Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


This year was when it seemed America grew up again. Or, it could just be that I did. After celebrating our history the year before with the Bi-centennial (and all that went with that), we moved away from the innocence of youth and flocked to discotheques. We went from soft-rock, influenced by country and western, and instead turned on to the Bee Gees and urban dance music. Marijuana was passé as cocaine became the fuel to get high.

Even in commerce, things were changing dramatically. The year started with Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne creating a company named Apple, out of their garage in Cupertino, California. Later that month, American television showcased the most popular mini-series in history, Alex Haley's “Roots.” It received 37 Emmy Award nominations. It went on to win 9 Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings with the finale still standing as the 3rd-highest rated US program ever. It captivated American television audiences, successfully crossing racial lines and piquing the interest of families, in all ethnic groups.

Disaster stuck big when a KLM 747 crashed into Pan Am 747, killing 583 people. It is still the worst air related accident in history (9/11 was no accident). Also, the death of Elvis Presley shook the country up (get it? I'm all shook up?) But nothing prepared us for the disaster that was Jimmy Carter.

On the positive side of the year, Star Wars was released in theaters. But New York City went dark for 25 hours – which brought out the worst in people and David Berkowitz, AKA Son of Sam, went on a killing spree. In sports, it was Billy Martin's Yankees and Tom Landry's Cowboys who were the champions on the field.

Please note a new feature - I have included links to the lyrics to each song for your reading pleasure.

Lonely Boy – Andrew Gold

Andrew Gold began writing songs at the age of 13, and by the early 1970s was working as a musician, songwriter and producer for many well-known stars, including Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, and James Taylor. He was a member of the Los Angeles band Bryndle alongside Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman and Karla Bonoff. He played a major role as multi-instrumentalist and arranger for Ronstadt's breakthrough album, 1974's Heart Like a Wheel. Among other accomplishments, he played the guitar solo and the majority of other instruments on the album's first track, "You're No Good," Ronstadt's only No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1975 Gold began recording as a solo artist, releasing four studio albums. "Lonely Boy" has appeared in several movie soundtracks, including Boogie Nights (1997). Although "Lonely Boy" was the bigger radio hit, "Thank You for Being a Friend" gained new popularity as the theme song for the popular 1985–1992 NBC situation comedy The Golden Girls (although that version was not performed by Gold but by Cindy Fee). Today, Gold still works with many different artists and occasionally appears in concert (recently as the opening act for America ). (View lyrics here)

I Go Crazy – Paul Davis

Davis was a member of a local group called the "Six Soul Survivors" around 1966 and later in another group called the "Endless Chain." In 1968 he was a writer for Malaco Records, based at Jackson, MS. Ilene Berns, widow of Bert Berns, signed Davis to Bang Records in 1969, and in 1970, released a cover of The Jarmels' hit song "A Little Bit of Soap", reaching #52 on the Billboard pop charts. His first album, A Little Bit of Paul Davis, was released in 1970. In 1974 he recorded his third album, Ride 'Em Cowboy, which garnered a Top 40 for the title track. The same song also became a Top 40 country hit for Juice Newton in 1984. Davis had his first American Top 10 single with the slow ballad "I Go Crazy," which peaked at #7 in 1978. "I Go Crazy" spent 40 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, which at the time set the single-song record for most consecutive weeks on the chart in the rock era. The follow-up, "Sweet Life", did moderately well, peaking at #17. The corresponding album Singer of Songs - Teller of Tales was a modest success, peaking at #82 on the Billboard pop album chart. He was the last artist active on the Bang Records label when it folded in 1981. After one more album, in 1981 he signed with Arista Records and had two more Top 20 singles, "Cool Night" (which rose to #11) and "'65 Love Affair" (which rose to #6). Davis retired from making records, except for two duet singles that went to #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts ("You're Still New To Me" – with Marie Osmond and "I Won't Take Less Than Your Love” with Tanya Tucker and Paul Overstreet. Although he survived a shooting incident in Nashville 1986, Davis suffered a fatal heart attack last year, at Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian, Mississippi . He had turned 60 the day before. (View lyrics here)

I Just Want To Be Your Everything – Andy Gibb

Andy Gibb was the brother of Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees, and this song was written by Barry. It's a fairly dramatic love song, with the singer declaring his unending passion and stating that without her, he would die. This was the first of 3 #1 singles for Gibb, which made him the first male solo artist with 3 consecutive #1 singles in the US . The next single was "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water," which was released when The Bee Gees were scoring huge hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. That song replaced "Stayin' Alive" at #1 and was bumped by "Night Fever." Gibb's next single was "Shadow Dancing," which he wrote with his brothers and also went to #1. In March 1988, Andy celebrated his 30th birthday in London while working on a new album. Soon after, he entered John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, complaining of chest pains. He died on March 10, 1988, just five days after his 30th birthday as a result of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle due to a recent viral infection. His brothers acknowledge that Andy's past drug and alcohol use probably made his heart more susceptible to the ailment. Just before Andy's death, it was decided by the group that Andy would join them, which would have made the group a quartet. This did not come to pass, however. The Bee Gees' following album, One (1989), featured a song dedicated to Andy, "Wish You Were Here". (View lyrics here)

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel

On an A&E special, Joel said he came up with the "Bottle of white bottle of red" line while he was dining at a restaurant and a waiter actually came up to him and said, "Bottle of white... bottle of red... perhaps a bottle of rose instead?" The "Things are okay with me these days..." part was an old piece of music he had written a long time before The Stranger. He just changed the words around to what they are now. The third part of the song is an old song he had written called "The Ballad of Brenda and Eddie." Joel recalled the restaurant, which inspired this song in USA Today July 9, 2008:"There was a restaurant right across the street from Carnegie Hall called Fontana di Trevi. It was for the opera crowd, but the Italian food was really good. They didn't really know who I was, which was fine with me, but sometimes you would have a hard time getting a table. Well, I went there when the tickets had gone on sale for (my dates at) Carnegie Hall, and the owner looks at me and he goes (in an Italian accent), 'Heyyy, youra that guy!' And from then on, I was always able to get a good spot." Joel outlined to USA Today how the Beatles inspired this song: "I had always admired the B-side of Abbey Road, which was essentially a bunch of songs strung together by (producer) George Martin. What happened was The Beatles didn't have completely finished songs or wholly fleshed-out ideas, and George said, 'What have you got?' John said, 'Well I got this,' and Paul said, 'I got that.' They all sat around and went, 'Hmm, we can put this together and that'll fit in there.' And that's pretty much what I did." (View lyrics here)

Just Remember I Love You – Firefall

This was written by Firefall singer Rick Roberts, who along with Larry Burnett was a main songwriter in the band. In this song, the singer tries to offer encouragement to someone who sounds chronically depressed and hopeless, perhaps suicidal. People who are going through their worst times ever have been known to identify with the lyrics. After going gold with their debut album – the self-titled Firefall – which featured the top 10 hit “You Are the Woman”, the band returned to the studio to write a follow up. They were joined by Cuban percussionist Joe Lala (ex-Manassas) and the Memphis Horns. But after hearing the final mix, Atlantic Records decided that the album needed to be reworked. Firefall then went back on tour, redid several songs and added some new ones. The album Luna Sea was released in July 1977. The revamped LP peaked at #27 on the charts and went Gold less than two months after release. The single from the album "Just Remember I Love You", featuring backing vocals by Poco member and future Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, reached the Top 10. It was around this time that tensions were beginning to rise within the group, stemming from non-stop touring and management problems, not to mention frequent alcohol and drug abuse. At this time the group was also incredibly popular and playing to sold-out crowds with Fleetwood Mac as part of their Rumours tour. But this only delayed their disintegration for a short time. However, the band came back together over the years and in September 2007, Firefall released a brand new CD Colorado to Liverpool – A Tribute To The Beatles. (View lyrics here)

Wasted Time – Eagles

Hotel California was the Eagles' fifth album of original material and became a critical success and a major commercial hit; since its release in late 1976, it has sold over 16 million copies in the U.S. alone. The album was at #1 for eight weeks in early 1977 (non-consecutively), and included two tracks which became #1 hits as singles on the Billboard Hot 100: "New Kid in Town" and the title track. The album, considered to be among the best ever recorded, featured a perfect blending of their western-rock roots and – thanks to the addition of vaunted guitarist Joe Walsh, who joined the band just a year earlier – an edgier, harder rock sound. The album touched on many themes, including innocence (and the loss thereof), addiction in general (and to drugs), death, the dangers, temptation and transient nature of fame, shallow relationships, divorce and loss of love, the end results of manifest destiny, and the ‘American Dream'. “Wasted Time” – perhaps Henley 's most beautiful, yet tragic song – closes the fist side of the LP and its “Reprise” opens the second. Members of Eagles have described the album as a metaphor for the perceived decline of America into materialism and decadence. In an interview with Dutch magazine ZigZag shortly before the album's release, Don Henley said, “This is a concept album, there's no way to hide it, but it's not set in the old West, the cowboy thing, you know. It's more urban this time. It's our bicentennial year, you know, the country is 200 years old, so we figured since we are the Eagles and the Eagle is our national symbol, that we were obliged to make some kind of a little bicentennial statement using California as a microcosm of the whole United States, or the whole world, if you will, and to try to wake people up and say 'We've been okay so far, for 200 years, but we're gonna have to change if we're gonna continue to be around.'” (View lyrics here)

The Chain – Fleetwood Mac

Two years after the arrival of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (which brought Fleetwood Mac to stardom), things had become rather difficult within the group. Mick Fleetwood separated from his wife Jenny. Buckingham and Nicks, who were in a relationship when they joined the group, were separated, and John McVie and Christine McVie also separated, although all five remained in the band. This meant that, as Stevie Nicks later pointed out, long hours were spent and some very awkward times were had between people who would otherwise not be in each others' lives. Christine McVie later remarked that they were all writing about each other, hence the title of the album. They didn't realize this immediately, but finally realizing that they had created such a good album together lifted them out of their misery. This began as a Christine McVie song called "Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)," which is available on the expanded edition of Rumours. The beginning of the track wasn't working, but the band loved Mick Fleetwood and John McVie's ending, which was now on tape. So, they counted back from the bass line, used the kick-drum as a metronome, Nicks gave them the lyrics for the verses, Buckingham and Christine McVie wrote the music and the chorus lyrics, Lindsey added the guitar over the ending, and "The Chain" as we know it was born. This is the only Fleetwood Mac song credited to all 5 members of their 1977 lineup. Since various pieces were assembled to make the song, they all had some contribution. (View lyrics here)

Come Sail Away – Styx

Styx formed in Chicago . Twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo first got together with their neighbor Dennis DeYoung in 1961 in the Roseland section of the south side of Chicago , eventually taking the band name "The Tradewinds". Chuck Panozzo left to attend seminary school for a year but returned to the group by 1964. By this time, the others had brought in guitarist Tom Nardini to replace Chuck on guitar. Chuck decided to rejoin the others as bassist. Brother John was the drummer, while Dennis had switched from accordion to organ and piano. In 1965, the name "Tradewinds" was changed to TW4 after another band called Trade Winds broke through nationally. By 1966, the Panozzo brothers had joined DeYoung at Chicago State University and kept the group together doing gigs at high schools and frat parties while studying to be teachers. In 1969, they added a college buddy, John Curulewski, on guitar after Nardini departed. Guitarist James Young came aboard in 1970 making TW4 a quintet. In 1972, the band members decided to choose a new name when they signed to Wooden Nickel Records; several suggestions were made and, says DeYoung, Styx was chosen because it was "the only one that none of us hated". In 1975, the band added Tommy Shaw to the mix and they had their breakthrough album a year later, called The Grand Illusion. Along with “Come Sail Away,” Shaw's “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” reached top ten status and thrust Styx into the upper echelons of the growing “arena rock” movement. (View lyrics here)

Rose of Cimarron – Poco

Poco was originally formed by Richie Furay and Jim Messina following the demise of Buffalo Springfield in 1968. The title of their first album, Pickin' Up The Pieces, is a reference to the break-up of the Springfield and is the only debut album ever to receive a perfect rating from Rolling Stone Magazine. A favorite of AOR (album-oriented rock) FM stations in the early 1970s, Poco was considered to be a highly innovative and pioneering band. Although the band charted a handful of Top 20 hits, overall their Top 40 success was uneven, and many of their most innovative records were commercially unsuccessful. Throughout the years Poco has performed in various groupings, with the latest version still active today. With 24 original albums and 26 "Best of" and anthology collections, the band boasts a total catalog of 50 releases. After Furay left the band in '73, lead vocal duties were shared by Paul Cotton (lead guitarist) and Timothy B. Schmit. and the band began to establish themselves critically, if not commercially. Rusty Young had one lead vocal on the "Head Over Heels" album, but did not sing lead on any song again until after Schmit left the band. During the period Schmit remained after Furay left, Schmit sang lead on all the songs written by Rusty Young, except for one. “Rose of Cimarron” was the title track to their '77 album and again, although it was widely praised, it didn't sell very well. The song was noted for its beautiful arrangement and intense vocals that were shared by Young and Schmidt – who soon after left the band and joined the Eagles. Ironically, the man he replaced in the Eagles, Randy Meisner, soon took Schmidt's place in Poco. (View lyrics here)

(Special thanks to Amy for her help with this)

Dust in the Wind – Kansas

In 1973, Dave Hope (bass), Phil Ehart (drums, percussion), and Kerry Livgren (guitars, keyboards, synthesizers) formed a progressive rock group named Kansas in 1970 in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas, along with vocalist Lynn Meredith from Manhattan, Kansas, keyboardist Don Montre, keyboardist Dan Wright, and saxophonist Larry Baker. However, the next three years saw many changes in the lineup and by the time they released their first album – titled Kansas – they had an almost completely different group (except for Hope and Livgren, although both left the band, only to return). By 1977, Kansas had a collection of four albums to its credit. But the last one, Leftoverture became their best-selling and most revered album to date, thanks to the hugely successful single, “Carry on Wayward Son.” But this brought added pressure to the band to duplicate that success. While they were no longer desperately poor and starving for a hit, the band wondered whether they'd be able build on, or at least maintain the level of achievement the years of recording and touring had brought them. The sessions for their follow-up LP, Point of Know Return, were filled with tension as singer/songwriter Steve Walsh, who had always been uncomfortable with the artistic direction of the band, left the group briefly. Years later, Walsh would admit in an interview that he had been something of a prima donna at this point. The other members of the group talked him into returning and the sessions continued. Kerry Livgren had been practicing with his acoustic guitar, working on a chord progression that he had written as a finger exercise. His wife, Vicci, happened to hear what he was doing and remarked that the melody was nice and that he should write lyrics for it. The result was a short song called “Dust in the Wind.” Again, Livgren was unsure as to whether his fellow band members would like it, since Kansas was not known for acoustic ballads. However, they agreed to add it in a last minute decision. Needless to say, the song was recorded, securing Kansas 's place in the annals of classic rock. (View lyrics here)


Ariel – Dean Friedman

Raised in Paramus, New Jersey, Dean Friedman received his first guitar when he was 9, in 1964, and started writing songs. When he was a teenager, he played weddings and bar mitzvahs as part of Marsha and the Self-Portraits sent out demos and majored in music at City College of New York where one of his teachers was guitarist David Bromberg. By the time he was 20, in 1975, he had a manager and a recording contract with Cashman and West's Lifesong label. In the USA he is described as a one-hit wonder, following his 1977 hit song "Ariel", which reached # 26 on the Billboard national pop charts and stayed in the charts for eight weeks. "Ariel" has been described as a "quirkily irresistible and uncategorizable pop song about a free spirited, music loving, vegetarian Jewish girl", from Paramus, New Jersey, where he grew up. It is the only Billboard top 40 song to contain the word Paramus. It describes the girl Ariel, "standing by the [since dismantled] waterfalls at Paramus Park," one of the many shopping malls in Paramus. The quarters she was collecting for "friends of BAI" referrs to the New York radio station WBAI-FM, and their listener association. Although "Ariel" did not make the UK charts, "Lucky Stars", a duet with Denise Marsa taken from his second album "Well, Well", Said The Rocking Chair, made # 3 in the UK in late 1978, and both "Woman of Mine" and "Lydia" were lesser chart hits there. Dean also provided vocals for a series of television commercials in the 1970's in the New York City metro area. The electronics chain "Crazy Eddie's" hired him to sing their 'doo-wop' style commercial: "When you think you're ready, come down to Crazy Eddie's". The songs of Dean Friedman have been covered by several contemporary bands, including The Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, The Tone Rangers, and The Blenders. The lead singer of Barenaked Ladies, Steve Page, sings background vocals on Friedman's album Songs for Grownups (1998). Unlike many one-hit-wonders, Friedman has continued to write and perform songs into the 2000s. (View lyrics here)


Allison Guerriero said...

I love "Come Sail Away" and "Scenes".

Amy said...

A correction re: Poco. After Richie Furay's departure, lead vocal duties were shared by Paul Cotton (lead guitarist) and Timothy B. Schmit. Rusty Young had one lead vocal on the "Head Over Heels" album, but did not sing lead on any song again until after Schmit left the band. During the period Schmit remained after Furay left, Schmit sang lead on all the songs written by Rusty Young, except for one. The lead vocals on "Rose of Cimarron" are shared by Paul Cotton and Timothy B. Schmit.

Shayne said...

Thanks Amy! I'll make the correction ASAP.

readingjunkie said...

Ohhh my favorite is "Come Sail Away" by the Styx. I am singing the song right now. Did you know they are playing in Milwaukee is weekend?