Saturday, December 27, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year

1974

This year will forever be remembered for one thing, the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Musically, the year was noted for the abundant number of “story” songs that came out. Singer-songwriters were all the rage as well and it seemed that the Grammy Awards could not get enough of Stevie Wonder.

In sports, UCLA's college basketball team was finally defeated by none other than Notre Dame. The Bruins had won a record 88 straight games – spanning over 3 years. The Pittsburgh Steelers finally win a championship in just their 41 st year in the NFL. In baseball, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves breaks Babe Ruth's home run record, by hitting his 715th career home run off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing and The Cleveland Indians stage an ill-advised Ten Cent Beer Night for a game against the Texas Rangers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cleveland forfeits after alcohol-fueled mayhem and violence spreads from the stands onto the field. Also, millions tune into ABC's Wide World of Sports as Stuntman Evel Knievel fails in his attempt to rocket across the Snake River Canyon in Idaho .

Aside from Watergate, other stories in the news included the kidnapping and subsequenbt brainwashing of socialite (and heir to the Hearst fortune) Patty Heart, by members of the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army. In April, the largest series of tornadoes in history, hits 13 U.S. states and one Canadian province. By the time the last of 149 tornadoes hit early the following morning, 315 die and over 5,000 are injured.

Angie Baby - Helen Reddy

This was Reddy's third major hit, and one of the more memorable ones. It seems to be about this oddball girl who can't face reality and may be going insane, yet no one is certain what it's about, and Reddy herself refuses to comment, saying that she enjoys hearing other listeners' interpretations. This particularly applies to the end of the song, where this local boy makes the moves on Angie and vanishes.

Cat's In The Cradle - Harry Chapin

The lyrics to the verses of the song were originally written as a poem by Chapin's wife, Sandy, who is credited as the song's co-writer. The poem itself was inspired by the awkward relationship between Sandy Chapin's first husband, James Cashmore, and his father, a New York City politician. She was also inspired by a country song she heard on the radio. More than a year later, after the birth of his own son, Harry added the music and the chorus. Label executive David Geffen selected the song as a single, over Chapin's objections.

Lonely People – America

Following two hugely successful albums, America hit a wall when their single, “Muskrat Love” failed to hit the top 10. The album it came from, Hat Trick , while loved by the band's followers, also failed to generate any commercial success. So, in order to return top their hit making ways, the band enlisted the assistance af legendary Beatles producer George Martin. The first collaboration between them was the top 5 album Holiday , which included two top 5 singles, “Lonely People” and “Tin Man. ” “Lonely People” was written by Dan Peek, who was one of the 3 original members of band. Many of Peek's compositions show a very spiritual and searching side and "Lonely People," a call for the lonely and despairing to seek God, is one of those songs and easily his best-known. Peek left the band in 1977 to focus on his faith, and since leaving America, he has performed this song live with little doubt left in the chorus as to what he means, singing "Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup and give your heart to Jesus Christ." Since leaving America , Peek has enjoyed moderate success as a Christian-music artist as well as author of the book, “ An American Band – The America Story .”

Nothin' From Nothin' - Billy Preston

Preston started writing this one night in the dressing room of an Atlanta nightclub where he was performing. He wanted to write a song based on the saying, "Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” Preston started off at the age of 10 playing keyboards for Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. Later he joined Ray Charles touring band before recording with The Beatles on several of their tracks including "Get Back" and "Let It Be" (The Beatles considered him to be the 5th Beatle). He also played on a number of Sly & The Family Stone recordings. Preston went on to have a successful solo career with 5 Top-10 US hits. In 1997, he was sent to prison on drug charges. He died in 2006 at age 59.

Then Came You - Warwick & Spinners

Released during a time that Warwick 's chart fortunes were at an ebb after moving to Warner Bros. Records in the early-1970s, the Philadelphia soul single was a rare mid-1970s success for the singer. Sung as a duet with Bobby Smith and the Spinners, who were one of the most popular groups of the decade, the song became Warwick's first ever single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and also became her highest-charting R&B record reaching number two on that chart. It was also the first number-one pop hit for the Spinners. "Then Came You" is tied with the record that preceded it at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, "Nothing From Nothing" by Billy Preston, for the biggest fall from number one in the history of the Hot 100. Both "Nothing From Nothing" and "Then Came You" spent only one week at number one and then dropped all the way to number 15 the week afterward.

You Haven't Done Nothin' - Stevie Wonder

Fulfillingness' First Finale is a landmark album by Stevie Wonder, released in 1974. It was the fourth of five consecutive albums widely hailed as his "classic period", along with Music of My Mind , Talking Book , Innervisions , and Songs in the Key of Life . Subsequent to the epic sweep and social consciousness of Innervisions , this set projected a reflective, decidedly somber tone. The musical arrangements used in several songs while masterful could be considered sparse in comparison to others among his 70s masterworks, evident especially in the bleak "They Won't Go When I Go" and understated "Creepin'". While largely a stripped down, more personal sounding record, Wonder had not completely foregone commentary on the world around him. This song is an angry acidic attack on US President Richard Nixon, who 2 weeks after the release of Fufillingness' First Finale resigned over the Watergate scandal and left the White House in disgrace. The doo wop backing vocals are by Stevie Wonder's Tamla labelmates The Jackson 5.

The Night Chicago Died - Paper Lace

This tells a story about notorious gangster Al Capone and his men having a shootout out with the police. The story was made up and was factually incorrect. For instance, there is no “east side of Chicago ” (that would be Lake Michigan ). However, many people considered tjhis a re-enatment of the famous St. Valentime's Day Massacre. It wasn't. Paper Lace's previous release was "Billy Don't Be A Hero." It topped the UK charts, but they had to watch as Bo Donaldson And The Heywood's cover version reach #1 in the US . This gave them a hit both sides of the Atlantic .

Side Show - Blue Magic

Blue Magic was formed in Philadelphia in 1972 when former member of The Delfonics, Randy Cain brought singer-songwriter Ted Mills in to do some writing with the Philly-based WMOT production company and a short time later, the group Shades of Love, featuring Keith Beaton, Richard Pratt, Vernon Sawyer and his brother Wendell, came in for an audition. According to Marc Taylor, in his book A Touch of Classic Soul of the Early 1970's , "although the group performed admirably, they lacked a standout lead singer and WMOT execs decided to put Mills with the Shades of Love and renamed the group Blue Magic. They were signed with Atco/Atlantic Records in the same year." Blue Magic were one of the earliest acts produced by Norman Harris, a Philadelphia records veteran. The group's harmonies were supported by the MFSB house band. The band has shared the stage with some of the greatest R&B performers in history, as well as sung background vocals for Alyson Williams and the Rolling Stones (in “ If You Really Want To Be My Friend” on the album It's Only Rock'n Roll ).

Rock The Boat - Hues Corporation

The Hues Corporation was a Los Angeles band formed in 1969. They were a black vocal group comprised of Hubert Ann Kelly, St. Clair Lee and Fleming Williams. Their name was a pun on billionaire Howard Hughes' corporation. This was arguably the first Disco song to hit #1 in the US . The instrumental hit "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" also had a Disco sound and was released 3 months earlier. In an interview with Classicbands.com, Hues Corporation member St. Clair Lee "It was a song that you could do anything on. You could cuddle or you could get crazy if you wanted to. It was a love song without being a love song. But, it was a Disco hit and it happened because of the discos." After the success of "Rock the Boat" the Hues Corporation's other charted singles on the Billboard Hot 100 included "Rockin' Soul" (1974, #18), "Love Corporation" (1975, #62), and "I Caught Your Act" (1977, #92). Despite their initial success, the group was unable to duplicate the success of their earlier hits and disbanded in 1978. But with renewed interest in disco music throughout the 1990s, the group reunited for tour dates and special events, including the PBS special “ Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion .”

Billy, Don't Be A Hero - Bo Donaldson & Heywoods

This song is about a guy who goes off to war, and despite his fiancĂ©'s pleas to stay safe, volunteers for a dangerous mission and is killed. The girl receives a letter telling her that Billy died a hero, which is specifically what she asked him not to do. “Billy” sold more than 3 million copies and earned a gold record. Four more Top 40 singles followed for Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods: "Who Do You Think You Are," "The Heartbreak Kid," "House on Telegraph Hill" and "Our Last Song Together." This song was mentioned in Stephen King's book The Stand , in the TV shows Get A Life , ALF , and Friends , and was used in the movies Reservoir Dogs , To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert . Peter Callender and Mitch Murray wrote both this and "The Night Chicago Died." Among the other songs the duo wrote together were Vanity Fare's hit "Hitchin' a Ride" and Georgie Fame's UK chart-topper "The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde .”

2 comments:

Allison Guerriero said...

I love when you do your ten great song lists! The Night Chicago Died is a favorite...Cat's In The Cradle too! I actually love all these songs, even though I was only One when they were released.

Anonymous said...

Great list. I beat Allison by three years as i was four. Rock the Boat is my favorite. I apparently have a bad habit of annoying people by singing repetative choruses more repetatively than the performer... "rock the boat don't tip the boat over", completely out of context drove my dad and brother nuts. Sorry about dad, but i relish driving bro nuts. Maybe I won't mind that being stuck in my head while making beds today.