Posts Tagged ‘Lou Rawls’

That First Top 40 Season

May 27, 2022

Originally reported September 23, 2009

Often, when I immerse myself in my reference books or lists, I ponder two categories of Top 40 music: Records that I don’t recall ever hearing at all and records that don’t show up these days on oldies radio.

Regular readers know the tale: I was, at best, a passive listener to Top 40 for years. If I were around Rick, I heard what he heard. If my sister had friends over, I heard – from another room – what they heard. During my junior high years, I heard the records played at dances and in the gym during the second half of lunch hours. It was during the fall of 1969 that I became an active listener to Top 40, hoping to join in on locker room gab about music and not seem utterly clueless.

So it was about this time forty years ago that I re-tuned my radio, moving the little red line over to the left, to 630, the frequency of KDWB in the Twin Cities, one of two Top 40 stations available to St. Cloud listeners in the daytime. (Evening brought Top 40 to WJON, just down the street and across the tracks from our house, and I was a regular evening listener for years.)

So what was it I heard during those first days? The Billboard Top Ten from forty years ago this week looked like this:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Jean” by Oliver
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Oh, What A Night” by the Dells

Some of that is pretty good, some of it a little gooey, but overall, pretty good. To be honest, a couple of those are records I don’t think I ever heard back then. If I heard them, it didn’t happen frequently enough for them to make an impression. I know the Dells’ single, but that’s from digging into pop and rock history over the last twenty years, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Tom Jones’ version of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”

The Billboard chart is a national chart, however, and what we were listening to in Minnesota might have been a fair amount different (as was frequently the case across the country; local playlists often differed a fair amount). I wasn’t able to find a KDWB chart from this week forty years ago, but the Airheads Radio Survey Archive offered one from WDGY, the other Top 40 station in the Twin Cities. I didn’t listen to WDGY, memory tells me, because its signal was not as strong and it didn’t come in well in St. Cloud. I imagine there are a few differences here from what KDWB was playing, but I don’t think they’d be major. (Someone can correct me if I’m wrong.) Here’s WDGY’s Top Ten for September 26, 1969:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Jean” by Oliver
“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Lay Lady Lay’ by Bob Dylan
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“This Girl Is A Woman Now” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone

Every one of those comes out of the speakers of my memory. But as I look further down the WDGY chart, which goes to No. 30, there are five records I do not recall hearing. The Tom Jones tune is joined by four others: “When I Die” by Motherlode, “And That Reminds Me” by the Four Seasons, “No One For Me To Turn To” by Spiral Starecase and “You, I” by the Rugbys.

In the Top 30 of the Billboard list, I find five unheard records as well: The Dells’ record and the Tom Jones single along with “What’s The Use of Breaking Up” by Jerry Butler, “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” by Bill Deal & the Rhondells and the Rugbys single.

Some of those – most notably the singles by Spiral Starecase and the Rugbys – remain mysteries today. But one can’t hear everything. And that brings me to my second list: Songs that one doesn’t seem to hear even on oldies radio these days. (And when I talk about radio, I’m talking about earthbound stuff, not satellite and so on. I get the sense from what I’ve read and from folks who listen to satellite radio that playlists are immensely deeper and specialized.)

I have to admit I don’t listen to radio much these days. My radio time is usually in the car when I’m out running errands, although I occasionally have it on when I’m puttering in the kitchen. And when the radio is on, I imagine that about two-thirds the time, it’s tuned to KQQL-FM, an oldies station in the Twin Cities. In any case, as I looked at the Billboard chart from forty years ago this week, I saw many titles that I don’t recall hearing on the radio for a long, long time, if ever. Here are six of them.

A Six-Pack of Radio Rarities (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending September 27, 1969)
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 121 (No. 5)
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, Columbia 44944 (No. 11)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 18)
“When I Die” by Motherlode, Buddah 131 (No. 21)
“Move Over” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill 4205 (No. 31)
“Did You See Her Eyes” by the Illusion, Steed 718 (No. 36)

Including a record here isn’t necessarily a recommendation. The best example of that is the Bobby Sherman record. It’s pretty limp pop, but it did get all the way to No. 3, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. That was the best that Bobby Sherman ever did on the chart, although he had six more Top 40 singles through May of 1971. I guess if I were to choose a Bobby Sherman hit for a deep spot on a radio playlist, I’d be tempted to go with “Julie, Do Ya Love Me,” which actually isn’t all that great a record either. In the context of an oldie station, though, neither one would sound awful coming out of the speakers every once in a while.

“A Boy Named Sue” was pulled from the live 1969 album Johnny Cash recorded at San Quentin prison in California. It’s humorous, and you can hear Cash almost laughing as he sings Shel Silverstein’s work. There might have been versions out at the time that didn’t bleep out the epithet – which I think was “son-of-a-bitch” – at the song’s climax, but I’m not sure. Sometime very soon, I’m going to get the expanded CD release, which contains the entire concert Cash and his band put on for the inmates of San Quentin, and I expect the bleep will be gone. The single was Cash’s twelfth Top 40 hit and spent three weeks at No. 2, being blocked from the top spot by the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

It seems like there’s a rule for many artists – those who had relatively few Top 40 hits – that one record stands in for all. When you hear Lou Rawls on the oldies stations today, the record is almost sure to be “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” which went to No. 2 in 1976. There’s no doubt that’s a great record (and Rawls’ biggest hit), but why not stretch a little? Play “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” (No. 13, 1966) or the one I offer here, “Your Good Thing (Is About To End),” which peaked at No. 18 forty years ago this week.

I’m not sure what the formal definition is for identifying a One-Hit Wonder. Actually, I’m not sure there is a formal definition. Mine is: one Top 40 hit. Lots of groups that are called One-Hit Wonders very often aren’t, as they have one memorable record and something else that edged its way to No. 37 or some similar spot. One example of that is Lighthouse, which had the superb hit “One Fine Morning” go to No. 24 in 1971 but also reached the Top 40 with “Sunny Days,” which peaked at No. 34 in 1972. Motherlode, on the other hand, is a pure One-Hit Wonder. The Canadian quartet had one hit and one hit only: “When I Die,” which is pretty good, peaked at No. 18.

Steppenwolf seems to fall into the Lou Rawls Rule: The group had seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1974, but only two of them – “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” – ever seem to show up on the radio. And that’s too bad. “Rock Me” and “Hey Lawdy Mama” would liven up the day considerably if they ever came out of the speakers. As would “Move Over,” which was the fourth of the group’s seven hits. It peaked at No. 31.

The Illusion is another pure One-Hit Wonder, as “Did You See Her Eyes” was the group’s only trip into the Top 40. Released on Jeff Barry’s Steed label, the record is a good piece of pop-rock – tougher than most – and would be a nice change of pace on radio. The record peaked at No. 32. (My thanks to the Acid Test DJs for the clean rip.)

‘One Small Step . . .’

May 10, 2022

Originally posted July 20, 2009

Like almost everyone else in the United States – and like so many elsewhere around the Earth, for that matter – I was watching television forty years ago this evening.

My folks, my sister and I gathered in the living room, gazing at our old Zenith, and watched Neil Armstrong descend the Eagle’s ladder and then take that first step onto the surface of the moon. And we continued to watch as he was joined by Buzz Aldrin and the two of them placed a U.S. flag and then gathered samples of lunar rocks to bring back to Earth.

I admit to being puzzled by the missing “a” from Armstrong’s ceremonial first words on the moon: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” But in the years since, he’s said that he intended to say it and he thought he said it, so that’s fine. Given the weight of the occasion (and granting him the missing “a”), I thought his first words were well thought out and appropriate. But they were ceremonial, and thus were missing the visceral truth of Aldrin’s first words when he left the Eagle and joined Armstrong on the lunar surface: “Magnificent desolation!”

We watched until the two astronauts went back into the Eagle after something like two hours exploring the lunar surface that evening. None of us said much in the living room that night, and I don’t know what my folks thought as they watched men bounce around on the surface of the Moon. I remembered President John Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to the nation to land a man on the moon and bring him home, and it seems to me – I was maybe eight at the time the challenge was laid down and fifteen when the Eagle landed on the Moon – that I took the existence and success of a lunar expedition as a given. (History and chance have since taught me, of course, that so many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Then.)

But I wonder now what my parents felt and thought, both having been born less than half a century earlier in homes – like many of those in the United States at the time – that had no electricity. Did they marvel at the sight of men on another world? Or did they take it as a given, another accomplishment checked off the list in a world that supplied marvels one after the other? I don’t know.

I know I was fascinated by the landing and all the things that surrounded it. There was a Gulf service station not far from Tech High School, about a mile west of the Mississippi River. And during that summer, Gulf Oil was handing out sheets of heavy die-cut paper. By carefully punching out the die-cut pieces and then folding and inserting tabs into slots, one could make his or her own lunar module. Most of the kids I knew had picked up at least one, and each spent an hour or so carefully constructing the fragile model. I wound up with three of the paper models on a shelf in my bedroom. Even after the mission of Apollo 11 was finished successfully, I’d look at those fragile models and think of the real fragile and ungainly Eagle landing on the moon and then returning Armstrong and Aldrin to the Columbia and Michael Collins, in orbit around the moon.

Though I might not have put it into these words back then, I think what I was pondering was the slender margin of error that those three astronauts had successfully ridden, from the launch of the Saturn 5 rocket through the trip to the Moon and back to the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Everything had to go just right, and it did. I think I was trying to figure out what that could teach me that I could apply to my life. And I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten there.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending July 23, 1969)
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, RCA Victor 0174 (No. 1)
“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys, Polydor 14002 (No. 25)
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods, RCA Victor 9752 (No. 44)
“On Campus” by Dickie Goodman, Cotique 158 (No. 51)
“Tell All The People” by the Doors, Elektra 45663 (No. 58)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 87)

The first single is either a listener’s worst earworm or a delightful piece of bad science fiction. Either way, it was inescapable during the summer of 1969, vibrating out of tinny speakers and car radios at least twice an hour, or so it seemed. A bit of research a while back by a blogger whose stuff I read regularly – I believe it was my colleague jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – revealed that Zager & Evans hold the title of the greatest one-hit wonder of all time: “In the Year 2525” was in the Billboard Top 40 for twelve weeks, with an amazing six weeks spent at No. 1. This is one of those records that one either loves like a first-born child or hates like mold. I was a science fiction geek in 1969, so I never tired of hearing it come out of the speaker. In fact, this record might have been one of those that drew me toward Top 40 music during that summer when I was exploring new sounds.

“Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” by Cat Mother & The All Night News Boys is another one-hit wonder, this one from a band that’s kind of slipped through the cracks of time. I knew nothing at all about Cat Mother and the boys a year ago, and I still know very little (though I like what I have heard, mostly through the graces of Chuntao at Rare MP3 Music). The medley, which was the opening track of the band’s first album, The Street Giveth…and the Street Taketh Away, spent six weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 21. The group released three more albums, closing down the presses after Cat Mother in 1976. “Good Old Rock ’N’ Roll (Medley)” pulls fragments from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley and Buddy Knox in a little more than three minutes, kind of a whirling history of a portion of 1950s rock ’n’ roll.

The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” had originally been released in 1967 and had risen to only No. 62 in the Billboard Hot 100 before being re-released in 1969 with a different catalog number. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits notes that in 1969, the record “was popularized as the theme for the National Conference of Christians and Jews.” Whatever the reason, the record got as high as No. 5 the second time around, spending twelve weeks in the Top 40. Without digging too deeply into the timing, it seems to me that the record’s peak came in the autumn: its strains carry with them the sense of moonrise and the crackling dance of leaves falling from the oaks in the back yard.

With “On Campus,” Dickie Goodman struck again with his cut-in comedy formula. This one isn’t as witty as some of his other topical takes from over the years, but it wasn’t as lame as “Batman and His Grandmother” (which was the only one I ever bought).  The record didn’t make the Top 40. Goodman’s previous Top 40 hit had been 1957’s “Santa and the Satellite” and his next would be 1974’s “Energy Crisis ’74.” It didn’t miss by much, though: “On Campus” peaked at No. 45 during an eight-week stay in the Hot 100.

The version of “Tell All The People” I’m offering here is from the album The Soft Parade, and given the Doors’ and Elektra’s propensity for issuing widely different mixes on their 45s, I have no confidence at all that it’s the version that folks heard occasionally on their radios during the summer of 1969. I find it interesting for the use of horns, and for the fact that the writing credit for the single went solely to Robby Krieger; the Doors’ albums to that point had credited all songwriting to the group as an entity. One bit of speculation I saw (and I do not recall where I read it) suggested that Jim Morrison was unwilling to attach his name to a lyric that told listeners to “get your guns.” The record moved up one more spot to No. 58 during the last week of July, hovered there for another week and then fell out of the Hot 100 entirely.

I don’t have a lot to say about Lou Rawls’ “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” but only because any comment I make is superfluous: It’s a great record by one of the great singers of all time. The record peaked at No. 18 in late September of 1969, the third of six Top 40 hits Rawls would have in his career.

It’s Too Good Not To Be True

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 17, 2009

Legend has it that one day in 1966, the members of the Buffalo Springfield met with the A&R (Artists & Repertoire) man from Atco, the group’s record label, to go over songs for the group’s first album.

For some time, the story goes, the man from Atco listened as Stephen Stills and Neil Young – and maybe Richie Furay, whose songs showed up on later Springfield albums but not on the first – shared their tunes with the A&R man and each other. As the meeting neared its end, the man from Atco asked if any of the musicians had anything else.

“I got one more,” said Stills, “for what it’s worth.” And he took up his guitar and began to sing the now-familiar words, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear . . .”

And that, children, is how “For What It’s Worth” got its title. I can’t vouch for the fact of the story, but, to me, it’s one of those stories that’s so right that it almost doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Legend drives out fact just as surely as bad money drives out good.*

The only other bit of history I’ve read about “For What It’s Worth” is that Atco scrambled to put the track on the Springfield’s first album after it became a hit single. If that’s the case, then there should be copies of the album out there without “For What It’s Worth,” as the album was released in 1966 and the single didn’t hit the Top 40 until February 1967. My copy of the first album has “For What It’s Worth” as the first track on Side One, but then, I bought that LP long after 1966. Does anyone out there know? Was there a version of Buffalo Springfield without “For What It’s Worth”?

Whatever the truth, “For What It’s Worth” was the group’s only hit, reaching No. 7 during an eleven-week stay in the Top 40, and pulling the Buffalo Springfield out of the running for the title of Best Group Ever Without A Top Ten Single. (My nomination for the title? The Band, whose best-performing single, “Up On Cripple Creek,” went to No. 25.)

There are 309 CDs in the listings at All-Music Guide that include a track titled “For What It’s Worth.” A number of those – maybe a quarter – are not the Stills tune. Take away the multiple listings for the Buffalo Springfield’s recording, and there are about two hundred covers. Some of the interesting names in the list are: Bonnie Bramlett, Cher (on her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway), Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Evans, Keb’ Mo’, King Curtis, Miriam Makeba, Melanie, the Muppets, Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Osborne, Ozzy Osbourne and Rush. Not on AMG’s list is the gospel choral group, the Voices Of East Harlem, whose 1970 version of the song is remarkable.

I’ve pulled three versions to share today, by Lou Rawls, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 and the Staple Singers. I’m not sure Rawls’ style fits the song very well, but the other two versions are good listens.

“For What It’s Worth” by Lou Rawls from Feelin’ Good, 1968

“For What It’s Worth” by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 from Stillness, 1971

“For What It’s Worth” by the Staple Singers, Epic 10220, 1967

*That little epigram about money is called “Gresham’s Law,” and remembering it today means that I did learn something in economics class all those years ago.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966, Vol. 3

July 20, 2011

Originally posted July 21, 2008

One of the joys of music blogging is the occasional discussion that rises up, either here or at other blogs I visit. One of the questions that almost always sparks discussion is an attempt to identify the perfect single. I’ve joined in that conversation at several blogs over the past eighteen months, and my candidate for the perfect pop-rock single is always the same: “Cherish” by the Association.

It’s got a gorgeous melody, wonderfully glistening production (by Curt Boettcher, if I’m not mistaken), and its lyric tells a tale of unrequited love accepted sadly and with grace, probably far more grace than almost any of us could muster when faced with the reality that our beloved will never stand next to us.

I came to know the song in the autumn of 1966, when it was No. 1 for three weeks. It was a record that could not be avoided, even by those who were not particularly enamored of pop and rock. I liked it even though I had no real understanding of its lyric. That came three years later during my junior year. The young lady was kind but made it very clear that her interests were not congruent with mine. The next time I heard “Cherish,” I understood it much better.

It’s one of those songs perfectly crafted to provide teen-age solace: While so many songs about love embraced can be tabbed by happy young couples as “their” song, “Cherish” is one of very few records that a loving yet solitary young person could hold as his own, with the substance and eloquence of the lyric providing both consolation and the awareness – maybe for the first time – that love unreturned is not love in vain.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1966, Vol. 3
“Cherish” by the Association, Valiant single 747

“Loving You Takes All Of My Time” by the Debonaires, Solid Hit single 102

“Can’t You See” by the Countdowns, N-Joy single 1015

“Hey Joe” by the Leaves, Mira single 222

“Sweet Wine” by Cream from Fresh Cream

“Must I Holler” by Jamo Thomas, Chess single 1971

“Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” by Lou Rawls, Capitol single 5709

“At the River’s Edge” by the New Colony Six, Centaur single 1202

“Searching For My Love” by Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces, Checker single 1129

“Stanyan Street, Revisited” by Glenn Yarbrough from The Lonely Things

“Cherry, Cherry” by Neil Diamond, Bang single 528

“Happenings Times Ten Years Ago” by the Yardbirds, Epic single 10094

“Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, GNP Crescendo single 372

A few notes:

The Debonaires – mistakenly listed as the “Debonairs” when “Loving You Takes All Of My Time” was originally released – were Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins, two Detroit-area cousins, and a few other people who, according to All-Music Guide, have never been identified. The group released a number of records on a number of Detroit-area labels in the early to mid-1960s, but never had a single reach the Top 40. Wilson and Hopkins ended up performing with Tony Orlando as Dawn, beginning with Dawn’s second hit, “Knock Three Times” in 1970.

The Leaves’ version of “Hey Joe” may not be the first recording of the song – the song’s lineage is one of those difficult to trace – but it was the first version to chart, reaching No. 31 during the summer of 1966.

The New Colony Six was from Chicago, a decent group that ended up putting two records into the Top 40: “I Will Always Think About You” in 1968 and “Things I’d Like To Say” in 1969. A college friend of mine was from the Windy City and took every opportunity he could during beer-fueled evenings in Denmark to let us know how good the New Colony Six was.

I’ve written here a few times about my affection for two of Glenn Yarbrough’s mid-1960s albums: For Emily Whenever I May Find Her and The Lonely Things. I acquired the first of those on CD some time ago and found the latter online recently. “Stanyan Street, Revisited” is sentimental – with Rod McKuen providing the lyric, how could it not be? – and its production values are clearly more in line with traditional pop than with rock. But set aside irony and give it a listen.

This set ended up with some good garage-y sounds: the Countdowns, the Leaves, the post-Clapton Yardbirds and the Seeds. The Countdowns’ single didn’t chart, and – as noted above – “Hey Joe” went to No. 31. The Yardbirds’ single went to No. 30, and “Pushin’ Too Hard” reached No. 36.

Corrections and clarifications:
I got a note this morning from Patti Dahlstrom, who gently corrected a few errors in my piece on her fourth album, Livin’ It Thru, which I posted here a week ago. She wrote: “Though I did play piano on stage for a song or two, I never played on my records.” The keyboard parts on Livin’ It Thru, she said, came from Larry Knechtel, Michael Omartian, Craig Doerge and Jerry Peters. The credits listed at West Coast Music, which I used as a jumping-off point, are incorrect in listing Daryl Dragon as playing keyboards on the record; Patti said he arranged the background vocals.

She also answered two questions I had: First, the astounding harp solo on the track “Lookin’ For Love” was by Knechtel. And second, Jay Cooper, who was listed in the credits on the record jacket, is Patti’s attorney and has been since 1967, “a powerful man with great heart and integrity . . . quite an unusual combination.”

Edited slightly from original posting.