I’ll tell you one thing about today’s guest Chart Attacker: the man knows music. A prolific writer for Bullz-Eye, West Coast Performer and his own blog (to name a few), Michael Fortes is the kind of guy that could find tons of fascinating nuggets about any artist imaginable. If you haven’t read his utterly comprehensive Popdose Guide to Ornette Coleman, you’re missing out; check out his previous Idiot’s Guides to Minnie Ripperton, Chicago, and — holy shit — Slayer, all available on his site The Front Parlour. Show us the joys of March 1975, Michael!
This week on CHART ATTACK!, we’re taking a trip back to the center of a decade infamous for questionable pop music. Yes, we’re back to the ’70s again â€“ more specifically, the week-ending March 22, 1975.
It’s interesting to note the huge, canonical classics many of us were enjoying back in 1975: Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Queen’s A Night at the Opera, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night â€¦ OK, the latter was not a huge seller, I admit, but it was a critical success and a fan favorite, and to this day it remains the easiest Neil Young album to find on newly-pressed vinyl in any reputable record store that sells new LP pressings. The point is, the ’70s weren’t a complete musical wasteland, and never were. And this chart isn’t a complete wasteland either, though it’s far from what I’d call an entirely pleasurable listen, as it’s filled with reminders of greater past glories and gross injustices.
It’s worth noting that, besides the one song actually in the number one slot, four other songs on this week’s chart either had spent time at the top, or would do so later.
It’s also worth noting that I was less than two years away from being born when this chart was first generated. Now, that might seem to make me unqualified to comment, but the reality is this: just like many other younger folks, I was exposed to all of these songs at one time or another from birth to the present via the same channels as those who were there: radio, records and tapes, and sometimes TV too. So much so, in fact, that it feels like I might as well have been there. But I wasn’t, and maybe it was for the best. There’s far more of a coolness factor in being able to proclaim you were born the year Elvis Presley died and “Elvis Costello” entered the public consciousness. Not that I’ve ever been cool or anything, but stillâ€¦
Anyway, on with the dissection of March 22, 1975!
10. Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – Sugarloaf/Jerry Corbetta Amazon iTunes
9. No No Song/Snookeroo – Ringo Starr Amazon iTunes
8. Poetry Man – Phoebe Snow Amazon iTunes
7. You Are So Beautiful – Joe Cocker Amazon iTunes
6. Express – B.T. Express Amazon iTunes
5. Have You Never Been Mellow – Olivia Newton-John Amazon iTunes
4. Black Water – The Doobie Brothers Amazon iTunes
3. Lovin’ You – Minnie Ripperton Amazon iTunes
2. Lady Marmalade – LaBelle Amazon iTunes
1. My Eyes Adored You – Frankie Valli Amazon iTunes
10. Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – Sugarloaf/Jerry Corbetta (download)
Though I don’t particularly like the designation, I’ve always lumped Sugarloaf into that hokey “one-hit wonder” category, in spite of the fact that their second album for Liberty Records, Spaceship Earth, wasn’t half bad and was as decent a follow-up to their debut album (Sugarloaf, with the awesome B3-powered single “Green Eyed Lady”) that we ever could have hoped for. Why? Well, for one, “Green Eyed Lady” is the only song anybody remembers from Sugarloaf. Secondly, their other hit, “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” doesn’t count on a technicality. It’s credited to “Sugarloaf/Jerry Corbetta.” As if singling out Jerry Corbetta would somehow make a song wholly dependent on the instantly identifiable guitar riff from the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” more marketable? So where’s that solo career, huh?
The song does make a valid point, though, in that record company stakeholders giving a band the cold shoulder for sounding too much like the Beatles also didn’t really make much sense, especially when the individual Beatles themselves were regularly placing hits on the charts throughout the 1970s (there’s a Beatle on this very chart, as a matter of fact). What’s more, any song addressing the inability to convince potential employers to call you back is bound to resonate with, oh, just about anybody who has ever had to pay their own way in life. Still, this does not diminish the fact that “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” has faded from our collective consciousness. If it weren’t for Barry Scott’s The Lost 45s weekly radio extravaganza, I never would have known of this song’s existence.
Sugarloaf was over and done with not long after “Don’t Call Us” ended its run on the charts. Jerry Corbetta resurfaced five years later, singing and playing keyboards with the group fronted by the guy holding down the number one slot on this week’s chart.
9. No No Song/Snookeroo – Ringo Starr
Speaking of Beatles, here we have one of the ever adorable Ringo Starr’s more comical novelty hits. And here’s a little dose of irony for you: Ringo was actually quite fond of the bottle following the breakup of the Beatles (as if you couldn’t have guessed). He may have been on record saying “no no no no,” but in ’75, he was still years away from rehab.
Best part of the song: “I said, ‘no no no no, I don’t [make sniffing noise here] no more.'” There have been plenty of big hit songs over the years that make mention of cocaine (the Capitol recording of Frank Sinatra’s “I Get a Kick out of You,” Buckcherry’s “Lit Up,” and of course Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine,” to name a few), but this might be the only one where you can hear the singer actually making the sound one associates with doing some blow.
Second best part of the song: “â€¦then he held out some moonshine whiskey, oh ho / He said it was the best in all the land [background voice that sounds an awful lot like Ringo shouts in response, ‘and he wasn’t joking either!’]” Ah, Ringo. Always good for a laugh! This one never gets old. Nor does the biggest hit written by the song’s author, the late Hoyt Axton. Remember “Joy To The World” by Three Dog Night?
The b-side to the “No No Song,” “Snookeroo,” apparently charted concurrently, though it was curiously left off of Ringo’s best-of collection Blast From Your Past, released later in the year. It’s an Elton John/Bernie Taupin co-write, and again, just some harmless fun. And though this b-grade Elton tune suits Ringo just fine, it’s no match for the comical novelty of “No No Song.” No no way. Disagree? So does John Soeder at Cleveland.com, where he shows “Snookeroo” some love.
Here’s a clip of Ringo singing the “No No Song” with the Smothers Brothers. The “he wasn’t joking” exclamation is excluded, but the cop bit after the song makes up for it:
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8. Poetry Man – Phoebe Snow (download)
That old clichÃ© about singing the phone book was made for artists like Phoebe Snow, but she was always at her best when singing the kind of rootsy pop music typified by “Poetry Man.” Can’t really knock this one at all. But I can say this: it was a zany girl in my dorm during sophomore year in college who got me hooked on Ms. Snow. I have no idea what became of Kate, but I never forgot the day she played me her Best of Phoebe Snow cassette after educating me on Phoebe’s other career as a singer of ad jingles for TV commercials. “Poetry Man” was Phoebe’s first hit single, and remains her signature tune to this day, having been covered numerous times over the years (most recently by Queen Latifah on last year’s Travelin’ Light).
One particularly sobering bit of information I dug up put Phoebe’s entire career in perspective, and partially explained why none of her subsequent work ever matched “Poetry Man” and its accompanying album, Phoebe Snow. In December of ’75, Phoebe gave birth to her daughter Valerie. Normally a birth is considered a positive life-changing event, but in Phoebe’s case, it was sort of tragic. Valerie was born with severe brain damage, and Phoebe’s efforts to care for Valerie over the years prevented her from making as much music as we would have liked, at the quality she showed us was possible from day one. This also explains the detour into singing for TV commercials and guesting on other artists’ records and tours for so long that the nine original albums she released over the past 34 years seem like a just another set of pleasant diversions. Valerie died almost exactly one year ago (March 18, 2007) at the age of 31. And the artist at number three on this chart lived the same short number of years. (Yes, I will be depressing you again a little later on.)
7. You Are So Beautiful – Joe Cocker
I’ve never fully understood the appeal of Joe Cocker. To me, he has always sounded like a cartoon character with emphysema and/or constipation. Maybe Eddie Money was supposed to be his illegitimate American love child. And yet, this was the 1970s, so even an unpretty voice could make some chart impact. Although mushy and repetitive, it’s still a well-written song, and exactly the kind that ends up being covered umpteen billion times by about as many different artists.
Billy Preston recorded the original version of “You Are So Beautiful,” and released it on his ’74 album The Kids & Me. Beach Boy Dennis Wilson had claimed he wrote the song with Preston, though he never received proper credit. He did, however, sing the song quite frequently at Beach Boys concerts, sometimes sounding even more physically beat down than Cocker. And since Wilson did treat his body pretty horribly, and since he was such a loveable character in spite of his recklessness, and since he came across less like a cartoon character and more like a real person, I’ve found some of his worst performances of “You Are So Beautiful” even more endearing than Cocker’s ever-popular hit recording. Here’s one of Dennis’ better performances of the song:
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6. Express – B.T. Express (download)
“Here comes the express!” Get down!
Disco wasn’t yet monopolizing the top 10, but soon enough, there would be no reprieve in the singles chart’s upper reaches. Actually, B.T. Express’ sort of disco funk had just enough grit to keep it from feeling contrived, though it was never edgy or dangerous. In other words, ripe for cross-over action. Totally harmless, lots of fun, and just like fellow R&B heavy hitters Tower of Power and Tyrone Davis, B.T. Express (short for Brooklyn Trucking Express) would also feel the irony of seeing their chart action slide upon leaving a small label (in this case, Scepter) for the more powerful and prestigious major label Columbia. They had a good thing going for a little while.
5. Have You Never Been Mellow – Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John is so not country, yet she crossed over to the country charts with “Have You Never Been Mellow,” without singing a single word having to do with mama, trains, trucks, prison, or getting drunk. Nope, her savvy songwriter and producer John Farrar gave her this plea for slowing down, which somehow found its way to number one just two weeks before this chart was generated. *Snore* “Xanadu” it is not, and before you go knocking “Xanadu,” give “Have You Never Been Mellow” one more listen and then get back to me.
Interesting bit of trivia: Olivia Newton-John was caught playing tennis in a photo in an issue of Jet Magazine in 1978. Jet Magazine, you ask? But Olivia is white! Yes, she is. However, the singer with whom she was photographed was indeed black, and just like said singer (who is coincidentally at number three on this chart), Olivia would also be diagnosed breast cancer. Fortunately for Olivia, it happened in the more technologically advanced 1990s rather than the 1970s, which greatly increased her odds of survival. And yes, Olivia is still alive, well, and presumably mellow.
4. Black Water – The Doobie Brothers
“I ain’t got no worries / ‘Cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.” Apparently the Doobie Brothers took Olivia Newton-John’s advice and, um, lightly strolled along with it!
I resented this song for many years. Until I was finally conditioned to expect that the sound of wind chimes meant that I was about to hear “Black Water,” I would be prematurely excited at the prospect of hearing another song that begins exactly the same way â€“ Chicago’s acid trip ode “Fancy Colours.” It’s not fair that “Black Water” copped this intro five years after Chicago used it on “Fancy Colours,” and since “Black Water” became the monster number one smash hit (just one week prior to this chart), more Americans associate the sound of wind chimes with the Doobie Brothers than either Chicago or the Beach Boys (who recorded their own trippy, eponymous paean to wind chimes in 1967). Actually, that’s probably not true, but still. Damn you, Doobie Brothers!
3. Lovin’ You – Minnie Riperton
Third mellow song in row â€“ I see a pattern emerging here!
Oh man. Why did this have to be the one song that most people identify with Minnie Riperton? Probably because she sang it on lots of TV programs in ’75 (including The Midnight Special), but still, why? It’s a cutesy little novelty that became a punch line for its glass-shattering vocal, one which proved to be a major inspiration to a far more deserving punch line creator, Mariah Carey.
The cutesy factor for “Lovin’ You” has its genesis in the song’s intent â€“ it was Minnie’s dedication to her daughter, future SNL cast member Maya Rudolph. What could be cuter than a mom singing to her daughter, right? Right? On the album version, you can hear Minnie singing “Maya, Maya” as the song wraps up. Also on the album version, you will not hear those super cheesy, “polished for pop radio” synth strings added to the single mix. Gag! [Trivial music geek factoid: Columbia pulled a similar stunt with Elvis Costello a few years later, when they added strings to the single release of “Alison,” much to Costello’s chagrin. Find a used Columbia 45 of “Alison” and hear the horror for yourself!]
“Lovin’ You” would peak at the top slot of the Billboard singles chart two weeks later, and help push sales of the Perfect Angel album past the half million mark. That Stevie Wonder produced album contained plenty of earthy, funky tunes and awesome performances, but alas, neither of the other two singles from Perfect Angel (“Reasons” â€“ not the Earth, Wind & Fire tune â€“ and “Seeing You This Way”) crossed over the way “Lovin’ You” did. I don’t dislike the song for what it is, but I reserve much bitterness for the way it overshadowed everything else Minnie ever did, including her fight against breast cancer and her efforts at promoting breast cancer awareness in the wake of her diagnosis. President Carter actually presented Minnie with the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award for her efforts! Don’t remember that? Neither do I. I was, like, not even a year old when that happened, but still!
Minnie succumbed to the disease in 1979 at the age of 31, leaving behind a legacy that, I would argue, dwarfs those of some other more famous and/or longer-living artists. Don’t let “Lovin’ You” cloud your judgment!
Bonus footage: Here’s Minnie on the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show with Richard Pryor in ’75, where she recounts her brush with a literal set of “jaws of death” â€“ those of a lion, with actual footage of the attack!
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2. Lady Marmalade â€“ Labelle
I suppose I could talk about how, for better or for worse, “Lady Marmalade” (which is the fourth song in this chart to also spend time at number one) was the song that effectively launched the career of Labelle’s namesake lead vocalist, Patti. Or how the solo efforts of the two other members of this ’70s R&B vocal trio never came close to matching the success of Patti’s. Or how, even though Nona Hendryx was arguably the most talented of the trio, Sarah Dash turned out to be the coolest after singing on Keith Richards’ two solo albums, Talk Is Cheap (1988) and Main Offender (1992), and joining him as a back-up (and sometimes lead) vocalist on the supporting tours for both albums. Or how the remake by Christina Aguilera, Mya and that other chick was nothing more than a very credible carbon copy of the original and, as a result, a total waste of a cover. But no, for me, the focus of “Lady Marmalade” is its author â€“ Allen Toussaint.
He’s written better songs. He’s worked with more interesting artists. And he’s classier than anybody for whom he’s played a supporting role â€“ he quietly writes brilliant songs, arranges them with an effortless grace, plays piano in a style that instantly identifies him with him home base of New Orleans, and never over-sings. Patti definitely over-sings. “Creole lady marmalaaaahaaahaaaaaaaaad!!” Yeah. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” Sure, if you can learn how to be a little more discreet (for those of you with rusty or non-existent skills in French, the English translation is “do you want to sleep with me tonight” or something close to it). Drunk fun, that’s what “Lady Marmalade” is.
That Allen Toussaint, the same guy who wrote “Working in a Coal Mine,” “A Certain Girl,” “Yes We Can Can,” “Freedom for the Stallion,” and a butt-load of other famous and not-so-famous classics, could also write “Lady Marmalade” and match it with Patti Labelle, is pure genius. That his name is less known than Patti’s is pure crime.
1. My Eyes Adored You – Frankie Valli
Ding ding ding! At number one is this snoozer ballad by Four Seasons front-man Frankie Valli. It’s a pathetic tale of unrequited love, one of those “walked you home from school” songs that never should be sung by grown adults. But they are, because money talks and pretty melodies walk said money all the way to the bank.
And bringing this chart full circle, five years after disbanding
Sugarload (my fingers are just out of control today!) Sugarloaf, Jerry Corbetta became a member of the Four Seasons on the tour immortalized in 1981’s live album Reunion.
Though “My Eyes Adored You” was credited as a solo Frankie Valli release, he was still a member of the Four Seasons and, as flawed info-God Wikipedia tells us, the song really was a Four Seasons recording. Private Stock insisted on releasing it under Valli’s name only, but the group would soon have its rightful day at the top when “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” achieved the same feat in ’76.
And there you have it â€“ ten slices of processed musical cheese, 1975-style. If any of these songs have taken your brain hostage, I highly recommend cleansing your consciousness with any of the five albums mentioned at the top of this piece of irreverent-yet-lovingly-assembled disposable entertainment. Check back in two weeks for Jason Hare’s return in the next edition of CHART ATTACK!