Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

1972 v.2

By this year, the legend of Howard Hughes had grown to almost mythical proportions. While there were stories of his eccentricities, no one knew whom to believe. All that was really known was that he was completely secluded from society. Because he figured the recluse Hughes would never sue him, Clifford Irving wrote an unauthorized autobiography of Hughes (Irving forged letters from Hughes to convince McGraw-Hill to publish the book). However, even though the book proved to be an accurate description of the troubled billionaire, Irving’s gamble didn’t pan out, as Hughes contacted the outside world to clear his name. Irving was eventually arrested and served 17 months in prison.

In May, he Magnavox Odyssey video game system is released, thus marking the dawn of the video game age. A few weeks later, Alabama Governor George Wallace, a viable candidate for President (and the last candidate to win Electoral votes as a 3rd-Party candidate), was shot – and eventually paralyzed - by Arthur Herman Bremer at a Laurel, Maryland political rally. Later that month, the Watergate Hilton Hotel has a break-in.

Tragedy struck Managua, Nicaragua as a 6.25 Richter-scale earthquake kills 5,000-12,000 people in the capital city. 8 days later, while flying to this native homeland to deliver aid, soon-to-be-Baseball-Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente was killed when his plane crashed en route. The previous season saw Clemente hit his 3,000th and final hit in the season finale. The 38-year-old’s body was never found.

Lean On Me - Bill Withers

Withers did not record his first song until he was 32 years old. He was in the US Navy for 9 years, and then worked at a factory making parts for airplanes. Says Withers: "Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you're passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be 8 days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations. I think what we say is influenced by how we are, what's been our life experiences. Now, I notice young guys writing about shooting each other in the city and stuff like that, well I would never have said anything like that because it was not my experience, I'm not from a big city. I think circumstance dictates what people think."

Precious and Few - Climax

Climax consisted of Gordon MacKinnon (Horn), Wilt Nims (Guitar), Joe Osbourne (Bass), Earl Palmer (Drums), Reinie Press (Bass), John Raines (Drumes), John Stevenson (Keyboards), Joe Bellamy (Bass), Larry Cox (Percussion), Nick D'Amico (keyboards), Alan Estes (Percussion), Sonny Geraci (Vocals), John Guttman (Percussion, Drums), Larry Knechtel (Keyboards) and Steve La Fever (Bass). The band is often considered a one-hit wonder because no other releases gained much widespread success. Climax was together from 1970 to 1976. They recorded one album, many singles and unreleased sides. Nims was their principal songwriter and guitarist and his younger sister Debbie Nims toured, played violin, and sang backing vocals with Garth Brooks.

Summer Breeze – Seal and Crofts

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were from Texas. They belonged to the group The Champs in the late '50s and early '60s (The Champs had a hit "Tequila" in 1958). When the group dissolved in 1965, they worked with several other artists including Gene Vincent. In 1969 they released their first album as a duo. "Summer Breeze" was the first hit single, appearing on their fourth album in fall 1972. Jim Seals is the brother of Dan Seals, who was "England Dan" in the duo England Dan and John Ford Coley.

I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash

Johnny Nash is a Texas singer/songwriter who recorded Reggae-influenced music. In 1967 he went to Jamaica and recorded his song "Hold Me Tight" and a cover of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" with a local rhythm section. Both songs became hits in Jamaica, and over the next two years also charted in England and the United States. By 1972, "Cecilia" and "Mother And Child Reunion" found some success in the States incorporating Reggae rhythms, and Nash followed that trend with "I Can See Clearly Now." Nash had legitimate Reggae credentials - Bob Marley (before he became crazy famous) was an assistant producer and session player on the album, and also wrote 3 of the songs, including "Stir It Up," which became Nash's next - and final - hit.

Taxi - Harry Chapin

This was Chapin's first single. Harry had his taxi drivers license in New York City and worked as a driver for 6 months in Long Beach, New York. Sandy Chapin, who was married to Harry from 1968 until his death in 1981, told us the story: "He had been working in film, that was how he made his living. Harry's plan at the time was to make enough money in 5 or 6 months that he would not have to work for 5 or 6 months, and during which time he would write screenplays. And then, the money did run out and he went back to look for some work in film, but there wasn't anything available. He needed a job; he wanted to still to be able to write, so he applied for a cab license. And I was something like 8 months pregnant. I felt very positive about it, because I thought, wow, it would be a great experience, because people in cabs will tell him stories, and he'll get all kinds of characters for songs. I think he was feeling pretty low about it, and wrote the song 'Taxi' with the idea that the people he had told his dreams - that he was gonna make a great film - were gonna get into the cab, and so he ended up being a cab driver after all the big talk. And one of whom would be the girlfriend that he had while he was at Cornell. Sue was a real person."

Hold Your Head Up – Argent

This was the only US Top-40 hit for Argent, who were named for their keyboard player Rod Argent, who was previously a member of The Zombies. Chris White, who was The Zombies’ bass player, wrote this song. Argent performed the song on the British TV show Top Of The Pops, and attracted a much wider audience as a result. In Cream magazine, July 1972, their guitarist Russ Ballard explained: "People are getting a shock when they realize that not all of our numbers are like 'Hold Your Head Up.' We're attracting a lot of people who've seen us on Top Of The Pops – people who would normally dismiss us as being just another progressive band.” Ballard would continue to make a name for himself as a writer and producer. In 1981, he wrote the top 20 hit “Winning” for Santana and the next year, he penned two top 10 hits – Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On” and “You Can Do Magic” by America. From there, he proceeded to have an enormous hand in the making of their next LP Your Move, in 1983, which included his song “The Border” (co-written with Dewey Bunnell), that peaked at #33 that summer.

Operator – Jim Croce

Ingrid Croce, who was married to Jim from 1966 until his death in 1973, told us: "'Operator' is one of my favorite songs. I think it's a pretty interesting song in the way in which it was composed. It's probably like a lot of songs of Jim's, but it's one that I think a lot of people relate to in a whole bunch of different ways. (While in the National Guard) he was standing there in the rain at a payphone. And he was listening to these stories of all these guys, the 'Dear John' stories, that were standing in line waiting their turn in the rain with these green rain jackets over their heads - I can just picture it, all of them in line waiting for their 3-minute phone call. Most of them were getting on the phone and they were okay, but some of them were getting these 'Dear John' letters, or phone calls. I think that was the most important aspect of the song, because it was just so desperate. You know, 'I only have a dime' and 'You can keep the dime' because money was very scarce and very precious, and I think if you look at the words to the song there are so many aspects of our generation that are in it.

I Need You – America

After their breakthrough hit – “A Horse With No Name” – the band turned to a different lead singer, Gerry Beckley, for their next single. While it was too early to tell how far their fortunes would take them, already the trio began to formulize their recordings. Each band member would contribute 3 songs each and the other track(s) would be a combined effort. Early on, it became clear that while Dewey Bunnell was the poet/conscience of the band, and Dan Peek would be the rocker, Beckley fell in very nicely as the soft rocker/balladeer. His future hits, including “Daisy Jane”, “Sister Golden Hair” and “All My Life” would establish himself as a master at writing love songs. Eventually, he became the more popular voice of America. Ironically, this was the very first song he ever wrote, penning it when he was just 16.

Without You – Nilsson

Badfinger members Peter Ham and Tom Evans wrote this. Ham had written a song called "Is This Love?," but wasn't happy with the chorus. Evans came up with the "I cant' live if living is without you" chorus, but had no verses for it, so they put the 2 songs together as one. Nilsson first came across this song at a Laurel Canyon party in 1971 and thought it was a Beatles song. Ironically, Badfinger was signed to Apple Records, The Beatles' label. Nilsson's version added an orchestra and gave the song a dramatic production. When Nilsson recorded it, he initially played the song slow and dark, accompanied only by piano. Producer Richard Perry recalled to Mojo magazine April 2008 that he had to persuade an unwilling Nilsson to record it as a big ballad: "I had to force him to take a shot with the rhythm section. Even while we were doing it, he'd be saying to the musicians, 'This song's awful.'" This won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal in 1973. January 15 is a date with some interesting coincidences where Nilsson's version of this song is concerned. He died on January 15, 1994, the same day Mariah Carey's version was released, which is also 22 years to the day after his interpretation of "Without You" hit #1 on the US charts.

Conquistador – Procol Harem

Procol Harum's lyricist Keith Reid told us the story behind this song: "Gary Brooker and I, before we formed Procol Harum, when we were just working together as songwriters and getting into it, we had this regular deal where he lived about 40 miles from London near the ocean, and I'd jump on a train once a week and go visit him. He'd have a bunch of my lyrics and he'd play me whatever he had been working on. This particular time, though, I'd got down there and he'd been working on a tune. He said, 'What does this sound like to you?' And I said, 'Oh, conquistador.' It had a little bit of a Spanish flavor to it. I went into another room and started writing the words there and then. 99 out of 100 of those Procol Harum songs were written the words first, and then were set to music. But that particular one, the words hadn't existed before he had the musical idea." This became a hit when Procol Harum recorded it live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on November 18, 1971.

Bonus Track

The Candy Man – Sammy Davis Jr.

Aubrey Woods performed this in the 1971 movie Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson. Co-writer Anthony Newley was so appalled at Woods' performance that he asked producers Stan Margulies and David Wolper to let him perform Woods' role if they could reshoot the scene, but Newley's offer was turned down. As the movie wrapped up production, Mike Curb recorded an instrumental backing for the song with Sammy Davis Jr. in mind. The former member of the Rat Pack didn't like the song at first but decided to do it anyway. The result: the biggest hit of Davis' career. Newley wasn't too thrilled with Davis's version either. He was recording his own edition of the song when MGM released Davis's version as a single. Newley was going through a divorce from actress Joan Collins in the same year Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory was released.

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