Saturday, November 29, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


For this 10-year-old Dallas Cowboys fan, this year was THE year the team finally won it all, defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. Had I been an adult at the time, I probably would have been mortified by the appointment of former SS guard Kurt Waldheim as Secretary General of the United Nations. January also brought multi-billionaire Howard Hughes out of his own hideaway as he – via telephone hookup – denounced Clifford Irving’s autobiography of Hughes. Although Irving was forever branded a fraud, history tells us he wasn’t that far off in his assessment of the physically and mentally challenged tycoon.

In the Movies, the Godfather was all the rage as it became cool to be a gangster again. But Richard Nixon took it too far as in May; the break-in in the Watergate Hilton Hotel soon became the story that took down his administration.

This was the year that Jane Fonda toured North Vietnam, becoming the latest in a growing list of “useful idiots” who know not what harm they do. That summer, Democrats commited mass suicide as they nominated George McGovern as their Presidential candidate, along with Thomas Eagleton for Veep. Eagleton would soon be removed from the ticket as it becomes known that he suffered from “manic depression" and had "suicidal tendencies."

But the true black mark on 1972 was on September 5th and 6th, when 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and subsequently slaughtered by Arab terrorists during the Summer Olympics in Munich. Of course, since the dead athletes were only Jews, the games went on.

Brandy - Looking Glass

Lead singer and guitarist Elliot Lurie wrote this song based on a girl he knew. He made up the story about falling in love with a sailor who cannot be with her because he loves the sea. The band was signed by Clive Davis, a legendary record executive who has nurtured the careers of many successful artists, including Santana, Billy Joel and Whitney Houston. Davis has a knack for knowing a hit song when he hears one, but he got this one wrong, releasing it as the B-side of their song "Don't It Make You Feel Good." Harv Moore, a disc jockey in Washington DC, flipped the record and played "Brandy" instead. It became very popular in the DC area, and quickly spread nationwide. This was not typical of the band's sound, which caused a problem at concerts. While audiences expected Pop songs like this, the Looking Glass played Rock, which left the crowds disappointed. The band broke up less than 2 years later.

Alone Again (Naturally) - Gilbert O'Sullivan

This was Irish singer Gilbert O'Sullivan's only American #1. It sold 2 million copies, spent 6 weeks at the summit in America and earned him 3 Grammy Award nominations (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year). It was the second best-selling single of the year in America behind Don McLean's "American Pie.” This is a rather sad tale of the lonely, suicidal subject of the song being left at the altar and then telling the listener about the death of his parents. O'Sullivan has denied that this song is autobiographical or about the death of his father when he was 11. O'Sullivan said: "Everyone wants to know if it's an autobiographical song, based on my father's early death. Well, the fact of the matter is, I didn't know my father very well, and he wasn't a good father anyway. He didn't treat my mother very well." In the first half of the '70s O'Sullivan enjoyed a succession of hits in the UK including 2 #1s. They were "Clair," which was inspired by the daughter of his manager Gordon Mills, 3-year-old Clair Mills, whom O'Sullivan baby-sat. The other one was "Get Down," which was a plea to his dog to get down off the furniture. He was the first Irish recording artist to have 2 UK #1 hits. In 1982 O'Sullivan took Mills to court over his original contract, ultimately winning back the master tapes to his recordings as well as the copyrights to his songs. Nine years later in 1991, O'Sullivan went to court again to sue the rapper Biz Markie, who used an unauthorized sample from this song in his track "Alone Again," which appeared on Markie's third album, I Need A Haircut. The judge made a landmark ruling in O'Sullivan's favor that the rapper's unauthorized sample was in fact theft. From this point on, artists had to clear samples or be subject to costly lawsuits.

Sandman America

Sons of American fathers and British mothers, their fathers being military personnel stationed at the USAF installation at RAF West Ruislip, London, the three original members of America – Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek – met while playing for different local bands. After Peek left for the United States for an abortive attempt at college in 1969, he returned to the UK the following year, the three hooked up and began to collaborate on making music. Starting out with borrowed acoustic guitars, they developed a sound which incorporated three-part vocal harmony in the vein of contemporary folk-rock acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Eventually the trio dubbed themselves America, honoring the name of the homeland they had hardly ever seen during their many travels around the world. The liner notes to the 1975 compilation album History- America's Greatest Hits, state the band took their name while listening to an Americana juke box. They played their first gigs in pubs and clubs in the London area, including some highlights at the Roundhouse, where Pink Floyd had played at the beginning of its career. Their first LP was produced by Ian Samwell, best known as Cliff Richard's lead guitarist and the writer of his 1958 breakthrough hit, "Move It". Jeff Dexter, Ian's roommate and a fixture in the London music scene, co produced the album and became the trio's manager. Dexter also gave them their 1st major gig, December 20, 1970, at "Implosion" at the The Roundhouse Chalk Farm as the opening act to The Who, Elton John, Patto and The Chalk Farm Salvation Army Band & Choir for a Christmas charity event. Although the trio initially envisioned recording the album along the lines of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Samwell steered them toward perfecting their acoustic style instead. The album, simply titled America, was released in 1971 to only moderate success, although it took off in Holland where Dexter had taken them as a training ground to hone their stagecraft. Samwell and Dexter subsequently brought the trio to Morgan Studios to record several additional songs. One of them was a piece written by Bunnell called "Desert Song", which Dexter previously demoed during studio rehearsals in Puddletown, Dorset at the home of Arthur 'God of Hellfire' Brown. The song had its public debut at The Harrogate Festival, four days later, to great audience response. After several performances and a TV show, it was re-titled "A Horse with No Name". The song became a major worldwide hit in early 1972. America's debut album was re-released with the hit song newly added, and quickly went platinum. The album spawned a second major chart hit with Beckley's "I Need You", which peaked at #9 on the U.S. charts. “Sandman,” while not officially released as a single, received significant airplay (and still does) because it was on the flip side of “Horse” and was included in their first “Greatest Hits” package.

Sauvecito – Malo

Malo was a Latin tinged rock and roll group. The San Francisco, California based ensemble was led by Jorge Santana, the brother of famed Latin-Rock guitarist, Carlos Santana. Four of the original members (Santana, Garcia, Tellez, and Bean) were previously in a band called the Malibu's. The other three founding members (Abel Zarate, Roy Murray, and Richard Spremich) were in a band called Naked Lunch together. The band had a huge Top 20 hit single with this song that was written by timbale player Richard Bean, who initially wrote it as a poem for a girl in his high school algebra class. The song has been called "The Chicano National Anthem" and was arranged for Malo by Richard Bean, bassist Pablo Tellez, and Abel Zarate. Tellez and Zarate also received co-author credits on Suavecito. In addition, guitarist Abel Zarate gave Malo a distinctive two-guitar sound, with intricate harmony and dual solos the norm. The band featured full horn and percussion sections, in the style of contemporary bands Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago and others. Some of the best musicians in the bay area played in Malo, including Forrest Buchtel, Jr., Ron Smith, Luis Gasca, and Tom Harrell in the trumpet section. Malo's music also had a huge following in Central and South America, especially the songs "Chevere", "Nena", "Pana", "Cafe" and "Oye Mama". After the release of its first album, Malo had a well-documented rift that saw the group eliminate many of its band members. Buchtel went on to play with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Jaco Pastorius and Woody Herman - Harrell has become one of the most lyrical trumpet soloists of all-time, working often with saxophonist Phil Woods. Abel Zarate went on to play with Latin-jazz legend Willie Bobo and continues to play Latin/Brazilian Global jazz in San Francisco with his group Zarate Pollace Project. Richard Bean formed the group "Sapo" with his brother Joe, and is still touring throughout Northern California. Jorge Santana has embarked on a solo career, and still plays frequently with the current Malo band. Malo is also still touring, with only two of the original members, including Arcelio Garcia Jr., who took over the band in the late '70s.

Heart Of Gold - Neil Young

This song is one of a series of soft, acoustic pieces which Young wrote partly as a result of a back injury. Unable to stand for long periods of time, he could not play his electric guitar and so returned to his acoustic guitar, which he could play sitting down. Originally, this song was meant to segue with the song "A Man Needs a Maid", and was therefore played on piano. It was played in this manner during Young's solo shows in 1971, but he abandoned this approach midway through the tour and began to play it on guitar as it is now known. Additionally, one line that was cut when the two songs became separate entities was "Afraid/A man feels afraid." An example of the segued version appears on Young's Live at Massey Hall 1971 release. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backup, though they don't come in until the end of the song. In 1999, Young used the guitar riff again on CSN&Y's "Slowpoke." After “Heart of Gold” topped the chart, in March, America’s “Horse with No Name” followed to the top spot for the next three weeks. Many record buyers were confused as they thought both songs were performed by the same singer. Dewey Bunnell often credited some of the commercial success of “Horse with No Name” to this phenomena, but also accepts the fact that both their voices were similar and he never tried to change it to sound more like Neil Young.

I Saw the Light – Todd Rundgren

This song is about a mixed-up young man, perhaps a teenage boy, who stumbles into his first affair and doesn't know if he loves the girl. This was the first song on the album. According to the liner notes of Something/Anything?, Rundgren thought it would be a hit, so he placed it first just like Motown used to do with their records. Rundgren began his career in Woody's Truck Stop, a Philadelphia-based group created on the model of Paul Butterfield Blues Band. However, he wanted to pursue a more pop/rock-oriented sound and left the band to form the garage rock group Nazz in 1967. The group gained minor recognition with the songs "Open My Eyes" and "Hello It's Me" (#41 Canada) - (He later recorded a solo, uptempo version of "Hello It's Me"; it became a Top Ten hit and remains one of his signature songs). After a moderately successful solo career, Rundgren established a band called Utopia. This band featured an interesting character completely disguised in a silver suit, M. Frog Labat (Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi) on synthesizers, who also put out his own electronics/keyboards-based solo album. In late 2005, rumors began circulating that The Cars were planning to re-form despite bass player Benjamin Orr's death and the oft-mentioned refusal of former lead singer Ric Ocasek to even consider any reunion. Eventually it was revealed that The New Cars were to complete their lineup with veteran bass player and former Rundgren bandmate Kasim Sulton and studio drummer Prairie Prince of The Tubes, who had played on XTC's Rundgren-produced Skylarking and who has recorded and toured with Rundgren. They were joined by original Cars band members Elliot Easton and Greg Hawkes. The New Cars' first single, "Not Tonight," was released on March 20, 2006. A portion of the song is featured on a promotional teaser for the band online. A live album/greatest hits collection, The New Cars: It's Alive, was released in June, 2006. The album includes classic Cars songs (and two Rundgren hits) recorded live plus three new studio tracks.

(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All – The Fifth Dimension

In the early 1960s, Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo, a former beauty pageant winner, got together with two other friends from Los Angeles, Harry Elston and Floyd Butler to form a group called the Hi-Fis. In 1963, they sang at local clubs while taking lessons from a vocal coach. In 1964, they came to the attention of Ray Charles, who took them on tour with him the following year. He produced a single by the group, "Lonesome Mood", a jazz-type song that gained local attention. However, internal disagreements caused Butler and Elston to go their own way, eventually leading to their organizing the Friends of Distinction. Lamonte sought to form another group and started looking for members to join him and McCoo. One was Florence LaRue, who had received training as a youngster in singing, dancing and violin, and who also won the talent portion, as McCoo had the year prior, at Miss Bronze California. About the same time she was approached to join the group, Lamonte recruited an old friend of his, Ron Townson, who at age six had started singing in choirs and gospel groups in his hometown of St. Louis. Lamonte's cousin, Billy Davis Jr., started singing in gospel choirs at an early age. He later saved enough money to buy a cocktail lounge in St. Louis, which he used as a base for experimenting with various musical groups. When he was asked to join his cousin's new group, he immediately said yes and the rest became music history. Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, "Up, Up and Away", a top 10 hit in mid-1967, which won five Grammy Awards. After a number of top 40 hits, the band reached gold again with “(Last Night) I didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” which reached number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who married in 1969, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. They went on to have success singing as a duo after leaving the group in 1975, including the chart-topper “You Don’t Have to be a Star (to be in my show).” In the following years, Davis and McCoo started in their own television variety show and soon she was hosting the very popular series Solid Gold. In 2002, the Fifth Dimension were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Oh Girl – The Chi-Lites

This was written and sung by group leader Eugene Record. The other three Chi-Lites contributed a few wordless harmonies and one line per verse. Of the many cover versions (by Paul Young, Leo Sayer, Smokey Robinson among others), nearly everyone swipes the harmonica part, proof of how key it is to the song's arrangement. According to the Independent newspaper from July 25, 2005, Eugene Record initially dismissed this song. Record is quoted as saying, "I gave Carl Davis 7 songs on a tape and he called me to say there's a #1 tune on there. I named them all before 'Oh Girl' and I thought he was kidding." Formed out of Chicago, the Chi-Lites were heavily influenced by the other popular Motown groups of the day, most notable the Four Tops and the Temptations. However, they never signed with the famous Detroit record company and it took them many years to finally breakthrough. In 1968, they signed with Brunswick Records, whose creative side was headed by an established Chicago-based producer Carl Davis. He had been brought in by Brunswick a couple of years earlier to revive the label, including Jackie Wilson's recording career. Davis and Record initially worked together on producing the group and early the following year, "Give It Away" became their first national hit single, reaching number ten on the U.S. R&B chart. Despite the moderate success of "Let Me Be the Man My Daddy Was," the group was not able to deliver another big hit until "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" climbed into the R&B Top Ten in early 1971. That release began a string of ten Top Ten hits that ran intermittently over the next four years, which included “Oh Girl” and “Have You Seen Her,” which was covered by MC Hammer in 1990 and reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Chi-Lites were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005, shortly before Eugene Record died after a long bout with cancer.

Day After Day – Badfinger

Badfinger was a formed in Swansea, Wales in the early 1960s and was one of the earliest representatives of the power pop genre. During the early 1970s the band was tagged as the heir apparent to The Beatles, partly because of their close working relationship with the 'Fab Four' and partly because of their similar sound. However, Badfinger fell victim to some of the worst elements of the music industry, resulting in its two principal singers and songwriters committing suicide in 1975 and 1983. As a well-received stage act on the London circuit, performing a wide range of covers from Motown, blues, soul to Top 40, psychedelic pop, and Beatles, The band (originally named the Iveys) consistently garnered interest from record labels. Ray Davies of The Kinks auditioned to produce them by recording three of their songs at a demo studio in London. However, it was not until Mal Evans, the longtime "roadie" for The Beatles and an employee of their Apple Records label, took up their cause that they were finally signed to a label - Apple – in July, 1968, the first artists signed to the label. Griffiths later said in a Mojo magazine interview: "The ultimate goal was to get a recording contract, but to get one from Apple was really exciting. Yet we were still living at Golders Green, getting £8 a week each." Mal Evans had pushed several demo tapes of the group to each of the individual Beatles and got approval for signing them from Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon, who couldn't believe they were recorded on a sound-on-sound 2-track tape recorder. Each of The Iveys was also signed to Apple Corps' Apple Publishing. In October 1969, while the release of "Come and Get It" was pending, the band and Apple Records agreed that a name change was critical. "The Iveys" were still sometimes confused with "The Ivy League", and the name was considered too trite for the current music scene. After much debate, the group changed their name to Badfinger. Other suggestions had included: "The Glass Onion," "The Prix", and "The Cagneys" from John Lennon, and "Home" by Paul McCartney. After a series of successful hits, Badfinger released “Day After Day” in December 1971 and it became their biggest hit. Although the band eventually moved away from Apple and its troubled management, they signed with Warner Brothers in 1974. However, due to major infighting amongst the band, and their labels, production of their debut WB album Wish You Were Here was shelved before it ever hit the market, thus ending the band’s career. On April 24, 1975, lead guitarist and singer Pete Ham hanged himself in his garage studio in Surrey. His suicide note, addressed to his girlfriend and her son, seemed to blame Stan Polley, the band’s manager, for much of his internal despair and he cited his lost ability to cope with his disappointments in life. The note read: "Anne, I love you. Blair, I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me." Ham had shown a growing mental illness over the past months as he burned cigarettes out on his hands and arms. Ham's daughter Petera was born a month after his death. On November 19, 1983, Band members Tom Evans and Joey Molland had an extensive heated argument on the telephone regarding past Badfinger income still in escrow from the Apple era, and some songwriting royalties Evans was now receiving, which Molland, former manager Bill Collins and Gibbins all wanted a share in. Following this argument, Evans hanged himself in the garden at his home.

How Do You Do? – Mouth & Macneal

Mouth & MacNeal was a pop duo from The Netherlands. They were formed in 1971 when record producer Hans van Hemert brought together the solo talents of Big Mouth (born Willem Duyn, March 31, 1937) and Maggie MacNeal (born Sjoukje van't Spijker, May 5, 1950) together. Big Mouth had previously sung in a number of 1960s bands, including Speedway. In contrast, MacNeal had had an unsuccessful career as a solo artist. The duo released their first single almost immediately, "Hey You Love", which reached #5 in the Dutch Top 40 while the next two singles "How Do You Do" and "Hello-A" both reached #1. In 1972, Mouth & MacNeal reached the top of the charts all over Europe, with their fame (especially in Germany) reaching almost hysterical proportions. "How Do You Do" was made popular in the United States by the Boston-radio personality Jim Connors. The song eventually reached #8 in the U.S. in July 1972. This propelled their 1972 album How Do You Do into the Billboard 200 (US #77). More hit singles followed in 1973, and in 1974 Mouth & MacNeal represented the Netherlands in the Eurovision Song Contest placing third, behind ABBA and Gigliola Cinquetti with their song "I See a Star", which went on to be a #1 hit in Ireland. In December 1974, shortly after their success with "I See a Star", Mouth and MacNeal suddenly parted ways. Big Mouth and his wife Ingrid Kup continued and formed the act Big Mouth & Little Eve, whereas Maggie MacNeal went back to solo performing. "Big Mouth" Willem Duyn died from a heart attack in his hometown of Roswinkel on December 4, 2004 at the age of 67

Bonus Track

Day By Day – Godspell

Godspell was a musical created by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. It opened off Broadway on May 17, 1971, and has played in various touring companies and revivals many times since. Several cast albums have been released over the years and this song from the original cast album, reached #13 on the Billboard pop singles chart in the summer of 1972. I list this song, not because of it’s religious message, but because of the pure beauty and innocence of this classic.


Allison Guerriero said...

OH....bringing me back to ny childhood. Brandy. Alone Again. Oh Girl...these were on the radio constantly for the first ten years of my life and I still love them!

Allison Guerriero said...

OH....bringing me back to ny childhood. Brandy. Alone Again. Oh Girl...these were on the radio constantly for the first ten years of my life and I still love them!

Anonymous said...

I was 2 when these came out. Somehow, having parents as old as dirt, I thought all of these songs were older than they were. And sadly, I always thought Alone Again was a BeeGees tune.
And despite the fact that people like to ridicule Horse with No Name for having, allegedly, the worst lyrics ever... it was always my favorite.
"In the desert you can't remember your name cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain." This song always seemed to be on when someone decided that my name was a cuss word with relish. It was nice to know that someone else was kinda feeling the same way... even if I didn't get the rest of the song.