We have passed several musical milestones from 1973 already this year, including the releases of Dark Side of the Moon and Houses of the Holy. Let other bloggers write about those. I will stick to subjects I am uniquely qualified to explore: Forty-five years ago this week, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Dawn had made a big splash with “Candida,” which hit #3 in the fall of 1970, and “Knock Three Times,” which went to #1 in January 1971. Their next three singles peaked at #25, #33, and #39 nationally, and the three after that didn’t crack the Top 40 at all. So when “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” landed at radio stations in the winter of 1973, there was no reason to think that it was going to be a monster, but a monster it turned out to be.
The song first shows up at ARSA on a survey from Detroit Top 40 giant CKLW on January 30, 1973. It cracked the Hot 100 on February 17 and picked up radio station adds in bunches throughout the last half of February. On March 17, it crashed into the Top 40, going from #48 to #29 the same week that it scored its first #1, at WCOL in Columbus, Ohio. Its climb up the Hot 100 was steady, going 29-19-13 and cracking the Top 10 at #6 on April 7. It would go to #3 the next week and #1 on April 21, 1973, taking out “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence. By then, it had hit #1 in literally dozens of cities across North America. It would top the Hot 100 for four weeks, and during that time it would rack up more local #1s. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” dethroned it on May 19, but it wouldn’t start losing chart momentum until the end of June. WQAM in Miami actually charted it until February 1974.
Why was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” such a massive hit? For one thing, people love a story well told, and it was surely that. Songwriters L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, who wrote several of Dawn’s most famous songs, took a Civil War legend about a prisoner of war returning home and transposed it to the story of a guy getting out of jail. (It might have resonated just as strongly had they kept the POW angle, given the return of those imprisoned in Vietnam during early 1973.) Maybe it offered an escape from the news of the day: the Watergate scandal exploded into public consciousness during the record’s run up the chart. But it also was an irresistably bouncy record at a time of year when that kind of thing sounds great, and Tony Orlando delivers an ingratiating performance. It was a polarizing record, however—some people simply ate it up, while others found it too cheesy to bear and/or grew sick to death of its endless repetition on the radio. But it ended up the #1 song of the year in at least 10 cities, and on Billboard‘s year-end singles chart as well.
After “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Dawn doubled down on novelties (most famously “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch With Sally” from the album Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies). The group got a four-episode CBS variety show in the summer of ’74 and a regular slot that December. Their show was reasonably successful for a couple of seasons before going off in late 1976. Although they’d hit #1 one more time, with a well-done cover of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” in the spring of 1975, the hits slowed to a trickle during the TV years; Dawn’s last Hot 100 hit came early in 1977.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” remained part of American culture after its chart run, gaining new resonance during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980, and again during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. (The Gulf War inspired a new Dawn recording called “With Every Yellow Ribbon,” which had precious little to do with its semi-namesake.) But today, the significance of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” is mostly as an artifact of the weird 1970s, when it scratched some sort of itch we couldn’t have described at the time.
It was an itch I didn’t suffer, by the way; although “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” were important records in my life and I was still buying 45s in the spring of 1973, I never considered buying “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” It seemed to be on the radio every five minutes anyhow, and that was enough for me.
(Pictured: Neil Diamond onstage in 1972.)
One thing I am learning from this series of posts on 1973 is that the music is better than I remember. I’m not saying that 1973 is going to supplant 1976 or 1971 as one of my favorite musical years, but it’s better than I remember.
Take for example the American Top 40 show from April 21, 1973. It starts with “A Letter to Myself,” a gorgeous soul record by the Chi-Lites that sounds like a second take of their 1971 hit “Have You Seen Her.” It creates a big ol’ train wreck with #39, the rockin’ good “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, in its first week on the chart. Also sounding really good in the first hour: “Step by Step” by Joe Simon at #37. How it failed to become a smash on the order of “Drowning in the Sea of Love” or “Power of Love” I can’t imagine. Elton John’s “Daniel” is in its first week on at #35, creating another train wreck with #34, “Oh La De Da” by the Staple Singers, a straight-up soul/gospel shouter. (Listeners in 1973 got a commercial break between the two, but listeners to the recent 2018 repeat did not.)
At #38 is Carly Simon’s “The Right Thing to Do,” which Casey introduces as being by “Mrs. James Taylor.” (The two had gotten married the previous November.) This caused a kerfuffle on an AT40 Facebook group I read, as several listeners who hadn’t been paying close attention wondered why Casey had introduced the record as being by James Taylor.
Digression: Facebook fan groups can be marvelous sources of information; in a well-moderated group, members collectively know everything there is to know, and it makes the group worthwhile. But less well-moderated groups can become tedious. I recently bailed on a WKRP in Cincinnati group that had never been especially great, but which got downright stupid once MeTV started repeating the shows. Ill-informed viewers started besieging the group with questions that 10 seconds on Google could answer. What was worse was the flame war that erupted when MeTV chose not to air the episode “Les on a Ledge,” in which Les Nessman contemplates suicide because he fears people think he’s homosexual, and Johnny tells Herb that Jennifer is transgender. Some readers could understand how the episode would play differently 40 years later and that it would indeed be offensive now, but others were quick to call them politically correct libtard snowflake pussies who need to grow up.
As if Facebook needs more of that kind of thing. I’m out.
To return to the topic: Casey shared an interesting bit of trivia in the first hour. Up until this week, he tells us, only one artist has ever taken two songs into the Top 40 twice: Chubby Checker, who did it with “The Twist” (which famously went to #1 on two separate chart runs, in 1960 and 1962) and “Let’s Twist Again.” Each record ran the chart, “became a dead record for a while,” as Casey put it, and then returned to the Top 40. Then Casey says that a second artist has done the deed this week: Neil Diamond. He made the Top 40 with “Solitary Man” in 1966 and again in 1970, and now with “Cherry Cherry,” which charted in 1966 and re-enters the Top 40 this week at #36.
This achievement may be a little less than it appears, however. In the case of “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again,” it was the exact same record making two runs up the chart. First off, it’s arguable whether the version of “Solitary Man” that hit in 1970 was the same one that hit in 1966. I tried figuring it out 10 years ago, and even with the help of the inestimable Yah Shure, I can’t say. As Yah Shure noted, three different versions of “Solitary Man” were released on the Bang label over the years. If the 1970 hit was a remix of the 1966 version, I guess that counts. But the version of “Cherry Cherry” that charted on April 21, 1973, is definitely not the same one that spent nine weeks in the Top 40 in 1966. It’s the one from the live album Hot August Night, and was even labeled as such on the 45: “Cherry Cherry From Hot August Night.” It was listed that way in Billboard, too.
So it’s the same song, if not the same record. Technically, Neil Diamond equalled Chubby Checker’s achievement. As a practical matter, I’m not quite so sure.
I’ll probably have more to say about this edition of American Top 40 in a future post. And this Friday, I’ll discuss a different milestone from the chart dated April 21, 1973.
It’s leftovers day today, in which I resurrect a fragment or fragments from my drafts folder and call it a post. This next is something I started after writing about Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” last month. Fifty years ago this week, the record hit #1 on the Hot 100.
Goldsboro’s first major professional gig was touring as a guitarist with Roy Orbison in the early 60s, a gig he gave up when his solo career began to take off. He hit the Hot 100 26 times between 1963 and 1973, but apart from “Honey,” he made the Top 10 only one other time, with “See the Funny Little Clown,” which rose to #9 during the week of March 21, 1964, when the Beatles had the top three songs on the Hot 100 and the Four Seasons and Beach Boys were also riding high. He would eventually open shows for both of the latter acts, and according to his website, he also opened for the Rolling Stones on their first American tour in the summer of ’64.
Apart from “Honey” and its five weeks at #1 in 1968, Goldsboro hit the Top 20 just two other times, with “Little Things” in 1965 and “Watching Scotty Grow” in 1971. The latter was an enormous hit; it did six weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, where “Honey” had done only two, and went to #7 country. Goldsboro was a dominant Easy Listening act from 1968 to 1971, hitting the Top 10 eight times in all, including the #2 followup to “Honey,” “Autumn of My Life.” His final Hot 100 hit came in 1973, “Summer (The First Time),” which made #21 on the Hot 100. He would bubble under with some of his later releases, and he’d last long enough for me to play a couple of his final country hits on the radio in 1980 and 1981.
Goldsboro’s success eventually got him a syndicated TV show, The Bobby Goldsboro Show, a weekly half-hour of music and comedy that ran from 1973 through 1976. He was a frequent guest on other TV shows during the 70s, but at the same time, he was building an empire in music publishing. His last high-profile gig was providing music for the Burt Reynolds sitcom Evening Shade in the early 90s. (He’d known Reynolds for years, producing an album of Burt’s in the early 70s.) In recent years, he was been painting and writing children’s books. He’s now 77 years old.
I listened to several Goldsboro tunes while whipping this post into shape, and I can tell you that I’d rather listen to “Honey” 100 times than “Watching Scotty Grow” once.
What’s next is something I wrote this morning, following up on a remark in my Friday post about the Elton John tribute album Restoration.
Miranda Lambert won the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year award for the ninth straight year last night. Nevertheless, I stand by my contention that mainstream country has moved on from her. It’s true that “Vice,” the first single from Miranda’s most recent album, The Weight of These Wings,” was a success. But the next two, including ACM Song of the Year “Tin Man,” struggled. In fact, Miranda hasn’t been a big deal on country radio for over three years, and in an environment where top stars are on the singles charts almost continuously, that’s not a good omen.
Country’s “woman problem” has been widely reported over the last few years. There are lots of female artists making really good country music, but they can’t get on the radio, and the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association generally don’t waste nominations or awards on artists the general run of country fans aren’t hearing every day. (That tendency is what made Chris Stapleton’s wins a couple of years ago for his album Traveller so shocking.) So the ACM has a shallow pool of women to nominate from. Only one other Female Vocalist nominee, Carrie Underwood, is remotely in Miranda’s league, but she didn’t have a hit single in 2017; although she still moves albums (and hosted the ACM show last night), Reba McEntire hasn’t been on the radio in eight years. Beyond those three, the stature gap is enormous: Maren Morris is a lightweight and Kelsea Ballerini is a cipher. I suspect Miranda Lambert got the award last night because the ACM basically had nobody else to give it to.
(Pictured: Maren Morris performs at the Grammys’ tribute to Elton John broadcast earlier this week.)
Many thanks to friend of the blog Jeffrey Thames at KPFT in Houston for sending along the two new Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute albums, Revamp, featuring pop stars, and Restoration, featuring country stars. What follows are first impressions while listening to them amidst the day’s usual fking around.
“Bennie and the Jets”/Elton with Pink and Logic. Pink sounds great, but Logic’s rap says nothing and adds nothing. (Elton’s presence, as best I can tell, is only in a processed sample from the original “Bennie and the Jets.”)
“We All Fall in Love Sometimes”/Coldplay. This is the best Coldplay performance I’ve ever heard, and whatever’s in second place isn’t close. (Spoiler: there is nothing in second place.)
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”/Alessia Cara. Behold a person singing without actually using her lungs. Cara’s voice is all tongue, lips, and throat—which is a fabulously difficult way to sing.
“Candle in the Wind”/Ed Sheeran. Thanks for coming in, Ed. The check will be in the mail.
“Tiny Dancer”/Florence and the Machine. Hey Alessia, this is how a singer does it.
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/Mumford and Sons. As I’m not big on Mumford and Sons, I was prepared not to like this version at all but holy smokes was I wrong.
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”/Mary J. Blige. I can’t say I like this, but it’s a lot more interesting than Elton’s morose original.
“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”/Q Tip with Demi Lovato. When this started out OK, I kept waiting for it to get terrible, but it didn’t.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/The Killers. Brandon Flowers sounds so much like Elton in spots that I thought maybe they’d sampled some lines from the original.
“Daniel”/Sam Smith. I was ready to say this was making no impression on me until the beautiful piano solo in the middle.
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/Miley Cyrus. This is making no impression on me.
“Your Song”/Lady Gaga. What’s with the exaggerated enunciation? Gaga sounds like she’s trying to impersonate Barbra Streisand.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”/Queens of the Stone Age. More interesting than Elton’s original.
“Rocket Man”/Little Big Town. The vocal harmonies are gorgeous, although I could do without the electronic drumbeats.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”/Maren Morris. After her magnificent debut single, the soulful “My Church,” Maren Morris immediately started running away from country, and she’s been releasing singles that chase pop stardom. There’s more pop than country in her version of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” but at least it sounds like she’s singing with a real band.
“Sacrifice”/Don Henley and Vince Gill. I’m not blown away by either singer’s performance, but “Sacrifice” is a beautiful song and this is a great arrangement of it.
“Take Me to the Pilot”/Brothers Osborne. What “Take Me to the Pilot” would have sounded like if Lynryd Skynryd covered it in 1977, and that’s a good thing.
“My Father’s Gun”/Miranda Lambert. Prediction: now that mainstream country has moved on from her and she doesn’t have to conform to what country radio expects, Miranda Lambert is going to blow people’s minds with what she can do.
“I Want Love”/Chris Stapleton. I’d like to hear Stapleton do “My Father’s Gun,” actually.
“Honky Cat”/Lee Ann Womack. That Lee Ann Womack is singing this song and not practically any other song in the collection isn’t the weirdest thing about this song.
“Roy Rogers”/Kacey Musgraves. I can’t think of another song in Elton’s catalog that would be a better fit for Kacey Musgraves.
“Please”/Rhonda Vincent and Dolly Parton. I tag songs in my music stash based on sound, and this is the first one from Restoration that I’ve tagged “country.” It’s also the deepest cut on the album, a song from Elton’s 1995 album Somewhere in England.
“The Bitch Is Back”/Miley Cyrus. This is fine, I guess.
“Sad Songs Say So Much”/Dierks Bentley. Thanks for coming in, Dierks. The check will be in the mail.
“This Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore”/Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris. I’ve heard Rosanne sing better, but if Emmylou is harmonizing with her, I’m there for it all day.
“Border Song”/Willie Nelson. Come on, people, Willie’s almost 85 damn years old. Don’t make him yell over the backing track.
Premature verdict: Going in, I expected to like Restoration more than Revamp, but I’m surprised to tell you it turned out just the opposite. Based on a first listen, the best revamp belongs to Mumford and Sons; the best restoration is Miranda Lambert’s. The best revamp on Restoration is “Honky Cat,” and the best restoration on Revamp is “Tiny Dancer.” But check back after I listen a few dozen times more.
(Pictured: Shaun Cassidy meets the people in the summer of 1977.)
Now, on with the annotated countdown of the Top 56 songs of 1977, as compiled by WIND in Chicago.
24. “Lonely Boy”/Andrew Gold. A lot of baby boomers blame their parents for stuff their parents don’t even—or can’t even—know they did. “Lonely Boy” may be the single greatest artifact of this runaway narcissism.
23. “Theme from Rocky”/Bill Conti. I once called the vocal line on this record “stiff and white and weird.” Could probably apply to the whole thing.
22. “That’s Rock and Roll”/Shaun Cassidy. One Saturday on my radio station’s Facebook page, I posted a picture of Shaun Cassidy nipped from an old local radio survey the week he played a concert here in 1977, and asked the question, “Were any of you there?” It became one of the most popular posts the station’s ever done.
21. “Nobody Does It Better”/Carly Simon. Has gone further down the memory hole than almost every song on this survey. You just don’t hear it anywhere anymore.
20. “Fly Like An Eagle”/Steve Miller Band. Discuss: “Fly Like an Eagle” is a better record with the “Space Intro” included, but “Jet Airliner” is better without its electronic intro, “Threshold.”
19. “Theme From A Star Is Born”/Barbra Streisand. Like lovely snowflakes falling.
18. “Do You Wanna Make Love”/Peter McCann. McCann’s career was pretty much made by one song—“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, a songwriting credit that got McCann his own record deal, which resulted in a single that made WIND’s best-of-77 where the superior “Right Time” didn’t.
17. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA. This song was #1 on the Hot 100 for only a week, but 100 years from now, it’s likely to be the only song from 1977 anybody remembers.
16. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. The high-pitched emoting of “When I Need You” is the best thing Leo Sayer ever did by many miles, tiptoeing right up to the edge of too much without going over. But maybe just for me.
15. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
14. “Higher and Higher”/Rita Coolidge. It was a Chicago radio thing for DJs to occasionally talk after playing a jingle. I maintain that a DJ could justifiably talk after Rita’s cold opening on this record, although I’ve never done it myself.
13. “Best of My Love”/Emotions. Sounds better to me now than it did then.
12. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell. As I hoped for David Bowie after his death, I hope Glen Campbell had some inkling, while he was alive, of just how beloved he was.
11. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. In one of the very first posts at this blog back in 2004, I told the world how much I like this record, and I still do.
10. “Rich Girl”/Hall and Oates. What I am pretty sure is the most-commented-upon post in the history of this blog, back in 2012, was inspired in part by the reluctance of certain radio stations to air the word “bitch” in “Rich Girl.”
9./8. “Sir Duke”/Stevie Wonder and “The Things We Do for Love”/10cc. What has made these records enjoyable for 40 years is their 180-proof, no-apologies joyfulness.
7. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor. Even 40 years ago, there was a sense of “This is one of the top songs in the country? This? Really?”
6. “Star Wars Theme-Cantina Band”/Meco. This is the only part of the Star Wars universe I have ever been interested in.
5. “Blinded by the Light”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This song frequently reminds me of a frozen, pre-dawn Saturday morning bus ride to a high-school wrestling tournament I didn’t want to attend, knowing it would be 18 hours before we got home.
4. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. A monster in Chicago. I don’t know where WIND ranked it during its chart run, but WLS had it at #1 for two weeks in February.
3. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb. Not just four weeks at #1 and four months in the Top 10, but nine straight weeks in the top three of the Hot 100.
2. “Undercover Angel”/Alan O’Day. O’Day wrote three of the 1970s’ biggest love-it-or-hate-it hits: “Undercover Angel,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” as well as Cher’s fabulous “Train of Thought.”
1. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. Inevitable.
I wrote this post last December, intending to put it up around New Year’s, but I never did. I can’t remember why now, as it doesn’t seem to suck any more than the usual run of stuff around here. Hope you enjoyed it.
(Pictured: David Soul in Starsky and Hutch, 1977.)
At the end of 2017, I wrote a two-part post recapping the Top 56 songs of 1977 from WIND in Chicago, and then, for some reason, decided not to run it. I looked at it again the other day and I couldn’t remember why I decided not to run it, so I’m gonna run it now.
56. “You’re My World”/Helen Reddy. Does a remarkable job of conjuring up that summer, but maybe just for me.
55. “We’re All Alone”/Rita Coolidge. I prefer this to the Boz Scaggs original. It just seems to work better when sung by a woman, but maybe just for me.
54. “Barracuda”/Heart. Your AM radio was rockin’ hard all summer long, and not only because of this.
53. “On and On”/Stephen Bishop. “Poor old Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight / Saw his woman kiss another man.” This sort of happened to your poor old correspondent in 1977, but the details I take to the grave.
52. “Just Remember I Love You”/Firefall. You can say it, but that won’t necessarily make it true.
51./50. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA. Snapshots from the comfortable middle of the relationship, and the bitter end.
49. “This Song”/George Harrison. Will say again: Thirty-Three and 1/3 is in my Top 5 albums of all time. Maybe Top 3.
48. “You Don’t Have to Be a Star”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A perfect production by Don Davis, a titan of the Detroit music scene. He should be a lot better known than he is. Look him up.
47. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band. I read not long ago that this song was the last thing recorded for the album Gold Plated because the record company didn’t hear a hit single, so the band set out to write one.
46. “Come Sail Away”/Styx. If this hadn’t straddled the 1977 and 1978 chart years, it would have been the runaway #1 song of the year in Chicago in either one year or the other. It was in heavy rotations for months.
45. “She Did It”/Eric Carmen. Honk if you remember this record at all. Hello?
44. “Ariel”/Dean Friedman. The way Friedman bends the line “we made love to bombs bursting in air” into the word “Ariel” pleases me greatly, still.
43. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac. There has never been anything else that sounds like this.
42. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”/Crystal Gayle. I said all I could think of about this song back in September.
41. “Handy Man”/James Taylor. He fixes broken hearts, but he doesn’t sound all that happy about it.
40. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs. Whenever Boz plays it live (and I’ve heard it four times), it leaves a smoking hole where the theater used to be.
39. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner. Sounds a bit like it was focus-grouped into existence, designed to appeal to AM kids and their older FM siblings, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
38. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. Somebody I was reading recently picked this as their #1 song of 1977, and you could do worse.
37. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. If I were picking my personal #1 song of 1977, this could be it, and I’d have trouble doing better.
36. “Swayin’ to the Music”/Johnny Rivers. You wouldn’t mind living the scenario in this song, and neither would I.
35. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton. Poor guy, having to follow Frampton Comes Alive.
34. “I Feel Love”/Donna Summer. I did not care much for Donna Summer when her hits were on the radio. But I’m older now, and wiser.
33. “Looks Like We Made It”/Barry Manilow. Be careful with broad romantic pronouncements, my dude. Sometimes they are premature.
32. “I’m Your Boogie Man”/KC and the Sunshine Band. I have a vinyl KC greatest-hits album on which this is segued into “Keep It Comin’ Love,” and it is awesome.
31. “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
30. “Hotel California”/Eagles. Will say again: if you’re tired of this song and never want to hear it again, I understand. But I’m not there yet.
29./28. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck and “You Made Me Believe in Magic”/Bay City Rollers. After, and also during, and also before if you want me to be honest about it.
27. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. I said all I could think of about this song in February of ’17.
26. “Keep it Comin’ Love”/KC and the Sunshine Band. See #32.
25. “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. A program director once criticized me for calling this record “sappy” on the air. I can see his point, but I’m pretty sure even people who like it think it’s sappy.
We’ll cover the top 24 in a later installment, whenever I get around to it.