Saturday, May 09, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

1975 v.2

The music scene was changing dramatically in 1975. While some early decade bands were still hitting it big (America, Chicago, Wings to name a few), a new sound was emerging from the inner cities and dance halls. This new music started in the Hispanic and Black communities and began to enjoy mainstream success, with bands like KC and the Sunshine Band and the Bee Gees leading the way.

The first disco megahit was a remake of the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor, followed by Donna Summer’s blistering 17-minute long song “Love to Love You Baby.” The craze lasted almost 5 years before it was finally doused on a warm Chicago evening when DJ’s Steve Dahl and Garry Meier Rick Dees hosted “Disco Demolition Night,” in between games of a Chicago White Sox doubleheader.

In other sign of the passing of a generational torch, television and movies became even more risqué with the addition of “Saturday Night Live” and the release of the motion picture “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Seemingly overnight, we went from watching Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart to the Love Boat and Dallas.

It was if the entire country was tired of the way it was and needed a fresh start. Unfortunately, that manifested itself horribly with the election of Jimmy Carter, just one year later.

That's the Way (I Like It) - K.C. and the Sunshine Band

The group was formed by Richard Finch, a budding studio engineer prodigy at TK Records and Harry Wayne Casey ("KC"), a record store employee and part-timer at TK Records in Miami. Though both worked at TK Records, their meeting was not immediate, with Finch spending much of his time in the recording studio working with other TK artists and Casey on the phones at the front desk. An introduction by Clarence Reid through a mutual friend was the beginning of their musical connection. Following demo work, Casey and Finch were encouraged to create their own group. The first few songs, "Blow Your Whistle" (September 1973) and "Sound Your Funky Horn" (February 1974), were released as singles, and had limited impact. However, a side project writing and producing music for George McCrae took Finch and Casey's "Rock Your Baby" and made it a hit in mid-1974, selling 11 million copies worldwide. The band's "Queen of Clubs", which featured uncredited vocals by George McCrae, was a hit in England, peaking at #7, and they went on tour to England in 1975 off that success. With the release of the self titled triple platinum second album KC and the Sunshine Band in 1975 came the group's first major US hit with "Get Down Tonight". It topped the R&B chart in April and the Billboard chart in August. "That's the Way (I Like It)" also became a number one hit in November 1975 and the group did well at the 1976 Grammy Awards. The 1976 album Part 3 yielded three top 5 singles: "I'm Your Boogie Man", "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" and "Keep It Comin' Love". Their success lasted until the fifth album and 1979—80; their last chart topping hit was "Please Don't Go" in December 1979, hitting #1 for one week in January 1980, and becoming the first #1 hit of the 1980s. With the declining popularity of disco, the group explored other styles and changed labels, joining Epic Records in 1980 after TK Records went bankrupt.

The Hustle - Van McCoy

McCoy began his music career in the mid-50’s, but soon gave it up to get a real job. However, after dropping out of Howard University, he went back to songwriting and had his first taste of success with the Shirelle’s “”Stop the Music” in 1962. However, he really came into his own after first working for top producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as a writer and then signing with the major April-Blackwood music publishing concern, connected with Columbia Records. McCoy would go on to write a string of hits as the '60s progressed. He penned Giving Up for Gladys Knight & The Pips, (later a hit for Donny Hathaway), The Sweetest Thing This Side Of Heaven for Chris Bartley, When You're Young And In Love for Ruby and the Romantics, Right On The Tip Of My Tongue for Brenda & The Tabulations, Baby I'm Yours for Barbara Lewis, Getting Mighty Crowded for Betty Everett and I Get the Sweetest Feeling for Jackie Wilson. He also put together the hit-making duo of Peaches & Herb, arranging and co-producing their first hit, "Let's Fall In Love" for Columbia subsidiary, Date in 1966. The same year, McCoy recorded a solo LP for Columbia entitled Night-time Is a Lonely Time, and, a year later, started his own short-lived label Vando, as well as his own production company VMP (Van McCoy Productions). In 1975, McCoy released to low expectations the mostly instrumental LP Disco Baby. Unexpectedly, a single called "The Hustle" from the album, written about the dance of the same name and recorded last for the album, went to the very top of both the Billboard pop and R&B charts (also #3 in Britain) and won a Grammy. And the rest, they say, is history. McCoy passed away 1979, following a heart attack. He was just 39 years old.

Lovin' You - Minnie Riperton

Riperton's daughter is Saturday Night Live actress Maya Rudolph, who was a child when "Lovin' You" was recorded. According to the liner notes from Riperton's Petals compilation CD, the melody to "Lovin' You" was created as a distraction for Maya when she was a baby, so that Riperton and her husband, Richard Rudolph, could spend time together. Maya can also be heard in discussion with Teena Marie on the final track "Too Many Colors (Tee's Interlude)" of Teena's 1980 album Lady T. Furthermore, Riperton mentions her daughter in the lyrics. In the end, she sings "Ma-ah-aha-aha-ah-ya." Riperton worked with Stevie Wonder as a backup singer, and Stevie produced this track for her. Due to contractual obligations, Wonder's name could not appear on the credits, so he's listed as "Black Bull Productions" Around 2000, this was featured in 2 commercials that gave it a renewed popularity. It was used in a Burger King commercial as well as a spot for Visa. Unfortunately, the enormously gifted Ms. Riperton passed away in 1979 after being diagnosed 3 years earlier with breast cancer. She was just 31 years old.

Killer Queen – Queen

This song had been widely rumored to be about former First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy. However, in the New Musical Express November 2, 1974, the song's writer Freddie Mercury elucidates on this song: "It's about a high class call girl. I'm trying to say that classy people can be whores as well. That's what the song is about, though I'd prefer people to put their interpretation upon it - to read into it what they like." This was the band's first major breakthrough on the worldwide singles charts, even though it was taken from their third album. Brian May in Q magazine March 2008: "This is a perfect pop record and one of Freddie's greatest songs. It's beautifully constructed and it's also got one of the solos I'm most proud of."

My Eyes Adored You - Frankie Valli

The song is about an unrequited love. Valli sings about a girl who he loved since his school days, but never attained. She was close to him, but she may have well been a million miles away. The song was written by Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe, who are the team that gave us "Lady Marmalade," which replaced this song at #1 in March, 1975. While this was credited to just Frankie Valli, his Four Seasons bandmates sang on it with him. They recorded the song for Motown Records, who refused to release it. When the group left Motown, Valli purchased the rights to the song for $4000 and shopped it to other record companies. They finally found a taker in the Private Stock Record label, and the song became a huge hit and revived Valli's career. The lyrics, "Walking home every day over Barnegat Bridge and Bay" are a reference to a real place in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Mandy - Barry Manilow

Scott English wrote the lyrics and recorded it in 1971 as "Brandy." His version was a hit in the UK. In the US, this was changed to "Mandy" to avoid confusion with the Looking Glass hit "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)." Richard Kerr wrote the music. Kerr is a pianist who teamed up with Will Jennings to write 2 more hits for Manilow: "Looks Like We Made It" and "Somewhere In The Night." This was Manilow's first hit single and the first song on Clive Davis' Arista Records label (formerly Bell) to hit the Billboard Hot 100 and really launched the singer’s career. The bit about "Mandy" being about Manilow's dog is an urban myth. English says he was woken by a phone call from a reporter, wanting to know who "Brandy" was. "I would have said anything to get rid of him," says the songwriter, "So I spat out the first thing that came to mind: It was about a dog like Lassie and I had sent her away - now you go away!' And I hung up on him."

Love Will Keep Us Together - The Captain and Tennille

Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote this in 1973 - it was the last song the longtime songwriting partners put together. They wrote it about their collaboration since their high school days. Sedaka actually recorded this for his Sedaka's Back LP before the Captain & Tennille did their version. Toni Tennille loved it when she first heard the song. Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille both came from musical families and had some success before they teamed up, both professionally and romantically. They did very well as a team, and have been together for more than 30 years. This was their first release and it took the country by storm during the summer. It ended up as the biggest hit of the year on the Billboard (as well as most other) charts, and it won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Sister Golden Hair – America

Guitarist Gerry Beckley wrote this. When asked if it was written to anyone, Beckley said: "No, this is all poetic license. With 'Sister Golden Hair,' as far as my folks were concerned, I was writing a song about my sister, and I couldn't quite fathom it; they must not have listened to the lyrics." Following their comeback the year before, attributed to the addition of former Beatles producer George Martin, the band it their peak popularity. Aside from this song reaching the top of the charts (their second number one following “A Horse With No Name”), this came from the second of four platinum albums – Holiday, Hearts, History – America’s Greatest Hits and Hideaway. Although their success waned after that, they managed another comeback in 1982; with the top ten hit “You Can Do Magic.” Today, the band is still recording and performing live. Last year, they released yet another comeback album Here and Now (yes, another “H” title), which was produced by James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne). The album brought America back into the Billboard album charts and was widely praised.

At Seventeen - Janis Ian

This song is about feeling alienated while growing up. It was more about Janis' life between the ages of 12-14, but "17" fit better into the lyrics. She was 15 when she had her first hit song, "Society's Child," and had been on the road for 2 years by the time she was 17. Although her childhood was not typical, she knew what it felt like to feel out of place at a young age. Janis: "I never went to a prom, but I did go to my 6th grade dance. That's the trick; it's just like acting. How many people are playing Hamlet whose father is a king? You take your own experience, find something similar in it and draw on that. Even though I didn't go to the prom, I knew what it was like not to get asked to the dance." Janis: "I had to move back into my mom's house because I was broke and I couldn't make any money on the road. I was sitting at the kitchen table with a guitar one day, and I was reading a New York Times article about a debutante, and the opening line was 'I learned the truth at 18.' I was playing that little Samba figure, and that line struck me for some reason. The whole article was about how she learned being a debutante didn't mean that much. I changed it to 17 because 18 didn't scan." This was nominated for 5 Grammys, the most any female artist had ever been nominated for at the time. It won for Best Female Pop Vocal and she became the first musical guest to perform on the new TV show “Saturday Night Live.”

Wildfire - Michael Murphy

Born in Dallas, Murphey’s love of the outdoors began at an early age when his parents took him and his brother Mark (who was three years Michael's junior) on regular trips to the country to visit relatives. When he was six years old, Murphey started riding horses on his grandfather and uncle's ranches. Years later he would remember sleeping on his grandfather's porch under the stars listening to the older man's stories and cowboy songs. He also enjoyed being around these men of the land as they went about their work. These experiences made a deep impression on the young boy. During these early years, Murphey developed a special love for cowboy songs and stories. He made a name for himself in the LA folk music scene after graduating college and got his big break through his friend Michael Nesmith, who had become part of the popular television musical group, The Monkees. Nesmith asked Murphey to write them a song for the next Monkees album, and Murphey composed "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round." The album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. sold over five million copies. In 1975, he released his seminal album, Blue Sky, Night Thunder, which contained the hit "Carolina in the Pines" and what is perhaps his masterpiece, "Wildfire", a sentimental song about the ghosts of a woman and her horse. As a boy, he first heard from his grandfather the story of a ghost horse rescuing people in the desert. Years later, Murphey had a dream about this ghost horse and wrote the words and music the same day with songwriter Larry Cansler.

Bonus Track


ABBA was a Swedish pop music group formed in 1972. The band consisted of Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They topped the charts worldwide from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The name "ABBA" is an acronym formed from the first letters of each of the group members' given names (Agnetha, Benny, Björn, Anni-Frid).They gained immense international popularity employing catchy song hooks, simple lyrics, and a Wall of Sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies. As their popularity grew, they were sought after to tour Europe, Australia, and North America, drawing crowds of near-hysterical fans, notably in Australia. Touring became a contentious issue, being particularly unpopular with Agnetha, but they continued to release studio albums to great commercial success. At the height of their popularity, however, both marriages of the band members (Benny with Frida, and Björn with Agnetha) failed, and the relationship changes were reflected in their music, as they produced more thoughtful lyrics with different compositions. At one time, they were the biggest selling music band in recording history – surpassing even the Beatles. While their popularity soared all over the world, the States were not as welcoming. Their songs still charted in America, but nowhere near at the level of Europe.

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