Top 5: Donny Would Tap That

This week in 1971, WPTR in Albany, New York, put a contest form on its survey—it looks as if listeners were invited to predict the Top 10 songs, in the correct order, for the next week. The winner would receive a private party for 30 people with burgers and fries from the sponsor, along with five albums and $50 in cash. If you got five right, in order, you would win 10 hamburgers and an album; three right, five burgers and an album. If I’d been living within earshot, I’d have entered, because by the late spring of 1971 I was already a chart freak, and I would have loved the challenge. Because this chart spans a couple of my favorite Top 40 seasons, let’s take 10 songs instead of five.

2. “Sweet and Innocent”/Donny Osmond (down from 1). Donny’s first single billed as a solo recording, sung at a pitch only dogs can hear and punctuated with a dentist-drill flute, in which a pre-adolescent boy openly admires an even-younger girl’s ass (“I love the little wiggle in your walk”). “Sweet and Innocent” is thereby every bit as skeevy as the record that dumped it from the WPTR Number-One slot: “Brown Sugar.”

4. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night (down from 2). The only way to hear this is in its 45RPM configuration, which stomps the hell out of the album version that’s heard frequently on oldies radio. The most obvious tip that you’ve got the 45 is the guitar heard starting around 1:15 and reappearing just before the 2:00 mark, which is buried in the mix on the album version.

5. “It Don’t Come Easy”/Ringo Starr (up from 9). Another great radio record. There’s a bootleg version using mostly the same backing track and backing vocals in a somewhat different mix, with producer and sideman George Harrison on vocals. Listen here.

7. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin (up from 13). With the Queen herself on piano. If you aren’t moved by it, go away. This place is not your place.

11. “If”/Bread (down from 8). I’m tempted to say the same thing about “If.”

16. “I Love You for All Seasons”/The Fuzz (down from 8; yeah, I know, same as “If”). The Fuzz, made up of three girls from the Washington, D.C., area, recorded for the New York City-based Calla label, which was associated with Roulette. Next to J. J. Jackson’s 1966 hit “But It’s Alright,” “I Love You for All Seasons” was the biggest hit Calla ever had. You want trivia, you got it.

17. “Put Your Hand in the Hand”/Ocean (up from 20). An artifact of the brief moment in the early 70s when some of the same hippies who had failed to find enlightenment through revolution, sex, and/or weed moved on to Jesus. “Put Your Hand in the Hand” typecast Ocean, who were not an overtly Christian band, and they were never able to chart again.

18. “Lowdown”/Chicago (up from 24). One of two fine-and-forgotten singles that occupied the space between “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Beginnings.” (“Free” was the other.) Here’s a live performance from Japanese TV in 1972—the video may give you a headache, but the band sounds pretty good.

19. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family (holding at 19). I suppose that one of these days I should curb my Partridge Family fanboy instincts, but it isn’t going to be today, because “I’ll Meet You Halfway” is a glorious pop record, as stuffed full of monster hooks as “I Think I Love You.”

20. “L.A. International Airport”/Susan Raye (up from 21). For about five minutes in the first half of the 1970s, Susan Raye was a reliable source of country hits, by herself and in collaboration with Buck Owens, before she left it all behind to become a psychologist. “L.A. International Airport” is the distilled essence of what country radio sounded like circa 1971.

I wonder if anybody ever won the burgers-and-fries party for 30. What a perfect prize for the era of classic Top 40 radio.

“I Love You for All Seasons”/The Fuzz (buy it here)

Long Tails, Ears for Hats

Following the success of The Monkees and the Beatles cartoon series in the middle of the 1960s, the gates opened for a flood of pop-inspired kids TV shows, many of them animated.  The golden age for shows like these was the period between approximately 1968 and 1974. We’ve mentioned a few here previously, such as the Banana Splits and the Beagles. Today we’ll mention a few more.

The first trickle in the eventual flood was The Archie Show, which premiered in the fall of 1968. Archie cartoons would appear in various configurations and under various titles for a decade, and in the late summer and fall of 1969 would produce the “Stairway to Heaven” of bubblegum music when “Sugar Sugar” topped the charts. That same fall, Hanna Barbera launched Cattanooga Cats, a cartoon anthology show featuring four different cartoons, including the adventures of a rock band made up of cats in hillbilly garb—the Cattanooga Cats, of course. One of the Cats was voiced by Casey Kasem. A version of the show is still running on Cartoon Network, and its theme song is a fairly potent earworm.

In 1971, The Jackson 5ive began a two-year Saturday morning run on ABC. The first part of the first episode is here, in which their discovery by Diana Ross is, well, fictionalized. Watch it for the opening, featuring a tightly edited medley of “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “Mama’s Pearl.” Supposedly none of the Jacksons provided voices, although that little kid sure sounds like Michael. Berry Gordy was a recurring character, voiced by veteran voice actor Paul Frees. In 1972, The Jackson 5ive switched focus from the brothers to just Michael. This gave Rankin/Bass, the same studio that produced The Jackson 5ive, an opening to produce a show called The Osmonds, cloning The Jackson 5ive right down to reusing some of the same animation.

(Given the success of “ABC,” there was no question that the Jackson Five would eventually do commercials for Alpha-Bits cereal. There are a couple of them at YouTube, like this.)

Also in the fall of 1971, Hanna Barbera launched Josie and the Pussycats, based on a comic book from the same people who published Archie comics, and I’ll bet you remember its theme song—another of the most potent earworms in kids TV history, featuring the line that’s the title of this post. Another bodacious earworm was the Pussycats’ 1971 single “Every Beat of My Heart,” the failure of which to make the charts represents one of the greatest failures of mass taste in pop history. One of the singers on the record was Cheryl Stoppelmoor, later to become famous as Cheryl Ladd.

In the fall of 1972, Hanna Barbera retooled Josie and the Pussycats, turning it into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, which is just wack. But Josie was not the only pop TV show to get a sci-fi update. In 1974, with The Partridge Family having run its live-action course on ABC, CBS produced an animated version of it, Partridge Family 2200 A.D., which propelled the family into the future. The show’s opening is below. Note the kids playing tennis by manipulating buttons, Pong-style.

Similarities to The Jetsons in the clip are not coincidental. The project that became Partridge Family 2200 A.D. apparently started as an update of The Jetsons, in which Elroy would have been a teenager, then somebody decided an absurd Partridge Family update would make more sense. But it’s wack.

Tip of the hat to Kliph Nesteroff, maestro of Classic Television Showbiz, who also maintains Saturday Morning Blog, and who collected several of these clips and others for a series in which he recreated the Saturday morning lineups on various channels for various years of the 1960s and 1970s.

At Kliph’s main site today: Harry Reasoner does not like him no hippies. There’s hours of time to be killed over there, so you’d better take the rest of the day off.

Doing the Christmas Shuffle, Volume 7

It’s just another day in our hall-decked-but-still-essentially-random universe, wherein I pull out my whole laptop Christmas library, throw it in the air, and see what comes down first. Look out below.

“A Warm Little Home on a Hill”/Stevie Wonder. A charming holiday scene in waltz time. Like many of the original Christmas songs concocted by Motown songwriters, it flirts with terminal sappiness, but there’s something about Wonder’s delivery that keeps it from the edge of the ledge.

“The Mistletoe and Me”/Isaac Hayes. From a Stax compilation dated 1982, which features two versions of the great “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” by Mack Rice and Albert King, plus the Staple Singers’ “Who Took the Merry out of Christmas?,” all three of which have more going on than this holiday bedroom ballad.

“Kitty Cats Christmas”/Leon Redbone. Before the world was baffled by Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, I was baffled by Leon Redbone’s. (It occurs to me, however, that bafflement is part of the reaction Redbone means to provoke. Dylan, too.) Christmas Island was released in 1987 and reissued in 2003 with “Kitty Cats Christmas” as a bonus track. Despite the presence of a children’s chorus, it’s not awful.

“The Christmas Song”/Vince Guaraldi Trio. If this song is heard anywhere in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I’ve missed it the first 44 times I’ve watched the show, but I promise to pay extra-close attention the 45th time, which may be as soon as tonight.

My Christmas Card to You”/Partridge Family. I must have known about the album A Partridge Family Christmas Card at its release in 1971, given that I was a fan of all things Partridge that year, yet I have no recollection of it. I would almost certainly have bought it if my brother didn’t, but he didn’t, and I didn’t. I recall being surprised to learn of it, which wasn’t until I saw it in a used bin at some point during the 1980s. (Did I buy it then? Hell and yes.) Partridge Family records were always heaped with sugar, but their Christmas album is especially sugary. If you’ve got a high tolerance for that sort of thing, “My Christmas Card to You” probably won’t hurt you.

“Swingin’ Silent Night”/Asleep at the Wheel. Lots of artists become paralyzed in the face of certain Christmas songs—afraid to mess with them and therefore, incapable of bringing anything new to them. The thing about “Silent Night” is that it’s both simple enough and beautiful enough to withstand new approaches, like the Western swing take of Asleep at the Wheel, recorded in 1997.

“Christmas Blues”/Canned Heat. Cut as a single sometime in the late 60s, “Christmas Blues” has appeared as a bonus track on a couple of different Canned Heat re-releases, and it’s been anthologized quite a bit. What hasn’t been anthologized quite so much is “Christmas Boogie,” which features a guest appearance by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I shit you not.

“O Holy Night”/Green Pajamas. The Green Pajamas are the living embodiment of indie: 20-some albums in 25 years and never a major-label deal. They cut their gorgeous version of “O Holy Night” in 2006, and it’s become a Christmas essential around my house.

“Christmas Time”/Jimmy McCracklin. Like Charles Brown, Jimmy McCracklin left the South (St. Louis, actually) for California after World War II and found his place in the blues scene out there. The only release date I can find for “Christmas Time” is 1961, but it sounds older than that.

“Little Drummer Boy”/Duke Pearson. From Merry Ole Soul, another of the classic Blue Note albums produced and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, whose studio was actually in his house. The album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and it would be a fine candidate for Blue Note’s ongoing series of remastered reissues. It’s a keeper.

“Swingin’ Silent Night”/Asleep at the Wheel (buy it here)
“O Holy Night”/Green Pajamas (I don’t know if you can get this or not; the band’s website is here)

Doing the Christmas Shuffle, Vol. 6

It’s time again for a feature begun two years ago, in which I put my Christmas music stash on shuffle and we see what comes out. The list begins in an entirely predictable fashion.

“What Child Is This”/Vince Guaraldi Trio/A Charlie Brown Christmas. Fun fact about the special, which aired Tuesday night on ABC and will run again next week: two product placements for the show’s original sponsor, Coca-Cola, were edited out of the show in time for its fourth airing in 1968. In the opening, Linus goes flying while ice skating, but viewers never see him land because he crashes into a Coke sign. Later, he knocks a can off a fence with his blanket. In the original version, it was a Coca-Cola can. A short announcement at the end, wishing viewers “Merry Christmas from your local Coca-Cola bottler” was also removed.

“Please Come Home for Christmas”/Charles Brown/Blue Yule: Christmas Blues and R&B Classics. Don’t call him Charlie. Charles Brown recorded this first, in 1960, and it was famously covered by the Eagles. Other artists who’ve tackled it include Pat Benatar, James Brown, Dion, Fats Domino, the Drifters, Etta James, Aaron Neville, the Platters, various country singers, Southside Johnny (on the Home Alone soundtrack), the Three Degrees, and both Johnny and Edgar Winter.

“Silent Night”/Charlie Musselwhite/Alligator Records Christmas Collection. Theme of the post so far: all Charles all the time, apparently. This “Silent Night” is nicely done on harmonica.

“I Believe in Father Christmas”/Emerson Lake & Palmer/Works Volume 2. An atheist’s Christmas carol.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”/Harry Belafonte/Time-Life Treasury of Christmas Volume 2. I’m planning to write a whole post about this song, surprisingly dark yet at the same time undeniably hopeful. So stay tuned already.

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Deck the Halls”/Moog Machine/Christmas Becomes Electric. Almost exactly the same vintage as Plastic Cow (1969), Christmas Becomes Electric got most of its fascination from being a Moog album at a time when the Moog synthesizer was the hottest technology going. Forty years later, it’s still a fairly pleasant listen, if you’re a particular kind of geek.

“Greensleeves”/Jimmy Smith/Organ Grinder Swing. B3 master Jimmy Smith recorded a Christmas album (Christmas Cookin’) in 1964, but the MP3 tag on this track says it’s from Organ Grinder Swing, which was released in 1965. I should probably compare the two to see if they’re the same recording, but this blog sucks, so I ain’t gonna.

“Medley” (various carols)/Living Strings/The Spirit of Christmas. Here’s an album that never gets out of the player at our house around the holidays. Two years ago I called it the greatest Christmas album of all time, and I haven’t changed my mind. This carol medley ends with a single string player (a viola, I think) playing “Silent Night,” and it’s one of the prettiest moments on the record.

“Lonely This Christmas”/Mud. This song spent a month at Number One in the UK starting just after Christmas in 1974 without charting in the States. (I wrote about it and some other British hits of 1974 here.) It’s where glam-rock meets doo-wop, but nobody wins, really.

Also: Today’s the 30th anniversary of the stampede at the Who concert in Cincinnati, in which 11 fans were killed. I’ll be writing about it at WNEW.com this weekend. It’s also the 41st anniversary of Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special. I wrote about that last year, and the post contains an error that’s bugged me ever since. I said that the special, which Col. Tom Parker had wanted to consist exclusively of Christmas tunes, didn’t contain a single one—but it did. A performance of “Blue Christmas,” which had been edited out originally, was restored at Parker’s insistence.

In the spirit of error, rather than posting the Elvis version, I’ll put up a different one that features some of  the whitest people in the world trying to get their doo-wop on.

“Blue Christmas”/Partridge Family (buy it here)