Superstars and Not

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(Pictured: Jeff Fenholt and the Broadway cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.)

Having spent time on the American Top 40 show from January 30, 1971, last week, it would be our usual practice to look at the Bottom 60 from that week’s chart. This time, however, I’d like to revisit the Cash Box Looking Ahead chart, equivalent to Billboard‘s Bubbling Under the Hot 100. If there’s anything you recognize on the January 30, 1971, Looking Ahead chart, it’s probably “Treat Her Like a Lady” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose or “Revival” by the Allman Brothers Band. But there are other records worth taking note of.

2. “Wooly Bully”/Canned Heat. After scoring a hit with “Let’s Work Together,” Canned Heat decided to cover another song that most working rock bands of the era would have known. Compared to the hard ‘n’ heavy “Let’s Work Together,” “Wooly Bully” is almost light, and while it’s got some good playing on it, Sam the Sham still owns.

7. “We Can Make the World (A Whole Lot Brighter)/Gravy. Gravy was the songwriting team of Robert John and Michael Gately; John later scored hits under his own name, including the #1 hit “Sad Eyes,” while Gately recorded an album with musicians including Al Kooper, Herbie Flowers, and Paul Kossoff. “We Can Make the World (A Whole Lot Brighter)” would reach a far larger audience after the Brady Bunch sang it on TV in 1972 and later put it on an album.

(Do I need to repeat that the Brady Bunch records were roundly ignored in the 70s, and that it was only in the 1990s, when kids who had grown up on the show discovered them, that they came to be considered “hits”? I think not.)

10. “Nothing Rhymed”/Gilbert O’Sullivan
25. “Brand New Day”/Rufus
A couple of years before “Alone Again (Naturally),” Gilbert O’Sullivan was already moping around on “Nothing Rhymed.” Rufus spent a lot of time in the weeds before breaking through in 1974. “Brand New Day” is their first release; the female voice on it belongs to Paulette McWilliams, who left the band in 1972 and recommended her friend, Chaka Khan, as a replacement.

12. “Theme From Love Story“/Peter Nero.
 Two versions of the Love Story theme, by Henry Mancini and Francis Lai, were already on the Cash Box and Billboard charts in this week and other versions, by Andy Williams and Tony Bennett, would also get some chart action. With the novel atop the fiction best-sellers list and the movie raking it in at the box office in January 1971, peak Love Story was not far away.

13. “When I’m Dead and Gone”/Bob Summers. Summers was the brother of Mary Ford, Mrs. Les Paul. After Les and Mary divorced, she went on the road solo, but with Summers playing Les Paul’s parts. By 1970, Summers was a producer and arranger at MGM Records, which released his “When I’m Dead and Gone” single and album. (The thoroughly English folk-rock version of “When I’m Dead and Gone” by McGuinness Flint was just outside the Cash Box Top 40 in this week.)

19. “Something to Make You Happy”/Mason and Cass. Dave Mason and Cass Elliot’s lone album together, which I have not heard, supposedly sounds like a Dave Mason solo record with Cass providing a few backing vocals. “Something to Make You Happy” sounds like a lost classic, though.

21. “Medley From Superstar (A Rock Opera)“/Assembled Multitude.  Jesus Christ Superstar was a snowballing cultural force in the winter of 1971; the album would spend three non-consecutive weeks at #1 in February and again in May, and two songs, “Superstar” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” would become significant hit singles. Producer Tom Sellers put together the Assembled Multitude from Philadelphia studio musicians and scored a big hit with “Overture From Tommy” in the summer of 1970. You can hardly blame a guy for going to the next well over and trying again, although “Medley From Superstar is not as compelling as “Overture From Tommy” had been. It probably didn’t matter to the Philadelphia studio cats, however. They were about to find themselves playing on dozens of far bigger hits.

22. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”/Otis Redding. Recorded at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, this isn’t so much a record as it is a force of nature.

If you are a fan of Looking Ahead or Bubbling Under, you will want to keep an eye on Songs in the Key of E, where Erik has just begun a series on Bubbling Under songs from the 80s that never made the Hot 100. It’s been pretty great already.

Too Late the Hero

(After this post, we’re taking a hiatus. Posting will resume during the week of January 23.)

In addition to its weekly Hot 100, Billboard publishes a “Bubbling Under” chart. In this ongoing series, we’ve been checking into artists who never made the Hot 100, and whose only Bubbling Under single peaked at #101. We started with songs dating back to the 50s, and with this installment, we’ve reached the mid 80s, and the end of the series.

“It’s Over”/Teddy Baker (10/24/81, four weeks on chart). Teddy Baker is quite obscure, even by the standards of this series and our earlier one covering one-hit wonders who peaked between #90 and #100. He led a couple of popular bands around Atlanta in the late 70s, one of which was “borrowed” wholesale by Paul Davis for the album that became Cool Night. “It’s Over” (heard in a live version here) sounds like the sort of well-made radio pop song that sounded good on a music director’s turntable but never struck much of a chord with the audience.

“Too Late the Hero”/John Entwistle (11/14/81, three weeks). As drummer (ed: bassist, you dumb bastard) for the Who, Entwistle charted a lot, of course, but he also released five solo albums between 1971 and 1981. “Too Late the Hero” is the title song from the last one, made in the early video age and sounding like a generic power ballad of the time. It could be by anybody.

“Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”/Indeep (3/26/82, three weeks). It’s easy to understand why “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” was an enormous club hit. It finds the groove in the first nanosecond and rides it for four minutes. The DJ rap in the middle is a bit lame—in the video, the guy doesn’t come across as the superhero type—but it’s nice to see one of the brethren getting some credit.

“Just Another Saturday Night”/Alex Call (6/4/83, seven weeks). Alex Call was a member of Clover, a band best remembered for backing Elvis Costello on My Aim Is True and for some famous alumni, including Huey Lewis and Sean Hopper of Huey Lewis and the News and John McFee, who joined the Doobie Brothers. Call also wrote or co-wrote several Lewis hits, as well as Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.” “Just Another Saturday Night” has the feel of a Lewis record with a little more guitar edge, and also a more serious lyric: “Just another high school killing on a Saturday night/Somebody got caught in someone’s sights.” Of all the records we’ve discussed in this series, this one might be the most perplexing failure—it should have been a monster.

“Young Hearts”/Commuter (8/25/84, one week). “Young Hearts” was the lone hit single from the movie The Karate Kid, and features some trendy electronics before the synthesized 80s percussion kicks in. It’s not bad, really; it’s exactly the kind of thing that would punctuate 30 seconds of a movie in the mid 80s and be forgotten as soon as the dialogue resumed. Inspirational lyric line: “Young hearts die young when they’re all alone and there’s no turning back now.”

“Rock You”/Helix (9/15/84, five weeks). By some scientific process, this Canadian metal band distilled the essence of what it means to be a 15-year-old boy and then transmogrified it, first to a song and then to a music video. “Rock You” has got everything—a primal beat, monster riffs, shouted vocals, cavemen, fire, and tits. (I will not title this post “Cavemen, Fire, and Tits,” but damn, I want to.)

“So Fine”/Marc Anthony Thompson (10/20/84, four weeks). Marc Anthony Thompson recorded two albums in the 80s, including the one containing “So Fine.” He later formed an avant-garde musical collective called Chocolate Genius, which at one time or another included John Medeski from Medeski, Martin and Wood, and Vernon Reid from Living Colour. Precisely what “So Fine” sounds like, we’re left to guess.

“I Want to Know What Love Is”/New Jersey Mass Choir (2/23/85, two weeks). The New Jersey Mass Choir backed Foreigner on “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and also put out their own version of it, which bubbled under while Foreigner’s original was still in the top 10. Lead vocals are shared by Donnie Harper and Sherry McGee; despite being gospel singers, they emote less than Lou Gramm does on the original, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So here we are at the end of this particular line. Early football picks for the weekend are on the flip.

Continue reading “Too Late the Hero”

Bombs and Baby Fat

Return with us now to our pursuit of the one-hit wonders whose lone hit reached #101 on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart, a series we started a few months back and will continue for a few installments more.

“Long Stroke”/ADC Band (1/6/79, 11 weeks on chart). Two members of this band were children of Johnnie Mae Matthews, a Detroit singer who became a record mogul when she borrowed $85 from her husband to start the Northern Recording Company. Her own recordings in the early 60s featured a number of musicians who would become members of the Motown house band the Funk Brothers. Her label released a record by the Distants, who later morphed into the Temptations. Years later, the success of “Long Stroke” allowed Matthews to briefly restart Northern Recording Company. There’s much more about her career, rich with connections to everybody who was anybody at Motown, at Soulful Detroit.

“Disco to Go”/Brides of Funkenstein (1/13/79, 12 weeks). We could probably disqualify “Disco to Go,” because chart god Joel Whitburn does, sort of. In his Bubbling Under book, he lists it as the only hit for the Brides, but in his Top Pop Singles book, he aggregates it with the rest of George Clinton’s various projects, including Parliament, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, and others, in a single entry under Parliament. The Brides were Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry, who backed Sly and the Family Stone before joining Clinton’s collective in 1977.

“Baby Fat”/Robert Byrne (6/16/79, five weeks). Byrne started writing songs in the late 70s and wrote several that became hits for mid-level country artists (including Earl Thomas Conley, the Forester Sisters, and Shenandoah, a band he discovered). His own album, Blame It on the Night, was deleted by his record label almost immediately after its release. He’s a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and he died in 2005. “Baby Fat” is about a girl who, when she dances, “sure shakes that baby fat,” which makes it a bit skeevy even as it rocks along pleasantly.

“Stay With Me Til Dawn”/Judie Tzuke (1/19/80, eight weeks). Tzuke (it’s Polish, and it rhymes with fluke, which is probably not the kindest word I could have chosen) grew up in showbiz—her father was an artist manager and her mother was an actress. In 1977, she was signed to Elton John’s Rocket label and became a success in the UK. “Stay With Me Til Dawn” was a big hit over there; here in the States, she got the most notice as an opening act for Elton, including a Central Park show in New York in front of 450,000 people. She continued to hit in the UK during the early 80s, and she still performs and records.

“The Rest of the Night”/Clif Newton (9/20/80, four weeks). “The Rest of the Night” sounds like a thousand other records that charted in 1980, which both explains why it got to #101, and does not. Newton is one of those obscure artists we find at the bottom of the charts, about whom we can uncover little. He sang on a record by Neil Sedaka’s daughter Dara, and he performed some songs heard in the 1981 movie Longshot, which starred Leif Garrett as a young man trying to win the world foosball championship. Which must be awesome.

“Bomb Iran”/Vince Vance & the Valiants (11/1/80, three weeks). Here’s a cultural artifact from a frustrated and unhappy time in America, as the Iran hostage crisis reached the one-year mark and the voters threw out Jimmy Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan. “Bomb Iran” is neither clever nor funny—and the fact that the band still plays it today borders on the obscene—but its modest popularity in the fall of 1980 is understandable.

“Magic Man”/Robert Winters & Fall (5/30/81, seven weeks). Winters was confined to a wheelchair after getting polio at age 5. “Magic Man” is a romantic slow jam, perfect for Quiet Storm radio formats. It is not the same song as Heart’s “Magic Man,” although this magic man also claims to have magic hands.

On the flip, an mp3 and the weekend’s football.

Continue reading “Bombs and Baby Fat”

Not Terrible

In recent weeks, we have been listening to one-hit wonders whose lone American single peaked at #101 on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart. Several of ’em are available for your delectation at the end of this post.

“Friends or Lovers”/Act I (4/7/73, three weeks on chart). This oft-sampled group was assembled and produced by Raeford Gerald, who produced records by Millie Jackson and Joe Simon at the Spring label. Some of their songs were co-written by Funk Brothers guitarist Bob Babbitt. The smooth and soulful “Friends or Lovers” was a mid-chart R&B hit, and another single, “Tom the Peeper,” was big in the UK a year later.

“Changes (Messin’ with My Mind)”/Vernon Burch (2/8/75, six weeks). Burch got a job playing guitar behind the Delfonics when he was 13, and was just 14 when he joined the Bar-Kays in 1971 for a four-year run. When Stax Records assumed room temperature in the mid 1970s, he began the solo career that resulted in “Changes (Messin’ With My Mind).” Today he’s a minister in the Washington, D.C. area, and records gospel music.

“I Can Understand It”/Kokomo (8/16/75, one week). Kokomo was a 10-man pub-rock band that included ex-members of King Crimson and Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Their reputation preceded them across the puddle: on their first trip to the States, Bob Dylan recruited them to play on sessions for the album Desire; they’re on the track “Romance in Durango.” “I Can Understand It” is a Bobby Womack song; the Kokomo version landed on the R&B charts in addition to its #101 spot.

“Lady of the Lake”/Starcastle (6/12/76, five weeks). If you didn’t see Starcastle open for somebody in the late 1970s, you must not have gotten out very much. They didn’t headline a great deal, although they did play the homecoming concert at my college long about 1978, but only after the originally booked headliner canceled. In its original album configuration, “Lady of the Lake” is over 10 minutes of central Illinois prog-rock fabulousity and has been a great favorite of this blog since always.

“Funky Music”/Ju-Par Universal Orchestra (8/20/77, six weeks). Despite the band’s profoundly awful name and an even worse album cover, Dusty Groove America calls Moods and Grooves “one of THE indie soul treasures of the 70s . . . a sublime batch of electric grooves performed by a core combo of electric keys, bass, and congas.” Clavinet freaks represent, and also, on “Funky Music,” fans of female singers repeating the same phrases over and over.

“(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer”/Wha-Koo (5/27/78, five weeks). Guitarist Danny Douma brought together an eclectic bunch of musicians for his band including David Palmer, formerly of Steely Dan, a onetime member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, and a guy from Savoy Brown.  “(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer” comes from an album called Berkshire, which was produced by Fleetwood Mac co-producer Ken Caillat; Douma would go on to make a solo record featuring several members of Fleetwood Mac, plus Eric Clapton and Garth Hudson of the Band. The song’s title is unfortunate, because it leads you to believe you’re about to hear a disco record, which you are not. And there are several better songs on the album, including the title song, which manages to work the word “juxtaposed” into the lyric.

“I Wanna Live Again”/Carillo (8/19/78, one week). Frank Carillo has enjoyed a long career in the music biz, going back to his work as a guitarist on a couple of early Peter Frampton albums and in a band called Doc Holiday. He also played a lot as an opening act in the late 70s. Recently, he’s collaborated with the current edition of Golden Earring and toured with bluesman John Hammond. “I Wanna Live Again,” overproduced in a familiar late-70s way, features backing vocals by Yvonne Elliman.

In this segment, I could have included Peter Noone, whose “Meet Me on the Corner Down at Joe’s Cafe” reached #101 in 1974 and was his only hit under his own name. I decided that treating him separate from Herman’s Hermits is a distinction without a difference, although his record’s not terrible. In the next installment: a whole lotta disco records.

“I Can Understand It”/Kokomo (out of print)
“(You’re Such a) Fabulous Dancer”/Wha-Koo (out of print)
“I Wanna Live Again”/Carillo (buy it here)

The Rangers Waltz

Imagine that you are a young person of high-school age growing up in rural Wisconsin during the late 1940s. Your social life consists largely of piling with your friends into somebody’s 1930s-vintage roadster and heading to a game or a dance. Dance bands would not be playing rock ‘n’ roll yet; neither would they be playing the nascent R&B form, not in the lily-white regions of the upper Midwest. They wouldn’t be jazz bands, either—the swing era was over and bebop was not music for dancing. In the upper Midwest, the top dance bands would play mostly old-time music: lots of polkas and waltzes, with a few mazurkas and schottisches thrown in for the dancers who really knew their stuff. The stars who filled the halls included Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks, Whoopee John, Lawrence Duchow’s Red Raven Orchestra, Louie Bashell and His Silk Umbrella Orchestra, and others forgotten now. When I began plundering my father’s record collection over 40 years ago, they were among the artists I found there.

I am told that as a toddler, I referred to old-time music as “cow polkas,” and there was a good reason for that. Our hometown radio station played old-time music in the early morning (on a show called “Chore Time”) and in the early evening, so we would often hear it blasting on Dad’s barn radio. Mom liked it too, and if the TV was on after supper, it usually went off at 6:00 so she could hear the old-time show. Once I discovered my own music on WLS, old-time music seemed pretty square. But I was still absorbing a lot of it by osmosis, and 40 years ago this fall, one song in particular would have been impossible to escape: “The Rangers Waltz” by the Mom and Dads.

The Mom and Dads were not strictly an old-time group—they were a dance band from Washington state: Doris Crow, Quentin Ratliff, Leslie Welch, and Harold Hendren. They prided themselves on being able to play any sort of dance music, from swing to old time and maybe even a little denatured rock ‘n’ roll by the time that became a thing. But in 1971, they had an honest-to-god pop radio hit. says that “The Rangers Waltz” was their very first recording. I suppose it could have been, although given their deep roots in the Northwest, I am guessing they had been playing it for a long time before they committed it to vinyl. The story goes that a radio station in Montana was the first to play it, and the group became popular in Canada as a result. In the States, “The Rangers Waltz” spent five weeks on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart, reaching #101 on January 1, 1972. Much of the airplay it got in America came on country stations, although it didn’t crack the country top 40.

The most amazing chapter in the Mom and Dads’ story would happen a few thousand miles from Washington state, however. “The Rangers Waltz” was released in Australia in 1972, and it was a monster. It clocked in among the top singles of the year down there and became, according to a 1974 article in Billboard, the largest-selling single in the history of the Australian music biz up to that point. It was so big that the Mom and Dads were booked on a tour of Oz, although they were reportedly reluctant to go, for a couple of reasons. They had no interest in what a record-label executive called “the glamor places,” and Doris Crow was 69 years old at the time.

The Mom and Dads recorded a lot of albums over the years, until Leslie Welch died in 1983. And somewhere in the house I grew up in, on a shelf or in a box, tucked away and long forgotten, is a copy of the album containing “The Rangers Waltz,” a song my mother adored 40 years ago and could not get enough of. Here it is. The video will give you a headache, so just click, listen, and remember a time when this sort of thing was also pop music.

As Long as You’re Here

We are in the midst of a series exploring the one-hit wonders to peak at #101 on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under singles chart. Some of the people on the list in this installment would be part of hit songs in other configurations, but not under their own names, or the names they use here.

“City of Windows”/Stephen Monahan (7/29/67, five weeks on chart). We have met Stephen Monahan here before. He once cut songs with Del Shannon and Bob Seger, was a record producer, and is today a chiropractor. “City of Windows” is elegantly produced pop bombast that must have sounded just fine up against the rest of the hits on the radio in the summer of 1967. (Learn more about Monahan’s career here.)

“As Long as You’re Here”/Zalman (Zally) Yanovsky (10/21/67, five weeks). You should recognize the name of Zal Yanovsky as one of the founding members of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and before that, the Mugwumps. “As Long As You’re Here” was written by the team of Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner, writers of the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me,” as well as Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate” and plenty of other songs. It’s seriously bent, with a chorus singing at the fade “is it a hit or a miss?” The B-side of the single was titled “Ereh er’uoy sa Gnol Sa,” and is exactly what you’d guess.

“Love and Let Love”/Hardy Boys (11/8/69, seven weeks). Pop music had come to kids’ TV in a big way by the fall of 1969, thanks in part to the success of the Monkees, the Archies, and other prefabricated groups. The Hardy Boys, based on the popular series of novels for boys, came to ABC in cartoon form that fall, and two albums were released under their name. Here Come the Hardy Boys features a photo of the real-life musicians who made the record. Two of those musicians, Reed Kailing and Jeff Walker, were from Wisconsin. There’s much more about the musicians and their Hardy Boys albums here. Based on the review, it sounds as if “Love and Let Love” isn’t representative of the rest of the music made under the Hardy Boys name, but it’s precisely what a record label releasing this kind of thing in 1969 would have demanded.

“Gotta Get Over the Hump”/Simtec & Wylie (9/11/71, one week). This Chicago soul duo was discovered by Chicago soul DJ Herb Kent and ended up with Mister Chand records, a label run by Gene Chandler of “Duke of Earl” and “Groovy Situation” fame. (The label’s logo featured Chandler’s face.) They cut a handful of singles and one album, titled Gettin’ Over the Hump. It contains “Gotta Get Over the Hump” as well as a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” When Chandler appeared on Soul Train in December 1971, Walter “Simtec” Simmons and Wylie Dixon did too.

“See What You Done Done (Hymn #9)”/Delia Gartrell (1/29/72, three weeks). Delia Gartrell is the wife of soul singer Mighty Hannibal, and she recorded a number of singles between the late 50s and early 70s, finally collected on a CD in 2008. Many of her songs commented on life as a black American in the 1960s. “See What You Done, Done” is a slow burner about the price paid by some young Americans for their service in Vietnam, and it’s a superb record you need to hear.

“We’ll Make Love”/Al Anderson (3/24/73, two weeks). Anderson is best known for his 22 years in the group NRBQ as guitarist and songwriter. He came to NRBQ from a band called the Wildweeds, which owed its record label one more album. Anderson fulfilled the commitment with a solo album, which contained “We’ll Make Love.” It would be 17 years before Anderson made a second solo album.

Couple of notes: I have gone back to earlier posts in this series and corrected the number of weeks each record spent on the Bubbling Under chart. I had ’em wrong before. And on Monday, we’ll step out of chronological sequence to devote a whole post to a song that should have appeared within the list of songs in this post.