June 2009, old blog.
This week’s AT40 countdown started on a really low note (we’ll explain in a minute) but got better. It has more bold-faced favourites than most countdowns I blog about, even if some of ’em are kinda sentimental picks.
So here we go — the top 40 songs in the land for the week ending June 8, 1974.
No. 40, debut: “Sideshow,” Blue Magic. This circus-themed song begins with the traditional circus fanfare and a voice chanting “STEP RIGHT UP!,” which is a pretty damn weak way to start an AT40 countdown.
As for the rest of the song, can’t listen — clown will eat me.
This was Blue Magic’s first hit.
Just a few months later, the soul vocal group from Philadelphia would be called on by the Rolling Stones to provide vocal backups for a song on the “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” album.
Dunno what brought Blue Magic to Mick and Keef’s attention … but I sure hope it wasn’t this.
No. 39, debut: “No Charge,” Melba Montgomery. A former country No. 1, which is also a bad, bad sign.
I’m coining a new rule: Any song that begins with a spoken-word voiceover, and is not performed by Barry White, is sucksville.
Wiki says this cornball semi-recitation about all the things mothers do for us peaked at No. 39 on the pop charts, so this might have been its first and only week.
Oh, sure — this song pops up once, and I get to hear it.
No, 38, debut: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” Steely Dan. Donald Fagen has an awesome voice, and if you disagree, go read somebody cooler’s blog.
Casey introduces the record as “Steely Dan, from Los Angeles” — which was true at the time but somewhat laughable, since Becker and Fagen were quintessential New Yorkers who were only press-ganged into living in LA by the need to make it big in the record business.
According to Wiki, this peaked at #4 and was the Dan’s highest-charting record.
It must be said: The first three songs on this AT40 represent the surprising openness of top 40 radio in those days. We have a slow vocal-group soul song, a C&W weeper and the odd jazzy inflections of the Dan, all within 10 minutes of each other.
That ain’t bad for eclecticism. D’ya think today’s hit radio stations play that kind of variety?
Before No. 37, Casey answered a reader’s question that involved the week’s obligatory Beatles name-drop.
No. 37, debut: “If You Wanna Get To Heaven,” Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Stiff boogie. This is a minor-league party song; a grade-B party song; the Hydrox of party songs.
(Something like “We’re An American Band” would be the Oreo of party songs.)
No. 36: “The Payback,” James Brown. He’s got soul; he’s super bad.
No. 35: “The Air That I Breathe,” The Hollies. I blogged a few months ago about really liking some of the Hollies’ Sixties Britpop songs, and I think if I looked deeper into the Hollies I could get to like them.
Casey introduces the record as being by a band that’s been together 10 years and came over in the first wave of the British invasion.
I hoped against hope that the Kinks had scraped out some forgotten hit — though I knew well that in ’74, the Kinks were probably playing the “Preservation” song cycle to half-full college gyms.
No. 34: In its 18th week on the charts, “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone.
I like the way this song struts — it sounds like it could have been the product of the same New Orleans funkmeisters who waxed “Lady Marmalade,” even though it wasn’t.
I could live without the lalalalalaalalalalala’s at the end.
But you can’t really hold what a band does on the fade against it. Otherwise the Beatles would get serious demerits for all those how-the-hell-do-we-finish-this? songs they did, like “Magical Mystery Tour.”
No. 33: This countdown has a weird addition I’ve not heard in other AT40s: Gently funky background music playing under Casey’s voice as he introduces each record.
Not sure I like it — it makes you think you’re hearing the song you’re about to hear, and of course, you aren’t.
Anyway: “Mighty Mighty,” Earth Wind & Fire. Acceptably funky but stays way too long on one chord.
No. 32: “Another Park, Another Sunday,” the Doobie Brothers. Never been a huge fan of Tom Johnston’s voice.
According to Wiki, it was the song on the B side of this single — “Black Water” — that would go on to become the Doobies’ first No. 1 hit.
Why anyone would put “Black Water” on the B-side and this on the A is beyond me.
No. 31: Something by Eddie Kendricks. Missed the title. More acceptable funk.
I think it might have been “Son of Sagittarius,” which I regret not hearing, b/c it sounds like a real time capsule.
No. 30, debut: “I’m Coming Home,” the Spinners. The Spinners were kings of the silky groove-ride.
Philippe Wynne’s voice is da bomb. He shoulda done a debut with Fagen.
(Actually, I’d love to hear Donald Fagen record an entire album of duets, Sinatra-style. Seriously.)
Produced by Thom Bell. Where? Philadelphia.
No. 29: “On and On,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. Pretty much every early-’70s AT40 I’ve heard seems to feature Gladys and the Pips somewhere around No. 29, singing the absolute hell out of some fairly bland slow jam.
My wife: “I can skip ahead if you want.”
Me: “Naw, I’m waiting to see when they’re going to change to another chord.”
My wife: “They go on and on.”
No. 28: “One Hell of a Woman,” Mac Davis. Mac slips into his best Tom Jones voice and elucidates a thorough list of female archetypes — she’s a lady, she’s a kitten, she’s a witch, she’s a baby, she’s warm and tender.
(Presumably Meredith Brooks, or the people who wrote “Bitch” for her, were listening closely.)
No. 27: “T.S.O.P.,” MFSB. Philly International serves up the theme to “Soul Train.”
Any song that makes me think of groovily dressed people dancing in the “Soul Train” line is fine with me.
No. 26: “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John. I love the pure weirdness of this record, starting with the deliberately fake, tinny-sounding “live” ambience.
(Was any listener ever fooled into thinking this was actually recorded before a live audience?)
This is one of several records on the chart (“Rikki” is another) that make you wonder what the hell they’re about — not in a deliberately provocative way, but just in the matter-of-fact way they go about their business.
I know this song is about some sort of mythical glam-rock band. But whaddya think motivated Elton and Bernie Taupin to produce a weird, tinny record about a mythical glam-rock band?
No. 25: “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely,” the Main Ingredient. Starts with a spoken-word voiceover. See Nos. 40 and 39.
No. 24: “Save the Last Dance for Me,” the DeFranco Family.
When I was a boy and visiting the science museum in Toronto, I found a hockey card on the floor.
It was partially in French, and it was cool and exotic, and I’ve still got it.
Just like Canadian sports cards, Canadian bubblegum pop has its own flavour — it’s familiar but just a little bit different.
This is not a bad bubblegum single at all.
No. 23: “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long,” Chicago. This bold-face is based entirely on my fondness for ’70s Chicago; this is not one of their best songs.
No. 22: “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” Stevie Wonder.
The beginning of this sounds like some guy in East L.A. hassling a meter maid over a parking ticket.
Only Stevie could start from there and create an irresistible, soulful pop single.
No. 21: “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Carly Simon.
Casey loves to introduce Carly Simon records by pointing out how tough it can be for performers who come from affluent backgrounds — that it’s not just the po’ folks who feel the pain.
I am not sure whether:
* Casey told and re-told the same anecdotes week after week.
* These rebroadcast AT40s are cut-and-pasted together, with Casey chatter from other weeks inserted to replace anecdotes deemed unworthy of repeating.
(Theoretically something like, “Clearasil doesn’t have time for acne, and Carly Simon doesn’t have time for the pain! Here she is at No. 21.”)
* I’m actually hearing the same two countdowns over and over and over again.
No. 20: “You Won’t See Me,” Anne Murray. Nice of her to rescue a charming Beatles album track from comparative obscurity.
That being said, I won’t listen to it.
No. 19: Two chicks, two covers. “I’m In Love,” Aretha Franklin, covering an old Wilson Pickett semi-hit.
No. 18: “I Won’t Last A Day Without You,” the Carpenters.
Since we were just talking about Beatles covers, you might enjoy the Carps kickin’ flavor on “Ticket to Ride.”
No. 17: “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool and the Gang. Wonder who had more Top 40 hits in the ’70s — Kool or EW&F?
They both show up a lot in these countdowns.
I’m guessing EW&F was bigger in the ’70s, but Kool and the Gang soared ahead with all those bland songs in the early ’80s (like “Fresh” and “Johanna.”)
No. 16: “The Show Must Go On,” Three Dog Night. Again with the circus sound effects!
I’ve ranted before about the annoyance of having two religious-themed songs in one countdown, but two circus-themed songs in one countdown is a fate worse than being cut in two by a homicidal magician.
I’m just thankful that “Send In The Clowns” wasn’t a hit this week too.
No. 15: “If You Love Me,” Olivia Newton-John.
Somewhere in Graceland, Elvis was stirring himself, turning on the radio and mumbling, “Gotta cover that song.”
The TCB Band played it with so much more of a laid-back snap than the guys on Olivia’s record did.
No. 14: “The Loco-Motion,” Grand Funk.
There’s no mystery as to what this song is about; but it makes up for its lack of lyrical ambiguity with some sonic weirdness.
Seriously — listen to that backing track.
It’s weird and metallic and rubbery all at once, and it doesn’t really sound like the bass, guitar and keyboards you hear on other songs on the 40.
And Mark Farner’s guitar solo is a classic, woefully underrecognized piece of weird sound processing.
What is that effect (or effects — there’s surely more than one being applied)?
All told, a victory not just for Grand Funk, but also for their producer — longtime favourite Todd Rundgren.
No. 13: “Oh Very Young,” Cat Stevens. Oh very shite.
No. 12: “My Girl Bill,” Jim Stafford.
There will be two novelty/joke records in the Top 12. Neither will be very good. This is the first.
No. 11: “Be Thankful for What You Got,” William DeVaughn.
I wondered why I liked this song so much, and then I found out from Wiki:
It was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, using several of the same musicians who made other Philly records so irresistible during the ’70s.
Also learned that DeVaughn later moved in a gospel/religious direction, which explains why I’ve never heard anything else he ever sang.
No. 10: “For the Love of Money,” the O’Jays. Did I mention that Philafreakingdelphia is all up in this countdown?
This is a tight, nasty, funky, knife-edged soul song, and the fact that they later used it to sell Corollas or whatever does not detract from its brilliance.
Wikipedia sez: “Another successful cover of the song was done by Todd Rundgren with his rock band Utopia on their 1982 album ‘Swing To the Right.’ ”
Much as I love Rundgren, I’m gonna have to wait to hear that one for myself before I pronounce it “successful.”
No. 9: “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur. Yeah, I like this song.
I like Muldaur’s playful warble, and I especially like the snaky, deceptively difficult guitar solo that made guitarist Amos Garrett a cult hero among studio players.
No. 8: “The Entertainer,” Marvin Hamlisch. Do you think the kids today would tolerate a ragtime instrumental in their Top 10?
Just another indication that Top 40 radio was more eclectic than one might think, back in the day.
No. 7: “Help Me,” Joni Mitchell. I’ve mentioned before that I listened to “Court and Spark” almost literally every night while doing homework my senior year of high school.
I prefer “Free Man in Paris” to this one, but this one ain’t bad.
No. 6: “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. No idea why people liked this.
I wonder what the band members are doing now:
D’ya think they go around bragging about having played bass in Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods?
I can’t imagine that boast carries much street cred … indeed, I’m not even sure it did in June of 1974.
Incidentally, I just thought I’d mention that the Grateful Dead played a fabulous concert at Oakland Coliseum on June 8, 1974, including a weird, primal, dissonant jam that has become the stuff of Dead legend. Of course, there was no Dead on this week’s AT40.
No. 5: “Sundown,” Gordon Lightfoot. This bold-face rating is based entirely on the deep, sonorous, tobacco-cured depths of Lightfoot’s voice.
Also of note: If I understood Casey correctly (and a quick recount seems to confirm this), there are as many Canadian acts on this week’s countdown as there are British performers.
How often has that happened?
No. 4: “Dancing Machine,” Jax 5. Has more flash than their early singles but very little of the charm. Guess that comes with growing up.
No. 3: Following another Beatles namedrop, “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” the Stylistics.
Oh, you’ll never guess which American city the Stylistics happened to hail from?
(Hint: Start in Bala Cynwyd and head east.)
No. 2: “The Streak,” Ray Stevens.
And, brand-new at No. 1: “Band on the Run,” Paul McCartney and Wings.
McCartney in those days loved to stick two or three song-fragments together and try to stitch up a linkage between them.
On “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” it really didn’t work.
On this one, it does.
Here’s another song that makes you wonder what it’s about.
Of course, knowing McCartney, it doesn’t have to be about anything — he has the gift of taking an evocative phrase and building something on it that works well enough to pass by the listener without conscious questioning.
(What was “Uncle Albert” about, for that matter? Or “Coming Up”?)
Incidentally, at the same time the song was ascending to No. 1, the “Band on the Run” album rose to No. 1 on the album charts. Nice sweep.