Billy, Don’t Be A Hero by Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods (ABC, 1974)

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The Vietnam War and our troops were on everybody’s minds during the early 70s. Even though we had started to withdraw troops in ’71, it felt like the war was never going to end. That anxiety was kicked back up when in early ’74, the Paris Accord was rejected and the war was restarted by the Viet Cong to regain the territory it had previously lost. No one knew what to expect. Would we have to send troops back?

Protests to the war had been happening since the late 60’s and musicians were a big part of the movement voicing their displeasure to our involvement in Vietnam, from Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction and Country Joe & the Fish’s Feel Like I’m Fixin to Die rag at Woodstock to War by Edwin Starr and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. Protest songs had become so mainstream in the 70s that in 1974, they even came from an unlikely source – a 7 piece band from Cincinnati, OH who had previously toured with the Osmonds: Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.

If you get this song and The Night Chicago Died mixed up, don’t worry,  you’re not going crazy. The songs were both on the charts at the same time and had a very similar feel. Both were recorded by the group Paper Lace and written by the same two songwriters, Mitch Murray and Pete Callander. This song obviously hit a nerve around the world as the Paper Lace version hit #1 in Britain and Australia and Bo’s hit #1 here, where it spend 2 weeks at the top in June 1974 and in Canada.

Now this is the part where I break this song down. Because even though this was released during our Vietnam troop occupation, there’s no way these guys are talking about modern war. (Remember these are the songwriters who said Daddy was a cop on the east side of Chicago – that’s right, he patrolled Lake Michigan)

Let’s break out the fifes and figure out whats going on:

The marching band came down along Main Street
The soldier blues fell in behind.
I looked across and there I saw Billy
Waiting to go and join the line.

Ok so we hit upon one key to the success of this song. The singer is an impartial third party, so he’s not giving his opinion whether he’s for or against the war (even though the chorus suggest otherwise). The soldier blues probably refers to the armies in the civil war who would march through town and folks would just join them rather than the good ol days of being drafted.

And with her head upon his shoulder
His young and lovely fiancée.
From where I stood I saw she was cryin’
And through her tears I heard her say,

We’ll assume he knows they’re getting married somehow. But how is he close enough to see her cry and hear her speak? Wasn’t he across the street a few words ago? Feels like Bo might be getting ready to make some moves.

“Billy, don’t be a hero. Don’t be a fool with your life
Billy, don’t be a hero. Come back and make me your wife”

I don’t know if this was real or I dreamed it: there’s a scene on the Muppet Show and Billy Joel is guest star. He dressed up like a sub sandwich and Kermit tries to keep him out of a sketch by saying, “Billy don’t be a hero.” Anyone?

And as he started to go, she said, “Billy keep your head low.
Billy, don’t be a hero. Come back to me”

Keep your head low? That’s awful advice, for any war. Do bullets only travel upwards? Can someone not bomb a trench?

The soldier blues were trapped on a hillside.
The battle ragin’ all around.
The sergeant cried, “We’ve gotta hang on, boys.
We gotta hold this piece of ground.”

Wow, thats a soft commander…but so inspirational. Hey you guys, we’re down 3 points with two minutes to go. Hang on boys. Hang on. I didn’t know John Wooten was in the Army.

“I need a volunteer to ride out and bring us back some extra men”

A volunteer? Did they draw straws? One potato two potato? And if you need extra men, why are you sending someone out? Now you’re down another guy. Always bring extra men. The dip always runs out at this dude’s party before all the guest arrive.

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Definitely not Billy’s sergeant

And Billy’s hand was up in a moment forgetting all the words she said.

Maybe there’s a reason he ‘forgot’ those words like he was feeling trapped by his poor advice giving future wife, who told him he could work in her dad’s paint store for the rest of his life. Or he was thinking about a $5 footlong…..

I heard his fiancée got a letter that told how Billy died that day.
The letter said that he was a hero.
She should be proud he died that way.
I heard she threw the letter away.

A letter? That’s all she gets? No body?  How does she know he really died? You get a letter and go, Oh well, Guess he’s dead. I’d toss that bullshit in the garbage too.

Wait a minute. Oh my God, I just figured it out. It’s the back story of Mad Men. Don Draper is based on this song. Billy just Dick Whitman’d his fiancee. Now it all makes sense. And that makes the singer, Pete Campbell.

I guess the song I need to break down next is I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing….

 
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Rock And Roll Heaven by the Righteous Brothers (Haven, 1974)

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As the 70s decade dawned, the Righteous Brothers had broken up and gone their separate ways in pursuit of more successful solo years. Even though Bobby Hatfield & Bill Medley were accomplished singers, that never happened. The duo decided to get back together at the end of 1973 and by the Spring of 1974 they had surprised everyone with their first Top 40 hit in 8 years, a #3 hit, Rock And Roll Heaven. The song, with its soulful pop melodrama and grandiose intro seemed custom fit for the two. But in fact it was written and recorded 2 years previous by the group Climax, who had a hit with Precious & Few. <

Folks have often wondered why the writers chose the musician they did. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison & Otis Redding were legends and were representatives of the 60’s counterculture (well maybe not Otis as much, but he definitely influenced man). Jim Croce had died suddenly almost a year after making the charts. His full impact was yet to be felt, but moreover, he was a folk singer/songwriter. It’s actually silly to think of him & Hendrix in the same breath, no disrespect to Jim – didn’t mean to tug on Superman’s cape. Bobby Darin had belonged to a different generation, having the bulk of his hits in the pre-Beatles era. And even though he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (jeez, so is ABBA) not many people siting him as an influence. Michael Bolton didn’t even attempt to rip him him off. So why didn’t they include Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran or Duane Allman for that matter.

Supposedly they did. Alan O’Day, who co-wrote the song, gave it to producers, Brian Potter & Dennis Lambert who rewrote a few of the lyrics to add Jim Croce & Booby Darin who had both passed away at the end of 1973. So think about this: 5 of the folks knew each other or of each other and their music. But only Bobby Darin was alive when Jim Croce went from unknown trucker to pop songsmith. If Croce approached those others at a jam session, they would tell him to take a hike, probably Darin too. They didn’t wanna hang around with any squares. Of course if you believe that heaven is an all-inclusive place, then they would all be singing American Pie together. That means that Roy Orbison and 2Pac are kickin it, and that Elvis and Kurt Cobain crooning duets on a cloud. It also means that one day Lady Gaga, any one of the Backstreet Boys, Frank Sinatra and Falco will start an accapella group together. And everyone will love it. Maybe even someone will write a song about it.

This week Alan left his ‘one night stand’ and got to join a helluva band…and hopefully rewrote the lyrics.

Painted Ladies by Ian Thomas (Janus, 1974)

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Ian Thomas decided to trade in his job at the Canadian Broadcast Center, programming CanCon, and decided to pursue the other side. He was rewarded with a Juno for most promising singer in 1974, as well as a Top 5 hit in Canada called Painted Ladies, which also crossed the border into the US Top 40, strutting up to #34. Ian was the older brother of Dave Thomas of SCTV and 1/2 of the McKenzie Brothers, who had their own US hit in 1982 with Rush’s Geddy Lee called Take Off. Neither would have additional hits in America. So how many other Canadian brothers had US Top 40 hits as completely separate artists?

Painted Ladies starts out with hard funky clavinet lick and quickly mellowing with an offbeat acoustic guitar strum. Then Ian tells a story about setting off alone into the deep dark city, ignoring the streetcars and planes and the rain pounding down. What would be the cure for such loneliness and despair? Why a good old-fashioned hooker, that’s all. And a bottle of wine…wait Ian, you don’t have to get them drunk first. You just hand them some cash. But poor Ian, they took all his money, like he knew they would. That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The music and long fade out echo the melancholy and the bad times continue for Ian, missing home, getting drunker and poorer, although he insists he’s feeling fine, momma. What a hoser!

The Entertainer by Marvin Hamlisch (MCA, 1974)

It’s very easy to just to dismiss Marvin Hamlisch as just another one hit wonder. But my man’s got an EGOT (tracy Jordan knows what Im taking about) – an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Only 11 people in the world have EGOTs. Marvin became the 6th in 1995. He’s also the only musician to win 3 Oscars in one year. And he did it with 2 different soundtracks – The Way We Were and The Sting. Marvin was hot in 1974. So much so that his version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer made the Top #3 in May of 1974. [Billy Joel made the Top 40 later that year with an original song called The Entertainer, which nearly killed his career.]

No seemed to mention or care that the song The Entertainer was originally a ragtime classic that was already out of the date by the 30s, when the film, The Sting took place. It would be akin to setting a Vietnam war movie with a soundtrack of Ice Ice Baby & I’m Too Sexy. So how did that anachronistic song get recorded for the film?

Well, as you may know or may not know, in the early 70s there was a ragtime or m ore importantly a Scott Joplin revival, spearheaded by the release of conductor and musicologist Joshua Rifkin’s Scott Joplin: Piano Rags release on LP in 1970. They sold very well and a few more volumes were released. This new-found appreciation must have kick started an idea to capitalize on the trend with MCA Records or maybe the studio that was releasing The Sting. They probably figured that people wouldn’t care and what the hell? – let’s rewrite musical history and sell a few LPs.

I always loved the song as a kid mostly cause it sounded like something Bugs Bunny would have danced to. Plus it has all of those quirky breakdowns with piccolos and tubas. It sounded like a carnival, which is probably why ice cream trucks play the tune sometimes. Mostly though, they play the Ice Cream Man song (not the one by Van Halen). Imagine how funny it sounded on American Top 40 surrounded by Dancing Machine by Jackson 5 and The Locomotion by Grand Funk. Then again maybe it fit right in.

Marvin also co-wrote the Bond theme to The Spy Who Loved Me, Nobody Does It Better sung by Carly Simon as well as writing the music to the musical, A Chorus Line, which ran for over 6000 Broadway performances.

The Entertainer

Rock Me Gently by Andy Kim (Capitol, 1974)

Andy Kim was racking up some hits in the late 60s into the decade’s turn. As a performer he hit the top 10 with a cover of Baby I Love You, but it was his co-write of the Archies’ Sugar Sugar that brought him those bags of dough. And it was the #1 hit of 1969. Where was our mind that year? Nevertheless he was gaining a following with a blonde surfer boy image. Instead the folks who saw him live were treated to the sight of a swarthy Canadian Jew. Andy realized that he needed to make his music & image align as one.

So after several years away from the music industry, Andy wrote a song with a deeper vocal that still retained some of that bubblegum flavor. He used his own money and went into the studio to cut it. It sounded so good to Andy that rather than record something else for the B-side, he saved his money and released the 45 with an instrumental version of his new tune. He formed his own record label, Ice Records, and released his song, Rock Me Gently. Someone at Capitol Records heard it, picked it up and pushed the tune until it was #1 on September 28, 1974. It was the third single whose title began with ‘Rock’ to hit #1 that year (none of the three were rock…discuss).

Andy was back on his way. But after a #28 showing for his follow-up, Fire, Baby I’m On Fire, Andy disappeared. Maybe we should have seen it coming. I think Andy got too close to exposing the real truth about who rocks who gently and why. And it has nothing to do with that funky ass clavinet solo.

I am not into conspiracy theories. I find them interesting at times, but most of them have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese at Pebble Beach. Nevertheless I have several gay friends tell me separately that this song is Andy’s veiled attempt at coming out. The first time I heard that, I laughed. The second time I heard it, I said, yeah, someone else mentioned that. The third time I heard it, I said, explain it to me. I sure hope I don’t ruin this song for those who love to sing along with its innocent charm. But what I’m about to tell you came from multiple sources. I’ll try to be sensitive.

Rock Me Gently was code for men being intimate with each other for the first time. Is this true? I don’t know. But when Andy disappeared after 1974, he returned with a new name – Baron Longfellow. He didn’t do himself any favors. Let’s check out the lyrics.

Ain’t it good? Ain’t it right
That you are with me here tonight?
The music playing, our bodies swayin’ in time

Well, I guess that could go either way, as in it could be any 2 couples.

Touching you so warm and tender
Lord, I feel such a sweet surrender
Beautiful is the dream that makes you mine

Still the same. Although the sweet surrender could be his giving in to his true self.

Rock me gently. Rock me slowly
Take it easy. Don’t you know
That I have never been loved like this before

Well, hello! I think we know where they got the notion. If Andy didn’t mean it, he sure opened it up for interpretation and adoption.

Again I have no idea if this is true. But a friend of mine once told me, the best place to hide something dirty is behind something sweet.

Waterloo by ABBA (Atlantic, 1974)

We had 4 8-tracks that get rotated in our van when I was a kid: Cat Stevens Greatest Hits, Saturday Night Fever, ABBA’s Greatest Hits & Greatest Hits Vol. 2. We had other 8-tracks, but those would be played over & over until the tape was see-through. (I still have a few of them in a box.) Outside of the radio, these tapes were our main source of music. This lasted from 1978-1983. For that reason I have memories of this music well into the 80s.

ABBA releases, especially, were completely out of whack with my timeline, outside of Dancing Queen, which was huge. Playing SOS or Mamma Mia in 1981 did not seem unhip or out of place to me. I could go from hearing the Human League on Z100 to playing something like Waterloo in the tape deck without it seeming weird. I never felt like I was listening to 70s music as much as I was listening to a sound. Any time I listened to ABBA, I felt like I was in a European village after a long trip through the countryside, a world away from by suburban life.

I don’t have a distinct memory on how ABBA stacked up against the hits of its time, but I’m guessing Waterloo really stuck when it was released. It had a very catchy chorus and it kind rocked. And we still weren’t used to hearing women rock yet even if it was on a glam pop record. This song had won the 1974 Eurovision Song contest and was slowly making its way around the world. Even though the two couples had recorded an album together, this was the first single to be credited to ABBA rather than the wordy and less-catchy Bjorn & Benny, Anna & Frida.

ABBA had set the US has their goal for world domination. But they were handicapped by not knowing or speaking English very well. They actually hired Neil Sedaka & Phil Cody to translate a few songs from their first LP in English and then learned how to sing them phonetically. This may be why we got song from them called Ring Ring, Honey Honey, Money Money Money and I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

So you would think that Waterloo would make as much sense as a fortune cookie written by a Russian 4-year old. But they do a pretty good job, better than a lot of English-speaking songwriters out there. Can you sing me the first line of the chorus?

It’s:
Waterloo – I was defeated, you won the war

Never knew that was the line. I always thought it was I was defeating you on the road.

I also like the fact that she (they) are comparing the reluctance of falling in love to a 19th century French bloodbath. Whereas Napoleon’s Waterloo was his crushing defeat in battle, her ‘waterloo’ is finally letting some dude knock her boots. By the way the phrase is used as in one’s defeat after one has been successful, such as Francis Ford Coppola met his Waterloo by filming The Godfather Part III. In this context then, the song makes no sense.

But I digress…it’s fun. And who can forget that video…. ABBA was built to entertain, so just enjoy…

Here’s the homage from Muriel’s Wedding...

Eres Tu (Touch The Wind) by Mocedades (Tara, 1974)

I remember walking into an ethnic restaurant in the Mid Island Plaza mall some time in the late 70s and hearing Charo sing Eres Tu and thinking what the hell is this? Not in an angry way but an intrigued yet confused way. I swore she was singing It is Two… I see, I see, It Is Two. Made prerfect sense to me and I would look forward to every Love Boat episode with Charo peering out the porthole hoping to get a lispy, barely understandable performance and quick ‘cuchi-cuchi’ from her. The story and lyrics of this song make even less sense.

Mocedades was a sextet from Bilbao, Spain, which began as a vocal trio of sisters and a handful of guitar players. They were originally names Voices & Guitars, because dammit they didn’t have time for catchy band names. They only had time to spread their upbeat folk song through the streets of Madrid. One of their demo tapes ended up in the hands of Jose Carlos Calderon, who quickly named them Mocedades, which translated means Youths, cause dammit he was too busy too.

Calderon had written a catchy little love song named You Are or in Spanish, Eres Tu, and decided to have Mocedades record it and enter it into the 1973 Eurovision song contest representing Spain. The band placed second with their performance, but the song came under fire from critics because it sounded too much like this song. There’s definitely a similarity there in the verse of Brez Besed and the chorus of Eres Tu. But no one officially called out or sued Mocedades or Calderon and in fact many current groups in Spanish & Slavic countries will do both songs as a medley.

It’s amazing that this song was hit in the U.S., as it reached the Top 10 in 1974. The group recorded an English version but DJs and the public were only interested in the full Spanish version. In fact it is to this day, the only song to make Billboard Top 10 that is fully sung in Spanish. Eres Tu succeeded as it was recorded [and many versions exist today] which is a good thing. Because once the English go involved they destroyed the song. First of all they added the Touch the Wind in parenthesis to the title, which has absolutely nothing to do with the song. It’s like having the song Bohemian Rhapsody and adding the subtitle, Crackers are Silly. To top it off the English version is a completely different song with lyrics that don’t relate or translate to the original lyrics at all. Take a listen.

Not that the originally translated Spanish lyrics are anything to write home about. This is the translated chorus:

You are like the water of my source (Something like that, you are)
You are like the fire of my home
You are like the fire of my bonfire
You are like the wheat of my bread

The wheat of my bread? Why can’t I ever write a Valentine with smooth lines like this? Now you know why we stuck with the Spanish. Next time you’re out for a drive, load this song up, sing along and wonder what Vegas would have been like if it was owned by Mexico.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet by Bachman-Turner Overdive (Mercury, 1974)

Imagine that your brother is a rock star. Imagine that he’s sold millions of records, played concerts all over the world, is adored by tons of fans. You on the other hand, have a speech impediment, one that your brother likes to make fun of. In fact he sent you a song that he wrote where he mocks you in the chorus. Real funny, you think. Until one day you hear it on the radio as his band’s next single. It climbs the charts, getting bigger & bigger until it finally hits #1 in the US & Canada. And is a worldwide smash. Your stuttering brother, making millions while making fun of you. That’s what happened to Gary Bachman, brother of musician, Randy Bachman.

In keeping with disclosure, Randy didn’t intend to release this song with his stuttering vocals. In fact it was just a scratch vocal take with all other band members just picking up their instruments and laying this song down to tape, while they were recording songs for their LP, Not Fragile. They figured why not, let’s capture the vibe. It sounded fun, and it was a good tune to run through just to warm up the fingers but it was kind of a joke.

When the album was completed, Mercury Records asked Randy if he had any other songs to record. They felt the album sounded flat. Randy reluctantly pulled You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet out of the box old recordings, but admitted that the recording wasn’t really done well. The guitars are out of tune. The vocals are all over the place. Randy admitted that they didn’t take the recording seriously and that he was stammering through the chorus as a funny gag for his brother.

But to prove that record company executives are either stubborn or cruel or savvy as hell, they told BTO that YASNY was a hit. It’s bright, fun and way better than this other Canadian wilderness rock crap that you have here.

So the band re-recorded the song but could never recapture the feel. Each take was too stiff. The magic just wasn’t there. Mercury Records said, fuck it, just put out what you have and get out on the road and promote it. Randy, figuring it would tank upon release, gave up wrestling with the mucky mucks and them put it out as a single. 2 months later, it was #1. Yay, I mean, oops, I mean…yay? I’m sure Pete Townsend wasn’t amused. [The chorus is a direct ripoff of Baba O’Riley and I’m sure Randy was wasted when he wrote this.]

Ah, who cares if it’s not AIS-approved? It’s dumb and fun, so turn it up. And remember any lovin’ is good lovin’, so take what you can get….[find a picture of Randy Bachman, and you’ll see what he means]

An aside: Former jilted partner of the Guess Who, Burton Cummings, does a great lounge version of this song on his 1976 debut solo album

TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) By MFSB (Philadelphia International, 1974)

Chicago DJ, Don Cornelius created one of the longest running musical variety shows ever on TV. In fact it’s the longest running syndicated show ever spanning 35 years. That it was a black owned, black run TV show aimed specifically for a black audience featuring soul music that crossed over into mainstream America in the 70s is nothing short of a miracle. The only African-American performers you might have seen on TV before Soul Train were limited to Harry Belafonte & Sammy Davis Jr. They gave a voice to rising soul stars like Al Green, funkers like War & Kool & the Gang, supporting veterans like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder & Aretha Franklin as they moved to the mature part of their careers. It took soul music into the living rooms of America. They created a disco group from 3 of its dancers (Shalamar) and became the show to learn the latest dance moves. American Bandstand was where you watched people dance. Soul Train was where you watched people get down.

The original theme to the show was Hot Potatoes by King Curtis, but host Don Cornelius wanted something hot & fresh & original as Soul Train’s theme. In 1973, he approached the two men who were in the midst of creating their own genre, Philly Soul. Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, the architects of the Philadelphia house of soul, where artists such as the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The Stylistics, the Spinners and many others were conquering the charts with one amazing hit after another. It made sense to Don that they would create the new theme to Soul Train.

And they did. And it should have been formally called the Soul Train theme. But Don was protective of his trademark, so when Gamble & Huff wanted to release it as single credited to the Philly Soul house band, MFSB, they changed the title to The Sound of Philadelphia (or TSOP). By all accounts it was the perfect name for the track even though Don admitted later he should have loosened up and had his Soul Train name on the record.

Nevertheless this funky instrumental went to #1 in April of 1974. It was surprisingly their only Top 40 hit, although they had lots of great jams, such as Sexy or the disco classic, Love Is The Message. And while most credit Rock The Boat as the first #1 disco single, this is the one that should have gotten the credit. If you are feeling down, this is the perfect song to lift you up. And if it doesn’t make you move, call a doctor.

Wherever you are Don, I hope you’re having a stone gas….Peace, love & soooooooul!

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night By John Lennon (Apple, 1974)

If you didn’t think John Lennon could get funky, here’s your proof. Perhaps trying to live down his rep as the serious Beatle, Lennon recorded and released this track as the first cut from his Walls & Bridges LP. He had some help from Elton John who played pianos and sang harmony vocals as well as a much needed looser Stones-like feel [probably due to Rolling Stones cohort, Bobby Keys, ripping it on sax]. Elton, who was racking up hit after hit, was convinced that the song was a #1. John didn’t think so and being the only Beatle without a #1, probably was feeling a sorry for himself as well.

Nevertheless Elton made a bet with John that if the 45 went to #1, John would have to play with Elton live at one of his shows. John figured why not. If he has a #1 song and he has to play a show with Elton John, that might actually be fun. {John didn’t do many live shows at this point, Paul too for that matter] Not sure what would have happened if the song stalled at #2 or lower. Would Elton John have to do a piano ballad about the plight of the world without smiling or outlandish costumes. Then that would’ve been a bit. Bash old Elton – only 3= years from his career-jumpstarting stint at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and here he was making records and bets with Winston O’Boogie. Must have been the coke that gave him such balls. [Winston was pseudonym John Lennon used when he played guitar o Elton’s cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, #1 in early 1975]

Here’s another reason why Lennon might have boogied a bit more those days – he was in the middle of his “lost weekend”. For us laymen that might be a night or weekend; for John it was about 18 months. John was making more headlines getting drunk with Ringo & Harry Nilsson (and occasionally, Bobby Keys) than he was making music. Walls & Bridges was created in the middle of this debauchery and within a another year, he would reunite with Yoko Ono, put music on hold and raise his son, Sean.

On November 28th, John made good on his word and joined Elton on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York and played 3 songs: Whatever…, Lucy… and I Saw Her Standing There. It was his last public appearance on stage and in 6 short years from that concert, Lennon would be gone.