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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jan. 15, 1977: The sound of your voice can get me high.

Yes, it’s not an Encore Performance. I listened to an American Top 40 countdown today that I hadn’t heard before. And here’s what I thought.

So here we are in the week ending Jan. 15, 1977. What’s shakin’?

  • The Gerald Ford administration is entering its final days. Despite its brevity, it will be remembered as the time when some American performers shone at their brightest. (viz. Louise Lasser; the Starland Vocal Band; Bruce Jenner; Gabe Kaplan; and Aerosmith.)
  • Baseball’s amateur free-agent draft takes place. Among those selected are future no-hit pitcher Dave Righetti (by Texas); Jesse Orosco, future holder of the MLB record for most games pitched (by St. Louis); and future Rochester Red Wings fan favorite John “T-Bone” Shelby (by Baltimore.)
  • Actor Peter Finch, best known as the crazed TV anchor Howard Beale in “Network,” dies. Two months later, Finch becomes the first actor to posthumously win an Oscar.
  • It’s a big week for football. The University of Pittsburgh team, featuring Tony Dorsett, claims the cover of Sports Illustrated, while the upcoming Super Bowl claims the cover of Time.
  • Rolling Stone, meanwhile, puts a tarted-up Rod Stewart on its cover, while also prominently featuring an article called “New South Burn” credited to John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I’ve not heard of the article before, so I’m going to assume it was not a high point of their creative partnership.

And here’s what was on the charts already, with favourites in bold so you can see ’em across a crowded room:

No. 40: A former Top 10 hit for the Bee Gees, “Love So Right” (and yes, the inevitable question about how it could go so wrong follows.)
This one just doesn’t have the spark to me … maybe it’s too slow.

No. 39, also a former Top 10 hit: England Dan and John Ford Coley, continuing the theme of heartbroken longing with “Nights Are Forever Without You.”
Down five.

No. 38: Casey notes “an interesting chart occurrence” — only the third time an artist has hit the Forty with both studio and live versions of the same song. (Sorry, didn’t write down the first two, though I think one of ’em was Barbra Streisand.)
Anywah, it’s Skynyrd with the live version of “Free Bird.”
The song kinda loses something in its single edit — it jumps straight from the slow verses into the three-guitar jam, which sounds even more like a hot mess as a result.
(What did Ronnie Van Zant do during the long instrumental jam section? Play tambourine? Go get some Gatorade? Fan Gary Rossington with his hat? Presumably there is footage somewhere that will tell me.)

No. 37: Barry Dvorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. with “Nadia’s Theme.” Did anyone besides Casey play this back-to-back with “Free Bird”?
And I wonder what Nadia Comaneci, heroine of the ’76 Montreal Summer Games, was doing in January 1977. Perhaps she was back in Romania, listening to a party official explain that surely she hadn’t expected to keep her preferential parking space forever.

No. 36: A debut appearance by a record whose creator hadn’t been on the Forty since 1969: Bob Seger, “Night Moves.”
The Carter administration would be significantly kinder to Detroit Bob than any previous time period.
For those keeping track, this marks three blasts of nostalgic romantic longing in the first five tunes. This is the best and most affecting of the three, even in its single edit.

No. 35: Casey lists all the awards Barbra Streisand has received — four Grammys, a Tony, an Oscar, a Georgie and an Emmy — and then plays her current hit, “Evergreen (Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born.’)”
I might have that title backward but I don’t really give a damn.

No. 34: “Originally from England, now making their home in upstate New York,” Casey says, it’s Foghat with the incessant boogie of “Driving Wheel.”
Hey, Case: D’you mean upstate like Mount Kisco, or upstate like Tonawanda?
I had no idea Foghat had any connection to New York state, but maybe that explains why they seemed to play clubs in Rochester every time the seasons changed back in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
As for the song, I haven’t the first idea how it gathered enough commercial momentum to trouble Casey.

No. 33, debut: KISS with “Hard Luck Woman,” featuring the rheumy vox of George P.J. Criscuola of Canarsie, N.Y., which qualifies as upstate New York if you live in Rockaway Beach.
(“Sounds like Chris Norman,” my wife says of the song. “He’s stumblin’ in, you know.” She’s heard her fair share of these countdowns by now.)

No. 32, down 11: Another former Top 10 hit, “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille.
I made it to the first chorus before skipping ahead to …

… No. 31: “19-year-old Donny and 17-year-old Marie,” Casey says, duetting on “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and actually maybe not doing it entirely horribly at that.
Andy Williams used to call the family “the one-take Osmonds” for their polish and professionalism … and as I listened, I imagined Donny and Marie rattling off a thousand other popular cover songs, all as reliable and professional and eager as a new McDonald’s franchisee building Big Macs.
(“I Second That Emotion”? I bet they coulda done that one pretty well.)

No. 30: For the folks listening to KJAS in Jackson, Missouri, it’s Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band with a tune Casey introduces as “Whispering,” but is better known as “Cherchez La Femme.”
Yeah, I went for the bold on this one; I’ll buy into the sassy, campy fun. I dunno how this song was received in Jackson, Missouri, but I imagine it went down a treat at New York City’s dance clubs.

No. 29: Another former Top 10 hit, Boston (go, Pats) with “More Than A Feeling.” What were we saying about nostalgic romantic longing a couple of records ago?
I still love the fact that most of the first Boston record was recorded in a basement in the Boston suburbs, and that this home-recording genius conjured up a sound that sounded like no one else.

No. 28, up seven in its second week on the chart: Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like An Eagle.” Icy cool, and by far the best of Miller’s big Seventies hits.
Though I wonder who else in 1977 was still going on about “the revolution” … ah, Steve, you lovable mush-head, you.

No. 27, down 15: Alice Cooper with “I Never Cry,” with its close-to-the-bone admission of alcoholism. (The Carter and Reagan administrations would not be kind to Alice on that account; within five years he would be recording albums he claims not to remember.)
For the record, this is a better ballad than “Love So Right.”

No. 26: Barry Manilow, “Weekend in New England” (go, Pats.) America’s top male singles artist of 1976, as per Casey, starts the new year on a high note.
Once again we do the nostalgic romantic longing thing, albeit reasonably successfully.
(“When will our eyes meet?” is a particularly great line … sometimes it’s the subtle moments that last forever.)

No. 25: “This Song,” George Harrison. Gotta love how Harrison could toss off a song about his plagiarism court case and still hit the Forty. Musta been nice to be ex-lead guitarist for the Beatles.
Is Eric Idle the only member of Monty Python to appear on a U.S. Top Forty record?

No. 24: For the cats and kitties digging WATT in Cadillac, Michigan, it’s Earth, Wind & Fire with “Saturday Night.”
Finally, some funk!
There’s something joyful about EWF’s best — maybe it’s the vocals — and while this isn’t their best tune, I still thought about bolding it for a good few minutes.

No. 23: The Bar-Kays, “Shake Your Rump To The Funk.” We went 25 songs without really grooving, and all of a sudden, our cup runneth over.
I found this kinda paint-by-numbers, for reasons I cannot explain … it is an exceedingly thin line between great Seventies funk and mass-produced, average, uninteresting Seventies funk.

No. 22: A song that originated in a U.K. advertising campaign, “Jeans On” by David Dundas.
Remarkably, in the promo video for this song, it is impossible to tell whether Mr. Dundas is wearing jeans … or any pants at all, for that matter.

No. 21, up five: Kenny Nolan, “I Like Dreamin’.” Gee, I wish I had that funk back, even the paint-by-numbers stuff.

No. 20: Mary McGregor, “Torn Between Two Lovers.” I could not help but imagine KISS performing this, with Mr. Criscuola keeping the four-to-the-bar beat on his bass drum.
I also could not help but imagine America’s less trustworthy young women using this song in 1977 to justify their slutty behavior.
(“Uh, yeah … just ’cause I slept with him doesn’t mean I don’t care about you … it’s just like in that song, and if it’s on the radio, it must be real.”)

No. 19, up nine: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded By The Light.” It’s OK; you know how it goes.
I think its author was still in court in January 1977, trying to break loose from his manager.

No. 18, down four: Yvonne Elliman, in the 40 for the first time since 1971, with “Love Me.”
OK, kinda watery. And apparently I’ve become a student of song construction, because when a bridge just sort of appears — as this one does, at about 1:45 — it always hits my ear funny.

No. 17, up two: The Jacksons with “Enjoy Yourself.” Nice buoyant swinging groove.

No. 16: Bread, “Lost Without Your Love.” As bland as, well, bread, and not their best.

No. 15: Casey tells the story of Queen’s Brian May building his guitar out of salvaged trash bits, then plays “Somebody To Love.” It’s OK but not my favorite of theirs.
(Casey also mentions that “a high-quality electric guitar runs about $500” — that’s almost $1,900 today. I should like to think a decent axe could be had for less than that in 1977.)

No. 14, up six: The bad boys from Boston (go, Pats), Aerosmith with “Walk This Way.”
Wonder if Casey ever understood the reference to “you ain’t seen nothin’ ’til you’re down on the muffin” or whether it slipped past him.
This is the first thing resembling hard rock in a good 20 spots.

No. 13: One of 11 British acts on the countdown, ELO with “Livin’ Thing.”
Effortless, unforced verses and a big catchy chorus make a pop pleasure, even if the gypsy violin is a little goofy.

No. 12: Eagles, “New Kid In Town,” a shrink-wrapped slice of processed “country” from the nation’s new Number One album, Hotel California. You might have heard of it.

No. 11: Spinners with “Rubberband Man.” Absurd, funky and wonderful.
(I wonder what Bootsy Collins, then fronting the Rubber Band, thought of this song. Did he think they were biting on his style?)

No. 10: Burton Cummings, “Stand Tall.” Muy blando.

No. 9: Casey tells a story about how Engelbert Humperdinck’s management commissioned the breeding of a special Engelbert Humperdinck red rose, which cost $200,000 ($757,700 in today’s money.)
Then he plays Humperdinck’s big hit “After The Lovin’,” in which the Hump details what happens after he’s down on the muffin.
(Go, Pats.)

No. 8: Sylvers, “Hot Line.” One of those songs that exists solely for its chorus, and that does quite well based on that.
Casey says this is one of 10 disco records on the countdown, which surprises me … maybe we haven’t heard some of them yet.

No. 7: The last blast of Elton John’s great period, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” blue-moving down from No. 6.
It might be maudlin but I find it convincing.

No. 6: A former Number One hit, Rod Stewart with “Tonight’s The Night.”
How did Rod — formerly an amiable, ambling drunk — succeed in making himself over as a disco-era loverboy?

No. 5, up two: Brick, “Dazz.” It’s no “Dusic.”

No. 4: Last week’s Number One, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. with “You Don’t Have To Be a Star To Be In My Show.”
I didn’t like it a lot but I liked it enough, I guess.Is that noncommittal enough?

(Which reminds me: There hasn’t been any Gladys Knight in this countdown; and with three records left, there probably won’t be. Shame, that.)

No. 3: For the folks digging KTOE in Mankato, Minnesota, it’s Rose Royce up two with “Car Wash.”
We’ve now had songs about muskrats, blue jeans and car washes on this countdown — Top 40 makes strange bedfellows.
Dumb funky fun with stupid lyrics.

No. 2, up two: Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” blowing everything else on the Top 10 (and, for that matter, the Top 40) out of the water.
You grow up and learn that kinda thing ain’t right / But when you were doing it, it sure felt outta sight” pretty much sums it up in two lines.
(Did Casey count this as one of his 10 disco records? I sure hope not.)

And now, the nation’s new Number One single: Leo Sayer, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”No, that’s not a typo; I like this song juuuuuuuuuust enough to bold it, even if it has no business being ahead of “I Wish.”
(“I Wish” would ascend to Number One the following week, so Leo didn’t take anything away from it.)
Men who shamelessly sing in falsetto own (viz. Brian and Carl Wilson) … and there’s a certain snap to the beat that makes it hard to forget.

I’m gonna hit Publish before I take back that last bold.


Encore Performances: Jan. 24, 1976: It’s from me, it’s for you.

From the old blog, January 2010.

Casey sounds like he has a cold — his voice is a little deeper, a little less resonant.
And he seems less lively at first, though he perks up in mid-show, as if his decongestant were kicking in.
Or maybe I’m just transferring my own cold to everything around me.

Anyway, the 40 biggest hits of the third full week of 1976, with favourites in bold:

No. 40, debut: Spinners, “Love or Leave.” I still haven’t heard a Seventies Spinners record I didn’t like. I wasn’t that familiar with this one, but it seemed a worthy addition to their oeuvre.
My only fault to find was that it seemed a little laid-back; they might have made it a better (and bigger) record by playing it just a touch faster.

No. 39, debut: Cledus Maggard, “The White Knight.” I’m gonna save my powder on this, for reasons that will become apparent in 30 spots or so.
OK, I will say this: Tape manipulation used to either speed up or slow down a voice is cheesy, corny and bad, bad, bad in my book, and Chipmunk me no Chipmunks.

No. 38, debut: “Let the Music Play,” Barry White.
I didn’t have to bold this humid lost-love jam, but I did, uh-huh, you know how it is, baby.
It’s kinda droll to imagine the sizable Mr. White “dancing the night away,” though; one does not think of him as the sort who would lose himself in three or four unbroken hours of booty-shaking.

No. 37, debut: The “remake queen of the ’70s,” Casey declares: Linda Ronstadt with “Tracks Of My Tears.”
I once read an interview with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes (whom I do not usually cite as a trustworthy source) in which he put forth the opinion that certain songs were done perfectly the first time, and anyone who tries to tackle them henceforth only succeeds in making themselves look stupid.
Robinson was talking about Aztec Camera covering “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” but he could have been talking about this.

No. 36, debut: Donny and Marie with “Deep Purple.” A slice of freeze-dried 1971 that did not age well. The kids loved it, though.

No. 35, in its 13th week on the chart: KC and the Sunshine Band, “That’s The Way (I Like It.)”
It’s entirely possible that this song is perfect, too.

No. 34: Foghat, “Slow Ride.”
My mental image of Foghat is of a group of tired sloggers, only half original members, showing up on the club scene of western New York every six months or so in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
I find it extremely difficult to imagine that Foghat was once an up-and-coming creative force.
Meanwhile, this tune does everything Billy Squier ever did, five years earlier.

No. 33: David Bowie, “Golden Years.” Love the interlocking guitars. Are the guitars really the best part of Bowie’s music?
I wonder how much the kids who shook their asses to this song contemplated the meaning of lines like, “Run for the shadows in these golden years.”

No. 32: Bee Gees, “Fanny.” Over-lush ballad with a few interesting chord changes. Could be Ambrosia on the best day they ever had.

No. 31: Second week on the charts, up seven: Eric Carmen, “All By Myself.”
It’s so big and gauche and weepy. What’s not to love?

No. 30: Olivia Newton-John, “Let It Shine.” Country cheese.

No. 29: For the good folks listening to WCLG in Morgantown, West Virginia, “Over My Head” by Fleetwood Mac.
Just another in the loooooooooong stream of bloodless mid-tempo love songs Christine McVie shoveled out over the years. It took the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham’s production touch to make them memorable.

No. 28: The band Neil Young declared “the only group to carry on the Buffalo Springfield’s legacy,” and the band Casey declared “the hottest group in the business”:
Eagles with “Take It To The Limit.”
Better than a lot of their shite … but I still don’t like “You can spend all your time making love / You can spend all your love making time,” which has always struck me as a heavy-handed attempt at profundity.

No. 27: “Paloma Blanca,” the George Baker Selection.
From Wikipedia: “In 1978, the group split up because ‘the pressure had become too much.’ ”
Sucks when that happens.

No. 26: The Who, “Squeeze Box.” Alex at Clicks and Pops just wrote an excellent blog post in which this song figures. Dig it.
I can only imagine how disappointing it was, after the rock-hard back-to-back triumphs of “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia,” to encounter the booze-sodden, self-pitying fender-bender that was “The Who By Numbers,” complete with this limp excuse for a single.

(To be fair, “TWBN” was not devoid of pleasures, most notably the swaggering “Slip Kid,” which I put on a bunch of cassette mixes, way back when.)

No. 25: Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night.”
Y’know, this song could be the flipside of “All By Myself.” When Eric Carmen picks up the phone to call his friends, Les McKeown isn’t at home, because he’s out at the good ol’ rock n’roll road show with his date.
It’s kinda like how the Firesign Theatre used to include one side of a phone conversation in an album, and then the other side of the conversation on the next album as part of a completely different thread.

No. 24: Helen Reddy, “Somewhere In The Night.”
“After you hear this girl sing a few songs, you understand why she’s got so many fans,” Casey says.
I bet Helen enjoyed being called a girl.

No. 23: The first song to chart in five decades (did they really have charts in the ’20s, Case?):
“Baby Face,” rendered disco-stylee by the Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps.
I wonder whether some pop-music hustler — some Kim Fowley or Malcolm McLaren, or even a Trevor Horn type — recorded an ’80s version of this in an attempt to keep the streak going?
Not much to say about this, except it’s cheesy, and sounds kinda like the Ritchie Family, and Americans will buy anything.

No. 22: “Wake Up Everybody,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring (of course) the magnificent pipes of the late Teddy Pendergrass.
There’s still room for some Philly social consciousness amidst all the novelties.
That verse about doctors making the old people happy rings kinda strange, though. How many Top 40 hits take the side of the aged? And just what were the docs supposed to do to make the elderly feel better?

No. 21: MST3K’s favorite quintet, Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds, with “Winners and Losers” — a song I had completely forgotten existed until I heard it.
It’s OK but kinda loungey — those descending piano riffs might have been played by Ferrante or Teicher.

No. 20: For the folks tuned in to WCBT in Roanoke, Virginia, it’s “Theme from SWAT” by Rhythm Heritage.
Ah, the glory days of the tall-walking, hairy-chested cop-show theme.
I liked it fine, especially the breakdown in the middle, though I spent the whole song thinking of which parts I’d cut to edit it down to 30 seconds to fit in the TV show.
Maybe after this I’ll go to YouTube and see if the opening credits are up there, to see how the producers did it.

No. 19: Nazareth, “Love Hurts.” You see, Eric Carmen? You don’t want to be in love. Love hurts, and scars, and bleeds. Maybe being all by yourself isn’t so bad.

No. 18: Sweet, “Fox On The Run.” The English do certain things like no one else — sports cars, secret agents, and stompy glam-rock.
May England never lie at the proud feet of a conqueror.

Somewhere I have a recording of either a high-school choir or a marching band performing this. I’m gonna have to go look for it.

No. 17: Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”
OK, this doesn’t really deserve to be bolded.
But y’know, when we get all this reheated, unimaginative Linda Ronstadt cover shit week in and week out, I give Neil Sedaka some credit for semi-intelligently reinventing (or as the kids nowadays say, “re-booting”) his song in a totally different style.
I kinda like it as a torchy ballad.

No. 16: The Miracles, “Love Machine (Part 1).” This might deserve the boldface I just handed Neil Sedaka (shit, did I really just do that?)
This doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice pocket.

No. 15: Electric Light Orchestra, “Evil Woman.”
Yes, I think that nauseous phased string-section break at the very end is comparable to the moment in “Good Vibrations” where the BBs go “aaaaaaaaahhhhh!” and everything STOPS for a moment.
Yes, I would compare the two, with a straight face.

Casey also works his DJ chops:
He plays the vocal beginning (“You made a fool of me!”) without talking, then comes in and introduces the record during the instrumental section that follows it.
I was impressed, anyway.

No. 14: Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” : Steve Gadd :: “Baker Street” : Raphael Ravenscroft.

Apart from the drumming, this song is kinda lame — sort of the AT40 equivalent of a going-nowhere Woody Allen movie in which urbanites with ants in their pants say erudite things to each other.

No. 13: John Denver, “Fly Away.” Just insert your own morbid joke here. Some gimmes are too big to pass up.

No. 12: KISS, “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
It would be interesting to see a survey (and someone’s surely done it) about the number of live recordings that have made the Forty, and when.
(And yes, we’ll put aside for the moment any quibbles about just how live this song — or many other live recordings — actually is.)

They weren’t incredibly rare; I can think of a couple other ’70s examples off the top of my head (Frampton, Chuck Berry, Jax Browne.)
But it seems to me they weren’t that common either.

This song is just fine with me. As previously stated, I like my songs about rock’n’roll to be brief, blunt and locomotive, and this fills all three bills.

No. 11: Glen Campbell, riding the coattails of “Rhinestone Cowboy” with the inferior “Country Boy.”
Features the immortal opening line, “Livin’ in the city ain’t never been my idea of gettin’ it on.”
Is that how country boys really talked?

No. 10: EWF, “Sing a Song.” The only new song on the Top 10 this week, and a nice funk-pop workout in the classic EWF mold.
This one made me a little sad, b/c it made me think of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song,” which in turn made me wonder what kind of coke-fueled limbo Sly was living in in the middle of a decade he should have OWNED.

No. 9: David Ruffin, “Walk Away from Love.” Featuring some sweet falsetto and that saucy ’70s beat again.
Hey, does that beat have a name? Like, if I were gonna ask a drummer to play that groove, what would I tell him?
(Not that I’m gonna or anything. It’s more of a theoretical question.)

No. 8: Paul Anka, “Times Of Your Life.”
I was somewhat surprised to find this on the 40 because I always thought it was a song aimed at people my grandparents’ age.
(They would have been about 60 when this countdown aired.)
I would have no more guessed this was a Top 40 hit than I would have thought that, say, Sinatra doing “New York, New York” was a Top 40 hit — but apparently that one hit too, so I guess I need to recalibrate my vision of the Top 40 to make room for easy-listening middle-age ballads.

We have Kodak to thank for this song, as well as other things, such as disc cameras, industrial contamination, and my college education.

No. 7: C.W. McCall, “Convoy.” Yup, two CB songs in one countdown.
Based on that pattern — emergent technology spawns popular songs — there should have been at least two Top 40 hits in the past year about GPS systems.
And hell, about 10 or 12 years ago, there should have been 30 Top 40 hits about the Internet, since that was an infinitely larger life-changing technology than CB radio ever was.

I had a plastic CB set when I was five or six. I don’t remember using it that frequently, and I’m pretty sure I managed to break the hand-held talk unit off of the box, ending my interest in it.

Several years later, some friends and I would sometimes pick up truck radio conversations on our walkie-talkies. (Dunno if they were CB, or some other kind of radio; I’m not an expert on how truckers talk to each other.)
One summer night we talked at length with a trucker, trying to convince him that we were carrying watermelons to Georgia.
After he’d elicited where we were (he could tell we were kids from the get-go, I’m sure), he politely told us it wasn’t a good idea to tell strangers on the radio where we were, lest the strangers pay us an unwanted visit.
He was pretty nice about the whole thing … I’m assuming he probably had some long-ass haul to make, and derived some entertainment from talking to little kids on his radio for a half-hour or so.
Ten-four, good buddy, wherever you are.

No. 6: Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing.”
I’m not a huge fan of this one after 2,000 plays — among other things, the unhinged edge on Errol Brown’s lead vocal kinda grates on me.
But I’ll concede it’s a pretty good song.
I am tickled to learn that Bruce Springsteen has covered it. God only knows what that sounds like, since Bruce’s bands never, ever, ever, ever groove.

No. 5: O’Jays, “I Love Music.” Another jam that doesn’t go very far musically, but doesn’t have to.
Another Gamble and Huff jawn, and like the old saying goes, the quality goes in before the name goes on.

Speaking of which, here’s a tangent for you nostalgia buffs:
This guy who collects TV sets made a video on the last day of analog TV transmission in his area, featuring a still-working 1969 Zenith 23-inch TV set.
Check it out — the UHF button, the tubes, the big dials.
Doesn’t that take me back?


No. 4: “Love To Love You Baby,” Donna Summer.
How many AT40 songs have there been with men grunting and gasping in ecstasy?
Not Barry White-style pillow talk, but actual orgasmic gasping.
Is there a double standard?

The song itself, meanwhile, is kinda pedestrian. I could get lost OK enough in the long club version, I guess, but the radio-friendly version doesn’t do it for me.

No. 3: “Love Rollercoaster,” Ohio Players. Featuring grunts, synth swizzles, clanging cowbells, and at the heart of it all, one of those genius-level guitar riffs that people tend to think of while they’re warming up their amp.

No. 2: Barry Manilow, “I Write The Songs.”
Speaking of pulling out all the stops, the Players’ orchestration is nothing compared to the tidal wave Barry unleashes at the end of this one.
There is no subtlety in this worldwide symphony — no room for a Dobro player quietly picking on his front porch, or an unaccompanied harpsichordist running down some Bach.
I imagine a 500-person multicultural choir representing all the countries of the world, with their names on their T-shirts (“Burkina Faso,” “Burma,” “Cameroon”), as they sway back and forth bellowing behind Barry.

Oh, and memo to Bruce Johnston: It’s no fair rhyming “song” with “songs,” like you do in the first verse.

Time to run down the Number Ones on the other charts. Soul: “Wake Up Everybody.” Country: “Convoy.” Albums: “Gratitude,” by Earth, Wind and Fire.
And now for the Number One song in the country:

No. 1: “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)” by Diana Ross. Yeah, we had a new Number One the whole time, and Casey never let on, the sneaky SOB!

Anyway: Yeah, I like this song fine. Great melody. There are a couple places where the gears nick a little bit — like the transition from the bridge to the second verse, which isn’t really a transition at all; the second verse just kinda shows up.
But who am I to blow against the wind?
At least it wasn’t another CB song.

The plane truth.

I’m reading about the troubles of Boeing’s grounded 787 airliners. And I’m thinking that, somewhere, Gordon Sinclair must be bitterly disappointed in us.

Sinclair, for the non-pop-obsessives in the crowd, was the Toronto radio commentator who stuck up for the beleaguered United States in his spoken-word editorial “The Americans.”

Sinclair’s narration, set to stentorian patriotic music, became a surprise U.S. Top 40 hit early in 1974.

Detroit radio newsreader Byron MacGregor released a similar version at around the same time. Such was America’s hunger for reassurance that both records rode the U.S. Top 40 at the same time, with MacGregor’s reaching the Top 10.

(“The Americans” has resurfaced since then at times of great national distress, most notably after the 9/11 attacks. It is sometimes passed off as a new commentary, presumably by non-pop-obsessives unaware of its once inescapable radio presence.)

“The Americans” is a rambling ham-handed mess of a record — sort of a John Wayne-meets-Barry-Goldwater cocktail, with a dimly discernible aftertaste of Howard Cosell.

Over the course of four minutes and 40 seconds, Sinclair orates all over the place, ending with a wedged-in news item about the American Red Cross that totally defuses what would have been a much stronger closing statement 20 seconds earlier.

For whatever reason, the part of “The Americans” that always sticks with me is a random detour in which Sinclair champions America’s mastery of the airplane industry.

Go on, he hectors the listener (I’m paraphrasing here.) Show me an airplane the equal of a Boeing, a Lockheed, or a McDonnell-Douglas. Every commercial airline in the world except the Russians buys American planes. If anyone else can build planes as well as we do, why don’t they fly them?

It’s a factual enough boast, I suppose. But it always baffles me — maybe because it comes out of left field and is set in contradictory context.

One moment, Sinclair is mentioning the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine; the next, he’s going on about the glories of America’s jumbo jets. U.S. government policies meant to restore war-torn nations have no particular parallel with the aerospace industry, which was and is a for-profit enterprise devoted to no greater good than the bottom line.

(Put more simply: America didn’t get good at making planes because it wanted to help everybody else.)

I also can’t help but interpret it as a tacit acknowledgement that the U.S. auto industry wasn’t what it used to be.

Lots of other countries built cars, but few of them did so with the style, grace and quality of America at its best. I wonder if Sinclair’s failure to doff his cap toward Detroit was more than coincidental. (I would guess the average American in those days would have boasted about Ford Mustangs or Chevrolet Corvettes long before Boeing jumbo jets.)

Fast-forward to 2013, anyway, and now it doesn’t even seem like we build planes like we used to.

Gordon Sinclair is long dead. But it tickles me to imagine him sitting doughtily behind his mic, despairing about America’s loss of aerospatial reputation, and perhaps even throwing in the towel:

You know what? You can’t even trust American airplanes any more. I wash my hands of that country. The devil take the bunch of ’em.

Say, how ’bout them Leafs?

# # # # #

I wasn’t gonna put this in here, but just for the sheer hell of it, here’s a link to “The Americans.” The part about airplanes starts about 1:50 in, if you want to skip there.

Encore Performances: A question.

From the old blog, January 2009. A fitting re-post for the Year of Power Pop, given the video clip in question.

I’m watching a video of an old favorite Seventies pop toon on YouTube, which inspires in me a question.

If I’d ever been a serious musician, I might know the answer to this question.
But I wasn’t, so I don’t.

Why must headphones in recording studios always require at least one hand to hold them onto your head?
(Note in this video how the singer is caught violating protocol at the beginning, and how quickly he claps his hand onto his cans about four seconds in.)

Is it a real need — like, do they come one-size-fits-all and a little big?
Or is it just a rock’n’roll affectation, like not shaving and wearing your guitar slung low?

Gonna have to ask my rock-star friends.

PS: A friend whose husband was in a working band at the time of the original post was kind enough to leave me an answer to this — namely, that holding your cans helps you hear better. Thanks, Jess.

Again, from the top.

Too beat tonight to do much more than link to an interesting blog post I just read.

I’ve mentioned the Lost Live Dead site before in one forum or another. It runs down info on forgotten live performances and milestones in the history of the Grateful Dead and spinoff bands.

The scholarship that goes into the blog is impressive, even if you don’t like the Dead. It’s one of those blogs that has two posts a month, but both of them make you wonder how the author(s) do anything else for a living.

Anywah, the latest post tackles an unusual and herculean effort: A listing of all the rehearsal spaces used by the band and its main spin-offs between 1965 and 1995 — from a suburban heliport, to a rat-infested abandoned theater, to Keith and Donna Godchaux’ house.

I love this post because it’s totally new territory (when was the last time you read about rehearsal halls?) … because it brings a major rock act into more human focus (imagine the Grateful Dead, just hanging out, laughing, tuning up and running through songs) … and, again, because it is so detailed.

As an added bonus, the post ends with a great historical irony: The point at which the Dead finally purchased their own rehearsal hall was pretty much the point at which they stopped rehearsing.

Five For The Record: Cheap Trick, “Heaven Tonight.”

The latest installment of an ongoing feature. Also could be construed as the first fruits of my self-declared Year of Power Pop.

Today’s subject: Third studio album by snarky power-pop-cum-hard-rock band from Rockford, Illinois. Released May 1978, to middling commercial success in the U.S. and stark raving mania in Japan.

And here’s why I like it:

1. The entire first side. Choosing the best album side of the Seventies would be a monumental task, even if you broke it down into categories (singer-songwriter, hard-rock, soul, etc.)

I think Side One of Heaven Tonight can hang with just about anyone in the hard-rock category — even with Side One of Aerosmith’s Rocks, a long-beloved favorite of mine.

Side One starts with the definitive Cheap Trick song, “Surrender;” moves on to the powerful stop-start riffing of “On Top of the World;” then into the loose-jointed boogie stomp of “California Man.” Any of the three of these could have been a separate reason I like this record.

We also get “High Roller,” a portrait of a self-important sleazeball, in which the AC/DC swagger of the verse gives way to a Lennonesque chorus; and “Auf Wiedersehen,” a song about suicide whose thorough lack of sentimentality is either callous or kinda refreshing, depending on your point of view.

Side Two, unfortunately, isn’t quite as memorable a ride. If it were, Heaven Tonight would rank as an unquestioned classic, rather than just a very good Seventies riff-n’-roll record.

2. The faux teenage mania. I have a certain affection for the late-Seventies and early-Eighties teensploitation genre — all those movies and songs that presented slices of teenage life (often sun-kissed Californian) with a practiced adult cynicism and tongues planted firmly in cheek.

(And well-toned teenage arses planted firmly in short-shorts … gotta think of the box office, after all.)

This genre could include everything from “Rock N’ Roll High School” to the “Grease” movies to “Gorp” to “Up The Academy” to “The Van” to Celebration’s “Almost Summer” … feels like I’ve only scratched the surface, but if you’ve seen a few of these, you get the idea.

Cheap Trick’s cynical attitude and fondness for catchy hooks creates a natural affinity with the genre. It’s probably no coincidence that “Surrender” ended up on the soundtrack of “Up The Academy,” for instance.

Heaven Tonight features a classic teensploitation song, “On The Radio,” which combines brilliantly polished pop production with a baldly dumbheaded teenybop lyric (“Hey, mister, on the radio / You’re really my best friend / Please play my favorite song for me.”)

Maybe a song about music on the radio was just a little too meta to score with the general public in ’78. But it would have played bee-yoo-tifully over the opening credits of a teen film, perhaps while the heroine gets out of bed, puts on her satin jacket and roller skates, and heads off to school.

3. The title track. I would have imagined — nay, I did imagine — that a song called “Heaven Tonight” would have been a blissful Friday-afternoon pop romp in which a letter-jacketed suitor dreams of the pleasures to be had that evening with his lissome significant other.

Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In Cheap Trick’s hands, the title track of Heaven Tonight plays like the warped love-child of Alice Cooper and the Beatles.

It’s a slow, menacing, Halloweenish horrorshow of a song, apparently about death by drug overdose, set to an effective combination of harpsichord, strings and heavy guitar.

Frontman Robin Zander gets to yowl and croon on other songs; but he’s at his most effective on the chorus here, whispering, “Would you like to go to heaven tonight?” like a devil on someone’s shoulder.

To those of us who grew up in the relatively uptight 1980s, the ’70s have a reputation as a time of widespread and casual drug use. Set against that background, “Heaven Tonight” plays like a eulogy — maybe even an anthem — for a lost generation of longhaired kids who took too many barbiturates and kicked the oxygen habit.

4. The bits and pieces. For whatever reason, I find it especially easy to play spot-the-influence on Cheap Trick records.

I’ve already mentioned Alice Cooper and the Beatles (who show up several times, none more so than in “On The Radio,” when Zander sings a quavery line about “at night I turn you on” that’s instantly redolent of “A Day In The Life.”)

Listen carefully — through my ears, anyway — and you might just hear Jeff Beck, Jeff Lynne, Dylan, the Who, Paul McCartney, and maybe the Raspberries make cameo appearances.

On some records, that would be annoying. But I’m willing to let it slide here, because these guys don’t claim to be geniuses or craftsmen … they’re just four irreverent scrubs from Chicagoland, trying to make their way in the crazy-quilt corridors of Seventies rock n’ roll.

5. The ending. Heaven Tonight ends with “Oh Claire,” a barely minute-long track that consists of Zander bellowing, “Oh, konnichiwa!” over a slamming series of power chords. (The songlet purports to be live, though I’d bet it’s really a studio construction with overdubbed crowd noise.)

It’s not all that engaging … but it’s just random enough to make me wonder: What is it? A random nod to the Japanese market? An inside joke?

And whatever it is, why close the record with it?

(I’m one of those geeks who believes that the sequencing of a record actually means something, and the song you choose to end a record should be some sort of Grand Statement that sends the listener off in style.)

Maybe Cheap Trick’s rejection of Grand Statements is the entire point here. Heaven Tonight is a rock record custom-made for a time and place when Grand Statements were passe, and all that counts are some Big Riffs here and some clap tracks there.

(And in the end, the love you take is equal to konnichiwa.)

Where it really swings.

I am convinced that one of the best advertising jingles of the Sixties, and one of the worst, both came from an unlikely source: Utica, New York.

The best is the Utica Club Natural Carbonation Beer Drinking Song, concocted to move larger quantities of the titular yellow lager.

Listen to that groovy organ foaming up like a head of draft beer, and those persistent ba-ba-ba-ba vocals, and those hip-nonsensical lyrics, and that weird sonic uprush after the line “Wanna see a place to make your eyes glow?”

This is maniacal and fabulous and it makes me want to drink beer. (OK, that doesn’t take much. But still.)

On the other end of the spectrum is “Mohawk’s Going Your Way,” produced in 1968 for Mohawk Airlines, the plucky, Utica-based regional airline snapped up a few years later by Allegheny.

The offbeat rhythm and the uncomfortably phrased vocals (“Where-ever-you’re-going-Mo-hawk-is-going-your-way”) are as choppy as in-flight turbulence. The male and female singers have that polite Fifties vibrato thing going on, as well, which doesn’t really jive with the hip backing.

Plus, the jingle just sort of ends, on one embarrassed-sounding bass thump.

(If I’m not mistaken, the jingle ends one key lower than it started, which seems sort of illogical. Think of how singers will often shift a song into a higher key near the end, to build the intensity.)

So, yeah, this doesn’t make me want to go buy a ticket to Poughkeepsie.