Very Special and Also Finished

Something like 14 months ago, I wrote an innocuous post on the one-hit wonders whose only claim to fame peaked at Number 100 in Billboard in the years between 1955 and 1986. Then I decided to tackle the Number 99s, and a series was born. I didn’t think it would take this long, but with this post, we reach the end of it, with the last installment of the songs to peak at Number 90.

“Roxy Roller”/Sweeney Todd (8/21/76, three weeks). I started researching this song last week and ended up with an entire post, which you can read here, if you haven’t done so already.

“Save Me”/Donna McDaniel (7/16/77, five weeks). Merrilee Rush (famous for “Angel of the Morning” in the 60s) took “Save Me” to Number 54 the same week Donna McDaniel’s version hit Number 90, and Louise Mandrell scored a Top-10 hit on the country charts with it in 1983. It seems also to have been recorded by English songbird Clodagh Rodgers, who may have done it first. But of Donna McDaniel herself, we know nothing.

“Stay Awhile”/Continental Miniatures (5/20/78, three weeks). The band is supposedly named after some Italian TV show, and the song is an update of a Dusty Springfield hit from the mid 1960s. They seem to have clubbed around Los Angeles for a while in the late 70s, although why they keep turning up in punk-rock databases when they sound like standard-issue 70s radio pop, I don’t know.

“I Love Women”/Jim Hurt (10/25/80, four weeks). Jim Hurt was a contract songwriter in Nashville whose best-known song is probably one he co-wrote, “Love in the First Degree,” a country hit and pop crossover for Alabama. In Dave Steed’s series at Popdose about the bottom of the charts in the 80s, Dave called “I Love Women” “soulful and quite playful”—it puts me in mind of a more caffeinated Dr. Hook, myself—but you be the judge, below.

“Very Special”/Debra Laws (9/5/81, five weeks). Debra Laws is the sister of jazz players Hubert Laws and Ronnie Laws, and she sang on many of their projects, as well as doing backup work for a number of other artists in sessions and on the road. She apparently sued Jennifer Lopez, unsuccessfully, for unauthorized sampling of “Very Special” in 2003.

“Taxi”/J. Blackfoot (3/24/84, five weeks). The Soul Children were a minor group at Stax, scoring a handful of hits between the mid  60s and the mid 70s, most famous among them “Hearsay” and their lone Top-40 hit, “I’ll Be the Other Woman.” J. Blackfoot (given name John Colbert) was a member of the group; his first experience recording music came while doing time in prison. He was lead singer with the reconstituted Bar-Kays after the plane crash that killed Otis Redding, and when Isaac Hayes and David Porter were putting together the Soul Children, he was invited to join. “Taxi” is a smooth soul record that sounds more like 1967 than it does 1984.

“Don’t Do Me”/Randy Bell (7/14/84, three weeks). At the age of 24, the photogenic Randy Bell of Denver, Colorado, got a record deal with Epic. He viewed himself as a serious musician, but Epic saw him as teen-idol material and marketed him as such. That wasn’t the right move, given that “Don’t Do Me” is mid-80s radio rock in the Loverboy/Aldo Nova/Donnie Iris pocket.

“Am I Forgiven”/Isle of Man (8/16/86, four weeks). With its own radio-ready mid-80s sound, “Am I Forgiven” is allegedly a Christian-rock number, although it’s hard to tell precisely what the words are since the lead singer’s accent is so thick. I am guessing Isle of Man was from Spain or Italy. Or maybe the Isle of Man itself, although I doubt it. I know they’re from somewhere.

And that’s a wrap, not merely on the one-hit wonders to peak at Number 90, but the whole Down in the Bottom series covering Numbers 100 through 90. However, I think we’ll revisit the series at least one more time in the coming weeks, whenever I get around to it—I’ve got some final thoughts, comments, and mp3s to share.

“I Love Women”/Jim Hurt (out of print)
“Don’t Do Me”/Randy Bell (out of print)

Roxy Roxy Roller Roller

The first chart book I ever owned, Star File, compiled by Dafydd Rees and published in the UK in 1977, intrigued me back in the day with two entries for a song I’d never heard, “Roxy Roller” by Sweeney Todd. The book said that the first version had been withdrawn after legal trouble and replaced by the second. But since I’d never heard either one, and neither one rose above Number 90 on the American charts, I never pursued the mystery any further—until today.

Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles 1955-1986 (the falling-apart copy of the book I still use religiously) shows “Roxy Roller” with a catalog number of London 240, and says that it appeared on the Hot 100 for three weeks in 1976. Nothing about multiple versions, nothing about legal battles, just a single entry, wham bam thank you ma’am, one-hit wonder, end of story. But there are some interesting connections surrounding Sweeney Todd and “Roxy Roller,” and here they are.

Sweeney Todd was formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Nick Gilder and Jim McCulloch in 1973, although the band’s original name was Rasputin. Allmusic.com compares the band’s early sound, after it had evolved into Sweeney Todd, to that of 10cc. “Roxy Roller” topped the Canadian singles chart for three weeks in the summer of 1976, but by that time, Gilder and McCulloch had left the band for their own record deal in Los Angeles. The group’s producer, Martin Shaer, signed a new lead singer, Clark Perry, and recut “Roxy Roller” over the original backing track. When Perry didn’t work out, Shaer canned him and hired a young kid named Brian Guy Adams, who had kept bugging him for an audition, and had him recut the vocal for “Roxy Roller” again.

“Roxy Roller,” catalog number London 240 and billed to Sweeney Todd, hit the American Hot 100 at Number 90 on the chart dated August 21, 1976. It held there the week of August 28 but was gone entirely from the chart dated September 4. It returned for one last week, bubbling under at number 110 during the week of September 11, billed this time to Sweeney Todd featuring Nick Gilder. The following week, September 18, “Roxy Roller,” catalog number London 244 and billed to Sweeney Todd featuring Brian Guy Adams, hit the Hot 100 at Number 99, but didn’t last a second week.  Star File says that the Gilder version was withdrawn and replaced by the Adams version, but it’s not entirely clear to me what the nature of the legal dispute was. It most likely had to do with ownership of Sweeney Todd’s contract. Their Canadian label had gone tits-up in 1976, and Shaer wound up with the band’s contract. It’s reasonable to suspect that the dispute involved which party would get paid for the Gilder version of “Roxy Roller.” Recutting the record with Adams doing a close impersonation of Gilder probably seemed like a smart business move to Shaer.

In March 1977, Sweeney Todd won the Juno Award in Canada for Best New Group. Although it was the Gilder edition of the band that had made a giant splash in 1976, the group accepting the award was fronted by Brian Guy Adams, who was only 17 years old at the time. He would make one album with Sweeney Todd, but by December 1977 he too would be gone, like Gilder, to seek fame and fortune as a solo artist. And like Gilder, he would find it. In the fall of 1978, Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” would hit Number One in the States. It took Adams a little longer.  A disco-flavored single, “Let Me Take You Dancing,” made the Canadian top 20 in 1979. His first American hit came in 1982, a song called “Straight From the Heart.” He had changed the spelling of his name by then, to Bryan Adams, and he would hit steadily in the States for the next 15 years. But his first American chart entry had come way back in 1976, as Brian Guy Adams, on the recut version of “Roxy Roller.”

So anyhow, there were two charting versions of “Roxy Roller” in the States, and they sound a hell of a lot alike. But making a distinction between the two is this blog’s raison d’-freakin’-etre. Listen to Gilder’s version here and Adams’ version here. What I wanna know is: Where’s the Clark Perry version to complicate matters further?

Sweeney Todd is one of the one-hit wonders to peak at Number 90 on the Billboard chart. We’ve already taken care of several of them in previous installments of the Down in the Bottom series, and we’ll take care of the rest next week.