Walking In Rhythm by The Blackbyrds (Fantasy, 1975)

The BlackByrds were a 5 piece band formed by jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd at Howard University in Washington DC who hand picked music majors as an experiment of sorts to see how they could learn to play and support themselves and learn about the music industry. As their teacher, mentor and producer, Byrd guided the band through 6 successful LPs between 1974 – 1977 on the Fantasy label. George Duke produced their final LP Better Days in 1980. Their soulful jazz fusion sound has been sampled countless times in addition to being very influential to the early 80s Brit-funk movement.

Their biggest single, Walking In Rhythm, was released in early 1975. Written by their guitarist Barney Perry, it was a Top 10 pop, soul and adult contemporary hit as well as a #23 on the UK charts.

And damn if its not the cheeriest thing you are gonna hear today? It even has a little ‘ham n eggs’ flute solo in the middle. (What other decade is gonna give you that?) The song has a simple message – a guy is trying to get home to his ‘baby’ – that’s it. The timing of this release couldn’t have been better as most of our Vietnam troops were finally coming back to the States. How many of those soldiers heard a song like this, clutched it to their heart and role it until their long Stateside hug.

I have always had visions on hearing this song standing in the garden room of a house with huge windows as the morning sunlight  shines through. Then stepping into into a backyard with a freshly cut lawn smelling the sweet magnolia as its in bloom. That actually happened as a kid or I dreamed it.

Another thing – what is this singer walking in rhythm to? I guess ‘his song’, but what song? What if it was Angie Baby or Billy Don’t Be A Hero? Would it matter? Ask a Blackbyrd and find out…

 

Advertisements

Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman (Cash, 1975)

dgmj45

The nostalgia for the 50s that became popular once again in the early to mid 70s brought us many cultural phenomena during that decade: sock hops, Happy Days, Grease, American Graffiti, even Wolfman Jack. A curious by-product of this retro look at a simpler time was created by a man named Dickie Goodman. In 1956, he created the first cut-in record when he released with Bill Buchanan (as Buchanan & Goodman), The Flying Saucer Part 1 & 2. It hit #3 and was the biggest hit of his career. He would only hit the Top 10 once more, almost 20 years later, with Mr. Jaws. But what is exactly is a cut-in record?

A cut-in record or break-in, as some call it, was a technique created by some fooling by Dickie & Bill and was an early precursor to sampling, albeit in a roundabout way. Dickie’s cut-in record records had a simple formula. One person would be a reporter, such as a TV anchor or on-the-scene broadcaster. They would ask the person with whom they were speaking a question, in which the response would be a piece of a popular song. The subject would always be something very current as would the song response. Flying saucers and the promise of space travel were a big curiosity in the 50s. Jaws, the movie, was an unprecedented Summer blockbuster in 1975, so much so that even the John Williams duh-nuh duh-nuh duh-nuh theme made the Top 40.

Back then, media backlash or spoof wasn’t nearly as instantaneous as it is now. Outside of Saturday Night Live, which debuted in the late 1975, all you had was a novelty artist like Ray Stevens or Dickie Goodman. Jaws became so popular so fast, it was only a matter of time. (SNL eventually got their chance too, with the classic Candygram sketch).

If you never heard this 45 before, you may not understand why it’s so funny. I thought it was hilarious, the first time I heard on the Dr. Demento show. I would sit around with my friends huddled by a little tape recorder playing and rewinding the song over and over anticipating each song response as if it were the funniest punchline in the world. Dickie interviews Mr. Jaws, Brody, Hooper and Capt Quint and finishes up with the shark who eats finally eats Dickie and pulls him underwater.

They don’t make songs like this anymore for 2 big reasons. The first being that in the early 80s, radio stations began broadcasting ‘morning zoos’ which pump up out a few parody pieces a day, quicker, funnier and sometimes racier. The second reason has to do with sampling itself. Damn those artists who wanted publishing and songwriting credits for using pieces of their material in someone elses. What was once an aural collage became thievery, with precedents set in the legal system (look up Biz Markie V. Gilbert O’Sullivan or Beastie Boys V. Jimmy Castor) Which makes a record like this, ‘written’ by Dickie Goodman a rarity in itself.

SPOILER ALERT – Here’s a list of the records that Dickie samples, none of which received a dime for the over 1 million sales of this 45:

Theme From ‘Jaws’ by John Williams
Dynomite by Bazuka [which was a sample of sorts of Jimmie Walker]
Please Mr. Please by Olivia Newton-John
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) by James Taylor
Why Can’t We Be Friends by War
Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band
The Hustle by Van McCoy
Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain & Tennille
Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell
One Of These Nights by Eagles
Jive Talkin’ by Bee Gees
I’m Not in Love by 10cc
Midnight Blue by Melissa Manchester

(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Someone Done Somebody Wrong Song by B.J. Thomas (ABC, 1975)

bjthey45

The born-again Christian phenomena, although it still exists today, was a uniquely 70s experience. A generation that took every drug imaginable combined with search for self-fulfillment went completely out of control as the decade wore on and needed something or someone to help them get their shit straight. Why not bow down, admit you’re lowly and give in to a higher power? You could call yourself a ‘born again’ and start a new life with a new family and pretend that you weren’t snorting lines off of a teenage prostitute’s ass at behind a truck stop in Des Moines just a few months earlier. Plus you could help all of those other wayward sinners without the realization that you were a hypocrite, mostly because you turned off 99% of your brain.

B.J. Thomas was a popular singer who would pop out a Top 10 hit every few years since his cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry back in 1966. And once he had his first #1, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, he added some wealth to his fame. But by the time ‘Wrong Song‘ hit #1 in late April 1975, he was on the verge of going broke.

You see Billy Joe was pushing those royalty checks up his nose and into his veins and chasing the dragon. In fact by making ‘Wrong Song‘ a Gold-certified 45, we probably kept that junkie life going for him a little longer. But broke and busted B.J. did what many out of control hedonists did and gave himself up to Jesus and the Myrrh record label. That is usually the kiss of death for an artist, but sometimes it does allow you cross over to the more forgiving Country chart, which he did in the late 70s/early 80s. Luckily for him, he planted the seeds to that new career here with this song.

The ‘Wrong Song’ was the song with the longest official title to ever hit #1 and it eventually sailed to top in Nashville as well. With its soft shuffle and perfectly in its place steel guitar solo, lots of folks dropped a dime in the jukebox to hear it and proceeded to stare into their mug of Schaefer. Or sashay onto the floor with a stranger to ease the pain of missing their baby. (In a perfect world, Please Mr. Please would have been on the B-side) Good to know that a percentage of that dough went to B.J. hanging out with Captain Jack.

I like to break this out at a karaoke bar after a bunch of drunk girls get finished slurring and screaming Love Shack. It doesn’t just bring the mood down. It usually gets those girls to leave, so they can get home safely. When I sing it, my mind wanders back to the 2nd floor of the J.C. Penney’s in Bay Shore, standing in line at the customer service department with my Grandma, restless and fidgety, until the opening guitar strum and Billy Joe soothingly lets us know it’s lonely out tonight…..

Lovin’ You by Minnie Riperton (Epic, 1975)

mrly45

When I was younger, I had a good-size backyard to run around in. My parents put the stereo speakers in the windows of one of our bedrooms and would open them up while playing music, so that I would have soundtrack to all of my backyard adventures. A song like Lovin’ You was especially welcome while I was outside. It felt like Minnie was singing around me wherever I ran and the birds were chirping just overhead. Listening to Minnie’s voice and Stevie’s electric piano was like taking a long warm bath. And no wonder it was comforting to me as a child, for Minnie originally came up with the tune as a lullaby for her daughter, Maya.

In fact, we were lucky to ever hear of Minnie Riperton at all. This song was written and recorded by Minnie & husband, Richard Rudolph at the last minute (which we all know is a recipe for success – see half of the #1s of all time). It was 4th single released from the 1974 LP, Perfect Angel and only got that release after a few soft rock station reported airplay on it. Cause Lovin’ You wasn’t really a song that typified Minnie’s style, save for the high octave singing. She could go from rock to soul to jazz to pop, which didn’t help get a foothold in any of those genres.

After a brief stint in the 60s psychedelic soul band, Rotary Connection and a 1970 solo LP, Come To My Garden, Minnie spent her time raising two kids rather than actively pursue a longer music career. The story goes that an intern at Epic Records her a demo of Minnie’s and brought it to the label head’s attention. They tracked her down in Florida and asked her if she’d like to record an album for them. So she packed up the family, moved to L.A. and recorded Perfect Angel. The album was out for 7 months before Lovin’ You got released and eventually hit #1, fittingly in the first week of April.

That was the lucky part, and as you know luck never goes anywhere without timing. Minnie was diagnosed with breast cancer only 8 months after her #1 hit and told she had only 6 months to live. She laughed in the her doctor’s face and lived another 3 1/2 years, touring and releasing 3 more LPs, gathering a legion of fans who reveled her smooth soul-jazz which would be rediscovered by the UK soul-jazz scene of the late 80s & 90s and by the hip-hop community who generously sample her recordings. Ali Shaheed Muhammed, DJ of A Tribe Called Quest has used many of her songs on their recordings. And we all know Mariah Carey has tried to base her career off of imitating Minnie’s vocal range. But as Minnie would so eloquently put it in her song,’ no one else can make me feel the colors that you bring…

Judy Mae by Boomer Castleman (Mums, 1975)

bcjm45

The Lewis & Clarke Expedition were a duo in the late 60s that minor success on the charts. But everyone knew that for this duo that sum was far less greater than its parts. So the pair broke up and the Earth shook for 5 years until they both had pop success in 1975. And while Micheal Murphey sang a song about a dead girlfriend, a runaway horse and a loud ass owl, Boomer Castleman decided to keep it simple and write a song about banging his stepmom. Yes. He did. It peaked, I mean, climaxed, I mean found its highest position at #33 in the Summer of 1975, about the same time Sammy Johns was driving his Chevy rape van from town to town. What the hell were you adults doing? You need to pay some of my doctors bills.

I cannot think of a creepier song to hit the Top 40. I don’t know how Casey Kasem didn’t just start vomiting when he had to back announce it on his weekly show. Basically the plot is this: A kid’s mom dies and his dad immediately marries again to someone half his age. I’m figuring the dad was a salesman or Jehovah’s witness, cause he travels a lot which makes Judy Mae lonely (translated: horny) She tells her stepson this and prods him to get it on with her. Now as the kid tells the story, he is remembering his first time and admits this to her.

Let me stop for a second. A dude’s stepmom comes up to him and says I want you to bang me and his response is ‘gee, I’m not sure how because I haven’t before.’ I understand there’s a lot of websites now dedicated to this one video premise, but that does not make it right or not slimy.

Anyway they bang and they hear a noise outside, which after his dad dies in an accident 2 days later gets ol Boomer thinking, in retrospect, mind you. Hmmmmm, maybe dad saw me bang his wife, my mom. I wonder if he was mad. Never mind that his reaction would be to kill himself. Was his dad Willy Loman? All of this is sung and written without shame, disgrace or remorse. In fact the chorus is the loudest most energetic part of the song.

Judy Mae, she sure had a way of looking out for me
Yeah her eyes would sparkle and shine every time papa got ready to leave

So right there he’s admitting that it wasn’t one foolish moment. They were bangin’ every time papa hit the road to sell vacuums. Now remember, Boomer is also leaving a lot to the imagination. Your filthy mind is filling in the pictures. Are you thinking Judy Mae looked like Misty Rowe from Hee Haw? She could have well looked like Lulu Roman. Maybe that’s what Boomer was thinking. Maybe the wind came from Lulu. I have no problem with sexy songs. But this one is just skeeeevy, like a bad runaway/prison/retarded uncle/carpeted van movie of the week happening in real life.

Anyway this song caused quite a stir back in the day Listen to this station in TN play the song and take caller feedback on Boomer’s aural Hustler forum letter. You’ll definitely need a shower….

The Rockford Files by Mike Post (MGM, 1975)

If I ever make a bucket list, one thing I’m afraid will never get scratched off would be: write a TV theme song. This is mostly for 2 reasons – 1. TV shows rarely have themes these days (don’t wanna take away from that precious advertising time) and 2. I’m not Mike Post. Yes I know that Mike didn’t write every title song on TV. But he wrote just about every one that you remember and sing in the shower. That is, if most of them had words. I guess a lot of the time you’re just going ‘duh-nah-nuh da-nah-nuh, da-nah-nuh-nah-nuh, dan-nah-nuh’ That’s supposed to be the theme to Hill Street Blues which was Mike’s 2nd Top 10. The Rockford Files was his first.

Many don’t know that Mike had already won a Grammy before he ever got into theme show writing. In 1968, he won one for arranging Mason Williams’ Classical Gas, which he also produced. Mason was the head writer of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, so really Mike broke into the music & TV worlds at the same time. This led to a stint as the musical director for the Andy Williams Show. And I’m sure once he heard how lousy that them was, he knew what his calling would be. His destiny was made even clearer when he met Pete Carpenter, who had written the themes to Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show. (stop whistling, I’m telling a story here). Pete, a trombonist, was 30 years older than Mike, but he saw some raw talent in him and took him under his wing.

Their first theme show gig was for a crime drama named Toma in 1973, which only lasted one season. When that show was cancelled two important things happened. One was that the show was retooled and relaunched as a Robert Blake comeback vehicle named Baretta, with a theme written by Dave Grusin. The second was that during a writer’s strike while filming Toma, a new character and show was created during a hiatus. The character was Jim Rockford and the show was The Rockford Files. So when Toma got the axe, writer Steven J. Cannell (you know who is because at the end of his shows during the end credits and types something on a typewriter, pulls it out and it floats into a Stephen J. Cannell Production title card) moved on to his new project and already asked Post & Carpenter to come up with a new theme song about a gruff unorthodox ex-con private investigator. obviously inspired by that description, Post wrote that awesome Minimoog riff, which is as 70s as it was recognizable, not to mention being offset by a bluesy harmonica counter riff and on the 45 version, a nice little solo by Larry Carlton. The idea was to get the viewer’s attention when this came in and it sure did. The Rockford Files was a hit on TV for 6 seasons.

Mike & Pete won a Grammy for Best Instrumental performance and Mike had the chance to release it as part on his 1975 LP, Railhead Overture. The song hit the Top 10, a year after the show debuted. It would be Mike’s biggest solo hit, but the biggest hit he ever wrote. That would be The Greatest American Hero by Joey Scarbury in 1981, which reached #2. Mike & Pete collaborated until Pete’s death in 1987. You can view the list of themes here.

But that’s nothing compared to the gig which probably pays for everything in his life including his retirement. When he was asked to write the theme to a show called Law & Order, he was probably hoping it would last a few years. Over 900 episodes later, spread over 5 shows in the franchise, a TV movie and 5 video games, Mike is indeed a very rich man. And the King of TV show themes.

It’s A Miracle by Barry Manilow (Arista, 1975)

It’s funny that Barry Manilow is known as a singer/songwriter. Because his most of his hits have been written by other people, including his 3 #1 hits. I Write The Songs? No, Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys wrote that. Barry only sang the songs that made most of the world, at least in the late 70s, sing. In fact in took a while for even that to happen.

Barry had recorded and released his first LP in 1973 with not much fanfare. Then in 1974 he released Barry Manilow II and still not much happened until the record company released Barry’s cover of an obscure Scott English tune called Brandy. Not wanting to confuse folks and think he covered the former Looking Glass #1, he changed it to Mandy and had his own #1. And millions of expecting parents had a new name for their daughter.

Barry definitely had a knack for finding the odd song or unknown songwriter and helping them with a royalty check or two. But he also did write some good ones himself. My favorite has always been It’s A Miracle . (for the record, 9 years later, Culture Club did not change their song to It’s a Biracle. That was a Barry thing.) It’s a not a ballad, so that’s a good start. (Personally I think we all got tired of those over the top, key change, reverb-to-the-max snare hit slow songs he started to churn out.) It’s a about as rocking as he would get but it also has a nice Philly Soul vibe to it. In fact I could totally see The Spinners doing it in concert. And it’s a great tune to do live, cause he can name check your specific town, as the town between Boston & Denver. Of course the song is about life on the road playing to folks like yourselves sucks. But hey don’t let that spoil your evening. The miracle is you!

Dig that sparkly purple sweater and how much Lady Flash is getting into it…

Here’s a version Barry did with Ray Charles on his second TV special in 1977:

One Of These Nights by the Eagles (Asylum, 1975)

It’s always so much easier to pinpoint the exact moment when a band goes from successful to superstars when you’re looking back in hindsight. But in the moment, The Eagles had to know that their album One Of These Nights was going to take them to the next level. Released on the heels of their first #1 single, Best Of My Love, the LP’s title track followed suit, hitting the pea for back to back Number Ones. You couldn’t have Hotel California if you didn’t have One Of These Nights. It wouldn’t have made any sense. That’s why this transition LP was an all-or-nothing move by the band.

The Eagles had released 3 albums and were trying to break away from country rock they were still associated with. They asked guitarist, Don Felder, to be a part of the band and his solos immediately gave them a harder edge. His solo especially on One Of These Nights is really the icing on this 45’s cake. They also brought in the vowel challenged, Bill Szymczyk, to start producing their LPs, which was a smart move because he knew how to make a song smooth and rough and he was always challenging the band to explore new styles. How else to explain the R&B influence of OOTN? With that ever familiar bass lick intro and a These Eyes-styled guitar hit, they sound like the Ohio Players warming up for a gig. This was the band that sang Desperado and Already Gone? They were definitely done riding fences, unless that was some groupie’s nickname.

The song was one of only 3 on the LP with Don Henley on vocals. He sang the verses while Randy Meisner sang the high part on the chorus. And although it’s one of the few Eagles songs I don’t turn off if it comes on the radio, the lyrics kinda suck. The production, the performance, the new energy from Felder all mask some retreaded couplets:

One of these nights
One of these crazy old nights
We’re gonna find out, pretty mama
What turns on your lights
The full moon is calling. The fever is high
And the wicked wind whispers and moans

You got your demons.You got desires
Well, I got a few of my own

No offense, but this sounds like the bad ideas that didn’t make it into Witchy Woman.

One of these dreams
One of these lost and lonely dreams
We’re gonna find one, one that really screams.

We’re gonna find a dream that screams? I believe that’s called a nightmare.

I’ve been searching for the daughter of the devil himself
I’ve been searching for an angel in white
I’ve been waiting for a woman who’s a little of both
And I can feel her but she’s nowhere in sight

This sounds like some crazy ass, Charles Manson, stalker shit. Plus it sounds like this dude isn’t too picky on the chics

Ooh, loneliness will blind you in between the wrong and the right

Is there any logic in that sentence? I’m sober right now, so the answer would be no.

Ooh, coming right behind you
Swear I’m gonna find you one of these nights

And when he does, I hope you have some pepper spray.

Emma by Hot Chocolate (Big Tree, 1975)

There’s a scene in the 1997 movie, The Full Monty, where Dave & Gaz are thumbing the LPs in an abandoned warehouse, trying to find some music to try to strip to. The pile of records is pretty worthless until they come across “Hot Chocolate! Now you’re talking…” They proceed to put the track, You Sexy Thing on and Gaz clumsily tries dancing and taking his clothes off. That’s how we mostly remember Hot Chocolate, fun even a little goofy, but always a guaranteed good time for all. That’s because we’ve blocked out Emma, which was their breakthrough US hit in 1975, reaching #8. Emma is not fun, goofy and no one ever had a good time listening to this song.

The interracial London band, Hot Chocolate, had been racking up hits in the UK since 1970. The NY band, Stories, took a cover of their Brother Louie up to #1 in the US in 1973. They were definitely poised to break in the States and thought they had the perfect song to do it: Emma. They right of course, or just cocky. How did they think a song about her a woman who commits suicide be a ticket to American Bandstand?

The song starts out with a slowed down Philly soul style drum and an organ low in the mix. Then a guitar line that feels like scissors cutting thick paper, with a couple of string echoing note for note. Right in the first 20 seconds before a word is even sung, you know this is not going to end well. Lead singer, Errol Brown, starts off We were together since we were five. She was so pretty. Emma was a star in everyone’s eyes., and you can already hear the pain in his voice. You know what’s gonna happen. You can feel right off the top that Errol is eulogizing little Emmaline. I can’t take it. But I keep listening. [I always intrigued by these spooky little songs as a kid.]

Anyway the gist of the song is that Emma wanted to be actress. She gets married at 17, and is constantly depressed because she can never get a role in a play. One December night (cause a holiday death is always worse), he comes home to find her dead in their bedroom with a suicide note on the bed.

Now I know why I keep listening to the song. Errol break down after reading the note, screaming her name over and over. It’s heart wrenching. Can you imagine going to your prom in 1975 and the DJ puts this 45 on? Man we sure were into tragic female death songs back in 1975. With songs like Emma, Run Joey Run & Rocky, the Top 10 felt an episode of CSI.

Check this out: During the week that this peaked at #8, Barry White was at #9 with What Am I Gonna Do With You. Talk about your highs and lows. Casey Kasem must’ve had fun that week.

Anyway this goes without saying, but I will anyway. Need your party to end early? Have some guests that would leave? Time for some Emma by Hot Chocolate…now you’re talking!

My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli (Private Stock, 1975)

Kenny Nolan was a struggling songwriter for many years. He fortunes changed dramatically when he hooked up with producer Bob Crewe in 1973. Crewe was most famous for producing and co-writing hits for the Four Seasons. So naturally when the two got together they pitched a song to the Four Seasons to help them get back on the charts. The group recorded it but their label, MoWest rejected it and sent them packing, but not before they sold the song back to Frankie Valli, who knew he had a smash on his hands. Believe it or not, the guys behind Sherry, Rag Doll, Candy Girl and other huge 60s hits were rejected by tons of labels. Until one day Frankie found the small start-up label, Private Stock Records was willing to take a chance and release it. The only catch was that they wanted Frankie to release it as a solo single.

Frankie relented and put it out and in March of 1975, he had his first #1 solo single. Not only that the sound of Frankie’s voice on the radio prompted the Four Seasons to reform and record an album and all of a sudden, Frankie was juggling two careers. Things got crazy for Nolan too, who had his Get Dancing by Disco Tex hit the Top 10 in February of 1975, and then had My Eyes Adored You replaced at #1 by another Crewe/Nolan composition, Lady Marmalade. A hot 1975 for all!

The song is a very touching ballad sung in retrospect by a guy who remembers a crush he had on a girl in the 5th grade, the girl he left behind to head for the city lights. But I always have to laugh at the opening couplet:

My eyes adored you
Though I never laid my hands on you

Sounds like the guy is giving a confessional on Law & Order. Dude you were in the 6th grade. What were you expecting to have happen? Is this a statement or a warning?

Another one of my favorite lines is:

Walking home every day
Over Barnegat Bridge and Bay

First of all, until I sang karaoke I know no idea what the line was. Second, that line is incredibly awkward, but Frankie handles it smoothly. Third and most important, where the hell did these kids live? They had to cross a 1200 ft long bridge to an isolated peninsula on their way home, every day? And he was carrying her books too. No wonder only his eyes adored her. He was probably too tired to do anything else anyway.

One additional fact about Frankie Valli. He suffered from otosclerosis, which is an abnormal growth of a bone in the inner ear, which leads to hearing loss. He was nearly deaf by the mid-70s , until surgery helped him regain his hearing. Up until this song he was singing from memory. This may have been one of his recordings where he could actually hear the music he was singing along with.