This week’s chart is being covered by Popdose’s own Matthew Bolin. Boy, it seems like only yesterday he was giving Popdose readers too many Wham! songs or a reason to love Rod Stewart again. He now runs our “When Good Albums Happen to Bad People” column, and does a damn fine job. Please give it up for Matthew! — JH
I have a theory that the music playing over the radio when you were in the womb can shape your personality — that the muffled vibrations that work their way into your first home can actually have an effect on the person you end up being (or at least they can have an effect on your mom, which in turn has an effect on you). What scientific proof do I base this on? Absolutely nothing, tough guy. However, I figure that the music of the mid-1970s is as good enough a reason as any for why I’m the crazy nut I am today. So, when given the chance by Jason to attack a chart from when I was negative-seven months old, I said “lay it on me.” Let’s take a look at August 11, 1973!
10. Monster Mash — Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers Amazon iTunes
9. Uneasy Rider — Charlie Daniels Amazon iTunes
8. Yesterday Once More — Carpenters Amazon iTunes
7. Let’s Get It On — Marvin Gaye Amazon iTunes
6. Smoke on the Water — Deep Purple Amazon iTunes
5. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown — Jim Croce Amazon iTunes
4. Touch Me in the Morning – Diana Ross Amazon iTunes
3. Brother Louie — Stories Amazon iTunes
2. Live and Let Die — Wings Amazon iTunes
1. The Morning After – Maureen McGovern Amazon iTunes
10. Monster Mash — Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
The early 1960s loved their novelty songs, and … wait a minute … this is 1973. It’s a re-release. But the same thing actually holds true: The 1970s loved their novelty songs, and you would be hard pressed to find a Top 40 chart without one. And this was the perfect novelty tune to crack the Top 10 this time of year, when the leaves are changing, and you know, Halloween is just around the … hold on again .. (looks up at date) … August?! Okay, what the fuck is going on here?!
Oh, I know what’s going on here. Only a man who sips from the chalice of evil could bring such a song as this back onto the consuming public, and make it a hit again in this year Á¢€” at this time of year. Only the one who holds the hem of the Dark Master himself could cause this to happen. Only one:
That’s right. Dr. Demento, still a year away from national syndication, had been playing the hell out of the tune since he started his radio show in Los Angeles in 1970. Well, one thing led to another, and the record was re-released in early 1973. Very slowly, other DJs started adding the track to their playlists. By May, “Monster Mash” re-entered the Hot 100, and more stations added it, appropriate time of year be damned. Three months later (which, back in 1973, was close to an eternity on the singles charts) the song crept into the Top 10, peaking here. And if that wasn’t enough, the Dr.’s beard of evil made its presence felt in Europe, as “Monster Mash” — which had been banned by the BBC upon its initial release for being “too morbid” — overcame its shackles and made it to number three in the UK in October.
What more can actually be said, except: Damn you, Demento. Damn you.
9. Uneasy Rider — Charlie Daniels (download)
We follow up a novelty song with what is basically another novelty song. Charlie Daniels is pretty much known today for two things: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and being a crazy-ass right-winger. But there was a time when his crossover chart appeal was somewhat broader, and this is such an example: the first of six Top 40 hits Daniels would have on the pop charts. “Uneasy Rider” is a story song in the “talkin’ blues” tradition, where the lyrics are actually spoken instead of sung. In this story, the long-haired, pot smoking protagonist ends up walking into a redneck bar to call for a car repair, proceeds to be harassed and threatened by the locals, and is able to escape at the last minute. The song has some good finger-picking guitar, some tasty dobro and steel guitar work, and in no way resembles anything that would make the Top 10 these days, unless the Jonas Brothers were suddenly overcome with a craving to play traditional outlaw country.
Of course, as time changed, and Daniels’ politics shifted to the right, “Uneasy Rider” fell out of his personal graces. There was no way he was going to continue to sing (or speak) a song which was anti-redneck and pro filthy, liberal longhairs. So in 1988, he recorded the aptly titled “Uneasy Rider ’88.” This time, the protagonist, now accompanied by a friend, ends up in a gay bar and, gosh golly, they get to beat up some homosexuals who just won’t take no for an answer. Yee haw!
8. Yesterday Once More — Carpenters (download)
I’ll be honest. I know quite a few of the Carpenters’ Top 10 hits (this was the ninth of twelve they would have in the U.S.), but this one doesn’t really ring a bell. I thought it would come back to me, but repeated listenings aren’t working. This one’s a bit of an additional puzzler for two reasons. The first is that considering the subject matter is the pleasure of listening to old time radio, it … well … it has nothing in common with either feelings of pleasure or old time radio. Instead you have earnest, plaintive vocals and a treacly arrangement that includes a harp, Mantovani-styled strings, and a clarinet riff.
The second puzzler is that while the song was not one of their three U.S. number one hits (it peaked at number two a few weeks prior), it is their biggest worldwide hit of all time. It actually hit the Top 5 in Japan, and is supposedly still one of the most recognizable English-language songs in China. Why? I have no freaking clue. Possibly the “sha-la-la-las.” Maybe the “whoa-oh-oh-ohs.”
7. Let’s Get It On — Marvin Gaye
You may not be aware of it, but this song impregnated the four other songs surrounding it this week: it is that damn sexy. Seriously. A British music poll around the turn of the century ranked this as the number one sexiest song of all time, and with good reason. From the first two stuttering wah-wah guitar notes onward, this tune is in the mood for some one-on-one action. And if you still don’t get it, Marvin’s going to make those double entendres a little more understandable (“Stop beatin’ ’round the bush”). “Let’s Get It On” would hold the number one spot for two non-consecutive weeks in September, the second of Gaye’s three U.S. number one hits.
6. Smoke on the Water — Deep Purple
Get your lighters up, dudes! Ladies, are you ready to rock? Well, alright!
My apologies, but this song is so ubiquitous that I don’t know if there’s anything I can really add to it. If dictionaries came with audio portions, I think there’s good chance the opening riff to “Smoke On the Water” would play under the entry for “rock.” I’m sure you’ve heard that the song is about the writer’s experience seeing a fire break out while Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played at Montreaux, and I’m sure that you can hear the opening riff in your head without any additional prompting, and I’m sure that if you’re anything like me, you may not have probably ever heard this song all the way through under your own volition, but you’ve still heard it many more times than you wish.
What you may not know is that this wasn’t just a classic rock radio hit, but actually made to #4 on the U.S. pop charts. Also, by the time the song was released as a single and became a hit, the original singer for Deep Purple had quit the band, so when people came out to see Deep Purple play their hit, they weren’t hearing Ian Gillan sing, they were hearing David Coverdale. Yes, that David Coverdale. Also, you may not be aware of this, but when you play “Smoke On the Water” backwards, you get “Slow Ride” by Foghat (not true).
5. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown — Jim Croce
The #1 song for the final two weeks of July 1973, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was written by Croce about a man he knew in the army who — like the song’s protagonist — could talk tough, but wasn’t able to back it up. Less then six weeks after this week’s published edition of the Billboard charts — and the day before the release of his next album — Croce would be killed in a small-engine plane crash.
A shuffling, acoustic-based folk rocker, this was Croce’s second Top 10 hit, and first number one (two more Top 10 hits, including another number one, would come posthumously). Overall, the tune is quite enjoyable, with a chorus built for singalongs. One thing that’s always bothered me about it, though, is Croce’s attempt to force “King Kong” to rhyme with “junkyard dog.” When I was a kid, I assumed that the lyric was “junkyard gong,” because “Kong” and “gong” rhyme, right? But then, what the hell is a “junkyard gong,” and why is it “mean”? Because it’s all out of shape and rusted and makes a “mean” sound? I was really puzzled. Then, I finally figured out that it wasn’t a gong. It was just a really bad rhyme.
4. Touch Me in the Morning — Diana Ross (download)
Anyone who’s read the first entry in my current Popdose series, “When Good Albums Happen to Bad People,” knows that I am not a fan of Diana Ross the human being, and little more of a fan of Diana Ross the solo artist. Much like the Carpenters, Miss Ross spent a good portion of her solo career in the 1970s producing overly saccharine treacle like this song, the theme from “Mahogany,” and her insipid remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Of course, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the general public’s taste in music, and all three of these bombastic ballads hit the top of the charts. “Touch Me in the Morning,” specifically, would hit #1 the week following this chart.
At least there’s one thing interesting about this song: its non-traditional structure. The usual pop song progression goes something like verse-chorus (x2), bridge and/or solo, verse-chorus-outro. “Touch Me in the Morning” has no discernable chorus, and three distinct sections that run from first to last two separate times (each time with different lyrics), with a spoken break between the two run-throughs, then followed by outro repetition of the first part intermingled with background vocals in the style of the second part. Whew! If that seems overwhelming, you’re not alone: Miss Ross apparently felt she wasn’t up to pulling off the necessary high and low vocalizations required for such a complex song, and had something along the lines of a breakdown in the studio. So I guess if there’s something really positive that came be said about “Touch Me in the Morning,” it’s that it made soul-diva-number-one freak out and cry. Hooray!
3. Brother Louie — Stories (download)
When I saw this song on the chart, I knew that I was in trouble. Although the phrase “brother Louie” is not used in the song, I knew exactly what was coming without even hearing a note. The chorus is one of the most irritating earworms in the history of the charts, with lyrics basically consisting of the name Louie repeated about 15 times, and even a greater number during the final chorus. Try listening to it, and see if it’s not eating your mind like one of Khan’s weapons of choice the rest of the morning.
Stories’ version of “Brother Louie” is a cover; the original was released earlier in the year by Hot Chocolate, the band best known for “You Sexy Thing.” This version of the song has some really sweet sounds, from the Philadelphia-soul rhythm track to the appropriately utilized wah-wah rhythm guitar, and damn good ELO-esque string solos in two places, one of them double-tracked with a guitar solo. Then the lead singer opens his mouth and … wow! The guy sounds like a cross between Rod Stewart and Nick “Hot Child in the City” Gilder, topped off with a gravel chaser. And the lyrics … I know the writer meant well, as this is a song about an interracial relationship and the need for tolerance (the song title refers to the phrase “all men are brothers”), but it sounds like he didn’t spend much time on them. Opening couplet: She was black as the night / Louie was whiter than white / Danger, danger, when you taste brown sugar / Louie fell in love overnight.
Quick questions: why “overnight”? Why not the more typical “at first sight”? Was Louie hemming and hawing for the first few hours? Does tasting “brown sugar” have a time-release effect that I’m unaware of? So much to think about. Anyway, “Brother Louie” would hit the top of the charts for the weeks of August 25th and September 1st. This would be Stories’ only charting hit; they would break up within the next year.
2. Live and Let Die — Wings
Is this one of the best Bond themes? Standard procedure seems to dictate that it is, if for no other reason than a bunch of the Bond theme songs have been underwhelming dogs, especially the last few. And it is a pretty decent song, what with the “pocket suite” composition (like “Touch Me in the Morning”), with distinct sections replacing the normal pop-song structure. And then there’s the kick-ass score by Sir George Martin. But honestly, I don’t know: Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” (from The Spy Who Loved Me) is definitely better. So is Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” I would actually put Gladys Knight’s “License to Kill” and maybe Tina Turner’s “Goldeneye” above McCartney’s as well Á¢€” and maybe, if you twisted my arm, even Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.” So, that makes “Live and Let Die” the fifth or sixth best Bond theme. That’s pretty good, especially if you’re grading on the curve, but not spectacular.
Pretty much every one is familiar with this tune, so I’m only going to add two quick things. The first is that “Live and Let Die” is “written by” Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney. What parts did Linda write? If you guessed “nothing,” you’re right. The truth is that Paul used his wife as a “collaborator” in order to get his writing and publishing business MPL Communications off the ground while he waited for the final iteration of the writing contract he signed as a Beatle to expire. A co-writer with a different music publishing company meant that half of McCartney’s writing royalties would remain untouched by people such as John Lennon and Allen Klein. The second and more obvious point: Axl Rose has ruined this song for everyone.
1. The Morning After — Maureen McGovern (download)
At number one, we have another movie song. In fact, it’s the song that beat out “Live and Let Die” for the 1973 Academy Award for Best Song. It’s also a real piece of crap. Sorry, but there are many things wrong with this song, and obviously I’m not alone in my feelings, as South Park has shown that playing it backwards can defeat succubi and send them straight to hell.
First of all, there’s the simple fact of it being the “Love Theme” to a disaster movie. Read that again: a love theme to a disaster movie. That’s pretty much the equivalent of having a love theme to an S&M porno. (“And the AVN goes to … ‘At Your Command’, the love theme to On Your Knees 12.”)
Second, and more importantly, the song is just a little creepy. Maureen McGovern’s specialty is really the stage, and it’s my guess that she was told to tone it down a bit in the studio so her lead vocals wouldn’t overwhelm the song. Thus, what we have is someone concentrating on their delivery so much that technique overwhelms emotion, a flatness in her voice emerges, and she ends up sounding like a zombie Judy Collins, which totally doesn’t work in a love song. Compare her lead vocal to her “other voice” in the song’s ending call-and-response (which is sung with more natural emotion), and you can hear what I mean. Add to that the constant high notes on the string section, the dominant use of minor chords, the tinkling, almost eerie harpsichord riff coming out of one stereo channel, and the problematic fuzziness and compression in the song’s production, and the tune ends up sounding like it should be the love theme for The Exorcist. But that’s show business, I guess. By the way, this was the second and last week that “The Morning After” spent in the number one slot.
So that’s the week of August 11, 1973 in top pop land. As you saw, the peak days of FM radio gave us a bit of everything: Treacly ballads, talkin’ country, novelty songs, classic rock, and sexy soul. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to soak my head in lye until the schmaltz finally subsides. Cheers!