Transition and ‘Work To Do’

Originally posted November 14, 2008

I was thinking about the word “transition,” and the process of transition, having seen and heard the word used a thousand times in news accounts since Election Day.

It might be glib to say that we’re always in a state of transition, both in the macro sense of the world around us and in the micro sense of each individual. But glib or not, I think it’s true: There are changes every day, most of them so minuscule that we don’t notice them. Then eventually, we look out the window and notice that the kids next door are now in high school when it seems like they were only days ago in kindergarten, or we look in the mirror. That’s the strange one; I’m still not sure when that guy with the grey beard sneaked into my mirror to look back at me.

As I thought about transition, I dropped into my files of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 and thought back as well to the autumn of 1972, my second year of college. I remember finding myself at loose ends that season. During the year before, I’d had a group of folks around – fellow first-year students I’d met through a college orientation. We’d hung out together, done some short road trips and managed a few drunken weekends. We seemed pretty tight.

Then, as my sophomore year began, I took up with those same folks again, guys and gals both. And it no longer worked. We’d all changed since we’d first gotten together a year earlier, and we’d each moved in different directions. I recall spending part of a Friday evening with a couple of the guys who’d been central to my freshman year: Dave and Dave. We were in one Dave’s dorm room, yapping and listening to music. As Loggins and Messina told some gal that her mama didn’t dance, I listened to the Daves talk, and I realized I no longer felt like I belonged there. After a brief wait, I said something suitable and took off. I don’t think I ever saw either of the Daves socially again.

A few months later, as 1973 began, I met the first of the people from the group that became The Table, and the social life that defined the rest of my years on campus began to take shape. But for a while, I was adrift, and I likely turned to the radio in my own room for comfort. Here’s the top fifteen from the Billboard Hot 100 of November 11, 1972.

“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash
“Nights In White Satin” by the Moody Blues
“I’d Love You To Want Me” by Lobo
“Freddie’s Dead (Theme from Superfly)” by Curtis Mayfield
‘I’ll Be Around/How Could I Let You Get Away” by the Spinners
“Garden Party” by Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band
“My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry
“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
“Convention ’72” by the Delegates
“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles
“Listen To The Music” by the Doobie Brothers
“If I Could Reach You” by the 5th Dimension
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations
‘Burning Love/It’s A Matter Of Time” by Elvis Presley
“Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” by Danny O’Keefe

There’s some good listening there for the most part. But the list contains, to my mind, one of the worst singles ever to reach No. 1: Chucky Berry’s horrific “My Ding-A-Ling” (which had been No. 1 for two weeks in September).

The best of the bunch would be either the Temptations’ track or the Curtis Mayfield. Gritty and realistic, both records hit hard and were good listening, too. (Regarding the Mayfield track, I have to chuckle every time the Texas Gal and I stop at the local co-op. Some of the baked goods available at the co-op, as proclaimed by a sign on the front door, come from an establishment named Freddie’s Bread. Whenever we go in, I can’t help singing under my breath, “Freddie’s Bread . . . that’s what I said.”)

“Convention ’72” was a Dickie Goodman-ish “break-in” record spoofing politics. It was put together, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, by a trio of guys in Florida, one of whom was a deejay; the other two owned a record label.

Some of the Top Fifteen is a little soft. I can do without the Lobo, and I know that the Helen Reddy anthem drives some folks mad. The 5th Dimension track is not one of the group’s best, and “Burning Love” has never meant much to me. (I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the B-side, “It’s A Matter Of Time.”

The rest of the records there are pretty good, especially “Garden Party” and “Listen To The Music.”

But none of the fifteen – not counting the two B-sides – are all that hard to hear these days. So I looked a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 of November 11, 1972, and at No. 61, I found a little gem, in its third week on the chart.

It never went too much higher. Four weeks later, it would peak at No. 51 and then spend another two weeks in the Hot 100 before falling off the chart entirely. But it likely deserved better.

Isley Brothers – “Work To Do” [T-Neck 936, 1972]


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