Saturday, February 07, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


This was the Bicentennial year here in America. The festivities all led up to Independence day, which featured “Operation Sail” – a large international fleet of tall-masted sailing ships that gathered in New York City. Other commemorations were “A Bicentennial Moment” – a series of one-minute “infomercials” that ran constantly on all the networks and the US Mint began issuing special Bicentennial coinage in 1975 (quarters, half dollars and Eisenhower dollars) dated "1776-1976." Likewise, the US Treasury also released a new version of the $2 bill, featuring a new design on the back: Trumbull 's Declaration of Independence.

In politics, after 8 years of Republican rule, which also consisted of the Watergate scandal, Americans turned to energetic, yet unknown Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia as their next President. Four years later, they will have completely regretted the decision as Cater served just one failed, ignoble term.

In sports, the National and the American Basketball Associations agree to a merger which allowed four former ABA franchises – the Denver Nuggets, New York Nets (soon to become the New Jersey Nets), Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs (who just relocated from Dallas) - to join the NBA. Also, the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (in football) and the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners (in baseball) begin play.

On June 27th, Palestinian terrorists hijack an Air France plane in Greece with 246 passengers and 12 crew members. They take it to Entebbe, Uganda . A week later, in what has been called one of the most daring and successful rescue missions in world history, Israeli airborne commandos free the remaining103 hostages (all the non-Jews were allowed to return home); 1 Israeli soldier – the brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several Ugandan soldiers are killed in the raid.

Afternoon Delight - The Starland Vocal Band

The group began as 'Fat City', a husband/wife duo of Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert. The band was also composed of Jon Carroll (keyboards and vocals) and Margot Chapman (vocals). Carroll and Chapman were also married after meeting as members of the group, but later divorced. They had one son, Ben Carroll, who is also a musician. Despite having only this one hit, they were given their own TV show called The Starland Vocal Band in 1977. An unknown comic named David Letterman appeared on the show. This is a double entendre song inspired by the late-afternoon appetizer menu at the restaurant Clyde's Of Georgetown in Washington, DC. The other meaning is daytime sex. In 1998 the band reunited for a few concerts, often featuring the children of the four original members as vocalists. Danoff and Nivert also co-wrote the hit song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" with John Denver. Denver subsequently signed them to his label, Windsong Records.

I'd Really Love To See You Tonight - England Dan & John Ford Coley

The 1970's were the peak time for this duo, and this was their biggest hit. A man wants to see his former love again, even though it won't be for anything long-term. Even though the lyrics are a proposal for a one-night-stand, the song remains a Soft Rock favorite, as it takes a keen listen to get the message. England Dan is Dan Seals, who had a series of Country hits after he stopped performing with Coley in 1980. His older brother Jim was the Seals of Seals and Crofts, who had the hit "Summer Breeze." Seals and Coley met in high school. This was their first single, and they followed it up with several other light favorites, including "Nights Are Forever Without You" and "We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again." Seals' childhood nickname was 'England Dan' because he was a fan of The Beatles, and his affected English accent.

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot

This is a factual retelling of a shipwreck on Lake Superior in November, 1975 that claimed the lives of 29 crew members. Lightfoot, a Canadian native is considered somewhat of a national treasure in his country. Following a string of hit singles from 1972 onward, he struck pay dirt with this signature song. In 2002, he suffered severe stomach pain and was airlifted to McMaster Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. He underwent surgery for a ruptured Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm and remained in serious condition in the intensive care unit. Lightfoot endured a six-week coma, a tracheotomy and underwent four surgeries. Get well wishes poured in from all around the world. All of his remaining 2002 concert dates were cancelled. More than three months after being admitted to McMaster, Lightfoot was released in December to continue his recovery at home. He returned to the music business with a new album selling well and an appearance on Canadian Idol, where the six top contestants each performed a song of his, culminating in a group performance - on their own instruments - of his Canadian Railroad Trilogy. In 2005, he made a low-key tour called the Better Late than Never Tour. For more on this song, visit my Edmund Fitzgerald Tribute page.

Telephone Line – ELO

After finally breaking through with their previous studio release (Face the Music) – which featured the hit singles “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic” – there was much anticipation for the next album, A New World Record. The album included the hit singles "Telephone Line," which became the band's first gold US single, "Livin' Thing," and "Do Ya" (US); and "Rockaria!" (UK ). The focus is more on shorter pop songs, a trend which would continue throughout the rest of ELO's future albums. The band's frontman Jeff Lynne regards his own songwriting at this point to have reached a new high. “The songs started to flow and most of them came quickly to me. To have all those hits, it was just ...I mean amazing really. Going from doing okay for probably three or four years to suddenly being in the big time, it was a strange but great thing.” The album remained on the Billboard album chart for 69 weeks and peaked at #5 – their second of five straight top 8 albums. “Telephone Line” peaked at #7 on the singles chart and was their second highest charting single (after 1979's “Don't Bring Me Down”).

Times of Your Life - Paul Anka

"Times of Your Life" was a popular song and advertising jingle made famous by Canadian-born singer Paul Anka, who had started out as a “teen idol” in the late 1950s and 1960s with hits songs like "Diana," "Lonely Boy," and "Put Your Head on My Shoulder." He went on to write such well known music as the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for which he was paid $5,000 per episode and Tom Jones' biggest hit "She's A Lady," and the English lyrics for Frank Sinatra's signature song "My Way." Kodak film created an advertising campaign in 1975 that featured Anka singing a jingle entitled "Times of Your Life,” which featured a scene with a young boy opening a large box on Christmas morning. Upon opening the box, the boy finds that it contains a puppy who lavishes the young lad with wet, slobbering kisses. It was very touching and memorable and the song's lyrics were perfect for the imagery. While the tune was being heard across the United States as a commercial, Anka decided to record the tune and release it as a single in late 1975. The song became a hit in the US , reaching #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1976 and remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks. The previous month, "Times of Your Life" had spent one week atop the Billboard adult contemporary chart, Anka's only recording to do so.

She's Gone - Hall and Oates

Daryl Hall and John Oates wrote this while they were consoling each other over heartbreaks. Daryl had just divorced from his wife Bryna Lublin and a New Years Eve date had stood up John. This was not immediately a hit for the duo; instead it was originally a hit for Tavares (who were best known for their rendition of the Bee Gee's “More than a Woman” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) who topped the R&B chart in 1974 with their cover. It was re-released by Atlantic after the success of "Sara Smile" and this time it rose into the Billboard Top Ten, peaking at #7. According to interviews with the duo, John Oates had pegged this song as his favorite. The two followed up “She's Gone” with their first number one hit, “Rich Girl.” But it would take almost four years and four subsequent albums before Hall & Oates reached that level again. This time, once they got there, they stayed there. Over the next ten years, the duo would hit the top forty 22 straight times, including 5 number ones and 14 top 10's. By the end of the decade, they were the most prolific duo in the history of rock & roll.

Shannon – Henry Gross

Shannon was a song written about the passing of Beach Boy Carl Wilson's Irish Setter of the same name. The song went gold and became a worldwide hit. The second single, "Springtime Mama," sold just short of gold. This was Gross' first album and first hit on the new Lifesong Record label. At age 18, Henry was a founding member of the world famous rock ‘n' roll revival group Sha Na Na, playing guitar & wearing on-stage the "greaser" clothes he wore in high school. The group's popularity took a giant step after legendary performances at the Fillmore auditoriums in New York and San Francisco and the Woodstock Festival. This song was a hit in the US in 1976, but is perhaps best known for being the subject of a legendary, profanity-laced tirade by American Top 40 radio show host Casey Kasem while recording an episode of the show in 1985. A listener had requested the song as a "Long Distance Dedication" (a regular feature of the AT40 show) to his own recently-deceased dog. Kasem was upset that the show's producers had placed the dedication immediately following the Pointer Sisters' hit "Dare Me," an up-tempo song that Kasem considered a poor lead-in to a sad song like "Shannon" - and he let the producers know of his displeasure in no uncertain terms. In the end, the dedications, and the mismatched songs, were presented as scripted in spite of Kasem's objection, but the outtake of his rant eventually surfaced as a bootleg recording.

Year of the Cat – Al Stewart

Stewart is Scottish born, and has been recording since 1967. His songs have lots of very catchy tunes, many historical and political themes, and lots of clever lyrics that seem to paint pictures in your mind. He was once described as the chief scribe of English music. This started off as a completely different song. Al Stewart originally wrote the lyrics after seeing the British comedian Tony Hancock in Bournemouth, England in 1966. Hancock was very depressed, and the show was a disaster, with the comedian going to the front of the stage and addressing the audience directly and pouring out his soul. In Al Stewart: the True Life Adventures of a Folk Rock Troubadour, Stewart is quoted: "He came on stage and he said 'I don't want to be here. I'm just totally pissed off with my life. I'm a complete loser, this is stupid. I don't know why I don't just end it all right here.' And they all laughed; because it was the character he played... this sort of down-and-out character. And I looked at him and I thought, oh my god, He means it. This is for real." Hancock killed himself in 1968 with a drug overdose. Stewart's song was originally titled "Foot of the Stage," with the chorus, "Your tears fall down like rain at the foot of the stage.” Alan Parsons produced the album and also played the sax solo on this track. Parsons was a prominent recording engineer long before going on to his own solo success and was best known (at the time) for engineering the Abbey Road LP for the Beatles and Dark Side of the Moon for Pink Floyd.

Silly Love Songs – Wings

Paul wrote this in response to a post-Beatles breakup comment by John Lennon, in which Lennon claimed that the only songs that Paul wrote for the Beatles were "silly love songs." This was the answer to much soul searching on McCartney's part to whether he put too much stock in love songs. He once commented: "The fact is, deep down, people are very sentimental. If they watch a sentimental movie at home, they cry, but in public they won't. We don't like to show our emotions; we tend to sneer at that. And in the same way, people may not admit to liking love songs, but that's what they seem to crave." This song was McCartney's first foray into the then-popular disco sound, with his bass guitar taking a lead role against a steady disco-style drumbeat. As such, it was the forerunner for other 1960s-era British musicians trying their hand at disco; examples that followed included The Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" The song was included on the album, Wings at the Speed of Sound , and released as a single, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It was not only one of the Wings' best-selling singles, but became one of the best-selling singles of the 1970s. The song lists at #31 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.

All the Time – Barry Manilow

Manilow's achievements include sales of more than 76 million records worldwide. In 1978, five of his albums were on the best-selling charts simultaneously, a feat equaled only by Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and Johnny Mathis. He has recorded a string of Billboard hit singles and multi-platinum albums that have resulted in his being named Radio & Records number one Adult Contemporary artist and winning three straight American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist. Several well-known entertainers have given Manilow their "stamp of approval," including Sinatra, who was quoted in the 1970s regarding Manilow, "He's next." By 1976, Manilow already had two #1 hits and 7 top ten singles. His latest LP, This One's for You, continued that trend by featuring 5 singles and cemented his name into soft-rock royalty.

Bonus Track

Today's the Day – America

After teaming up with legendary Beatles producer George Martin, America went on a 3-year run that featured 4 top 10 LPs, 6 top 40 songs (including a number one hit, “Sister Golden Hair”) and countless sold out arenas. Following the release of their multi-platinum History: America's Greatest Hits, the group recorded its sixth studio album at Caribou Ranch near Nederland, Colorado, lending the album's title, Hideaway – continuing a trend they started with their second release by naming their albums beginning with the letter “H”. Martin was again at the helm. Released in April 1976, it spawned two hit singles, “Today's the Day” – which turned out to be Dan Peek's last hit with the band (he left the following year o pursue a career in the Christian music business) and also the their last top 40 hit until 1982's “You Can Do Magic” – and “Amber Cascades,” a Dewey Bunnell-penned song that features lush harmonies and powerful imagery. Both of these songs are featured in the accompanying video.

1 comment:

readingjunkie said...

I had never heard the history behind the song "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" Thanks for the interesting info.
I am really enjoying the weekly song picks!