The Forgotten Hits: 70’s Soul 2

Every era and genre of music has songs that were popular in their day, but whose footprints have been washed from the sand over time. Our goal in this series of posts is to resurrect their memory; to help in a small way to reverse the process of the “top tenning” of oldies formats, which reduce hit makers from previous decades to their most popular song or two and then overplay them until you almost loathe an artist you used to enjoy (think “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believin’”).

I’ll be citing the Billboard pop charts for reference. Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 60′s and 70′s were a much more accurate reflection of a song’s popularity, before there were so many other ways for a song to enter the public consciousness (reflected by the number of pop charts Billboard now uses). It was an era when radio ruled–before a car commercial, social music sharing site, or Glee were equally likely ways for a song to break through.

mainThe Main Ingredient: “Just Don’t Want to be Lonely”

#10 in 1974

The Main Ingredient found the recipe for top ten success only twice over the course of their career. Their first hit was the #3 “Everybody Plays the Fool”, which has lived on via oldies radio and cover versions (most notably Aaron Neville’s top ten in 1991). “Just Don’t Want to be Lonely” is from the same mold: a few bars of spoken-word from lead vocalist Cuba Gooding Sr. (father of the actor) lead into a smooth R&B ballad with a surprising degree of complexity in the arrangement. The Main Ingredient’s best work was on par with that of the Spinners. The main ingredient they lacked was the ability to cook up hits on a consistent basis.

_________________________

natalie

Natalie Cole: “I’ve Got Love on My Mind”

#5 in 1977

To be honest, I have little or no recollection of this song from radio airplay in 1977. It seems most of us have gaps in the memory even from years when we know the music well. And somehow this song climbed to #5 and spent 21 weeks on the pop charts and yet made no lasting impression in my brain. I may have been preoccupied by having just discovered Elvis Costello…

_________________________

impressionsThe Impressions: “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m a Changed Man)”

#17 in 1974

The Impressions put an amazing 39 songs into the Hot 100 over a chart career that spanned from 1958 to 1975, but only reached the top ten twice (“It’s Alright” in 1963 and “Amen” in ’65).

Although they continued to record albums until 1981, this final top 20 hit found them nearing the end of their hit years, and two lead vocalists removed from the legendary Curtis Mayfield, who’d gone on to solo success.

_________________________

sylvers

Foster Sylvers: “Misdemeanor”

#22 in 1973

I think the AllMusic Guide goes just a little bit overboard in their appraisal of this song:

Dismiss Foster Sylvers as little more than a poor man’s Michael Jackson if you must, but damn, the smash “Misdemeanor” lays to waste everything MJ recorded solo until “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.” A sinuous, loping evocation of street-smart puppy love, it’s one of the most underrated funk jams ever.

But it is a cute little piece of bubblegum soul–nothing more, nothing less.

Foster also sang with his 9-sibling family group The Sylvers, who hit top ten with the disco hits “Boogie Fever” and “Hot Line”.

_________________________

tops

The Four Tops: “Are You Man Enough”

#15 in 1973

From the movie Shaft in Africa, this one splits the difference between The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers” and “What’s Going On”-era Marvin. But it certainly hasn’t earned a lasting spot on radio alongside songs from the era with sunnier messages, such as the Four Tops’ own “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)”.

_________________________

awb

Average White Band: “If I Ever Lose This Heaven”

#39 in 1975

If you’re not native to the land of 70’s soul, you’ve probably grafted some Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire onto your iPod playlist for a little hip cred, as they say. I’m here to tell you not to forget AWB. Despite hailing from Scotland they defined the sound of 70’s funk/soul as much as anyone in the era. Their first two records in particular are amazing, including this rather forgotten gem from their second album Cut the Cake.

_________________________

sun

Ramsey Lewis & Earth, Wind & Fire: “Sun Goddess”

#44 in 1975

When the Ramsey Lewis Trio spun off members Eldee Young and Red Holt as Young-Holt Unlimited, the pianist replaced them with a new rhythm section which included Maurice White on drums. White, of course, also subsequently resigned to form Earth, Wind & Fire. A couple years later, after Lewis moved to Columbia Records–the same label as EWF–White produced Lewis’ 1974 Sun Goddess LP with members of Earth, Wind & Fire playing on the sessions.

The album’s jazz fusion sound and use of electronic keyboards represented a departure from Lewis’ previous work, and the title track was a big jazz crossover hit. In fact, another single featuring EWF, “Hot Dawgit”, reached #50 on the pop charts as well. Maurice White is listed as co-writer of both songs. Ramsey Lewis isn’t credited with writing either. This, as well as the fact that “Sun Goddess” was recorded for the same label as Earth, Wind & Fire and featured the band, leads me to believe this song could have been included on an Earth, Wind & Fire greatest hits compilation, but it never has; they’ve only released a live version under their name.

In other words, this song is sort of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “lost hit”, having only appeared on a Ramsey Lewis album, despite arguably sounding more like Earth, Wind & Fire than Lewis.

Couple Planning Wedding, Life Despite Stage 4 Cancer Diagnosis

Engaged with cancer: Amanda Catano, who has to use a walker to get around, and her fiance Jason Dorais got engaged last week after they learned about her cancer

(Reprinted from Deseret News)

By Emiley Morgan

SALT LAKE CITY — There is cancer in her lungs and in her bones and she has to use a walker to get around, but what Amanda Catano really wants to know is if her visitors have a place to go for the holidays.

“Do you need any water? Drinks or anything?” she asks more than once to those who have come to ask about her story.

She apologizes for the walker.

“Maybe your grandparents have one,” she jokes.

A television camera is situated in her living room and a microphone is clipped to her collar.

“I hear the camera adds 10 pounds. That’s what I need — a little weight gain.”

To say the 32-year-old woman is thin would be an understatement. To say the woman facing stage 4 colon cancer is lovely, charming, funny and warm would also be an understatement.

The first thing her fiancé, Jason Dorais, noticed when he met Catano last year was her sense of humor. Her illness only amplified that and all of the other good things he first saw in her.

“She was always having fun, always upbeat and happy, and I think through this whole process, that has just reaffirmed it,” he said. “She’s staying upbeat and happy and all the initial things I loved about her are even more now.

“I don’t know that it’s changed much of anything, but it’s strengthened what I’d seen earlier, that she could stay like that through tough times.”

The couple got engaged Nov. 10 after they learned about the cancer. Cancer, they said, has a way of making things seem clearer and more urgent. They plan to marry in December.

“I think for us it was that we’re just really excited and looking forward to the future and I feel like we have a really bright future together,” Catano said. “We don’t know how long that is, how many years, but I feel like we can make the most of it and we’ll do well.”

They met through friends in March 2011 and — Dorais especially hates this part — they started a game of Words with Friends. Within a day or so, he asked for her number using the game.

“I think he was like, ‘I know this is kind of lame to do this, but can I get your number?'” she recalled.

They went rock climbing on their first date and have been together since. She said she knew that she wanted to marry him in six months. He recently told her he knew much earlier than that, but held back.

“I guess we’d been thinking about marriage for a while now and I was kind of unsure, as probably any guy would be …,” Dorais starts.

“Because he thought I was crazy and anorexic,” Catano interjects, referring to the dramatic weight loss and emotional struggles before her diagnosis. “And then I get cancer and that’s when he decides.”

Catano said she first noticed something was off when she was training for the Ogden Marathon in January and started experiencing frequent incidences of diarrhea. It was abnormal, but she chalked it up to the increased running.

But it persisted, even after she had run the marathon, and she noticed she was more fatigued. When things worsened, she called a doctor. She had searched the Internet about her symptoms, but ruled out colon cancer as a possibility because of her age and lack of family history with the illness.

The initial tests showed nothing, but she was advised to follow up with a gastroenterologist.

“In retrospect, I look back and I really wasn’t myself last year,” she said. “I feel like I was … something just felt off and that’s what drove me to go in and find out what was going on. I just didn’t feel healthy, I didn’t feel like myself.”

She had a colonoscopy on Sept. 11 and it showed a mass. She was told immediately it was most likely cancer. Further tests confirmed this.

“I think it was just a shock,” she said. “I’m a really healthy person. I’m active, I eat healthy, I’m fairly happy so it was a huge surprise and a huge shock. It wasn’t something I ever anticipated. Cancer doesn’t run in my family, so it was a little bit surreal.”

Dorais was also blindsided. As a medical resident at University Hospital, he wondered how he hadn’t piece it together.

“(It was) not what you expect in a young, healthy girl and … she’d  been complaining about these things for the last eight months, six months, so part of it was, ‘Why didn’t I pay attention and think about this earlier?'” he said. “Cancer is something I see a fair amount at work and it’s just like, ‘Why couldn’t I put that together with someone that I’m so close to?'”

She had an operation to remove part of her colon, her appendix and part of her small bowel. Dorais’ medical experience was invaluable in helping her deal with that and ongoing chemotherapy and radiation.

“To me, it was this huge ordeal and something I really struggled with and seeing Jason not make a big deal about it, crack jokes about it … I mean there was a time where he had come over twice a day and change my wound because I just couldn’t do it myself,” she said. “I couldn’t bring myself to pack this open gaping wound, but for him it’s what he’s been trained to do. I think that’s really helped me accept it. Now it’s like, fine, no big deal, who cares? I have a poop bag on my waist. No big deal.”

Catano said there is still “a little bit of disbelief” about all of it. For the most part, though, she thinks she’s doing well.

“I haven’t been angry or really asking, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ so much as it’s just kind of what life has dealt me,” she said. “I’m trying to just kind of roll with it and do the best I can, I guess.”

Remaining upbeat has been key for Catano and she believes her attitude has been an antidote. It was what helped her fiancé most after her diagnosis.

“It was kind of hard, but she’s stayed positive and I think that helps a lot — seeing someone stay happy and move forward and that’s been the plan so far to just kind of keep going, right?” he said.

“Yes,” she affirmed.

“She stays positive and that makes it easier,” he said. “It’s not great watching it, but that is the silver lining — seeing her happy and seeing her get a little better.”

Dorais has always been dependable and reliable and he has continued to be someone she can count on. But all of this has shown her a more sensitive side of him. She jokes that it’s been the first time she’s seen that he has emotions.

“Sometimes situations like this bring out different sides to people, a great side, but a bad side, too, but I feel like maybe this brought out the best in both of us,” she said.

In the past month, Dorais said whatever uncertainty he felt about getting married before has disappeared. She said the same. He asked her friends to help him pick out a ring. Catano has had difficulties walking and doesn’t often leave her home, so he wondered how to surprise her.

One Saturday, just after a nap, they started talking about the future that they wanted.

“I just put the ring on and asked her and she was like, ‘What? What are you doing? What is going on? This doesn’t make sense,'” he recalled.

“I was like, ‘What?!’ You know, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes,” she added.

“It’s something I knew that I wanted to do,” he explained. “It’s something that she saw happening and I want to be able to do that. Again, time may or may not be limited, but if it’s something we’ve always thought about, something we’ve always seen ourselves doing and it’s an easy decision, then why would cancer change that?”

They are ready. And they feel like it adds some normalcy to their lives, being able to plan a wedding and get married — cancer be damned. They’re shooting for Dec. 21.

“We’re thinking Timpanogos Temple,” she said and turned to Dorais, “You still on board with that?”

“Sure,” he said.

“A simple luncheon afterwards, something that’s just kind of simple. I probably won’t have much more energy than for a wedding and a luncheon,” Catano said. “We’re pretty excited to get married and move on. Any form of normalcy, I just kind of cling on to that, because life hasn’t been normal for the last couple months and you’re looking for anything to just be normal and just get back to living.”

She hopes the wedding will be a celebration, “a holiday” for those closest to them.

Cancer has already changed a lot of things and not all of them have been bad. Catano said she sees her friends, family and loved ones more.

“When your mortality is handed to you, if anything, you realize relationships are really key and important,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been relying pretty heavily on the people in my life. They’ve really made me happy and not that you should rely on other things or people to make you happy, but that’s why you have each other, to kind of help each other out when times are bad. It’s been really helpful.

“Catch me next week when I’m day one of chemo and you’ll probably get a different story, but I couldn’t do this without all those people in my life.”

She’s also come to realize that attitude really is everything and self-pity is a slippery slope. People matter most and life is full of blessings.

“My sister has been sending me all these inspirational quotes every day and one of them said that cancer is not a death sentence, but a life sentence in that it kind of pushes you to live,” she said. “I think it’s caused me to really think about what’s important and what’s worth stressing about and there are so many things in life to be happy for even when you’re suffering or in pain. I think, hopefully, in retrospect this will teach me some really good life lessons and I’ll be able to live a better life because of what I’m going through now.”

Also, insurance is important.

“You got to get it!” she announced, praising her employer, Alianza Academy, and her gratitude for their support. “I just feel like there’s so many blessings in spite of the fact that, you know, stage four cancer kind of sucks.”

At this point in time, the goal is to be walking by the new year. Better still if she can walk by the time they get married.

“I’m hoping to be able to walk on my wedding day without the use of a walker or a cane,” she said.

She feels like she has years still and is optimistic about children. She appears radiant and confident. He is the same.

“I’ve seen a more emotional side of him and I would have married him without seeing that and hoped for it later, but I knew he had it in him,” she said. “You want to know that, that the person you’re going to be with for the rest of your life is going to take care of you through thick and thin. And this is pretty thick. He hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s stuck with me.”

The couple’s friend, Sam Dickens, chimed in: “They are two of the best people I know.”

“Aw, Sam. You don’t have to say that,” Catano said.

She turned to a reporter, “But did you write that down?”

Catano’s family and friends have set up a YouCaring account to help pay for medical expenses at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/amandacatanosmedicalexpensefundraiser/27013

The Greatest Week in Rock History

(Reprinted from Salon)

Thirty-four years ago this week, the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Temptations, Santana, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Creedence Clearwater  all shared top billing on the Billboard album chart. There’s never been another lineup quite like it — and there will never be again.

By Eric Boehlert

1969 had it all. From Woodstock and Nixon’s inauguration to the Manson murders, the Miracle Mets, Chappaquiddick, the man on the moon, Butch and Sundance, the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial, the Beatles’ farewell performance, and “Vietnamization,” the year was drenched in milestones:

And in late December, 1969 also boasted the greatest week in rock history — seven days when revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll, powerhouse R&B, and shimmering pop creations all shared top billing as they never have before or since.

Singling out one week in rock history might seem absurd. Rock’s about to turn 50 years old (whether you date its birth on July 9, 1955, the day Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” hit No. 1, or on July 5th, 1954, the day Elvis Presley recorded the legendary Sun Sessions) and more than 2,500 weeks have passed since. But there’s a unique way to systematically rate rock’s past and try to uncover the best single week: simply chose the one that had, album-for-album, the 10 best entries atop the Billboard 200 album chart. A week when the top 10 had no fluff filler, no disposable pop creations, and no dreadful trend imitators. A week that boasted the best collection ever assembled at the pinnacle of the charts at any given moment. Not the 10 best albums of all time, necessarily: that would be too much to hope for. But the week when record buyers produced a lineup of albums unmatched, taken as a whole, for quality, originality and longevity.

The method is subjective, of course, because sales charts aren’t perfect barometers of quality. For instance, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ reggae landmark, “Catch a Fire,” only climbed to No. 171, while the Replacements’ post-punk classic, “Let it Be,” never charted at all, like hundreds of other worthy titles. And, of course, the charts are full of Barry Manilow, United Fruit Company and Iron Butterfly titles whose vinyl originals now repose in thrift store bins and moldy dumpsters across America. Yet over the years the charts (i.e. consumers) have proven to be a remarkably reliable way of tracking superior work — mainly because great rock has often also been successful rock. When Rolling Stone magazine editors recently named the 500 greatest albums of all time, nine of the magazine’s first 10 choices had peaked inside Billboard’s top 10. (The lone exception was the Clash’s “London Calling,” which only reached as high as No. 27.)

That’s why, for me, Dec. 20, 1969, represents rock’s summit:

No. 1, “Abbey Road,” the Beatles No. 2, “Led Zeppelin II,” Led Zeppelin No. 3, “Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas,” Tom Jones No. 4, “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival No. 5, “Let It Bleed,” the Rolling Stones No. 6, “Santana,” Santana No. 7, “Puzzle People,” the Temptations No. 8, “Blood Sweat & Tears,” Blood Sweat & Tears No. 9, “Crosby, Stills & Nash,” Crosby, Stills & Nash No. 10, “Easy Rider” soundtrack (featuring the Byrds, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Steppenwolf)

Simply having three masterpieces together in the same week — the Beatles’ final studio gem, “Abbey Road,” the revolutionary heavy-metal precursor “Led Zeppelin II,” and the Stones’ audacious, apocalyptic “Let It Bleed” — would be enough to mark Dec. 20, 1969 as a special chart entry. (All right, I know Led Zeppelin isn’t quite in the same league as the Beatles and the Stones, and I already hear the shrieks that C,S & N was the week’s third masterpiece. But I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.)

But add in the historic debuts by Latin-rock guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana and the tight, high harmonies of CS&N, a classic Creedence album from a quintessential American band at its creative and commercial peak, a daring new “psychedelic soul” offering from the greatest male vocal group of all time, the Temptations, a groundbreaking movie soundtrack, jazz-rock pioneers Blood Sweat & Tears, and pop powerhouse Tom Jones, and you get a week in rock that’s gone unmatched since.

Soft spots in the lineup? Some people might point to Jones, the sweaty pop swinger, or Blood Sweat & Tears. But I think they’re worthy entries, although they bring up the all-star week’s rear. There’s something authentic and enduring about Jones’ unabashed, swiveling-hips bravado. And forget the fact that middle-aged women later took to throwing their underwear at him — the man from Wales could flat-out belt. “What’s New Pussycat” still stands as one of pop’s great guilty pleasures. And have you listened to “It’s Not Unusual” lately?

As for Blood Sweat & Tears, the nine-piece band in ’69 was arguably bigger than the Beatles, eventually selling 3 million album copies (an unheard-of tally back then) and racking up huge hits with “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die,” and “God Bless The Child.” With David Clayton-Thomas’ locomotive vocals and the horn section blasting out slick three-part harmonies, the Greenwich Village group captured, however fleetingly, something distinctive on that album. (The band’s co-founder, Al Kooper, left before the band’s meteoric rise in ’69. During the week of Dec. 20, though, he was right alongside his band-mates in the top 10, playing French horn on the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” from “Let It Bleed.”)

Regardless, just imagine the mix tape possibilities from that single ’69 week. “Come Together,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Weight,” “It’s Not Unusual,” “Green River,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Wooden Ships,” “Gimme Shelter,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Evil Ways,” “And When I Die,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and “Born to Be Wild.”

Seven of the acts from that December week have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And if you include the appearances of the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, as well as songwriting credits by Bob Dylan and The Band’s Robbie Robertson, that’s 11 Hall of Famers side-by-side in one week. Not to mention some of rock’s most inventive guitarists: Keith Richards, Roger McGuinn, Jimmy Page, George Harrison, Carlos Santana and, of course, Jimi Hendrix.

And just FYI, no, this week does not represent some sort of a nostalgic trip back in time for me; in Dec. ’69, I had just turned 4 years old. Later, during my key record-buying years, I had no patience for backward-looking classic rock. And in high school I managed to avoid going through a Who, Zeppelin, or Doors phase. (My lone ’60s/’70s indulgence was the Kinks.)

But these ’69 albums have weathered time as if coated with Armor-All. If you can somehow wipe away the countless times you’ve heard them on monotonous classic rock radio, or being piped into the dairy aisle in your local grocery store, and you can start fresh and hear the songs on a top-flight sound system, most of the albums still crackle with excitement, 34 years later. (I’d concede, though, that portions of the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, “Blood Sweat & Tears,” and “Santana” can sound a bit dated.)

Using the Billboard album chart as the benchmark, there have been other great weeks in rock history. For instance, on Sept. 4, ’65, the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Our Heads,” the Beach Boys “Summer Days (And Summer Nights),” “Beatles VI,” Dylan’s “Bringing it All Back Home,” and “Sinatra ’65″ were all bunched together in a one-of-a-kind top 10. Unfortunately, the week also featured the soundtracks to “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” — albums, for all their undoubted virtues, that would have a hard time going mano-a-mano with “Satisfaction.”

Other weeks worthy of mention include March 23, ’68 (Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan (“John Wesley Harding”), the Beatles (“Magical Mystery Tour”), Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Otis Redding); Nov. 23, ’74 (the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, David Bowie and Lou Reed); Sept. 8, ’79 (The Knack, Supertramp, The Cars, Chic, Neil Young, the Commodores, and Led Zeppelin); Oct. 24, ’92 (Garth Brooks, REM, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Mary J. Blige); Oct. 17, ’98 (Jay-Z, Outkast, Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill, Sheryl Crow, Kirk Franklin, and Shania Twain), and Sept. 28, 2002 (Dixie Chicks, Eminem, Nelly, Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, Coldplay, and James Taylor).

Using the same album-for-album chart criteria, I’d nominate Sept. 2, 1989 as the Worst Week in Rock History.

No. 1 “Repeat Offender,” Richard Marx No. 2. “Hangin’ Tough,” NKOTB No. 3. “Batman” soundtrack No. 4. “Forever Your Girl,” Paula Abdul No. 5. “Girl You Know It’s True,” Milli Vanilli No. 6. “Full Moon Fever,” Tom Petty No. 7. “Skid Row” Skid Row. No. 8. “The Raw and the Cooked,” Fine Young Cannibals No. 9. “Cuts Both Ways” Gloria Estefan No. 10. “End of Innocence,” Don Henley

The nation’s collective ears must have been stuffed with wax that week (or year). You almost feel sorry for Petty, Henley and the Fine Young Cannibals, trapped forever with this rogues’ gallery of career offenders. (Milli Vanilli??)

Readers may wonder why there are no contemporary charts like these — no weeks when Radiohead, Norah Jones and Alicia Keys all rub shoulders in the top 10, without bumping into forgettable pop entries. There are several reasons why critically acclaimed rock albums charted higher in the ’60s than they do now. First, there were simply fewer records released back then, so the odds of having success were better. Also, far fewer people were buying records, so it took fewer sales to hit the top 10. By the end of 1969, only 20 albums in the history of rock had ever sold 1 million copies. (“Crosby, Stills and Nash” and “Santana” were the 18th and 20th, respectively.) By contrast, this year alone nearly 50 albums sold 1 million copies or more, a difference that far outpaces the country’s population gains since 1969. Also, young teens were still buying more singles than albums in 1969. That meant the demographic of heavy album buyers was concentrated among white college-age kids, giving their favorite rock acts an inside track on the Billboard charts.

But it wasn’t just the individual songs and singles that made the week of Dec. 20, ’69, stand out. In many ways, rock ‘n’ roll was the ’60s — it played a defining role in American culture that’s hard even to imagine now. Listening to this music, even for those of us who didn’t live through those days, summons up the extraordinary and tumultuous history of which they were such an integral part.

Screenwriter Buck Henry once reminisced to the Los Angeles Times about the summer of ’69: “I had a house up above the Strip and I could look down on about a dozen houses, which all had swimming pools, and not a day went by when there weren’t naked people in those pools. There was a lot of dope-inspired, orgiastic behavior. It was like Hollywood was this pond filled with drugs and hippie girls.” (All that free love would soon have a consequence: California’s no-fault divorce law went into effect Jan. 1, 1970, helping to usher in the Me Decade.)

In December 1969, that orgiastic mix of sex, drugs and spirituality spilled off the Billboard album charts. While the Beatles were urging us to “come together,” Mick Jagger and the crew were busy searching for “someone we can cream on.” Around the same time, roadies one day knocked on Jimmy Page’s hotel room door to tell him that they were gang-banging Cynthia Plaster Caster upstairs in a bathtub of baked beans. Jimmy went up to watch, according to Stephen Davis’ band biography, “Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga.” The boys in CS&N also overindulged: “We’d get so high,” David Crosby once said of the group’s early time in the studio. “I cannot tell a lie. We used to smoke a joint and snort a line before every [recording] session. That was a ritual.” (As for the Stones, bassist Bill Wyman, accustomed to having groupies attend to his needs after every show, reportedly became severely depressed one night when the girls failed to show up. When someone asked him what the matter was, he despondently replied, “No birds.”)

It was also a time of jarring violence that seemed to unfold with numbing regularity. Just look at this bloody newsreel covering four days in December ’69:

  • Dec. 4. During a pre-dawn raid, Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and fellow Panther, Mark Clark, are shot to death by Chicago police officers who raid Hampton’s apartment and riddle it with 90-plus bullets. Despite police claims that a gunfight broke out when they went to search the apartment for guns, investigators later concluded the Panthers managed just a single gunshot in defense.
  • Dec. 5. Life magazine publishes Ronald Haeberle’s full-color photos of the scene at My Lai, Vietnam, erasing any doubt about what had taken place at the village one year earlier: the mass murder of 300 apparently unarmed Vietnamese civilians at the hands of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade. (In 1971, platoon leader Lt. William Calley was found guilty in the murder of at least 22 Vietnamese civilians; at Nixon’s behest Calley served under house arrest, doing his three-and-a-half years time while living in an apartment at Ft. Benning, Ga.)
  • Dec. 6. The Rolling Stones host a doomed free outdoor concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California. Taking a tip from the Grateful Dead, the Stones hire the Hells Angels to keep the peace at Altamont, paying them $500 and free beer. Instead, the bikers hand out their own unique brand of justice, cracking heads literally, even knocking a member of Jefferson Airplane unconscious. Halfway through “Under My Thumb,” a scuffle breaks out to the left of the stage. 18-year-old Meredith Hunter from Berkeley, Calif., pulls out a gun and points it at an Angel who was grabbing his throat. They struggle and an Angel stabs Hunter in the head and then twice more in the back. Then a dozen Angels stomp him to death. Minutes later the Stones, oblivious to the nearby execution, play for the first time live their brand-new song, “Brown Sugar.”
  • Dec. 8, Charles Manson and members of his cult are indicted for the “Helter Skelter” killings of Sharon Tate and five others in the Hollywood Hills on Aug. 9. Manson believed the bloody executions he orchestrated would spark a race war and an Armageddon he called “Helter Skelter,” supposedly predicted in the Beatles song of the same name. After the bloodshed, Manson’s “family” would emerge from their safe hiding place in the Mojave Desert, and take over what remained of the United States.Of course, the backdrop for the killing culture was the ongoing Vietnam War. In April 1969, U.S. troop levels there hit 543,400, the highest reached at any time during the war. By the week of Dec. 20, Nixon’s “Vietnamization” policy of slowly withdrawing troops had drawn down that force to approximately 470,000. Nonetheless, by ’69 American combat deaths in Vietnam topped 33,700, surpassing the U.S. death tally for Korean War.

    On Dec. 1 of that year, the Selective Service conducted its first draft lottery since 1942, pulling out Ping-Pong balls at random with birth dates. The event determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970, that is, for registrants born between Jan. 1, 1944, and Dec. 31, 1950.

    Appropriately, just as unlucky draftees were about to be shipped off, farewells were in the air on pop radio at the close of December 1969, with “Leaving On a Jet Plane” (Peter, Paul, and Mary), and “Someday We’ll Be Together” (Diana Ross & The Supremes) coming in at 1 and 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Those were sentimental expressions of hope. Sitting behind them at No. 3, though, was a song that had Vietnam on its mind, that put its stamp on the ’60s at its close, but couldn’t be bothered with sentimentality — Creedence Clearwater Revival’s pounding “Fortunate Son,” which stands among rock’s most exhilarating 2:18.

    In it, growling lead singer John Fogerty declares unabashed class warfare:

    Some folks are born silver spoon in hand Lord, don’t they help themselves, oh. But when the taxman come to the door, Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale, yes

    and undresses the Pentagon:

    Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh, they’re red, white and blue. And when the band plays “Hail To The Chief,” oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord.

    Fogerty, who until two years earlier was serving once a month in the Army Reserve, wrote “Fortunate Son” in 20 minutes, sitting on the edge of a bed with a legal pad in his lap. “It’s a confrontation between me and Richard Nixon,” he once said.

    Incredibly, “Fortunate Son” doesn’t even appear on “Green River,” the CCR album in the top 10 for Dec. 20, ’69. That’s because Fogerty was so prolific, his singles and albums were beginning to pile up on the charts. (The band’s first three albums each cost $2,000 to make and were recorded in one week’s time.) In 1969 alone, CCR released an unheard-of three studio albums that produced not-a-note wasted classics like “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Down on the Corner.”

    In just over 18 months the band tallied seven top 10 singles, most of them with B-side winners to boot. Like Elvis in ’56, the Beatles in ’64, the Bee Gees in ’78 and Michael Jackson in ’83, CCR, with its mixture of Southern Creole styles and tight rockabilly touch, owned American pop music in ’69. As Rob Sheffield put it in Rolling Stone, “for a year or two there, Creedence were as great as any rock & roll band could ever be.”

    At the same time, the Rolling Stones also found themselves in a wicked groove. Rebounding from the psychedelic mess of 1967′s “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” the band answered with “Beggar’s Banquet” in ’68, and then hit back even harder with “Let It Bleed.” From the opening masterpiece “Gimme Shelter,” which writer Greil Marcus dubbed “the greatest rock and roll recording ever made,” “Let It Bleed” is soaked in addiction (“All my friends are junkies”) violence, (“I’ll stick my knife down your throat, baby”), more violence (“You knifed me in my dirty filthy basement”), and lament (“You can’t always get what you want”). It’s all wrapped around some of the sturdiest, most exhilarating songs ever put to vinyl. “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD,” the inside album sleeve commands, and millions of rock fans happily obeyed.

    “No rock record, before or since, has ever so completely captured the sense of palpable dread that hung over its era,” wrote Stephen Davis in his Stones book, “Old Gods Almost Dead.”

    “It’s kind of an end-of-the-world thing,” Jagger said of “Let it Bleed.” “It’s Apocalypse; the whole record’s like that.” (The best trivia tidbit: That’s not Charlie Watts smacking the skins on the closing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” it’s producer Jimmy Miller, the same “Mr. Jimmy” who Jagger sings about seeing at the Chelsea drugstore.)

    In the fall of ’69, the band, never shy about its love of money, even while playing to the Woodstock nation, faced critics’ wrath for charging high prices — $5.50 and $8.50 — for its 13-city, 18-concert tour of the U.S. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, respected music scribe Ralph J. Gleason complained, “Can the Rolling Stones actually need all that money?”

    At a Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel press conference, Jagger fended off the criticism by suggesting the band might play a free thank-you show at the conclusion of the tour. Or, as the band’s promoter later told the New York Times, “It’s a Christmas and Hanukkah gift from the Stones to American youth.”

    That “gift,” fittingly for this “Let it Bleed” moment in rock history, turned out to be Altamont.

    With their new ’69 album “Puzzle People,” the Temptations were offering up a different kind of gift intended for black America. The greatest male vocal group of all time (“My Girl,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t too Proud to Beg,” “Just My Imagination”), the Temps were a testament to the polished Motown sound that helped define the decade. By ’69 though, the group was staking out new territory. Yes, the albums boasted the prerequisite fireball single, the R&B smash “Can’t Get Next to You” that crossed over to No. 1 on the pop charts. But two years before Motown icon Marvin Gaye tackled social issues with his breakthrough release, “What’s Goin’ On,” the Temps took a hard look around. On “Puzzle People,” gone from the album cover photo was the trademark Motown matching suits. Instead, it was the Temps in afros, psychedelic shirts and smart street suits, hanging out on the stoop of a inner-city building, far away from the safe supper clubs they often played. “Puzzle People” was part of the Temps’ “psychedelic soul” phase, which began earlier that year with the release of the “Cloud Nine” album.

    Politically, the “Puzzle People” highlight was “Message From a Black Man”: “Your eyes are open but you refuse to see/The laws of society were made for both you and me.” It was the Temps’ answer to James Brown’s anthem, “Say It Out (I’m Black and I’m Proud).”

    The timing was dead-on: On Dec. 20, 1969, in the wake of the Black Panther slayings, Chicago’s superintendent of police announced there had been “no misconduct by the police officers involved” in the raid. “Message From a Black Man” emerged as an unofficial Black Power anthem.

    The Beatles came bearing a gift of their own in late ’69: “Abbey Road,” which reigned at No. 1 for 18 weeks in the U.K., 11 in the U.S. Unhappy with the recording of “Let it Be,” which was actually released after “Abbey Road,” the world’s most famous rock band returned to EMI Studio No 3, Abbey Road, London NW8, in July and August of ’69 for their final sessions.

    For a band that was on the verge of breaking up, amid personal squabbling and broken business deals, “Abbey Road” is surprisingly bright, at times seamless, and often silly (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Octopus’s Garden.”) Not as groundbreaking as “Rubber Soul” or “Revolver,” “Abbey Road” is still a classic of pop songwriting, led by John Lennon’s “Come Together,” which was inspired by Timothy Leary’s run at California governor (Leary’s slogan was “Come together, join the party”) and the hard-rocking “She’s So Heavy.” Side 2′s suite of song fragments, with their haunting melodies and great transitions (“You Never Give Me Your Money,” “Carry That Weight”) is unique in the Beatles’ repertory. And of course pop doesn’t come much more perfect than George Harrison’s unabashedly optimistic “Here Comes the Sun,” written using a guitar borrowed from Eric Clapton, while sitting in his friend’s garden.

    As the final true track on “Abbey Road,” the last album recorded by the Beatles, “The End” served as the band’s good-bye to the decade and an era. And they signed off with a Paul McCartney note of unquenchable optimism: “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”

    On Dec. 20, ’69, “Abbey Road” sat at No. 1 in the U.S. At No. 2 was “Led Zeppelin II,” and barreling into the ’70s? the band offered a radically different take on love. Opening with the carnal “Whole Lotta Love,” complete with Jimmy Page’s famous guitar stutter, the song single-handedly ushered in rock’s next major chapter: “Way way down inside/ I’m gonna give you my love/ I’m gonna give you every inch of my love.”

    Heavy metal was born. Not just the relentless, thundering sound, but the strutting, cocksure attitude that would dominate rock (often in inflated, caricatured forms) for years to come. “‘Whole Lotta Love’ was an emergency telegram to a new generation,” wrote Davis in “Hammer of the Gods.” “In its frenzy of sex, chaos, and destruction, it seemed to conjure all the chilling anxieties of the dying decade. Ironically, the song (and Led Zeppelin) didn’t much appeal to the kids of the sixties, who had grown up with the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan. Tired, jaded, disillusioned, they were turning towards softer sound, country rock. But their younger siblings, the high school kids, were determined to have more fun. Zed Zeppelin was really their band. For the next decade Led Zeppelin would be the unchallenged monarchs of high school parking lots all over America.”

    The ’60s were over, literally and figuratively. And during the final week of ’69, in a nice piece of symbolic symmetry, the Beatles, the quintessential ’60s band, and Led Zeppelin, soon-to-be ’70s rock gods, flip-flopped their No. 1 and No. 2 spots atop the Billboard album chart.

The Forgotten Hits: 70’s Soft Rock 3

Every era and genre of music has songs that were popular in their day, but whose footprints have been washed from the sand over time. Our goal in this series of posts is to resurrect their memory; to help in a small way to reverse the process of the “top tenning” of oldies formats, which reduce hit makers from previous decades to their most popular song or two and then overplay them until you almost loathe an artist you used to enjoy (think “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believin’”).

I’ll be citing the Billboard pop charts for reference. Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 60′s and 70′s were a much more accurate reflection of a song’s popularity, before there were so many other ways for a song to enter the public consciousness (reflected by the number of pop charts Billboard now uses). It was an era when radio ruled–before a car commercial, social music sharing site, or Glee were equally likely ways for a song to break through.

And now our third installment dedicated to 70’s hits that fell between rock and a soft place…and through the cracks of oldies radio.

The Addrisi Brothers: “We’ve Got to Get it On Again”

#25 in 1972

“Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On”

#20 in 1977

Pop singing/songwriting duo Dick and Don Addrisi are responsible for writing at least one certified classic pop song, that being the Association’s “Never My Love”. As performers they cracked the top 40 twice, with neither song seeing much airplay since the decade of its release. At least one, “We’ve Got to Get it On Again” deserves a better fate. Actually, I’m surprised it didn’t chart higher than #25 at the time.

“Slow Dancin’ Don’t Turn Me On” however, is among the cheesier hits the decade produced. This one’s a forgotten hit with pretty good reason. “Wiggle their class”?

____________________

Chris Thompson & Night: “Hot Summer Nights”

#18 in 1979

“If You Remember Me”

#17 in 1979

Night had two top 40 singles with two very different sounds. “Hot Summer Nights” was a cover of a Walter Egan song with Stevie Lange on female lead vocals, and the ballad “If You Remember Me” featured a male vocal from Chris Thompson. (Thompson was the lead singer on Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s “Blinded by the Light” a couple of years earlier.) If you remember it, I bet you haven’t heard it in a while.

____________________

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band: “Joanne”

#21 in 1970

“Silver Moon”

#42 in 1971

Mike Nesmith will always be best known as one of the Monkees, but he was a professional musician before joining them and his songwriting credits include “Different Drum”, which gave Linda Ronstadt her very first chart hit. With The First National Band he released three albums of country rock from 1970-71.

____________________

Ian Gomm: “Hold On”

#18 in 1979

English pop singer/songwriter Ian Gomm is a classic one-hit wonder in the U.S. But he did co-write at least one other hit, Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind”. The two songs share a prominent strummed acoustic guitar and a catchy chorus.

____________________

Eddie Rabbitt: “Suspicions”

#13 in 1979

Eddie Rabbitt mastered the country crossover hit in the early 80’s with songs like “Drivin’ My Life Away” and “I Love a Rainy Night”. All but forgotten though is this 1979 hit that sounds like the perfect blend of pop and easy listening. Such was the blurring of the lines between genres in the 70’s that this song, which sounds like it could be an Ambrosia hit, was recorded by a nominally country artist.

____________________

Bread: “Hooked On You”

#60 in 1977

Bread’s excellent 1977 comeback album Lost Without Your Love was their first since ’72. It would prove to be a brief reunion and the album was the band’s last. The title track was their final top ten single and “Hooked On You” its less successful follow-up. But it’s a typically lovely David Gates ballad.

____________________

Stephen Bishop: “Save it for a Rainy Day”

#22 in 1977

Although we get the full wrath of Chaka Khan in this song’s final coda, its other featured guest, Eric Clapton, is wasted on a 6-second guitar solo. I know you’re a Bishop but…Clapton is god.

Please, Stop Believin’

Journey’s ridiculous anthem is back, as a singalong for both World Series teams. Why does this awful song endure?

(This article by Stephen Deusner was printed in Salon Friday, Oct. 26)

The Giants and the Tigers should play for something real this World Series. Instead of compete for a big trophy and bigger bragging rights, the two teams should play for Journey: The winner gets to keep “Don’t Stop Believin’” as a stadium singalong, and the loser has to find some other song for its playlist.

Of course, San Francisco would have much more to lose in that wager, since singer Steve Perry is an avowed Giants fan who performed during the Giants run to the 2010 World Series title and even appeared in the team’s victory parade. (Perry’s “Lights” is also an AT&T Park favorite.)

For Detroit, however, it’s just one of many rousing numbers in its stadium playlist, albeit one with a shout-out to the Tigers’ hometown: “Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.” Of couse, there is actually no such place as South Detroit, unless you count Lake Erie or Windsor, Ontario. In that regard, Detroit’s adoption of “Don’t Stop Believin’” seems awfully self-deprecating, as though the team is desperate for any song that mentions the city. (Why not rock to the MC5, the Stooges or pretty much anything from that small, obscure local label called Motown?)

So let the World Series loser stop believin’. In which case, we’d all win if both teams lost? That Journey hit has become ubiquitous, an inescapable part of watching TV, attending sporting events, going to the grocery store, or just listening to the radio (although, really, who does that anymore?).

How did this possibly happen? Rock critic Lester Bangs once observed that we don’t agree on anything anymore the way that we did on Elvis. But he was wrong: There was once a time when we all believed Journey sucked. So how did they go from corporate-rock pariahs and prom theme embarrassments to everyone’s not-so-secret guilty pleasure? After all, our seventh-inning stadium singalongs tend to be reserved for icons. It’s where we sing Kate Smith and Neil Diamond.

The story starts, of course, in San Francisco, back when the Giants were still playing in Candlestick Park. Neal Schon was a teenage guitar prodigy who dropped out of high school to join Santana, playing on one album, “Santana III,” in 1971. He left the band soon after, but the experience would prove helpful, if only for introducing him to keyboard player Gregg Rolie. Together, they formed a new band with bassist Ross Valory and rhythm guitarist George Tickner; they chose their name through a contest on local radio station KSAN-FM. Like Santana, they were primarily an instrumental act, which meant long jams and middling sales. In late 1977, they hired a drummer named Steve Perry to front the band.

That decision proved more than advantageous, as Journey quickly grew into a pop behemoth, notching multi-platinum and more or less owning radio with hits like “Anyway You Want It,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Open Arms” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.” Such was their popularity that they even had their own video games, both in actual arcades and on the Atari 2600, where you had to guide the band backstage past shady agents and paparazzi to their limousine, while an eight-bit version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” played in the background.

Perhaps most important to Journey’s success was MTV, then a fledgling network hungry for videos of any quality by any band. Journey realized the possibilities of the medium before a lot of other bands, and some of their early clips have a certain DIY charm. For “Separate Ways,” the band flew to New Orleans, where they played invisible instruments on the docks: air guitar, air keyboards, air drums, even air microphone. It was a bit corny, but also pretty inventive, early music-video special effects at their cheapest and their finest. As the network grew, so did the band. Journey even participated in one of the network’s very first contests, “One Night Stand With Journey,” where a viewer was flown anywhere in the world to go backstage with the band.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” was only one in a series of hit singles, but it wasn’t even their most successful: The song peaked at No. 9 in 1981, but “Who’s Crying Now” and “Open Arms” both charted higher and longer. Despite their success, Journey were constantly derided by critics who viewed them as bland, dopey, opportunistic and worse. Reviewing their 1981 album “Escape” in Rolling Stone, Deborah Frost wrote, “Journey could be any bunch of fluff-brained sessioneers with a singer who sounds like a eunuch under assault  from thrashings of a West Coast-style identi-riffer (Schon, Craig Starship or Steve Toto).” In the Los Angeles Times, Robert Hilburn listed “Don’t Stop Believin’” as one in the year’s “Cavalcade of Cringe-Causing Hits”: “These guys do touch on rock’s inspirational turf, but the lyrics are so hapless and Steve Perry’s vocal is so overblown that the record is a mockery of rock as a meaningful form of artistic expression.”

By the mid 1980s, Journey had stalled, unseated by a wave of younger, synth-based bands like the Eurythmics and Duran Duran, who crowded MTV’s rotation with bigger-budget videos. Perry embarked on a short-lived solo career, and his ’84 debut “Street Talk” produced two big hits: “Oh Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart.” But Journey’s 1986 album “Raised on Radio” was a relative flop, and a new vanguard of hair metal acts, including Bon Jovi and Poison, shunted Journey to the sidelines in the latter half of the decade. The group disbanded and reunited several times over the next 25 years, but never again achieved their former level of success — at least not with any new material. They seemed safely forgotten, or at least relegated to the state fair circuit forever.

But something funny — or, depending on your taste for the song, something incredibly discouraging — happened in the late 2000s. “Don’t Stop Believin’” found new life and a new audience, experiencing a resurgence of popularity and a new status as something like a rock ‘n’ roll classic, thanks primarily to two popular television shows. “The Sopranos” used it to soundtrack its confounding series finale, where Tony Soprano and his family are sitting at a diner eating French fries just seconds before the final blackout. Series creator David Chase, who directed the finale, seemingly chose the song for its intense banality, putting it on par with fresh-from-the-freezer fries, laminated menus and suburban dining. Chase was almost teasing his audience, playfully raising the question of what in the long-running series was worth believing in.

In other words, “The Sopranos” was aware of the song’s dubious place in pop culture. “Glee,” on the other hand, could see it only as a motivational anthem, shorthand for character development. In that series’ 2009 premiere, the members of the high school glee club perform a suspiciously polished a cappella version of the tune as a means of persuading Will Schuester (played by ex-boy band singer Matthew Morrison) to stay on as their teacher. It’s a pretty insipid version of the song, the kids’ squeaky-clean harmonies contrasting weirdly with Journey’s attempt at urban grit, but the “Glee” cover was a hit, propelling “Don’t Stop Believin’” back onto the charts. The song hit No. 6 in 2009, making it the rare single (alongside Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”) to find not only new life but greater success long after its initial run.

Since then, “Don’t Stop Believin’” has shown up on numerous soundtracks (“Yogi the Bear” and “Moneyball,” for example) and as a staple on televised talent shows. It remains on radio playlists and blasts — well, secretes — from grocery store speakers. It was even a centerpiece on the sloppily revisionist musical-cum-flop movie “Rock of Ages.” The song simply won’t die. In 2012, 31 years after its initial release, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is deeply entrenched in current rock culture, such as it is, provoking a Pavlovian response in nostalgists old enough to associate it with the ‘80s and a raised glass from those who see it as an artifact from another era, on par with “YMCA” or “Celebration” as cheeseball anthems that everybody knows the words to and everybody can sing along with.

This sort of pop Lazarus rarely happens on this scale. As tastes change, of course, listeners reevaluate certain assumptions about the past and reconsider music that might once have been considered bad or, worse, uncool. Led Zeppelin were once considered hard-rock scourges, dumb playboys who assaulted the tastes and eardrums of stupid audiences; now they are revered by the same publications that once skewered them. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Hall & Oates were derided as slick faux-soul pioneers; now that stigma has been removed and “Rich Girl” has found new life as a hipster standard.

In the case of “Don’t Stop Believin’” it helps that the general listener isn’t old enough to remember when the song was first released. The song is older than almost all of the Tigers and the Giants, and it predates every single member of the William McKinley High School Glee Club (Morrison was barely 3 years old in 1981). Over the years, the song has shed its disreputable associations, yet retains its power as a pop cultural artifact with the weight of history behind it. A new generation ostensibly hears it for what it is: a shameless go-get-‘em-tiger anthem with a catchy chorus and a straightforward sentiment about not disbelieving. Modern-day listeners can ignore its pandering take on poverty and struggle (which is particularly ironic during the current recession), as well as such awkward phrasings as “streetlights people,” “living just to find emotion” and, of course, “South Detroit.”

They can do this because “Don’t Stop Believin’” was a blank to begin with. It wasn’t punk or new wave; it wasn’t muscle car rock or heavy metal; it wasn’t glam or lite pop or any other genre that can be popularly associated with a particular scene or era. It grew out of ‘70s and ’80s corporate rock, which tended to erase any regional traits or distinctive personalities to appeal to the broadest swath of listeners possible. Journey is more or less interchangeable with Survivor, Toto, REO Speedwagon, Mr. Mister and so many other anonymous bands of that era. In fact, those groups are so bland that they barely constitute an identifiable genre, which allows a song like “Don’t Stop Believin’” to live slightly out of time and out of style, unburdened by any identification with a larger movement good or bad, popular or obscure. The very traits that drew the most criticism have become crucial to Journey’s longevity: Their blankness allows for more than simple nostalgia. Subsequent generations can paint whatever they like on this blank canvas.

Furthermore, the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin’,” while ostensibly chronicling the romance of a small-town girl and a big-city boy, are so general they can apply to almost any situation and make it sound much more dramatic than it actually is: a baseball game, a plate of French fries, high school extracurricular activities. Sure, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” more or less made the song obsolete in 1986, with its similar dropped g and its much more detailed take on the struggles of youth in love — not to mention its unique vocal rhythm (ooh-wah-ooh-ooh-wah).

But Bon Jovi’s characters have names (Tommy and Gina) and jobs (he used to work on the docks, she’s a waitress); they’re almost too real, and whatever success they find is based on hard work and sacrifices rather than on their simple refusal to stop believing. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a perfect storm of bland and vague and cheesy and catchy and inoffensive, but most crucially it exhorts listeners to “hold onto that feeling,” which is important. “That feeling” is not the victory, but the hunger, the struggle. Journey extols the journey, not the destination. In other words, whoever wins the World Series is less important than the passion of the players and their fans.

In a sense, the renewed success of “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as though the song never stopped believin’ in itself. On the other hand, in 2012 it has taken on a whole new set of associations: an unsatisfying end to a beloved series, a big scene in a divisive one, and Schon’s recent elopement with Real Housewife and White House crasher Michaele Salahi. We’re stuck with it forever. But perhaps we can stop pretending that’s worth celebrating.

How the Doors Set the Night on Fire

[image]

By MARC MYERS

(Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal)

About six minutes into the song, a visibly stoned Jim Morrison bent over and pointed his leather-clad rear toward the Hollywood Bowl audience. Sensing trouble, keyboardist Ray Manzarek yelled “Jim!” The warning worked. Morrison stood up, retook the mike and completed the hit song: “Light My Fire,” as seen on “The Doors: Live at the Bowl ’68” (Eagle Rock), a newly restored DVD released Monday, Oct. 22.

Collaboratively written by the band in 1966, “Light My Fire” leaves a trail of history behind it. Originally lasting more than seven minutes, it featured one of rock’s first extended album solos. When the shorter single was released in ’67, it reached No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart, and the following year, José Feliciano won a Grammy for his cover version.

Mr. Manzarek and Robby Krieger—two of the Doors’ surviving members—talked about the song’s famed keyboard intro, the Fats Domino connection, and why the single was faster-paced than the album version. Edited from interviews.

Ray Manzarek:By March 1966, we were running out of songs. Up until then, I had been putting chord changes to Jim [Morrison’s] sung lyrics. At a band rehearsal, Jim said, “Everyone go home this weekend and write at least one song.” But when we regrouped the following Tuesday, only Robby had written one. He called it “Light My Fire.”

Robby Krieger: I was living at my parents’ home in Pacific Palisades [Calif.] at the time. In my bedroom, I came up with a melody inspired by the Leaves’ “Hey Joe.” I also liked the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” so I wrote lyrics that used the word fire.

Mr. Manzarek: We had been rehearsing in the downstairs sunroom of a beach house at the very end of North Star Street near Venice [Calif.]. The people who lived upstairs were at work during the day, so we could bang away without disturbing anyone.

When Robby played his song for us, it had a then-popular folk-rock sound. But John [Densmore] cringed. He said, “No, no, not folk-rock.” He wanted it to sound edgier. He added a hard, Latin rhythm to the rock beat, and it worked.

Mr. Krieger: As Jim sang, he changed the melody line a little to give it a bluesy feel. Then he came up with a second verse right off the top of his head: “The time to hesitate is through/No time to wallow in the mire…”

Mr. Manzarek:Once the lyrics and melody were set, we realized we could jam as long as we wanted on the song’s middle two chords—A-minor and B-minor—the way John Coltrane did on “My Favorite Things” and “Olé.” All of us dug Coltrane’s long solos.

But we needed some way to start the song. At the rehearsal, I started playing a cycle of fifths on my Vox Continental organ. Out came a motif from the Bach “Two- and Three-Part Inventions” piano book I had used as a kid. It was like a psychedelic-rock minuet.

We didn’t use a bass player—I played the bass notes on a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass while my right hand played the Vox, which could be cranked up to a screaming-loud volume. My bass line for “Light My Fire” grew out of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” which I loved growing up in Chicago.

Mr. Krieger: We started playing the song at the London Fog on the Sunset Strip in April and May 1966 and at the Whisky A Go-Go between May and July. Onstage, the song became this rock-jazz jam. Audiences loved it.

Mr. Manzarek: In August ’66, when we went into Sunset Sound to record our first album, producer Paul Rothchild wanted us to record “Light My Fire” just as we had been playing it live. We recorded two takes—each one lasting over seven minutes. Nobody was recording extended solos on rock albums then.

Mr. Krieger: Afterward, Paul felt the song needed a little more drama at the end. Because Paul loved what Ray had done with the minuet in the beginning, he said, “Hell, let’s put it at the end, too.” So he spliced in a copy of Ray’s minuet after Jim’s vocal, as an outro.

Mr. Manzarek: Paul brought in Larry Knechtel of the Wrecking Crew to overdub a stronger bass attack. Then the master was blasted into the studio’s cement echo chamber, which gave the song reverb.

Mr. Krieger: A few months after “The Doors” album came out in January 1967, Elektra founder Jac Holzman called and said the label wanted a single for AM radio. Dave Diamond, an FM disc jockey in the San Fernando Valley, had been playing the album version and was getting a ton of calls.

Mr. Manzarek: But a single meant our 7:05-minute album version had to be cut down to 2½ minutes. Everyone groaned, but Paul said he’d take a crack at it. When we heard the result the next day, the organ and guitar solos were gone. Robby and I looked at each other and said to Paul, “You cut out the improvisation!”

Paul said: “I know. But imagine you’re 17 years old in Minneapolis. You’ve never heard of the Doors and this is the version you hear on the radio. Would you have a problem with it?” Jim sat there and said, “Actually, I kind of dig it.” We agreed.

Mr. Krieger: It was gut-wrenching to hear my guitar solo cut, but I actually liked the single better. I was never crazy about the album version. It had been mixed at a very low volume to capture everything. On the radio, it wasn’t very loud or exciting. The single, though, snapped. The secret was that Paul had wrapped Scotch tape around the spindle holding the pickup reel, so the tape would turn a fraction faster. This made the pitch a little higher and brighter, and the song more urgent.

Mr. Manzarek: I first heard the AM single with my wife, Dorothy, in our VW Bug. Dorothy started bouncing up and down like a jumping jack. I was pounding on the wheel. What a feeling.

Mr. Krieger: At first, I didn’t like José Feliciano’s 1968 version. It was so different and laid-back. But after a while, I came to love it. He made our song his own, which got others to record it. Thanks to José, the song is our biggest copyright by far.

The Forgotten Hits: 60’s Pop

Every era and genre of music has songs that were popular in their day, but whose footprints have been washed from the sand over time. Our goal in this series of posts is to resurrect their memory; to help in a small way to reverse the process of the “top tenning” of oldies formats, which reduce hit makers from previous decades to their most popular song or two and then overplay them until you almost loathe an artist you used to enjoy (think “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believin’”).

I’ll be citing the Billboard pop charts for reference. Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 60′s and 70′s were a much more accurate reflection of a song’s popularity, before there were so many other ways for a song to enter the public consciousness (reflected by the number of pop charts Billboard now uses). It was an era when radio ruled–before a car commercial, social music sharing site, or Glee were equally likely ways for a song to break through.

The Joe Jeffrey Group: “My Pledge of Love”

#14 in 1969

Cleveland’s Joe Jeffrey isn’t exactly a household name, and it isn’t easy digging up information about him or his band. That’s what one-hit status will do for you. He did release a cover of British group White Plains’ “My Baby Loves Lovin” that was released a week earlier stateside, but his bid to steal their chart thunder failed when his version charted just outside the top 100 while White Plains’ went to number 13.

His label, Wand, did issue a poor-selling LP with the same title as his hit single though, and its liner notes hyped it as “the best all-around pop album since ‘Sgt. Pepper.'” Hmm…

Good song, though.

___________________________________________________________________

Turn Down Day

The Cyrkle: “Turn Down Day”

#16 in 1966

The Cyrkle were managed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and given their name by John Lennon. Their biggest hit was the #2 “Red Rubber Ball”, which was written by Paul Simon and still gets oldies radio airplay. Time hasn’t been quite so kind to “Turn Down Day” in terms of continued exposure. But it’s a nice musical snapshot of its time. And the fact that someone posts songs like this on YouTube, and tens of thousands of others view it, proves some people havan’t forgotten.

__________________________________________________________________

Oh Happy Day: The Best Of The Edwin Hawkins Singers

The Edwin Hawkins Singers: “Oh Happy Day”

#4 in 1969

The Edwin Hawkins Singers were actually the Northern California State Youth Choir, and “Oh Happy Day” was from an album they recorded (called Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord) with the intention of selling it privately to raise money for a choir trip. But their modest 500-copy pressing wasn’t nearly enough after a local DJ at KSAN in San Francisco started playing the song. Buddah Records signed them to distribute it nationally (also changing the choir’s name to the Edwin Hawkins Singers) and the record became a million-seller.

The song also inspired George Harrison to write “My Sweet Lord” (well, this song and, apparently, “He’s So Fine.”) But it also caused some degree of controversy regarding the commercialization of gospel music. But hey, as I’ll be pointing out in a future post, it wasn’t unique–there was lots of God on the radio in the 60’s and 70’s.

This song’s style may sound like one you’ve heard before, but it was fresh then. “Oh Happy Day” actually helped pioneer the black gospel sound that is commonly used in contemporary worship.

The Edwin Hawkins Singers actually did see the top ten once more, backing Melanie on her 1970 hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”.

______________________________________________________________

Best of

James & Bobby Purify: “Let Love Come Between Us”

#23 in 1967

James & Bobby Purify have been described as “Sam & Dave without the ugly and offensive sweat.” They were indeed a poppier version of the legendary soul duo as this, their second-highest charting hit, attests. They were better known for the hits “I’m Your Puppet” and “Shake a Tail Feather”, the latter of which actually charted at just #25. But “Let Love Come Between Us” is the hit that radio left behind for some reason.

The duo were not brothers but cousins James Purify and Robert Lee Dickey.

_________________________________________________________

Reach Out of the Darkness

Friend & Lover: “Reach Out of the Darkness”

#10 in 1968

Friend & Lover were husband and wife duo Jim and Cathy Post. Dig the groovy tune and get hip to the message, man. This one just reeks of the flower power, post-Sgt. Pepper Age of Aquarius and all that–the Indian Summer of Love, if you will.

But something about it wasn’t quite cool enough to earn it an afterlife in movie soundtracks and such, the way songs like “Let’s Get Together” and “Time of the Season” and “Good Morning Starshine” did. Oh well, that just makes it a more powerful burst of nostalgia to listen to if you do remember it.

______________________________________________________________

The Best of The Five Americans

The Five Americans: “Western Union”

#5 in 1967

The only time this Dallas band cracked the top twenty was this catchy little thing that sounds a little like the Hollies’ “Stop, Stop, Stop” with a Roger McGuin guitar sound. Maybe it’s the whole archaic telegram thing that has caused it to fall out of favor–couldn’t be that wonderfully cheesy organ solo!

______________________________________________________________

Very Best of

The Seekers: “I’ll Never Find Another You”

#4 in 1965

Judith Durham-fronted Australian folk-pop group the Seekers have at least one song you probably know: the #2 hit “Georgy Girl” was their biggest hit, though not a highlight of their catalog to me personally.

This one really is a gem I think, and a family favorite since back in the days of my dad’s living room stereo.

The twelve-string acoustic folk sound was a staple on radio from the late 50’s to at least the mid-60’s. The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, The Mitchell Trio (with John Denver), The Rooftop Singers, The Serendipity Singers, The New Christy Minstrels (with Kenny Rogers) and Peter, Paul & Mary were artists of the ilk that the hilarious film A Mighty Wind totally took a piss on.

And some of it was over earnest, and hasn’t aged all that well admittedly. But I do have a soft spot for the Seekers, and can’t resist a lyric like:

If they gave me a fortune/My pleasure would be small/I could lose it all tomorrow and never mind at all

But if I should lose your love, dear/I don’t know what I’d do/For I know I’d never find another you

Earnest, yes. But beautifully rendered by folk diva Judith while the 12-string rings sympathetically. This works for me. It’s a loss for all of us that we don’t hear this stuff anymore.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: