Here’s To The Kiddie Corner Kid

Originally posted February 6, 2009

Well, it’s Babe Ruth’s birthday today. The Sultan of Swat was born in Baltimore on February 6, 1895.

That also means that it’s Rick’s birthday. Coming from a family that cared a great deal about baseball, the Kiddie Corner Kid never let me forget that he shared a birthday with Ruth. It doesn’t matter that, later in life, I discovered I have my own Hall of Fame member with whom I share a birthday: Napoleon Lajoie. In the famous ballplayer game, Babe Ruth trumps ’em all.

So the Kid turns another year older today, following the numerical path I trod back in September. I recall one afternoon when we were about ten, and one of Rick’s family members insisted that he had to be older than I was because he was born in February and I was born in September. The concept of September of one year coming earlier than February of the next was elusive, and at the time, it seemed important to be able to claim to be older than the other person.

These days, the only advantage I can find to being older than Rick or anyone else is that I get to claim a senior discount earlier. (I routinely get such discounts without asking these days; such is the power of a gray beard.)

Anyway, having remembered Babe Ruth’s birthday, I went back to the files to find a Billboard Hot 100 from February 6. That turned out to come from 1971, when we were both still in high school. As I’ve related here other times, that was when we were taking an astronomy class together at St. Cloud Tech, playing a lot of tabletop hockey and writing the occasional song lyric together. We also listened to a lot of music, whether on the record player or the radio. Our favorite album in those days was either The Band, which Rick had given me for Christmas just more than a month earlier, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu.

When it was radio, it was either KDWB in the Twin Cities or WJON over across the tracks. I’ve pulled five records from the Hot 100 that I know we heard around the time of Babe Ruth’s birthday in 1971 and one that I doubt that we ever heard. So these are for the Kiddie Corner Kid as his odometer rolls another digit. May there be miles to go for both of us.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 6, 1971)

“Born to Wander” by Rare Earth, Rare Earth 5021 (No. 17)

“1900 Yesterday” by Liz Damon’s Orient Express, White Whale 368 (No. 35)

“Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill 4263 (No. 41)

“Whole Lotta Love” by Collective Consciousness Society, RAK 4501 (No. 64)

“Country Road” by James Taylor, Warner Bros. 7460 (No. 81)

“Timothy” by the Buoys, Scepter 12275 (No. 100)

Rare Earth, one of the first white acts signed by Motown, put together a nice string of singles in 1970-71, three of them in the Top Ten: “Get Ready” hit No. 4, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” went to No. 7, and “I Just Want To Celebrate” reached No. 7 as well. In between the latter two came “Born To Wander,” which I think is at least as good a record as the other three. For one reason or another, though, it went only as high as No. 17, and so it generally gets ignored when the programmers for the oldies stations read their charts and their tea leaves. Rare Earth added two more hits: “Hey Big Brother” went to No. 19 as 1971 turned into 1972, and “Warm Ride” – written by the Bee Gees – went to No. 39 in mid-1978. I’m not aware of ever having heard “Warm Ride,” but given its time period and its Bee Gees’ provenance, I would think it has to be Rare Earth’s version of disco, an idea almost as contrary and dismaying as that of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious touring with Up With People.

Speaking of Up With People and things of that ilk (I never pass up an opportunity to use the word “ilk”), Liz Damon’s Orient Express might not have been rooted in nostalgia all the time, but the group’s one hit certainly was. Damon’s nine-person group was based in Hawaii – there’s a slight but certain tropical lilt in the background of “1900 Yesterday” – and managed to turn a very pretty song into a minor hit: The record peaked at No. 33 and spent a total of twelve weeks in the Hot 100.

During my first quarter of college, in the autumn of 1971, one of the guys I hung around with would wince whenever he heard “Temptation Eyes.” That song, he said, was the story of his senior year of high school. We never got details, but then, I’d expect that almost any American schoolboy could find a bit of himself in almost any song the Grass Roots did during those years. And that sparks a thought that I should possibly explore: Is one of the things that makes a record a great record the possibility that the listener can see him- or herself inside the tale the record tells? Whatever the answer, “Temptation Eyes” eventually got as high as No. 15.

I don’t remember Collective Consciousness Society (CCS) at all. I was first tipped to the British group in a post last summer by Jeff at AM, Then FM, who then pointed me in the direction of Flea Market Funk, where DJ Prestige had posted the mp3 of the group’s instrumental version of “Whole Lotta Love.” And then this winter, while digging in my box of unsorted 45s, I found a copy of CCS’ “Tap Turns On The Water,” released later in 1971. Despite the prominence in the UK of some of the group’s members – see Wikipedia – there’s something not very serious about the group’s sound, almost like a low-level British Traveling Wilburys way ahead of its time. “Whole Lotta Love” peaked at No. 58 during a four-week stay in the Hot 100.

“Country Road” was the second – I think – single pulled from James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James album; “Fire And Rain” had gone to No. 3 in the autumn of 1970. And I think that the direct contrast may have hampered “Country Road,” which was a good record but one not nearly as good as its predecessor: “Fire And Rain” is one of the iconic records in the oldies playlist. “Country Road” has the added misfortune of being easily confused with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” which came along in June of 1971. Whatever the reasons, Taylor’s “Country Road” seems to get a little bit lost, and that’s too bad. This week was its first appearance in the Hot 100; it took six weeks for “Country Road” to climb from No. 81 to No. 37, and two weeks later, it was gone from the charts.

I asked the question above: Is one of the things that makes a record a great record the possibility that the listener can see him- or herself inside the tale the record tells? Well, in the case of the Buoys’ “Timothy,” I would hope not. The tale of a cave-in, implied cannibalism and amnesia is not a place any sane listener would want to be. It’s a catchy record, what with its persistent guitar strum and horn accents, but I doubt that it’s a song that inspires many sing-alongs. I seem to remember a bit of hoo-ha among our elders because of its story, a hoo-ha that would likely be much larger if the song were released today. Or maybe not; I’m not at all sure sometimes how jaded we have become. Anyway, “Timothy” spent seventeen weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 17.

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