Charity Ball by Fanny (Reprise, 1971)


Question: Who is the first all-female band to have a Top 40 song? Answer: Fanny, in 1971 with Charity Ball. This quartet wrote their own songs as well as played all of their own instruments at a time when most women were still regarded as singers only or frontwomen for male bands or voices for studio musicians. They got mad love from David Bowie. They were talented, rocked it hard and were hot. Sadly you probably have never heard of them.

Charity Ball, was a mid-tempo rock shuffle released from the 2nd LP of the same name, hit #40 in November of 1971, peaking for one week and getting leapfrogged by crap like Peter Nero’s version of the theme from the Summer of 42 and David Cassidy’s limp version of Cherish. Formed by the Millington sisters, June (guitar) & Jean (bass) with keyboardist Nicky Barclay and drummer Alice De Buhr and produced by Richard Perry, this band should have way more popular and far more recognized than they are rather than shrugged off as a novelty act. What they accomplished over 5 albums was to lay out a blueprint for success and build the confidence up many young women, be it the Runaways, the Go-Gos, Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads or Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.

I also have to mention mid-60’s bands, Goldie & the Gingerbreads, whose singer Genya Ravan went on to front Ten Wheel Drive and lead a rock star life throughout her career while the other formed the first all-female horn rock band, Isis, and The Pleasure Seekers, who were a Detroit female rock band fronted by Suzi Quatro. Her sister, Patti joined Fanny for a year in 1974. Check both bands out as well as Fanny. All three paid heavy dues with little recognition yet carved large paths for future female performers to walk on.

Fun little aside: The photo of the band on the cover of Fanny’s Charity Ball LP was taken by Edger Bergen’s daughter, Candice, better known to others as Murphy Brown.

Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again by the Fortunes (Capitol, 1971)

Pop music was becoming a competitive business by the late 60s. There were lots of great records out, each artist & songwriter competing for their place on the charts. Two British songwriters, Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway, decided that one song at a time was not enough. They would write tunes, have them recorded and put them out under different names. This way radio stations would think they were separate bands. But really it was one team putting out tons of records until they were competing with themselves. As a team, with additional writers and separately, they started to rack up hit after hit in the US & in the U.K. In the summer of 1971, they had a big hit with Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again by The Fortunes, who also recorded their first big in 1966 [You Got Your Troubles].

Falling the under the genre of British bubblegum, this track had the pleasure of satisfying any fans of the Four Seasons or Frankie Valli. Those guys couldn’t get arrested in the early 70s, but the Fortunes and especially lead singer, Rod Allen do their best to fill the void with a song that would have fit nicely between Let’s Hang On & Tell It To The Rain (irony not withstanding) in their catalogue. The song is so bubbly and upbeat, you’d think that a rainy day feeling but might something fun to feel. Until he lets you that the rain is his tears falling down on him. Happy times!

Actually I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on with this dude. On the surface, it seems like he’s just missing a girl and wishes she was with him. But who and why? Let’s try to figure this out:

Here comes that rainy day feeling again,
and soon my tears will be falling like rain.
It always seems to be a Monday,
Leftover memories of Sunday always spent with you.
Before the clouds appeared, and took away my sunshine.

My question is, is the Sunday-Monday a veiled reference to a weekend lover? Is this guy in the Reserves? Is he talking about his freedom from his job? Or is this a cheap Sunday/Monday rhyme?

Here comes that rainy day feeling again,
and I’ll be dreaming of you baby in vain.

In vain? Giving up so easily? Or is the chic married? Or is he married? Or both? See isn’t this song more interesting already…

Your face is always on my mind, girl,
I’m hoping you’re soon gonna find, girl, your way back to me,
’cause if you’ll say you’ll stay,
the rainy days will go away.

Ok, I’m putting it together. They used to be together. She left him for another and he hasn’t gotten over her. Snooze… that’s too boring. Hold on, it’s my favorite part of the song – the Phil Spector breakdown.

Misty morning eyes, I’m trying to disguise the way I feel.
But I just can’t hide it.
People seem to know, the loneliness will show.
I’m thinking of my pride, but breaking up inside, girl.

Oh, I got it. The guy spends his weekends tripping on acid. But rather than talk about the White Rabbit part of it, he’s talking about coming down, the I-need-some-warm-milk part. Trying to disguise the way I feel – fantasy giving in to reality. People seem to know – there’s the paranoia. Breaking up inside – the flashbacks.

Never realized this song was another druggie pop tune, huh? You’re welcome…now take a listen and dig those vibes (but stay away from the brown stuff)

Toast And Marmalade For Tea by Tin Tin (ATCO, 1971)

This oddball track hit the Top 20 in the US in the Spring of 1971. I don’t know why. Between the distorted piano and 4 lines of lyrics, repeated as a nursery rhyme, it’s actually quite annoying. I only actually thought of it because of the new Tin Tin movie, a Belgian comic strip character from the 30s, that the group named itself after. But the group, song and its success is worth mentioning for 2 reasons.

One: Tin Tin reminded everyone that they missed the Bee Gees

By 1969, Robin Gibb had left the Bee Gees and by 1970, Barry & Maurice went solo as well. Everyone’s solo career flopped and no one knew what to do. Maurice tried his hand at producing and found fellow labelmates and Robert Stigwood signees, Tin Tin. He produced their first album, which featured Toast & Marmalade For Tea and uncannily sounded like a lost Bee Gees tune. The album initially went nowhere, but all hope was not lost. Missing his brothers, Maurice and twin, Robin got back together to write some sad-sacky songs and get the blues out of their system. They released a single, Lonely Days, which made the Top 10. But the reunion wasn’t permanent until the left-field success of Toast…, which made everyone ask, ‘Is this the Bee Gees?’ Inspired by disgust or anger, the Gibbs wrote How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and went on to be the biggest selling act of the decade.

Two: It gave Steve Kipner his first chance at songwriting and fame

You may not know who Steve Kipner is, but you’ve certainly heard his songs. Although he only sings on this 45, he did co-write the B-side and other songs on the Tin Tin LP. No one could have imagined that 10 years later, he would write the biggest the song of the 80s. Physical by Olivia Newton-John, originally pitched to Rod Stewart, would spend 10 weeks at the top. He would have very little success in various groups through the 70s (although his solo LP, Knock The Walls Down, is a pretty good West Coast pop album). But without the success of this tune, he might have given up before he wrote Hard Habit To Break for Chicago, Impulsive for Wilson Philips, Heart Attack & Twist Of Fate for ONJ or even Genie In A Bottle for Christina Aguliera. The guy has a 40 year career, spanning 5 decades. And it all stemmed from this odd mix of British psychedelic bubblegum pop.

When folks won’t leave my party, I put this track on repeat. It drives people to fisticuffs…try it out. Or put the 45 on, cuddle with your loved one and tell her that she’s lovelier than toast and ships.

One Toke Over The Line by Brewer & Shipley (Kama Sutra, 1971)

Folk duo, Brewer & Shipley smoked their way into one-hit-wonder status in 1971 with this little ditty about excess and life lessons learned. Of course the mere mention of the word ‘toke’ sent many to a Mary Jane-scented heaven as they proclaimed the song an anthem for their hippie lifestyle. Lawrence Welk had a different interpretation of the song and featured it on his show going as far as introducing it as a ‘modern spiritual’. Spiro Agnew found the song and the twosome subversive and harmful to the youth culture.

Now, what exactly is this song about and what is its true meaning? Brewer & Shipley let everyone in on the secret. It’s a joke song. That’s right. They wrote it as a gag to keep themselves entertained between songs and they would play it when then ran out of material at a gig. They recorded it for their 3rd album, Weeds, as a throwaway and didn’t think anything of it until an executive at Buddah Records, which distributed Kama Sutra records thought they should release it as a single. That guy, Neil Bogart, had a history of knowing a hit, and eventually formed Casablanca Records two years later.

So you can take it that they are just two dudes sitting in a train station waiting to go home, high as hell, so high it makes them blaspheme. Or it could be a testament to the power of the Lord, as in, he made them see the errors of their ways and has put them on a straighter path. I don’t want to take the mystique out of it for you, if you have any. But I would suggest that the next time you’re around a campfire, pull out the guitar and sing a few verses to see who joins in and who does a few Hail Marys.

Do You Know What I Mean by Lee Michaels (A&M, 1971)

Armed with a Hammond organ and a drummer named Frosty, Lee Michaels bounced his way into the Top 10 with a track from his Fifth LP. Were it not for the soulful vocals of Lee and the Jagger swagger of the beat, Do You Know What I Mean might have not been able to compete with the Brown Sugars of the time. Luckily it really didn’t have to, since it cracked the Top 10 the same week that light pop such as Donny Osmond’s Go Away Little Girl and the Carpenters’ Superstar were ruling the roost. It’s all about timing, folks.

Not that this isn’t a good song on its own, it most definitely is. But it always helps to stand out on pop radio. (Or at least it used to be that way.) And Lee pulls off the trick of rocking hard behind an organ & keyboard.

The song is about Lee getting cheated on by his girlfriend with his best friend, Bobby. That’s it. Simple enough, until Lee confronts his girlfriend and she retorts with:

Lee you haven’t loved me in nearly four years
You haven’t noticed that I held back my tears
And now you have, but it’s really too late
Better find yourself another girl
Better find another girl
Better find uh, another place

Oh snap…or as Lee puts it…Whooh! That’s a nice twist on a cheating song, a guy drives his woman into the arms of another man, as in the guy has absolutely no control of the relationship. In fact it sounds like he lost out to Billy Paul. And knowing that Lee was her former boyfriend, we know why she won’t let it go now.

Do you know what I mean?

Superstar by The Carpenters (A&M, 1971)

People dog The Carpenters for their image and soft rock music, calling them unhip or lame. Only in America do we love to tear down our musical heritage. True, their music filled a void and gave a face to the ever popular easy listening genre which was fast becoming very profitable. And they bridged a generation gap at a time where many were blowing it up like it spanned the River Kwai. I grew up on their music just like so many other pop bands of the 70s, but in retrospect I listen to their music very differently. Richard & Karen Carpenter may have been the most talented brother/sister duo ever to hit the charts. And Superstar is definitely a highpoint, if not the highpoint of their long career.

Karen had a very unique voice which could range from a deep alto to a lilting soprano. She was cute. And she was a kick ass drummer.

I always find it sad when one lists Meg White of the White Stripes as a great drummer over someone like Karen.

Anyway Superstar was released on the Carpenters self-titled 3rd album and peaked at #2 in the Fall of 1971. Written by Leon Russell & Bonnie Bramlett it was originally recorded by Delaney & Bonnie in 1969. Richard heard Bette Midler sing it on the Tonight Show and thought it would be a cool tune for them to do. It was one of 6 songs that Richard would be nominated for a Grammy for instrumental arrangement and the one that he definitely should have won. (He lost to Shaft – shut your mouth!) Richard takes the first 30 seconds building a sad slow intro – an eternity for a 3 minute pop song. Karen turns a song about groupie wanting to get some more from her ‘superstar’ into a tune among woman longing for someone she can’t have. That superstar could have been a 5th grade boy who Karen pined for as 4th grader. Or for a normal life that was slowly slipping away with each passing hit. Superstar would the Carpenters’ 5th #1 Adult Contemporary hit in a row.

Had the Carpenters come out in the early 90s that would have received the admiration and possible critical praise that a Celine Dion unduly ended up with. Instead they ended up mocked, even at their height, because of their pure image and all they did was turn out one good pop song after another. One that you could hum along with your Mom in the car. And since all I cared about as a kid was singing, that was good enough for me. Baby baby baby baby oh ba-bay….

Brand New Key By Melanie (Neighborhood, 1971)

Songwriters: be careful what you songs you write, but more importantly, be careful about which of those songs you record. Case in point, folk singer Melanie Safka. In 1969 she became famous performing at Woodstock. In 1970 she sang about the event with the Edwin Hawkins singers and hit the Top 10 with Lay Down (Candles In The Rain). In 1971 she sang a childish ditty about a pair of roller skates and a brand new key. It was #1 for 3 weeks. After that, her career died. So let’s find out why.

Melanie was slowly establishing herself a serious voice with her late 70s records, Born To Be & Affectionately Melanie. Her work was played throughout Europe, particularly France and she began to regularly play on the US festival circuit in 1970. But according to Melanie, her record label, Buddah, was pushing her to record too fast. So she left the label and former Neighborhood Records with her husband. Business-wise it was a good move. But sometimes those shady, unethical record labels do have a few good people giving you helpful tips on what to or not to do. I don’t think Melanie had anyone like that in her corner when she recorded Brand New Key or they may have taken the song and gave it to Kermit or Grover to sing instead.

Actually anyone on Sesame Street would have done a better job singing it and it would have more sense. Melanie switches from serious warbly folk singer to 7-year-old girl throughout the song, but especially grating is the way she approaches the chorus. ‘We–lll, blah blah-blah blah blah pair of roller skates, you got a brand new key. blah blah-blah blah blah get together….‘ – at this point the crowd would be throwing rotten heads of lettuce and echoes of boos. The song is just dumb, which isn’t always a bad thing, but definitely is when you are trying to be taken seriously. It was a left turn up Mo’ Money mountain and then…vrrrroooom, right of the cliff.

The song still makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous it is, a point not lost on Paul Thomas Anderson either. Melanie plays the role of a 9-year-old, I guess. Even though the lyrics are fairly suggestive. I can’t imagine many 17-year olds riding their bike to someone’s house to get some. I’m confused already, so let’s break it down:

I rode my bicycle past your window last night
I roller skated to your door at daylight
It almost seems like you’re avoiding me
I’m okay alone, but you got something I need

Hey, stalkerazzi! He’s avoiding you because you won’t leave him alone. If you’re OK alone, then why the midnight treks on your Schwinn?

Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see
I been looking around awhile. You got something for me
Oh! I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key

Umm, what the hell are you talking about? The only kind of skates that need a key are quad skates and people had worn lace-ups for decades. So where exactly are you finding a brand new key? At Goodwill?

I ride my bike, I roller skate, don’t drive no car
Don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far

Ok I get it. She’s Green. And she has endurance. Might give that a spin.

For somebody who don’t drive I been all around the world
Some people say, I done all right for a girl

And she’s loose. The only people alright with that are the Johns and her pimp.

I asked your mother if you were at home
She said, yes .. but you weren’t alone
Oh, sometimes I think that you’re avoiding me
I’m okay alone, but you’ve got something I need

Wait a minute. This isn’t about sex at all. She’s a coke head. She knows he’s got a brand new key of fine Columbian and she’s jonesing for it, riding by his house at all hours, bugging the guy’s mom [cause of course, he lives with his mom…probably in the basement]. That’s the something she needs.

I’m thinking that Michael Cimino played this song over and over as he filmed Heaven’s Gate, high off his ass on blow watching dailies of Kris Kristofferson roller skating around Wyoming.

Did I lose my train of thought? Take a listen and tell me…

That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be by Carly Simon (Elektra, 1971)

I don’t know Carly Simon very well. But if she would have answered my marriage proposal with this song, I would have been running for the hills (or the nearest bar). Carly tapped into (exploited?) the feminist movement with a song that questioned a woman’s role in a relationship, specifically marriage. But this dramatically maudlin song made marriage seem like a death sentence. I can’t believe the world didn’t stop procreating and marrying right then & there in 1971. Luckily for me, they didn’t.

This was Carly’s debut 45 from her debut album, Carly Simon. What an impression she made – I’m surprised she wasn’t dubbed the angry female singer-songwriter by critics. Maybe it’s because she came from a privileged family and folks considered her spoiled. Reading her lyrics, I tend to agree. Supposedly this song was about her relationship with Cat Stevens, who she did not marry. But the defiant Women First words were actually written by a guy, Jacob Brackman. Carly sings them with such conviction and frames them musically with sad chord phrasings that you don’t even notice how benign and confusing the words are.

The first verse goes something like this: dad sits alone in a chair smoking a cigarette in the dark and mom is in bed reading magazines. She calls out ‘Sweet Dreams’ to Carly who ignores and bitches that she can’t dream. Ok Carly, would you feel better if you caught your parents getting it on laying on a beanbag in the rec room? Forget dreaming, you’ll be having nightmares.

Ok second verse:

My friends from college they’re all married now;
They have their houses and their lawns.

Sounds OK to me. Seems like Carly is a little jealous of her friends getting on with their lives, while she lives with her parents watching Dad smoke.

They have their silent noons,
Tearful nights, angry dawns.

Really? Is it that bad? Every one of her friends is in an abusive relationship? I can’t imagine that already have regrets being that they’re in their early to mid 20s. But let’s move on.

Their children hate them for the things they’re not;
They hate themselves for what they are
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar.

See this is where it goes the wheels for me. How do their children hate them already? Children really don’t start that until their early teens. So if these people went to college, graduated and then started having kids, they would be in their mid 30s with their rebellious kids. And that’s a conservative estimate. Again, sounds like ol Carly’s a little green….third verse:

You say we can keep our love alive
Babe – all I know is what I see.
The couples cling and claw and drown in love’s debris.
You say we’ll soar like two birds through the clouds,
But soon you’ll cage me on your shelf.
I’ll never learn to be just me first by myself.

Now she’s talking directly to the guy that’s proposing to her, lucky guy he is. You’d think that by the way she’s talking that she’d been through some shit. But as far as I know her parents didn’t divorce. Carly hadn’t been through anything as of yet. She’s thinks everyone is miserable, so she equates that with her being miserable too. I don’t get the logic. Surely women are more intelligent than that.

Oh wait that’s right…some guy is writing the lyrics for her, a guy that was a film critic for Esquire Magazine, hence the dramatic overwrought tale. Anyway Carly eventually gives in to the guy at the end and in real life married James Taylor a year later, living out her song until the two drowned in love’s debris in 1983, or as normal people say, divorce.

What’s amazing to me is that Carly had to sing this song as an extreme to try to find women some middle ground, since society still deemed that a woman’s happiness was tied up in marrying a man. But this song wasn’t an aberration in her catalog. This is a woman who had hits with Legend In Your Own Time, Haven’t Got Time For The Pain & You’re So Vain, attacking, nay questioning the male ego. Of course she reverted to the ‘I can’t do without you’ type of songs such as You Belong To Me & Jesse. But as we all know, for Carly, eventually everything was Coming Around Again.

Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian) by the Raiders (Columbia, 1971)

Paul Revere & the Raiders put Boise, Idaho on the rock & roll map in the 60s and gave all the British Invasion bands a run for their money with hits like Kicks & Good Thing. But by the end of the decade, lead singer Mark Lindsay went solo, Happening 68, their TV show, was off the air and the band was in limbo.

During a solo recording session, Mark recorded a cover of John Loudermilk’s Indian Reservation which was a bizarre hit for Don Fardon, lead singer of the British band, The Sorrows in 1968. Not sure what made Mark think he could or should do a cover himself. Maybe he thought it was a good followup to Arizona and it would certainly make more sense, if any, in his catalogue. But when Paul Revere heard it, he decided to get the band together and release it as a tune under the newly named Raiders namesake. Then he literally went on midnight rides across the country on his motorcycle promoting the tune, pushing radio stations to play it, hitting #1 in July 1971. It went on to be Columbia Records best-selling single for many years.

Originally this song was entitled The Pale Faced Indian, recorded by Marvin Rainwater in 1959. Here is Marvin’s version as well as Don Fardon’s version. Now tell me which one you find more offensive to Native Americans.

At least Marvin was 1/4 Cherokee. Don was British. And who wants a bunch of White dudes from Idaho singing about the plight of Cherokee Indians? You see when social activism went mainstream as the 70s dawned, you had people all of a sudden giving a shit about the Native Americans and they showed it by buying this 45. And when they were done they threw it out of their car window on the side on the road where the crying Indian, Iron Eyes Cody shed a tear. Except that ol Iron Eyes was Sicilian, not Native American, so that was bullshit too. Oops I’m getting off topic. Enjoy this weird song that signaled the end for the Raiders.

Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes Love It) by Daddy Dewdrop (Sunflower, 1971)

This song was originally created for the cartoon, The Groovy Ghoulies, in the same manner as Sugar Sugar was created for The Archies. But after its release wasn’t very successful, Dick Monda aka Daddy Dewdrop took it back, changed some lyrics and voila – a Top 10 record. Daddy doesn’t sing as much as slyly talks his way through this psychedelic masturbation fantasy this guy has.

Chick-A-Boom has this loony feel that you would expect out of a cartoon song, especially when the lyrics don’t make much sense. Kids don’t care that much anyway, so long as its entertaining. Daddy finds himself having a crazy dream about a chick in a black bikini and then she disappears. He finds three doors and the top of the bikini. So is he in a woman’s changing room or on stage at Let’s Make A Deal? Behind door #1 is a party where they say ‘freaky’ things like ‘Chick-A-Boom’. [For those that don’t know, chick-a-boom is something that was said in reference to a sexy dancer or stripper. It’s also used in camp singalongs and a children’s book. Awesome.]

Now Daddy has found the 2nd half of bikini which means he’s now chasing a naked woman. So he opens door #2 and he thinks he’s in Africa. Say wha? Why on earth would he think that? Oh because of Little Richard singing Tutti Fruitti. Makes total sense. It’s just Daddy Dewdrop and his cartoon jingle style.

Yes, the guy in the middle.

So in the middle of thinking about getting a naked girl, he’s also thinking about a gay dude. And he might be a little racist. But he has no time for a Rainbow Coalition. Instead, he has the gall to tell Little Richard to shut up and tell where the girl is. Richard proceeds to tell him to ‘shut up, girl’ and gives him the chick-a-boom line again. Now Daddy is pretty messed up and confused. He opens door #3 and there she is. And wouldn’t you know it? Rather than acting real smooth, he just utters Chick-A-Boom. Hahahaha – what fun!

At this point, Daddy wakes up, changes his sheets and goes to the store to rent, Don’t Knock The Rock.