here" (Cotillion 1970). LP: Brook Benton Today (Cotillion 1970). 

With no top ten hits since 1962's "Hotel Happiness," Benton took a shot with a song by Tony Joe White, who'd reached #8 with "Polk Salad Annie" in 1969. The resulting #4 smash not only became a career-defining moment for Benton, but also for the prolific producer-arranger Arif Mardin. Dripping in aching strings and a lonely piano, the song transferred a detectable sense of resignation to the airwaves, as if to signal the end of a more youthful and carefree era. 

2. Brook Benton - "My Way" (Billboard #72, entered 4/8/70; soul #25). Written by Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux, and Paul Anka. Produced by Arif Mardin. 45: "My Way"/"A Little Bit of Soap" (Cotillion 1970). LP: Brook Benton Today (Cotillion 1970). 

Benton's follow-up to "Rainy Night in Georgia" was another retirement signifier, having served as a (premature) declaration of finality for Frank Sinatra the previous year. The French melody with new words by Paul Anka hadn't fully solidified as the standard we recognize today, though, when Benton reinterpreted it as a soul groover with a twinkle in his eye.

3. Brook Benton with the Dixie Flyers - "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (Billboard #45, entered 5/30/70, soul #31). Written by Joe South. Produced by Arif Mardin. 45: "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home"/"I've Gotta Be Me" (Cotillion (1970). LP: Home Style. 

Benton's version of "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" fell shy of the top 40 in 1970, as did writer Joe South's own version in 1969. But it did establish Benton's voice still further as a sentimental one at the dawning of the seventies nostalgia boom. Side B contained a version of "I've Gotta Be Me," which was Sammy Davis Jr.'s "My Way" - a #11 hit for him in 1969.

4. Brook Benton with the Dixie Flyers - "Shoes" (Billboard #67, entered 12/26/70, soul #18). Written by Don Covay and George Soule. Produced by Arif Mardin. 45: "Shoes"/"Let Me Fix It" (Cotillion 1970). LP: Story Teller (Cotillion 1971).

Slinky, forgotten single recorded with Memphis studio aces the Dixie Flyers, a fourth encore that finds Benton having a hard time saying goodbye with his "shoes" that "keep walking back." This track has to be listened to all the way to the fadeout, where harps sprinkle haunted, lovesick stardust - another jewel in Arif Mardin's crown. The flipside is a steamy give-and-take with the Sweet Inspirations called "Let Me Fix It," for which Benton got full writing credit.

5. Brook Benton - "If You Got the Time" (Billboard #104, entered 10/7/72). Written by Bill Backer. Produced by Billy Davis. 45: "If You Got the Time"/"Take Me Home Honey" (MGM 1972). LP: Something for Everyone (MGM 1973).

The song Benton sings for his final charting single sounds so familiar to you because its writer and producer were ad men—the same guys who gave us "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." This is a proper "jingle single" in which Benton delivers a version of what would become the familiar decades-long theme for Miller Beer: "If you've got the time, we've got the beer." Backer and Davis had already launched the theme and slogan in 1971, and Benton had joined the Troggs and Billy Mack as one of the campaign's celebrity voices.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lynn Anderson's Early '70s Pop Chart Crossover Streak

Lynn Anderson, who passed away on July 30, 2015, was early '70s radio royalty. Although her country chart presence stretched all the way between 1967 and 1988, her streak of ten crossover pop hits happened precisely between the years 1970 and 1975. Below is a list of all of these in order:

"Rose Garden" (1970)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Joe South * Produced by Glenn Sutton * 45: "Rose Garden" / "Nothing Between Us" * LP: Rose Garden * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#3), country (#1), easy listening (#5) * Entered: 1970-11-07 (country), 1970-11-14 (easy listening), 1970-11-28 (Hot 100)

This was Anderson's biggie, a country #1 that rose up to #3 on the pop chart. Written and first recorded by Joe South, the song had also been tried out by Freddie Weller, Billy Joe Royal, and Dobie Grayall chart flopsbefore Anderson made it her own. Here's the Lynn Anderson quote about the song that pops up most: "I believe that 'Rose Garden' was released at just the right time. People were trying to recover from the Vietnam Years," she said. "The message in the song [was] that... if you just take hold of life and go ahead, you can make something out of nothing."

Maybe, but Anderson's recording transformed the song into a post-"Stand By Your Man" early '70s feminist anthem right up there with "I Am Woman," "One's on the Way," and "The Pill." It's safe to assume that the message more than a few women heard when "Rose Garden" hit the airwaves was "make your own damn dinner." Before Anderson recorded her version of it, it had been earmarked wrongly as a man song because it mentions diamond rings and has an implied focus on bringing home the bacon, but it only resonated once its Scarlett O'Hara-like "I beg your pardon" refrain was voiced by a woman. Anderson probably knew this but wasn't about to use the F word (Feminism) in the country press. A rueful adultery song from the Rose Garden album written by Anderson appears on side B.

Side A: "Rose Garden"

Side B: "Nothing Between Us"

"I'm  Alright" (1969)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Bill Anderson * Produced by Slim Williamson * 45: "I'm Alright" / "Pick of the Week" * LPs: Lynn Anderson at Home (1969); I'm Alright (1970) * Label: Chart * Billboard charts: country (#12), Bubbling under (#112) * Entered: 1970-11-21 (country), 1970-12-05 (bubbling under)

None of Anderson's pop crossover hits after "Rose Garden" made it past #63. Should she have embraced that song's feminist angle more aggressively? Her follow up to "Rose Garden," an ode to independence called "I'm Alright" hinted that she might have considered it, although its relatively low pop and country chart showings could have caused her to back pedal.

Country singer and songwriter Bill Anderson (no relation to Lynn) wrote this and she originally released it on her 1969 At Home with Lynn album on the Chart label. After she had switched to Columbia and had her big hit with "Rose Garden" in 1970, Chart reissued and repackaged the song to capitalize. "I'm Alright" was a suitable choice for an immediate follow up - like "Rose Garden," it was written from a man's perspective but had a much more self-empowering effect when sung by a woman.

The B-side was written by her mother, Liz Anderson, who had not only racked up a few country hits of her own as a singer in the sixties, but also scored some big ones as a songwriter, including two Merle Haggard classics: "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers" and "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." Her 1967 country top 5 hit "Mama Spank," though, was an odd equivocation of her man's behavior with that of a toddler from the days of corporeal punishment.

Side A: "I'm Alright"

Side B: "Pick of the Week"

"You're My Man" (1971)
Lynn Anderson

Written and produced by Glenn Sutton *  45: "You're My Man" / "I'm Gonna Write a Song" * LP: You're My Man * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#1), Hot 100 (#63), easy listening (#6) * Entered: 1971-05-15 (all charts)

Yes, it's just business, but listening to this string-doused country #1 about Lynn's man being her "reason for living" with the knowledge that it was actually written by her real-life man Glen Sutton makes for an unsettling experience. Coming so soon after the woman-empowering "Rose Garden," both sides of the 45 feel like an effort to right the ideological ship.

The B-side is called "I'm Gonna Write a Song," also written by Sutton, and it contains the lines "Folks sit around with their face in a frown and gripe about the way things are...We need a little more soul savin' and a whole lot more flag wavin'." But it also calls for songs about "sunshine and praise for every living thing." Welcome to the country music of the early '70s. Jerry Reed recorded a version of it in 1973.

Side A: "You're My Man"

Side B: "I'm Gonna Write a Song"

"How Can I Unlove You" (1971)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Joe South * Produced by Glenn Sutton * Arranged by Cam Mullins * 45: "How Can I Unlove You" / "Don't Say Things You Don't Mean" * LP: How Can I Unlove You * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#1), Hot 100 (#63), easy listening (#30) * Entered: 1971-08-21 (all charts)

"How Can I Unlove You" was the second of three Joe South-written hits for Lynn Anderson. With its sprightly strings and marimbas, it rode a cheerful sound to the top of the country singles chart while undermining the lyrics' central emotion. Joe South sounds a bit more distraught on his own 1971 recording. Glenn Sutton's "Don't Say Things You Don't Mean" approached the "Rose Garden" attitude but sounded merely like a vulnerable woman's complaint. Arranger Cam Mullins reprised the opening chord change of his "Rose Garden" instrumental hook (root to flat-three) to reinforce the association. The track appeared, along with some other B side interlopers, among charting hits on Lynn Anderson's Greatest Hits the following year

Side A: "How Can I Unlove You"

Side B: "Don't Say Things You Don't Mean"

"Cry" (1972)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Churchill Kohlmann * Produced by Glenn Sutton * Arranged by Cam Mullins * 45: "Cry" / "Simple Words" * LP: Cry * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#3), Hot 100 (#71), easy listening (#16) * Entered: 1972-01-29 (all charts)

With "Cry," Lynn Anderson translates Johnny Ray's classic 1951 #1 hit into a classic early '70s country hit. Although Ray, in his original recording, seemed to be shedding tears (and reportedly did during live performances), Anderson's comparative show of restraint gives it emotional complexity, as though she's not the one who's hurting but knows what it's like and is here to help. Composer Churchill Kohlmann, an African American factory worker, is one of pop music history's many casualties of underpaid exploitation. Glenn Sutton's "Simple Words" provides a welcome sense of assurance after the heavy heart strings of "Cry."

Side A: "Cry"

Side B: "Simple Words"

"Listen to a Country Song" (1972)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Alan Garth and Jim Messina * Produced by Glenn Sutton * 45: "Listen to a Country Song" / "That's What Loving You Has Meant to Me" * LP: Listen to a Country Song * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#4), Bubbling under (#107)

This was Lynn Anderson's version of a Loggins and Messina song that had appeared on that duo's 1971 Sittin' In album. It embodied a paradoxical early '70s scenario in which a mainstream country artist covered a pop artist's "country" caricature offering—of a sort never usually a part of the country artist's standard repertoire—in the name of "crossing over." (cf. John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy.") And of course, this track was the most rock 'n' roll Anderson would ever sound. A Glenn Sutton exercise in key changes appears as the B side.

Side A: "Listen to a Country Song"

Side B: "That's What Loving You Has Meant to Me"

"Fool Me" (1972)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Joe South * Produced by Glenn Sutton * 45: "Fool Me" / "What's Made Milwaukee Famous" * LP: Listen to a Country Song * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#4), bubbling under (#101) * Entered: 1972-10-14 (country), 1972-11-18 (bubbling under)

"Fool Me" was Lynn Anderson's third and final pop crossover hit to be written by Joe South. As with her version of his "How Can I Unlove You," she missed the emotional mark in comparison to South's own recording. (Anderson had also recorded a spirited version of South's popular "Games People Play" in 1969 as an album track.) The single's flipside was her version of Glenn Sutton's recent classic "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)," which rearranged the perspective of the 1968 Jerry Lee Lewis country top ten recording: she's the loser because her man's a drunk.

Side A: "Fool Me"

Side B: "What's Made Milwaukee Famous"

"Keep Me in Mind" (1973)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Glenn Sutton and George Richey * Produced by Glenn Sutton * 45: "Keep Me in Mind" / "Rodeo Cowboy" * LP: Keep Me in Mind * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#1), bubbling under (#104) * Entered: 1973-01-13 (country), 1973-03-03 (bubbling under) 

A shining bit of countrypolitan satin, "Keep Me in Mind" was a co-write between Glenn Sutton and George Richey (who would marry Tammy Wynette in 1978 and stand by her until her death in 1998). Cam Mullins's arrangement gave it an added air of refinement. Sutton's "Rodeo Cowboy" on side B, going in a different stylistic direction from side A, trotted with likable country folk authenticity.

Side A: "Keep Me in Mind"

Side B: "Rodeo Cowboy"

"Top of the World" (1973)
Lynn Anderson

Written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis * Produced by Glenn Sutton * 45: "Top of the World" / "I Wish I Was a Little Boy Again" (Columbia 1973) * LP: Top of the World * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#2), Hot 100 (#74), easy listening (#34) * Entered: 1973-06-02 (country), 1973-06-30 (Hot 100), 1973-07-21 (easy listening)

Although the Carpenters had released "Top of the World" as an album track on their 1972 A Song for You LP, it was Lynn Anderson who had a hit with it first in the summer of 1973; her #2 country chart success convinced them to try it out as a single, which they released in September 1973, eventually reaching Billboard's top slot. Other contemporary pop hits Anderson covered on her early seventies albums included "Knock Three Times," "Joy to the World," "When You Say Love," "We've Got to Get It On Again," "City of New Orleans," "I Believe in Music," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," and "Killing Me Softly with His Song," among others.

The B-side of "Top of the World" was a complicated offering from Anderson, who—whether she realized it or not—was one of country music's voices of gender experimentation, having recorded two songs ("Rose Garden" and "I'm Alright") originally intended for men. Songwriting credits for "I Wish I Was a Little Boy Again" went to Darrell Edwards (a frequent George Jones collaborator) and Glenn Sutton, who was a prolific writer of country songs with childhood themes, especially for Tammy Wynette. This one had Anderson pining for her tomboy youth with the following lines: "Girls grow into women and boys grow into men/ And the world of make believe all too soon must end/ And I blame that awful change for the shape my life is in/ Oh I wish I was a little boy again."

Side A: "Top of the World"

Side B: "I Wish I Was a Little Boy Again"

"What a Man My Man Is" (1973) Lynn Anderson

Written and produced by Glen Sutton * 45: "What a Man, My Man Is" / "Everything's Falling in Place (For Me and You)" * LP: What a Man My Man Is * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Country (#1), Hot 100 * Entered: 12-07-1974 (country), 1975-01-04 (Hot 100)

With this single, Anderson's then-husband Glenn Sutton again took the opportunity to write her a song in praise of her man. This one—with its memorable guitar lines—and "You're My Man" were both country number ones, though, so who's laughing? This was Anderson's final appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 and also her very last country chart topper, although she'd appear with regularity on that chart until 1988. The gender games continue (see "I Wish I Was a Little Boy Again" above) on the final song on the LP, "I Feel Like a New Man Today," which was written by her mother, Liz Anderson.

"What a Man My Man Is"

Bonus: "I Feel Like a New Man Today"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

25 Ecology-Conscious Radio Hits of the Early '70s

The first official Earth Day (April 22, 1970) reflected a new environmental awareness taking cues from the Woodstock generation's urge to get "back to the land." This urge went mainstream in the form of environmental legislation, brisk-selling books like The Whole Earth Catalog, Future Shock, and The Late Great Planet Earth, and a booming health food industry, among other things. In pop music, ecological issues became an identifying feature. No era's top selling singles before or since would reference pollution quite so frequently.

The following list includes the biggest singles from the era that show a distinct sense of ecological concern. To make the list, the songs had to have appeared somewhere between 1 and 130 on Billboard's pop singles chart at any point from 1970 to 1974 and contain at least one line expressing concern for the air, the water, or the land. Not included here are any of the numerous songs that merely celebrate country life or any ecologically-oriented non-charting album tracks, however well-known. All of the titles are ordered according to the date of their first appearance in Billboard. This is because it's common for any one of these to be written about as "the first," but no, the subject was a happening thing back then.

1. Pacific Gas & Electric - "Are You Ready" (Billboard #14, entered 5/30/70). Written by Charlie Allen and John Hill. Produced by John Hill. 45: "Are You Ready"/"Staggolee" (Columbia 1970). LP: Are You Ready (Columbia 1970).

Pollution gets listed as one of the social ills Jesus can help fix. ("If you breathe air you'll die/ Perhaps you wonder the reason why.")  Co-writer Charlie Allen is the group's lead vocalist. 

2. The Neighborhood - "Big Yellow Taxi" (Billboard #29, 6/20/70). Written by Joni Mitchell. Produced by Jimmy Bryant. 45: "Big Yellow Taxi"/"You Could Be Born Again" (Big Tree 1970). LP: Debut (Big Tree 1970).

This vocal-troupe version of Joni Mitchell's song about paved-over parking lots, tree museums and DDT charted a week earlier than her own more natural-sounding record. It also charted higher. Side B covers a Free Design song.

3. The Guess Who - "Hand Me Down World" (Billboard #17, entered 7/18/70). Written by Kurt Winter. Produced by Jack Richardson. 45: "Hand Me Down World"/"Runnin' Down the Street." LP: Share the Land.

The environmentalism is implicit here ("Anybody see the sky weeping tears for the ocean?"). The Canadian group's follow up hit, "Share the Land," had a made-to-order Earth Day title, but the lyrics focused instead on communal hand-holding.

4. Joni Mitchell - "Big Yellow Taxi" (Billboard #67, entered 7/25/70). Written and produced by Joni Mitchell. 45: "Big Yellow Taxi"/"Woodstock" (Reprise 1970). LP: Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise 1970).

(Also see nos. 2 and 25.) A John Wilson animation of this record aired on the popular Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on August 8, 1971. In the mid-nineties a renewed preoccupation with the song took hold thanks to a shopping mall-friendly remix EP, soundtrack placements, and a charting cover version by Amy Grant. In 2003 Counting Crows pecked at it some more for another charting cover version.

5. Three Dog Night - "Out in the Country" (Billboard #15, entered 8/29/70). Written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols. Produced by Richard Podolor. 45: "Out in the Country"/"Good Time Livin" (Dunhill/ABC 1970). LP: It Ain't Easy (Dunhill/ABC 1970).

This one stands apart from other frolics in the hay by painting a grim picture in the chorus: "Before the breathin' air is gone/ Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time/ Out where the rivers like to run/ I stand alone and take back something worth remembering."  

6. Spirit - "Animal Zoo" (Billboard #97, entered 9/12/70). Written by Jay Ferguson. Produced by David Briggs. 45: "Animal Zoo"/"Red Light Roll On" (Epic 1970). LP: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic 1970).

The first single from Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, the final album for the classic lineup of this inventive Los Angeles group, satirizes life in the city, saying that "the air I breathe and the water I drink is selling me short..."

7. Blue Mink - "Our World" (Billboard #64, entered 9/26/70). Written by Herbie Flowers and Kenny Pickett. Produced by Blue Mink. 45: "Our World"/"Pastures New" (Philips 1970). LP: Our World (Philips 1970).

Blue Mink was a British group that included songwriter Roger Cook and bass guitar ace Herbie Flowers, and their only US hit referenced "people trying not to choke...breathing the smoke," black clouds and "troubled waters." (I'm a fan of the B-side, written by the band's keyboardist Roger Coulam and featuring Flowers's rapid-fire bass fills.)

8. The Kinks - "Apeman" (Billboard #45, entered 1/2/71). Written and produced by Ray Davies. 45: "Apeman"/"Rats." LP: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970).

Ray Davies pokes fun at the nature movement by lauding the lifestyle of primates. Musically, he draws from the Caribbean trend. ("I look out my window but I can't see the sky/ 'Cause the air pollution is a-fogging up my eyes.")

9. Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band - "Solution for Pollution" (Billboard #96, entered 1/23/71). Written and produced by Charles Wright. 45: "Solution for Pollution"/"High as Apple Pie" (Warner Bros. 1970).

Wherein a solution isn't offered, just yearned for. ("The first thing I saw this morning was polluted skies/ Some people walking around with tears in their eyes.")

10. R. Dean Taylor - "Ain’t It a Sad Thing" (Billboard #66, 2/14/71). Written and produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Ain't It a Sad Thing"/"Back Street" (Rare Earth 1970). LP: I Think, Therefore I Am (Rare Earth 1970).

The "Indiana Wants Me" singer-songwriter offers up one of pop's catchiest whistle choruses. ("Cities eating up the land/ Progress eating up the planet")

11. Spirit - "Nature's Way" (Billboard #111, entered 3/20/71. Written by Randy California. Produced by David Briggs. 45: "Nature's Way"/"Soldier" (Epic 1971). LP: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (Epic 1970).

Spirit's final charting single, although not especially detailed, was reportedly prompted by an environmental conversation between band member Randy California and a friend. 

12. Brewer and Shipley - "Tarkio Road" (Billboard #55, 5/15/71). Written by Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley. Produced by Nick Gravenites. 45: "Tarko Road"/"Seems Like a Long Time" (Kama Sutra 1971). LP: Tarkio (Kama Sutra 1971).

In their hazy way, the "One Toke Over the Line" duo from Kansas City zeroes in on 1916 as industrial Year One in Crete, Nebraska. ("Fifty-five years of pollution/ Everybody knows how the puzzle was laid/ But can anyone recall the solution.") The B-side of the single is their version of "Seems Like a Long Time" written by another Kansas City songwriter named Ted Anderson. Rod Stewart would later cover the song on his Every Picture Tells a Story album.

13. Marvin Gaye - "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (Billboard #4, entered 7/3/71). Written and produced by Marvin Gaye. 45: "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"/"Sad Tomorrows" (Tamla 1971). LP: What's Going On (Tamla 1971).

The ultimate ecology record is this one, from top to bottom. The song on the B-side called "Sad Tomorrows" is actually an earlier version of the What's Going On album's "Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)."

14. Ten Years After - "I’d Love to Change the World" (Billboard #40, entered 9/25/71). Written by Alvin Lee. Produced by Chris Wright. 45: "I'd Love to Change the World"/"Let the Sky Fall" (Columbia 1971). LP: A Space in Time (Columbia 1971).

Alvin Lee's repeating guitar riff is both unsettling and seductive - one of rock's greats. But the opening lyrics, whatever the intention, sound like Axl Rose source material ("Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity"). Pollution makes the grievance list in verse three.

15. The Staple Singers - "Respect Yourself" (Billboard #12, entered 10/16/71). Written by Mack Rice and Luther Ingram. Produced by Al Bell. 45: "Respect Yourself"/"You're Gonna Make Me Cry" (Stax 1971). LP: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1971).

This take-responsibility proclamation was a highlight of the Staple Singers' classic early seventies output. ("Keep talkin' 'bout the president/ Won't stop air pollution/ Put your hand on your mouth when you cough/ That'll help the solution.")

16. Lighthouse - "Take It Slow (Out in the Country)" (Billboard #64, entered 12/11/71). Written by Keith Jollimore, Larry Smith, and Ralph Cole. Produced by Jimmy Ienner. 45: "Take It Slow (Out in the Country)"/"Sweet Lullabye" (Evolution 1971). LP: Thoughts of Movin' On (Evolution 1971).

Like with Three Dog Night's "Out in the Country," the jazz-rock army Lighthouse's "Take It Slow" made air quality a case in point: "Trying to find fresh air to breathe/ Just can't be done."

17. The Stylistics - "People Make the World Go Round" (Billboard #25, 6/3/72). Written by Linda Creed and Thom Bell. Produced by Thom Bell. 45: "People Make the World Go Round"/"Point of No Return" (Avco 1972). LP: The Stylistics (Avco 1971).

The pulsing intro and menacing strings make for a musical approximation of urban smog. This is one of producer Thom Bell's many masterworks. ("Buses on strike want a raise in fare/ So they can help pollute the air.")

18. Tom Rush - "Mother Earth" (Billboard #111, entered 6/3/72). Written by Eric Kaz. Produced by Tom Rush. 45: "Mother Earth"/"Wind on the Water" (Columbia 1972). LP: Merrimack County (Columbia 1972).

Although the folksinger Rush is known for more than his pop chart appearances, this is one of his very few. ("Though I treat her carelessly, Mother Earth provides for me.")

19. Albert Hammond - "Down by the River" (Billboard #91, entered 7/22/72). Written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood. Produced by Don Altfeld and Albert Hammond. 45: "Down by the River"/"The Last One to Know" (Mums 1972). LP: It Never Rains in Southern California (Mums 1972).

This is not one of the handful of charting cover versions of Neil Young's murder tune. It's Hammond's hand-clapping report on how he swam in a contaminated country river and had to go to the doctor.  

20. The Osmonds - "Crazy Horses" (Billboard #14, entered 10/21/72). Written by Alan Osmond, Merrill Osmond and Wayne Osmond. Produced by Alan Osmond and Michael Lloyd. 45: "Crazy Horses"/"That's My Girl" (MGM/Kolob 1972). LP: Crazy Horses (MGM/Kolob 1972).

The Osmond brothers' hardest rocking track depicts air quality in Book of Revelation horses-of-the-apocalypse terms. ("There's a message floating in the air...There they go, what a show, smoking up the sky... If they keep on moving then it's all our fault.")

21. John Denver - "Rocky Mountain High" (Billboard #9, entered 11/25/72). Written by John Denver and Mike Taylor. Produced by Milton Okun. 45: "Rocky Mountain High"/"Spring" (RCA Victor 1972). LP: Rocky Mountain High (RCA Victor 1972).

John Denver turned early seventies nature-consciousness into a career, but his "Rocky Mountain High" is his only chart hit from the era to express outright concern: "Now his life is full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear/ Of some simple thing he cannot comprehend/ Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more/ More people, more scars upon the land."

22. Stevie Wonder - "Living for the City" (Billboard #8, entered 11/10/73). Written and produced by Stevie Wonder. 45: "Living for the City"/"Visions" (Tamla 1973). LP: Innervisions (Tamla 1973).

Wonder's urban epic from his Innervisons LP features more gasping and hacking: "He's almost dead from breathing on air pollution." The single clocks in at 3:12 while the album version contains a lengthy middle section that stretched it out to 7:26.

23. Daryl Hall and John Oates - "She's Gone" (Billboard #60, entered 2/9/74; Billboard #7, reentered 7/24/76). Written by Daryl Hall and John Oates. Produced by Arif Mardin. 45: "She's Gone"/"I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)" (Atlantic 1973; reissued 1976); LP: Abandoned Luncheonette (Atlantic 1973).

Although it went Top Ten as a reissue in '76, "She's Gone," in which the duo sings of taking heartbroken refuge in the city to let the "carbon and monoxide choke" their "thoughts away," first charted in '74, 

24. Prelude - "After the Gold Rush" (Billboard #22, entered 10/5/74). Written by Neil Young. Produced by Fritz Fryer. 45: "After the Gold Rush"/"Johnson Boy" (Island 1974). LP: After the Gold Rush (Island 1974).

Neil Young's own 1970 recording of "After the Gold Rush," with the line "look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s," is the classic version, but this lovely acapella curio from Britain is the one that charted.

25. Joni Mitchell - "Big Yellow Taxi (live)" (Billboard #24, entered 12/28/74). Written and produced by Joni Mitchell. 45: "Big Yellow Taxi (live)"/"Rainy Night House (live)" (Asylum 1974). LP: Miles of Aisles (Asylum 1974).

(Also see Nos. 2 and 4.) Mitchell's 1974 live band version with the L.A. Express is less familiar today than her original 1970 recording, but it managed to chart higher than all other versions.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wolfman Jack's "Jesus Crusade"

This headline appeared in the Nov. 27, 1971 issue of Billboard (p. 20), and Nat Freedland's article included the following:

"Wolfman Jack, the raspy-voiced veteran of 16 years in Mexican border super-transmitter radio, is shipping a public service Jesus Rock half-hour show free to any radio station that requests it. Wolfman Jack's 'Jesus Crusade' is already set for 50 major markets and begins broadcasting in December.

" 'The show features music like George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and Ocean doing "Put Your Hand in the Hand," ' notes Wolfman, 'all the religious-oriented rock songs that have made the charts.' Interspersed with the music will be Jack telling Bible stories in his own inimitable manner. In addition, Wolfman will answer mailed-in questions from his listeners as part of regular conversations with non-denominational Protestant Minister Joe Racculia.

"The show's audience will be encouraged to think of itself as members of a Jesus Christ Fan Club. 'I know this sounds hokey,' says Jack. 'But I feel that the traditional organized religious approach is obviously not reaching the kids and all I want to do is pass on the message in a way they can relate to. Like, when I'm asked if the Bible says it's forbidden to smoke grass, I'll say it's not forbidden, but the Bible says, 'Do not endanger the House of God,' which means the human body.

" 'In recent months I have been brought closer to the Lord and what I want most to do now is bring young people to Jesus. I've certainly made enough money from the other things I do so that I don't have to do this for the money...'

"...A Wolfman Jack Bible Stories album has been completed with back-up music by jazz pianist Victor Feldman and will probably be offered via the Jesus Rock show in a few months, at a lower price than if it was released through a major label."

Nothing is mentioned about any of this in Wolfman Jack's Have Mercy autobiography. I also haven't had any luck finding any other evidence about the show's existence (or the album's), save for another brief mention of it on page 21 of the April 15, 1972 Billboard. Strange.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Four Charting Versions of "Rings": Who's on the Stereo?

"Rings" was a #17 hit for Cymarron, a soft rock trio who'd later team up with Bread's Jimmy Griffin in the '90s as the Remingtons. Written by pro songwriters Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey (not the British cult rocker), the song's lyrics toyed with telephones, doorbells, and wedding bands, and suggested that success in romantic relationships correlated with the comfort level of one's living room. Four versions of this song charted in Billboard in the early seventies, each of which altered the original line, "I've got James Taylor on the stereo," with a different artist in JT's place.

Cymarron - "Rings" (Billboard #17, entered 6/12/71)Written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. Produced by Chips Moman. 45: "Rings"/"Like Children" (Entrance 1971). LP: Rings (Entrance 1971).

Who's on the stereo? James Taylor.

Tompall and the Glaser Brothers - "Rings" (Billboard country #7, entered 9/18/1971). Written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. Produced by Jim Glaser. 45: "Rings"/"That's When I Love You the Most" (MGM 1971). LP: Rings and Things. 

Who's on the stereo? Merle Haggard.

Lobo - "Rings" (Billboard #43, entered 7/20/74). Written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. Produced by Phil Gernhard. 45: "Rings"/"I'm Only Sleeping" (Big Tree 1974). LP: Just a Singer (Big Tree 1974).

Who's on the stereo? The Allman Brothers. The B-side is a sleepy cover of the 1966 Beatles tune.

Reuben Howell - "Rings" (1974, Billboard #86). Written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. Produced by Clayton Ivey and Terry Woodford. 45: "Rings"/"I'll Be Your Brother" (Motown 1974). LP: Rings (Motown 1974).

Who's on the stereo? Jim Croce.

Reuben Howell (a Motown label Caucasian) and Lobo, by the way, both entered Billboard's Hot 100 on the same day - July 20, 1974. Both of their versions also bypassed the poignant flat-VII (coinciding with "laugh and sing") that appeared in the choruses of Cymarron's version. Why did they both surface with similar renditions exactly three years after the song's first flurry of success?

Other non-charting versions: Leo Kottke did a version of the song in 1983, expertly inserting Mel Blanc as the "on the stereo" artist but also bypassing the flat-VII. In a 1982 version by Dr. Hook, they're listening to "sweet music."  And commenter James Porter has clued me in on a 1971 version by Lonnie Mack, who sticks with James Taylor on the stereo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chart Song Cinema: Last Tango in Paris (1973)

Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris depicted a steamy affair between two hopelessly damaged souls: an American widower (played by Marlon Brando in one of his quintessential performances) and a young French married girl who remain nameless to each other. At once a clear manifestation of post-sixties sexual freedom and its very seventies psychic complications, the bilingual film knocked critics off their theater seats and gave mere thrill seekers mental scars. What certainly lingered in all moviegoers' heads, though, was the moaning trumpet in Gato Barberi's theme music. Many instrumentalists got busy with personalized arrangements of the song, with only Herb Alpert and Tonight Show trumpeter Doc Severinsen checking in with chart listings. Composer Jack Elliott's theme music for the Charlie's Angels TV show (1976-81) would evoke the Last Tango theme, perhaps as an effort to heighten its already sexual edge.

Herb Alpert and the TJB - "Last Tango in Paris" (1973, Billboard #77). Written by Gato Barbieri. Produced and arranged by Herb Alpert. "String and things" by Quincy Jones. 45: "Last Tango in Paris"/"Fire and Rain" (A&M 1973). LP: (no US album appearance).

Side B is a marimba-cha-cha version of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain."

Doc Severinsen - "The Last Tango in Paris" (1973, Billboard # 106). Written by Gato Barbieri. Produced by Joe Reisman. Arranged by Harry Betts. 45: "Last Tango in Paris"/"Alone Again (Naturally)" (RCA 1973). LP: (no US album appearance).