Posts Tagged ‘Detroit Emeralds’

Finding My Way

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 3, 2009

My blogging colleague jb, whose musings and memories gather at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, closed his recent examination of No. 40 songs from several summers this way:

“By 1982, I had my first full-time radio job, and the summers that followed would rarely be remembered in their totality the way summers used to be. And life has never been quite the same since.”

I imagine most folks who read jb’s words this week will nod in agreement. On first thought, I was tempted to say that the shift he’s talking about happens when we and permanent work take our grips on each other, but I’m not sure that’s right. Having thought about it for a day or two, I think that the change in our lives is not so much the beginning of work but the end of preparing for that work, whatever it may be. And, yes, once that time comes, one summer seems very much the same as the next, as do winters, as do, eventually, years.

For me, the summer of 1977 would turn out to be the final act in my long tale of preparation. I’d returned to St. Cloud State in the spring, taking basic reporting and another course that quarter and looking ahead to some workshops in the summer. All of that would add up to another minor to add to my degree, one that I hoped would make me employable at some newspaper, somewhere. Along the way, during spring quarter, I’d blundered into becoming the Arts and Entertainment editor at St. Cloud State’s student newspaper, the University Chronicle. A major dispute during the winter quarter had led to the departure of the paper’s editors, leaving the editor-in-chief alone to shepherd the newspaper along with a diminished staff.

Maybe a week into the spring quarter, a friend of mine and I – whiling some spare time away in the snack bar at Atwood Center – glanced through the latest edition of the Chronicle. There were some pieces riddled with errors and others that were awkwardly written at best. The worst offenders were in the Arts section. My friend and I decided to go ask the editor – whom we knew only vaguely – if he thought things might get better.

Frazzled and harried, he sat at his desk and listened to our commentary, then shook his head. “Better? Not until I get some people in here who know what they’re doing.” He looked at me. “You wanna be the Arts editor?”

I said yes and found myself learning as I went. It was a time of shuffling through reams of press releases for arts stories on campus that would provide good copy and good photos, of all-night paste-up sessions, of recruiting writers, of struggling to write and edit reviews of movies, plays and music. It was also a great deal of fun. And I learned I was good at it. I stayed with the paper past spring and through the two four-week summer sessions, and sometime during the summer, my adviser and I met in his office. “I tell you,” he said, shaking his head, “when I heard in March that you were going to edit the Arts section, I was worried.” I nodded. I’d been a bit concerned at the start as well. “But I have to tell you,” he went on, “all spring and summer, that’s been the best part of the paper.”

To be honest, I’d had a similar thought a bit earlier. As quarter break ended and the first summer session began, I sat at my desk in the newspaper office and looked through spring quarter’s editions. “We did pretty well,” I thought. It hadn’t been perfect, but the errors – some of them mine alone, some shared – were things I could learn from, which was the point. Another eight weeks of the newspaper, I thought – accompanied by workshops in television news and filmmaking to sharpen my writing and editing skills – and I might even be ready to do this somewhere else and get paid for it.

And here’s a little bit of what was on the radio that week, as I thought I might have found the place I belonged.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 4, 1977)
“Mainstreet” by Bob Seger, Capitol 4422 (No.24)
“Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, Columbia 10491 (No. 36)
“On the Border” by Al Stewart, Janus 267 (No. 51)
“The Pretender” by Jackson Browne, Asylum 45399 (No. 60)
“Fly at Night” by Chilliwack, Mushroom 7024 (No. 79)
“Feel the Need In Me” by the Detroit Emeralds, Westbound 209 (No. 93)

“Mainstreet” was the second of two great singles Bob Seger released from his Night Moves album, the other being the title track, which went to No. 4 in the early months of 1977. As June began, “Mainstreet” had just hit its peak of No. 24. Seger had sixteen more Top 40 hits, reaching into 1991, but to my ears, none of the others were ever as good as “Night Moves” or “Mainstreet.”

As June began, “Lido Shuffle” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 11, the third single from Scaggs’ Silk Degrees album to climb into the Top 40. If nothing else from this selection of six singles will wake you up, “Lido Shuffle” will.

“On the Border,” like many of the songs from Year of the Cat and 1978’s Time Passages, sounds like no one other than Al Stewart. “Year of the Cat” had reached No. 8 in early 1977, and “Time Passages” would go as high as No. 7 in late 1978. “On The Border” just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard in any record a more accurate prediction of where American life was headed than in the last verse of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender,” which forecast the 1980s rise of the yuppie:

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender.
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Musically gorgeous and lyrically prescient in its pessimism, the record spent five weeks in the Hot 100 and peaked at No. 58

The Canadian band Chilliwack had found some success in its home country by the time mid-1977 came along, but the U.S. Top 40 was still out of the band’s reach. “Fly By Night,” with its ballad-into-boogie-and-back structure, seems now as if it should have hit, but the record had peaked at No. 75 and was in its last week in the Hot 100 as June began. Chilliwack would hit the U.S. Top 40 in 1981 with “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and in 1982 with “I Believe,” which went to Nos. 22 and 33, respectively.

The Detroit Emeralds’ “Feel the Need” almost didn’t make the Hot 100 at all, peaking at No. 90 and sitting in the bottom ten of the chart for five weeks. From what I can tell by sifting through some information on the ’Net, I think the record was a re-release or a new edit of a record that had been released a couple years earlier, but I’m not at all certain. I’m not even sure I have the catalog number correct. (Someone out there knows the story, I hope.) But man, it’s a nice piece of work, and I think it should have fared a lot better than it did. (The Detroit Emeralds had two hits in 1972, “You Want It, You Got It,” which went to No. 36, and “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” which reached No. 24.

Some Kate Taylor News
I got a pleasant email yesterday from Sandy Hicks, Kate Taylor’s manager. She said “We are happy to supply folks with CDs of all her early albums.” Those interested, she said, should email her and she’ll write back with details, and buyers can settle up through Kate’s website.

Hicks added: “Kate’s nearly finished with her new album, due out in late July. For the first time in her career, the album is all her own original songs.” Release details, Hicks said, are on Kate’s website, as is a schedule of performances set for this summer and autumn in the U.S. Northeast.

Chart Digging: Mid-January 1972

January 12, 2012

January of 1972 is mostly a blank spot. I know I’d just started my second quarter at St. Cloud State. I recall two of the classes I took: Music Theory 1 and a one-credit practicum at KVSC, the campus radio station; as a result of the latter, I began to spend a lot of time hanging around the station’s offices. I recall that I wasn’t dating anyone and that I was still palling around with Dave and Chisago Rick and the other guys I met during orientation the summer before.

But nothing much happened, as far as I remember. I was just there. And looking at the Billboard Top Ten from this week in 1972, I get the same kind of sense. Nothing all that interesting was going on.

Well, maybe that’s not fair to Don McLean, whose “American Pie” hit No. 1 that week; it would stay there for four weeks. At the time, McLean’s coded history of rock ’n’ roll was – as I’ve noted before – the fodder for lengthy discussions: What did this line mean? Who was the jester? But after many listenings, many interpretations and forty years, the record has lost its power. I mean, I still sing along when it pops up on the car radio, but the record no longer amazes me the way it did during that long-ago January.

Sitting below McLean’s opus in the Top Ten were some good records, but I don’t see much else that made me say “Wow” back then or would do so today:

“Brand New Key” by Melanie
“Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
“Family Affair” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band
“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by the New Seekers
“Got To Be There” by Michael Jackson
“Hey Girl/I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond
“Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright

I know some folks who loved “Scorpio” (and still do), but I don’t recall hearing it all that much. I guess the best of that bunch for me was “Let’s Stay Together,” which I still like today. The rest of those records didn’t move me much then and still don’t.

That disenchantment (if that’s not too strong a word) was paired with the album rock ethos I discovered early in 1972 at KVSC. The station still played classical music during the daytime, but we shifted to rock in the evenings, and the only person in the studios and office who ever listened to the classical music going on the air was the disc jockey on duty in the main booth. For the rest of us, one or another of the other turntables in the studio was used to play albums that the evening and night-time jocks had brought in from their own collections.

So I wasn’t all that thrilled with what I heard on the radio in the car or when I was hanging around with Dave and Chisago Rick and the others. But as I dig into the lower portions of the Billboard Hot 100 from January 15, 1972, I find a number of records that I think I would have liked to hear coming out of the radio speakers.

Four of the six records below are by R&B acts that I’m rather familiar with today (though that would not have been the case forty years ago). The other two are by acts I’d not heard of until I began digging through that distant Hot 100, one a pop group and the other an R&B singer.

Little Johnny Taylor was a blues singer who passed on in 2002 and who spent much of his performing life not being Johnnie Taylor, the R&B singer who had memorable hits with “Who’s Making Love” and “Disco Lady.”  Little Johnny Taylor’s only Top 40 hit came in 1963, when “Part Time Love” went to No. 19 (and to No. 1 on the R&B chart). In mid-January 1972, the bluesy “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing, Pt. 1” was sitting at its peak of No. 60. It would be the last of seven Johnny Taylor records to reach or bubble under the Hot 100; six of his records reached the R&B Top 40. (The video I’m linking to includes both sides of the 45 – Part 1 and Part 2.)

I’m pretty sure I knew about Junior Walker & The All Stars in early 1972, if for no other reasons than the two No. 4 singles the group scored: “Shotgun” in 1965 and “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” in 1969. But I had no clue that “Way Back Home” was in the chart that January. The song can be filed with other tunes that catalog the desire to go back to one’s southern roots; “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South and “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips come quickly to mind although there are many others. As mid-January rolled past, “Way Back Home” was at No. 68. It went only to No. 52 for some reason; it sounds to me as if it should have done much better.

On the other end of the familiarity scale, I found N.F. Porter and his “Keep On Keeping On” sitting at No. 77. I know next to nothing about Porter, just that he was an R&B singer who also recorded as Nolan Porter and just plain Nolan, which meant he had a different billing for all three records he got into the lower portions of the Hot 100 (and into the R&B Top 40) between 1971 and 1973. “Keep On Keeping On” was the second of the three, and No. 77 was as high as it would climb. (The first record, “I Like What You Give,” went to No. 70, and the third, “If I Could Only Be Sure,” peaked at No. 88.) “Keep On . . .” is a good record, but maybe the coolest thing about it is that – like its predecessor – it was released on the Lizard label.

The Detroit Emeralds have shown up in this space twice before when I’ve dug into the charts, and, as I research these posts, I find myself perking up whenever I see the group’s name. This time, “You Want It, You Got It” was the title I saw, and the record didn’t disappoint. It turns out to have been the first of two Top 40 hits for the group, peaking at No. 36 (and at No. 5 on the R&B chart). The only record that did better for the Emeralds – who were actually from Little Rock, Arkansas – was “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms,)” which went to No. 24 (No. 4 R&B) in the spring of 1972.

We’ll take a break from blues and R&B for a moment with a rather odd, almost psychedelic version of the folk song “Five Hundred Miles” as recorded by a group billed as Heaven Bound with Tony Scotti. At the time the single was released, Scotti – according to All-Music Guide – had produced albums for Petula Clark and Joey Heatherton and would go on to produce for Jim Stafford and the Bellamy Brothers. (Three of the members of Heaven Bound – Joan Medora, Eddie Medora and Tommy Oliver – have significant writing credits listed at AMG; I suspect the same would be true for Michael Lloyd if I could find the correct Michael Lloyd.) “Five Hundred Miles” was the second of three singles by Heaven Bound to reach or bubble under the Hot 100, and it peaked at No. 79, the highest any of the three singles went. (When you click on the player, be prepared to think for a few moments that you’re hearing a cover of the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine.”)

The difficulty of being “the other man” is the topic of the last record in today’s digging: “If I Could See The Light” by the Detroit group 8th Day. While perhaps not as good as the group’s “She’s Not Just Another Woman,” which went to No. 11 in 1971, “If I Could See The Light” rolls along in an infectious up-tempo R&B groove. It was sitting at No. 89 during mid-January 1972, heading toward its peak of No. 79. It’s an energetic – if ethically dubious – way to close today’s digging.

Chart Digging: Early February 1971

February 8, 2011

Moments lead to memories that lead to tales. A trip to the dumpster in a February wind reminded me of the time during my senior year when I was suspended from school for a day.

Our house is adjacent to an apartment complex owned by our landlord, and when we moved in, he said that instead of hauling garbage cans down to the end of the driveway once a week, we could drop our trash in the dumpster at the end of the complex’s parking lot. We generally do so as part of an errand elsewhere, carting trash bags over in one of the two cars. The other day, getting the car out of the garage seemed to be a lot of work, so I walked a bag of trash over.

I did so in the face of a harsh northwestern wind. Head down, I made my way across the parking lot, and I recalled how, on bitterly cold and windy days, my childhood schoolmates and I would sometimes walk backwards down Fifth Avenue toward Lincoln Elementary School, protecting our faces from the harsh wind. We knew the route well, and the sidewalks were almost always shoveled, so walking in reverse, especially in a group, carried no hazards. It was just a little slower.

And my memory train chugged from walking backwards along Fifth Avenue to the occasional times during the early 1960s when a grey Forties-vintage auto would pull up alongside me, and the college guy I’ll call EJ – already transporting two of his brothers and a sister – would give me a ride to school. The family lived four houses north of us on Kilian Boulevard and several of the kids were frequent participants in our neighborhood’s semi-organized games. So EJ was a Kilian kid, but even more important to me was what he did at St. Cloud State.

He was the quarterback for the Huskies, and – with my folks – I spent as many Saturday evenings at Selke Field as I could back then, watching EJ lead the Huskies against teams that included the Bemidji State Beavers, the Winona State Warriors and the other Huskies from Michigan Tech, based in that state’s Upper Peninsula. EJ played for the Huskies from 1959 through 1962 and in 1960, he was named All-Conference quarterback for the Northern Intercollegiate Conference. I suppose he was my first football hero, the neighborhood kid who made good in a way that mattered very much to me – and to many others on the East Side and elsewhere.

After his football days were over and he earned his degree from St. Cloud State, EJ stayed in town. He got a job in the administration at St. Cloud Tech High and – with a master’s degree, I’m assuming – worked his way up the administrative ladder. By the time I was a senior, EJ was the assistant principal, in charge of discipline. I saw him in Tech’s hallways on occasion, as I had for the first two years of high school when his title was different, and he always had a smile and wave for me.

Then came the morning – during the early part of 1971 – when I was summoned to meet with EJ. That never meant anything good, but I had no clue what I might have done wrong.

I sat on a chair outside EJ’s office, going over the past few days for transgressions. Nothing came to mind. I’d been absent two days earlier, but Mom had called me in sick, so that wasn’t it. And as I sat there, I watched the high school’s version of hard cases – habitual fighters, teacher-cursers and class-skippers – come and go from EJ’s office. I felt like Arlo Guthrie on the Group W bench.

Finally, it was my turn. I took a chair across from EJ, smiled wanly and shrugged. I still had no idea what I might have done. He looked at a piece of paper and then asked me, “Did you skip class during ninth hour yesterday?”

No, I told him. In that class – a social studies offering called Problems of Democracy – we were divided into study groups, and we didn’t meet every day. I didn’t mention it to EJ, but I was glad of that, as Mr. S, the teacher, was officious and overbearing, and I didn’t enjoy his class at all. I did tell EJ that sometime during the previous morning, I’d crossed paths with another member of my study group and – having been out sick the day before – verified that our study group was not scheduled to meet. I didn’t have to go to class ninth hour, so I didn’t.

EJ nodded. “So where were you?”

In the library, I told him. I’d been at a table with the current object of my affection, the one in whose locker I would leave song lyrics in purple ink. She had a study period that hour and always spent it in the library. When I was free, I was there, too.

EJ nodded again, chewed his cheek as he looked at the paper in his hand. Then he looked at me. “Because you were absent the day before, you really should have gone to class during ninth hour and checked in with Mr. S. He reported you absent without permission, and technically, he’s right.” He looked at me, chewed his cheek again and sighed.

“Look, I know Mr. S,” he said. And EJ looked in my eyes and I got the message that whatever I might have thought about Mr. S, he agreed with me. “But,” he went on, “you did technically skip class. And I have to suspend you for the day.”

Great, I thought. Students suspended for the day were installed in a small room in the office area, where they sat all day in supervised silence, doing class assignments. I was going to spend the day with Group W doing homework.

EJ sighed again and tossed the report of my unauthorized absence on his desk. “Okay,” he said, “go spend the day in the library. Go to lunch at your usual time, hang around the band room for an hour like you do, and then end the day in the library.”

I started to thank him, and he waved me on with a half-smile. “Go to the library!” he said. So I did.

Word spread, of course, that I – an unlikely candidate if ever there were one – had been suspended for the day. My name was on the list of suspensions passed out by the attendance office, and students had easy access to those lists, which teachers often left in the open. Friends of mine who came and went in the library that day – including my Dulcinea – wanted to know what heck had happened. I did get tired of telling the tale, but we all agreed on our thoughts about Mr. S.

Being suspended also meant not being allowed to take part in school activities, so after school, I went to tell Kiff, the wrestling coach, that I’d resume my duties as manager the next day. As I entered the wrestling room, the wrestlers cheered and applauded. When the noise faded, Kiff asked me if the rumor he’d heard was true: “Were you really smoking a pipe?” (He meant a traditional pipe intended for tobacco, not one for illicit substances.) I laughed a little and told him no. He was relieved; if I had been smoking anything, I’d have lost my post as manager. But, he added, “If there were any student who might have smoked a pipe instead of a cigarette, it would be you.”

Not sure what to say to that, I just said I’d be back the next day, and glumly headed out of the gym toward the school’s back door. A fellow choir member saw me: “Now you get to go home and tell the folks, right?” I nodded and went on my way.

My folks weren’t horribly upset although they weren’t pleased either. I do think they were happy I didn’t have to spend the day with Group W, thanks to a favor passed from one Kilian Kid to another.

I’m sure that as I sat in my room that evening and pondered that favor, I had the radio on. And I’m just as sure that during my pondering I heard some of these songs, the Billboard Top Ten from forty years ago this week:

“One Bad Apple” by the Osmonds
“Knock Three Times” by Dawn
“Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson
“I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds
“Lonely Days” by the Bee Gees
“My Sweet Lord/Isn’t It A Pity” by George Harrison
“Groove Me” by King Floyd
“Your Song” by Elton John
“If I Were Your Woman” by Gladys Knight and the Pips
“Mama’s Pearl” by the Jackson 5

That’s a good set. I wasn’t all that crazy about the Osmonds’ record forty years ago, but now, it’s a nice slice of time. The same holds true for the Dawn record. But the rest don’t need to be memories; the bottom nine from that list (counting Harrison’s B-Side) is a great batch of records.

As usual, we’re going to look a little bit deeper into the Billboard Hot 100 from that week, but we’re not going to go too deep to start with. At No. 15, we find one of my favorite one-hit wonders of all time. Wadsworth Mansion was a band from Los Angeles, and during this week forty years ago, the group’s “Sweet Mary” was at No. 15, having leapt from No. 44 the previous week. The record would eventually peak at No. 7. I love the “Wap, wa-dooba do wop wop” introduction!

From there, however, we’ll tumble out of the Top 40, just across the border to No. 44. There we find the Four Tops with “Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life),” an almost mournful tune about trying to get back things that have been lost. The record – with its classic Motown sound – would peak at No. 40 and go to No. 9 on the R&B chart.

I knew nothing about T. Rex until “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972, and I didn’t rush out and buy any records then. I entirely missed the group’s first charting single, “Ride A White Swan,” which was at No. 76 forty years ago, when the group was still called Tyrannosaurus Rex. But then, a lot of folks missed the record, as it went no higher. It strikes me as a very odd single, but I never really got the glam thing, anyway. From forty years away, it’s far more interesting to me than it would have been then.

From being a murderer on the run in “Indiana Wants Me,” R. Dean Taylor went all green. His lament for the environment, “Ain’t It A Sad Thing,” was at No. 87 forty years ago. Taylor would have two more singles hit the Hot 100 and another reach the Bubbling Under section of the list, but he’d never hit the Top 40 again. “Ain’t It A Sad Thing” did the best of Taylor’s post-Indiana singles, getting to No. 66.

Ballin’ Jack was an “inter-racial jazz-rock group from San Francisco,” according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, and the group’s only single to reach the Billboard charts was “Super Highway.” Forty years ago this week, the record was at No. 98 in its first week in the Hot 100. I’ve listened to bits of the group’s two albums, and I’ve liked what I’ve heard. (I suppose that being a horn rock fan helps.) But the best the group could do was get “Super Highway” to No. 93.

The Detroit Emeralds were a long-active band that, despite their name, evidently started out in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Whitburn seems to indicate that the original core of the group formed in Arkansas before heading to Detroit.) “Do Me Right,” which was Bubbling Under at No. 118 forty years ago this week, became the second Hot 100 hit for the group, peaking at No. 43. (On the R&B chart, it was the third Top 40 hit for the Emeralds, going as high as No. 7.) The group would eventually have six records reach the Hot 100 and eight records in the R&B Top 40. The Emerald’s best-charting record came in 1972 with “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms),” which went to No. 24 on the pop chart and to No. 4 on the R&B chart.