Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year


(for a previous 1976 list, click here)

As mentioned in my previous 1976 list, the year was marked as a  year long celebration honoring the United States bicentennial. But there was much more to this year. In January, France sends up the first supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde. While commercial jets take eight hours to fly from New York to Paris, the average supersonic flight time on the transatlantic routes was just under 3.5 hours.

In april, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak form Apple Computers. In sports, the NBA and ABA agree to merge. Also, Major League Baseball expands to include the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. The 21st Summer Olympics are held in Montreal, Canada. At age 14, gymnast Nadia Comăneci of Romania scored seven perfect 10.0 and won three gold medals, including the prestigious All-Around. The scoreboard could hold only 3 digits and the score was shown as 1.00.

On June 27th, Palestinian terrorists hijack an Air France plane in Greece with 246 passengers and 12 crew members. They take it to Entebbe, Uganda . A week later, in what has been called one of the most daring and successful rescue missions in world history, Israeli airborne commandos free the remaining103 hostages (all the non-Jews were allowed to return home); 1 Israeli soldier – the brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several Ugandan soldiers are killed in the raid.

In July, in New York City, the "Son of Sam" pulls a gun from a paper bag, killing 1 and seriously wounding another, in the first of a series of attacks that terrorize the city for the next year. In August, A gunman murders Andrea Wilborn and Stan Farr and injures Priscilla Davis and Gus Gavrel, in an incident at Priscilla's mansion in Fort Worth, Texas. T. Cullen Davis, Priscilla's husband and one of the richest men in Texas, is tried and found innocent for Andrea's murder, involvement in a plot to kill several people (including Priscilla and a judge), and a wrongful death lawsuit. Cullen goes broke afterwards. September brought in the incarceration of Patty Heart and the founding of the band U2. By the end of the year, Jimmy Cater is sworn in a President of the United States and Mayor Richard J. Daley passes away in Chicago. He had served as Mayor of the Windy City for 21 years.

December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) - The Four Seasons (lyrics)

According to the co-writer and longtime band member Bob Gaudio, the song was originally set in 1933 with the title "December 5th, 1933," and celebrated the repeal of Prohibition. Neither lead singer Frankie Valli nor co-writer (and Gaudio's wife) Judy Parker were thrilled about the lyrics - and Valli objected to parts of the melody - so Gaudio redid the words and Parker redid the melody until all were content with the finished product. It ended up being a nostalgic love song. The group had to play down the sexual overtones in this song to appease conservative radio stations, but lead singer Frankie Valli later admitted that the song was "about losing your cherry" - a guy having sex for the first time. It's a similar theme to the Shirelles hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." The lead singer on the first verse was their drummer Gerri Polci - Frankie Valli comes in on the second verse. As well as sharing the lead in "December 1963," Polci was the lead singer on the group's third hit from the Who Loves You LP, "Silver Star," which hit #38 in the US. Their fifth and final #1 hit in the US, this was the only Four Seasons recording to top the UK charts.

Fanny, Be Tender (With My Love) - The Bee Gees (lyrics)

While recording the LP Main Course, the producer Arif Martin asked if one of the Bee Gees could do some screaming during the main chorus to make the songs more exciting. In response, Barry Gibb began singing higher and higher, eventually singing it in a falsetto that was unexpectedly powerful. He had never known he had such an ability and Barry's falsetto became a trademark of the Bee Gees. Barry Gibb recalled in a May 2001 interview with Mojo magazine: "Arif said to me, 'Can you scream?' I said, Under certain circumstances. He said, 'Can you scream in tune?' I said, Well, I'll try." In 1975, the Bee Gees moved their operations to Miami Beach, Florida at the suggestion of Eric Clapton following his comeback album 461 Ocean Boulevard the year before. The group recorded their previous  album with famed R/B producer Mardin, called Mr. Natural in 1974 with little commercial success. The album did, however, open the Gibbs to a new sound compared to the kind of music the brothers were producing in the early 1970's. This new R/B-flavored sound carried over on to their next album, also produced by Arif Mardin. For the band, there success on Main Course was nothing short of astounding. While they had success in the late '60s, and had a #1 hit ("How Can You Mend a Broken Heart") in 1971, the Bee Gees seemed to have past their prime. However, with the new sound and falsetto, in a just another year, the band would soon reach heights only Elvis Presley and The Beatles would know.

Welcome Back - John Sebastian (lyrics)

Sebastian wrote this as the theme song for the ABC TV show Welcome Back, Kotter, staring Gabe Kaplan as a teacher who returns to his old school and is placed in a class of misfits known as The Sweathogs. The show was a big break for John Travolta, who played one of The Sweathogs. Since it was written for the TV show, the song was less than a minute long. Viewers loved the song and related to the message about returning to the place where you laughed and your dreams were born. It became clear that there was demand for a full-length song, so Sebastian wrote a second verse and it was released as a single. Although the song does not have the word "Kotter" anywhere in the lyrics or title, the first pressings of the single were released as "Welcome Back, Kotter," to make sure everyone connected the song with the TV show. Sebastian was a member of The Lovin' Spoonful. This was his only hit as a solo artist.

And here is the opening to the television show.

Dream Weaver - Gary Wright (lyrics)

On Gary Wright's official site, he explains: "In 1972, my friend George Harrison invited me to accompany him on a trip to India. A few days before we left, he have me a copy of the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Needless to say the book inspired me deeply, and I became totally fascinated with Indian culture and philosophy. My trip was an experience I will never forget. During the early '70s while reading more of the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda, I came across a poem called God! God! God! One of the lines in the poem referred to the idea of the mind weaving dreams and the thought immediately occurred to me, weaver of dreams... Dream Weaver. I wrote it down in my journal of song titles and forgot about it. Several months passed, and one weekend, while in the English countryside, I picked up my journal and came across the title 'Dream Weaver.' Feeling inspired, I picked up my acoustic guitar and began writing. The song was finished in an hour. The lyrics and music seemed to have flowed out of me as if written by an unseen source. After the record was released and became successful many people asked me what the song meant. I really wasn't sure myself and would answer 'it was about a kind of fantasy experience... a Dream Weaver train taking you through the cosmos.' But I was never satisfied with that explanation, and as years went by I began to reflect on what the song actually meant and then it came to me: 'Dream Weaver, I believe you can get me through the night...' was a song about someone with infinite compassion and love carrying us through the night of our trials and suffering. None other than God Himself."

Love Hurts - Nazareth (lyrics)

Nazareth made this song a hit, but it was originally recorded by the Everly Brothers. Roy Orbison also released it in 1961 as the B-side to his #1 hit "Running Scared." Nazareth was formed in December 1968 in Dunfermline, Scotland, out of the ashes of semi-professional local group The Shadettes (formed in 1961) by vocalist Dan McCafferty, guitarist Manny Charlton, bassist Pete Agnew and drummer Darrell Sweet. They took their name from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, which is cited in the first line of The Band's classic song "The Weight" ("I pulled into Nazareth / Was feelin' about half past dead..."). Nazareth's cover version of "Java Blues" by The Band's bassist/singer Rick Danko and Emmett Grogan is on their 1981 live album Snaz. Various Nazareth line-ups continued to make studio albums and tour throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although their popularity had declined such that some albums no longer received either a UK or a US release. They remained popular in Europe, particularly Germany, where "Dream On" became a hit single. A tribute came in 1993 when Guns N' Roses covered Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" on The Spaghetti Incident? album, consolation after they turned down Axl Rose's request for the group to play at his wedding. Nazareth maintained a live following in Europe and the US. In 1999, while touring the US, original drummer Darrell Sweet died at age 51 of a heart attack. He was replaced by bassist Pete Agnew's son Lee for later editions of the band. In February 2008, The Newz was released on the Hamburg-based label, Edel Entertainment. The release of the album coincided with Nazareth's fortieth anniversary tour. A follow up album, Big Dogz, was released in April 2011.

Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac (lyrics)

Stevie Nicks wrote this on a piano with help from her boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham. At the time, they were recording as Buckingham-Nicks and about to release this on their second album, but they joined Fleetwood Mac instead and recorded it with them. Rhiannon is the name of a Welsh goddess. According to myth, Rhiannon shuns a God and marries a mortal man. That God then frames her for the murder of her own son, and she is forced to stand at the entrance to a city and tell everyone entering that she killed her child. Nicks started writing this after reading the book Triad by Mary Leader. It is about a woman who believes she is being possessed by the spirit of a woman named Rhiannon. There are themes of mythology and the occult that Nicks used in her song along with the name. Nicks did not know the story of Rhiannon the goddess until after she wrote the song, but she felt the lyrics fit that story as well. The Goddess Rhiannon rode a white horse and traveled with 3 birds that had healing powers. The birds appear in various Celtic symbols. Nicks introduced this in concerts as being about a Welsh witch. In interviews, she said Rhiannon was a good witch. This song was a huge influence on the image of Stevie Nicks, inspiring her flowing shawls and black outfits she began wearing on stage. It gave her a mystical look that caught on with her fans, who often dress like her. Nicks wrote various songs related to Rhiannon before joining Fleetwood Mac. At one point, she considered making it a project of some kind, perhaps a movie.

Baby, I Love Your Way - Peter Frampton (lyrics)

This is a very romantic love ballad. Frampton is telling his girl that he loves everything about her and wants to be with her day and night. This went nowhere when Frampton first released it as a single in 1975. The next year, he included it on his live album, Frampton Comes Alive!, and it helped the album become a huge hit. The live version was the second single released from the album, after "Show Me The Way" and before "Do You Feel Like We Do." By the age of ten, Frampton played in a band called The Little Ravens. Both he and David Bowie were pupils at Bromley Technical School. The Little Ravens played on the same bill at school as Bowie's band, George and the Dragons. Peter and David would spend time together at lunch breaks, playing Buddy Holly songs. At the age of 11, Peter was playing with a band called The Trubeats followed by a band called The Preachers, produced and managed by Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones. He became a successful child singer, and in 1966, he became a member of The Herd. He was the lead guitarist and singer, scoring a handful of British pop hits. Frampton was named "The Face of 1968" by teen magazine Rave. In early 1969, when Frampton was 18 years old, he joined with Steve Marriott of The Small Faces to form Humble Pie. While playing with Humble Pie, Frampton also did session recording with other artists, including: Harry Nilsson, Jim Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as on George Harrison's solo All Things Must Pass, in 1970, and John Entwistle's Whistle Rymes, in 1972. During the Harrison session he was introduced to the 'talk box' that was to become one of his trademark guitar effects.

Shower the People - James Taylor (lyrics)

This song was the third AC #1 hit for JT, following "You've Got a Friend" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)". Taylor began attending Milton Academy, a prep boarding school in the Boston area in the fall 1961; summering before then with his family on Martha's Vineyard, he met Danny Kortchmar, an aspiring teenage guitarist from Larchmont, NY. The two began listening to and playing blues and folk music together, and Kortchmar quickly realized that Taylor's singing had a "natural sense of phrasing, every syllable beautifully in time. I knew James had that thing." Taylor wrote his first song on guitar at age 14, and continued to learn the instrument effortlessly. By the summer of 1963, he and Kortchmar were playing coffeehouses around the Vineyard, billed as "Jamie & Kootch". Kortchmar later worked as a session musician and songwriter for a number of '70s music legends, most notably Jackson Browne and Don Henley. Taylor faltered during his junior year at Milton, not feeling at ease in the high-pressured college prep environment despite having good scholastic performance. The Milton principal would later say, "James was more sensitive and less goal oriented than most students of his day." He returned home to North Carolina to finish out the semester at Chapel Hill High School. There he joined a band his brother Alex had formed called The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs), playing electric guitar; in 1964 they cut a single in Raleigh that featured James's song "Cha Cha Blues" on the B-side. Having lost touch with his former school friends in North Carolina, Taylor returned to Milton for his senior year. There, Taylor started applying to colleges, but soon descended into depression; his grades collapsed, he slept twenty hours a day, and he felt part of a "life that I [was] unable to lead." In late 1965 he committed himself to the renowned McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, where he was treated with Thorazine and where the organized days began to give him a sense of time and structure. As the Vietnam War built up, Taylor received a psychological rejection from Selective Service System when he appeared before them with two white-suited McLean assistants and was uncommunicative. Taylor earned a high school diploma in 1966 from the hospital's associated Arlington School and would later view his nine-month stay at McLean as "a lifesaver ... like a pardon or like a reprieve," and both his brother Livingston and sister Kate would later be patients and students there as well. As for his mental health struggles, Taylor would think of them as innate, and say: "It's an inseparable part of my personality that I have these feelings." Of course, JT would later use the experience at McLean as his inspiration for the hit single, "Sweet Baby James."

Get Closer - Seals and Crofts (lyrics)

"Get Closer" is the title track from Seals and Crofts eighth studio album, released when they were surfing the peak of their success. The duo - Jim Seals and Dash Crofts - wrote the song together and featured guest star on backing vocals Carolyn Willis, who was a member of the band The Honey Cone ("Want Ads"). This recording just happens to have come along shortly after Seals and Crofts played the famous California Jam of 1974, where they shared a stage with... Black Sabbath, The Eagles, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Deep Purple, and Earth Wind and Fire. The diverse lineup was telecast in part on an ABC special, giving the duo newfound fame. Seals and Crofts are both members of the Baha'i faith - so much so that they'd frequently close their live concerts by passing out literature and preaching onstage about their religion. After a long and successful run of recordings in the 1970s, the two lost their contract with Warner Brothers in 1980 and decided to set aside music for a while. They held a short reunion tour in 1991–1992 and appeared at several Bahá'í gatherings. Crofts lived in Mexico, Australia and then Nashville, TN, playing country music and making occasional hit singles. His brother, Dan Seals (formerly of England Dan and John Ford Coley) is also a successful Country music artist. Seals moved to Costa Rica and has lived on a coffee farm off and on since 1980, as well as in Nashville. Crofts currently resides on a ranch in the Texas hill country. In 2003 Seals and Crofts reunited and recorded their first new album since 1998, called Traces. In 2011 the bandmates' daughters, Juliet Seals and Amelia Crofts, used the name "Seals and Crofts" for their musical act.

It's Over - Boz Scaggs (lyrics)

William Royce "Boz" Scaggs was born in Canton, Ohio, the son of a traveling salesman. The family moved to McAlester, OK, then to Plano, at that time a Texas farm town just north of Dallas. He attended a Dallas private school, St. Mark's, where a schoolmate gave him the nickname "Bosley"; this was later shortened to "Boz". After learning guitar at the age of 12, he met Steve Miller at St. Mark's. In 1959, he became the vocalist for Miller's band, The Marksmen. The pair later attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison together, playing in blues bands like The Ardells and The Fabulous Knight Trains. Leaving school, Scaggs briefly joined the burgeoning rhythm and blues scene in London. After singing in bands such as The Wigs and Mother Earth, he traveled to Sweden as a solo performer, and in 1965 recorded his solo debut album, Boz, which was not a commercial success. Scaggs also had a brief stint with the band The Other Side with Mac MacLeod and fellow American Jack Downing. Returning to the U.S., Scaggs promptly headed for the booming psychedelic music center of San Francisco in 1967. Linking up with Steve Miller again, he appeared on the Steve Miller Band's first two albums, Children of the Future and Sailor. After being spotted by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, Scaggs secured a solo contract with Atlantic Records in 1968, releasing his second album, Boz Scaggs in 1969. Despite good reviews, the LP, featuring the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and session guitarist Duane Allman, performing Fenton Robinson's "Loan Me A Dime," achieved only moderate sales, as did follow-up albums on Columbia Records. In 1976, he linked up with session musicians who would later form Toto and recorded his smash album Silk Degrees. The album reached #2 on the  Billboard 200, and #1 in a number of countries across the world, spawning four hit singles: "It's Over", "Lowdown", "Lido Shuffle", and "What Can I Say", as well as the MOR standard "We're All Alone," later recorded by Rita Coolidge and Frankie Valli. "Lowdown" sold over one million copies in the US. A sellout world tour followed. In the summer of 2010, Scaggs began a tour with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald. They are performing together as one band billed as The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue. The show includes classic rock and R/B songs by various artists and personal repertoire songs from all three headliners.


Nadia's Theme - Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr.

The melody, originally titled "Cotton's Dream," was composed, and lyrics were written for it, by De Vorzon and Botkin Jr. as incidental music for the 1971 theatrical film Bless the Beasts and Children. The instrumental version was commercially released on that film's soundtrack album on A&M Records. The soundtrack also included "Lost", a song set to the same to same melody but with different lyrics, performed by Renee Armand. Botkin Jr. later composed a rearranged version of the instrumental theme for the U.S. TV soap opera The Young and the Restless, which debuted on March 26, 1973, on the CBS television network. Although a soundtrack album for the TV series was released by P.I.P. Records in 1974, the LP only contained a cover version by easy listening group Sounds of Sunshine, rather than the original recording by De Vorzon and Botkin. In the summer of 1976, ABC's sports summary program Wide World of Sports used the original The Young and the Restless theme for a montage of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci's routines during the Olympics. However, Nadia never performed her floor exercises using this piece of music; instead, she used a piano arrangement of a medley of the songs "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "Jump in the Line."


David Schwartz said...

Great Boz Scaggs choice. Has always been my favorite off that album.

Shayne said...

Thanks, David. Mine Too!

Dana said...

I love "Rhiannon.'

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love these songs. Great choices.