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"