Posts Tagged ‘Merry Clayton’

In Early ’72

July 8, 2022

Originally posted January 8, 2010

When I think of the first weeks of 1972, no huge or poignant memory comes to mind. I was beginning my second quarter of college; the most important thing I’d learned during my first quarter was that I was going to have to study if I wanted to improve on my 1.67 GPA. This wasn’t high school and I was going to have to work at it

I’ve always been grateful that my parents were both educators and understood the value of letting me find my own way through the thickets of college. After that disastrous first quarter, I began to learn how to study, and my GPA rose rapidly over the next three years. Had I come from a smaller town and/or from a family not so certain about the value of education, that wasted first quarter could easily have resulted in my heading back to Long Prairie or a similar small town and a job at the local gas station or grocery store.

But I, as the saying goes, began to apply myself as 1972 began. I paid attention in class and took better notes, and I made sure I read what I was assigned to read. When classes were done for the day, I swept the stairs and classroom floors in the Business Building for two hours. And I spent more time hanging around the campus radio station.

I’d gotten an AM-FM radio for Christmas, and my attachment to Top 40 and to AM radio began to fade. I began to dig into the albums I heard at the campus radio station and that I heard from other FM stations as I explored that side of the radio universe. I still listened to Top 40 on occasion, but not nearly as often as I had during previous years. Still, the music was all around, and almost everything in the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending January 8, 1972, is familiar, if not exactly loved:

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

And there was some interesting stuff a little further down the chart, too:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, January 8, 1972)
“Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth [No. 22]
“Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” by the Temptations [No. 39]
“Without You” by Nilsson [No. 54]
“Pretty As You Feel” by Jefferson Airplane [No. 60]
“After All This Time” by Merry Clayton [No. 71]
“Get Up and Get Down” by the Dramatics [No. 78]

I really only recall two of these, which I think is more an indication of my slide toward album rock during the 1971-72 college year than it is a comment on the tunes. On the other hand, the two that I do recall are two of the three that found their ways into the Top 40: The Rare Earth and Nilsson singles. I’m sure I heard the Temptations’ record, but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated. I might have heard the Merry Clayton recording as an album track at the college radio station, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear the Jefferson Airplane or Dramatics singles until years later.

“Hey Big Brother” still sounds to me a little bit clunky, as did all of Rare Earth’s singles. That’s not bad, but the records aren’t as smooth as you’d expect from a band that came through the Motown door. (The group had its own Rare Earth label but had been one of the first white acts signed to the Motown label.) But that clunkiness does lend the group’s records an identity. “Hey Big Brother” eventually climbed another three spots to No. 19. There is a labeling anomaly with the record: All the commercial 45 labels I can find online list the time as 2:59, while a label I saw for a DJ promo stereo/mono 45 listed the correct time of 4:45, at least on the stereo side.

A few weeks ago, I tried to rip my vinyl copy of the Temptations’ single, but I thought there might be a skip. I think it was just a funky bit of rhythm, having listened to this copy that I got from another source, a rip of the 1972 album Solid Rock. The record – supposedly a comment from writers Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield on Motown singer David Ruffin, who had left the Temptations a few years earlier – peaked at No. 18.

The late Harry Nilsson was capable of pulling off irony with a straight face, so it’s possible, I suppose, that “Without You” was actually a joke, a commentary on songs of lost love. I’ve never read anywhere that he had any such intentions, but it’s something – given the rest of his career – that I’ve occasionally wondered about. But I don’t think that’s the case. The record – which spent four weeks at No. 1 in February and March of 1972 – is just too damned sad. At least until Nilsson opens up the pipes in the end and blows you away.

All-Music Guide has this to say about Jefferson Airplane’s “Pretty As You Feel,” which was sitting at its peak position of No. 60 as January 8, 1972 came along: “Constructed from a live, in-the-studio jam that features Carlos Santana, ‘Pretty As You Feel’ was then picked up by new Airplane member Joey Covington, who wrote the lyrics. Musically, it’s a soulful exercise in a jazz-inflected strut, with a strong but mellow blues feeling. The lyrics are a take on the stupidity of changing one’s appearance for appearance’s sake – to be, that is, au naturel.” Three weeks later, the record had fallen out of the Hot 100. The jacket of the Bark album and the 45 labels I’ve seen have the record running 4:29, but oddly enough, on the Airplane anthology Flight Log, there is an edit of the song that runs 3:07. I haven’t listened to that piece of vinyl for years; I’ll have to do so soon.

I’ve liked Merry Clayton’s version of Carole King’s “After All This Time” ever since I heard the Merry Clayton album many years ago, wherever that was. But until last evening, when I was digging through the Billboard listings for early 1972, I’d had no idea that it was ever released as a single. It didn’t do well: by January 8, the record had been in the Hot 100 for five weeks and, as it turned out, had reached its peak at No. 71. It tumbled out of the chart during the next three weeks. Listening to it this morning, I still think it’s better than a lot of stuff that prospered on the charts that winter.

I don’t have a lot to say about the Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down,” except that it’s got a great groove. Unless you’re in traction or something like that, your head should be bobbing by the time the horns start calling at about the nine-second mark. The record didn’t do well: Its No. 78 ranking in the January 8 Hot 100 was its peak.

(My best guesses – based on comparing running times with those listed on 45 labels I found online – is that these are the recordings that were released as singles. Those I’m most sure of are the ones I’ve tagged with single catalog numbers [in two cases, along with the album from which they were pulled as singles]. The two I’ve tagged with just the album titles, I’m just not certain about.)

Willie Mitchell, RIP
Having mentioned Al Green in the top ten list above, I should note the passing this week of Willie Mitchell, who crafted the Hi Records sound that backed Green and a great number of others on hits and other recordings. While I love the Hi Records sound and acknowledge Mitchell’s huge influence, I’ll let others more qualified than I handle the tributes, starting with Larry at Funky 16 Corners.

One Chart Dig: January 3, 1972

January 3, 2012

We’re twelve days past the winter solstice, the day when daylight is most scarce here in the Northern Hemisphere. On that day – December 22 – the sun rose here at 7:54 a.m. and set at 4:36 p.m., giving us eight hours and forty-two minutes of daylight.

Today, the sun rose at 7:56 and will set at 4:45 p.m., meaning that in these twelve days, we’ve gained back eleven minutes of daylight as we head toward summer time and the fifteen hours of daylight it brings. I should be encouraged, but I’m not. So I’m going to go find some figurative shelter in a few moments.

Talking about shelter, however, brings to mind Merry Clayton. Forty years ago this week, she had a record in the Billboard Hot 100. “After All This Time,” a track pulled from her second, self-titled, album was sitting at No. 71; it would go no higher.

“After All This Time” was the third of six singles that Clayton would get in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1988. The best-performing were her last two, both of which peaked at No. 45: “Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow” – the theme from the television series Baretta –in 1975, and “Yes,” from the soundtrack to the movie Dirty Dancing, in 1988.

Here’s “After All This Time.”

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 24, 2007

In 1987, I began what I now call the nomadic phase of my life. During the nearly five-year period from May 1987 through March 1992, I moved eight times, wandering from Minnesota to North Dakota back to Minnesota to Kansas to Missouri and back to Minnesota.

It was, clearly, an unsettled time in my life. I taught at two universities, a college and a community college, lost one cat, wrote for four newspapers, wrote a novel and lots of lyrics, fell in love three times and watched it fade three times, bought more than six hundred records, made friends and lost friends, survived the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 (a total of twenty-eight inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities from October 31 through November 3), and wound up on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis, where I lived for the next seven years, waiting (though I did not know it) for the Texas Gal’s path to intersect mine.

And, as always, I listened to a lot of music. Being on college campuses at various times during those years kept me more in touch with new music than I had been when I was working as a free-lance writer. That was especially true in Minot, where I advised the college newspaper for two academic years, from the autumn of 1987 through the spring of 1989. My office was adjacent to the paper’s newsroom/workroom and the sound of the radio in the next room was inescapable. Luckily, I liked most of what I heard.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1987

“There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” by Nanci Griffith from Lone Star State of Mind

“Hooked On Your Love” by Lynn White, Waylo single 3022

“Runaway Train” by Rosanne Cash from King’s Record Shop

“Someplace Else” by George Harrison from Cloud Nine

“Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead from In The Dark

“Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp from The Lonesome Jubilee

“Yes” by Merry Clayton from the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing

“Tougher Than The Rest” by Bruce Springsteen from Tunnel of Love

“Tango In The Night” by Fleetwood Mac from Tango In The Night

“The Mystery” by Van Morrison from Poetic Champions Compose

“With You Or Without You” by U2 from The Joshua Tree

“Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles, Def Jam single 07630

“Unchain My Heart” by Joe Cocker from Unchain My Heart

A few notes on some of the songs:

Lynn White came from Alabama and had her first success in 1982 when Sho Me Records released her single “I Don’t Wanna Ever See Your Face Again.” Among those who heard it was Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, who released the single on his own label, Waylo, and brought White into his Memphis studio. Her records did well, and in 1987, “Hooked On Your Love” was released as the B-side to “He’ll Leave You For Her.” The single is a good indication of how Mitchell’s sound had evolved since the days of Al Green, Otis Clay and Ann Peebles. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The “B” Side for the tune and the information.)

Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train” is about as clear-headed an assessment of love flying off the rails on a curve as you can find in song. Written by John Stewart (of “Gold” and “Midnight Wind” from 1979) and produced by Rodney Crowell, Cash’s husband at the time, it’s a disquieting song. Dave Marsh, who ranked it at No. 590 in The Heart Of Rock & Soul, his listing of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, notes that the “husk of Rosanne’s singing and the thrash of those drums . . . evoke without flinching a million exhausted midnight fights between lovers too familiar with each other’s moves to be taken by surprise or learn anything new, too wrapped up in each other’s lives to know how to quit.”

It took the Grateful Dead more than twenty years to have a Top 40 single. The infectious “Touch of Grey” spent sixteen weeks on the Cash Box Top 100 chart in the autumn of 1987, peaking at No. 17.

Merry Clayton’s “Yes” was included on the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing when it was released in the fall of 1987. The song was released as a single in 1988 and spent twelve weeks on the Cash Box chart but didn’t quite make the Top 40, peaking at No. 42.

Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night is a sweet album and remains one of my favorites by the group. It was Lindsey Buckingham’s last work with the band until Say You Will in 2003, and he took his leave with an album that grows on me more and more every time I hear it. The title tune, which came up during a random play for this list, is all right, but I would have preferred “Caroline” or “Seven Wonders.”

“Unchain My Heart” is the opener and the title track to Joe Cocker’s lively and accomplished album of late 1987. I’m not sure how many times Cocker had mounted a comeback by 1987, but the album was one of his better comeback efforts and this track is one of the best on the record. That’s Clarence Clemons taking the saxophone solo.

As always, bit rates may vary.

Thanks 100,000 times!
Back in late 1989, I had a Toyota station wagon that was approaching the 100,000-mile mark. As I drove home one November evening, I could tell that the car would be at 99,999.8 miles when I put it in the garage for the evening. So I drove an extra time around my block, watching the odometer move to 100,000 and beyond. It’s one of those things you don’t often see (although as automobiles last longer these days, I imagine it’s more common).

I felt a little bit then like I did yesterday afternoon when I refreshed the page here at Echoes In The Wind and saw that the number of visitors had changed from 99,999 to 100,000. Someone in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, was the 100,000th visitor here since February 1. It’s a number that boggles my mind, and I just want to thank that Dutch visitor, and everyone else who stops by, for visiting my little corner of the ’Net.

In My Little Pocket Of The ’Net

April 22, 2011

Originally posted June 15, 2007

It’s all too easy to feel old these days. And I fear it’s only going to get easier.

The Texas Gal and I have recently become involved with an on-line community called BookCrossing, a way to share books, essentially, with whoever might come along. We registered a few books with the site before we took our recent trip to Texas and left them along the way, in shopping malls, in restaurants, in motel lobbies and elsewhere.

Only one of them has showed up on line as having been found, a military novel that we left at a motel in Cameron, Missouri. Oddly enough, the woman who found it – and then went to the BookCrossing site to report her find – was also from Minnesota and brought the book back here before sending it to her son in Iraq.

Along with leaving books for others to find, the Texas Gal and I have begun meeting with other BookCrossing devotees once a month for evening coffee. . . .  There were nine of us this week when we met at a local coffee spot. The conversation stayed on books and plans for book-related events for a fairly long time, but, [with fellow blogger] Sean and I being who we are, our conversation eventually gravitated to music, as we discussed his work on a major research project and my own research and finds. I told him about a treasure trove of out-of-print recordings by Delaney & Bonnie and related musicians that I’d gotten from my Alabama friend Mitch. He whistled softly and said, “Oh, I’d like to hear some of that.”

And the faces of the younger couple on my right had blank looks. The names of Delaney & Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock and the rest of the Friends meant nothing to them. And why should they? It’s been more than thirty years since D&B and their friends were a vital part of American pop music, for more reasons than we really need to go into here. And for a moment, I felt like my father must have felt when he tried to explain to me how exciting it was during the early 1940s to hear a new Benny Goodman record.

(Should they read this, I’m not trying to make them feel bad and I hope they don’t. I’m more bemused than anything at the passage of time and at how I feel like I flip back and forth: When I’m writing here about the music that moves me, or when I’m sharing that same music here and at a couple of bulletin boards, I’m joined – in cyberspace, anyway – by thousands of folks who have similar tastes and memories. In my little pocket of the ’Net, it’s always 1975 or 1966 or whatever year I happen to be thinking about and writing about. Out in the world of coffee shops and gas stations and grocery stores, it’s very clearly 2007 and much of the music that moves me is no more than a vague idea to most people. That’s an interesting duality, one that reminds me more than a little bit of the duality between cyberlife and real life that Arthur C. Clarke predicted in two works that dealt with the same plot and the same theme: the 1953 novella Against The Fall of Night and the 1956 novel The City and the Stars. Some of Clarke’s ideas regarding the impact of technology on us and on our lives were so prescient that it’s spooky.)

Anyway, in my little pocket of the ’Net today, it’s 1970, and Merry Clayton has released her first solo album, Gimme Shelter. Clayton, of course, was the wailing back-up singer for the Rolling Stones when they recorded their version of “Gimme Shelter” for their Let It Bleed album in 1969. According to All-Music Guide, that work came not long after Clayton took part in the recording sessions for Dylan’s Gospel, an album by a group called The Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles. In 1970, as well as recording her debut solo album, Clayton provided backing vocals for B.B. King’s Indianola, Mississippi, Seeds album. The juxtapositions simply show that Clayton – whose most recent work listed at AMG includes supplying backing vocals for Joe Cocker’s 2007 release, Hymn For My Soul – is at home in a multiplicity of genres, including but certainly not limited to blues, rock and gospel.

Those three genres, along with R&B, are at the core of Gimme Shelter, an album that is criminally out of print. From the gospel-tinged “Country Roads,” the James Taylor-penned opener, through the Doors’ “Tell All The People,” the title cut of “Gimme Shelter” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and on to “Good Girls,” the R&B-tinged closer, Clayton shows a mastery of each and every genre. I only wish I had some information about the other musicians on the project. I got the album as a download from my friend babalu at a forum.

But at least I have the music.

Merry Clayton – Gimme Shelter [1970]

Track listing
Country Road
Tell All The People
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Gimme Shelter
I’ve Got Life
Here Come Those Heartaches Again
Forget It I Got It
You’ve Been Acting Strange
I Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Away
Good Girls

A personal note:
Today’s post is the 100th since I began this blog so tentatively in January. I have to say that I’m thrilled (and sometimes baffled) at the wide-ranging and positive response to my ideas and the music that I love. Thanks to all of you who stop by.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970, Vol. 2

April 22, 2011

Originally posted May 30, 2007

Every once in a while during the years this blog generally deals with – and I haven’t bothered to sit down and calculate how frequently this actually happened, so that generality will have to do – a song/record came along with an opening that was utterly electric.

I’m sure others had the experience, too: The first time you heard it, you stopped whatever it was you were doing and stared, thinking to yourself, “What in the world is that and how did they do that?” Then, if you’re like me, you went to the turntable and lifted the needle and started the song over again. Or, in at least one case long ago, I rewound the tape and started it again (the awkwardness of which taught me why tape was never going to replace vinyl; it was too painstaking to cue up one specific song). These days, of course, you don’t have to do anything but push the “back” button on the CD or mp3 player.

But no matter how you get back to them, there are songs that announce themselves with such force and vitality that they bring a moment of stunned silence and require a second playing immediately.

That experience came to mind this morning because of the presence on today’s Baker’s Dozen of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from Derek & the Dominos’ classic album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. The first time I heard the Eric Clapton-Bobby Whitlock tune was not, for good or ill, in its original context. I wrote in an earlier post about buying the 1972 compilation Eric Clapton At His Best, a compilation that led me to some of my favorite musicians. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” leads off the last side of that two-record set, and I recall jerking my head up as I heard the churning A-minor to G-major riff, followed by the surge of Whitlock’s organ and the wailing guitar lead.

That certainly wasn’t the first time a song announced itself with such power, but it’s a first listening I recall more clearly than most, and the song and the recording remain a favorite of mine to this day.

There is, of course, another song on Layla that announces itself with anthemic ferocity, but I don’t recall the first time I heard the album’s title song. Most likely it was soon after the album’s release in 1970, when “Layla,” the song, was released as a single but went nowhere. Certainly by the time the single was re-released two years later, it was a familiar piece of music, but familiarity didn’t – and still doesn’t – make the opening any less gripping.

A few others come to mind as well. Not all of them are on the same level as “Layla” or “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” but then, very few songs are. But some of the songs with, to me, memorable introductions are:

“One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” the Bob Dylan tune that comes from his classic Blonde on Blonde album. For some reason, the European edition of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits included this wonderful cut (I never did bother to figure out what recording from the American edition was left off the European version), and when it rolled around on my tape player one evening in Denmark, I sat straight up at the harmonica announcing itself over a rolling accompaniment.

“Question” by the Moody Blues. I love the madly strummed guitars, punctuated as they are by the thrusts of mellotron (I assume) and horns.*

“She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh” by Shawn Phillips. Unlike its title, this song – which opens Phillips’ 1970 album Second Contribution – proves that less is more. Phillips opens the song almost a capella, with only the distant rumble of (I think) tympani providing an accent. The sound of his voice is so distant as he begins to sing that the ear strains to hear and at the same time, the listener – this listener, anyway – marvels at his audacity in opening an album so quietly. (The song is, I imagine, colloquially known as “Woman.”)

“Photograph” by Ringo Starr has an opening figure that would sound like a fanfare – and almost a clichéd one at that – if it were performed by horns of any sort. On piano, it’s an effective and ear-catching entry to a nicely written and produced piece of popcraft (and it has one hell of a saxophone solo, too, performed by Bobby Keys, who at times seems to spell his last name “Keyes”).

I would guess that at least twenty songs by the Rolling Stones belong in this list. “Satisfaction” would likely be the earliest, although it’s never really grabbed me the way other songs listed here do. “Brown Sugar” starts with a bang, as does (appropriately) “Start Me Up.” For my nickel, though, the most gripping introduction to a Stones’ song comes from the chiming guitar that starts “Gimme Shelter.” Sly, spooky and from another world, the slowly layered introduction is perfect for a song about how the world has begun to fall apart around us and we’ve noticed it far too late.

Well, that’s five in addition to the two from Layla, and that’s likely enough for the day. I imagine that as soon as I post this, I’ll think of two or three others I should have listed instead. But that’s one of the joys of writing about music: Two lists on the same topic compiled at separate moments can be utterly different.

And I’d like to know, what are the intros that grab you? Leave a comment, if you would. And enjoy today’s Baker’s Dozen, our second exploration of the year 1970.

“Old Times, Good Times,” by Stephen Stills from Stephen Stills

“Factory Band” by Ides of March from Vehicle

“Poor Boy” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later

“Feelin’ Alright” by Lulu from New Routes

“Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” by Derek & the Dominos from Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

“Delta Lady” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen

“You and Me” by Aretha Franklin from Spirit In The Dark

“If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Rick Nelson from Rick Nelson In Concert (The Troubadour 1969)

“Sweet Peace Within” by Mylon Lefvre and Broken Heart from Mylon

“That’s A Touch I Like” by Jesse Winchester from Jesse Winchester

“Gypsy Queen, Part Two” by Gypsy from Gypsy

“Baby, Take Me In Your Arms” by Jefferson, Janus single 106

“Country Road” by Merry Clayton from Gimme Shelter

Some notes on some of the songs:

“Old Times Good Times” might have showed up on an earlier Baker’s Dozen, but it’s too good a song to click past. It’s from Stills’ first – and best – solo album, and Jimi Hendrix provided the guitar part.

According to All But Forgotten Oldies, Jefferson was the pseudonym for British-born pop star Geoff Turton. Prior to going solo, Turton had been the lead singer for the Rocking Berries, a 1960s British pop group. “Baby Take Me In Your Arms” reached No. 23 in the U.S.

Mylon Lefevre, whose “Sweet Peace Within” shows up here, began his musical career with his family’s Southern Gospel group at the age of 12. His work on Mylon with Broken Heart is among the best of his career although one can make an argument that 1973’s On The Road To Freedom – with British rocker Alvin Lee and a supporting cast of stellar sidemen – was better. Nevertheless, “Sweet Peace Within” is a very nice listen from a performer whose work seems to be forgotten these days.

Merry Clayton’s Gimme Shelter album is legendary, as is her scarifying background vocal on the Rolling Stones’ single of the same name. “Country Road,” written by James Taylor, is the album’s opening song and sets the stage for a spectacular solo debut.

*The mellontron/horns are only on the album version of “Question.” The single version, which I almost certainly heard first, has only strummed guitars and a bit of percussion leading to the vocal.  Note added April 22, 2011.

Digging A Bit Deeper In The Chart

July 7, 2010

A radio listener was doing pretty well forty years ago this week. As the month of July moved into its second week and a sixteen-year-old whiteray got ready for his four days of work at the state trapshoot, the radio supplied some good company. Here’s the Billboard Top Ten for the week ending July 11, 1970:

“Mama Told Me Not To Come” by Three Dog Night
“The Love You Save/I Found That Girl” by the Jackson 5
“Ball of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” by the Temptations
“Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image
“Band of Gold” by Freda Payne
“Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” by Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“The Long And Winding Road/For You Blue” by the Beatles
“The Wonder of You/Mama Liked The Roses” by Elvis Presley
“Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare

An interesting week in the Top Ten: A little bit of R&B, some folkie stuff, some mainstream pop-rock, some pure pop, a bombastic ballad from Elvis with a countryish flipside, a ballad from the Beatles with a three-chord blues on the flipside, and some Randy Newman surrealism filtered through Three Dog Night’s production values.

Things would get a little more interesting and surreal yet the next week when the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” moved up two places and took up residence at No. 9. By then, I think, I was spending ten hours a day in a gunproof blockhouse, loading targets onto a machine so men and women with shotguns could shoot the targets and win trophies, money and more guns. I didn’t mind; I got paid pretty well for a kid in 1970: $15 a day. The worst part was that the dust from the targets – made from some kind of brittle tarry substance – burned my face, and during the week after the trapshoot, the skin on my face would crinkle for a few days and then peel off in large chunks.

But during the week in question, the first full week in July, my skin was blissfully uncrinkled, and aside from chores at home – mowing the lawn, picking up sticks after storms, patrolling the yard for dandelions (all of which I could do with a transistor radio in my pocket and an earpiece in my ear) – my time was pretty much my own. And I got a lot of listening done, the vast majority of which came from the Top 40.

Had I dug a little deeper into the Billboard Hot 100, I would have found some interesting bits and pieces.

Sitting at No. 31 was the 5th Dimension’s cover of a Laura Nyro tune: “Save the Country.” In its fifth week in the Hot 100, the song was already the group’s thirteenth Top 40 hit (the final total would be twenty Top 40 hits) and was heading for its peak position of No. 27.

Moving out of the Top 40 and further down the Hot 100, we run into a Chicago soul group at No. 56. The Lost Generation’s “The Sly, Slick, And Wicked” would eventually rise to No. 30 on the pop chart and to No. 14 on the R&B chart. The record would also inspire separate groups in Cleveland and Los Angeles to name themselves “Sly, Slick & Wicked,” ensuring confusion for music researchers for years to come.

I never cared much for Kenny Rogers as a country singer, the niche he fell into in the late 1970s with “Lucille” and many more, including the execrable “Coward of the County.” But there’s no denying that most of his hit records with the First Edition – seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1970 – also had a country tinge to them. Looking at the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits this morning, the only one of the First Edition’s hits that didn’t have at least some kind of countryish feel was the trippy “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a No. 5 hit in 1968. Sitting at No. 65 during the second week of July 1970 was one of those records with a country/gospel feel to it. “Tell It All Brother” would eventually make its way up the chart to No. 17. (The video credits the recording to Rogers alone, but it was released under the name of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.)

As is pretty widely known, the female voice doing the high-pitched end-of-the-world vocals on the Rolling Stones’ track “Gimme Shelter” was that of Merry Clayton. One of the most active and sought-after background vocalists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Clayton also released three solo albums on the Ode label during the early years of the 1970s: Gimme Shelter in 1970 and Merry Clayton and Celebration in 1971. Ode would release another album, titled Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow in 1975 before Clayton moved to MCA for 1979’s Emotion and eventually to A&M for the 1994 Gospel CD, Miracles. But a lot of that was yet to come during this week in 1970, when the Ode single, “Gimme Shelter,” was sitting at No. 76. The record would peak a week later at No. 73 and would fall off the chart entirely during the next week.

And then we go from the horror of a world falling viciously apart to a sweet recording about an idyllic small town in California. Rita Abrams was a singer-songwriter who in1970 was teaching elementary school in the town of Mill Valley, California, located in Marin County about four miles north of San Francisco (via the Golden Gate Bridge). According to Wikipedia:

“On Christmas Day 1969, [Abrams] wrote a song about the town for her kindergarten class to sing. It was heard by record producer Erik Jacobsen, who recorded Adams with the children from the third grade class at the school, and took it to Warner Bros. Records where the label management ‘guys in suits stood up and gave it a standing ovation’. Released in June 1970 on the Reprise label, the record reached # 90 on the Billboard pop chart. Promotional photos of the singers were taken by Annie Liebowitz, and Abrams appeared on several networked TV shows and in national magazines, while also turning down an opportunity to advertise Jell-O. A performance for the Mill Valley Fourth of July celebration was filmed by Francis Ford Coppola, then a little-known documentary maker. Following the song’s success, Abrams, Jacobsen and the children recorded and released an album, entitled Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class as the children had by then moved up a grade. According to reviewer Greg Adams, ‘Only the most hard-hearted cynic could find no enjoyment in this minor masterpiece of early-’70s soft pop.’”

And here’s “Mill Valley” by Miss Abrams and the Strawberry Point Third Grade Class: