Top 40 Metrics: The Jackson Family – 1984-1985

 

As  1983 turned into 1984, Michael Jackson was the most prominent artist in the U.S. and, soon, the world. He became known as the King of Pop – a title he kept until his early death in June 2009, two weeks before a scheduled concert in London. Anything that had to do with Michael was now front-page news. But now that Michael was on top, everyone wanted a piece of him, including his family. Jermaine returned to the fold earlier in 1983 for the Motown 25 special. By the end of the year, all six brothers decided to record an album and go out on tour together.

The Victory Tour was launched in July 1984 and became the highest-grossing tour at that time. Though financially successful for the family and promoter Don King,  the group played a lot of half-full arenas due to prohibitively expensive ticket costs. Pepsi broke the bank, getting them for promotions and commercials, almost burning Michael to death in the process. It also caused Michael so much stress that he announced his permanent split from the group by the tour’s end, and he would never perform as part of the Jacksons again.

[side note: The father-son owners of the New England Patriots lost a ton of money on the tour and had to sell the team to a dude who sold shaving products.]

For all of us who didn’t already own a copy of Thriller, there was a good chance your grandma tried (successfully, if they had them) to score you one during the past Christmas. But there was a good chance you bought up anything MJ-related in the coming year.

[Note: Each song is listed with its peak position and number of weeks spent in the Top 40]

1984

Michael Jackson – Thriller [#4, 9 wks]

This video debuted on MTV, and as discussed in the previous post, it was a significant event.  It became the record-setting seventh Top 10 single from Thriller, only to be broken by the Boss with the Born In the USA album within two years. Sister Janet would match it with her Rhythm Nation 1814 release.

Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me [#2, 14 wks]

Not an MJ song, but easily mistaken as one. Berry Gordy’s son, Kennedy, was one of Michael’s childhood friends. When he became Rockwell, Mike paid him a favor and sang the chorus on this synth funk-pop jam, which sat at #2 for three weeks. Both singles spent three weeks in the Top 10 together in early Spring ’84, furthering MJ-Mania. Funny that they are now both perennial Halloween tunes.

Michael Jackson – Farewell My Summer Love [#38, 3 wks]

Speaking of Berry, I’m sure he was proud of Michael’s success and pissed that he couldn’t reap the rewards. This is why Motown released a collection of unreleased recordings from October 1973 to capitalize on his fame. A lot of the songs, including this 45, used Micheal’s vocals with new overdubbed performances. I kinda like it, as it displays an innocent MJ in final vocal form and absent of grunts and squeals. Surprised it didn’t climb any further than #38.

Jermaine Jackson – Dynamite [#15, 10 wks]

While the Jacksons were recording their next album, Jermaine tried to get his solo career back on track. And he knew that swimming in Michael’s wake was the best way to do it. He left Motown for Arista and released this single,  a superb, high-energy dance track that brought him back into the R&B Top 10 and the Pop Top 20. Unfortunately, the video would showcase Jermaine as a Micheal-knockoff.

The Jacksons w/ Mick Jagger – State Of Shock [#3, 11 wks]

Musically, this is the point where everything starts sliding down the mountain. The first new Jackson track feels like it was written and recorded in five minutes. It’s as if they knew that anything they fed the public, they’d eat it up. And they brought along Mick to cross them over to the “rock” side. Jagger has always been one to seek out the trends and reap the benefits, from country rock to disco to New Wave and now, Michael’s fame. Plus, he was looking to jumpstart his own solo career. This would be the Jacksons’ first Pop Top 10 in five years and their last.

The Jacksons – Torture [#17, 8 wks]

Not as bad as the title suggests and way better than their lead single. The video is unintentionally hilarious and “adds” Michael into the group through some editing trickery.

Rebbie Jackson – Centipede [#24, 8 wks]

Older sister Rebbie released her debut in 1984 at age 34. Written and produced by Michael (he also added backing vocals along with the Weather Girls), it was an ode to one of his favorite video games. I guess the timing was the best it could have been as the title track charted. Even though it stalled at #24, the single went Gold.

Weird Al Yankovic – Eat It [#12,  7 wks]

Folks may have heard of or seen Weird Al Yankovic in the early 80s, but his parody of Michael’s #1 smash broke him into the mainstream as a pop music lampooner. We loved the original and MJ so much that we also made this 45 go Gold.

1985

Jermaine Jackson – Do What You Do [ #13, 12 wks]

JJ has his second Top 20 hit from his album, Dynamite, the first and only time he was able to do that on the pop charts. It was a lovely tender ballad, but the B-side, a duet with Jermaine & Michael called Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’, really mattered. This was definitely a lost opportunity for a smash hit, but Arista & Epic Records couldn’t get it together. It never charted on the Hot 100 but topped the Dance charts for three weeks.

Footnote: Iman was the Godfather-ripoff video for Do What You Do, and she would later show up in Michael’s Remember The Time short. Both times she had the hots for a Jackson. Hope they took the cannolis.

USA for Africa – We Are The World [#1 (4 wks), 12 wks]

Now that Michael was finally free from his brothers’ and father’s control, he could focus on more charitable efforts such as this project. Harry Belafonte asked MJ & Lionel Richie to come up with a tune to heal the world. They wrote this instead, but for a moment in the Spring of 1985, it was the biggest deal in the music industry, eventually raising more than 63 million (number differ) for aid to Africa. It will end #1 in over twenty different countries. Also, Randy, Jackie, Tito, Marlon, and LaToya sang back-up.

Michael spent the rest of 1985 bidding on the Beatles catalog, which he would purchase for nearly 48 million in August. While he spent the rest of the mid-80s trying to discredit one tabloid story after the next, inheriting the nickname, Wacko Jacko (man, can things flip quickly or what?), his younger sister was planning her strategy for control.

 

Top 40 Metrics: The Jackson Family 1982-1983

We’re looking at the Top 40 metrics of The Jackson family to analyze their influence during the 1980s. During the last post, we reviewed 1980 and 1981, when Michael and Jermaine had successful breakthrough albums. But the best was yet to come.

[Note: Each song is listed with its peak position and number of weeks spent in the Top 40]

1982

Jermaine Jackson – Let Me Tickle Your Fancy [#18, 7 wks in the Top 40]

JJ is back in the Top 40 with the title track to his latest album, an adventurous affair that steps into the world of New Wave synth-funk. It even features Gerald Casale & Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo de-evolving the chorus into a monotone request. (FYI – they were NOT the backup group, as JJ says. )

This single and LP release piggybacked an appearance on The Facts of Life, wherein Tootie loses her shit that she missed the chance to roller skate her way into his heart at a local show. FYI – Mrs. Garrett sucks.

And then, one month after this single peaked, Michael released his new single and first in over two years.

1983

Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine [#2, 14 wks]

Did folks know he was recording with the former Beatle in 1982? I was certainly shocked. And yet two had been collaborating for a year with no releases to show for it. It was odd to showcase MJ’s new album with something so mellow. But maybe his plan was to get the grannies and hedge fund boomers invested early in the album. It will climb to #3 by the end of 1982, then climb one notch higher to #2 at the beginning of the year, kept out of the top spot by Hall & Oates’ Maneater and Men At Work’s Down Under. That’s right; they were held down by The Man. [FYI – MJ will get his revenge on H&O later]

This song is essentially Paul & Michael singing with Toto as the backing band. So it’s the 60s, 70s, and 80s wrapped up in one. [Toto had just broken through with Toto IV, which will net them six Grammys a month after this peaks.]

Michael Jackson – Billie Jean [#1 (7 wks), 17 wks]

And now, world, meet Michael Jackson plus visuals. After a decade-plus of performing,  he became the firmament of pop culture. This wasn’t about songs on the radio anymore. This was about watching Michael in your own living room home.

Every time Bille Jean showed up on MTV, it was an event. It’s not like he hadn’t filmed videos before, but they were cheesy green-screen episodes. And this was different. How many of us tried to stand on the tips of our shoes or try to make everything we touched light up after we saw this. It took a while for the public to have the ability to enjoy it, as MTV didn’t air the video when it was released. With pressure from multiple (disputed) sources, it finally showed up on the channel on March 10th, 1983, AFTER the song hit #1. MTV didn’t make Michael Jackson. MJ made MTV.

By the way, that’s Louis “Thunderthumbs” Johnson on the bass line. Yeah, that cat is bad.

Supposedly Michael told Daryl Hall that he swiped this bass line from I Can’t Go For That. Don’t know if Madonna ever owned up to her heist for Like A Virgin.

Michael Jackson – Beat It [#1 (3 wks), 18 wks]

Another iconic song and video released right on the heels of Billie Jean. The rock sound and presence of Eddie Van Halen helped spread the mass appeal of the album, and soon everyone would have a copy. When this hit #1, it replaced Toto’s Africa, which had replaced Billie Jean. But the real story is how the master recording got accidentally erased after Eddie’s solo, and Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, and Steve Porcaro had to recreate the track to preserve it. It’s all in Luke’s autobiography, which I highly recommend.

Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ [#5, 11 wks]

Thriller would only yield MJ two #1s, but it was the first album to generate seven Top 10 singles. In the breakdown, Jackson incorporates some of Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa, creating the bridge from 70s disco to 80s synth-driven dance music.

Michael Jackson – Human Nature [#7, 11 wks]

The fifth single takes Michael to the quiet storm format, a track initially discovered by Quincy Jones on the b-side of a demo cassette recorded by Steve Porcaro. Steve had the title, and Q loved it. He asked for lyrical help from John Bettis, who had written several Carpenters hits, such as Top of The World and Only Yesterday. Boom – hit #5.

This song has shown up as a sample in many tunes, such as SWV’s Right Here (Remix), and it also received a “backstory” courtesy of the guys from the Yacht Rock episode series. (watch at your own discretion)

Michael Jackson – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) [#10, 9 wks]

This one is probably my favorite on the album. Written mainly by James Ingram with some assistance from Q, it will peak at #10 while the song below was still climbing at #2. Also, Janet and LaToya are singing back-up, which signifies their best chart showing on a single to date [Question – Which one of them would show up on a #1 song first?] Rumor has it that Natalie from The Facts of Life sings back-up too, deepening the Jackson family connection to the fictional Eastland Academy.

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say [#1 (6 wks), 18 wks]

I listed this last because it was the final song of 1983 to reach its peak, hitting #1 on December 10th, knocking off Lionel Richie’s All Night Long. [This song will also spend four weeks at #2, meaning it was one of the top two most popular songs for almost three months.] This will be MJ’s seventh Top 10 single for the year. Incredible. The video played on MTV round the clock that holiday season, even giving LaToya a little cameo. I could probably recite Paul & Michael’s Mac N Jac pitch scheme verbatim as I watched it so much.

He also got his H&O revenge by keeping Say It Isn’t So at #2 for four weeks.

The album Thriller had reportedly sold 32 million copies by the end of 1983. If he never did anything else, MJ was now a part of the pop culture forever. But he wasn’t done, not by a long shot. A groundbreaking video directed by John Landis was released as a significant pop culture event on December 3rd, 1983. The dance sequence and his red jacket turned MJ into an icon.

And now his family was ready to cash in. In the next post, we’ll take a peek at what the top looks like for the Jackson family and how it sounds when things get diluted.

Top 40 Metrics: The Jackson Family 1980-1981

 

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Jacksons, it feels as if their music has always been a part of the culture ever since the five brothers burst onto the scene at the beginning of 1970. But feels don’t always tell the entire story. Sometimes you gotta get analytic. I wanted to dig into their Top 40 metrics to understand how and when they made their most significant impact.

During the Me decade, the Jackson 5, later the Jacksons, nabbed nineteen Top 40 hits, four of them reaching #1, while Michael racked up six [two #1s] and Jermaine had one. That’s a total of twenty-six. They would surpass that tally in the following ten years by diversifying their talents into multiple solo careers. For each year of the 80s, there was one or more Jacksons with a radio. Let’s look at the first of the decade, starting with 1980 and 1981.

[Note: Each song is listed with its peak position and number of weeks spent in the Top 40]

1980

Michael Jackson-Rock With You [#1 (4 wks), 19 wks in Top 40]

After the first four Jackson 5 singles went to #1, the group would never hit the top again, while Michael would get there thirteen more times. This was the second #1 from his 1979 career-invigorating Off The Wall LP. Even though it entered the Top 40 during the previous late November, it would reach its zenith on January 19th, 1980, and stay there for a month.

Michael Jackson-Off The Wall [#10, 11 wks]

The title track to Michael’s album was the third straight Top 10 and the second written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton.

Michael Jackson-She’s Out Of My Life [#10, 11 wks]

This is the fourth and final Top 10 single from Off The Wall. It was written by Tom Bahler. He wrote a Top 10 single for Bobby Sherman called Julie, Do Ya Love Me. It peaked at #5 just as the Jackson 5 debuted on the Hot 100 at #40 with I’ll Be There. Tom will also be a part of the USA for Africa project as an associate producer.

Jermaine Jackson-Let’s Get Serious [#9, 14 wks]

Jermaine’s solo career needed a giant boost at the turn of the decade. Maybe this Stevie Wonder-penned track was the self-motivation he was looking for. It will crack the Pop Top 10, matching the high of his previous hit, Daddy’s Home, at #9. It will also spend six weeks atop the Soul charts.

Jermaine Jackson-You’re Supposed To Keep Your Love For Me [#34, 4 wks]

This sweet little ballad was also written by Stevie Wonder but will stall near the bottom of the Top 40. The Let’s Get Serious album was Jermaine’s most successful and even featured backing vocals by his first wife Hazel, Berry Gordy’s oldest daughter

The Jacksons-Lovely One [#12, 9 wks]

The smoke hadn’t even settled from the Off The Wall fire before the Jacksons were back in the studio recording their follow-up to 1978’s Destiny. Triumph was released in October, and this was their first single, co-written by Michael and Rany. This is my favorite album of theirs, and I find it their most consistent. I think the lack of Top 10 hits could be due to the overexposure of multiple Jacksons or the still rolling Disco backlash. Nevertheless, the family racked up six Top 40 hits, which spent a total of 68 weeks in the Top 40. Not a bad way to start the 1980s.

1981

The Jacksons-Heartbreak Hotel [#22, 8 wks]

1981 was definitely the lightest year of Jackson influence on the charts as their second Triumph 45 would only reach #22. Maybe it was because Elvis’ estate forced them to change the title to This Place Hotel, which sounds stupid. Two more singles, Can You Feel It and Walk Right Now, were released but only reached #77 and #73, respectively.

Jermaine couldn’t capitalize on his serious fortune as his follow-up album, I Like Your Style, tanked, and its lead single, I’m Just Too Shy, reached #60.

The Jacksons embarked on a three-month tour supporting the Triumph LP culminating in a live album released in November.

After the work with his brothers was done for a while, Michael knew he had to up his solo game. So he convened with Quincy Jones once The Dude sessions were finished to work on his next masterpiece.

An aside: Sister Janet had yet to begin her recording career. But after a few years watching her on Good Times, she started showing up on Diff’rent Strokes in late 1980 as Willis’ girlfriend, Charlene.

Next: 1982 will be a big year in the Jackson household, but it will take most of the year before anyone realizes it.

My Lazy Teenage Boasts: How I Discovered Prefab Sprout

 

Who: Prefab Sprout

When: Summer 1988

How: On an in-flight radio station

Song/Album That Did It: The King Of Rock & Roll

I had an idea for a new series of posts where I discussed the artists that mean so much to me from the point of view of how that came to be, as in how I discovered them. This was partly for my own benefit, basking in a lovelorn nostalgia, and partly for my kids, to give them a glimpse of who I am and what I’m drawn to musically. I could say everything – at least anything with a melody – but as I compiled a shortlist, it seemed that what I’m drawn can’t be defined without how or when.

I wanted to start with Prefab Sprout, one of my all-time favorite bands. But I realized there may never be a way for me to effectively describe or elegantly capture the physical and emotional transformation that music has on me. Then I remembered this passage from their track Couldn’t Bear To Be Special from their 1984 album, Swoon:

Words are trains for moving past what really has no name.

Well, I guess I’m off the hook. Let’s give it a crack anyway.

The first time I had heard of Prefab Sprout was in a spotlighted album review in Newsday for From Langley Park to Memphis during the Spring of 1988. It was odd that a mainstream New York newspaper would give this unknown band any news space. Even stranger still, I didn’t know about an English band that was now three albums deep. I had this in my head when I flew to Germany that Summer to visit relatives, and one of their songs was featured on an inflight Pop channel.

Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque. What, what did he just sing? Yes, that is the chorus to The King Of Rock And Roll, a straight-up pop tune about a washed-up rock star with American image non-sequiturs for the hook. But I was entranced by Wendy Smith’s ethereal backing vocals and synth washes.  I loved how drummer Neil Conti intentionally switched up the groove, waking up any complacent listeners. And what a fun oddball video.

It flew into the Top 10 in the UK, but it didn’t make a dent into the Taylor Dayne & Def Leppard-obsessed playlist of the US at the time. I needed to hear it again, but the only possible way was to wait another hour and change for the song to be replayed on the channel.

I looked for the album on cassette in Germany, but I couldn’t find a record store that carried it. So I had to wait until I returned to the States, and guess what? I had the same bad luck in trying to relocate a copy. Eventually, I did, playing the first track [TKORAR], rewinding the tape, and playing it again repeatedly. I decided to play the album through to see if there was another song like The King…, and there wasn’t. In fact, there’s nothing like this song in their entire catalog.

And that’s how I fell in love with them because each song had its own unique feel and personality. If it’s a cliche to say that their music gets richer with each listen, then this is where that sentiment was born. Because it does and continues to.

Leader and songwriter Paddy McAloon sought to be his generation’s, Cole Porter. Still, they performed with a DIY aesthetic and a limited budget at a time when the talents of songwriting were being traded for a marketable visual identity. We should be lucky he had a chance at all. His unique language in expressing universal thoughts coupled with a distinct vocal phrasing style made even the most straightforward throwaway lyrics have significant meaning. I have been ruminating over his lyrics and what they meant for decades.

And hats off to producer Thomas Dolby, who took Paddy’s non-linear ideas and fleshed them out into 1985’s Steve McQueen (released as Two Wheels Good in the US), 1988’s From Langley Park… and their magnum opus, 1990’s Jordan: The Comeback.

Personally, I tried to find their back catalog, but it was tricky even in New York in the 80s. A year after this release, they put out Protest Songs, the aborted album recorded between their second and third releases. I knew about it but could never find it. It wasn’t until 1990 and their fourth album [Jordan] that a local record store in Asheville decided to stock all of their albums on CD, which I purchased in short order. Thank god for Record Survival!

Although I consider Jordan: The Comeback their best front-to-back long play, some of my favorite songs are on their first two LPs:  Swoon [Green Isaac, Cruel, I Never Play Basketball Now] and Steve McQueen [Moving The River, Hallelujah]. They would release a compilation in 1992 that featured If You Don’t Love Me, the closest thing to an American hit that they would have, as it somehow reached #3 on the Hot Dance Club charts.

Their next album, Andromeda Heights, didn’t come out until 1997 and wasn’t released in the States, so I waited until a friend went to Europe and asked him to buy the CD for me. Going forward, their album release span elongated, but I celebrated each one, including their entire remastered catalog a few years back.

Paddy has since developed tinnitus, and the band is now essentially him if and when he wants to put something out. But even though he may be an understandable recluse, Paddy still makes the occasional appearance with a new fan.

A life of surprises, indeed!

 

Another Joker Tryin’ To Jump the Line

 

Twenty-Ten Favorite

The world of NuCoast music was shaken up in the Fall of 2015, when multi-instrumentalist/ producer Shawn Lee and Mamas Gun’s lead singer, Andy Platt, released their debut album as Young Gun Silver Fox. Never had anyone taken the sound of  Westcoast and Yacht rock and updated it for a new audience on a level that transcended those genres.

West End Coast was a solid affair from the start [You Can Feel It, the best song America never wrote] to finish [the soulfully languid ballad, Long Way Back]. The duo has recorded two more top-notch polished albums – AM Waves (2018) and Canyons (2020). But, for me, nothing beats the rush of hearing this in its entirety for the first time.

This track became my favorite from the album and still is today. That bridge kills me on every listen. And dig that ending, which cops the intro to Chicago’s Call On Me.

A Cargo Full of Love: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 5

 

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to write these posts with William Harris was our similar love for different styles of music. It’s fun to discuss what each one meant to us growing up, no matter what path it took us to get there.

We ended up agreeing on four out of twenty-five, which, in baseball terms, is a .160 average. But before I share the four #1 songs of the 70s we equally loved, I wrote up five honorable mentions. All of them could have shown up on my list, with a slight change of mood or a few drinks. This may be shooting myself in the foot, but here it goes:

Rupert Holmes –  Escape (The Pina Colada Song) [3 weeks, 1979, 1980]

Like Bob Slydell with Michael Bolton, I celebrate the guy’s entire catalog, the guy being Rupert Holmes. This was at #1 in the 80s too, so I disqualified it.

Frankie Valli – Grease [2 weeks, 1978]

I watched this at a drive-in theatre with my folks and definitely should not have at my age. Then again,  we listened to the soundtrack constantly and that had curses in it as well.

Daryl Hall & John Oates – Rich Girl [2 weeks, 1977]

My son asked me why this song was playing on our Tap while the explicit content filter was on. I had to have a thirty-minute discussion with my child about the word ‘bitch’, and I think I made it worse.

Vicki Lawrence – The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia [2 weeks, 1973]

I was a sucker for story songs, and I loved The Carol Burnett Show. So sue me.

Also, I always thought that section between 3:00 and 3:02 would have been a good hip-hop sample.

Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally) [6 weeks, 1972]

Suicide, atheism, and parental loss. To make a sing-songy pop hit out of those subjects, you’re a genius. To have the entire country sing with you for six weeks, you’re a legend.

Continue reading “A Cargo Full of Love: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 5”

Old Memories Creep More: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 4

 

Having a number one record is hard. Like most success, you need a lot of good timing and luck. For Billboard’s purposes, you also need to be at or near the top of the Top 40 airplay spins as well as singles sales, with the combination of the two the highest of every other song that week.

It’s an imperfect system that gets worse when you consider payola deals, personal favoritism, and human error. You Light Up My Life is a nice song, but I have a difficult time believing that we, as a national collective, thought that was the best song alive for two and a half straight months. Better than Carly Simon? Barry White? Boogie Nights?

It’s all to say that Number one records shouldn’t always be considered better than the others. Mostly, they were just luckier and had better timing (Foreigner knows what I’m talking about.) Every pop artist aspires you have one though, the cache of saying they had a #1. [Personally, I’ll take a platinum single that peaked at #22.] But I digress.

Here are another six of our favorite singles awarded number one status in the 1970s.

Rhythm Heritage – Theme From S.W.A.T. [1 week, 1976]

EM: 1976 was such a great for hit TV theme songs. I almost had Welcome Back by John Sebastian here instead. But damn, this song is an out-of-control Mack truck barreling down the highway with little chance of stopping. So funky. I was forbidden to watch the Steve Forrest-led crime drama, but I never let an opportunity to let this Barry DeVorzon-penned single pass me by.

Did you know that LL Cool J sampled the intro for I’m Bad in 1987? Fast forward to 2003, and guess who scored a part in the film reboot?

WH: It’s absolutely a fun, great tune, and as Erik implies, its chart success led to the theme songs of four other ABC TV shows being released as singles later in 1976: Welcome Back, Kotter, of course, but also Happy Days, Baretta, and Laverne & Shirley. In fact, all four of those were on the Top 40 simultaneously for two weeks in mid-June.

Don’t think I ever watched an episode of S.W.A.T. My excuse for the first season, when it was on Monday evenings, is that it surely came on at or past bedtime. Maybe I had better things to do on Saturday nights during its 1975-76 second season?

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band On the Run [1 week, 1974]

EM: Paul seamlessly strings together four separate passages into one pop masterpiece. This is why the Beatles had to break up.

My fondest memories as a kid were movies I would play in my head while I listened to the radio. For this tune, I loved the concept of the group breaking out of prison, being on the lam chased by a jailer and a sailor, both of which probably didn’t have a clue where to search if they weren’t in jail or the high seas. Aren’t there jurisdiction rules too?

Also, I always thought he needed a “pie today.” Who doesn’t love pie? We know Paul loves his butter pie. That made a lot more sense to me than a pint.

WH: As I mention over on my side, “Band on the Run” was a legitimate contender for being included in my list. Until Erik brought it up, though, I’d never seen the connection between this piece and Paul’s Beatles work so clearly—it’s kind of a rock parallel to the poppier “You Never Give Me My Money.” (And after listening to the album the other day, isn’t “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” stylistically a sort-of-descendant of “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”?)

Earth, Wind & Fire – Shining Star [1 week, 1975]

EM: It took six albums, but finally, Maurice White amalgamated his musical and spiritual vision, a perfect union of funk, jazz, and rock, with this monster track. The first 15 seconds are pure bliss as al McKay & Johnny Graham use their guitar licks to fuse this aural bomb, lighting up the band with a Phenix Horns explosion. All you needed to do for the next two-plus minutes was ride out the groove and bask in the after blast.

WH: Not every act explodes on the scene; sometimes, there’s groundwork to be laid, momentum to be built. EW&F had had a couple of minor Top 40 hits in 1974. A few months later, “Shining Star” grabbed everyone’s attention, starting a string of soul and pop hits through the end of the decade. I was a fan then—I appreciate them even more now.

Bill Withers – Lean On Me [3 weeks, 1972]

EM: My parents bought the Fantastic K-tel collection, and I would sit and wait patiently for this song to start. Bill’s voice was a comfort to me, a parent or an older sibling to assuage your fears.

When one realizes their purpose, can put that magic into action and then have the world embrace it, that’s a  joyous pleasure. There might not be many who could create simple songs that can hit someone directly in the heart better than Bill, and he does it with such effortless passion.

WH: “Lean on Me” is such a great song with a great message. I do wish my brain had an easier time keeping track of the first beat of the measure when I hear it, though—fifty years on, and I’m still have processing issues.

Coincidentally, we also had Fantastic at home. While I definitely remember Withers being on it, I appreciate the album more now for serving as my introduction to “Back When My Hair Was Short” from Gunhill Road and “Power to All Our Friends” by Cliff Richard.

LaBelle – Lady Marmalade [1 week, 1975]

EM: I can’t pull up any specific reference in time as a child that corresponds to that song, but it still retains the feeling of being a part of my childhood. Many years later, during a trip to France in the Summer of 1989, I found a disco compilation in the record department of the Gallerie Lafayette. I popped on the headphones, played this track, and felt a part of me open up, one I never knew was closed. I still own that double cassette.

My re-entry into 70’s music.

Also, I love that one measure of ride cymbal on the chorus just before the break; it gets me every time. And Alan Toussaint’s production saves this song from being a campy disaster. Don’t believe me?

WH: How old was I when I learned the translation of the line sung in French? I seriously doubt it happened while “Lady Marmalade” was popular. Something tells me my mother wasn’t too thrilled to have her kids listen to a song about a guy who can’t get over his business trip (or vacation—whatever) assignation with a prostitute.

I was surprised to learn years later that Kenny Nolan co-wrote (with Bob Crewe) both “Lady Marmalade” and “My Eyes Adored You.” It wasn’t the first nor the last time songwriters had two of their creations hit #1 one right after the other, but those might be the two most different-sounding songs involved in such an achievement.

The Bee Gees – How Deep Is Your Love [3 weeks, 1977]

EM: This is one of the best ballads ever written and proof that timeless songbook  “standards” were still created in the rock era long after the days of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer. Like sinking into a spongy waterbed, this song envelopes your body as well as your soul. I can still smell my dad’s cherry tobacco puffing from his pipe while he drove us down to Philadelphia in our Tradesman van during the winter of 1977, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack clicking away in the 8-track player.

Side note: Had RSO Records not had Grease waiting in the wings, they would have released the Bee Gees’ More Than A Woman as a single. It probably would have reached the top, and I would have talked about it here.

WH: Sure, the Bee Gees were already enjoying a resurgence, having scored two #1s and four other Top 12 hits over the previous two years. But I wasn’t initially impressed in October 1977 when I first heard this ballad as the opening salvo from some movie soundtrack. Six months later, when it was still on the Top 40, I had to acknowledge the error of my ways.

Forget about “Stayin’ Alive”—looking back, I remain amazed at how even the release of “Night Fever” as a single didn’t initially erode the popularity of “How Deep Is Your Love.” The latter held on at #10 the first four weeks, “Night Fever” was in the Top 40.

Hop over to see the Doc’s list o’ six. Next week, we will share the only four songs we agreed on.

 

Gifts From Far Away: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 3

Welcome back to the list of our favorite number ones from the Me decade, presented in no particular order. Here’s another five of mine and over at The Music of My Life, Dr. Harris has five more too.

Paul Simon – 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover [3 weeks, 1976]

EM: Nothing like that rolling Steve Gadd drum lick to get your day started. I had no clue what Paul was singing about on this one, but boy, did I love the chorus. While the song reverberated in my head, I would come up with other “ways” to split, rhyming couplets like ‘get on your bike, Mike’ or ‘hop on a train, Wayne.’ I know I’m not alone in doing this because my wife said she did the same thing.

WH: My sister and I also tried to imagine what some of the other 50 ways were.

This came out shortly after we got a portable tape recorder for Christmas in 1975. The only pre-recorded cassette that came along with the player was His 12 Greatest Hits, by Neil Diamond (a gift for my mother, actually). Amy and I were given a few cheapie blank cassettes, though. At the family Christmas gathering at my grandparents’ house later that day, one of my cousins joined the two of us to record some silly play-acting.  Over the next couple of weeks, she and I realized we could also set the recorder next to a radio to capture favorites of the day such as  “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Convoy,” in order to listen to them on demand. What I wouldn’t give to have those tapes still.

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) [1 week, 1972]

EM: When people complain about ‘there’s no good music anymore”, I think what they’re saying is that everything sounds the same. Singer Eliot Lurie did not sound like anyone else on the radio at the time. He sounded like a crusty old sailor perched at the end of a dive bar with nothing but this story of a lost love to tell. Also, I know it seems obvious, but I always think of eating at an Arthur Treacher’s seafood restaurant when this comes on, a childhood Friday night tradition, like good quasi-Catholics did back then. If Brandy was here she would’ve traded in her locket for some of these hush puppies. Damn, they were good.

WH: Almost six years before “Shadow Dancing” and “Baker Street” went mano-a-mano for six weeks at the top of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1978, there was a lengthy battle for pop chart supremacy between “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” While Andy Gibb never did officially cede #1 to Gerry Rafferty (there are indications that some behind-the-scenes shenanigans kept it from happening), Gilbert O’Sullivan yielded to Looking Glass after holding them off for a month (after which he returned to #1 for two more weeks). 

I love the way the relative calm of the verses in “Brandy” gives way to the energy in the chorus and bridge. It’s almost like a storm popping up while you’re on the seas.

Chic – Le Freak [5 weeks, 1978, 1979]

EM: Whenever we drove into Manhattan via the Long Island Expressway, we would ride by LeFrak City, a large group of apartment complexes built in the late 60s. And as soon as we passed the Grand Central Parkway exit, it would be…”one, two, aaaaah, Frak out! ” I’ve never heard Nile Rodgers mention this housing development as an inspiration to the song. Maybe it was buried in his subconscious for years, and that Studio 54 anger let it out.

An aside: I once heard Nile Rodgers give a talk, and he cracked himself up talking about this song, saying “here we are writing a song about a specific dance and we never tell you how to do it.”

WH: While I listened to AT40 religiously for several years, there are maybe only a couple dozen specific moments/stories that have stuck in the old noggin all this time. One of them is the monster leap “Le Freak” made on the 11/25/78 show, jumping all the way from #37 to #6, the largest in-show move I encountered.

Somewhere I’ve read/heard (and Wikipedia corroborates, whatever that’s worth) that “Freak out!” was derived from an expletive phrase uttered when some of the members of Chic were denied entrance to Studio 54 one evening.

Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds – Fallin’ In Love [1 week, 1975]

EM: One of the biggest screw jobs in music history. Tommy Reynolds left the band in 1974 before the other two dudes signed with Playboy Records. Part of that deal was that they kept their name, even though it wasn’t accurate. How many bar fights do you think that new member Alan Dennison got in trying to prove that he sang on this song?

I remember hearing this on the radio and coming up with alternative lyrics called Betty’s Fallin’ In Love with Fred about some wife-swapping expose in Bedrock. The words fit perfectly, but I was too young to write them down or understand what the hell I was saying. Did I unwillingly witness a key party?

Did you know this peaked at #24 on the R&B charts?

WH: If we were writing up a list of favorite 70s songs that peaked at #4, “Don’t Pull Your Love,” from the original formulation of this group, would have been an easy choice for me. One thing I really like is that its sound doesn’t tie it down to any one year—it could have been recorded anytime between 1969 and 1973.

When “Fallin’ in Love” got released, I had trouble picking up Dan Hamilton’s pronunciation of the double-l in the title phrase. It sounded much more like “Fawin’ in Love” to me, so that’s what I sang when it came on the radio throughout the last half of 1975.

Sly & the Family Stone – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) [2 weeks, 1970]

EM: More than fifty years after this reached the top, I marvel at Sly’s brilliance in creating one of the funkiest pop songs of all time, and on how he was able to express his politics getting everyone to buy in all while having fun at the same time. By turning his career on its head and creating a verse out of his past hits, he also demonstrated the stress of being a superstar, the pressure he was under to innovate and be all things to everyone constantly. His wit was on display, but so was his growing paranoia.

WH: When AT40 expanded to four hours in October 1978, one of the ways they filled the extra time was by recounting all the #1 songs of the 1970s in order, three each week. Those became must-listen moments in the show for me, an amazing opportunity for education—after all, where else was I going to discover that information? (It would be another five years before the first Top 40 Hits book by Joel Whitburn was published.)

The vast majority of the songs in that retrospective were at least passingly familiar to me (“My Ding-a-Ling” was one exception, I know). But that didn’t mean I’d seen their titles in print. Case in point: on 10/14/78, I perhaps naturally, yet naively, noted the jam that was the fourth #1 of the decade as “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again.”

The Doc’s got another five today, so hop over to his pad and check ’em out.

Feel It All Over: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 2

 

Hope you enjoyed the first five. I’m already beginning to lament the tunes that aren’t on the list. But I won’t give any more away. Dig into the next five and read what William thought about them as well.

Elton John – Philadelphia Freedom [2 weeks, 1975]

EM: Man, it’s hard to pick a favorite Elton John, and not any easier when it’s whittled down to one of his six #1s during the decade. This one still gives me goosebumps on every listen. Written as a tribute to Bille Jean King’s tennis team, its musical heart sits in Sigma Studios, where Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell created some of the most beautiful soul music of all time. That an artist such as Elton gave it such reverence while it was happening was a testament to the genre’s increasing influence. And it was perfect for the upcoming bicentennial year celebrations that were unfolding.

Let’s also appreciate how Elton created catchy pop melodies out of Taupin’s obtuse and non-rhythmic lyrics. He would contort each word and twist each syllable until you had no idea what he was saying. But it sounded good. And it’s why I heard “fruity olive that hopes that you’re high” when the lyrics were actually “through the eyes of the one left behind.” Still can’t hear it.

WH: In 1993 my father made a couple of mixtapes of his favorite songs of all time—he called it his Rock and Roll Revue. The selections were almost all from the 50s and 60s. Among the thirty-three tracks on Volume 1 there was just one song from the 80s—ELO’s “Hold on Tight”—and only one from the 70s—yes, “Philadelphia Freedom.” I wish now I’d asked what endeared it to him to such a degree.

I did not pick anything from Reg for my list, as my favorites of his only went to #2. If I were to elevate a #1, it’d probably be “Bennie and the Jets.”

Helen Reddy – I Am Woman [1 week, 1972]

EM: My mom bought Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits on LP, specifically for this song. It was like a warning shot to anyone within listening distance when she put it on. I remember coming home from being out with dad, probably to go to Burger King or something. And as we came home and opened the front door, this tune was blaring from the living room speakers. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew my dad screwed up. Shit was about to get real.

WH:  Somehow, I hadn’t realized that Reddy co-wrote “I Am Woman,” channeling her experiences into an anthem that captured the zeitgeist of the moment and hit the top near the culmination of the Women’s Lib movement. The Equal Rights Amendment had passed through the U.S. House and Senate and been sent to the states for ratification the previous March, but the backlash was on the horizon; I certainly remember the ERA failing to meet the thirty-eight state threshold years later.

Billy Paul – Me & Mrs. Jones [3 weeks, 1972]

EM: If someone’s gonna cheat on me, this is the only way I wanna find out, with Billy’s husky baritone give me the deets. Every time the band drops out, and he starts wailing about Mrs. Jones, I stop breathing until the sax kicks back in. He just barely hits those high notes, and that slight strain adds the perfect amount of pain and regret that this tune needs. The groove moves at a steady but languid pace which makes you think this “thing” ain’t really over and that neither believes it’s “wrong” for one minute. And next time you’re at karaoke, summon up some guts and sing this one.

Also, the song it replaced at the top was I Am Woman, and the song that replaced it was You’re So Vain. That’s amazing.

WH: Aside from WLW for Reds games and the morning show hosted by James Francis Patrick O’Neill, I don’t remember the radio being on in our house much during the first half of the 70s. The car was an entirely different matter, though—unless tuned into the Reds, rides were AM Top 40 radio all the way. A sizable portion of my musical knowledge of songs between 1971-75 exists mainly (only?) from hearing them in the car. Despite our tender ages, my sister and I singing along in the back seat with Billy Paul as he cries out, “Me-ee and, and… Mrs., Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones” happened more than once while it was on the charts.

The Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes [1 week, 1979]

EM: Even though this song peaked during the Spring of 1979, it always fills me with winter vibes. It’s a soundtrack to riding the train and staring out at lifeless terrain, passing by naked bunches of train hiding from a damp gray sky, only to end the ride visiting my dad in a factory that wasn’t much warmer and had the same dull feel. Whenever I hear that Oberheim synth riff, I’m back in that cold train staring out oily smudged windows and reminding myself. The rebirth of life is just around the corner.

Also, let’s give props to bassist Tiran Porter, who always knew how to lock his funky lines in with McDonald’s keyboard riffs.

WH: Let me say upfront that I wasn’t a big fan of Michael McDonald’s voice on lead back in the day (I didn’t seem to mind as much on all the late 70s/early 80s smooth grooves when he sang backup). That said, “What a Fool Believes” is well-written, well-sung, and legitimately deserves its spot in the canon of 70s soft rock/yacht rock. 

And I agree with Erik—it’s a cold, gray day tune.

Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke [3 weeks, 1977]

EM: My mom would put this 45 on, and I would get delirious. Our house had a circular path around the door where the basement steps were to walk fully around it. I would tear around that circled area as fast as I could until I passed out, usually sometime before Stevie would summon Wonderlove to get extra funky. And those horn line runs are ridiculous.

WH: Stevie’s another inner-circle Hall of Fame artist from the 70s who won’t be found on my side of this exercise. It’s fair to say I didn’t appreciate his genius at the moment nearly as much as I should have. Maybe my sister was more on the case—she bought the single for “Sir Duke” while it was a big hit.

My family and I saw a TV music awards show in 1977 or 1978—I doubt it was the Grammys but can’t say for sure—where Stevie gave a performance of “Sir Duke” via satellite from somewhere in Africa. It was an elaborately choreographed affair with the dancers decked out in what I think was Ellington-era garb. Technology being what it was at the time, neither the audio nor the video was crystal clear for viewers at home. I do remember that after the song was over, one of the announcers unthinkingly asked Mr. Wonder, “Can you see us?” over the two-way feed. A few minutes later the announcer apologized to the TV audience for his faux pas.

Now go over to William’s page for his five.

 

 

Try Some, Buy Some : Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 1

 

Last May, my fellow blog & DJ colleague, Dr. William Harris of The Music Of My Life fame were discussing a list of ranked #1 songs from the 80s from a Cleveland.com columnist. As we discussed which songs should be higher and lower, we realized that our basis was not on any sort of defined criteria, but rather what they meant to us. To tell someone which music is good or bad as a matter of fact is a fruitless endeavor. It’s why the term guilty pleasures exists, as a code for “I like it, even if I’m not supposed to.”

We knew that a similar graded list for the Me Decade would be forthcoming, so we tried to come up with our own personal twenty-five list. I tried to create my list based on how much they meant to me at their time of release, how deeply I felt when I heard them and how their place in my childhood shaped who I am today. These are not “desert island” choices, for if I was ever stranded, I’d rather listen to the ocean waves and slowly go insane.

William and I will share five random 1970s chart-toppers (based on Billboard magazine) at a time simultaneously on our blogs with a quick comment by the other for good measure.

P.S. You may not see Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together or Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl or Donna Summer’s Bad Girls, for example, on these posts. That doesn’t mean I love them any less than the ones I write about, which made this exercise challenging for me. Hell, I’d take all 253 of them home with me, if I had the chance.

Andy Gibb- I Just Want To Be Your Everything [4 weeks, 1977]

EM: When the youngest Gibb made his debut during the summer of ‘77, I first remember hanging out with my step-sister. She was an Andy Gibb fanatic and would constantly sing this song to herself as if no one was listening. But I was, watching and hoping she could be a more significant part of my life. It didn’t happen. And that’s why the line of “finding each for so long” still resonates today.

WH: I picked a different Andy Gibb song, but that’s not meant as a slight—this single had a home in my collection and received frequent spins on my record player that summer.

When this slotted in at the top of the 7/30/77 Billboard chart, it became the twenty-fourth different #1 song over the thirty weeks of the year to date. Right then, it seemed that 1977 had a chance to break the record for most #1s in a calendar year. Instead, only four more songs followed Andy to the top through the end of December. We didn’t know it then, but (Debby Boone aside) the ascension of “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” marked the beginning of a full year of Gibb Brother-mania.

Carole King – It’s Too Late [5 weeks, 1971]

EM: Tapestry is one of those albums I listened to so much growing up that it’s part of my emotional fabric. Carole’s voice is like a dose of Arrestin to the heart. No matter how full of regret and sadness she is or how tormented she feels, she shoulders most of the blame and still wants to be friends. Kinda like “it’s not you, it’s me” but with deep hugs. Ok, maybe “it’s not them, it’s us.”

Also, you got a bonus when you bought the 45 as I Feel The Earth Move was on the B-side. Sounds like someone may have moved on…

WH: I gave “It’s Too Late” consideration for inclusion on my list—it certainly would make my “25 Best #1 Songs of the 70s.” It is an intelligent, mature song about the end of a long relationship, but what makes the song for me now is the extended semi-jazzy instrumental bridge before the third verse.

I can easily imagine Dad buying Tapestry—the album cover has always felt familiar—though its songs aren’t part of any hazy memory I have from the early 70s.

Diana Ross – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough [3 weeks, 1970]

EM: Diana pulled out every stop to let the world know she was much more than a Supreme, creating a twelve-layer cake that never quite topples no matter how much frosting gets added. At the same time, she bulldozes any evocation of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell from your mind. This is where she went from superstar to diva. Of course, Berry Gordy hated it, like everything else that would be good from Motown in the 70s. The genius is in the production by songwriters Ashford & Simpson as they change the hook to a wordless ahhh while burying the chorus to the end of the song just before they take it up twenty more notches and blow the doors off.

Also, do not mess with the single edit. Go for the album version and have your heart ripped out of your chest.

WH: When you limit yourself to twenty-five songs, you’re going to leave out artists more than worthy of inclusion, and I do have some regret over not picking a Ross song (had I done so, it’d likely be “Touch Me in the Morning,” but the #1 song on my first AT40 chart, “Love Hangover,” may have won out instead). I concur—how can I not?—that “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a stunner. One of my favorite bits of 70s pop trivia is that Ross’s four #1 songs were also the only times she made it to the Top 10 over the entire decade. How that could happen is mystifying.

Stories – Brother Louie [2 weeks, 1973]

EM: Hearing this song gave me anxiety as a little kid. The ominous vibe from the sparse arrangement heightened by those cheesy wah-wahs kept my head on a nervous swivel. The string stabs were tiny needles into my skin up until they started sawing away into my brain like one of those messed-up German nursery rhymes, haunting my burnt sienna dreams. Singer Ian Lloyd sounded like he was telling the “story” after someone just tried to strangle him, probably Louie’s racist dad.

WH: I was nine when “Brother Louie” was a hit, so I doubt I understood what it was about at the time. What I don’t doubt is that I enjoyed going around singing “Louie, Louie, Louie, Lou-eye” when it came on the radio.

M – Pop Muzik [1 week, 1979]

EM: The most disposable pop song about disposable pop songs. It sounded like something from outer space and a white-labeled can of food from a no-frills supermarket line all the same time. Its popularity signified the direction pop music would take in the 80s, way more than The Knack, especially during the New Wave era. And it’s boogie in a suitcase.

WH: This is another song I absolutely loved, picking up the 45 early on in its chart run. I agree there was nothing else like it on the radio at the time. I know now how much I would have enjoyed exploring more of what was coming out of the British pop scene in the late 70s; missing out on that in real-time is a source of chagrin.

I’m pretty sure I remember Casey highlighting the line, “Listen to the countdown—they’re playing our song again,” during the outro on a late 1979 AT40.

EM: Now go over to WM’s blog to hear his first five.

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