Posts Tagged ‘Rare Earth’

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.

Saturday Single No. 481

January 23, 2016

It’s time to go digging in the Billboard pop charts in search of a single for a Saturday morning. Six times during the years that generally interest us here, the magazine has put out its weekly pop chart on January 23. So we’re going to look at those charts, check out which single was at No. 23, and then choose one of those for our weekly treat.

Along the way, as we generally do, we’ll check out the No. 1 single for each week.

We’ll start back before the Space Age began, in January 1957. “I Dreamed” by Betty Johnson sat at No. 23, on its way to No. 9. It’s a peppy love song in which the singer has fantastic dreams and realizes that they all lead back to her guy. It was Johnson’s biggest hit in a chart career that lasted from 1956 into 1960. Three of her other titles hit the Top 40: “Little White Lies” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1957; “The Little Blue Man,” a novelty record, went to No. 17 in early 1958; and “Dream” went to No. 19 later that year. Sitting at No. 1 fifty-nine years ago today, in the ninth week of an eventual ten weeks at the top, was “Singing The Blues” by Guy Mitchell.

Sitting at No. 23 on this date in 1961 was Dion’s “Lonely Teenager,” heading down the chart after peaking at No. 12. With the Belmonts and on his own, Dion racked up thirty-nine singles in or near the Hot 100 (well, it was still called the “Top 100” when the first single hit) between 1958 and 1989. And he’s still working: I saw on his Facebook page that his new album, New York Is My Home, will come out next month. (The video for the title track, which he recorded with Paul Simon, is here.) And during this week in 1961, Bert Kaempfert’s “Wonderland By Night” was in the last of its three weeks at No. 1.

When we get to 1965, we find the Shangri-Las at No. 23 with “Give Him A Great Big Kiss.” The follow-up to the No. 1 hit from late 1964, “Leader Of The Pack,” “Great Big Kiss” was on its way to No. 18. The quartet from Queens would end up with thirteen records in or near the Hot 100 between 1964 and 1967, three of them in the Top Ten: “Leader Of The Pack,” “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” (No. 5 in 1964), and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (No. 6 in 1965). Perched at No. 1 fifty-one years ago today, in the first week of a two-week stay, was Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”

Rare Earth was sitting at No. 23 in the Hot 100 from January 23, 1971, with “Born To Wander” making its way to No. 17. The record was the fourth of an eventual dozen in or near the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1978 for the Detroit group. Three of the group’s records made the Top Ten: In 1970, a live version of “Get Ready” went to No. 4 and “(I Know) I’m Losing You” went to No. 7; in 1971, “I Just Want To Celebrate” also peaked at No. 7. The No. 1 record as my senior year of high school hit the halfway point was Dawn’s “Knock Three Times,” in the first of three weeks in the top spot.

It took another eleven years before a Billboard chart came out on January 23, and, as this blog has often noted, my life and music had changed a fair amount by 1982. Parked at No. 23 on this date in that year was Billy Joel’s “She’s Got A Way,” which would go no further up the chart. Plenty of Joel’s work did go higher, of course, as he collected twenty-three Top Twenty singles among his forty-two records in or near the Hot 100 between 1974 and 1997. The No. 1 record thirty-four years ago today was Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” in the last of its ten weeks atop the chart.

We don’t often venture into the late 1980s here, and it was nice to find an old friend sitting at No. 23 on this date in 1988: “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac, was heading up to a peak at No. 14, just one of twenty-eight singles the Mac placed in or near the chart between 1969 and 2003. It was the sixteenth and final Top 20 hit (so far) for the group. The No. 1 record twenty-eight years ago today was Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

So we have six to choose from, five of which I know well. If Betty Johnson’s “I Dreamed” had been a little less frothy, I might have gone that direction. I’ve never like the Shangri-Las all that much, and the Dion single is not among my favorites from him. Nor do I care much for Joel’s “She’s Got A Way.” That leaves Fleetwood Mac and Rare Earth as choices. Well, I like both singles, but the Mac has shown up in this blog about twenty-five times and Rare Earth less than five. (I have to estimate because the archival site, sadly, is still not finished.) So we’ll go with the group less featured.

That means that Rare Earth’s “Born To Wander” – a record I like plenty enough – is today’s Saturday Single:

Garage Paintin’ Music

August 10, 2012

I suppose it might have been in July, but I think it was a sunny morning in August 1970 when my dad presented me with a couple of paintbrushes, some turpentine, some rags and a couple of gallons of white paint. The west side of the garage needed painting.

Actually, I imagine the entire garage needed painting and he was presenting me with the west side as a test: The south side of the garage was fronted by rose bushes, the east side held a door and a window and had a begonia bed in front of it, and the north side had the overhead door. If I could handle a blank wall without mishap, I might be trustworthy enough to be let loose on one of the other three sides. I was not, one might guess, particularly adept at handyman-type chores.

Why do I think it was August? Because as well as the paint, the brushes, the turpentine and the rags, I took with me out to the garage that morning my RCA radio, the one that had been my grandfather’s, the one I’d brought up from the basement about a year earlier as I answered the siren call of Top 40 music. I opened the overhead door, ran an extension cord around to the back of the garage and provided myself with some entertainment as I painted.

And one of the records I heard that morning on the Twin Cities’ KDWB was one of my favorites at the time, a record that was sitting at No. 19 forty-two years ago this week: the “Overture From Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. (It still is a favorite of mine; when it popped up the other week on the mp3 player in the kitchen, I found myself doing one of my unorthodox kitchen dances, using a soup ladle as a mallet for air chimes when the real chimes come in at the forty-nine second mark.)

I recall bobbing my head to the record as I painted that morning, happily refraining from using my paint-laden brush as an air chimes mallet or a conductor’s baton. I was trying to be responsible and careful as I worked. Nevertheless, by the end of the morning, when I had finished the job, there were a few spatters of white paint on the radio’s brown casing, spots that were still there when the radio was removed from the basement (where I placed it after getting an AM/FM radio) in 2004.

Along with checking where “Overture From Tommy” sat forty-two years ago this week, I took a deeper look this morning at the Billboard Hot 100 from August 15, 1970. Usually, of course, I’m looking for obscure singles, records that pretty much stayed at the bottom of the chart. But this morning, I thought I’d look for records that were favorites of mine at the time, records I was likely to have heard that morning as I painted the garage.

Heading down only a little to No. 22, we find “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. I’ve mentioned the record numerous times during the past five-plus years, but it’s here again because it mattered to me. I’d be a high school senior in less than a month, and the following summer, after I graduated, I knew my folks would expect me to find some kind of summer job. Yes, I was doing chores during that summer of 1970, and I did spend four days working at the state trap shoot at the nearby gun club, but for the most part, that summer was mine. And “Are You Ready” is a record that over the years has come to be a defining sound of that last free summer.

At the time, being a relatively recent convert to the Church of 45s, I don’t know that I’d ever heard of “Duke of Earl,” Gene Chandler’s classic No. 1 hit from 1962. Early in my senior year, I would come across a slender paperback, The Poetry of Rock, in which Richard Goldstein gathered and commented on rock and pop lyrics he thought significant. Among the lyrics in that book were those to “Duke of Earl.” But it took me years to connect the Gene Chandler mentioned as the singer of “Duke of Earl” in Goldstein’s book to the Gene Chandler whose “Groovy Situation” was sitting at No. 36 as I painted, heading to No. 11 on the pop chart (and No. 8 on the R&B chart, about which I know I was utterly unaware). I had much to learn. But I liked “Groovy Situation,” and that was a start.

Despite being clueless about the origins and background of much of the music I heard coming from that old RCA radio, I was developing – via the commentary of my friends, a little bit of reading in music magazines and the shifting sands of my own tastes – a sense not only of what I liked but of what was, for the lack of a better word at the moment, valuable. I knew the difference between Bob Dylan and Bobby Sherman, and I would spend much of my life digging into the work of the former and forgetting about the latter. Nevertheless, one of the records I was glad to hear coming out of the radio that morning was “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman, which was sitting at No. 38 on its way to No. 5. Why? Well, it was romantic adolescent pop, and I was a romantic adolescent. In memory, it doesn’t hurt that there would actually be a Julie during my senior year, one whose charms I noticed but whose interest in me I absolutely missed.

The concept of groups covering other performers’ earlier hits was also something I had to assimilate. The previous autumn – as I’ve related here before – I quite liked “Birthday,” the No. 26 hit by Underground Sunshine, and when confronted some months later by the Beatles’ version from the White Album, I wondered  (without, thankfully, expressing the thought to my friends) why the Beatles had recorded another group’s song. With some exceptions, my knowledge of pop music as I painted the garage still started with the late summer of 1969. So if Rare Earth’s trippy cover of the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You” came through the speakers that sunny morning, I would have had no awareness that there had been an earlier, earthier version of the song that had gone to No. 8 (No. 1 R&B) in 1966. All I knew was that I liked the record, which was sitting at No. 47 that week, on its way to No. 7, and I certainly didn’t realize that the trippiness I liked would eventually trap Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You” in that specific time.

In the song “Yellow River,” Tony Christie – billed on the label as just Christie – sings about coming home from war:

So long, boy, you can take my place
Got my papers, I got my pay
So pack my bags and I’ll be on my way to Yellow River

Put my gun down, the war is won
Fill my glass high, the time has come
I’m going back to the place that I love: Yellow River

A note at Wikipedia says that Christie wrote the song from the viewpoint of a Confederate soldier returning from the U.S. Civil War, but I have a sense that a lot of folks who listened to Christie’s words in 1970 heard the story of a soldier coming home from Vietnam instead. “Yellow River” was sitting at No. 80 forty-two years ago this week and would eventually climb to No. 23, and as often as I would hear the song that late summer and autumn, I don’t think I ever listened closely enough to hear either the story that Christie intended nor the parallel tale that must have echoed in the record’s chords for thousands of Americans who were not all that much older than I was when I was painting the garage.

Here’s To The Kiddie Corner Kid

December 21, 2011

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.