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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.

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2 responses »

  1. Thank you for the mention, sir. Happy to provide whatever small measure of scholarship I can.

    I thought maybe that “Love Train” placed so low because some of its chart run occurred before mid-December 1972, the cutoff for the beginning of 73, but no. It didn’t chart until January. It’s more evidence that the chart numbers for ’73 were wack. No way “Love Train” was less popular than “Why Me,” numbers or no numbers.

    Reply
  2. I remember Tony Orlando and Dawn hosting one of those summer replacement shows back at the height of their success (actually, I only remember two songs: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and “Knock Three Times” or some such). Unusual for a TV show, there was always a sizable Vegas-like segment where Tony especially went out in the audience and sat on old ladies’ laps and made small talk and sang songs to them, etc. He did that nightclub stuff very well!

    Reply

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