Songs Casey Never Played, 3/30/85

This series has made only one visit to 1985 to date, so let’s take another trip there. Many of these songs I knew pretty well back in the day, and one is a contender for my top ten of the year. Let’s roll it…

#93. Alphaville, “Forever Young”
Classic fear-of-nuclear-annihilation cut, not to be confused of course with songs of the same title by Dylan or Rod. I’m amazed now this didn’t climb any higher at the time, though it was one of those songs given a second chance in the late 80s, reaching #65 in December 1988.

#89. Maze, “Back in Stride”
Maze, led by Frankie Beverly, had been hitting the R&B charts regularly since 1977. This was the first of two #1 songs they had there, and it would turn out to be their fourth and final song to reach the Hot 100, getting just to #88. Nice jam.

#79. Los Lobos, “Will the Wolf Survive?”
Title-ish track from their well-received major label debut, on its way to a peak one position higher; I remember both it and “Don’t Worry Baby” getting play on MTV. I’m glad for the success they enjoyed a couple of years later with songs from the La Bamba soundtrack, but I absolutely adore their underappreciated early 90s albums The Neighborhood and Kiko.

#64. Alan Parsons Project, “Let’s Talk About Me”
The Top 40 days had ended for the APP the previous year with the #34-peaking “Prime Time.” The video for this first single from Vulture Culture is completely over the top, but I still find it, as well as the song itself, a little disquieting. The clip’s message about the cost of addiction to electronics rings true to this day. But I’ve always wondered about the song’s narrator: are his complaints justified, or is he just wallowing in self-pity?

I didn’t realize at the time that I’d heard David Paton, the vocalist on “Let’s Talk About Me,” singing the line “Leaning on my pillow in the morning light” ten years earlier.

#55. John Waite, “Change”
Another second-chance tune. “Change” was originally a single that stiffed from Waite’s 1982 solo album Ignition. The folks putting together the Vision Quest soundtrack thought it should get another try, but alas, it was soon to stall out at #54. This is right up there with “Isn’t It Time” for me in terms of Waite-sung songs; love the video, too.

#51. Go West, “We Close Our Eyes”
Given how much I saw this vid, on MTV, I’m a little surprised “We Close Our Eyes” topped out at #41. The British duo of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie got theirs a few years later, though, with the Top 10 “King of Wishful Thinking” and a high-performing AC cover of “What You Won’t Do for Love.”

Forgotten Albums: Shawn Colvin, Fat City

Shawn Colvin is best remembered for her 1997 smash “Sunny Came Home,” which scaled the heights of various Billboard charts (#7 Hot 100, #4 Mainstream Top 40, and #1 Adult Contemporary, among others) and took home Grammy hardware for both Song and Record of the Year in 1998. It’s a good one, complete with catchy melody/chorus and a memorable bridge. I’d been following Colvin’s career for a number of years by then, including attending an engaging concert with my future wife in June 1995, at Bogart’s in Cincinnati. The breakthrough was welcome in these parts, even it wound up lasting for just that one hit record.

A Few Small Repairs, the album on which “Sunny Came Home” appears, was Colvin’s fourth release. It’s neither the one of hers I’ve listened to most nor like best, however. Those honors go to sophomore effort Fat City, which came out not longer after I began my teaching career, in the fall of 1992. While all but one song was written or co-written by Colvin, there’s a ton of star power contributing bits and pieces throughout the record. She’d gotten a great deal of positive buzz from her debut Steady On, and one suspects that Fat City was expected to be the launching pad for a commercially successful career.

The first song I heard from Fat City was “Tennessee.” I was in Oxford, OH, attending a conference on teaching at Miami University, availing myself of the opportunity to listen to my go-to modern rock station, WOXY 97X, in the evenings. To be honest, I hadn’t been as enamored of Steady On as the critics, but “Tennessee” forced me to re-evaluate. Richard Thompson works the guitar solo, and yes, that’s Bela Fleck on banjo.

Colvin’s next record was Cover Girl, full of remakes of such acts as the Police, Talking Heads, Steve Earle, and Dylan. The one song she didn’t write on Fat City was “Tenderness on the Block” by Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon, appearing on the latter’s Excitable Boy. Here’s a performance of it from just over four years ago.

My favorite Shawn Colvin song is easily “Round of Blues.” It’s already appeared in this space on one of my old mixtape write-ups, and you’ll see mention of it again in December, in a Modern Rock Tracks post. The album’s Wikipedia page notes that producer Larry Klein wrote the music for the bridge. I wish it’d been a hit.

Another winner is “Climb On (A Back That’s Strong).” Bruce Hornsby plays piano and sings backup; you can also hear Mary-Chapin Carpenter’s voice in there, as well.

“Set the Prairie on Fire” was co-written with Elly Brown, whom I know from her days in the late 80s/early 90s band Grace Pool. Not only is session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner present, but Booker T. Jones is in the house, playing the Hammond.

The other song on Fat City that received a measure of radio love (this time, Adult Contemporary) was the album’s last track, “I Don’t Know Why.” It’s a lovely yet melancholy piece, and it garnered a nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1994 Grammys.

I’m guessing that Fat City‘s sales did not meet expectations. Nonetheless, it showed Colvin was growing and developing, worthy of further investment. I imagine Columbia was ultimately pleased they kept her on.

Stereo Review In Review: March 1982

Maybe it’s not too soon to do another of these? Regardless, here’s a look back at the issue of SR that was mailed out to subscribers four decades ago.

It’s a Special Tape Issue. Ralph Hodges discusses Tape Futures (what may be coming soon in backings, binders, and magnetic materials); Craig Stark tests a raft of Bargain Tapes (conclusion: stick with name-brands); and Gary Stock reviews the current state of Taping and the Law (is home video recording of television shows a violation of copyright law?)

Forty years later, it all sounds so quaint (not to mention antiquated).

We have what I consider more or less the classic lineup of reviewers: Chris Albertson, Noel Coppage, Phyl Garland, Paul Kresh, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance.

Best of the Month
–George Jones, Same Ole Me (NC) “Through it all, (Jones) keeps the back of your mind from forgetting the basic premise of the honkytonk: it is the place you go to when something’s wron. Whatever that might be, when Jones sings it sure ain’t the music.”
–Mark Murphy, Bop for Kerouac (CA) “I have not always cared for the music Murphy sings, but I have never been deaf to this talent, and I am overwhelmed by the way it all seems to work its way to the surface here.”
–Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Reactor (SS) “Nonetheless, this new album sounds like (Young)’s basically goofing around. But as a textbook on how to make music out of the sounds of a scrap yard, it will do very nicely.”

Recordings of Special Merit
American Musicals: Jule Styne (PR) “…Kenneth Tynan wrote that Jule Styne was ‘the most persistently underrated of all popular composers.’ After listening to this rerelease package of three of Styne’s most memorable Broadway shows, I think I agree with Tynan.”
At Home Abroad (PK) The Smithsonian releases an archival reconstruction of a 1935 Broadway show.
–Duke Ellington, Symphony in Black (CA) “…the Smithsonian Jazz Repertory Ensemble does reasonably and splendidly re-create the essence of early and middle Duke.”
–Barry Manilow, If I Should Love Again (PR) “Unlike many of his contemporaries, Manilow never plays down to his audiences, nor does he attempt to flatter or cajole them (as Neil Sedaka sometimes does).
–Penguin Café Orchestra, S/T (MP) “…suggests what might happen if a string group like David Grisman’s were plopped down in a rural English pub and plied with two or three rounds before they’d played a note.”
–Vangelis, Chariots of Fire (Irv Cohn) “The themes are simple, almost hymn-like, but sumptuously augmented by rich electronic effects, including what sounds like swelling strings and thrumming percussion.”

Featured Reviews
–Martin Briley, Fear of the Unknown (JV) “He is a generously gifted songwriter but almost frighteningly misanthropic. The album is a marvel, but you may not want to hear it very often if you’re the kind of person who pays close attention to the lyrics.”
–John Entwhistle, Too Late the Hero (NC) “Better still, the record offers some relief from the blandness being committed all around us in the name of pop music these days.”
–Tim Hardin, Memorial Album (NC) “His work was not idealistic in narrow political terms but aesthetically, in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh…(a)nd in the manner of Byron and Van Gogh and countless other romantics before him, he sought and edge. But, as we all know now, edges can cut.”
–Frank Sinatra, She Shot Me Down (Henry Pleasants) “…the album is memorable not for what he does with melodies but for what he does with words.”
–Ringo Starr, Stop and Smell the Roses (JV) “…the best album that Ringo Starr has ever made, mostly because he’s allow to be himself…It is madcap, funny, rowdy, spiteful, nostalgic, and convincing.”

Other Disks Reviewed
–Bee Gees, Living Eyes (NC) “This finds the Bee Gees wending their way back from the disco grave site, at times hip deep in the weeds that are already growing there. Back to where, though?”
–The Cars, Shake It Up (MP) “…it rocks along a deliberate, precarious path, avoiding both outright pop and electronic minimalism.”
–Elvis Costello, Almost Blue (NC) “Costello made the apparently commonplace assumption…that anybody can come in cold and perform country music—and it blew up, I’m happy to report, right in his face.”
–Karla DeVito, Is This a Cool World or What? (SS) “Karla DeVito is a terrific singer and performer, cute as a bug’s ear, and one heck of a swell human being, but she has what sounds like a terminal case of Steinman’s Disease.”
–Earth, Wind & Fire, Raise! (CA) “…reflects not so much poor artistic judgment as it does a general feeling of having reached a dead end.”
–Kiss, (Music from) The Elder (MP) “Never mind that this is bad music. It isn’t even a passable stab at a fantasy comic book.”
–The Knack, Round Trip (SS) “…a tedious failure, something like hearing a second-rate bar band trying to play late Beethoven quartets.”
–The Steve Miller Band, Circle of Love (NC) “…even at his best…either Miller presumes his listeners can block out his lyrics from their heads or else he presumes his listeners are double-digit-IQ mouth breathers.”
–Rush, Exit…Stage Left (JV) “Rush really needs a bigger sound to match their imagination. As it is, the earnestness and energy begin to pall, especially on a two-disc live album like this one.”
–Rod Stewart, Tonight I’m Yours (JV) “…I don’t agonize much over Rod Stewart’s alleged artistic decline. He is still a highly professional and occasionally very exciting singer, as this latest album…abundantly demonstrates.”
–Luther Vandross, Never Too Much (PG) “Admittedly, Vandross has a very appealing, resonantly full, and flexible singing voice, but his material…and interpretation are hardly anything to shout about.”

Friday Night Discoveries

Over the last couple of years a table in our basement has regularly turned into Jigsaw Puzzle Central. We tend to tackle 1000-piecers; the most recent effort–a collage of seashells that shows some promise of challenge–began a couple of evenings ago. If we aren’t listening to an AT40 rebroadcast while we work on puzzles, chances are strong I’ll be browsing the CD shelves for background music. On Friday, I plucked off two disks that I hadn’t listened to before, and found a few interesting tunes that were new to me. Let’s hit some highlights.

Eighteen months ago I wrote about several slabs of vinyl that a Lexington record store donated to my college radio station (it’s where WTLX purchased its 45s). One of those was the EP Party of Two, from the Rubinoos. Until the middle of last week, I’d completely forgotten that somewhere along the way I had acquired the Wounded Bird reissue of it, complete with three bonus tracks and three demos. While I was thrilled to realize I had a copy of “If I Had You Back,” I found other fun tracks as well. I think my new favorite song is “The Girl.”

Easy to hear the influence of Rundgren, who produced. A mighty swell bonus track is “Stop Before We Start,” a tune about nipping an affair in the bud–amazing this almost never saw the light of day.

I highly recommend this disk if you come across a copy somewhere.

After we were done with the Rubinoos, I slipped a compilation from EMI/Capitol Special Markets into the player called Lost Hits of the ’70s. I’d purchased it well over a decade ago because it includes Cheryl Ladd’s “Think It Over” and it’s the one CD I could find out there that has it (part of my quest to collect all the Top 40 songs that hit between June 1976 and May 1986). All told, twelve of the collection’s twenty songs hit the Top 40, and I was familiar with a couple of the eight that hadn’t. Among the remainder, three stood out on first listen.

McGuinness Flint was named after two of its members, bassist for Manfred Mann Tom McGuinness and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers drummer Hughie Flint. “When I’m Dead and Gone” was a big hit in the UK and made it as high as #47 here in February 1971.

Another group made up of musicians formerly of other bands is American Flyer. Past affiliations included the Blues Magoos, Velvet Underground, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. They hit #80 in November 1976 with “Let Me Down Easy.” If the vocalist sounds familiar, you heard Craig Fuller sing “Amie” with Pure Prairie League a year or two before.

This has a nice, smooth sound, but I confess that I’ve become less enamored in recent years of the use of “woman” in song lyrics to address one’s mate (Cliff Richard’s “Dreamin'” is a prime offender in this regard). I get that not using an actual name might be a way to have the song speak to a more general audience, but neither my wife nor I can imagine me addressing her that way. (Yes, “The Girl” has related issues.)

Lastly we have twins Cherie and Marie Currie with a Russ Ballard composition, “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Cherie had been the vocalist for the Runaways; after they split she got together with Sis to record a few tunes. This one reached #95 for three weeks in October and November of 1979. It feels like maybe I’ve heard it a time or two before? I’m digging on it pretty hard right now, particularly the unexpected guitar chord downward progression in the chorus.

(Their album Messin’ with the Boys includes a straightforward but inferior cover of “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).”)

I don’t know if there are future installations of Music Found While Puzzling in the wings–wouldn’t shock me, though.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/5/88: Aerosmith, “Angel”

A couple of months ago I, like lots of folks, got sucked into the Wordle vortex. I’ve always had an affection for logic puzzles, including playing a decent amount of Mastermind in my youth, so this development was not exactly shocking. It’s quickly become a part of my morning routine: get up, let the dog outside, try my first two words while she’s eating her breakfast, mull over the positive and negative inferences while she goes out a second time, hope to discern the answer by the fourth line. (It doesn’t always work out that way, of course.) I’m part of a couple of small Facebook communities devoted to sharing results of our daily efforts, and I’ve also become intrigued by Quordle, and to a lesser degree, Nerdle.

A few days ago, the Wordle answer was NASTY; for the rest of the day, Miss Jackson’s jam from the summer of 1986 bounced around my head. This got me to wondering, too: how many other song titles of Top 40 1980s hits could show up inside those five green boxes? Based on a quick-but-fairly-careful examination of 80s charts, I think the answer is that there are twenty-eight songs, with twenty-six unique words.

Not all five-letter song titles qualify, at least as I understand Wordle’s rules. Proper nouns are out, so say goodbye to JESSE, GYPSY, JAMIE, BRUCE, KYRIE, and VENUS. Next to go are plurals, meaning YEARS, SOULS, GIRLS, and TEARS are also right out (meaning poor Rick Springfield misses out twice). Lastly, the judges here are disqualifying PRIDE due to the parenthetical portion of its title.

That leaves the following, presented by year:
1982: TRULY
1983: none
1988: ANGEL
1989: STAND
*yes, it’s more of a 1979 song, but it was ‘still’ in the Top 10 in January 1980
**debuted the last week of December 1984, but it’s a 1985 song for me all the way

Congrats to the Cars and Heart for double representation. I missed the first 199 Wordles, so I don’t know if any of these besides NASTY has appeared to date. Perhaps honorable mention status should be extended to HELLO AGAIN (twice, giving the Cars a third appearance today, all from Heartbeat City, even), SUPER FREAK, HUMAN TOUCH (have a bone, Rick), and especially SHINE SHINE. Feel free to identify omissions.

Aerosmith had begun their comeback after re-forming in 1985, but the bucks didn’t start raining on them again until 1987’s Permanent Vacation. The second time a song called “Angel” made it in the 80s would become Tyler, Perry, and company’s biggest hit to that point, reaching #3 (it’s #36 on this show). It’s not a particular favorite in these parts, but I’ll give it full marks today for providing a hook for this post.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Five

When I sent off my list of favorites to Erik a few weeks ago, I’ll admit I was curious as to how many we’d have in common. I jokingly included an over-under line (7.5) in my email to him; I correctly took the under.

With so many possibilities, maybe it’s an upset that we even agreed on four selections. They’re a wide-ranging and interesting mix, that’s for sure. In chronological order:

Nilsson, “Without You” (February-March 1972, 4 weeks)

This is one I loved from the get-go—it simply feels like it’s always been there in my life. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I heard Badfinger’s original version. Their approach is perfectly fine, but I think the song demands Nilsson’s light, emotional touch on the verses and fantastic range for the chorus. I’d forgotten that Mariah Carey did a cover—she used the same arrangement, but Mariah is simply no match for Harry.

Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love’s Theme” (February 1974, 1 week)

I hear the opening twenty seconds and I’m taken back to our living room in Walton, watching mid-70s weekend golf coverage on ABC—they’d chosen it for background music leading into or out of commercials. It’s such a smooth and easy piece—I think I could easily listen to a ten-minute extended version. To my mind, this is Barry White’s finest moment.

The Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat” (July 1974, 1 week)

I had to restrain myself a little from placing some complete schlock, mostly from 1974, on this list (“Seasons in the Sun,” “The Night Chicago Died,” even “The Streak”). You’re welcome. “Rock the Boat” may get the eyeroll from some of you, but it’s a super catchy number, and the metaphor in the lyrics has held up well over the years. (Listening to this again I’m reminded that I’ve been meaning to research how many songs include the phrase “your bad self,” particularly to identify the first one to do so.)

I may have been introduced to “Rock the Boat” by a babysitter that summer of ‘74, a high schooler from our church. I can envision us hanging outside with her when it came on the radio she must have brought along—maybe she began dancing to it in our front yard?

The Knack, “My Sharona” (August-September 1979, 6 weeks)

The LP version is a must because of Berton Averre’s amazing extended guitar solo. At some point I began referring to “My Sharona” as the first song of the ‘80s, I suppose mainly for its mainstreaming of new wave sensibilities. When I staked this claim in a conversation last year with the brain trust over at The CD Project, he immediately countered that the Cars’ debut album should be considered the ground zero moment. He’s got a point.

I began putting this collection of songs together last summer. If you look back at these posts, you’ll notice that each year of the decade was represented either two or three times. That was intentional, but in the end I don’t it had too much of a distorting effect on my choices.

Erik and I also decided to tack on a few “honorable mention” selections. In coming up with them, I avoided songs from Erik’s twenty-five that I’d considered for inclusion on my list. I also refrained from choosing any that got mentioned in one form or another in our comments along the way. Here you go; I could write a little about each but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

The Carpenters, “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (July-August 1970, 4 weeks)
–The Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You” (November-December 1970, 3 weeks)
–The Honey Cone, “Want Ads” (June 1971, 1 week)
–David Bowie, “Fame” (September-October 1975, 2 weeks)
–Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, “A Fifth of Beethoven” (October 1976, 1 week)

I’m not sure what it says that out of the thirty songs I’ve highlighted across these five posts, nine come from the first two years of the decade, when I was really too young to know about music in any depth.

You can see Erik’s comments on our four joint selections and his HM selections here. Many, many thanks to him for agreeing to participate in this project. It’s been a blast, and we’re already kicking around ideas for future collaborations.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Four

The fourth installment in this look back to #1 songs from some of my formative years features some all-time greats: a stone cold R&B classic, the fellow who’s been involved in writing more #1 songs than anyone (pre-streaming era, anyway), one of the biggest international sensations of all time, and two tracks from one of the biggest selling soundtracks ever. Let’s start things off with a couple from lots of folks’ favorite left-handed bassist.

Wings, “Silly Love Songs” (May-July 1976, 5 weeks)

WH: A sentimental choice, as I’ll forever associate it with the spring I fell hard for AT40. At the time, you could find me listening to WSAI on my AM transistor radio practically everywhere I went. They played both the 45 and LP versions at the time—I’ve always favored the longer one.

EM: And I associate this one with the Bi-centennial summer. I was hooked on this one cause 1.) It’s Beatle Paul and 2.) and the crazy sound effects during the intro. What was up with all the squinches and galonks? Was it to prove that writing a love song was arduous work? An inside jab at Lennon? Or just another day at the office?

Paul and Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (September 1971, 1 week)

WH: Macca’s the only artist who appears on my list more than once. “Band on the Run” was a legit contender for selection, but McCartney’s most Beatles-sounding hit won out. It’s true, however, that I’d always thought that Admiral Halsey had to have a bath or he couldn’t get to sleep.

EM: My uncle, who was nine years older, was a big McCartney fan. He had a sweet powder blue t-shirt with the Wings logo in silver glitter on the front. I think of him whenever I hear 70s Macca, especially this one, as he would randomly whisper, “the butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie” in my ear.

Personally, I dig just about everything Paul’s created, but I only included one of his on my list. And for the record, if I go by feels, “With A Little Luck” would have been my second choice.

ABBA, “Dancing Queen” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: Likely not my favorite ABBA song, but I cannot deny that it’s pop music heaven.

As noted above, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for the hits of 1976. However, I’ve come to decide in recent years that I like the scene in 1977 just a little better. I don’t think it’s because I have fonder memories of the time—I was in the middle of puberty and junior high, after all. I’m guessing one big reason is that was the year I played 45s (including “Dancing Queen”) to death on the portable turntable I’d gotten for Christmas at the end of 1976. Those songs, and many that charted alongside them that I didn’t buy, have really stuck.

EM: I love ABBA. I grew up on it. I was down when it wasn’t cool. And their reacceptance heartened me. I also cannot deny this is a beautiful piece of music. The vocals are just frosting on top of this prinsesstårta. And because I listened to so much of the group’s music, this one never stood out for me. I loved it, no more or less than the others. But if you push me, I would want to hear “Mamma Mia,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and “The Winner Takes It All” before I listened to this one.

The Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl” (May 1972, 1 week)

WH: The melancholy harmonica sets the scene perfectly. The guy knows he’s messed up and that he has no defense. The resignation in Eugene Record’s voice when he sings “I guess I better go” is one of the most achingly sad-yet-somehow-beautiful moments in all of 70s music.

EM: Here’s another Soul group that doesn’t get the love they should, especially their deeper cuts. That’s why I was happy when Beyonce lifted that horn sample from “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” and hopefully sent Eugene Record a few dollars his way. My only memory of this as a child was that I would confuse it with the Deputy Dawg bumper music, probably for the similar harmonica bits (kids are dumb). I’ve since come to respect its languid charm.

The Bee Gees, “You Should Be Dancing” (September 1976, 1 week)

WH: The Bee Gees had more #1 songs than anyone during the Me Decade—9—and settling on a favorite of theirs is tough. “You Should Be Dancing” winds up getting the nod. It’s a notable moment in their disco evolution, the first hit on which Barry fully embraces his falsetto. If this had been a “best #1 hits of the ‘70s” list, though, “Stayin’ Alive” would have been chosen instead.

EM: Let’s get this straight. The Bee Gees were always an R&B group disguised a folk-rock outfit. Arif Mardin recognized and encouraged their direction towards soul. It just so happened that Disco was getting added into the mix in the mid-70s, especially down in Miami, where they recorded. Such tracks like this ended up getting created and recorded, if not with intention, then by osmosis. And had they not written “How Deep Is Your Love,” this burner would have been on my list. More than anything newly recorded for Saturday Night Fever, this song was the true musical star of the film.

Yvonne Elliman, “If I Can’t Have You” (May 1978, 1 week)

WH: Barry snags his third songwriting credit here. I love the energy of the intro and the underlying rhythm in the verses. Sometimes I wonder how Elliman’s career might have panned out had she not hitched her wagon to the Gibbs—would she have found a different path to chart success? I can’t argue with results like this, though.

EM:  The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a big part of childhood, at least most of it was. Since we had it on 8-track, we would skip the instrumental sections and play the same songs repeatedly until they were memorized. Yvonne’s take, which I prefer over the Gibbs’ version found on the B-side of the “Stayin’ Alive”45, breaks up the machismo with a soft yet confident vocal over lilting Philly-soul styled rhythm. And I was fascinated that her name started with a Y.

So, that’s 21 of the 25 I selected. To see Erik’s next set of choices, click here.

Why six today? Well, we elected to give the four songs we both picked their own post. A hint, if you care to spend any time on speculating what they might be: one is from 1972, two come from 1974, and one hit in 1979. Come back on Monday for those, plus maybe some odds and ends as the series wraps up.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Three

We’re crossing the halfway point of this exercise where Erik Mattox and I reflect back on charttoppers of the 1970s that still (sometimes, I suppose it’s now) mean a lot to us. This time, my set of five includes two long-running #1s from the early part of the decade, the biggest hits in the careers of two legendary performers, and one chart ascent that the artist never came close to duplicating. Let’s get on with the show:

Simon and Garfunkel, “Bridge over Troubled Water” (February-April 1970, 6 weeks)

WH: I can remember my father playing this album on his hi-fi when I was six years old. Hearing “Sail on, silver girl” puts me back in our living room in Stanford, the room where I’m introduced to music surging from a diamond needle applied to vinyl. I guess sometimes it’s the earliest memories that imprint themselves and wind up influencing how you feel about stuff even after a half-century. If I were giving you a ranked list in this series, “Bridge over Troubled Water” would slot in at #1.

I will go out on a limb to say this: it’s the classic it is in large part because Art sang it.

EM: This is one that I’ve come to appreciate a lot more with age and experience. As a kid, it would bore me to tears. My childhood connection to it would be sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. It’s a hard song to sing, but Art’s tenor effortlessly soars over a beautiful arrangement performed by the Wrecking Crew. A nice break-up gift from Paul to Art, netting them four Grammys and a lot of subsequent Simon jealousy.

Rod Stewart, “Maggie May” (October 1971, 5 weeks)

WH: The storytelling in “Maggie May” is remarkable. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of Rod’s–he had the look and the chops, but I think that all too frequently the material he chose was beneath his talent. Stewart sure ended up with quite a career, though. This, the song of a lifetime, was easily its peak moment.

EM: “Maggie May” is truly a high point in Rod’s catalog, but still not in my Top 25. It was so high he realized he could never top it, so instead, he went low with “Tonight’s The Night” and even lower with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” both of which hit #1. Now and then, Rod puts out a single that I enjoy [“Baby Jane,” “The Motown Song,” “Leave Virginia Alone” ], but I’d just as easily prefer to listen to a Faces album.

Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: By my count, I chose five covers. We saw two last time (from the Captain and Tennille and Manfred Mann) and between this song and the one immediately following, there are two more today.

No offense to Teddy Pendergrass, but Houston just brings it on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Three years ago, I wrote about it, “I was either too young or too naïve to get exactly what Houston was going on about (in 1977), but her vocal performance is so visceral that I should have figured it out anyway.” Yep.

EM: After “Disco Duck” reached #1 in late 1976, Top 40 radio regarded disco as a fad and began to turn towards the California rock of The Eagles & Fleetwood Mac. Between Rick Dees (who was nuts) and the fever of Saturday night, fewer dance songs crossed over to Pop radio, making Thelma’s smash a more significant triumph than many regard it. It’s so much more potent having a woman sing this. Hats off to Henry Davis, who plays a propulsive yet rubbery bassline that I’m sure influenced Chic’s Bernard Edwards.

Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good” (February 1975, 1 week)

WH: Ronstadt’s extended period of commercial success began around the time when the radio started commanding more of my attention. Were I to go back and rank Ronstadt’s Top 40 singles, it’s a virtual certainty “You’re No Good” would come out on top. I’ve noted before it’s the instrumental segment at the end, which comes almost out of nowhere, that got me interested in the rest of the song.

EM: Another one that could have been on my list. 1975 was such a fantastic year for chart-toppers; I could have compiled a Top 25 from those twelve months alone. And I was starting to intently pay attention to Top 40 songs, who sang them, the lyrics, intros, solos, and endings. I heard that Linda was singing this live for a few years before she recorded for Heart Like A Wheel, easily one of the most inspired covers she performed. Linda is definitely the star here, but let’s also credit Andrew Gold, who plays electric piano, drums, and the guitar solo.

Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia” (October-November 1973, 2 weeks)

WH: One of two #1 hits from 1973 whose title mentions the Peach State; you might notice the other one, by a certain colleague of Carol Burnett, is nowhere to be found (and would be a contender for a bottom 25 list).

The call-and-response arrangement of “Midnight Train to Georgia” makes the song come alive. It’s another case where my favorite song by an act is also their biggest hit.

EM: Originally recorded as “Midnight Plane To Houston” by songwriter Jim Weatherly, Cissy Houston’s producer asked to change it to its well-known title. Gladys and company heard it, crushed their take, and became her signature song. Still don’t know what a pip is, but I’m always down for some air train whistle during the “woo-woo” part.

Erik’s next five can be found here. You’re invited to check back on Thursday for our next installments.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Two

On Monday, Erik Mattox and I began surveying chart-toppers from the 1970s that are near and dear to us, and now we’re back with another batch of fine tunes. This time my selections run the gamut from Motown and Philly soul to pure pop and AOR. When you’re done here, click over to Erik’s pad and to check out his next set of picks.

The Captain and Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” (June-July 1975, 4 weeks)

WH: My sister and I loved this so much when it came out and, like hordes of others, we became huge Toni and Daryl fans almost instantly. I’ve noted before that by 1975 I was getting old enough to consider there might be such a thing as a “#1 song of the year,” and that, based on my own anecdotal radio listening experience, “Love Will Keep Us Together” had to be the top song for ‘75. (Even if my logic wasn’t sound, I turned out to be right.)

EM: I watched tons of TV as a kid, more than I listened to music. And I was a sucker for variety shows, which would quench my thirst for both. So, I always made sure to catch Daryl & Toni each Monday night they were on. They used this as their theme, and why wouldn’t they? This keyboard-driven tune is easily the best pop single they recorded. Also, it’s the last #1 that drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine played on.

Did you know that the song’s writer Neil Sedaka originally recorded this in England in 1973 and was backed up by 10cc?

Dawn, “Knock Three Times” (January-February 1971, 3 weeks)

WH: There is no question that side one of K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits Volume 2 (an album my father picked up along the way) plays an outsized role in my memories and feelings about the music of the early ‘70s. “Knock Three Times” is the only #1 hit on that compilation. Despite all the lyrical clues, my seven-year-old brain screwed up where Tony’s apartment was relative to that of the object of his affection. It took years to unlearn the mistaken thought that she lived above him.

EM: Even though Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown stole a lot of this tune from the Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem” (and Dawn’s previous hit, “Candida”), I can’t deny how catchy this is or how it gives me a burning desire to smash things during the chorus. I do wonder what situation they imagined Tony Orlando (or us) to be in where we would have exposed pipes in our house to bang on and how tall we were or how low our ceilings were.

The O’Jays, “Love Train” (March 1973, 1 week)

WH: It’s great when such joy and positivity gets rewarded. Forget about the Coors Light commercials of the last decade or so; just join hands and climb on board.

Its trip to the top prevented Roberta Flack from having a second song spend six weeks at #1 .

EM: The biggest triumph for Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff has been co-opted so many times in the decades since. It’s easy to forget the significance of this slice of proto-Disco as a rallying plea for gender and racial equality and as the smoothest anti-war tune, you’ll ever hear. Lyrically, its strength lies in telling what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t. And I don’t care who has covered or will cover this tune. You are never gonna beat the choral sound of Walter Williams, William Powell, and Eddie Levert’s voices blended together.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded by the Light” (February 1977, 1 week)

WH: Here’s another song that snapped me to attention when I began hearing it on the radio; bought the single early in its chart run. My sister and I tried our best to decipher the lyrics that winter, to little avail. It took buying a copy of Song Hits magazine to knock out some of the more obscure passages, and even then, it was what Springsteen had written and not what Chris Thompson sang.

EM: As soon as I hear Manfred’s organ stabs, I’m transported to my backyard, rolling around the grass and running through our forsythia. When the verse was finished, and the guitarist played his triplet licks, I would run across the lawn as fast as I could before that Minimoog lead slid up to the top note, and as it wavered, collapsing to the ground while I stared into the Spring sun. Cause that was where the fun was.

And while everyone got caught up in the ‘was it deuce or douche’ discussion, I thought for sure Thompson said that “little Early Pearly gave me anus curly wurly, not “came by in his curly-wurly.” Mine makes more sense, especially since Bruce is writing about the music business.

The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (January 1970, 1 week)

WH: The song that launched/paved the way for quite a few careers, most notably that of precocious, eleven-year-old Michael. The intro is smoking, with a bass line to die for. MJ’s “All I need!” toward the end is simply the cherry on top.

EM: Thanks for including this, William. I didn’t put any MJ or his brothers in my list, but I will fully admit that their records are the only bubblegum that transcended the genre. I loved their cartoon and would watch reruns any time that I could. So, when I hear this single, or “ABC” or “The Love You Save,” all I can think about is the show’s theme song, a sped-up medley of all their hits at the time, while the band members flicked across the screen placed in their respective hearts along with Rosie the snake and the two mice, Ray & Charles.

The third installment is slated to go live early next week.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part One

Last May I came across an article at by Troy L. Smith entitled, “Every No. 1 song of the 1980s ranked from worst to first.” Smith not surprisingly uses the Billboard Hot 100 as his source; he starts with “We Are the World” at #231 and, several thousand words later, lands on “Billie Jean” as his pick for best, a worthy choice in my opinion. I enjoyed reading the piece plenty—I’ve always been a sucker for lists—and forwarded the link on to my friend Erik Mattox, proprietor of the blog Music in the Key of E and The UnCola radio show/website. We’d already arranged to have a virtual meet-up at the end of the month and I thought what Smith had written would be good grist for the conversation mill.

It was, and by evening’s end, we decided to each take a stab at doing something analogous for #1 songs of the 1970s. Neither of us had the time or inclination to try putting 253 songs in order. But writing about 10% of that? You bet, though instead of identifying the 25 best chart-toppers of the 1970s, we agreed to write up blurbs about favorite #1s.

Time slipped away from us both, but recently we re-committed to finishing the project. And now we have. (In the meantime, Smith published his complete ranking of 1970s #1s in December. I haven’t read it yet but will soon.) Our choices will be presented in five chunks over the next 2-3 weeks, and as a bonus, we’re both reacting to the other’s picks. Let’s get going with the first installment.

Andy Gibb, “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (March 1978, 2 weeks)

William Harris: The youngest brother Gibb doesn’t have all that much of a voice, but he blew up during my formative age 13-14 period, so what can you do? Of his three #1 hits, this one is the fave, partly due to its slightly unconventional song structure, but also for its very low Barry quotient on backup vocals. It’s one of the songs that takes me back to snow days during the harsh winter weather of January 1978, my sister and I building snow forts and tunnels, playing board games, and working on jigsaw puzzles.

Erik Mattox: Under the category of timing is everything, Andy surreptitiously launched his solo career just before the Bee Gees were about to dominate in 1978. This track splits up a twelve-week run of Bee Gees #1s between “Stayin’ Alive” & “Night Fever.” This was written and recorded a full year before it was released and was a great follow-up to “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” showing off Andy’s sensitive side to his teen idol worshippers. It gets lost in history even with a great hook with a nuanced vocal performance. So I’m glad William chose it.

Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (April 1979, 1 week)

WH: It’s not my favorite Blondie song—that’d be “Dreaming”—and I’m not 100% certain it’s my favorite #1 Blondie song (probably “Rapture”). But “Heart of Glass” leapt out of the radio the first time I heard it on a Saturday morning in mid-March 1979, right before either Mom or Dad drove me to Xavier University in Cincinnati, to the BASIC programming course for high schoolers I was taking at the time. It was my first encounter with Debbie Harry and company (perhaps I’d led a sheltered radio life to that point).

EM: Just as disco started to oversaturate the market, here came these downtown New York darlings to show us the way forward. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were inspired by the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” to write this, which is probably why I liked it so much. This song created the bridge from Studio 54 to the Mudd Club and Hurrah, elevating the form of New Wave dance music.

Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown” (June 1974, 1 week)

WH: One of several tunes from 1974 that makes me think of my sister and me riding along with Mom in her blue 1970 Ford Fairlane. It’s also one of the first songs to which I paid close attention to the lyrics, not that I could fully understand them. One of these days I’m gonna do a deep dive on Gord’s catalog, as I don’t think I’ve disliked anything of his I’ve heard.

EM: 70s folk-rock was such that you could write a tune that sounds lyrically agitated but sounds musically mellow. Gordo was a tortured buddha. I thought this song was called ‘sometimes’ for years because I could never hear him sing the word ‘sundown’ clear enough. Also, “sometimes you better take care” makes a lot more sense to me.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown” (December 1970, 2 weeks)

WH: One of the greatest intros of the era, from the calliope-like big top melody line down to the bari sax foundation. It wasn’t until researching for this writeup that I learned “Tears of a Clown” was already over three years old when it was released as a single (in response to it becoming a #1 in Britain earlier in 1970). Absolutely brilliant songwriting, though that shouldn’t be a surprise with Smokey and Stevie on board.

EM: Smokey is one of my all-time favorite voices, so it hurts me that I didn’t include this. I think it’s hard for me to remember this as a 70s song, probably because it was initially recorded in 1967. Its success made Smokey, who was about to leave the Miracles, hang out with the group for another two years. Four years later, the Robinson-less quartet would ride their “Love Machine” to #1, but Smokey would never see the mountaintop again.

Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain” (January 1973, 3 weeks)

WH: Maybe it’s the mystery surrounding the identity of its subject that have kept it near-and-dear all these years? Nah, it’s Simon’s ability to combine ice and fire. She’s obviously a woman scorned, yet in her disdain she’s still able to maintain some level of cool detachment about the man who’s done her wrong.

For what it’s worth, there was a total eclipse of the sun visible in Nova Scotia on March 7, 1970.

EM: It’s a shame that many have intertwined Carly’s career with James Taylor’s. For my money, she possesses a lot more soul in her work than he does, and it’s high time that it’s acknowledged and counted for on its own terms. The only thing they had in common was they were writing about the same person – him. I bet she cocked her head back and laughed like a maniac when she came up with that chorus.

I took songs like this literally, probably the same way someone on acid would. Your scarf was an apricot? There are clouds in your coffee? That was enough to jumpstart my imagination and hop into her world.

Come back later in the week for installment #2, and please hop on over to Erik’s place to check out his first five songs (and my reactions).