Top 5: As Blind as a Fool Can Be

(Hot damn, it’s a new post.)

It’s been nearly five months since I wrote anything about my Desert Island list here. And I guess it’s because I wonder whether it ‘s interesting to anyone but me. It’s not packed with forgotten gems that never made it on the radio, or unknown acts that never got their due. It’s not calculated to impress anybody with my quirky taste, unless you think that being a Top-40 nerd is quirky. I have been living with some of the songs for more than 40 years, from the AM radio in the bedroom I shared with my brother at home to the iPod on which I have loaded road music for use in my wife’s car, and I keep coming back to them when I could be listening to other stuff. Here are five (more than five, actually) from the Desert Island list that I haven’t written about yet, all of which were on the radio in Septembers gone by, and in no particular order.

“Who Do You Think You Are”/Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (1974). The best of all descriptions of this song is in the liner notes of the Rhino Super Hits of the 70s volume that includes it: “the great lost Buckinghams record.” Just as they did with “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” in the summer of ’74, the Heywoods’ cover version outperformed a British original. “Who Do You Think You Are” was cut by both Jigsaw (of “Sky High” fame) and a band called Candlewick Green, whose version just missed the Top 20 in the UK. The Heywoods’ version has a drive the Candlewick Green version lacks, and it polishes the hooks until they sparkle like diamonds.

“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”/Chicago (1973). There are actually three Chicago songs on my list, none of which I have written about: “Beginnings,” “Dialogue,” and this. “Beginnings” is ambitious and magisterial. Both “Dialogue” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” are records made great by building tension and then releasing it: “Dialogue” at the end of Part 1, when Peter Cetera sings, “I always thought that everything was fine” before a single electric guitar starts Part 2, and again at the end, when “we can make it happen” is stopped in mid-syllable, and “Feelin’ Stronger” after its stupendous bridge, about 2:30 in. In those ways and several others, both records prove that it’s the little things that matter. “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” is also one of the greatest top-of-the-hour songs in radio. (For what it’s worth, this sounds like a 45 version—more bass, more punch.)

“Beautiful Sunday”/Daniel Boone (1972). Another pleasure I have felt guilty about for years, although I’m trying to get over it. If you can’t figure out why a person might find some charm in this, maybe we shouldn’t be seeing each other anymore.

“Jimmy Loves Mary Anne”/Looking Glass (1973). No guilt here. This is a record we’ve praised repeatedly in the past, and for good reason: It’s cooler than all of us on the best day any of us ever had. Somebody’s blog—and I’m sorry to say I forget whose—tipped me to the fact that the guitar solo on the record gets its unique sound thanks to a Leslie amplifier, normally heard powering the Hammond B3 organ.

“Maggie May”/Rod Stewart (1971). There are two Rod Stewart songs on the list, both of which hit in the fall, “Maggie May” and “You Wear It Well,” a smartly observed lyric about the power of memory, which charted a year later. I have frequently pondered the arc of “Maggie May” in my life—when I bought the 45 at the age of 11, it was because I liked it on the radio. I really didn’t get the lyrics beyond the sound of them. It remained a favorite for the next 30-plus years, always welcome on my radio shows and on record or CD. When I began fooling around with the idea of music as memoir in the mid 1990s, I seized upon the line “It’s late September and I really should be back at school” as especially resonant, autumn being the season in which everything began. Today, a couple of weeks shy of 40 years since the song hit Number One, I realize that “Maggie May” performs, for those of us who love it, the function great art is supposed to perform: It tells us who we are. And who we’ve been. And now that we’re 40 years older, who we’re going to be.

Top 5: Kinda Tasty

About this time of year in 1979, I wrapped up my freshman year in college. It had been an eventful year, as freshman years tend to be. I had made my radio debut on the college station the previous December and snagged a paying job at KDTH in Dubuque in April. The best thing about that radio job was that it meant I wouldn’t have to get a job doing something else for the summer—I could do the only thing I had wanted to do since I was 11 years old.

So my education continued that summer, not only inside the radio station’s building but outside of it as well. I lived an hour from Dubuque, so when I had to work both days of the weekend, I stayed Saturday nights with a couple of older guys I knew from school, both of whom were working radio jobs too. We spent hours talking about radio (and other things), and I learned a lot by observation and osmosis.

But in the middle of May, that was in the future. As final exams wrapped up and I bid most of my friends goodbye until August, here are some of the songs that were on the radio. I went to school in southwestern Wisconsin; the survey for the week of May 20, 1979, is from KORL in Honolulu, just because.

2. “Woman in Love”/Three Degrees (holding at 2). OK, “Woman in Love” wasn’t on the radio in Wisconsin that spring, but it probably should have been. It missed the Hot 100 altogether, but scraped onto the R&B and adult contemporary charts and went to Number 3 in the UK.

9. “Oh Honey”/Delegation (down from 7). This record had been off the Hot 100 for a month after peaking at Number 45, although it went to Number 6 on the R&B chart, and it was still doing big business in Hawaii. When I first got to KDTH in the spring of 1979, the station had yet to fully embrace a country identity, and still played a lot of adult pop including, briefly, “Oh Honey.” It’s kinda tasty, actually.

This post continues on the flip with more toonage via vintage video.

Continue reading “Top 5: Kinda Tasty”

Shotgun Ride to the Stars

The person who will be president in 2050 is probably in grade school today. The hottest new box-office star of 2025 is out there someplace, maybe waiting tables, or trying to get a date for the homecoming dance. At any moment, a few of the people among us will be famous someday—we just don’t know who they are or what will happen to them along the way to the top. Only after they’ve made it can we follow the roads they traveled.

Pete Bardens was a keyboard player who was doing well enough in the swinging mid 60s. He’d been in Them, which had scored a couple of iconic hits including “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Gloria.” After leaving that group, he formed another, which he intended to be an R&B combo in the mold of Booker T and the MGs, and which would be called Peter B’s Looners. He found a drummer named Mick Fleetwood, and they auditioned a guitarist named Peter Green. But it wasn’t long before Peter B’s Looners realized that if they wanted the maximum number of gigs, they would need a singer. So, in the late spring of 1966, the Looners hired two of them. One was a girl named Beryl Marsden, who was actually a pretty big star, comparatively speaking—a top female singer around Liverpool, she had toured with the Beatles in 1964 and released a couple of her own singles. The other was just out of a group called Steampacket. His name was Rod Stewart. With that, the lineup was complete, although they did make one more change, dumping the name Peter B’s Looners in favor of the Shotgun Express.

The Shotgun Express spent the last half of 1966 gigging around London playing mostly R&B, but it was several months before they got into a recording studio—in fact, Peter Green may already have left the group before the first session; there’s conflicting information about whether he’s on their first record. “I Could Feel the Whole World Turn Around” was released in October 1966, and while it got an almost instantaneous add on Radio Caroline, the shipboard UK pirate station, it failed to generate much interest—despite the band’s R&B chops, the song was saddled with a big ol’ string section that made it sound distinctly less than hip in the same season with “Good Vibrations,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and “96 Tears.” The second Shotgun Express single, “Funny Cos Neither Could I,” met a similar fate in April 1967. (The B-sides of the singles, both R&B instrumental stompers, are more along the lines of what Bardens originally intended the group to be: “Curtains” and “Indian Thing.”)

Although he sang on “I Could Feel the Whole World Turn Around,” Stewart left the Shotgun Express for the Jeff Beck Group before “Funny Cos Neither Could I” was recorded. About the time it stiffed, Fleetwood and Green moved on to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and were a couple of months away from forming what was first known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. And that was the end of Shotgun Express. Bardens would be best known in the 70s for founding Camel. Marsden continued to perform as a solo artist. Greater fame was in store for some of them: Stewart and Fleetwood would become famous on a level that must have exceeded even their wildest ambitions.

You never know what will become of that band you saw in that bar on the weekend, or the pretty girl who took your drink order. They probably won’t ever be famous, but maybe they will.

In Your Face Again

Those of us in radio have not always done right by the group Faces. Your friendly neighborhood classic-rock station is more likely to refer to “Stay With Me” and “I Know I’m Losing You” as Rod Stewart records than they are to say they’re by Faces, thereby eliding the difference between Stewart’s music and that of Faces—and by extension, turning Faces into a mere backup band for Stewart during a brief phase of his lengthy solo career. We ought to cut it out. Faces is a group with a distinct history and identity, although in the States, we don’t know much of it.

The group started as the Small Faces, which landed two singles in the Hot 100 in early 1968: “Itchycoo Park” nudged into the Top 20, and “Tin Soldier” made Number 75. In the UK, however, the Small Faces scored four significant singles in 1966, three more in 1967, and a handful in 1968 and 1969 as the group was splintering.

When Steve Marriott left to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, holdovers Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane, and Ian McLagan invited Stewart and Ron Wood to join. The new lineup called for a new name, and Faces was born., in a review of the band’s first album, released in the spring of 1970 (and credited in the States to Small Faces at record-company insistence), calls them “a group who always seemed like the boys next door made good, no matter where next door was.” Their albums and concerts were notoriously ragged, although Allmusic observes in the same review that “sometimes loose ends are as great as tidiness.” Somewhere in my library I have a bootleg of a concert recorded in Paris in 1973—Rod’s ripped to the tits and everybody’s having a ball, but the music sounds great nevertheless.

But that’s getting ahead of things. The group’s second album, Long Player, was released in March 1971. That May, Stewart’s solo album Every Picture Tells a Story came out, on which he was backed by his Faces bandmates. In November, while Every Picture was at the top of the charts, Faces released A Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse, which became a Top-10 hit itself. Around Christmastime of 1971, you could scarcely turn on the radio without hearing them: Stewart’s “Maggie May” and “Reason to Believe” were in recurrents; “I Know I’m Losing You” was just out, and so was “Stay With Me.” (“I Know I’m Losing You,” despite appearing on Stewart’s album, was billed on the single to Rod Stewart and Faces, meaning that some of the confusion 40 years later over how to credit the songs is the fault of Mercury Records. Indicative of my own confusion is the fact that I don’t know whether to call them “Faces” or “the Faces,” and I notice I’m doing both in this post.)

Clearly, 1971 was the year of the Faces. But sums up the problem that grew out of all that condensed success: “When Stewart’s solo career became more successful than the Faces, the band slowly became subservient to his personality.” After the 1973 album Ooh-La-La, which featured “Cindy Incidentally,” the final Faces single to chart in the States, Lane left the group; following a final tour, the band broke up in 1974. Lane died of multiple sclerosis in 1997 after inspiring the ARMS benefits; Jones joined the Who; Wood joined the Rolling Stones while McLagan became a touring member of that band; Stewart became a megastar.

But if a rock band was halfway successful and/or fondly remembered, no breakup needs to be final. After doing a brief set at a benefit last fall, Faces hit the stage for a full-blown show last week in London. Jones, McLagan, and Wood were joined by Glen Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. Last fall, Stewart had indicated he’d like to participate in a reunion but couldn’t do the charity gig. Now, however, his participation might not be necessary at all, given the success of Hucknall’s performance. (Rolling Stone weighs in on the show here and includes the setlist.) The show was a one-shot deal for now, although Jones is enthusiastic about the possibility of a tour or an album.

I can’t seem to embed videos at this blog right now, so you’ll have to visit YouTube for a brief clip of “Stay With Me” with Hucknall on vocals, recorded at the benefit last fall. I’d never have chosen him as Stewart’s stand in/replacement, but I get it now.