Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


(for an earlier version of 1973, click here)

What was a harbinger of history to come, January 1st brought the nations of Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark into the European Economic Community, which later becomes the European Union. Later that month, the U.S. Supreme Court gives its' final verdict in the matter of Roe v. Wade, which overturns states abortion bans.

In March, as the Watergate scandal begins to target President Nixon, the White House announces that the last American soldier has left Vietnam. The first week of April brought three "firsts." The first handheld cell phone, the opening of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers (the Sears Tower in Chicago opens a month later) and the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball (Ron Bloomberg of the New York Yankees). A couple of weeks later, Federal Express begins operations in Memphis, Tennessee.

NASA launches the Skylab program in May. Also that month, Secretariat becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. The Middle East is once again at the center of world events, as Black September members open fire at the Athens airport; 3 are killed, 55 injured. This was the same Palestinian group that murdered 11 Israeli athletes the year before, during the Olympics. Just over a month later, Egyptian and Syrian forces coordinate a sneak attack on Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. While the Arabs score a first strike win, Israel eventually regroups and defeats the Arab armies.

The end of the year brought in a change in the U.S. Vice Presidency, as Spiro Agnew resigns following his no contest plea to charges of income tax evasion. Gerald R. Ford is sworn in to replace him.

Midnight Train to Georgia -- Gladys Knight and the Pips (lyrics)

This was written and originally recorded by Jim Weatherly, who had a solo hit in 1974 with "The Need To Be." Weatherly explained the origin of this song in an interview with Gary James: "the song actually came about after a phone call I had with Farrah Fawcett. Lee Majors was a friend of mine. We'd played in the Flag Football League together in L.A. He had just started dating Farrah. One day I called Lee and Farrah answered the phone. We were just talking and she said she was packing. She was gonna take the midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. So, it just stayed with me. After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote the song probably in about 30 to 45 minutes."

Time in a Bottle -- Jim Croce (lyrics)

This hit #1 14 weeks after Croce was killed in a plane crash. Croce started touring after he completed I Got A Name. On September 30, 1973 a plane carrying Croce and 5 other people crashed upon takeoff as he was leaving one college venue to another 70 miles away. No one survived the accident, and among those killed was Maury Muehleisen, who played guitar on Croce's albums. This song entered the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending December 1, 1973 and finally reached #1 for the week ending December 29, a little over 3 months after he died.

The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia -- Vicki Lawrence (lyrics)

This song tells the tale of a man who finds out from his friend Andy that his wife had cheated on him with both Andy and a guy named Seth. This being Georgia, he gets a gun and sets out to kill Andy, but when he gets there Andy is already dead. The police show up, arrest him for killing Andy and he is hanged. The singer then reveals that she is the man's sister and that she shot Andy and also killed her brother's wife. This was the only hit for Lawrence. She was an actress on The Carol Burnett Show and starred in Mama's Family.

Money -- Pink Floyd (lyrics)

This song is about the bad things money can bring. Ironically, it made Pink Floyd lots of cash, as the album sold over 34 million copies. Many studio effects were used on this song. They were using a new 16-track recorder, which allowed them to layer sounds much easier, but complex studio techniques like this still took a long time to do in 1973, as there weren't digital recorders and samplers available like we have today.

Crocodile Rock -- Elton John

This tells the story of a guy in the '50s and '60s who frequented a restaurant where the patrons loved an obscure dance called the Crocodile Rock. Because of all the events that happened in the '60s, however, this unknown little dance forever vanished into history and no one cared anymore. Even his girlfriend, who also enjoyed "burning up to the Crocodile Rock," left him. It's a catchy little song with really sad lyrics.

Killing Me Softly With His Song -- Roberta Flack (lyrics)

This was written by the songwriting team of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1972. The story goes that the song was inspired by Don McLean, a singer/songwriter famous for his hit "American Pie." After being mesmerized by one of his concerts at the Troubadour theater in Los Angeles - and in particular McLean's song "Empty Chairs" - Lieberman described what she saw of McLean's performance to Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who were writing songs for her new album, and they wrote the song for her.

The Morning After -- Maureen McGovern (lyrics)

This was written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn for the Oscar-winning movie The Poseidon Adventure, starring Gene Hackman. The original title of the song was "Why Must There Be a Morning After?" During the spring of 1972, Russ Regan (the head of 20th Century Records at the time) began looking for someone to record "The Morning After" for the singles market. He originally offered the song to Barbra Streisand, but she turned it down in favor of other projects. He then remembered hearing (months before) a demo tape from a secretary who was a part-time Folk singer (and who had never made a record before) named Maureen McGovern. Regan liked her voice so much, that he immediately hired her sight unseen to record the song.

Feelin' Stronger Every Day - Chicago (lyrics)

In a 1991 interview, Peter Cetera said that while the song is about "both healing and moving on after the end of a relationship," it could just as well apply to the dynamic wave of success that Chicago was riding at this time. This was their second #1 album on the US album charts, their third two-time platinum album, and they would yet have two more consecutive #1's on the US album charts. This song comes right at what many could argue was the peak of their career, although even the lowest of Chicago's career could pass for moderate success for other bands.

Could It Be I'm Falling In Love - The Spinners (lyrics)

"Could it be I'm Falling in Love" was written by Melvin Steals and Mervin Steals, who according to Chancellor of Soul, were two songwriter brothers working for The Spinners' label, Atlantic Records, who were sometimes credited as "Mystro and Lyric." If The Spinners sound a little more like Motown than New York, that's because they used to be signed with Motown Records. The self-titled Spinners album was their first produced on their shiny new Atlantic contract. They were even known as "The Motown Spinners" before, but changed their name to "The Detroit Spinners" after moving to Atlantic. Both of these names are more commonly heard in the UK, to avoid confusion with a British group also called The Spinners. In the US, they're usually just called "Spinners." As a side note, I think I was the only white Jewish kid in Dallas who loved "Soul Train."

You're So Vain -- Carly Simon (lyrics)

The person Simon is singing about in this song remains a mystery, as she has never made it clear who she wrote it about; rumors include Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens, and Mick Jagger, all of whom she had affairs with. The media and the general public seemed to want this to be about a specific person, however, and Simon was happy to indulge. In a 2008 interview to promote her album This Kind of Love, she said: "When I had the line 'You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you,' that was definitely about one person. The rest of the descriptions basically came from my relationship with that person."


Playground In My Mind -- Clint Holmes
(by request/Elizabeth Rand)

The nursery rhyme-styled song features Holmes performing a duet with producer Paul Vance's son Philip (he passed away 12/13/09) on the chorus. This song was written by Vance and Lee Pockriss, released in the U.S. in July 1972 but did not reach the Hot 100 until March 1973, where it stayed for 23 weeks. Holmes as been a Las Vegas attraction for many years and was the announcer on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, which ran from 1986-1988.

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