Take a Look Around

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(Pictured: J. J. Cale in the early 70s, slightly bemused by all the attention.)

And now, a twist on my usual routine with American Top 40 shows. Here are the seven strangest records on the show from April 1, 1972, in order from least to most:

7. “Crazy Mama”/J. J. Cale (#25). This is Cale’s lone Top 40 hit, a down-home, laid-back blues shuffle spiked with wah-wah guitar. Nobody talked about “roots music” back then, but “Crazy Mama” is clearly an example of it. From Naturally, the Cale album with “Call Me the Breeze,” “After Midnight,” and “Magnolia” on it.

6. “Take a Look Around”/Temptations (#30). I am pretty sure I never heard this song before, and if I did, I don’t remember it. “Take a Look Around” was from Solid Rock, the first album by what you could call Temptations Mark II—Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams were out of the group, replaced by Richard Street and Damon Harris. The socially conscious lyric is straight out of producer Norman Whitfield’s playbook and the vocals are fine, but it doesn’t seem particularly commercial, and it got to #30 pretty much on the power of the Temptations’ brand.

5. “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done”/Sonny and Cher (#16). Not since 1965 had Sonny and Cher had back-to-back Top 10 singles, and the one-of-a-kind “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” (which followed “All I Ever Need Is You”) would be their last one, even as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour became one of the biggest hits on TV.

4. “Jungle Fever”/Chakachas (#8). The appeal of beat and the riff on “Jungle Fever” is obvious. The appeal of the vocal takes longer to sink in.

3. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish”/Wings (#22). Amazingly, this Top 40 contains only three songs by British acts (T. Rex and Yes were the others), and it’s fitting that this should be one of them. It was recorded two days after the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland and released about three weeks later, the first record single under the Wings name. EMI executives told Paul that British media outlets would refuse to play it, even though he naively believed that singing “Great Brit, you are tremendous / And nobody knows like me” would take the curse off of it. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” would peak at #21 on the Hot 100. As a historical document, it’s interesting, but everything else released under the Wings name is better.

2. “Every Day of My Life”/Bobby Vinton (#29). A remake of a song first popular in the 1950s, “Every Day of My Life” sounds like it was recorded in 1958, all swelling strings and big backing chorus, perfect for sock-hop dancing. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), it was the most-played record on jukeboxes for the whole year of 1972. Vinton was more popular throughout all of the 1960s and into the 70s than anybody remembers, scoring widely played radio hits almost every year from 1962 through 1974, even though the later ones never made it onto your local oldies station.

1. “King Heroin”/James Brown (#40). The strangest record on the countdown, and one of the stranger ones in the history of American Top 40. “King Heroin” started as a poem written by Manny Rosen, a working stiff from Manhattan who had lost a daughter to drug abuse. Somehow, the poem found its way to Brown, who had it set to music. Brown describes a dream he had, in which heroin spoke to him and talked about all the drug is capable of, concluding with “the white horse of heroin will ride you to Hell.” It would anchor the countdown the next week, too. It shows up on 19 surveys at ARSA, all but one on soul stations, because there’s no way to make it fit alongside Bobby Vinton or Sonny and Cher.

However you want to describe them—strange, obscure, forgotten—these songs were once among the most popular in America, but their popularity barely outlasted the season in which it occurred. A lifetime later, however, some of us still remember them. Except for “Take a Look Around.”

8 thoughts on “Take a Look Around

  1. Gonna have to quibble with you on “Give Ireland Back.”
    Macca gets his back up about current affairs and spits out a biting, rough-edged — and very catchy — rock n’ roll single on the quick. What’s not to love?

    I do find it unusual that Americans took to a song about sociopolitical troubles in another country … but perhaps that testifies to the quality of the song in question.
    (I’d rather hear it than some of the blander Wings singles, like “Getting Closer” or “With A Little Luck.” To each their own, of course, and I recognize that lots of people would disagree with me.)

    It’s also worth mentioning that noted political activist John Lennon wrote his own Bloody Sunday protest song on the Some Time in New York City album … and “Give Ireland Back” smokes it.

  2. That Cale is barely a song, Jungle Fever should have remained an instrumental, “A Cowboys Work” should have been sent to the slaughterhouse, Vinton’s song is more syrupy than the floors at IHOP, and I’d rather snort heroin than listen to that Brown record again. As for Paul, the best that can be said is that the agitprop has a decent melody.


  3. Steve E.

    Boy, spinetingler is way too harsh. From this list, KHJ in SoCal played the Temptations (peaked at No. 20 on the Boss 30), Sonny & Cher (No. 4), and Bobby Vinton (No. 14). The station didn’t touch “Jungle Fever” or the McCartney (nor did it play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” a few months later) or the Cale (although it did play “After Midnight” that summer), and it never played a James Brown record after “I Can’t Stand Myself” in early 1968. The oddest thing to me about “Cowboy” is that trippy guitar intro. I wonder what Sonny was thinking that day.

  4. Andy

    I’ve always loved “Jungle Fever”. Every once in a while, 70’s AM radio would throw us kids from Spanish-speaking families a bone (“Eres Tu”, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”), and this was one of those, even though it was definitely not meant for kids.

    It amazes me how long the Tempts were able to milk that Norman Whitfield psychedelic/socially conscious formula they started with “Cloud Nine”. It sure sounded tired by ’72.

    I’ve never heard, or even heard of, that Bobby Vinton song. I’ve always found it interesting how he managed to weather the British Invasion that killed the careers of so many of his contemporaries. I can’t see anything particularly special about him, his voice, or his public persona…just seems like another mellow crooner to me. Maybe it was just dumb luck. Although, I once worked with an older guy who saw his show in Branson and RAVED about him, so who knows?

  5. porky

    I’ve read that “Crazy Mama” was a demo’; the early drum machine adds to that theory (Timmy Thomas used a similar one on “Why Can’t We Live Together.”). I dug it then and dig it now and keep it “out,” i.e. next to the turntable and not buried beneath my 2000 other 45s.

    Sonny knew how to sniff out a buck but damn he was an ARTIST if you ask me. His name is on too many good records.

    As a 11 year old radio listener “Jungle Fever” confused me. I thought she was getting whipped or beaten. Later I found out…..

  6. Ronald

    “Give Ireland …” was actually the first *single* released under the Wings name – the first actual Wings release was the (in)famous “Wild Life” album, released at the very end of ’71.

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