Head Shops and Jukeboxes

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Aretha at the Grammys, March 1971.)

There are moments—more scattered and less frequent than they used to be—when the summer of 1971 comes vividly back to me. I’ve written about it a lot over the years: about being a full-time child for the last time, about how radio school was in session, about the family vacation we took that year. Here’s more, from the edition of Billboard dated June 19, 1971.

—United Artists Records will showcase some of its artists on one night at the Hollywood Bowl later this month. Tickets will be 99 cents each with no reserved seats. Scheduled performers include Canned Heat, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Sugarloaf, and War. UA estimates it will cost $25,000 to stage the show. All groups will work for union scale.

—UA has also taken a full-page ad to plug the band Cochise, their album Swallow Tales, and the single “Love’s Made a Fool of You.” UA calls the song “2:47 of screaming excitement. Already Cochise entered the Top Ten at WLS in Chicago and went to #1 in Peoria at WIRL. Rock and roll is NOT dead.”

—For the first time, head shops in Chicago are stocking classical recordings. Most head shops are mom-and-pop operations, and they want to stock music not found in the big national outlets. Young listeners are being exposed to classical music by free-form FM stations, some of whom are incorporating it into their programming.

—Some jukebox operators are not stocking certain big hits, either by customer request or at their own discretion, including “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer and Shipley (marijuana references), “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” (controversial Vietnam content) and “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin (“too frantic,” according to one bartender). “Timothy” by the Buoys (cannibalism) has been yanked from some jukeboxes also, but one supplier in New Orleans says, “I wish I had bought more of it.”

—In Madison, Wisconsin, “Timothy” was rejected by jukebox supplier Pat Schwartz of Modern Specialty Company, but she says she was guided by local radio station WISM, which elected not to play the record. She expresses concern about “Bitch,” which backs the current Rolling Stones hit, “Brown Sugar.” She noticed it while typing jukebox labels. “This is a word I won’t allow my children to use, and yet here it is the flipside of the #1 record on the Billboard Hot 100.”

—An ad in the Radio/TV programming section is headlined “We Believe in the Tooth Fairy.” An impressive list of stations is already running the two-minute comedy serial produced by Chickenman creator Dick Orkin, including WLS/Chicago, WQAM/Miami, WDGY/Minneapolis, WKBW/Buffalo, WRIT/Milwaukee, and WOLF/Syracuse.

—Since January, Canadian stations have been required to program at least 30 percent Canadian-made musical content. Certain stations have found a loophole, counting as Canadian several R&B records by American artists, produced by Americans in American studios, but with rhythm tracks laid down in Toronto. Detroit/Windsor station CKLW counted Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” as Canadian content because two session musicians on it were born in Canada. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission is expected to refine the rule.

—Aretha Franklin is #1 on the Best Selling Soul Singles charts with the double-A sided “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “A Brand New Me.” Aretha Live at Fillmore West is #1 on Best Selling Soul LPs, where Marvin Gaye’s new album, What’s Going On, makes a strong debut at #5.

—On Hot Country Singles, Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” is #1. Just one song is new in the Top 10: Stonewall Jackson’s cover of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” currently a big pop hit for Lobo. Reed’s album, also titled When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, is #2 on Hot Country LPs, behind Merle Haggard’s Hag.

—On the Easy Listening chart, “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters is in its fourth week at #1.

—“Rainy Days and Mondays” is one of several records leap-frogged this week by Carole King’s double A-sided “It’s Too Late”/”I Feel the Earth Move” which goes from #6 to #1 on the Hot 100. Also jumped: last week’s #1, “Want Ads” by Honey Cone; two other former #1 hits, “Brown Sugar” and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night; and Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” King’s album Tapestry is the new #1 on the Top LPs chart, knocking Sticky Fingers by the Stones to #2.

Perspective From the Present: “Love’s Made a Fool of You” kicked every ass in the neighborhood 49 years ago and still does. Episode 1 of The Tooth Fairy is here.

Something Happening Here

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Mike Connors as Mannix.)

In 2014, I wrote about some of the musical acts that appeared on early episodes of the detective series Mannix. Here’s a bit of that.

The fourth episode, “The Many Deaths of St. Christopher,” aired on October 7, 1967. Joe Mannix meets a girl in a club called the Bad Scene, where a young singer with a guitar is performing—Neil Diamond, appearing as himself. In one sequence, Diamond performs “The Boat That I Row” and a song called “Raisin’ Cain,” which he has never formally recorded in all the years since. After a fight breaks out in the club and Mannix is knocked to the floor, Diamond walks over and says to him, “Hey man, you mind if I finish the set by myself?” In a second, shorter sequence, Diamond sings “Solitary Man.” On October 28, 1967, in “Warning: Live Blueberries,” an even-more-surprising act appears: in yet another club, the Buffalo Springfield play “Bluebird” through a better-than-five-minute scene, and come back later with a bit of “For What It’s Worth.” . . . Neither does a lip-synch; Diamond appears to be playing live, while the Springfield sing “Bluebird” live over a recorded backing track and do “For What It’s Worth” unplugged. . . .

Stephen Stills has been critical of the production of the Buffalo Springfield’s studio albums. He was referring to Mannix when he said, “The best sound we ever got was when we did this stupid TV show where we played just a little bit of a song and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s the sound we’ve been looking for.'”

Mannix would occasionally deal with musicians throughout the remainder of the series’ run. (His secretary, Peggy, is a jazz fan, and at least a couple of episodes revolve around musicians she knows.) The opening episode of the eighth season (September 22, 1974) is called “Portrait in Blues,” and it has Mannix investigating repeated death threats against a rock musician played by Kim Milford. He and his partner in an acoustic duo are boosted by a famous local DJ. He’s got a girlfriend, and it is revealed partway through the episode that his partner has leukemia.

The episode is pretty terrible. Milford’s stringy, underfed-hippie vibes like the out-of-town boyfriend of the trashiest girl in your high-school class. His mildly baked performance isn’t the worst one in the episode, however, or even the second-worst. Larry Storch (!) is 20 years too old to be the DJ, and his “hip” patter, on mike and off, is painful. Future soap star Robin Millan plays Milford’s girlfriend with her own mildly baked affect. It looks like she was hired not because she could act, but because the part called for somebody who could look good in a towel and later, a skimpy evening dress. And you may see the ending coming before Mannix does.

The episode contains four songs written by Milford and the actor playing his singing partner, Bruce Scott. (Although Scott piled up a number of movie and TV credits from the 60s to the 80s, he’s pretty obscure; if he did any more music anywhere, I don’t know about it.) You can hear bits of all four here, including “Give a Little More Sunshine,” which is performed at least four times in the course of the episode. You can watch all of “Portrait in Blues,” here, at least until CBS gets it taken down—but beware; it’s the single worst episode of Mannix I can remember.

Kim Milford’s most famous credit, according to his IMDB bio, is the Mystery Science Theater 3000 favorite Laserblast!, although he was also in Corvette Summer with Mark Hamill. He was lead singer with Beck, Bogert and Appice for two months in 1972, hired to help the band fulfill its touring obligations before it could break up. He was fired after about a half-dozen shows, reportedly because his preening stage presence didn’t fit. He later fronted his own band, and had starring roles in touring company productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Show. He also acted in and wrote music for some made-for-TV horror movies that incorporated rock music, produced by Don Kirshner. Milford died of complications after open heart surgery in 1988. He was 37.

(Note to Patrons: the traffic on my latest podcast episode, an interview with a guy who attended both of Wisconsin’s major 1970 rock festivals, Sound Storm and Iola, has been distinctly underwhelming. If you haven’t listened to it yet, please do. If you know somebody who might be interested in it, please tell them about it.)

When Someone Way Down Here Loses Someone Dear

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Benny, Frida, Agnetha, and Bjorn, on stage in 1979.)

Back in 2012, it was reported that science had determined Adele’s “Someone Like You” to be the near-perfect sad song. In 2013, Rolling Stone published the results of a reader poll that chose the 10 saddest songs of all time, including George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin, and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” which clocked in at #1. In 2015, Paste cast the net a little bit wider, picking 50, and it caught some good ones: several from the Rolling Stone list plus “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette, “Whiskey Lullaby” by Alison Krauss, and Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” among others.

My personal picks for saddest songs ever are not on either list, and on the flip. (Please add your favorites in the comments.)

Continue reading “When Someone Way Down Here Loses Someone Dear”

Festival Summer

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: a scene on the road to Woodstock.)

The rock festival era was fairly short. It began in 1967 with San Francisco festivals at Mount Tamalpais and Monterey. Around the country during the next several years, festivals big and small were held, some at racetracks and fairgrounds with a great deal of forethought and regimentation, others ad-hoc with promoters putting up a stage in the country, inviting the tribes to gather, and hoping for the best. By the end of 1970, the era of the multi-day festival passed, as states and municipalities legislated them out of existence. After that, single-day festivals were the norm, such as the Concert 10 Festival in the Pocono region of Pennsylvania in 1972 and the Watkins Glen Summer Festival in upstate New York in 1973. From that point and down unto the present day, festivals were carefully planned and tightly controlled, leaving nothing to chance.

In retrospect, the two most famous festivals, Woodstock and Altamont, left plenty to chance, more than they should have for events attracting hundreds of thousands of people. That Woodstock became a cultural touchstone and not a humanitarian disaster—which is how it was portrayed by some media reports on that August 1969 weekend—was mostly due to good luck. Bad luck was bound to catch up eventually, and in December 1969, at Altamont, it did. But the fires of Altamont were outshone in memory by the glow of Woodstock, and in 1970, there were many attempts to recreate the Woodstock vibe for people who lived thousands of miles from Max Yasgur’s farm. In Wisconsin, the Sound Storm Festival, held in April 1970, was sprinkled with Woodstock-style fairy dust. On the weekend of June 26-28, 1970, the Iola People’s Fair gave attendees a taste of Altamont.

In 1970, Steve Benton of Beloit, Wisconsin, graduated from high school. He played in a rock band. And in that year, he attended both Sound Storm and Iola. In the latest episode of my podcast, Steve shares some of his experiences at both shows. I don’t think we made any groundbreaking historical discoveries in the course of our conversation, but if you’re interested in the festivals, you’ll enjoy hearing Steve’s stories about them. The episode is below.

After you listen to this episode, you might like to revisit the first episode of this podcast, posted last summer, which discusses Sound Storm and Iola as well as the Midwest Rock Festival, held at State Fair Park in suburban Milwaukee three weeks before Woodstock, and the Wadena Rock Fest, a northeast Iowa festival, in the summer of 1970.

You can find all of my podcast episodes at my Soundcloud. Episodes are available at Google PlayTuneIn and Stitcher, and can also be found at Apple Podcasts. If you visit my Soundcloud, you’ll find a link where you can kick in a bit of financial support to help defray the cost of producing the podcast and maintaining this website, if you choose.

Many thanks to Steve Benton for the conversation, and to Dan Bartlett for putting us in touch. If you like this episode, please share it on your social media feeds, and if your platform lets you give it a like or a positive rating, I hope you’ll do that.

Star-Spangled Nights

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Michael Conrad, Tina Louise, and Fred Grandy in a 1973 episode of Love American Style.)

The Decades Network does a binge every weekend, with continuous episodes of a single series. Last weekend, it was Love American Style, which anchored ABC’s legendary Friday night lineup of the early 70s, along with The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, and The Odd Couple.

(Digression: Love American Style premiered on Mondays in September 1969 and moved to Fridays in January 1970. That classic Friday lineup didn’t fall into place until September 1971, and it lasted two seasons. Other shows that ran on ABC Friday nights during Love American Style‘s heyday included The Flying Nun, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Here Come the Brides, Nanny and the Professor, and That Girl.)

We didn’t watch Love American Style at our house regularly. We either went off to bed around that time, or were watching or doing other things. But it was hard to miss, because ABC ran it on weekday afternoons between 1971 and 1974. If nothing else, its theme song would have been familiar because it frequently appeared in ABC promos.

(Digression: during the first season of Love American Style, the theme was performed by the Cowsills. After that, it was billed to the Charles Fox Singers, who were actually the Ron Hicklin Singers, who were among the busiest performers in Hollywood, doing advertising and radio jingles and studio backup gigs. They also provided all of the Partridge Family voices not belonging to Shirley Jones and David Cassidy. Charles Fox was the prolific composer of the theme music, and of dozens of other  pieces of music you know. The opening of the show, with its fireworks and heart-shaped graphics featuring head shots of the episodes’ stars, is one of the most iconic in all of 70s TV.)

Love American Style was an anthology series.  Apart from the Love American Style players, a handful of actors who appeared in short vignettes that often opened or closed the show, there was no regular cast. Each episode contained at least two and sometimes three separate stories. Nearly every familiar TV face of the 60s and 70s did a Love American Style at some point; the shows are also heavy on actors who appeared on other ABC shows of the time. Given that the stories ran maybe 20 minutes at the outside and were often shot on one set—and also considering how flimsy the plots sometimes were—it couldn’t have taken more than a day or two to make them. And so it must have been a fairly easy paycheck: any halfway decent Hollywood veteran could have done a Love American Style as easily as falling out of bed.

And in fact, falling out of bed was a Love American Style plot point. The show came along at the height of the sexual revolution, and it must have seemed pretty bold, at least to Mrs. and Mrs. Average American. Practically everybody’s horny, and practically everybody is gettin’ some, or they will be eventually. But looking at it from 50 years’ distance, it’s remarkably chaste. There’s lots of mistaken identity and unfortunate coincidences before people disappear under the covers. And as they do, the scene fades to black and we go to commercial.

Love American Style isn’t an easy thing to binge on. The laugh track is loud, the music cues can be obtrusive, the acting is often broad and silly, and stories based largely on embarrassment of some kind get tiresome after a while. Certain unspoken assumptions are in place for nearly every episode, and they look really sexist 50 years later. Men act as if women are an incomprehensible alien species to be placated by any means necessary. Women, whether married or single, are played as either befuddled and shy or slinky and tempting. (In one episode we saw, Sandra Dee played both, as a woman with two personalities.)

Watching a few episodes of one of the lightest of lightweight 70s TV shows isn’t the same as doing deep cultural anthropology, but it seemed to open a door or two. Beyond gender politics, Love American Style reveals a lot about how the early 7os looked: fashion, hairstyles, home decor, the cars we drove, etc. That stuff isn’t an exaggeration: it’s very much the way it really was.

Am I That Easy to Forget

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: a summit meeting: Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, 1970.)

In the spring and early summer of 1967, when several legendary hits were atop the charts—“Respect,” “Groovin’,” Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”—riding high with them was an MOR ballad by a singer with a weird name. “Release Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 in June, and hit #1 in Boston, Providence, Detroit, Buffalo, Toronto, Milwaukee, Houston, Winnipeg, Hartford, and smaller cities, including LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where it was #1 for five straight weeks at WLCX.

Engelbert Humperdinck was not born Engelbert Humperdinck. His birth name was Arnold George Dorsey. He was born in India, the son a British military officer stationed there. In the early 50s, he became known professionally as Gerry Dorsey, thanks to a popular Jerry Lewis impression he did on stage. At some point around 1965, pop impresario Gordon Mills, who managed Tom Jones, suggested he adopt the name Engelbert Humperdinck, which had once belonged to a real human being, a German opera composer who had died in 1921. Odd as it was, the name must have helped him cut through the clutter of the 1960s music scene in England. “Release Me,” an oft-recorded country song that dated back to the 1940s, ended up a #1 hit in 11 different countries, including six weeks at #1 in the UK, where it held the Beatles’ double-A sided “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” out of the top spot.

Despite the massive success of “Release Me” on the Hot 100, it made only #28 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart. But I suspect it gained new popularity on easy-listening radio over the next four years, because Engelbert’s next 11 singles, through 1971, all made the Easy Listening Top 10. Two went to #1: the very Tom Jones-like “Am I That Easy to Forget” in 1968, and “When There’s No You” in 1971. Two others went to #2. Of those 11 singles, all made the Hot 100, and four of them climbed into the Top 20. Some elderly readers might know “A Man Without Love” and/or “The Last Waltz.”

A lot of people who enjoyed Tom Jones would have been primed for Engelbert, although his style was cooler and less histrionic. He could sing softly in your ear but also step back from the microphone and blow the roof off the studio. (He is said to have said, “I can hit notes a bank could not cash.”) His rugged good looks didn’t hurt his career, either. They helped get him a TV variety series, produced for a British channel and seen in the States on ABC in 1969.

While getting a TV series often signals a decline in a performer’s fortunes on the record chart, it didn’t happen to Engelbert right away. It was 1972 before his hits ceased to be quite as big as they had been, although he would hit the Adult Contemporary chart in every year through 1981. Only two of his singles in that period were big hits, but both went to #1 AC: “After the Lovin'” and “This Moment in Time.” “After the Lovin'” became his biggest pop hit since “Release Me,” going to #8 on the Hot 100 early in 1977. It got a little bit of country radio airplay too, as did later singles “Love’s Only Love” and “Til You and Your Lover Are Lovers Again.” The latter, in 1983, was Engelbert’s last chart single.

Between 1967 and 1970, Engelbert was also a success on the album chart. Three of his albums made the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, and two more peaked at #12. (His album Release Me was in my parents’ record collection.) At the end of the 70s, three more albums would reach the Top 10, including his two highest-charting: Christmas Tyme in 1977 and This Moment in Time in 1979 would both make #4.

When we tell the story of the late 60s, we’re more likely to talk about Aretha Franklin and the Jefferson Airplane than we are about Engelbert Humperdinck. But he was there, too, and people dug what he did. His late 60s and 70s success made him one of the superstars of easy listening, and it gave him a career that continues today. Since the early 80s he has continued to record, repackage and reissue his library, and tour, including frequent residencies in Las Vegas, right up until the virus crisis took everybody off the road earlier this year. Engelbert Humperdinck is now 84 years old.