Monday, August 29, 2016

Chart Song Cinema: Claudine (1974)

"On and On" (1974) - Gladys Knight and the Pips

Written and produced by Curtis Mayfield * 45: "On and On" / "The Makings of You" * LP: Claudine * Label: Buddah * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#5); soul (#2) * Entered: 1974-05-25 (Hot 100)

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," early seventies cinema trends ensured that the sobering food-for-thought factors overshadowed 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 blaxploitation VIP Curtis Mayfield.

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 who experiences "On and On" away from the film would rank it with Knight's or Mayfield's best work.

Side A: "On and On"

Side B: "The Makings of You"

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Baltimore/Washington D.C. Regional Breakout Hits

The following two singles are the only ones to be listed in Billboard between 1970-1974 as regional breakout hits in the Washington D.C./Baltimore area and never to have moved any higher.

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

Written by Mickey Fields, Eddie Drennon, and Martin Cantine * Produced by Martin Cantine * 45: "Cracker Jack"/"Abraham, Martin and John" (Marti) * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Washington D.C. * Entered: 1970-06-27

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 Charm City 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.

"Cracker Jack"

"Hey Romeo" (1970) - The Sequins

Written by O. Denise Jones * Produced by Crajon Entertainment * Arranged by Willie Mitchell * 45: "Hey Romeo" / "I've Got to Overcome" (Gold Star) * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Baltimore/Washington D.C.

Between 1964 and 1975, at least three different vocal groups called the Sequins, each of which included a trio of African-American females, released records that found local popularity oblivious to the others' existence. Such was the regionality of pop music in that era. One of these hailed from Los Angeles and recorded for Renfro. Another one, from Detroit, recorded for Detroit Sound, while a third one, from Chicago, recorded for Crajon/Gold Star and saw their "Hey Romeo" get enough airplay in Washington D.C. to appear on Billboard's regional breakout list in 1970. The record is notable for the involvement of Denise LaSalle as songwriter (credited as O. Denise Jones, her legal name as the wife of label head Bill Jones) a few years before she'd get a much bigger hit of her own with "Trapped by a Thing Called Love." Recorded in Memphis, it also benefited from an arrangement by Willie Mitchell, who was in the meantime keeping busy getting Al Green ready for the big time. "Hey Romeo" would be the Sequins' final release. Lead vocalist Lyn Jackson, now based in Phoenix, remains musically active. Side B included another tune written by LaSalle, with husband Bill as co-writer.

Side A: "Hey Romeo"

Side B: "I've Got to Overcome"

Thursday, August 18, 2016

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

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

Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David * Produced by Bones Howe * 45: "One Less Bell to Answer"/"Feelin' Alright" (Bell) * LP: Portrait (Bell) * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#2), easy listening (#1) * Entered: 1970-10-24

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 those days. 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 Portrait album's version of Dave Mason's  "Feelin' Alright"—a late sixties FM rock hit for Traffic later popularized even more by Joe Cocker and Grand Funk Railroad—appeared on Side B of the single.

Side A: "One Less Bell to Anwer"

Side B: "Feelin' Alright" 

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, August 15, 2016

Luiz Bonfa - "Window Girl" (1970)

"Window Girl" (1971) - Luiz Bonfá

Written by Luiz Bonfá * Produced by Ernie Alschuler * LP: The New Face of Bonfá * Label: RCA Victor * Billboard charts: 

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 Giannini Craviola 12-string guitar Bonfa was favoring at the time (pictured on the album cover), although the flugelhorn of Alan Rubin took the lead. If the track was never used on a commercial, then the reason it wasn't is one of the era's great mysteries. Bonfa, who did the arranging for most of the album, let Marty Manning do the honors on "Window Girl."

"Window Girl"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Nancy Wilson: The Early '70s Charting Singles

A vocalist with versatile stylistic range, Nancy Wilson launched her recording career with the 1959 swing jazz album Like In Love on Capitol and proved to be a valuable ongoing asset for the label. Never a dominating presence on Top 40 radio, Wilson's singles peppered the Hot 100, soul, and easy listening charts throughout the '60s, then settled in, by the early '70s, as soul radio products. A top notch stage performer and a mainstay at hotel supper clubs, Wilson was equally comfortable on camera, hosting her own series on NBC—the Nancy Wilson Show, which ran from 1967-68 and won an Emmy. In addition to countless appearances on talk and variety shows, which she was born for, Wilson guest starred on TV dramas such as I Spy, Room 222, Hawaii Five-O, The F.B.I., and Police Story between 1966 and 1974. Wilson's early '70s charting output reveals her focus transition to soul radio outlets, which would spin her records toward R&B chart positions until 1994. By the mid-2000s, Wilson would return to her jazz roots and claim Grammys in 2005 and 2007 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. 

"Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (1969) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio * Produced by David D. Cavanaugh * Arranged by Jimmy Jones * 45: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" / "Do You Know Why" * LPs: Hurt So Bad (1969); Can't Take My Eyes Off You (1970) * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#27), Hot 100 (#52), soul (#27), easy listening (#28) * Entered: 1969-11-15 (soul), 1969-11-22 (Hot 100), 1969-12-27 (easy listening)

This sultry show-band version of Frankie Valli's 1967 smash hit (which loses his instrumental can-can refrain) had caught fire on easy listening radio over a month after it had run its course everywhere else. This is likely why the next album in Nancy Wilson's high-pressure release schedule reprised it and bore its name. The gorgeous flipside, arranged by established legend Billy May, features an equally gorgeous vocal by Wilson of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke's classic "Do You Know Why." It wouldn't be long before easy listening radio, morphing into the Top 40-lite of MOR (middle of the road) and then AC (adult contemporary), would run out of room for the sort of pop sophistication on this 45.

Side A: "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

Side B: "Do You Know Why"

"This Girl Is a Woman Now" (1970) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Victor Millrose and Alan Bernstein * Produced by David Cavanaugh * Arranged by Phil Wright * 45: "This Girl Is a Woman Now" / "Trip with Me" * LP: Can't Take My Eyes Off You * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#32) * Entered: 1970-06-20

Nancy Wilson changed the perspective of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's 1969 #9 hit from third person to first, giving it new warmth for easy listening radio. Hit re-treads were common practice in those days, especially for the easy listening market—witness the album title of Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, which not only named itself after one of Wilson's recent chart entries, but brought back the same version by her that appeared on her 1969 Hurt So Bad album.

On side B she sings "Trip With Me," a song the legendary rock 'n' roll songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had written for the barely-released 1970 film The Phynx, about a fictional rock band's secret mission to Albania. Earlier in the year, Wilson had appeared on the series Room 222 as Michelle Scott, a famous singer who returns to her high school to convince kids not to drop out. Can't Take My Eyes Off You would be Wilson's final album with longtime producer "Big Dave" Cavanaugh.

Side A: "This Girl Is a Woman Now"

Side B: "Trip with Me"

"Now I'm a Woman" (1971) - Nancy Wilson

Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff * 45: "Now I'm a Woman" / "The Real Me" * LP: Now I'm a Woman * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#93); soul (#41) * Entered: 1971-01-02 

The release of Nancy Wilson's Now I'm a Woman album happened in the wake of her distingué performance in an episode of Hawaii Five-O's third season ("Trouble in Mind") as the tragic, heroin-addicted jazz vocalist Eadie Jordan. In one scene, the no-nonsense Steve McGarrett confesses to being an Eadie Jordan record collector and fanboy. Otherwise, it was a sad episode, and so was her "Now I'm a Woman" single. It seemed to exist as a reality check on the positive point of view of her previous "This Girl Is a Woman Now." Written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on their way to fame as the architects of Philly soul, the song lamented male abandonment in family and romance. Here, the girl was now a woman because she'd seen all too clearly how men really are. The track would be her only early seventies Hot 100 entry and also her last one ever. Happily, she'd make classy appearances on the R&B charts until 1994.

The single's B side presents Wilson in her familiar setting as a jazz singer in front of a big band, even though the song is a new piece written by Gamble and Huff (and arranged and conducted by Philly Soul stalwart Bobby Martin).

Side A: "Now I'm a Woman"

Side B: "The Real Me"

"Streetrunner" (1974) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Billy Page and Gene Page * Produced by Gene Page * 45: "Streetrunner" / "Ocean of Love" * LP: All in Love Is Fair * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#46) * Entered: 1974-10-05

After a hitless streak stretching back to 1971, Nancy Wilson's All in Love Is Fair album reprogrammed her sound and launched a decades long residency on R&B radio playlists. "Streetrunner," much-sampled by now, sounded tailor made for a blaxploitation film theme that never got made. "Ocean of Love," on the other side, was written by Ray Parker Jr., who at that time was working as a guitarist in Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra.

Side A: "Streetrunner"

Side B: "Ocean of Love"

"You're As Right as Rain" (1974) - Nancy Wilson

Written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed * Produced by Gene Page * 45: "You're as Right as Rain" / "There'll Always Be Forever" * LP: All in Love Is Fair * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Soul (#10) * Entered: 1975-01-25

"You're as Right as Rain," written by the ever reliable songwriting team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed, had appeared on the Stylistics' Round 2 album from 1972. That group's catalog proved to be a winning field to choose from for Wilson, who took the cozy ballad to the soul chart's top ten. The flipside included a song written by Big Dee Irwin and Dee-Dee McNeil. Wilson's next five albums, until 1979, would each contain a charting soul hit or two.

Side A: "You're as Right as Rain"

Side B: "There'll Always Be Forever"

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Jesus Christ Superstar hit parade

The Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera was a Tommy-esque concept album first, with the Broadway stage production (October 1971) and movie (August 1973) to follow after. Composed by two fledglings named Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the double LP focused on the last week of Jesus's life and presented a reimagination of the interpersonal relationships between Jesus, Judas Iscariot, and Mary Magdalene. It appeared in September 1970, buoyed up by considerable hype and a brisk-selling 1969 leadoff single by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers.

Among the album's participants were Deep Purple's Ian Gillian, members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band, the Hair alumnus Head, and an unknown Yvonne Elliman. The project at once fed off of and stoked the Jesus revival you could hear burgeoning in numerous early seventies radio hits, all of which jibed nicely with the era's soul-searching and its eye for long hair and beards.

1971 Billboard story by Elliott Tiegel on the trend ("Jesus Christ, Are You Here Again? Or, Rock Meets the Guy from Above") mentioned that Los Angeles MOR mothership KMPC played the entire album on Thanksgiving 1970 and on Easter 1971. And although the occasional story would surface that a given outlet had banned the album for being too sacrilegious, the consensus would echo Tiegel's assertion that Jesus Christ Superstar was the "granddaddy" of all the era's "Jesus stories."

Here's a chronology of all the JCS-related singles to appear in Billboard with one bonus entry at the end:

"Superstar" (1969)  - Murray Head with the Trinidad Singers

Written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * 45: "Superstar" / "John Nineteen Forty-One" (1969) * LP: Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) * Label: Decca * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#14) * Entered: 1970-01-31

The 1969 leadoff single for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's ambitious rock opera starring the Son of God did its part in generating anticipation for an album that wouldn't hit shelves until late 1970. "There are some people who may be shocked by this record," says Martin Sullivan, Dean of St Paul's London, whose quote graces the top of the 45's back sleeve. "I ask them to listen to it and think again. It is a desperate cry. Who are you Jesus Christ?" The single sleeve also attributes the track as coming "from the Rock Opera 'Jesus Christ' now in preparation."

A promo clip featuring vocalist Murray Head, who'd recently starred in a London run of Hair, shows him, who is the voice of Judas (also made clear by the single sleeve), climbing around cathedral ruins and singing alongside a chorus of six women called the "Trinidad Singers," the exact identities of whom seem to be lost. The track's familial resemblance to Aretha Franklin's "Respect" or the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Oh Happy Day" ought not to be discounted as an early appeal factor. "Superstar" would enter the singles chart three separate times between 1970 and 1971, with its third entry being most successful (peaking on May 29, 1971).

Side A: "Superstar"

Side B: "John Nineteen Forty-One"

"Medley from 'Superstar' (A Rock Opera)" (1971) - The Assembled Multitude

Written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice * Produced by Bill Buster and Tom Sellers * 45: "Medley from 'Superstar' (A Rock Opera)" / "Where the Woodbine Twineth" * Label: Atlantic * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#17) / Hot 100 (#95) * Entered: 1971-01-09 (easy); 1971-02-06 (Hot 100)

The studio orchestra led by Tom Sellers (who at the time also participated in the band Gulliver with Darryl Hall and Tim Moore) made its final fleeting chart entry with this medley of four tunes from the hit Jesus Christ Superstar album: "Superstar," "Simon Zealotes," "The Temple," and "Everything's Alright." The first concert performance (July 1971) of the rock opera was still a few months away as was its Broadway debut (October 1971) when this single appeared on the Billboard easy listening chart in early January. The choice of title for the single, which misnames the rock opera, perhaps had to do with label space. Sellers's Assembled Multitude would release a few more non-charting singles after this, including renditions of the theme from The Godfather and the one for the Carl Sagan TV series Cosmos (Vangelis's "Heaven and Hell"). A Sellers original from the Assembled Multitude's lone album appears on the flipside.

Side A: "Medley from 'Superstar' (A Rock Opera)"

Side B: "Where the Woodbine Twineth"

"Everything's Alright" (1971) - Percy Faith

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * Arranged by Percy Faith * 45: "Everything's Alright" / "I Don't Know How to Love Him" * LP: I Think I Love You * Label: Columbia * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#31) * Entered: 1971-02-06

Flowing sheets of high silken strings became arranger Percy Faith's trademark on earlier hit records like "The Song from Moulin Rouge" (1953) and "Theme from a Summer Place" (1960), but you won't hear many of those on his version of "Everything's Alright" (just a little bit at the beginning). Appearing on his 1971 I Think I Love You album, the track relies on the measured muzak-oriented voices of a studio chorus. This would be the first Percy Faith single to chart in the seventies, and although his days in Billboard's Hot 100 were numbered by the late sixties, he'd continue sending a number of tracks to the easy listening chart until 1976. Side B contains another Jesus Christ Superstar number rendered in disembodied vocal fashion. 

Side A: "Everything's Alright"

Side B: "I Don't Know How to Love Him"

"I Don't Know How to Love Him" (1971) - Helen Reddy

Written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice * Producer: Larry Marks * 45: "I Don't Know How to Love Him"/"I Believe in Music" * LP: I Don't Know How to Love Him * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#13) * Entered: 1971-02-20

Australian vocalist Helen Reddy launched a successful 1970s career with her version of this Jesus Christ Superstar torch ballad. In her 2006 memoir The Woman I Am, Reddy credits WDRC-AM in Hartford, Connecticut for breaking the single, whose B-side was an early version of Mac Davis's "I Believe in Music," later a hit for Gallery (1972) and a future variety show staple. Her I Don't Know How to Love Him album also included an early draft of "I Am Woman," which she'd later re-record and turn into a feminist anthem. 

Side A: "I Don't Know How to Love Him"

Side B: "I Believe in Music"

"I Don't Know How to Love Him/ Everything's Alright" (1971) - The Kimberlys

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * Produced by Ray Pohlman * 45: "I Don't Know How to Love Him/Everything's Alright" / "Hello and Happy Birthday" * Label: Happy Tiger * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#99) * Entered: 1971-03-20

The Kimberlys' short but auspicious appearance on the music biz radar started when they teamed up with Waylon Jennings, who'd discovered them in Las Vegas, for a 1969 album called Country-Folk. They were two twin sisters, Verna and Vera Gay, joined by their two husbands, the brothers Harold and Carl Kimberly.

Things got messy in the relationship department after Jennings came along. Here's how he put it in his 1996 Waylon autobiography: "I liked Verna Gay Kimberly. We had a thing going; she was unhappy and so was I... Her and her husband were splitting up, and she and her twin sister didn't get along." Hoping to save the group, who reminded him of his family band in Littlefield, Texas, Jennings got them signed to RCA.

Then things then got messy in the music department. Waylon agreed to record "MacArthur Park," the famously overwrought Jimmy Webb song, as part of the sessions. It had been part of the Kimberlys' repertoire, and it led off the Country-Folk album released in August 1969 under the billing "Waylon Jennings and the Kimberlys." Although the sessions spawned uncharacteristic arrangements and song choices for Jennings (even then, in his pre-outlaw years) and plenty of head-butting with co-producer Danny Davis, "MacArthur Park" ended up wangling a Country Vocal Group Grammy out of the Recording Academy. (The song reached #93 on Billboard's Hot 100.)

A 1970 Billboard reference to the "Kimberly Sisters" leads one to assume that the group had lost the brother component by then, but all three of their post-Waylon albums show the full lineup. Male voices, too, appear on their shrewd medley of Jesus Christ Superstar's "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Everything's Alright." The non-album 45 popped in for a short stay at #99, after which the group faded out like the record's echo-drenched choruses.  (A Kimberlys offspring project called Kimberly Springs, though, took a Jerry Fuller song called "Slow Dancin'" to #49 on the country singles chart in 1984.)

The B-side contained a version of "Hello and Happy Birthday," a tune from the lone RCA Victor album by Connecticut singer-songwriter Jill Williams. The producer of Williams's album had Jesus-on-Broadway credentials of his own—he was Stephen Schwartz, who would compose and produce the original cast album for Godspell (1971)a retelling of the New Testament's parables.

Side A: "I Don't Know Hot to Love Him/Everything's Alright"

Side B: "Hello and Happy Birthday"

"I Only Want to Say (Gethsemane)" (1971) - José Feliciano

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * Produced by Rick Jarrard * 45: "I Only Want to Say (Gethsemane)" / "Watch It With My Heart" * Label: RCA * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#122) * Entered: 1971-05-29

After a string of steady chart appearances throughout the late sixties, the Puerto Rican singer-guitarist Jose Feliciano reached a lull in the early seventies. Perhaps the choice to release a nearly five-minute fuzz guitar-heavy rendition of the anguished, minor-key "I Only Want to Say (Gethesemane)" from Jesus Christ Superstar didn't help matters for an artist best known for romantic moods and exotic grooves. In the US, the track only appeared as a single (although it saw inclusion on a European release called Ché Sara')After this, Feliciano's only Hot 100 entries would be "Chico and the Man" (1975) and re-entries of "Feliz Navidad" (1970), although he would visit the Latin charts with some regularity until 2004. Another non-LP track—a Santana-style Feliciano original—accompanies "Gethsamane" as the B-side.

Side A: "I Only Wanted to Say (Gethsemane)"

Side B: "Watch It With My Heart"

"King Herod's Song (Try It and See)" (1970) - Mike D'Abo

Written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * LP: Jesus Christ Superstar * Label: Decca * Billboard charts: — (entered Boston's WMEX airplay chart 1970-06-03)

Mike D'Abo, who up until 1969 had been the lead singer for the British group Manfred Mann, sang the role of King Herod on the Jesus Christ Superstar album but didn't appear in the Broadway musical when it debuted in October 1971. His ragpop mockery of the title character neither charted nor saw release as a single, but it did rack up heavy airplay as an album track over the summer of '71 on Boston AM powerhouse WMEX. (Wikipedia tidbit: In his younger days, D'Abo had been a theology student at Cambridge, but became disillusioned.)

"King Herod's Song (Try It and See)"

"I Don't Know How to Love Him" (1970) - Yvonne Elliman 

Written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice * 45: "Overture: Jesus Christ Superstar" / "I Don't Know How to Love Him" (1971) * LPs: Jesus Christ Superstar (1970); Yvonne Elliman (1972) * Label (all releases): Decca * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#28) * Entered: 1971-06-12

Multiple song renditions still went to battle on the pop charts in the early seventies, a decades-long tradition that finally fizzled out (with few resurgences) after Lost Horizon circa 1973. In the case of "I Don't Know How to Love Him," Hawaiian singer Yvonne Elliman's original 1970 romantic paean for Jesus charted two months after Helen Reddy's cover version did, and one month after the low chart entry by the Kimberlys. Reddy took it to #13, while Elliman, whose version featured a memorable Moog simulation of a wooden flute, saw hers underperform at #28. (In early 1972, she would compete with a version by Petula Clark on the UK singles chart.) She'd later perform the song in the 1973 film as the beshawled Mary Magdalene. The successful Jesus Christ Superstar rock opera LP launched a respectable seventies chart run for Elliman, crescendoing with "If I Can't Have You," her #1 hit from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. By 1980, she'd turn her back on the music biz to raise her two kids.

Side A: "I Don't Know How to Love Him"

Side B: "Overture: Jesus Christ Superstar"

"Everything's Alright" (1971) - Yvonne Elliman

Written and produced by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice * 45: "Everything's Alright" / "Heaven on Their Minds" * LP: Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) * Label: Decca * Billboard chart: Hot 100 (#92) * Entered: 1971-10-16

As with Murray Head's original version of "Superstar," Yvonne Elliman's "Everything's Alright" (with its distinctive organ/moog intro) has all the ambience and churning grandeur you would expect to hear in a rock opera. That's especially true with the compressed, three-minute 45, which fades out as the orchestra swells. The song is a cheerful, 5/4 reassurance from Mary Magdalene to Jesus, while the flipside (credited to "Various Artists" even though it's Murray Head who sings lead) is the counterbalancing, skeptical voice of Judas. It's a song that begs for a metal version.

Side A: "Everything's Alright"

Side B: "Heaven on Their Minds"

"I Don't Know How to Love Him/ Superstar" (1971) - Petula Clark

Written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice * Produced by Johnny Harris and Claude Wolff * Arranged by Johnny Harris * 45: "I Don't Know How to Love Him/Superstar" / "Maybe" * Label: Warner Bros. * Billboard charts: —; UK: #47 * Entered: 1972-01-15

Petula Clark, the British invader-ette who scored her first US Billboard hit with the #1 "Downtown," charted 21 additional times between 1964 and 1981. Her medley from Jesus Christ Superstar did not rank among these, although it did reach #47 in the United Kingdom in early 1972. The trademark strings missing in Percy Faith's entry (above) turned up in this Johnny Harris arrangement (listen at 2:42), which uses the "Superstar" chorus as bookends. With numerological quirkiness, Murray Head's original 1969 version of "Superstar" also peaked in the UK at #47 in early 1972. Co-producer Claude Wolff was Clark's longtime time publicist and husband. The B-side is a song by John Bromley and arranger Harris—not a version of the Chantels classic.

Side A: "I Don't Know How to Love Him/Superstar"

Side B: "Maybe"

"Jesus Christ S.R.O. (Standing Room Only)" (1972) - Tom Paxton

Written by Tom Paxton * Produced by Tony Visconti * 45: "Peace Will Come" / "Jesus Christ S.R.O. (Standing Room Only)" * LP: Peace Will Come * Label: Reprise * Billboard charts: — * (entered Boston's WMEX airplay chart on 1972-08-24)

Tom Paxton established himself in the sixties as a folk singer worth paying attention to with songs like "The Last Thing on My Mind," "What Did You Learn in School Today," "Bottle of Wine," and "The Marvelous Toy." His 1972 barb at Jesus Christ Superstar's box office success (with allusions to the nostalgia-boom Broadway production Grease) adopted the jocular gait of the musical's "Herod's Song" and flirted with success of its own after getting added to the playlist of trendsetting Top 40 station WMEX in Boston. His Peace Will Come album made a general bid for pop radio acceptance by getting T. Rex/David Bowie producer Tony Visconti on board. (Session player Gordon Huntley handled the steel guitar riff.)

"Jesus Christ S.R.O. (Standing Room Only)"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bobby Goldsboro - "Watching Scotty Grow" (1970)

"Watching Scotty Grow" (1970) - Bobby Goldsboro 

Written by Mac Davis * Produced by Bob Montgomery and Bobby Goldsboro * 45: "Watching Scotty Grow"/"Water Color Days" * LPs: We Gotta Start Lovin', Watching Scotty Grow * Label: United Artists * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#11), easy listening (#1), country (#7) * Entered: 1970-12-19 (easy listening), 1970-12-26 (Hot 100), 1971-01-23 (country)

Bobby Goldsboro's #1 hit "Honey" (1968), with its maudlin arrangement, gawky narrative, and crocodile tears, established him as one of pop music's emperors of melodrama. He'd been vying for the crown as far back as 1962, when his first charting single ("Molly") expressed the words of a soldier returning home and revealing to his family that he could no longer see.

Even so, throughout his entire eleven-year run of hits, Goldsboro's material would demonstrate the odd ability to yo-yo from bathos to pathos, drawing listeners into a realm of meaningful reflection against their better judgment. With "Watching Scotty Grow," for example, you hear its smiley-face trumpet hook and Mac Davis's lyrics about a little boy doing little boy things, and you grimace. But then you find yourself caught up in reflection. "You can have your TV and your nightclubs and you can have your drive-in picture show," Goldsboro sings. "I'll stay here with my little man near and we'll listen to the radio, biding my time and watching Scotty grow."

Because I considered the song, as I still do, to be a perfect signature record for the era's pop music preoccupation with children, I titled the first chapter of my Early '70s Radio book "Watching Scotty Grow: The New Top 40 and the Merging Spheres of Parents and Preteens." The song even presented the very scenario I was discovering, a world where kids and adults hung around together and listened to the same station, with everything that implies. ("This mutual radio-listening environment," as I put it then, "was a contradictory affair.")

"Watching Scotty Grow" originally appeared on a late 1970 Goldsboro album called We Gotta Start Lovin' but, presumably because of its radio success, it became the title song to a revamped early 1971 album (with the same track listing and United Artists serial number). Its new cover depicted Goldsboro and a youngster in father-son mode.

Billboard conducted a rather sloppy handling of this album's chart run. Released on November 20 (according to an 11/28/70 ad), it debuted on January 23, 1971, and resided on the chart all the way until March 6, 1971, as the mistitled "You Gotta Start Lovin'." On March 13, the album disappeared from the chart altogether, and on March 20, Watching Scotty Grow appeared as a new entry. On March 27, though, it appeared as an album that had been on the chart for nine weeks, ignoring the fact that it had vanished for one entire week. (It peaked at #120 on February 20, by the way.)

On the single's flipside is a badly dated paint stroke by Kenny O'Dell and Larry Henley. On November 11, 1970, Billboard had spotlighted this "potent interpretation" as the A side. (It also recommends a competing version by a vocalist named Randy Horan.)

Side A: "Watching Scotty Grow"

Side A: "Water Color Days"

See also: A KMPC Playlist circa 1971

Monday, August 1, 2016

Jim Pike - "Morning Girl" (1971)

Jim Pike - "Morning Girl" (1971)

Written by Tupper Saussy * Produced by Jim Pike and Tony Butala * 45: "Morning Girl"/"Here, There and Everywhere" * LP: Everything Is Good About You * Label: Capitol * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#34)

Although the label on the Capitol 45 label and the chart listings all credited "Morning Girl" to the Lettermen's Jim Pike, this version of the Neon Philharmonic's #17 hit from 1969 eventually showed up on the 1971 Lettermen album Everything Is Good About You. Pike and fellow group member Tony Batula get credit for the production, which might imply that they also did the shimmering, Percy Faith-conscious string arrangement, but perhaps Al DeLory, who's credited on five other songs, had a hand in it. This was the last chart entry for anything written by the Neon Philharmonic's Tupper Saussy; future teen idol Shaun Cassidy, though, would give a version of "Morning Girl" a whirl as his very first single in 1975. The B-side featured a rendition of the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere," again billed to Pike even though it had appeared previously on the 1969 Lettermen album Hurt So Bad. Arranged by Perry Botkin, Jr., the track featured more of the A-side's alluring strings.

Side A: "Morning Girl"

Side B: "Here, There, and Everywhere"