Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Early '70s Charting Singles of Sergio Mendes

America in the 1960s developed an ear for Brazilian bossa nova and the exotic Latin grooves of boogaloo thanks to hits by Joe Cuba, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, and Stan Getz. It was American jazz saxophonist Getz who popularized the compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim with collaborative recordings of "Desafinado" and "The Girl from Ipanema," thereby setting the table for the late sixties success of pianist Sergio Mendes, a Jobim protege. Having released a number of poorly-selling jazz albums for Atlantic, Mendes organized a group with two American female vocalists and an evenly split English-Portuguese repertoire, resulting in the platinum album Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 (1966) for Alpert's A&M label.

Even so, Top 40 success remained elusive until 1968, when the group would perform "The Look of Love" (which Dusty Springfield had recently recorded for the Casino Royale soundtrack) at the Academy Awards, thereby sending it to #4 on Billboard. The pop chart path of Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 in the early seventies, though, follows a downward arc, with all nine singles released between their peak year of 1968 and 1973 charting at progressively lower positions, seeming to reflect the parallel waxing and waning of the bossa nova and boogaloo fads. They'd vanish from the singles charts altogether in 1973 until Sergio Mendes's 1983 resurgence as a wedding ballad VIP with his "Never Gonna Let You Go."   

"Norwegian Wood" (1969) - Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney * Produced by Sergio Mendes * 45: "Norwegian Wood" / "Masquerade" * LP: Ye-Me-Le * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#107), easy listening (#32) * Entered: 1970-02-21 (bubbling under), 1970-02-28 (easy listening)

"Norwegian Wood" was the fourth and final Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 Beatle cover, all of them worthwhile. (The other three: "Day Tripper," "The Fool on the Hill," and "With a Little Help from My Friends.") The arrangement accentuates the story's slow attraction > quick consummation > flight trajectory. As the music chugs along on its main two-chord rotation, you can hear Mendes (or someone) go "hyah!" four different times, as though playing the role of singer Lani Hall's lover, escaping on a horse.

The Ye-Me-Le album this song comes from (those are chant words from the title track) featured a painting on the cover by Brazilian folk painter Ivan Moraes. The other single to be released from it, Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," had topped out at #95 in late 1969. The B side's "Masquerade" sounds like the work of veteran craftsmen, which makes the apparent absence of any meaningful info about its composers—Leonard Haynes, Jr. and Ron Rose—hard to swallow.

Side A: "Norwegian Wood"

Side A: "Masquerade"

"For What It's Worth" (1970) - Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66

Written by Stephen Stills * Produced by Sergio Mendes and Herb Alpert * 45: "For What It's Worth" / "Viramundo" * LP: Stillness * Label: A&M * Billboard charts:  Bubbling under (#101), easy listening (#10) * Entered: 1970-08-22 (easy listening), 1970-08-29 (bubbling under)

Stillness was the album Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 were readying at the time they released their "For What It's Worth" single. It would be their last album before a label switch and a reboot as Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77. Halfway through the album's production, singer Lani Hall left the band to marry A&M label head and Mendes mentor Herb Alpert, leading to speculation that the group's subsequent collapse had to do with surrounding tensions. (The other female singer had been American actress Karen Philipp, who had appeared as "Nurse Dish" on a few M*A*S*H episodes.) The group's sultry cover version of Buffalo Springfield's 1967 protest anthem emphasized the song's "Stop!" motif, possibly in observance of the forthcoming album's "Stillness" title. "Viramundo" (turn around) from side B is an interpretation of a song that had appeared on the 1967 debut album of Brazilian force of nature Gilberto Gil.

Side A: "For What It's Worth"

Side B: "Viramundo"

Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 - "Chelsea Morning" (1970)

Written by Joni Mitchell * Produced by Sergio Mendes and Herb Alpert * 45: "Chelsea Morning" / "Where Are You Coming From" * LP: Stillness * Label: A&M * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#24) * Entered: 1970-11-07

Written by Joni Mitchell and given a minor hit rendering in 1969 by Judy Collins, Sergio Mendes's recording of "Chelsea Morning" seemed to take its cues, in terms tempo and rhythms, from a version by Green Lyte Sunday, swapping their violins for congas. (The Dayton, Ohio group rose to #19 with it on the easy listening chart in the summer of 1970; the Stillness album and "Chelsea Morning" single appeared in November.) The other side contained an English version of a song (originally "De Onde Vens") by Dori Caymmi, the son of well-known Brazilian folk singer Dorival Caymmi. Its pensive manner, winding melody, jarring orchestration, and flat lead vocals by Mendes make for a difficult listen. After "Chelsea Morning" ran its course on the easy listening singles chart, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 never again appeared under that name or as A&M Records artists.

Side A: "Chelsea Morning"

Side B: "Where Are You Coming From"

"Love Music" (1973) - Sergio Mendes and Brasil '77

Written by Brian Potter and Dennis Lambert * Produced by Bones Howe * 45: "Love Music" / "Walk the Way You Talk" * LP: Love Music * Label: Bell * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#24), bubbling under (#113) * Entered: 1973-03-31 (easy listening), 1973-04-14 (bubbling under)

The revamped Sergio Mendes and Brasil '77 included Mendes's wife Gracinha Leporace, among other changes in personnel. The switch to a new label (Bell) suggested further that the loss of previous vocalist Lani Hall, who had quit to marry A&M label head Herb Alpert and to launch a solo career, did not necessarily happen amicably.

The Potter and Lambert-penned "Love Music," a track from the Four Tops' 1972 Keeper of the Castle album, merged the Mendes sound with the Philly Soul-conscious string and horn arrangements of saxophonist Tom Scott. "Walk the Way You Talk" on side B is a Bacharach-David song introduced by Dionne Warwick in 1970; the Mendes version, with its Cuban piano, is the livelier of the two.

Side A: "Love Music"

Side B: "Walk the Way You Talk"

"Where Is the Love" (1973) - Sergio Mendes and Brasil '77

Written by Ralph MacDonald and William Salter * Produced by Bones Howe * 45: "Where Is the Love" / "Hey Look at the Sun" * LP: Love Music * Label: Bell * Billboard charts: #36 * Entered: 1973-07-28

Here was the final charting single for any of Sergio Mendes's "Brasil" outfits, a polite sashay through Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's crossover smash from 1972, arranged by Bob Alcivar. An even more polite treatment of Brazilian songwriter Nelson Angelo's "Hey Look at the Sun," sung by Bonnie Bowden, appears on the flipside. Exactly ten years after this single, Mendes would bounce back in 1983 with the decidedly non-bossa nova Top 5 slow-dance hit "Never Gonna Let You Go."

Side A: "Where Is the Love"

Side B: "Hey Look at the Sun"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gabor Szabo - "(They Long to Be) Close to You" (1971)

"(They Long to Be) Close to You" (1970) - Gabor Szabo

Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David * Produced by Tommy LiPuma * 45: "(They Long to Be) Close to You" / "Love Theme from Spartacus" * LP: Magical Connection * Label: Blue Thumb * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#40) * Entered: 1970-12-19

Prolific as the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo may have been, he appeared only once as a singles artist in Billboard, reaching #40 on the easy listening chart with "(They Long to Be) Close to You)." Szabo mostly channeled Wes Montgomery in his reinterpretation of what was then the latest Bacharach-David standard, with his own distinctive style eventually manifesting itself in bends and chitters. "Close to You" had been floating around since 1963 in versions by Richard Chamberlain, Dionne Warwick, and Dinah Washington, but the Carpenters' 1970 hit recording became the definitive one, prompting this cover by Szabo. A moody take on Alex North's Spartacus film theme, with shimmering orchestral strings, fills up the flipside. Having lived in the US since he was 20, Szabo returned for a visit to his home country in 1982, where he died of liver and kidney disease at the age of 45.

Side A: "(They Long to Be) Close to You"

Side B: "Love Theme from Spartacus"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Lettermen - "Everything Is Good About You" (1971)

The Lettermen - "Everything Is Good About You" 

Written by Eddie Holland and James Dean. Produced by Al DeLory. 45: "Everything Is Good About You"/"It's Over" (Capitol 1971). LP: Everything Is Good About You (Capitol 1971). Billboard #74, entered 1/30/71; easy listening #6.

"Everything Is Good About You" first appeared as a filler track on the Supremes' I Hear a Symphony LP. The Lettermen's twinkly recording of it, co-produced by the ubiquitous Al DeLory, ended up being the California vocal trio's second-to-last Hot 100 chart appearance. Also appearing on this album, though, is a worthwhile version of the Neon Philharmonic's "Morning Girl."

The Lettermen - "Everything Is Good About You"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, June 27, 2016

Johnny Mathis - "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (1970)

Johnny Mathis - "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (did not chart). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Robert Mersey. 45: "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"/"Love Theme from 'Romeo and Juliet' (A Time for Us)" (Columbia 1970). LP: Johnny Mathis Sings the Music of Kaempfert & Bacharach (Columbia (1970).

This double LP paired up a previously-released UK Bert Kaempfert tribute with a collection of Burt Bacharach renditions from previous Columbia LPs. (Too bad the title "Johnny Sings Bert and Burt" didn't make the cut.) Mathis had also recorded a number of Bacharach tunes for the Mercury label, none of which appear on this. With its minimalist arrangement built around a nylon string guitar and that familiar big-room echo on his voice, Mathis's version of Dionne Warwick's Top Ten hit from 1969 also showcased the song well, but it never charted.

Johnny Mathis - "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Gordon Lightfoot - "If You Could Read My Mind" (1970)

Gordon Lightfoot - "If You Could Read My Mind" (Billboard #5, entered 12/26/70; easy listening #1). Written by Gordon Lightfoot. Produced by Lenny Waronker and Joe Wissert. 45: "If You Could Read My Mind"/"Poor Little Allison" (Reprise 1970). LP: If You Could Read My Mind (Reprise 1970).

When Gordon Lightfoot entered the American charts for the first time in late 1970, he had already become an iconic Canadian chart fixture, with his first hit happening in 1962. But he'd also seen other performers' versions of his compositions do well in the U.S., such as Marty Robbins's 1965 country #1 "Ribbon of Darkness" and Peter, Paul and Mary's Top 40 version of "For Lovin' Me" (1965).

In 1969, Canadian hitmakers The Guess Who memorialized Phase One of the troubadour's career with a tribute song called "Lightfoot" on their Wheatfield Soul album. Lightfoot launched Phase Two with "If You Could Read My Mind" (a musical relative of the poignant Midnight Cowboy theme, with its root-to-flatted seventh opening chord sequence), which became an instant standard and role model for the forthcoming singer-songwriter era.

In 1977, the George Benson hit "The Greatest Love of All," with music by Michael Masser, plagiarized a key musical passage - chords and melody - from "If You Could Read My Mind." When Whitney Houston had an even bigger hit with it in 1985, Lightfoot finally broke down and lawyered up, only to withdraw the suit in the belief that it would do too much indirect damage to Houston.

Gordon Lightfoot - "If You Could Read My Mind"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Renaissance - "Always Something There to Remind Me" (1969)

The Renaissance - "Always Something There to Remind Me" (did not chart). Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Produced by Snuff Garrett. Arranged by Al Capps. LP: Bacharach Baroque (Ranwood 1969).

One of Snuff Garrett's many instrumental productions, Bacharach Baroque - released on Lawrence Welk's Ranwood Records - put a classical spin on the sixties' and seventies' reigning King of Easy Listening (Bacharach) that owed as much to Britain's Swingle Singers as it did to the Old World's great composers.

The Renaissance - "Always Something There to Remind Me"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Partridge Family - "I Think I Love You" (1971)

The Partridge Family - "I Think I Love You" (Billboard #1, entered 10/10/70; easy listening #8). Written by Tony Romeo. Produced by Wes Farrell. 45: "I Think I Love You"/"Somebody Wants to Love You" (Bell 1971). LP: The Partridge Family Album (Bell 1971).

"I Think I Love You" was the first of the Partridge Family's nine charting singles, and it laid out the formula for the group's adult-oriented sound. You read that right - in spite of their teen magazine appeal and kid-friendly TV show, the Partridge Family's music aimed squarely toward MOR formats. No other bubblegum group had such consistent success on the easy listening charts, and did you ever notice how, on the show, they usually did their lip-sync gigs for grown-ups in supper clubs?

A chart-topping hit, "I Think I Love You" was a schlager-esque number in the vein of Mary Hopkin's "Those Were the Days." Its composer, Tony Romeo, had also come up with "Indian Lake" (1968) for the Cowsills, the real-life family band that inspired The Partridge Family.

Radio man John Long, in his online memoir Puttin' on the Hits: A True Story About Top 40 Radio in 60's & 70's, reports having received a gold record from Bell for helping to "break" the record as a program director at KLWW in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He'd apparently gotten it into heavy rotation before the Partridge Family TV show had even made its September 1970 debut.

The Partridge Family - "I Think I Love You"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Assembled Multitude - "Woodstock" (1970)

The Assembled Multitude - "Woodstock" (Billboard #79, entered 10/3/70; easy listening #23). Written by Joni Mitchell. Produced by Bill Buster and Tom Sellers. 45: "Woodstock"/"Mr. Peppercorn" (Atlantic 1970). LP: The Assembled Multitude (Atlantic 1970).

The Assembled Multitude's #16 hit "Overture from Tommy (A Rock Opera)" provided a service in bringing the Who's album track to AM radio, but the studio instrumental ensemble's two follow-up singles, "Woodstock" and "Medley from 'Superstar' (A Rock Opera)," were less-memorable Muzak exercises. Even so, "Woodstock," employing the minor-key orchestral swathes we've learned to associate with the cinematic presence of Native Americans, could have perhaps worked as a Billy Jack-style action movie theme.

Billboard ad from October 10, 1970, provides a visual image of the Assembled Multitude, giving names to faces. Nowhere to be seen is key contributor Tom Sellers, the arranger who'd also done work for Glen Campbell, the Hues Corporation, the Electric Indian, and Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.

The Assembled Multitude - "Woodstock"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Anthony Newley - "We Took Our Love Outside Today" (1971)

Anthony Newley - "We Took Our Love Outside Today" (1971)
Written by Jennings Cobb (words) and Neely Plumb (music) * Produced and arranged by Neely Plumb * LP: For You * Label: Bell * Billboard charts:

The spoken-word For You album is the British actor, singer, and songwriter Newley's only release on Bell, and it abides in a time bubble wherein albums like Rod McKuen's In Search of Eros enjoyed ongoing sales and the term "romance" demanded a certain sexual frankness. The words come from a 1965 book by Jennings Cobb with music by Neely Plumb, father of Eve (The Brady Bunch's Jan).  At the time of this album, Newley had recently divorced from Joan Collins and received critical lashings for his X-rated film Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? His successful 1971 soundtrack for Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (co-written with Leslie Bricusse), though, would soon make Newley's world taste good again.

I'd be curious to hear how any of the tracks from For You aired on Los Angeles MOR station KMPC, who included it in a 1971 playlist. Present day listeners might hear this material as a possible template for Saturday Night Live's "hot tub lovers," in which Will Farrell and Rachel Dratch play two professors who over-articulate their one track minds.

"We Took Our Love Outside Today"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, June 20, 2016

Simon and Garfunkel - "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" (1970)

Simon and Garfunkel - "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)" (Billboard #18, entered 9/12/70; easy listening #6). Arrangement and lyrics by Paul Simon. Produced by Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, and Roy Hallee. 45: "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"/"Why Don't You Write" (Columbia (1970). LP: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Columbia 1970).

The fine print on the labels said "arrangement and original lyrics by Paul Simon," but "El Condor Pasa" actually had a more complicated authorship history, all of which, apparently, has been settled in court. Official songwriting credits now go to Daniel Alomía Robles for the music, Jorge Milchberg as co-arranger (he's a member of Los Incas, the Peruvian band featured on the recording), and Paul Simon for co-arrangement and English lyrics. Simon and Los Incas, whom he had learned it from, were both unaware of Robles's 1913 copyright. The song would be the third single from Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water LP, but it had already managed to get a cover version recorded by Perry Como on his It's Impossible album. Los Incas would return to the pop charts with Simon on his "Duncan," a 1972 song with no copyright hiccups.

Simon and Garfunkel - "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Blood, Sweat and Tears - "Lucretia MacEvil" (1970)

Blood, Sweat, and Tears - "Lucretia McEvil" (Billboard #29, entered 10/3/70; easy listening #39). Written by David Clayton-Thomas. Produced by Bobby Colomby and Roy Halee. 45: "Lucretia McEvil"/"Lucretia's Reprise" (Columbia 1970). LP: Blood, Sweat and Tears 3 (Columbia (1970).

Although their chart success dwindled after 1969 (the big year that brought them three Top 5 hits), Blood, Sweat, and Tears managed to maintain a steady radio presence with new material until 1975. Written by the group's vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, "Lucretia MacEvil" had a jazz-rock-in-your-face quality that lacked the charm and wit of their previous hits, but enough MOR stations embraced it to appear on Billboard's easy listening chart. Perhaps MOR acceptance for the group got a boost after they sacrificed their underground rock mojo for a three night stand at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in December 1969 and for a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Eastern Europe in mid-1970.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears - "Lucretia McEvil"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Friday, June 17, 2016

Dionne Warwick - "The Green Grass Starts to Grow" (1970)

Dionne Warwick - "The Green Grass Starts to Grow" (Billboard #43, entered 12/5/70; easy listening #2). Written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. 45: "The Green Grass Starts to Grow"/"They Don't Give Medals to Yesterday's Heroes" (Scepter 1970). LP: Very Dionne (Scepter 1970).

Loaded with Bacharach production trademarks of the day (tuba, tack piano, strummed nylon stringed guitars, punctuating trumpets), this Warwick single angled for Christmas airplay with its line "the sunshine of your smile melts the snow" and its jingle bells on the end.

Dionne Warwick - "The Green Grass Starts to Grow"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ramsey Lewis - "Them Changes" (1971)

Ramsey Lewis - "Them Changes" (did not chart). Written by Buddy Miles. Produced by Ramsey Lewis. 45: "Them Changes"/"Unsilent Majority" (Cadet 1971). LP: Them Changes (Cadet 1971).

This Ramsey Lewis track, the only single to be released from its album of the same name, shakes up the perception of a model MOR station like Los Angeles's KMPC, which used to play it in '71, as being a straight easy listening outlet. Although Lewis's live Rhodes piano version of Buddy Miles's signature song hearkens back to the club-date sound of earlier hits like "The In Crowd" and "Hang on Sloopy," it locks into a deep groove with the help of Morris Jennings (drums), Cleveland Eaton (bass), and Phil Upchurch (guitar). The current-event images on the album cover give it an activist vibe. (The non-charting single is credited to "Ramsey Lewis & Co.")

Ramsey Lewis - "Them Changes"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: Madron (1970)

"Till Love Touches Your Life" (1970) Richard Williams

Written by Riz Ortolani and Arthur Hamilton * Produced by Alfred Perry * 45: "Till Love Touches Your Life"/"I've Never Loved Anyone" * LP: Madron * Label: Quad * Billboard charts: —

The theme song for this violent Wild Bunch-era Western (filmed in Israel) about a gunfighter and a nun was nominated for a 1971 Academy Award, and it's one of only two tracks on the album with vocals. (A different version with Jan Daley appears at the end.) The singer, Richard Williams, had been a regular on the TV show Love-American Style, and his 1970 Where Do I Go LP, which also contained "Till Love Touches Your Life," earned a plug in Billboard that predicted "good MOR mileage." Contrary to a blurb on that album's cover from KMPC personality Johnny Magnus declaring Williams as being "on his way to the very top," Williams subsequently disappeared with rare thoroughness.

Written by the prolific Italian film composer Riz Ortolani and lyricist Arthur Hamilton (who had written both words and music for Julie London's "Cry Me a River"), the flamenco-flavored song with its fluid bass guitar runs missed the Billboard charts, although it did appear on a 1970 airplay list for Los Angeles station KMPC, arguably the nation's most influential MOR outlet.  

Update (October 2017): As mentioned above, a non-charting version of the same song with a similar arrangement by vocalist Jan Daley (which was also released as a single) appeared at the end of the movie and as the last track on the soundtrack album. A cancer survivor (at the age of 22) and a former United Service Organizations tour member with Bob Hope, Daley has continued to record and perform since 1970. In the summer of 2017, her album The Way of a Woman entered the Billboard jazz album chart and peaked at #2. (Although Daley's bios refer to her as a former Miss California in the 1960s, none of my research efforts have been able to verify this.)

"Till Love Touches Your Life" (Richard Williams)

"Till Love Touches Your Life" (Jan Daley)

Also see: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Buddy Fite - "Evil Ways" (1970)

"Evil Ways" (1970)
Buddy Fite

Written by Clarence "Sonny" Henry * Produced by Robert S. Mersey * 45: "Evil Ways" / "El Jefe (The Chief)" * LP: Changes * Label: Cyclone * Billboard charts:

Santana's 1969 hit single "Evil Ways" (Billboard #9) covered a 1967 Willie Bobo track that Bobo's guitarist Clarence "Sonny" Henry had composed. Buddy Fite's interpretation of the tune on his Changes album took its cues from the original, complete with Wes Montgomery-style octaves.

Fite was a guitarist's guitarist, even if the reserved, light jazz nature of this track doesn't always show it. He released only five albums between 1969 and 1987, and he attracted the most attention in his career with his first three. These came out on Cyclone/Bell, with Changes (1970) getting notice in Billboard for its "intriguing material" suitable for "easy listening playlists." (Los Angeles's KMPC, for one, had taken the bait.) Another Billboard mention refers to a track of Fite's called "Glad Rag Doll" being marketed as an early 12-inch single.

"Fingerstyle jazz" is perhaps an apt description for the Oregon-based Fite's guitar style, and he counted Willie Nelson, Les Paul, and Chet Atkins among his friends and admirers. His legendry otherwise locates him as a former Hell's Angel in the sixties and/or a timber worker who, after abandoning the music business in the seventies, would occasionally crash West coast clubs, turn the audience on its ear, and then disappear. Fite did publish one guitar instruction book for Mel Bay in 1997, a few years before his death in 2001.

"Evil Ways"

Also see: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, June 13, 2016

Minnie Riperton - "Les Fleurs" (1971)

"Les Fleurs" (1971)
Minnie Riperton

Written by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph * Produced by Charles Stepney * 45: "Les Fleurs" / "Oh! By the Way" * LP: Come to My Garden * Label: GRT * Billboard charts: 

A cult favorite nowadays, Minnie Riperton's first album flopped in 1971, so it's interesting to see that stations like Los Angeles's MOR outlet KMPC had been hip to it in the very beginning by including it on a playlist. An experienced backup vocalist and a member of Rotary Connection, Riperton adopted a floral concept-album approach for her debut, and one wonders if Stevie Wonderwho would later work with Ripertonhad drawn from it as inspiration for his 1979 Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants soundtrack music.

"Les Fleurs," with its "Dear Prudence" changes, was the only single released from the album, which featured the string-psych production, arrangements, and compositions of Charles Stepney along with the musicianship of Ramsey Lewis (keyboards) and Phil Upchurch (guitar). In 1974, Riperton would release "Loving You," her chart-topping signature song with those high whistle-pitch vocals, and in 1976 she would announce on The Tonight Show that she had breast cancer, which she succumbed to in 1979.

The original Come to My Garden LP showed the first song's title as "Les Fleur"—a case of plural/singular disagreement that CD reissues later fixed as "Les Fleurs." Riperton can be heard showcasing her high vocal range on the single's flipside, "Oh! By the Way".

Side A: "Les Fleurs"

Side B: "Oh! By the Way"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Perry Como - "It's Impossible" (1970)

Perry Como - "It's Impossible" (Billboard #10, entered 11/14/70; easy listening #1). Written by Armando Manzanero and Sid Wayne. Produced by Ernie Alschuler. 45: "It's Impossible"/"Long Life, Lots of Happiness" (RCA Victor 1970). LP: It's Impossible (RCA Victor 1970).

This song first hit big in Mexico, when its composer, Armando Manzanero, recorded and released it in 1968 as "Somos Novios" (we're a couple). Como's re-do with new lyrics by Sid Wayne sounded like a cinematic farewell with its shimmering strings and crashing piano. The song would, in fact, be Perry Como's final Top Ten hit and the last grand opus for the prolific arranger Marty Manning, who had first made a name for himself on Tony Bennett hits like "Rags to Riches" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

Perry Como - "It's Impossible"

Also see: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Friday, June 10, 2016

A KMPC playlist circa 1971

One of the nation's top MOR stations, KMPC-AM in Los Angeles was high-grade "personality" radio featuring heavy-hitting disk jockeys like Gary Owens, Dick Whittinghill and Geoff Edwards, and its sports, news, andespeciallytraffic coverage had the ear of every kid in Southern California's parents. But it also had an album orientation that distinguished it as uniquely early '70s MOR. The adult contemporary formats of the future would drift away from this deeper cut approach.

For such a widely listened-to station, playlists from the early seventies are scarce, with only two readily available online at a 710 KMPC tribute site. They come from 1971 and 1973 and list only albums instead of song titles. The following playlist for 1971, then, includes songs that most likely would have been chosen for KMPC airplay. (I'm guessing it comes from February of that year.)

Perry Como - It's Impossible ("It's Impossible")
Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water ("El  Condor Pasa")
Minnie Riperton - Come to My Garden ("Les Fleur")
Buddy  Fite - Changes ("Evil Ways")
Original Soundtrack - Love Story ("Theme from Love Story")
John Rowles - Cheryl Moana Marie ("Cheryl Moana Marie")
Original Soundtrack - Madron ("Till Love Touches Your Life")
Ramsey Lewis - Them Changes ("Them Changes")
Dionne Warwick - Very Dionne ("The Green Grass Starts to Grow")
Blood, Sweat and Tears - Blood, Sweat and Tears 3 ("Lucretia MacEvil")
Anthony Newley - For You ("We Took Our Love Outside Today")
The Assembled Multitude - The Assembled Multitude ("Woodstock")
The Partridge Family - The Partridge Family Album ("I Think I Love You")
The Renaissance - Bacharach Baroque ("Always Something There to Remind Me")
Gordon Lightfoot - Sit Down Stranger ("If You Could Read My Mind")
Johnny Mathis - Sings the Music of Bacharach and Kaempfert ("I'll Never Fall in Love Again")
The Lettermen - Everything's Good About You ("Everything Is Good About You")
Gabor Szabo - Magical Connection ("Close to You")
Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 - Stillness ("For What It's Worth")
Nancy Wilson - Now I'm a Woman ("Now I'm a Woman")
Andy Williams - The Andy Williams Show ("Joanne")
Pat Moody Williams - Carry On ("Junk")
Bobby Goldsboro - We Gotta Start Lovin' ("Watching Scotty Grow")
The 5th Dimension - Portrait ("One Less Bell to Answer")
Liz Damon's Orient Express - Liz Damon's Orient Express ("1900 Yesterday")
Original Soundtrack - Jesus Christ Superstar ("I Don't Know How to Love Him")
Luiz Bonfa - The New Face of Bonfa ("Window Girl")
Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection ("Come Down in Time")
Bert Kaempfert - Orange Colored Sky ("Orange Colored Sky")
Neil Diamond - Tap Root Manuscript ("He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother")
Henry Mancini - Love Story ("Love Story")
Steve and Eydie - A Man and a Woman ("Love Is Blue/Autumn Leaves")
Ed Ames - Ed Ames Sings Songs of Bacharach and David ("Make It Easy on Yourself")
Dawn - Candida ("Knock Three Times")
The Carpenters - Close to You ("Close to You")
Al DeLory - Love Story ("Love Story")
Elvis Presley - That's the Way It Is ("You Don't Have to Say You Love Me")
Jack Jones - Jack Jones in Person at the Sands ("Get Together")
Anne Murray - Snowbird ("Snowbird")
Floyd Cramer - Class of '70 ("Make It with You")

Thursday, June 9, 2016

San Francisco regional breakout: Earth Quake - "Tickler" (1971)

"Tickler" (1971)
Earth Quake

Written by J. Robert Dunbar * Produced by Earth Quake and Allan Mason * 45: "Tickler" / "Guarding You" * LP: Earth Quake * Label: A&M * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—San Francisco

San Francisco's Earth Quake played the type of well-chiseled rock and roll that would eventually get called power pop. "Tickler," their first single, is the only record between 1970 and 1974 to appear on Billboard's listings as a San Francisco "regional breakout hit" and to not move any higher.

The song would actually be Earth Quake's only Billboard appearance although they'd maintain a steady following in the Bay Area and have a cachet of historical coolness for their involvement with Beserkley Records, the indie label their manager Matthew "King' Kaufman formed out of frustration with A&M. (He'd also gotten some money from New Generation Pictures, who'd used a snippet of uncredited Earth Quake music in the 1972 Steve McQueen movie The Getaway—it's a scene where McQueen and Ali MacGraw are at a drive-in while Sally Struthers shimmies in a motel room wearing radio headphones.)

The Beserkley label also carried artists such as Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers, the Rubinoos (who included Tommy Dunbar, brother of Earth Quake guitarist and "Tickler" composer Robbie), and future hit makers the Greg Kihn Band. By 1979, with six solid power pop albums under their belts, Earth Quake would call it good. Side B, also from the Earth Quake album, is a track written by bassist Stan Miller and drummer Steve Nelson. (Earth Quake Vocalist: Steve Doukas.)

Side A:"Tickler"

Side B:"Guarding You"