Saturday, January 10, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


America was knee-deep in Vietnam in 1970, as more and more protests started becoming more violent. Of course, this eventually led to the May 4th shooting at Kent State University in Ohio, which caused the death of four students at the hands of National Guard soldiers. Ten days later, In the second day of violent demonstrations at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, state law enforcement officers fired into the demonstrators, killing 2 more and injuring 12.

Boeing made aviation history as they successfully flew the largest commercial aircraft ever created, the 747, for the first time on January 1st. For me, personally, that day was very memorable as I sat on the sidelines of the Cotton Bowl to watch the Texas Longhorns defeat the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame 21-17, winning the NCAA Championship. My father was honored with reciting the opening prayer (this was the first time a Rabbi was so honored for a college championship game).

Musically, the year was noted for breakups and deaths. Diana Ross & The Supremes perform their farewell live concert together at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, on January 14th and Ross's replacement, Jean Terrell, is introduced onstage at the end of the last show and on April 10th, Paul McCartney announced the Beatles have disbanded, while at the same press conference, announcing the release of his first solo album. A month later, the Beatles release their final LP Let it Be. In October, Janis Joplin dies of a heroin overdose in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 27 and a month later, Jimi Hendrix dies from choking on his own vomit while unconscious due to a barbiturate overdose in London.

The age of the cookie-cutter stadiums arrive with the building of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and Three-Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. As ugly as they were, these stadiums fielded a number of championship teams in the 70's. However, this year marked two air-related tragedies as The Wichita State University football team's "Gold" plane crashes in Colorado, killing most of the players. They were on their way (along with administrators and fans) to a game with Utah State University. A month later, Southern Airlines Flight 932 crashes in Wayne County, West Virginia; all 75 onboard, including 37 players and 5 coaches from the Marshall University football team, are killed.

In September, An assassination attempt against King Hussein of Jordan precipitates the Black September crisis. Two days later, Israeli forces fight Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Then, three days after that, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacks 4 passenger aircraft from Pan Am, TWA and Swissair on flights to New York from Brussels, Frankfurt and Z├╝rich.

The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon and Garfunkel

If Paul Simon ever hinted at a breakup with Art Garfunkel before, this song all but proves it with the line, "Tom get your plane right on time. I know that you're eager to fly now." Before the Folk duo became famous, they were known as Tom and Jerry. Tom was Art's stage name, so this line symbolizes their increasing need for musical and personal freedom. Garfunkel (Tom) was trying to kick off an acting career and was missing a lot of recording dates with Simon in order to film "Carnal Knowledge." Paul Simon reflects his loneliness as well as his realization that the end was near. Considered by many to be one the greatest albums ever recorded, Bridge Over Troubled Water became their swan song, as the duo broke up right after. This song was also featured in the Zach Braff film, Garden State, in 2004.

The Love You Save – Jackson 5

With this single, the Jackson 5 became the first act ever to have its first three chart singles top the Billboard singles chart (following “I Want You Back”, “ABC” and “I'll Be There”) While "The Love You Save" is the least-known of the four Jackson 5 number-ones, it has one of the most distinctive melodies and is the most musically complex of the four singles. The song's lyrics feature Michael and Jermaine Jackson warning a "fast" girl to slow down and "stop!" because "the love you save may be your own!" The opening exclamation of "stop" and the footstomps that complement the rhythm during the latter part of the song are allusions to the 1965 number-one Motown single by The Supremes, "Stop! In the Name of Love". The Jackson 5 essentially replaced The Supremes as Motown's main focus in the early 1970s, although Diana Ross, who left the group for a solo career not long before the release of this single, was publicized as having discovered the Jackson 5.

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – Edison Lighthouse

This was written by British producers Tony Macaulay (“Build Me Up Buttercup” and many other hits) and Barry Mason, who recorded it using session musicians. When it became a hit, they put together a band from members of the group Greenfield Hammer in order to perform the song live. Macaulay eventually put together another group using the Edison Lighthouse name. A session singer named Tony Burrows sang lead. He was the voice of several studio groups, including White Plains (“My Baby Needs Lovin'”), The Pipkins (“Gimme Dat Ding”), Brotherhood of Man (“United We Stand”), First Class ("Beach Baby") and the Flowerpot Men ("Let's Go To San Francisco"). He famously appeared on one UK TV show 3 times in one night when 3 different groups (all fronted by him) were due to perform their current chart hits. He said, "I just kept changing hats." Macaulay also wrote the song “Smile a Little Smile for Me”, by the Flying machine. That song also featured a woman named Rosemary.

Reflections Of My Life – Marmalade

This overly-dramatic ballad from the Age of Aquarius finds the singer describing a very bleak outlook on life and the times. Marmalade were a Scottish pop group who enjoyed several hits in the UK between 1968 and 1976. Originally a band called Dean Ford & The Gaylords, they changed their name to Marmalade in 1967. They are best remembered in Britain for their cover of the Beatles song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" which topped the UK charts around Christmas 1968. In 1969, they signed to Decca Records, and their contract gave them complete freedom to write and produce their own records. The fruits of this arrangement were the recording of this song with its distinctive backwards guitar break, which was their only American hit. This song was written by vocalist Dean Ford and the band's main songwriter, keyboardist Junior Campbell. Junior Campbell went on to pen the theme from the British TV series Thomas The Tank Engine, which was narrated in its first 2 seasons by Ringo Starr.

United We Stand – Brotherhood of Man

Brotherhood of Man was managed by songwriter Tony Hiller, the group were formed in 1969 and scored a worldwide hit with "United We Stand" the following year. By 1974 the line-up had changed to the quartet Brotherhood of Man would become most famous for. The group became successful in Europe , before returning to do the same in the UK. After winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976, Brotherhood of Man enjoyed three years of hit singles and albums. Over 300 artists have recorded Tony Hiller's songs including Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, Andy Williams, Ray Stevens, The Miracles, The Hollies, Sonny and Cher, The Osmonds, Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray, Ed Bruce, and The Fortunes. This song is considered a worldwide standard and has been recorded by over 100 different artists. In 1977, it was used as the closing theme song of the short-lived Brady Bunch Hour. Thirty years after the original 1970 hit it was popularized again by becoming a patriotic and spiritual anthem for many during the post 9/11 recovery. Taken literally, the song's lyrics convey two lovers who tell each other that no matter what hardships come their way, they will always be together.

One Tin Soldier (the Legend of Billy Jack) – Coven

This song tells the abstract story of a hidden treasure and two feuding peoples, the Mountain People and the Valley People. The Valley People are aware of a treasure on the mountain, buried under a stone; they send a message to the Mountain People demanding those riches. When told they can share the treasure, the Valley People instead take it by force. After killing all the Mountain People, the victors move the stone and find nothing more than a simple message: "Peace on Earth”. The songwriting team of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter wrote this, as well as songs for Dusty Springfield , The Four Tops and Glen Campbell. In 1969, this was a #34 US hit for a short-lived Canadian band called Original Caste as simply "One Tin Soldier." Original Caste's version reached US #34 and went to #1 in Canada. Jinx Dawson of the band Coven sang the song at a 1971 session with the film's orchestra as part of the soundtrack for the movie Billy Jack. Jinx asked that her band Coven be listed on the recording and film, not her name as a solo artist. This Warner release, titled as "One Tin Soldier: The Legend of Billy Jack", reached number 17 on Billboard's Hot 100 in fall 1971, only to be pulled from the charts as it was quickly moving up by the Billy Jack film producers due to legal squabbles over the rights to the recording. The full Coven band then reluctantly re-recorded the song for their MGM album. Thus the MGM album containing a second version of this song displayed their whited-out faces on the cover, contrived again by the film's producer Tom Laughlin. The recording then hit the charts again in both 1973 and 1974 near the end of the Vietnam War and the release of the film The Trial of Billy Jack. The Coven recording was named Number One All Time Requested Song in 1971 and 1973 by the American Radio Broadcasters Association.

I'll Never Fall In Love Again - Dionne Warwick

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote this for the Broadway musical Promises, Promises, Neil Simon's musical adaptation of Billy Wilder's screenplay The Apartment. Though she did not appear in Promises, Promises, Warwick recorded the 5 songs for the musical and included 3 of them on her 1968 album Promises, Promises. This was not included on an album until Warwick 's 1970 release I'll Never Fall in Love Again. Burt Bacharach (from Record Collector magazine): "'I'll Never Fall in Love Again' was written quicker than any song that I ever wrote with Hal. I had just gotten out of the hospital. I'd been on the road and gotten pneumonia. We were on the road with Promises, Promises and we'd try to get this song written and into the show the next night or two nights later. That's where Hal's line came from, 'what do you do when you kiss a girl, you get enough germs to catch pneumonia, after you do she'll never phone ya.' So having been in the hospital for five days with pneumonia, I got out and struggled to write that song feeling not too great. You should take a rest after that and not go back into the Broadway show environment out on the road!”

Make It With You – Bread

During the early 70's, one could not listen to the radio without hearing this band's songs on the radio. Bread was one of the original creators of the “soft-rock” genre that featured artists such as the Carpenters, America, Seals & Crofts and many others. Released on their second album, this was Bread's breakthrough hit. When group leader David Gates (who wrote the song) returned home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his mother was throwing a big reception party to celebrate the return of the young chart-conquering hero, the newspaper, television and radio press turned up, hoping to play up the whole "Local Boy Does Good" PR angle. In a widely circulated interview, Mrs. Gates proudly told the world just how pleased as punch she was with her son's recent success. She then also told them - in complete candor - that she just couldn't understand why he had to call his new hit record, "Naked With You." Over the next 6 years, Bread would hit the top 40 twelve more times and lead singer Gates also scored the smash “Goodbye Girl” from the movie of the same name. Bread eventually reunited for a “farewell tour” in late 1996.

One Less Bell To Answer - 5th Dimension

Another hit for the duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, this song was originally written for Keely Smith (Louis Prima's ex-singing partner) but she never recorded it. This song is about losing your love, and the sadness that follows the loss. The lead vocals were by Marilyn McCoo, who was the 5th Dimension's featured vocalist at the time. She sings that she should be happy that her man is gone but all she does is cry - no more laughter. Hal David on how he came up with the lyrics for this song: "I paid attention to what people said. One time I was at a dinner party when it was announced someone wasn't turning up, and the hostess said: 'that's one less bell to answer'. I went home and wrote 'One Less Bell to Answer' - 'one less spells the answer, one less egg to fry.'” For more on the Fifth Dimension see my 1972 list .

I Think I Love You - The Partridge Family

The Partridge Family was a TV show that ran from 1970-1974. It was about a musical family, and it starred David Cassidy and his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones along with future L.A. Law actress Susan Dey and a young Danny Bonaduce. The show was marketed around Cassidy, who is the son of the actor Jack Cassidy. He quickly became a teen idol. Jones and Cassidy were the only members of the Partridge Family to perform on their recordings, as Cassidy sang lead and Jones, a veteran of movie musicals Oklahoma and the Music Man, sang backup. Unlike The Monkees, the actors who were not hired to sing did not have musical aspirations. Top-tier session musicians played on The Partridge Family's songs, including Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborne, Louie Shelton and Tommy Tedesco. On their singles and albums, the group was credited as "The Partridge Family starring Shirley Jones featuring David Cassidy.

Bonus Track

Ohio - Crosby , Stills, Nash & Young

This is about the events of May 4, 1970 when US National Guard soldiers shot 4 unarmed students at Kent State University in Ohio. Neil Young wrote this shortly after seeing a news report on the tragedy. It was released 10 days after the shootings. The Kent State shootings had a profound effect on some of the students who later became prominent musicians. Chrissie Hynde was a student at the time, and eventually formed The Pretenders. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale were also on campus, and after the shootings, they developed the band Devo based on the concept of "De-Evolution," meaning the human race was regressing. Said Casale, "It refocused me entirely. I don't think I would have done Devo without it. It was the deciding factor that made me live and breathe this idea and make it happen. In Chrissie Hynde's case, I'm sure it was a very powerful single event that was traumatic enough to form her sensibility and account for a lot of her anger." Mothersbaugh added, "It was the first time I'd heard a song about something I'd been a participant in. It effected us. It was part of our life." For more on this tragedy, please click here .

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