Saturday, March 14, 2009

Since we are nearing the last weeks before I start all over again with these lists, I thought this would be a good time to make a few changes. For one thing, the format of the blog has been tweaked a bit, as you can tell. I kind of like this new, cleaner look. Secondly, I've added a weekly poll so you can give me feedback on what songs hit the mark and which one's were a miss.

So, have a go and let me know what you think!

Ten Great Hits From One Great Year


The year started with radio and TV cigarette ads being banned on all broadcasts. In what should seem as somewhat ironic, a couple of weeks later, CBS-TV debuts the hit show “All in the Family” – something far more harmful to all-American values than a cigarette ad.

Nasdaq debuts in 1971 and Satchel Paige becomes the first Negro League player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court of the United States rules unanimously that busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. That hasn’t actually worked out too well.

Southwest Airlines, the most successful low cost carrier in history, begins its first flights between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Jim Morrison, leader of The Doors is found dead in his bathtub in Paris, France. The South Tower of the World Trade Center is topped out at 1,362 feet, making it the second tallest building in the world. This was also the year that Walt Disney World opens in Florida. Intel releases the world's first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 and during a severe thunderstorm over Washington, a man calling himself D. B. Cooper parachutes from the Northwest Orient Airlines plane he hijacked, with US$200,000 in ransom money, and is never seen again (as of March 2008, this case remains the only unsolved skyjacking in history).

What's Going On - Marvin Gaye

This was written by Motown songwriter Al Cleveland and Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson. Gaye added lyrics and worked on the arrangement. The 3 were golfing partners. Gaye wanted The Originals to record the song, but Benson and Cleveland prevailed upon Gaye to do it himself. Until this song, Gaye rarely participated in the songwriting process. For this album, he took control of the production so he could make a statement as an artist. Motown hated the idea, but Gaye was an established star and had enough power to pull it off. This was one of the first Motown songs to make a powerful political statement. Stevie Wonder and The Temptations were also recording more serious and challenging material, which was a radical departure from the Motown hits of the '60s. The song had a tremendous impact because listeners weren't used to hearing social commentary from Gaye. Gaye wrote this when he could no longer could take refuge in his love songs. His marriage was in shambles (although the divorce wouldn't be final until 1977), Tammi Terrell (his partner in song and romance) collapsed into his arms during a concert and died in 1970, drug use was pervading the inner city culture and Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were all gunned down.

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) - The Temptations

Motown writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote this in the late '60s, but since Psychedelic songs were popular at the time, Whitfield and Strong decided to wait a few years before releasing it. Whitfield pulled it out of the mothballs after the relative failure of The Temptations' "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)," which hit #33 in 1970. Whitfield wanted to steer the Temptations away from their string of socially relevant songs, which was in contrast to Marvin Gaye’s social-awareness transformation. This was the last single for the Temptations with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams in the group. Eddie started a solo career and in 1973 scored his biggest hit with "Keep on Truckin'." Williams remained on salary as an advisor, but was plagued with personal problems - he was separated from his wife, owed back taxes and was being treated for alcoholism. He committed suicide in 1973 at age 34. It was the last chart-topper for the remarkable group.

An Old Fashioned Love Song – Three Dog Night

This was written by Paul Williams (not the same Paul Williams of the Temptations), who also wrote the Three Dog Night hits "Out in the Country" and "Family of Man." All 3 songs were last minute additions that wound up on the album and became hits. Williams: "I had a date one night, a young lady named Patti Dahlstrom, she was a songwriter. We were going to go out and have dinner. And right before I left for the date I had gotten a phone call that I had a gold record. And I walked into her house, and I said, 'Well, got a gold record for such-and-such, it just went gold. Kid did it again with another old fashioned love song.' It just came out of me. And I went, wait a minute. I went over to her piano and I sat down, and it's the quickest I ever had a song come out of me. And it sounds like it. It's a really simple song, I wrote it in like 20 minutes. And it was a big hit." An official commentary included in the CD set Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965-1975 states that vocalist Danny Hutton’s then-girlfriend June Fairchild thought of the band’s name when she read a magazine article about indigenous Australians, in which it was explained that on cold nights they would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground while embracing a dingo, a native species of wild dog. On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs, and if a night was especially cold, it was a "Three Dog Night."


Formed in 1967 in Chicago, the band began as a politically charged, sometimes experimental, rock band and later moved to a predominantly softer sound and became one of the longest running and most successful U.S. pop/rock and roll groups. The band was formed when a group of DePaul University music students began playing a series of late-night jams at clubs on and off campus. Their first record (released in April 1969), the eponymous The Chicago Transit Authority, was an audacious debut: a sprawling double album, virtually unheard of for a rookie band that included jazzy instrumentals, extended jams featuring Latin percussion, and experimental, feedback-laden guitar abstraction. The album began to receive heavy airplay on the newly popular FM radio band; it included a number of pop-rock gems — "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?", "Questions 67 and 68" and this song — which would later be edited to a radio-friendly length, released as singles, and eventually become rock radio staples. Soon after the album's release, the band's name was shortened to simply Chicago, when the actual Chicago Transit Authority threatened legal action. Robert Lamm wrote and sang lead on this song and the distinctive rhythm guitar was originally played by Chicago's guitarist Terry Kath, in died in 1978 at the age of 31 from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves Cher

This was Cher's first #1 solo hit. It also reached #1 in Canada and France. After the success of this song, the album title was changed from Cher to Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves. This was written by Bob Stone. Originally entitled "Gypsies and White Trash," Stone was asked by producer Snuff Garrett to revise it. The song is the tale of a girl (the narrator) who was "born in the wagon of a traveling show," where her mother works as a dancer and her father does anything possible to earn money. When the girl is 16, her family takes in a 21-year-old man south of Mobile (located in Alabama). The young man and the girl have an affair, the girl says she's "in trouble" 3 months later, and the man disappears. The girl follows in her mother's footsteps of dancing in the show and has a daughter that is born in the exact same location as she was. Nirvana covered this song in 1987 and changed some of the lyrics. Inkubus Sukkubus covered it in 2001.

Sooner or Later - Grass Roots

This was written by Gary Zekley, Mitchell Bottler, brothers Adenyi Jacob and Ekundayo Paris, and Ted McNamara. Zekley and Bottler also wrote the Grass Roots' previous hit "(I'd) Wait a Million Years" among others. It was the Grass Roots' first Top 10 hit since their hit "Midnight Confessions," which was released three years before. In the tale of this song, a man is trying to win the heart of a girl who does not want to love him (she's allegedly afraid because of past experiences); he tells her that she will succumb to him sooner or later. In their career, The Grass Roots achieved one platinum album, two gold albums, thirteen gold singles and charted singles a total of twenty nine times. Between 1967 and 1972, The Grass Roots set a record for being on the Billboard charts for 307 straight weeks. They are one of only nine bands that have charted twenty nine or more Top 100 Billboard singles. They have sold over thirty million records worldwide.

Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers

This was Withers' first hit. After spending 9 years in the US Navy, he had a job at a factory making parts for airplanes when he was introduced to Booker T. Jones from Booker T. & the MG's. Booker was an elite session musician with Stax Records, where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and many other Soul legends recorded. He brought in some other top-notch musicians, including Stephen Stills on lead guitar, and produced this album for Withers, who was 32 when it was recorded. The part where Withers repeats "I know, I know," has become a very recognizable piece of the song, but it wasn't what he had in mind. Explains Withers:
"I wasn't going to do that, then Booker T. said, 'No, leave it like that.' I was going to write something there, but there was a general consensus in the studio. It was an interesting thing because I've got all these guys that were already established, and I was working in the factory at the time. Graham Nash was sitting right in front of me, just offering his support. Stephen Stills was playing and there was Booker T. and Al Jackson and Donald Dunn - all of the MGs except Steve Cropper. They were all these people with all this experience and all these reputations, and I was this factory worker just sort of puttering around. So when their general feeling was, 'Leave it like that,' I left it like that." Sax player Grover Washington became the first person to cover one of Withers' songs when he did an instrumental version shortly after Withers released his. In 1981,
Washington and Withers teamed up to record "Just the Two of Us."

Take Me Home, Country Roads - John Denver

Denver didn't write this song. In fact, when he recorded it he had never even been to West Virginia. Two musicians, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, wrote it while driving to Maryland - they'd never been to West Virginia either! Danoff got his inspiration from postcards sent to him by a friend who DID live there. The Starland Vocal Band, who charted with "Afternoon Delight" in 1977, sang background vocals on this. At the time, they were known as "Fat City." This was the first single by Denver and although it was a huge hit, it stopped just short of number one. While he was a relative newcomer to the music scene, he did top the charts two years earlier when Peter, Paul and Mary scored their big smash “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which Denver had written a couple of years earlier. During his career, Denver recorded 11 top 40 albums and 15 top 40 hits – including 5 that went number one. On October 12, 1997, Denver was killed when the Long-EZ aircraft he was piloting crashed just off the coast of California at Pacific Grove, shortly after taking off from the Monterey Peninsula Airport.

It's Too Late – Carole King

Carole King wrote this with Toni Stern, a painter who worked on several songs on the Tapestry album. This was released as the B-side to "I Feel the Earth Move." After a few weeks of continuous airplay with "I Feel the Earth Move," many DJs all over the States decided to give "It's Too Late" an equal amount of airplay. Soon, it came to the point where everyone preferred "It's Too Late," which ended up topping the charts by May of 1971. "I Feel the Earth Move" never charted, although it has become a staple song of hers. Just before her success as a solo artist, King toured with James Taylor for a time. Many people tended to think that this song was about a short romance between the two. King never confirmed these rumors, and Taylor later dated and married Carly Simon. This song won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1972. In addition, her song "You've Got a Friend" (performed by Taylor) won a Grammy for Song Of The Year, and her album Tapestry won Grammys for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Other artists who have covered this song include Gloria Estefan (who had a top 40 hit with it), Denise LaSalle, Johnny Mathis, The Stylistics, Kyle Vincent and Andy Williams.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Paul McCartney

Uncle Albert was a real uncle of McCartney's who would quote and read from the Bible when he got drunk. The only time he read from the Bible was when he was drinking. McCartney combined pieces of unfinished songs to make this. In the later years of The Beatles, they did this a lot as a way to put unfinished songs to good use. This song won the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1971. It was credited to Paul and Linda McCartney. After the release of the successful debut McCartney, Paul and Linda went on a lengthy holiday and spent much time on their farm on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. It was during this period that Paul, often with Linda's input, composed the songs that would feature on Ram. Deciding to make a change in recording venue, the couple flew to New York City in the fall of 1970 to record their new songs. Denny Seiwell was recruited for drums and David Spinozza and Hugh McCracken were tapped for guitar duties. Although it was a collaborative project, Linda's vocal duties were mostly limited to backing Paul, who sang lead throughout. "The Back Seat of My Car" was excerpted as a UK single from Ram that August, only reaching #39, but the US release of the ambitious "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" would prove much more successful, giving McCartney his first #1 single after The Beatles.

Bonus Track

Coca-Cola Commercial

When the commercial became a hit, radio stations got requests for the song, but the only place it could be heard was in the ad. Coke put together a group called The Hillside Singers to record a full version adapted from the commercial. The song had a country sound and hit US #13. Then they had the New Seekers record a version which was also released. Both versions were on the charts at the same time. William Backer worked for Coke's advertising agency. He was putting together radio commercials for The New Seekers to sing and came up with the line "I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company" after seeing travelers at an airport having a good time over a Coke. For the story of how the Coke commercial came together, read Backer's book The Care And Feeding Of Ideas. The jingle (and the song were written by Backer, Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway, and Billy Davis.

No comments: