Saturday, October 28, 2017

Green Lyte Sunday featuring Susan Darby - "Chelsea Morning" (1970)

"Chelsea Morning" (1970) - Green Lyte Sunday feat. Susan Darby

Written by Joni Mitchell * Produced by Peter Shelton * 45: "Chelsea Morning" / "Emmie" * LP: Green Lyte Sunday * Label: RCA Victor  * Billboard charts: Easy listening (#19) * Entered: 1970-07-25

From Dayton, Ohio, Green Lyte Sunday formed around the nucleus of Mike Losenkamp, formerly of the Cyrkle, and Susan Darby, a former bandmate of his from the Mark V. (Pop history annals indicate that this was a popular band name used by multiple parties, so research carefully.) The group caught a break when they came to the attention of British ex-pat Peter Shelton, who'd played with Ohio's Outsiders and worked as tour manager for Chicago's Buckinghams. He helped the band land a contract with RCA Victor and wound up producing their self-titled album. With their jazz-rock inclinations, the group transitioned easily to the tastes of MOR radio. 

Their version of Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning," billed on the 45 label to "Green Lyte Sunday Featuring Susan Darby," had an airy, flutes-and-vibes mood and a gentle groove that may have conceivably informed a later iteration by Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66. (That band's Stillness album came out late in the year, even though its leadoff single "For What Its Worth" had been released in August.) Side B of the single covered Laura Nyro's "Emmie," also from the album, which mostly featured original songs by Losekamp.

After this one-off LP, Green Lyte Sunday continued as a popular local attraction. One brief mention of Susan Darby in a 1979 Billboard (February 3) reports her signing to Umbrella Inc. for exclusive representation. Various online hearsay reports locate her as a Vegas club singer before falling off the music biz radar. An earlier single by her as "Sue Darby" doing the Randall-Linzer tune  "Can't Get Enough of You Baby"—and giving Evie Sands a run for her money—can be heard on YouTube.

Side A: "Chelsea Morning"

Side B: "Emmie"

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chart Song Cinema: Cool Breeze (1972)

"Love's Street and Fool's Road" (1972) - Solomon Burke

Written and produced by Solomon Burke * 45: "Love's Street and Fool's Road" / "I Got to Tell It" * LP: Cool Breeze * Label: MGM * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#89), soul (#13) * Entered: 1972-04-15 (Hot 100), 1972-04-22 (soul)

Directed by Barry Pollack, Cool Breeze did whatever it could to live up to the term "blaxploitation."  On display most prominently were the era's favorite caricaturizations of urban blackness and, as a dreary bonus, an unwavering commitment to chauvinism. Its biggest mishap, though, was closing credits that stunned viewers by even being there. Their first line should have read, "we didn't know what else to do, and we're out of money, so we're just gonna end this." Even so, Cool Breeze does have the makings of a cult movie (which it's becoming) due to its funny dialogue and time capsule visuals, such as scenes where Thalmus Rasulala's assembled gang of diamond thieves wear Nixon and Agnew masks.

The choice of influential R&B singer Solomon Burke—whose chart success was on the wane after a busy 1960s—as the movie's soundtrack man is apropos because he, like one of Cool Breeze's characters, had something of a world-tainted preacher aura. As his obituary in the New York Times reports, Burke was known in his youth as a "wonder boy" at the pulpit whose competing love for life's temporal pleasures led him toward a music career that made them all available. (As the "king of rock and soul," he would appear on stage wearing a crown and robe.) In the film, a preacher who's also a safe cracker joins the heist squad, and one scene shows three of his cohorts awkwardly discussing business on a church pew, surrounded by elders and children who are trying to worship. It's a scene full of inner angel-devil conflict that Burke probably appreciated.

After the soul chart (and minor Hot 100) success of "Love's Street and Fool's Road," which features the kind of spoken interjections he was known for, Burke had only one more Hot 100 appearance and two more on the soul chart. In 2002, though (eight years before his death), he'd release the rally-round comeback album Don't Give Up on Me, full of songs by contemporary songwriting icons.

Side B previewed a song, written by J.W. Alexander and Willie Hutch, that would later show up on Burke's We're Almost Home LP the same year.

Side A: "Love's Street and Fool's Road"

Side B: "I Got to Tell It"

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Jackie Wilson: The Early '70s Charting Singles

Jackie Wilson was one of the entertainment world's lightning bolts, a singer with boundless expressive range, a dancer envied by James Brown and idolized by Michael Jackson, and a stage performer who may as well have invented the concept. He first made a name for himself as a member of Billy Ward and His Dominoes (replacing Clyde McPhatter), after which, as a solo act from 1957 onward, he became a steady radio and chart presence with songs like "Reet Petite," "Lonely Teardrops," "Baby Workout," and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."

That last song was a 1967 smash recorded with the Motown studio's Funk Brothers and Andantes as an expression of gratitude from Berry Gordy (a co-writer of "Reet Petite," the first hit for both men). It tends to be remembered as Wilson's farewell song, his "Dock of the Bay," but the ensuing Jackie Wilson radio songs of the early seventies form a distinct and final career era worth exploring. Even for the man known as Mr. Excitement, whose off-stage life seemed destined to shudder from extreme ups and downs, these were difficult years. In September 1970, his sixteen-year-old son Jackie Jr. was gunned down in Detroit, which cast a pall over his efforts to revitalize his career. In 1975, Wilson would suffer a heart attack on stage at the "Dick Clark Good Ole Rock 'N Roll Revue," after which he'd spend the rest of his life in a semi-comatose state until his death in 1984 at the age of 49. His headstone in Wayne, Michigan, says "No More Lonely Teardrops" and "Jackie - The Complete Entertainer."

All of the following singles, except for a few bonuses thrown in for context, made Billboard chart appearances between 1970 and 1975. (The album image above comes from the Spain edition of It's All a Part of Love, which contained no charting singles.)

"Let This Be a Letter (To My Baby)" (1970) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Eugene Record * Johnny Moore and Jack Daniels * Produced by Carl Davis and Eugene Record * 45: "Let This Be a Letter (To My Baby)" / "Didn't I" * LP: This Love Is Real * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Soul (#34), Hot 100 (#91) * Entered: 1970-05-09 (soul), 1970-05-16 (Hot 100)

Jackie Wilson started out the decade with a big, bursting love hymn featuring solo female-in-a-cloud operatics for the intro. It's an arrangement tactic, though, that inevitably suggests angels receiving a departing spirit, so knowledge of where the song placed in Wilson's catalog—the first charting song for his final decade as a hitmaker—can make you hear it with a sense of foreboding. It was written by chief Chi-Lite (and Brunswick label mate) Eugene Record, who would write another letter song ("A Letter to Myself") as the title track for one of his group's 1973 albums.

The Chi-Lites' voices can be heard accompanying Wilson on the flipside "Didn't I," which also appeared on the This Love Is Real album (released at the end of the year). It credits Jack Daniels and Bonnie Thompson as composers; Daniels was a frequent collaborator with Johnny Moore (not to be confused with the one in the Drifters or the Three Blazers). The unheralded Chicago songwriter and vocalist Moore had gotten into the habit of occasionally gifting songwriter credits to his girlfriend Thompson, the way he'd earlier done for Syl Johnson's "We Did It" and Tyrone Davis's "Turn Back the Hands of Time." Grapevine Records released a compilation of Moore's vocal recordings in 2003 called Lonely Heart in the City.

All of Wilson's early '70s singles were recorded in Chicago, with a rhythm section Carl Davis identifies in his 2011 memoir The Man Behind the Music as including bassist Bernard Reed, Floyd Morris on keyboards, and Quinton Joseph on drums ("the first and last drummer that I ever saw who played standing up").

Side A: "Let This Be a Letter (To My Baby)"

Side B: "Didn't I"

"(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real" (1970) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Johnny Moore and Jack Daniels * Produced by Carl Davis * Arranged by Sonny Henderson * 45: "(I Can Feel those Vibrations) This Love Is Real" / "Love Uprising" * LP: This Love Is Real * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#49), soul (#9) * Entered: 1970-12-12 (soul), 1970-12-19 (Hot 100)

This top ten soul chart hit, which featured Wilson's famous octave leaps in the choruses, payed general tribute to the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," while in the intro and at the 1:42 mark (thanks to arranger Sonny Henderson), it payed specific tribute to "Danny Boy," which Wilson had taken to the charts in 1965. Songwriting credits went to Johnny Moore and Jack Daniels, who had also written "Didn't I" for the previous single. On the B side was "Love Uprising," written by Eugene Record, who happened to write the A side of the previous single.

Side A: "(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real"

Side B: "Love Uprising"

"Love Is Funny That Way" (1971) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Floyd Smith and Ritchie Tufano * Produced by Carl Davs * 45: "Love Is Funny That Way" / "Try It Again" * LP: You Got Me Walking * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Soul (#18), Hot 100 (#95) * Entered: 1971-11-13 (soul), 1971-11-27 (Hot 100)

Chicago songwriters Floyd Smith (Loleatta Holloway's husband) and Rich Tufo (a frequent keyboardist for Curtis Mayfield credited here as Ritchie Tufano) gave Jackie Wilson his leadoff single for his You Got Me Walking album. Its main melodic hook comes directly from the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain." The B side pumps with an increased dose of vintage Jackie Wilson vivaciousness; it's a song called "Try It Again" written by Ronnie Shannon, the man who'd also written "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" and "Baby I Love You" for Aretha Franklin.

Side A: "Love Is Funny That Way"

Side B: "Try It Again"

"You Got Me Walking" (1971) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Eugene Record * Produced by Carl Davis * 45: "You Got Me Walking" / "The Fountain" * LP: You Got Me Walking * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Soul (#22), Hot 100 (#93) * Entered: 1972-02-19 (soul), 1972-02-26 (Hot 100)

The title track to Jackie Wilson's You Got Me Walkin' album ended up being his final Hot 100 appearance in Billboard. Written by label mate Eugene Record, as were many of Wilson's early '70s recordings, it suffered from a confusing lyrical gimmick, which had his woman being so good to him that he was reacting negatively—"walking" floors, "talking" to himself, and "knocking" on wrong doors (emphasized by snare drum raps). On side B, he checked in with a social-issues litany, also written by Record, that had him seeking a mysterious "fountain" later revealed to be one of faith, hope, love, and money.

Side A: "You Got Me Walkin'"

Side B: "The Fountain"

"The Girl Turned Me On" (1972) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Leo Graham and Dennis Miller * Produced by Carl Davis and Willie Henderson * 45: "The Girl Turned Me On" / "Forever and a Day" * LP: You Got Me Walking * Billboard charts: Soul (#44) * Entered: 1972-05-14

Wilson would manage to get three more songs to the lower regions of Billboard's soul charts before his career as an active recording artist came to an end in 1975. "The Girl Turned Me On"—written by Chicagoans Leo Graham and Dennis Miller—is one of Wilson's lost dance floor classics, boosted by majestic horns and a moody piano break at 2:03. "Forever and a Day," by Daniels and Moore, follows B side etiquette by not upstaging the A side in any way, although it does play a trick by borrowing the title of a minor hit Wilson had in 1962, which was a dramatic tuxedo chanson that seemed light years away from this. Speaking of chansons, it bears mentioning that Wilson's You Got Me Walking album contained a version of "My Way," the French melody given new lyrics by Paul Anka for Frank Sinatra as an intended swan song. Sinatra ended up having more years to give, but that doesn't preclude the song's ominous, fate-tempting elements.

Side A: "The Girl Turned Me On"

Side B: "Forever and a Day"

*UK Bonus*
"I Get the Sweetest Feeling" (1968) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Alicia Evan and Van McCoy * Produced by Carl Davis * 45: "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" / "Soul Galore" * LP: I Get the Sweetest Feeling * Label (UK reissue): MCA * Charts (UK reissue): UK #9

In mid-1972, a reissue of Jackie Wilson's sublime sunshine-soul "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" (1968) zoomed up to #9 on the British singles chart, where it had never registered the first time around (but reached #34 in the US). Among the reasons for its success might have been the fact that Wilson had royalty status in burgeoning "northern soul" dance halls where soul obscurities from yesteryear ruled, and where a song like his previous "The Girl Turned Me On" would eventually be treated like a Top 5 hit.

Another possible helper might have been the release of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)," a song that didn't end up charting at all in the UK—and came out only two weeks before the Wilson reissue—but had a high enough profile to possibly get some ripples in motion. (An early 1982 cover by Dexy's Midnight Runners would hit #5 over there.) Coincidentally, "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" is a Wilson song that has a "smile" component ("when you turn on your smile / I feel my heart go wild"). Another dance-friendly Wilson track from 1966 called "Soul Galore" written by Eugene Hamilton appeared on the B side.

In the late eighties, three more Jackie Wilson reissues would storm the UK chart: "Reet Petite" (#1 in 1986), "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" again (#3 in 1987), and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" (#15 in 1987).

Side A: "I Get the Sweetest Feeling"

Side B: "Soul Galore"

"Because of You" (1973) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Edward E. Little Jr. and Jeffrey Perry * Produced by Carl Davis and William Sanders * 45: "Because of You" / "Go Away" * LP: Beautiful Day * Billboard charts: Soul (#45) * Entered: 1973-05-12

One of the identifying characteristics of Jackie Wilson's Beautiful Day album, aside from the scenic cover, is the participation of Jeffrey Perry as a co-composer on every song. He was one of five Chicago Perry brothers (with Greg, Zachary, Leonard and Dennis) all of whom worked as songwriters. He'd later record one album of his own in 1979 as "Jeffree" Palmer, and videos of him singing on Soul Train can be found on YouTube. The flipside "Go Away" is a co-write between Jeff and his brother Zachary with a soaring vocal by Wilson that might have served as a stronger plug side than "Because of You."

Side A: "Because of You"

Side B: "Go Away"

"Sing a Little Song" (1973) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Desmond Dacres * Produced by Bob Mersey * 45: "Sing a Little Song" / "No More Goodbyes" * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Soul (#94) * Entered: 1973-07-28

On "Sing a Little Song," Jackie Wilson broke away momentarily from Carl Davis with producer Bob Mersey, a longtime CBS music director with abundant easy listening credentials (and who had worked with Wilson in 1961 as the arranger for "My Heart Belongs to You"). The new song came from Desmond Dacres, aka Desmond Dekker, who was at the forefront of the early seventies surge in Caribbean sounds with his late sixties US top ten song "Israelites" (along with contributions to the soundtrack for the Jamaican film The Harder They Come). On this single, which never appeared on an album, Jackie Wilson provided a swingier (and stringier) take on a tune Dekker had released the same year with a decidedly more reggae rhythm. In 1975, though, Dekker would put out a spruced up redo more informed by Wilson's interpretation. (Where Wilson's version used a steel pan drum, though, Dekker's would use a piano.) Side B contained a lush track called "No More Goodbyes," co-written by Mersey and Harold Orenstein and sprinkled with Philly soul orchestra glitter.

Side A: "Sing a Little Song"

Side B: "No More Goodbyes"

*1975 Bonus* 
"Don't Burn No Bridges" (1975) - Jackie Wilson and the Chi-Lites

Written by Romaine Anderson * Produced by Carl Davis and Sonny Sanders * 45: "Don't Burn No Bridges" / "Don't Burn No Bridges (Instrumental)" * LP: Nobody But You (1976) * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: Soul (#91) * Entered: 1975-11-15

Jackie Wilson's career-ending heart attack occurred on September 29, 1975, while at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He was performing as the headliner and collapsed during a performance of "Lonely Teardrops," with its "my heart is crying" refrain. Although Wilson's well-known demonstrative nature onstage made it hard for anyone to discern if it was just an act, Cornell Gunter of the Coasters was able to act fast enough to resuscitate him, but not enough to prevent him from slipping into a comatose state, where he remained until his death in 1984. Another dark coda for the year 1975 involved Wilson's longtime label Brunswick, whose head Nat Tarnopol faced federal charges of financial misconduct, including unpaid royalties of one million dollars for Wilson (which, evidently, were never paid).

That year, Wilson had been readying a new album with Carl Davis, back in his familiar role as producer and with participation from Eugene Record and the Chi-Lites. The single "Don't Burn Bridges," backed by an instrumental version, came out two months after Wilson's heart attack. It had a Temptations flair, with its minor-key vocal trade-offs and a reference to the "month of December" that reminded listeners of the "third of September" opener of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." If Wilson and the Chi-Lites merely borrowed a vibe from the Temptations, the Trammps would record a song for their 1977 Disco Inferno album that bordered on plagiarism. It was also called "Don't Burn No Bridges" and sounded similar enough to be considered an interpretation, but it credited two different writers: Allan Felder and Ronald Tyson. Maybe they had made a deal with the mysterious Romaine Anderson.

The picture sleeve presented here comes from the Spain release. It's too good not to include.

"Don't Burn No Bridges"

*Non-Charting Bonus*
"Nobody But You" (1975) - Jackie Wilson

Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil * Produced by Carl Davis and Sonny Sanders * 45: "Nobody But You" / "I've Learned About Life" * LP: Nobody But You (1976) * Label: Brunswick * Billboard charts: —

Jackie Wilson's final album was called Nobody But You, and it saw release in 1976, the year after the heart attack that brought his career as Mr. Excitement to a close. The record was a more-than-worthy final statement, with a Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil title track (previously recorded in 1975 by the Righteous Brothers) that could function as a thank you to his audience, leading that same audience to wonder how they could repay a man who generated so much happiness in so short a time.

"Nobody But You"

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Original Caste: The Early '70s Charting Singles

Before the Billy Jack movie ever existed, the Original Caste reached the US Top 40 with "One Tin Soldier." After the early Dennis Lambert-Brian Potter composition with a "peace on earth" moral had run its course for them, though, the Calgary band could only manage to get three more songs to "bubble under" in 1970. The group who had been called the North Country Singers until 1968 would ultimately prove to have more traction in its homeland of Canada and in Japan.

After their flurry of early '70s success, the Original Caste managed to reconfigure off-and-on throughout the following decades under the ongoing leadership of Bruce Innes (who split up with his lead vocalist wife Dixie Lee in 1980). He's remained musically active since the sixties into the 2010s, having sung backup on the hit recording of John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" along the way. Here are the Original Caste's four Billboard singles, including "One Tin Soldier, which entered the US charts in late 1969 but peaked in early 1970.

"One Tin Soldier" (1969) - The Original Caste

Written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "One Tin Soldier" / "Live for Tomorrow" * LP: One Tin Soldier * Label: T.A. * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#34) * Entered: 1969-11-15

After signing to Bell subsidiary label TA, the Original Caste released this single written by their producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. Guitarist Bruce Innes reports not having any inkling that the song had actual hit potential until Chicago's WLS put it in hourly rotation. It seems strange that Billy Jack film composer Mundell Lowe opted to record a new version of a recent hit rather than licensing this one, but maybe the now-legendary shoestring budget of the film (one million dollars) demanded it. There was also the problem of TA/Bell Records being a division of Columbia Pictures, while Billy Jack was a project for Warner Bros., its competitor.

"One Tin Soldier"

"Mr. Monday" (1970) - The Original Caste

Written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "Mr. Monday" / "Highway" * LP: One Tin Soldier * Label: TA * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#119) * Entered: 1970-04-25

"Mr. Monday"—another Lambert-Pottter track—had a similar Pachelbel's Canon chord sequence as "One Tin Soldier" in the verses. A mystical piano hook, though, reminiscent of the one at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Remember a Day" (1968), closes out the choruses. "Mr. Monday" would be the Original Caste's highest charting Canadian hit, reaching #4 and also selling thousands of copies in Japan. "Highway" on side B is a Bruce Innes track sung by Dixie Lee that can easily strike listeners as a more diverting bit of songcraft than "Mr. Monday." (The picture sleeve comes from the German edition.)

Side A: "Mr. Monday"

Side B: "Highway"

"Nothing Can Touch Me (Don't Worry Baby, It's Alright)" (1969) - The Original Caste

Written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "Nothing Can Touch Me (Don't Worry Baby, It's Alright)" / "Country Song" * LP: One Tin Soldier * Label: TA * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#114) * Entered: 1970-07-11

All of the Original Caste's US charting singles were Lambert-Potter compositions. "Nothing Can Touch Me" focused on the power of imagination (or some other unnamed power) to help you "sit and get high" when the "pressures of the day" get too heavy. In Canada, though, the flipside is the one radio stations spun and sent to #29 in RPM Weekly (Canada's chart authority until 2000).

Written and sung by Bruce Innes, "Country Song" is a Class A hippie social-crit anthem with weird and wise lyrics every bit as subversive—if not more so—than "One Toke Over the Line" or "Signs." Innes, channeling the melody and structure of "The Weight" by his countrymen the Band, sings of interactions with a warmongering "unknown soldier," cops "mowing down" kids for "passing their stuff around," and the "beer cans and swill" in public waters. There's no question this song inspired Five Man Electrical Band's Les Emmerson (from Ottawa) with its mood and attitude to write "Signs." Where Innes sings "I took off my boot and did a salute," Emmerson sings "I took off my hat and said 'Imagine that!" And the money line in the "Country Song" chorus is one every Canadian child of the seventies knows: "My neighbor Fred said God is dead, but I think he just moved away." US radio listeners definitely lost out on this one.

Side A: "Nothing Can Touch Me (Don't Worry Baby, It's Alright)"

Side B: "Country Song"

"Ain't That Tellin' You People" (1970) - The Original Caste

Written and produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter * Arranged by Artie Butler * 45: "Ain't That Tellin' You People" / "Sweet Chicago" * Label: TA * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#117) * Entered: 1970-10-30

Lambert and Potter's "Ain't That Tellin' You People" had a "whole world needs some changin'" chorus that walked in step with the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child" or the Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand" (both from earlier in the year), and it did especially well on Canadian MOR stations, peaking at #2 on RPM Weekly's "MOR Playlist" chart. It becomes clear, when listening to the Original Caste's singles, though, that all the songs Bruce Innes wrote are especially worth paying attention to. His B-side "Sweet Chicago," a youth movement think piece about recent Chicago violence (e.g., the 1968 Democratic Convention) and gun control in general, taps into the pensive musical atmosphere of Brook Benton's "Rainy Night in Georgia," a late 1969/early 1970 hit. Which came first? Although the "One Tin Soldier" single came out in late '69, I'm pretty sure its album, which also included "Sweet Chicago," didn't roll out until spring 1970 or so. 

Side A: "Ain't That Tellin' You People"

Side B: "Sweet Chicago"

*Canadian chart bonus*
"Sault Ste. Marie" (1971) - The Original Caste

Written and arranged by Bruce Innes * Produced by Roger Nichols * 45: "Sault Ste. Marie" / "When Love Is Near" * Billboard charts:

By 1971, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter, and arranger Artie Butler had parted ways with the Original Caste and, shortly before the TA subsidiary of Bell would shut down altogether, the group released one more single. This time around, it was Roger Nichols, the songwriting partner of Paul Williams, who sat in the producer's chair. And although an ad appeared in the March 20, 1971 issue of RPM Weekly clearly designating the Williams-Nichols composition "When Love Is Near" as the proper A side, the following week's issue showed the B side listed on the RPM 100, the Country 50 and the MOR Playlist charts. In that same issue, a young Terry David Mulligan plugged the song in a column and the magazine's singles review section panned the intended A side with a "WHO CARES??????" while praising "Sault Ste. Marie" as the "big side" and declaring it to be "about time the very talented and highly creative leader of this Canadian group received some recognition." And they were right about "Sault Ste. Marie," a rockin' Canada-centric road song with another classic line in the chorus: "I'm just trying to make it to Montreal / I do believe I'm going to hell." In truth, they were on their way to Japan for some touring, then into the studio, eventually, for a 1974 album on the Century II label, but no more rides up any pop charts.

"Sault Ste. Marie"

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cleveland Regional Breakout Hits

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

"Roxanna  (Thank You for Getting Me High)" (1970) - Wild Butter

Written by John Senné * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)" / "Terribly Blind" * LP: Wild Butter * Label: United Artists * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1970-08-22

"Roxanna" will strike most listeners as a lost proto-power pop gem to be filed alongside Big Star or the American Dream, with its Beatle allegiances, airy melodicism, and odd refrain ("Naked heart and naked mind / Thank you Roxanna for getting me high"). The most available story about Akron's Wild Butter is that drummer/vocalist Rick Garen and keyboardist Jerry Buckner (who, alongside a man named Garcia, would later enrich contemporary society with "Pac Man Fever") scored a record deal with United Artists before having a full band. Their songwriter-guitarist friend John Senné, along with bassist Steve Price, then joined up to help get an album in the can. Most of the songs, including "Roxanna," are Senné's, but Price and Buckner also contribute alongside cover versions of the Bee Gees, Neil Young, and the Moody Blues. (The flipside "Terribly Blind" is a Senné/Price track.) Garen's lead vocal has a British affectation that's not uncommon for the era, but then it may remind you of Guided By Voices singer Robert Pollard (of Dayton), leading you to wonder if that's an Ohio thing.

An August 1970 issue of Record World mentions Cleveland's popular WIXY as a station giving "Roxanna" heavy rotation, which is no surprise because the record's producer and the band's manager was former WIXY program director Eric Stevens, who knew a thing or two about the radio biz and his city's musical tastes. He'd also produce and manage local heavy rockers the Damnation of Adam Blessing and—his biggest success—Brownsville Station. Stevens is quoted in a book called Cleveland Rock and Roll Memories as being frustrated with United Artists who didn't seem to know much about "bringing the record home," ignoring the pre-installed roadblocks of Wild Butter's overt "getting high" references.

Side A: "Roxanna (Thank You for Getting Me High)"

Side B: "Terribly Blind"

"Linda's Song" (1971) - Alex Bevan

Written by Alex Bevan * Produced by Eric Stevens * 45: "Linda's Song" / "Brady Street Hotel" * LP: No Truth to Sell * Label: Big Tree * Billboard charts: Regional breakout—Cleveland * Entered: 1971-10-23

Like Wild Butter, singer-songwriter Alex Bevan was from Akron and had his first record produced by former WIXY program director Eric Stevens. Fans of be-denimed early seventies singer-songwriters should add Bevan's No Truth to Sell to their search lists. The two tracks on his "Linda's Song" 45, especially, have a haunted aura with their journeyman lyrics and echo chamber strings. For the rest of his career, though, Bevan would settle in as Cleveland's good time troubadour-in-residence, appearing regularly on WNCR and WMMS, doing commercials for the Cleveland Browns, and performing the local anthem and signature song "Skinny" that he'd written and recorded in 1976 ("I'm a skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio / Come to chase your women and to drink your beer"). In 2017, Bevan released his 25th album.

Side A: "Linda's Song"

Side B: "Brady Street Hotel"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WMEX (Boston): Top 40

One of Boston radio history's fabled Top 40 stations is WMEX (1510 AM), whose star disk jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg held court noisily from 1957 to 1967. His departure brought in Dick Summer, a man with a psychology degree that matched him up well with a radio industry getting increasingly preoccupied with demographics and audience behavior. Pursuing his concept of the "human thing" in radio, Summer launched his "Lovin' Touch" program, in which he'd wax poetic in the manner of Ken "Word Jazz" Nordine. A 1972 Rolling Stone article wisecracked that Summer's sensitive shtick "would have made Rod McKuen look callous beside him." Summer's experiment, though, fell in line with radio trends such as Brother John Rydgren's syndicated "Love format" on ABC radio (from 1968 to 1970) and the forthcoming "feminine" formats.

In 1970, the station became a quintessential early seventies outlet with the arrival of music director John H. Garabedian, whose aggressive playlist-crafting and phone monitoring boosted the station's ratings, at one point, past WRKO, its higher-powered competitor. Among his winning programming strategies were a heavy reliance on album tracks and a willingness to test drive records before conducting any lengthy research. The above mentioned Rolling Stone article, "Boston Tests New Music and Flunks Out," by Timothy Crouse, mentions such songs as "Do You Know What I Mean" (Lee Michaels), "Maggie May" (Rod Stewart), "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (Paul and Linda McCartney), "Sunshine" (Jonathan Edwards), and "Looking for a Love" (J. Geils Band) as being direct beneficiaries of Garabedian's attentions.

Although new ownership in late 1971 would send Garabedian and his "John H." show packing, WMEX—although never to be the ratings success it once was—maintained an album track-inflected approach and a sufficiently influential ability to "break" records. Disk jockey Jim "JC" Connors reportedly earned gold records for "My Ding a Ling" (Chuck Berry), "How Do You Do" (Mouth and MacNeal), "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" (Wayne Newton), and "Power of Love" (Joe Simon), among others, in gratitude for his perceived role in popularizing the tracks. (Connors was also the acknowledged inspiration for Harry Chapin's "WOLD.") In 1975, the station would switch formats to easy listening, bringing its distinctive early seventies Top 40 run to a close.

A 1972 promotional charity album exists for WMEX, which you can perhaps search for at Boston thrift stores. It was one of the many cookie cutter records manufactured by Variety Club of Indianapolis for use by radio stations all over the US. They all sported duplicate covers and track lists but made space for personalized images of a station's airstaff in the gatefold. Coincidentally, one of the songs on this Solid Gold compilation is the Irish Rovers' "Unicorn Song," which Garabedian happens to ridicule in a 1970 aircheck (at 13:25). The deejays in the photos are Bill Lawrence, Connors, J. Michael Wilson, King Arthur Knight, and Tom Allen. (I copied these images from an eBay seller, so I can't tell who's in the obscured one. It could possibly be Dan Donovan or Jerry Gordon, but it also appears to say "Program Director" at the bottom. I thought Connors was the PD at that time, so I'm stumped.)


Most radio surveys for WMEX between 1971 and 1974 (nothing for 1970) are available at the Airheads Radio Survey Guide. They reveal, after a scan-through, the following songs to be among the station's unique airplay additions that never charted nationally:

Mike D'Abo - "King Herod's Song"
McGuinness Flint - "Friends of Mine"
Lodi - "Happiness"
The Move - "Tonight"
Three Dog Night - "You"
Beach Boys - "Student Demonstration Time"
Grand Funk Railroad - "People Let's Stop the War"
Jake Jones - "Trippin' Down a Country Road"
Judee Sill - "Jesus Was a Crossmaker"
CCS - "Tap Turns on the Water"
Lighthouse - "Take It Slow"
The Rascals - "Lucky Day"
Poco - "Railroad Days"
Steve Martin (of the Left Banke) - "Two By Two"
Colin Blunstone - "Caroline Goodbye"
Newport News - "When the Bell Rings"
Tranquility - "Thank You"
Paul Williams - "My Love and I"
Robin and Jo - "Chapel of Love"
John Kongos - "Jubilee Cloud"
John Stewart - "Arkansas Breakout"
Sugar Bus - "Tramp"
The Eagles - "Train Leaves Here This Morning"
Michael Holm - "I Will Return"
Brewer and Shipley - "Yankee Lady"
Buckwheat - "Hey Little Girl"
Spyder's Gang - "Waiting in Line"
Sha Na Na - "Bounce in Your Buggy"
Tom Paxton - "Jesus Christ S.R.O."
The Lorelei - "S.T.O.P. (Stop)"
Peter Sarstedt - "You're a Lady"
Eric - "Wonder Where My Friend Could Be"
Barrabas - "Boogie Rock"
Livingston Taylor - "Over the Rainbow"