American Top 40 PastBlast, 12/4/71: Coven, “One Tin Soldier (The Legend Of Billy Jack)”

On the Wikipedia page for a song from this past weekend’s 70s rebroadcast is this somewhat odd sentence:

The single went to number 26 on the Billboard pop chart before it was pulled from radio by the film’s producer. 

The single in question is Coven’s cover of “One Tin Solder.” The film is, of course, Billy Jack, and the producer was also its director, co-screenwriter, and lead actor, Tom Loughlin. On the surface, the twelve-week Hot 100 run of the song doesn’t exactly scream support for the above claim: 87-80-64-52-43-41-39-30-29-27-26-30. There’s no surge up the chart followed by a sudden collapse. Additionally, it was not uncommon at all in the early 70s for songs to tumble out of the Hot 100 from within the Top 40 (on this chart, the songs at #35, #29, #26, and #23 do the same).

On the other hand, it is true that Loughlin was having trouble with Warner Brothers, Billy Jack’s distributor—it appears that perhaps the movie was taken out of theaters suddenly. Loughlin eventually gained control of the distribution rights and re-released it himself, to significant success, two years later. (I’ve never seen it; I don’t find this synopsis of the plot enticing, either.)

And this is where I think my memories of encountering “One Tin Solder (The Legend of Billy Jack)” begin. Even though it didn’t get all that high on the charts in 73 (more on that shortly), based on my mind’s eye, there had to have been stations in Cincinnati playing it then. My sister and I were known to sing along robustly with the chorus; I’m still pretty fond of it.

Some other stuff I’ve gleaned from working the Internet the last couple of days (yes, mostly Wikipedia, I fear), in bullet form:

–Even though Coven is credited on the 71 single, it’s really just their vocalist Jinx Dawson in the studio with an orchestra. Coven did record the song for themselves around the time of Billy Jack’s re-release. The new take peaked at #79 in August of 73. (The Dawson-only version that hit in 71 was also put back out there a few months later; it reached #73 in January of 74.)

–I had a conversation with my friend Warren about the song a couple of years ago. He doesn’t like it at all, for reasons I think I can guess (I’ll let him say why, though, if he wishes). But he had a theory for the song’s appeal: its trochaic meter, alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. (“LIS-ten CHIL-dren TO a STO-ry THAT was WRIT-ten LONG a-GO”). I don’t know if that’s really what makes it attractive, but I definitely learned something about poetry from the discussion.

–The first version of “One Tin Soldier,” by Canadians the Original Caste, was a Top 10 hit in Canada at the end of 69 (it made #34 here in the U.S. in February of 70).

–I know you’re dying to watch Cher’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “One Tin Soldier,” doubtless from a December 73 episode of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

Lots of other versions out there, but here’s the one that got to #26 (it was at #30 on its way down on this show).

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