Encore Performances: Nov. 28, 1970: I don’t know what I’m up against.

From the old blog, Dec. 5, 2009.

Not much to brag about this week — the best thing Casey can promote in his lead-in is a new song in the Top Ten.
Doesn’t bode well, eh?

Here we go, then, with favourites in bold:

No. 40: Flaming Ember, “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper.” According to Casey, this was the fourth time this year Flaming Ember had had a hit.
I’m wondering how many more they had after 1970.
Hope they enjoyed it.
The lead vocal on this is a little mannered, but I liked the choked scream at the start, as well as the general sentiment. It’s sort of the opposite of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and anything that’s not that is fine with me.

No. 39: “Here’s the man again,” Casey intones. “The tiger, the Welshman, the hitmaker.”
Oh boy! John Cale?

No: Tom Jones, “Can’t Stop Loving You.”
This is one of Jonesy’s big bravura ballads — you know how those go. It’s OK but not boldworthy.
(This is not the Elvis song of the almost-same name, for anyone who doesn’t know it.)

No. 38: For the folks listening to WJTO in Bath, Maine, it’s Freda Payne with “Deeper and Deeper.”
For a moment, it is pleasant to think of Motown-style soul-pop as a ribbon of sound uniting young America, from the teenagers on potato farms in Maine to the kids cruising down Hollywood Boulevard in their new AMCs.
An illusion, no doubt, but nice to think about.

No. 37: Candi Staton, “Stand By Your Man.” This is a wretched song (old country music is dead to me, no matter how many critics tell me how Authentic it is.)
But I like the more soulful treatment of it here.

No. 36: A first-wave British Invasion band, Casey tells us, that’s still popular because it’s “willing to try different things and try new sounds.”
Over the next few years,  the new sounds they would try — including country and musical theatre — would fall flat on their faces with American listeners.
But this week it was all good for the Kinks and “Lola.”

No. 35: Andy Kim, “Be My Baby.” Every countdown has at least one cheesy cover, and here we fulfill the quota.
In his attempt to rock us gently, Mr. Kim makes a fatal mistake by rearranging the song’s rhythm.
This song is nothing without the baion. Without the baion, it might as well be polka.

No. 34: Neil Diamond, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
Well, speak of the devil.
I had forgotten Neil even sang this, and was not pleased to be reminded.

No. 33: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, “Heed the Call.”
I was afraid this was going to be another upbraid in the tradition of “Tell It All, Brother,” but instead it turns out to be an ode to the power of music.
The tambourine is the best part.
Right at the beginning, and then again right after Kenny intones “heed the call” for the first time, there’s a nice little breakbeat that would be marvelous for someone to rap over.
Seriously. Check it out at 1:23 or so.

No. 32: Neil Diamond again with “Cracklin’ Rosie.” (“There’s still a sip of cracklin’ rose left in Neil Diamond’s cup,” Casey tells us.)

No. 31: The four Canadians of Mashmakhan with “As The Years Go By.”
This sounds like Sugarloaf jamming with the Association, or somesuch other square male vocal group.

No. 30: Ray Price, “For The Good Times.” “You don’t have to be a country music fan to like this,” Casey intones reverently.
Yeah, as country goes, this is OK.
I’m hearing an arseload of strings and horns on this countdown, though: 1970 was a pretty good year to be a studio violist.

BTW, Wiki says there are four separate Kenny Rogers greatest-hits collections called “For The Good Times,” two of which were released in the same year by different labels.
Makes your holiday shopping a little more complicated, eh?

No. 29: Eric Clapton, “After Midnight.” Eric had just announced the formation of a new band, Derek and the Dominos, Casey announced.
Not a bad song; it moves along nicely.
I’m almost willing to forgive Clappers for re-cutting it for that beer commercial, back when every fortyish rock star in the world was selling their souls to Miller and Michelob.
(Edit: I have recently learned, courtesy Jim Bartlett, that Clapton’s association with beer advertising started long before the mid-1980s.)

No. 28: Four Tops, “Still Water (Love.)” Weird overdone arrangement — it is possible to make a clavinet sound unpleasant — but some pleasant enough vox going on.

No. 27: Up from No. 40, Santana with “Black Magic Woman.”
I didn’t listen long enough to hear if they played “Gypsy Queen,” which for me is what makes listening to “Black Magic Woman” worthwhile.
(OK, I overstate a little bit. “Black Magic Woman” is a pretty good song. Maybe even the best single representation of Santana’s positive qualities — the cutting guitar and the Latin rhythms. Still, I love how it catches fire when they shift into “Gypsy Queen.”)

No. 26: “Let’s Work Together,” Canned Heat. This is Alvin Lee-level stuff but I like it anyway.
I think this is Canned Heat’s only Top 40 single with Bob “The Bear” Hite singing lead.
Essay question: Did Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson have the weirdest, most non-AT40-style voice ever to sing lead on a Top 40 single?
Use both sides of the monitor if necessary.

No. 25: Fifth Dimension, “One Less Bell To Answer.”
I’m gonna go all Tom Nawrocki and take issue with some of the square, uncomfortable vocal phrasing: “each time the DOOR-BELL rings;” “THINK-ING of HIM.”
I dunno. You have to hear the song to understand what I mean; and I ain’t linking to it ’cause I’d rather just move on to better songs.
Like …

No. 24: Badfinger, “No Matter What.”
Pure pop for now people, no matter whether your “now” was 1970 or 2009, or 2039 for that matter.
(Along with this prime piece of power pop, we get Casey’s obligatory Beatles reference, when he observes, “It sounds like the Beatles.”)
Hey, that’s two Welsh artists in the Forty. Is that a record?

No. 23: “Yellow River” by I.P. Daily … no, actually, by a British group called Christie.
Undistinguished pop, really.

No. 22: Free, “All Right Now.” Before which Casey announces that the survey is based on sales figures from 100 record stores across the country.
(100 record stores? That’s two per state. Was it weighted, I wonder, so that New York got seven record stores and North Dakota got zero? Or did the North Dakotans unfairly gain the same influence as the New Yorkers? Inquiring minds gotsta know more.)

No. 21: Supremes, “Stoned Love.” Despite its title, a production strongly flavored with old-school Motown. You can just imagine them banging the snow chains against the studio floor to keep the beat, like they did back in ’65.

No. 20: For our friends at WNOX Knoxville, Chicago asking the musical question “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
Biggest mover on the survey — up “17 points,” Casey says.
Ah, for the days when Robert Lamm sang lead and you only heard Peter Cetera on the harmony.
I don’t care about time.

No. 19: Bread, “It Don’t Matter To Me.”
Ya know, these guys had pretty good hooks, solid vocals and strong instrumental ability.
Is it just me, or could they have been a damned good Badfinger-ish pop band in some alternate universe (if they hadn’t been such wimps)?

No. 18: 100 Proof Aged in Soul, “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.” Snappy. The lyric “Cigarettes in my ashtray / And I don’t even smoke” coulda been B.B. King, or maybe even Robert Johnson in a happy moment.

No. 17: James Brown, “Super Bad (Part 1.)”
I love how the first 10 seconds of this are given over to the Godfather repeatedly hectoring his band to “WATCH me!” … and how you can hear him chiding his guitar player for missing his entrance (“HEY! I said I’m SUPER bad!”)
A lot of people would have waved the band to a halt and started again; but James knew that one mistake doesn’t stop a killer take.

AT40 Extra: From the Number One album in the country, Santana’s “Abraxas,” we hear the loungey “Oye Como Va.”
I used to love the “Abraxas” album in high school, especially the Side 1 closer “Incident at Neshabur,” which starts out all pot-boiling and gradually drops down in speed and intensity until it sort of eases out in a gentle sundown glow.

No. 16: Guess Who, “Share The Land.”
I can’t love this one as much as I usually love the GW. Maybe it’s the jarring contrast between the minor-key verses and the big happy alma-mater-style chorus.
Or maybe it’s the opening lyric about “have you done your share of coming down?,” which reeks way too much of the early ’70s.
Reminds me of “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” or that Beach Boys tune with the lyric about “I can feel the weight of coming down.”
You’d think people did nothing between 1970 and 1972 but drift from buzzkill to buzzkill.

(This analysis may, indeed, be correct.)

No. 15: The Presidents, “5-10-15-20 Years Of Love,” or whatever it’s called. Pleasant enough but the counting gimmick reminds me of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

No. 14: Wilson Pickett, “Engine Number Nine.” The Wicked Pickett finds new flavor in — you guessed it — Philadelphia, in the company of Gamble and Huff.
And it’s a train song.
Can you say “automatic boldface”?

No. 13: Joe Cocker, “Cry Me A River.” Nice version of that Aerosmith song.
No, really, this is a pretty good reinvention; I’ve just never been a huge fan of the earnest caravanserai that was the Mad Dogs and Englishmen band.
(We have two drummers, a percussionist, and five gospel-chick backup singers who wail away on EVERY SONG! Isn’t that soulful?)

No. 12: The Who, “See Me Feel Me.” As I’ve probably said before, this isn’t a patch on the Woodstock live version in terms of energy, but I don’t begrudge the ‘Oo a ride into the Top Twenty every now and again.
I actually think this works pretty well stripped of its context — just for fun, I imagined myself listening to it as if I were completely unfamiliar with “Tommy.”

No. 11: Elvis with a two-sided hit (both sides of which Casey plays), “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me/Patch It Up.”
The A-side you all know — another of those big sweeping ballads that I’d rather hear Tom Jones sing.
The B-side is cluttered country-funk in which Elvis sounds a little buried under everything else going on.
Apparently he and his producers had forgotten all about the simplicity of the Sun Sessions by 1970.

No. 10: Sugarloaf, “Green-Eyed Lady.” Another of those tunes I’m bolding b/c I liked it when I was 15. Mysterioso.
Something I never knew: Wiki tells me that Sugarloaf’s Jerry Corbetta went on to become a member of the legendary Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.
That’s quite the resume.

No. 9: Stevie Wonder, “Heaven Help Us All.”
Why can some people write effortless topical lyrics that soar, and other people write topical lyrics that fail painfully?
In other words, how did this guy make everything seem so easy?

No. 8: Bobby Bloom, “Montego Bay.” Nice percussion. This Caribbean idyll stomps “Kokomo” like a grape — not as though that’s difficult, of course.

No. 7: RD Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me.” That must be, like, a real comedown, man.

No. 6: Brian Hyland, “Gypsy Woman.” A pretty good song, given that it’s performed by a guy who made literally one of the worst 45s of the rock era.
Wonder whether his producers could have redeemed Los Del Rio, or Right Said Fred?

No. 5: James Taylor, “Fire and Rain.” Nice piece of writing. Is this really the same guy who was recording sodden Motown covers just four or five years later?

No. 4: Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Contrary to popular belief, it was not repeated exposure to this song that drove Yukio Mishima to plunge a sword into his guts earlier in the week.

No. 3: Jax 5ive, “I’ll Be There.” Part of the holy trinity of Jackson Five singles … actually, it might be a four-part trilogy, Douglas Adams-style, if you include “The Love You Save.”
Great song, beautifully arranged and superbly sung; there’s not much else you can ask for, except maybe some connection to Philadelphia.
Also, maybe the best pop record ever with a harpsichord on it.

No. 2: “Tears of a Clown,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Hey, y’know, all of a sudden this is a pretty sweet run of records.
Really, any song Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson both worked on would pretty much have to be killer.
It just wonders me why nobody pegged this as a single in 1967, when it was first released as an album track.

And at Number One for the second straight week:

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family.
Yes, I think “I’ll Be There” is the best pop record with harpsichord on it.
I enjoy David Cassidy’s artlessly harried vocals — he does sound like a 15-year-old kid who’s madly in love and doesn’t understand it — but the whole concept and arrangement is just too cheesy for me to endorse.

That’s it for this week. Keep reaching for the stars, and like that.

2 thoughts on “Encore Performances: Nov. 28, 1970: I don’t know what I’m up against.

  1. I rise to defend the Andy Kim version of “Be My Baby.” I love how theatrical it is, all that echo, that skittering bass line, whatever the hell that thing is on the solo (theremin?), and the Chipmunks on backing vocals. Ignoring the Ronettes’ original (which I did not know yet in 1970), it’s a pretty great bubblegum record, the sort of thing Andy Kim excelled at.

    Similarly, I’d like to defend “Share the Land,” if only because in 1970, it was a familiar sort of public service announcement to suggest that the remedy for bum trips of all sorts was to lie down in the grass and become one with all the beautiful creatures of the Earth, and I would very much like to do that today myself.

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