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It’s all da-da-da-down.

I’ve ranted before about the profusion of blogs and music sites that analyze and re-analyze the recordings of the past, generally in much more intelligent fashion than I can muster.

(One such site — and they’re usually very good — is The Quietus. They’ve done a whole raft of 40th-anniversary retrospective essays this year, including especially good ones about John Cale’s Fear and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It’s possible that 1974 looks infinitely more interesting in their hands than it ever did when it was happening.)

It occurs to me that we are currently passing a 40th musical anniversary that — as far as I’ve seen — no one has written much about.

I don’t know much about it, certainly not enough to be an authority. But, since unexplored musical blog-space seems rarer than rocking-horse shit nowadays, I’m gonna jump in and claim it for my own anyway:

This late autumn and early winter marks 40 years since the peak of Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Our lad’s Goodnight Vienna LP, released in mid-November 1974, would mark the end of his brief run as a superstar-level solo performer.

The LP reached Number 8 on the U.S. charts and spawned three Top 40 singles (“Only You (And You Alone),” “Goodnight Vienna” and the double-sided “No No Song”/”Snookeroo.”)

Local airplay charts from around this time 40 years ago show Goodnight Vienna holding comfortable Top 10 positions at stations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Hartford, while the record’s lead single was at mid-chart levels and on the way up at stations across the country.

In the U.K., Goodnight Vienna would be Ringo’s last Top 40 album for almost a quarter-century — by which time he was no longer an active hitmaker, but more of a nostalgia artist, really.

After Goodnight Vienna, Ringo released the greatest-hits comp Blast From Your Past in time for the Christmas market in ’75.

His next new studio album, September 1976’s Ringo’s Rotogravure, peaked at No. 28 and fell off the U.S. charts quickly. And 1977’s disastrous Ringo the 4th pretty much sounded the death knell for Ringo Starr as a solo headliner, at least on record.

As I’ve said before, the brief flowering of Ringo’s solo career has always been something of a mystery to me.

The guy genuinely could not sing … and, while he was/is an underrated drummer, underrated drumming doesn’t sell singles and albums to the general populace. (Worth mentioning: Studio ace Jim Keltner plays at least some of the drums on the Goodnight Vienna album.)

For that matter, the songs he was singing weren’t always that great either.

His oldies covers are pleasant enough, but they’re not so tremendous as to make us forget the originals. “You’re Sixteen,” with its Paul McCartney kazoo solo, still seems to me like it was crafted as part of some race-to-the-bottom competition to produce the worst possible Number One single.

(1974 was just the year for such a competition, too. Compared to fellow Number One hits “Seasons In The Sun,” “The Streak,” “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” “I Can Help” and “Havin’ My Baby,” Ringo’s nostalgia trip seems downright attractive.)

And songs like “Goodnight Vienna” — which sounds exactly like the sort of thing a dissolute rocker would write for his buddy after too many brandy Alexanders — lack the spark or imagination that makes classic pop:

And yet, in his few years as a true solo star, Ringo racked up enough hits to legitimately fill a best-of album, with two Number One hits and multiple other visits to the Top Ten.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who have ever picked up a guitar (or a set of drumsticks) wish they had a career even half as successful as Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Did Ringo owe his success to pure nostalgic sentiment? Was the pop world so thoroughly out of gas in ’73-’75 that anything Beatles-related was greeted with rapturous cheers?

(Having heard the Number Ones mentioned above, and having listened to a whole bunch of Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from that period, I find this explanation entirely plausible.)

Or, did he owe his success to the Seventies buying public’s fascination with celebrity collaborations?

Ringo’s mid-’70s solo albums featured guest shots by all three of his former Beatles colleagues, as well as the likes of Robbie Robertson, Elton John, Billy Preston, Marc Bolan and Harry Nilsson. That’s as close as the world ever got to a Beatles reunion, plus lots of other celebrity firepower besides.

Were people buying just to see what all those star(r)s would stir up? (Surely millions of people weren’t plunking down their hard-earned dollars to spend 40 minutes in the company of just Ringo.)

Also, now that time has shown that lots of celebs together don’t necessarily make good music, is anyone buying these albums nowadays?

Sure, I know nobody’s buying music any more. But I wonder if there are 60-year-olds replacing their worn-out vinyl copies of Goodnight Vienna with digital versions; whether there are 15-year-olds or 20-year-olds discovering these albums for the first time; or whether they are largely forgotten 40 years later. Do they stand anything resembling a test of time?

Having extensively picked apart his shortcomings, I have to say I kinda like the idea of Ringo as a solo star. He has always seemed like the most grounded and approachable of the Beatles, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome to every gold and platinum record on his den wall.

I don’t really understand the whole phenomenon; but time has proven repeatedly that my comprehension is not necessary for pop success.

It’s all da-da-da-down to … well, I don’t know what, exactly. But it happened, and proof exists.

Encore Performances: Dec. 29, 1973: Now the whole damn bus is cheering.

Tony Orlando recently completed a run of eight Christmas shows here in Bethlehem. He’s announced plans to come back for 12 more next year, apparently enthused about the reception he received here in the Christmas City.

I’m not entirely sure what he finds so exciting about Bethlehem. But he seems like a charming old trooper, and as long as he doesn’t punch any police horses, he’s welcome to hang around all he wants.

From the old blog, here’s a flashback to one of Tony’s crowning moments, as originally posted in January 2011:

I don’t usually like end-of-year countdowns very much.

Since all the songs are big hits, you don’t get any surprises — no song down at No. 38 that you’d forgotten was either really awesome or really crappy.

For some reason, the good songs always end up being lower than expected, and the less compelling songs always end up ranking higher than expected.
The moments where I say, “Yeah! America had some taste in music that year,” are far outnumbered by the moments where I say, “That was the 10th most popular song of the year?”

And of course, I always wonder what the actual Top 40 for the last week of the year is — the real live 40 that’s being pre-empted by the year-end roundup.
(If I collected old Billboard magazines, I suppose I’d know that. But I don’t.)

That all being said, I sat through Casey Kasem running down the top 40 hits of 1973 the other day.
(Or, more accurately, the 40 biggest hits for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 8, 1973.)
And since I’ve never met a countdown I couldn’t say something about, I give you the Top 40 hits of 1973, with favourites in bold.

At least, I will after a couple of scene-setting historical items from the week ending Dec. 29, 1973:

* Stephenie Meyer, who is to vampires what Grace Metalious was to small towns, is born in Hartford, Connecticut.

* Also in the Nutmeg State, electricity crews finish restoring power to the last long-suffering customers, following a nasty ice storm on Dec. 17.
(You might have read about it here.)

* The movie “The Exorcist” opens in the U.S.

* R’n’B guitarist Lowman Pauling of the “5” Royales dies. He is best remembered as the author of “Think,” a hit both for his own group and for James Brown and the Famous Flames.

* Skylab 3 astronauts Gerald Carr and William Pogue photograph the comet Kohoutek during a skywalk.
They get a better view of the comet than those stuck on Earth.

* The first round of the NFL playoffs takes place, winnowing the field from eight teams to four.
Still standing are the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins.

* A painting by Edgar Degas, “Blanchisseuses Souffrent Des Dents,” is stolen from a museum in Normandy, France.
(Thirty-seven years later to the month, the painting was returned to France.)

* A fifth of J.W. Dant Charcoal-Perfected Whiskey runs $3.99 at the Don Market in Casa Grande, Arizona.

* Michigan State University hockey player John Sturges scores three goals in the second period of a game against Boston College. Sturges’ teammate Steve Colp then nets three of his own in the third period.
MSU wins 12-5.
(As they sing in Kenmore Square: “For Boston, for Boston, the outhouse on the hill / For Boston, for Boston, it stinks and always will.”)

Here’s what else was scoring that week:

No. 40: “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” by Barry White.
The absolute baddest opening 15 seconds in popular music.

I’d like to see an “Iron Chef”-style show, starring aspiring hip-hop producers instead of celebrity chefs.
Give ‘em all the first 15 seconds of “I’m Gonna Love You…”; let ‘em remix, chop and channel; and have the judges decide who does the most with it.

No. 39: “Love Train,” O’Jays.
The Phillies, Sixers and Eagles all sucked in ’73, but Gamble, Huff and their artists gave Philadelphia plenty of reasons to hold its collective head high.

No. 38: One of several records that were still on the charts as of Dec. 8, and that would have ranked higher if the succeeding weeks had been included:
“Angie” by the Stones.

No. 37: “Shambala” by Three Dog Night, still making wonderful pop singles in ’73. It wouldn’t last much longer.

No. 36: Stealers Wheel, “Stuck In The Middle With You.” This purported Bob Dylan piss-take is better and more memorable than anything Dylan put out in ’73.
(At the time this countdown originally aired, Dylan and the Band were preparing to rebound with the upcoming release of Planet Waves and the kickoff of Tour ’74.)

No. 35: Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Clair.” This is sweet and McCartneyish; I don’t find it cloying, though some might disagree.
The mischievous giggle at the end scores points.

No. 34: John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High.”
I was gonna ask how realistic it was that somebody might be born again just by picking up and moving.
Then I thought about how much I miss Massachusetts sometimes.

No. 33: Maureen McGovern, “The Morning After.”

No. 32: Paul Simon, “Loves Me Like A Rock.”
Hey, why didn’t this touch off a nationwide craze for gospel music, including the Dixie Hummingbirds on the cover of Time magazine?
Which reminds me: The cover of Time this week is “The Child’s World: Christmas 1973.

No. 31: “A rather phenomenal group,” Casey says: King Harvest with “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
(They were phenomenal in the sense that they broke up years before and got back together again; not in the sense that they had remarkable lasting talent.)

No. 30: For the listeners of KFIZ in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, it’s Skylark from Canada with “Wildflower.”
Okay slice of proto-Hall and Oates … but the 30th-biggest hit of the year? Truly?

No. 29: Stevie Wonder, “Superstition.”
This is one of those records that makes you remember the first time you ever heard it — or would if you were alive in the spring of ’73, anyway.

No. 28: Donna Fargo, “Funny Face.” Yup, this beat “Superstition.”
Yup.

No. 27: Johnny Rivers, “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.” Nice New Orleans party funk. A little repetitious but they don’t need no fancy chords down there.
(I didn’t know Rivers grew up in Baton Rouge; I associated him with El Lay smoothness.)

No. 26: Back-to-back blasts of New Orleans as Dr. John checks in with “Right Place Wrong Time,” the song that gave the world the phrase “brain salad surgery.”
A little Dr. John goes a long way, but this is as good as he gets.

No. 25: Grand Funk, “We’re An American Band.”
Casey says, “the critics say they’re trying to sound British,” and this song is a response to that.
Uh, no, Case … the origin of the song has nothing to do with either critics or Anglophilia.

No. 24: A song Al Green turned down: Sylvia, “Pillow Talk.”
OK sexy groove, but Al’s better.

No. 23: Stevie Wonder, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.”
You don’t listen to this song so much as you bask in its glow.

No. 22: “Here comes the British bubblegum!” Casey declares, and sure ’nuff, it’s Sweet with “Little Willy.”
Much as I like glam, I’ve never been entirely sold on the sillier side of the Chinnichap oeuvre — like this, or “Can the Can,” or “Tom Tom Turnaround,” or “Wig Wam Bam.”

No. 21: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia.”
A graceful, nicely detailed ode to commitment, featuring a wonderful preach at the end.
You know the drill.

No. 20: “Drift Away,” Dobie Gray. There’s a semi-legendary Rolling Stones cover of this floating around in bootleg-land, but I’ve never sought it out.
I had labeled this “pretty good honky soul,” until I checked Wiki and learned that Dobie Gray — whom I knew nothing about — was African-American.
Could I be more daft?

No. 19: “Frankenstein,” Edgar Winter Group, prefaced by Casey telling the story of the titular doctor.
(“The doctor’s name was Frankenstein,” Casey said, and instantly my wife and I looked at each other and said, “FRANCK-en-shteen!”)

Contains one of the finest horn lines in the history of Top 40 music — though accuracy compels me to admit that it’s actually a horn and a guitar, not two horns together.
(The guitar is either Ronnie Montrose or Rick Derringer.)

No. 18: Isley Brothers, “That Lady.”
Always loved this song, and was gladdened when I finally bought the 3+3 album to find it surrounded by a bunch of other solid material.
Maybe I’ll take that one out tomorrow.

No. 17: Eddie Kendricks, “Keep On Truckin’.”

No. 16: “Delta Dawn,” Helen Reddy. Love the opening; can give or take the rest of the song.

No. 15: Only the second song about interracial love to score big on the Forty, Casey declares:
Stories with “Brother Louie,” featuring a rheumy lead vocal that reminds me of Peter Criss.
Which ain’t necessarily a ticket to the top.
(I dunno — sometimes I like this song fine, and sometimes I think it’s weak.)

No. 14: Clint Holmes, “Playground In My Mind.” Next.

No. 13: “Half-Breed,” Cher. I just weighed in on this one a post or two ago, didn’t I?

No. 12: Vicki Lawrence, “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia.” Not for me, thanks.

No. 11: Billy Paul, “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Philly to the rescue with a sultry, longing ballad about people doin’ other people wrong.
(No. 12 could learn something from it.)

No. 10: Diana Ross, “Touch Me In The Morning.” Not bad, not great. I wouldn’t turn the dial, I suppose.

No. 9: Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain.”
Casey puts forth the sensible proposition that “maybe Carly is putting us on, trying to make us think it’s a real person.”
No flies on you, Case.

While I was taking a leak, I came up with the truth:
The song’s about Randy Mantooth.
Spread the word.

No. 8: Billy Preston, “Will It Go Round In Circles?”

No. 7: For the folks listening to WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s Elton John skimmin’ stones with “Crocodile Rock.”
It has the rock’n’roll spark.

No. 6: Paul McCartney, “My Love.”
It has about as much of the rock’n’roll spark as Lawrence Welk.

No. 5: Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On.”
Like “Crocodile Rock,” I’ve warmed up to this song over the years.

No. 4: “Killing Me Softly,” Roberta Flack.
Written by the same guys who wrote “I Got A Name,” if I’m not mistaken.
I was going to suggest this was the highest-charting record inspired by a currently charting performer; and then I remembered all the name-drops in “American Pie” and thought better of it.

No. 3: Speaking of “I Got A Name,” next up is Jim Croce with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
Rollicking unpretentious barroom story-song. Sure, why not?

Alternate first verse:
“Leroy was a fop / on the South Side of Chicago
Back in the USA / back in the bad old days…”

I dunno if this is the hip critical consensus, but I would have liked to see where Croce’s career took him, more so than most artists who died young.
He seemed to possess both a gift for romantic melody and a work-shirted everyman persona, which is a nice pair of counterbalancing assets.
Who knows: Maybe the arrival of disco would have led him to chuck it all in and go drive a bulldozer, which would only have increased his workingman cred.

No. 2: A song that only got as high as No. 16, but hung around on the charts long enough to place at No. 2 for the year:
Kris Kristofferson, “Why Me?”

(The original post drew a spirited conversation from several readers who couldn’t believe this song — which they didn’t remember hearing on the radio in ’73 — placed this high on the year-end charts. I can’t explain it, but my man Jim Bartlett took a shot at doing so here.)

No. 1: Featuring “a surprise ending that gives you a kick right in the emotions,” Casey says:
Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon.”

Tony (minus Dawn) will be at the Sands Bethlehem Casino from Nov. 30-Dec. 10, 2015. Mark your calendars now.

Gonna get down, down, down.

It’s been another of those weeks where a single CD invades the player and refuses to leave — in this case, Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band, recorded live at New York’s Village Gate in 1976.

Scott-Heron was a superb commentator on race and society, with a vision that was sometimes skeptical, sometimes optimistic, and always distinctively worded. In these troubled racial times, I could claim I’m turning to Scott-Heron as an inspiration and a nudge in the right direction.

Instead, I will cop to the real truth: I’ve listened to this show again and again because Gil and his cohorts groove like fiends from start to finish.

My favorite of the six tunes here is “17th Street,” which on a lot of levels isn’t all that remarkable. It’s based on a ready-made set of chord changes that are commonly understood to be Latino. (You’ll know these changes when you hear them … and for the entire course of the song, they’re all you hear.)

It doesn’t matter, because the groove (salsa? cha-cha?) is irresistible. Bass player Danny Bowens gives a lesson in Latin bass playing: Every note except the first in the sequence lands a little ahead of the beat, and the deep, woody thump drives things forward wonderfully. I could make an hour-long loop of this and get thoroughly lost in it.

Now that I’ve raved about it, where can you hear it?

Sound files of the entire gig are available for your listening pleasure here; “17th Street,” in particular, can he heard here. (The introductory percussion jam and the closing “Johannesburg” also come strongly recommended.)

If for some reason that doesn’t work, a blog with the wonderful title of Never Enough Rhodes has a few sound samples, including one from “17th Street.” It also offers a link to download the entire show; I make no promises, but try it if you want.

The show can also be heard on Spotify, for readers who use Spotify.

In a pinch, the version of “17th Street” from the album It’s Your World is OK too, though the bass is lower in the mix and less compelling.

Going into the lodges for exotic massages.

Sunday night finds me on YouTube, listening once again to Billy Joel’s snotty “Los Angelenos.

It’s one of the few BJ tunes I didn’t hear growing up, since my parents’ near-complete Joel collection did not include either of the albums on which it appears (1974’s Streetlife Serenade and 1981’s live Songs From The Attic.)

If I had to listen to any one of BJ’s musical takedowns, I’d probably choose this one. It’s wicked catchy, especially the bridge (“Hiding up in the mountains / Laying low in the canyons / Going nowhere on the streets with the Spanish names.”) And who doesn’t enjoy a shot at shallow, narcissistic southern Californians?

I went into the ARSA database of local radio-play charts to see if the song — not released as a single — had hooked any programming directors the way it hooked me.

And sure enough, there’s one chart from 40 years ago this month, listing “Los Angelenos” as an up-and-coming airplay hit …

in San Francisco.

Apparently, no one enjoys a shot at shallow, narcissistic southern Californians more than their northern neighbors.

I knew I liked San Francisco.

Top of the pops.

Another day has passed, and Hope’s Treat has further cemented its place in the hearts of the American people.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on this subject:

- The experimental EP I cooked up by manipulating 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa’s piano playing is currently the sixth-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Allentown.”

no6inallentown

- Hope’s Treat is presently the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged “Stamford.”

Almost 30 years after he moved out of town, Bill Blumenau is an overnight sensation.

no3instamford

- And finally, Hope’s Treat leapt a rousing 200 spots, currently ranking No. 174 among the most popular recordings tagged “Connecticut.” Instead of page 10, it’s now on page 5.

(The folks in Walnut Shitstorm, for what it’s worth, are still mired on page 9.)

no174inConn

Now, lest this post be misconstrued, let me address some questions my Four Readers are probably asking:

- I’m not gonna keep posting these updates every day. I think they’re getting old too.

- I’m not really that interested in the “chart performance” of my noisy little EP as compared to everyone else’s noisy little EPs. These popularity rankings could be generated at random by goats, for all I know, and I don’t put as much stock in them as I’m probably making it sound.

(Even if I did clearly understand how the charts were generated, they’re still only measuring one tiny slice of one music site. Having the third-most-popular Bandcamp recording tagged Stamford is sort of akin to having the third-most sacrifice flies in Stamford Little League.)

Still, I have a bit of chart geek in me. And it’s kinda fun to play at the chart-geek thing when it’s your own name on the chart — no matter how obscure the ranking might be, or how small a pool you’re swimming in.

Plus, with the burst of initial interest in Hope’s Treat wearing off, today’s placements are probably about as high as the EP is going to get. I think those who are going to find it have found it.

So I’ll enjoy the high-water mark, however dubious and paltry it might be.

Once a week, and you know where all your favorite songs are.

I’m number 374! (In Connecticut, that is.)

I managed to convince one or two people to download Hope’s Treat, the experimental EP I wrote about yesterday.

The workings of Bandcamp’s most-popular ratings are unknown to me. A quick Google search suggests others don’t know exactly how they work either, except that they seem to be based on sales, not plays.

Still, I thought my brief burst of success might translate into an appearance on one of the most-popular pages.

And sure enough, Hope’s Treat currently ranks as the 374th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “Connecticut.”

(It’s tagged Connecticut because that’s where my grandpa made the 1940s-vintage piano recordings that I molested for the purposes of my experimental EP.)

How did I calculate the number? Did I rely on one of the fancy tube-glowin’ “computers” Casey Kasem’s team used to use to calculate 1970s American Top 40 countdowns?

Naw, it was simple. Each page displays 40 individual recordings (be they full-length albums, EPs, or whatever.)

Hope’s Treat, as of this moment, is on page 10 … so there are 360 recordings ahead of it. And it’s the 14th recording displayed on page 10. Hence, No. 374.

Sadly, I am a few places behind Walnut Shitstorm’s A 3D Map of Poland. I know now what it was like to be John Fogerty and have “Green River” stuck behind “In The Year 2525″ for all those weeks.

Art is cruel.

ctranking

Edit: But wait, it gets better! Hope’s Treat is currently the 13th-most-popular Bandcamp title with the tag “Allentown.” It’s on Page One of the listings and everything.

Dude! I’ve got a record in the Top 20.

Where’s the champagne?

 

allentown

 

Shameless self-promotion.

Dunno if the three people who read me here also read my other blog, so I’ll put in a quick plug for the exciting action goin’ on over there.

Today I posted the results of a project that I think is hot shit, even if no one else seems to agree:

Given a batch of 70-year-old home recordings of my grandfather playing piano, I digitally edited, treated and reassembled them into a series of nine short ambient/experimental/avant-garde song-things.

These have been posted to Bandcamp as a choose-your-own-price download called Hope’s Treat.

If you wanna read the long but reasonably entertaining story behind Hope’s Treat, click here.

If you’d like to skip the long story and give a cursory six-second listen to two or three of the songs, you can click here instead.

If you’d rather not be bothered, and would prefer to go out for fried chicken instead, that’s a third option.

Choose wisely.

(I suggest spicy fries on the side. You gotta sin to get saved.)

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