Treat Her Right

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(Pictured: Irlene, Barbara, and Louise Mandrell, circa 1980.)

I’d like to thank everybody for their insightful comments On Here recently. I started writing comments of my own in response and then decided to make ’em a whole post.

On monologues: the king of the monologue might have been Isaac Hayes, who built epic versions of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Walk on By,” and others around long spoken pieces. Even on “Theme From Shaft,” he doesn’t sing, he talks. In the 70s, “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites and “Float On” by the Floaters were both massive monologue hits. The Chi-Lites also scored a more modest monologue hit with “A Letter to Myself.” A quick spin through a couple of Reddit threads reveals that spoken bits are still pretty common, although some of the examples elide the difference between speaking and rapping. (Hayes called his spoken interludes “raps” before most anybody else used the word as a noun.)

On Barbara Mandrell, who covered “Woman to Woman,” the song that started the monologue discussion: People don’t realize or remember just how big a star Barbara Mandrell was. She’s a multi-instrumentalist who came up in the early 70s and covered R&B songs right from the start, including “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Do Right Woman (Do Right Man), along with Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right” and Joe Tex’s “Show Me.” She scored 22 Top-10 hits between 1977 and 1988, including six #1 songs. The list of #1s includes her version of Luther Ingram’s “I Don’t Want to Be Right,” which was also a Top-10 hit on the adult contemporary chart in 1979. Her turn-of-the-80s work also includes the devastating “Years,” a candidate for Saddest Song of All Time.

Somebody with a better work ethic than me needs to do some serious research into the way getting a TV show affected a performer’s chart career. Although Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and the Captain and Tennille all scored radio hits after getting on TV, their careers were never the same. That doesn’t seem to have been true for Mandrell, however. Her variety show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, ran for two years on NBC (1980-1982) before Barbara walked away from it, and in that period she continued to hit consistently. It took a 1984 car accident to slow her roll, but even that couldn’t stop it. Her last chart hit came in 1989; her last single release was in 1991, the same year as her last major-label release. She released two more albums in 1994 as TV promotions.

Few performers retire as definitively as Barbara Mandrell did. After pursuing an acting career in the 1990s, she retired from recording and performing in 1997. Her last acting credit at IMDB is a role in 2000. Last August, she made a surprise appearance onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. On Christmas Day, she will celebrate her 74th birthday.

Since I find myself with some of the word count left and I don’t know how to shut up, here are some worthwhile stories that passed through my Twitter feed recently:

—This Bloomberg story about how retailers use Christmas music also contains some interesting breakouts of Christmas chart history.

—The oral history of “Killing Me Softly” clears up the most famous misconception about the song: precisely who wrote it and why.

—I thought about doing a deep dive into some holiday perennial as I’ve done in recent years, but the great Tom Erlewine did it far better than I could on “Jingle Bell Rock.”

—I am an AM radio apologist and fan, but it becomes clearer every day that AM is doomed and there’s no saving it.

—Chicago radio and television personality Floyd Brown has died at the age of 92. Brown did everything, in radio and out of it. His story is a good reminder of just how much ugly American history is so close to us in time, but also how a person can beat it.

—It has been my pleasure in recent years to meet and interview Madison broadcaster and historian Stu Levitan, whose book Madison in the Sixties is an all-timer. Here’s his on-the-ground report on the death of Otis Redding, whose plane crashed into a Madison lake in 1967.

We are waiting on a Christmas blizzard up here in Wisconsin, but The Mrs. and I have got plenty of food and liquor and as long as the electricity stays on, we’ll be fine. My radio station goes all Christmas tomorrow. I’m programming the Christmas show this year, so stop by for some hand-scheduled holiday atmosphere.

7 thoughts on “Treat Her Right

  1. Mitch Winder

    My family was a radio family as I was growing up. It seemed it was always on in the kitchen. And when your home is on the state line between Rockford and Madison, Chicago radio was very prevalent. Namely WGN. Although at night after both WISM, and/or WROK, left the airwaves I was known to crank the kitchen radio to WLS. (“Turn that sh*t off!”)

    Floyd Brown was a legend. His soothing bass tone was all over WGN. From announcing the time and station ID at the top of the hour, to commercial voice-overs, to fill-ins for various shows. Truly a voice of my youth. Thank you, Floyd for keep this kid occupied, if not entertained. Rest well.

  2. Gene Baxter

    I’ve enjoyed the talking parts in songs for a long as I can remember. Least favourite: Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl Is Mine”. Michael is a gifted interpreter of lyrics but not even he can pull off, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

    Most favourite: Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” though every time I’m surprised he doesn’t know it was William Shakespeare who said, “all the world’s a stage,” instead crediting it to “someone said.”

    Merry Christmas, Jim, and thanks for the hours of entertainment again this year.


  3. Wesley

    Wishing you and the missus a very Merry Christmas. (Hey, that rhymes!) And since I’m mercifully off work now for nearly 2 weeks, I definitely will check out your station’s Christmas offerings while you hopefully stay warm and happy at home, jb.

  4. porky

    I’ll take strange duets for 100, Alex. Louise Mandrell and Eric Carmen on “As Long as We Got Each Other” the TV theme song from “Growing Pains.” Number 51 on the country charts.

    Not sure of the connection with the former Raspberry but Louise cut two of his mid 80s tunes as well (“Maybe My Baby” and “I Wanna Hear It From Your Lips”) and they both made the country charts, #8 and #35 respectively.

  5. Key stipulation: I do NOT have a better work ethic than you. I woke up early and have some free time.

    Tony Orlando and Dawn arguably had their chart career affected positively by their variety show, which debuted July 3, 1974 and ended in December of 1976—at least early in the show’s run.

    Prior to the series, the last two singles peaked at #27 and #81, respectively. Six weeks after the show went on the air, they released “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” and it hit #7 in Billboard.

    The album it came from, DAWN’S NEW RAGTIME FOLLIES, came back on the album chart in mid-August after peaking at #88 eight months earlier and vanishing after just eight weeks (eight appears not to be Tony’s lucky number). It wound up getting to #43, but also going Gold over time, one of only two Tony Orlando and Dawn albums to do that (the other was TUNEWEAVING, which had “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” on it and peaked at #30).

    The follow-up single, “Look in My Eyes Pretty Woman” made it to #11, and the album it came from, PRIME TIME, peaked at #16 (but didn’t go Gold).

    When Clive Davis dumped them in converting Bell Records to Arista, they were picked up immediately by Elektra (from a pure folk label to the Doors to Tony Orlando and Dawn), which would likely not have happened without the TV show, and went to #1 with the first single, “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)”—a re-make and re-titling of Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart”—and peaked at #14 with the follow-up “Mornin’ Beautiful”. The album both came from, “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” peaked at #20.

    They fell off after that, but I’m not sure you can blame the TV show.

    The Captain and Tenille were only on TV for six months. You couldn’t have hotter chart performance going in, and the TV ratings were good, but what I can find online suggests that they asked ABC to let them out of their contract because they felt they needed to record and tour. The chart numbers went into the tank until they moved to Casablanca Records in ’78 (and then, really, outside of Adult Contemporary, that was only two records).

    The case study that needs someone with more free time than I have at the moment is Sonny and Cher…connecting the chart success of the duo and Cher as a solo with the pre-divorce Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, the post-breakup solo show Cher and the post-divorce Sonny and Cher Show.

  6. Mike Hagerty

    Okay, so lunchtime and I think I can answer the question as it relates to Sonny and Cher, too. It’s simpler than I thought.

    The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour debuted on CBS in August of 1971. It had been four years since they, as a duo had a top ten single. For that matter, it had been four years since they, as a duo had a top 50 single—and just as long since Cher as a solo act had been in the top ten or even hit the Hot 100.

    Within a month of the show’s launch, Cher released “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” and it went to #1. A few weeks after that, Sonny & Cher release “All I Ever Need Is You”, and it went to #7.

    Solo and together, they each had one more top ten (“The Way of Love” and “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done”) and then went cold—the duo permanently, Cher as a solo for a year and a half until she knocked out two #1s back to back, “Half Breed” and “Dark Lady”.

    They broke up after “Dark Lady” ended its chart run, and Cher continued with her own show and then paired back up with Sonny after the divorce, but didn’t have another hit until after she was off TV.

    I’d argue that Cher’s TV exposure on all three shows got her back on the chart short-term, but her appearance in those Bob Mackie gowns and—-I don’t know what to call the outfits that couldn’t be called gowns—made her an icon beyond any retail recording success and is a big part of why she’s a legend today.

  7. What I should have said in that last graf was “Cher’s exposure on the first show got her back on the chart short-term, but her appearance in all three shows in those Bob Mackie gowns…”

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