(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.