From the old blog, November 2009.
“We’re on our way to Number One, so let’s get it on,” Casey declares.
And so we will, with my favourites in bold as always.
No. 40: “Use Me,” Bill Withers. I like the way the acoustic guitar plays off against the mechanical-sounding keyboard (probably a clavinet.)
I’m still wondering whether Withers is worthwhile at LP length, since I like his singles. Anyone out there familiar with Bill Withers’ albums?
No. 39: “Why,” Donny Osmond.
What can be said about this one? It’s like taste-testing TAB: Truly, this wasn’t made with me in mind.
This is the opposite of the Frankie Valli tune from the last countdown, which had a 40-year-old man proclaiming “our day will come” … here we have a kid who sounds 12 proclaiming his lasting love.
Who picked these guys’ material?
(More on that in a moment.)
No. 38, debut: With his first chart hit since 1967, Johnny Rivers with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.”
This is a tiny bit stiff, but it has a little of that nice New Orleans bounce to it.
Even if Fats Domino and his ilk had stopped hitting the charts by 1972, I enjoy the thought that a little of their old flavor was still kicking around.
Plus, extra points for the line, “I wanna kiss her but she’s way too tall.”
No. 37: Mott the Hoople, “All The Young Dudes,” bringing the Bowie sound to AT40 before Bowie did.
Hey, what other examples are there of a musician scoring as a producer before scoring as a performer?
Does Alan Parsons count?
No. 36, debut: Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Clair.”
I found this to be pleasantly McCartneyish, and much easier to take than most of G O’S’s other stuff, despite the occasional poorly turned lyric that seemed to push things toward Nabokovian territory.
Must … not … think … such … thoughts … about … happy … pop … music.
No. 35: For the listeners of WGH in Norfolk, Virginia, it’s Grand Funk Railroad with “Rock N’ Roll Soul.”
When they weren’t being ham-handed, histrionic, self-important or gauche, these guys were capable of perfectly enjoyable rock’n’roll.
(“Yeah,” I can hear you muttering, “when they were tuning up.”)
I don’t care — I like this song fine. Cowbell!
(Only one nagging question: Were people actually still saying “groovy” in late ’72?)
No. 34: MISSING.
Yup, I listened to the countdown twice to make sure of this, and they skipped straight from No. 35 to No. 33.
I have absolutely no idea why — according to the online cue sheet, No. 34 was the Band’s innocuous “Don’t Do It” (from “Rock of Ages,” a live album I used to love but that now seems as impenetrable and unappealing as “Pilgrim’s Progress.”)
No. 33, debut: Austin Roberts, international man of mystery, with “Something’s Wrong With Me.”
Earnest bubblegum, with a Leslied guitar intro much like Bread’s “If.”
For some reason I imagine Lance Kerwin’s face when I hear this … then again, I have long been prone to associations that no one else makes or understands.
No. 32: Osmonds, “Crazy Horses.”
Gotta love the whinnying synth sounds and the BS&T/Chicago-style horn hits.
(Not to mention those outfits in the video, which get mad crazy points from me even though you can’t hear them on the single.)
I love how wildly different this is from the stuff Donny got to sing.
The Osmond family served the American public with a strict segmentation that would have been the envy of General Motors.
No. 31, debut: Donna Fargo, “Funny Face.” A country slog whose title irrationally reminds me of Captain Beefheart’s “I Love You, You Big Dummy,” which is a much better song.
Lick my decals off, baby!
No. 30: Ex-manual laborer Jim Croce with “Operator.”
I much prefer this to that “Operator” song the Manhattan Transfer did, not to mention the “Operator” song the Grateful Dead did on “American Beauty.”
A smooth operator, that Jim Croce.
No. 29: Coast to coast, LA to Chicago, it’s Sam Neely with “Lovin’ You Just Crossed My Mind.”
Ya know, there’s an awful lot of plaintive acoustic guitar on this countdown all of a sudden.
No. 28: Following a dramatic lyrical reading by Casey, it’s Cashman and West with “American City Suite.”
Enough strumming, goddammit — it’s a relief when the acoustic piano comes in and takes charge for the third movement.
This is OK, I guess; I give ’em credit for trying something different on their teenage symphony to the American city.
I think the third movement might have been an OK song in and of itself, if they’d worked on it a little more.
The first two segments rank in Terry Cashman’s oeuvre only slightly higher the Seattle Mariners version of “Talkin’ Baseball.”
(Hey, anyone ever hear that? Who d’ya think he namedrops? Diego Segui? Bill Caudill? Tom Paciorek?)
No. 27: Up 12, Albert Hammond with “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
I’m gonna get all John Blutarsky on the ass of the next guy who shows up here with an acoustic guitar.
No. 26: Alice Cooper, “Elected.”
No strumming here. Just Alice’s roar at its most ferally vainglorious, plus a middle-eight that collapses into chattering chaos.
This is how I like my threats to society.
No. 25, debut (yup): From Filthydelphia, the Stylistics with “I’m Stone In Love With You.”
I didn’t think this one had much to recommend it.
You know, how come no one ever uses the expression “stone” (i.e., “stone gon’,” “that’s the stone truth” any more?
No. 24: America, “Ventura Highway.”
(In business news this week, stock in C.F. Martin & Co. showed its strongest gains in a decade.)
These guys’ ability to write a hook sorta kinda makes up for their insistence on doing stuff like rhyming “sunshine” and “moonshine.”
No. 23: “Spaceman,” Nilsson. Pleasantly weird but not melodically or instrumentally noteworthy.
Like the lyric “Now that I’m a spaceman, no one cares about me” — that’s a nice offbeat thought to find in your AT40, like finding a TARDIS at the bottom of your cereal box.
No. 22: Gallery, “I Believe In Music.”
This is basically “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” dressed up in fringed buckskin.
No. 21: Al Green, “You Oughta Be With Me.” A somewhat subtler pleasure than some of the Rev’s other records, but still nice.
No. 20: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”
Brilliant, bittersweet, knife-edged soul ballad from Philadelphia, which I am officially declaring the epicenter of good American music in the 1970s.
Why do I get the idea that the man and woman in the song ended up splitting up, and that this last-ditch plea for understanding on the man’s part did not carry the day?
Does anyone else come away with that impression?
Maybe the reference to a “love affair” is the crucial evidence … after 10 years, it’s a relationship, not a “love affair,” right, Teddy Bear?
No. 19: Mel and Tim, “Starting All Over Again.” This one started with a spoken-word monologue, so I started all over again at …
… No. 18: Chi Coltrane, “Thunder and Lightning.”
Wiki says Ms. Coltrane is starting work on an album of new material. If she has anything else in her bag like this one, I’ll listen.
No. 17: Michael Jackson, “Ben.”
Couldn’t listen to this one.
Michael Jackson’s story seems to me to be that of a phenomenal talent undermined and undone by bad decisions … and I can’t help but see a horror-movie theme song sung to a killer rat to be one of those moves.
(I am aware that the American public, in all its wisdom, disagreed, sending this to Number One. I don’t care. It still tastes weird in my mouth.)
No. 16: For the folks tuned in to KLOM in Lompoc, California, “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts.
I’ve now learned the hard way that record companies do not time singles releases to appropriate seasons — they put the record out when it’s done.
A shame, because I find this record wonderfully evocative of summer, and I just can’t get into it as much when I look out the window and see bare trees.
This record also features the best use of toy piano this side of Schroeder.
S&C lose points, though, for the phrase “jasmine in my mind.”
History teaches that metaphors involving the mind do not work, unless they are played for laughs.
No. 15: “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” by Danny O’Keefe, otherwise known as the author of the execrable “The Road.”
(You might remember that one from its cover by Jax Browne on the “Running on Empty” LP. “Gamblers with guitars” is an even worse image than mental jasmine.)
This one’s much better.
No. 14: Elvis Presley, “Burning Love.” The King sounds choked and constipated on this one, but the backing band picks him up and carries him across the goal line.
The record was down nine spots from last week; Elvis would not reach the Top Ten again during his lifetime.
No. 13: Following the obligatory Beatles reference — and an inexplicable, head-scratching, where’s-his-head-at? reference to the Tempts’ former lead singer as “David Griffin” — we get the Temptations doing “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
The second-best Number One single without a chord change.
(Send your nominee for the all-time best to Pink care of the funny farm, Chalfont.)
No. 12: Fifth Dimension, “If I Could Reach You.”
I love the lines “I know you know other girls like me / I let you take my love even though you didn’t love me.”
You can see these squares opening the door to permissiveness and free love — but just a little bit.
No. 11: For the folks at WHEB in Portsmouth, N.H., “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers.
Can you feel it strumming, day by day? Some nice subtle banjo in the chorus, anyway.
No. 10: Eagles, “Witchy Woman.”
OK, Don and Glenn, we get it.
Women are founts of corruption and deceit.
Can we go now?
No. 9: The Delegates, “Convention ’72.” I feel safe proclaiming this the only Top 10 hit to mention Sargent Shriver by name, not to mention Walter Klondike and David Stinkley.
Reminded me of one of Lorne Michaels’ dictates when he was building his first team for “Saturday Night Live” in ’75: Funny names are gimmicky and trite and we will not use them. (I guess Lorraine Antlerdance slipped past him while he stepped out for a toot.)
I figured this record would die a quick death on the charts, since the election was already over by Nov. 11.
I checked the charts and was astonished to see that “Convention ’72” hung on in the AT40 through the countdown of Dec. 9.
It even outlasted “Elected,” which I thought had an advantage, having, y’know, actual riffs and hooks and lyrics and stuff.
I guess the American public decided to hang onto the laffs as long as they could, perhaps recognizing that they would have precious little to laugh about over the coming four years.
No. 8: Helen Reddy, “I Am Woman.”
It says something about My Generation that I found this strident and overdone.
“Of course women are strong and resilient,” I thought. “They had to do a song about it?”
No. 7: Chuck Berry, “My Ding-A-Ling.”
I listened to this one all the way through, thinking I could find some positive point on which to base a contrarian defense.
By the end, you can practically sense the crowd thinking, “Bloody hell. Is he gonna do ‘Memphis’ already?”
No. 6: Ricky Nelson, “Garden Party.”
As far as I’m concerned, that’s three novelty hits in the Top Ten already and we’re only at Number Six.
(A “novelty hit” need not have double entendres or names like Larry Reasoning to qualify as a novelty hit.)
No. 5: Awwww yeah. The Spinners, “I’ll Be Around.”
I’ve probably said before that I consider this the best Al Green record that Al Green never got around to cutting.
In fact, I’ve come to see this record as a sort of sequel to “Let’s Stay Together.”
With its tone of longing, I imagine “I’ll Be Around” as the kind of song the narrator of “Let’s Stay Together” would sing to his lady love after discovering that she felt considerably less lovey-dovey than he did.
No. 4: From the best-selling album in the country, “Freddie’s Dead” by Curtis Mayfield.
“We can deal with rockets and dreams / But reality, what does it mean?” is quite likely my favorite lyric on this entire 40.
And the queasy moment where the string section suddenly finds the ground crumbling underneath its feet is a classic piece of arranging.
No. 3: Lobo, “I’d Love You To Want Me.” Strum strum strum.
No. 2: Moody Blues, “Nights in White Satin.”
I don’t like this song enough to listen to it all the way through, but it ain’t bad for what it is.
Nice bit of gong from Mike Pinder.
No. 1: “I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Nash. Another song that’s well-constructed enough for me to respect it, even if I don’t personally care for it all that much.
So there ya go. I’ve got blisters on me fingers.