Do You Know What I Mean?

My Desert Island list has 12 singles from 1976 on it. To readers of this blog, that’s news approximately on par with the sunrise. Eleven are from 1971, which is not exactly news either. Forty years ago, it was a year of discovery—no, the year of discovery. Absolutely everything was new because I hadn’t been listening long enough to know the context of very much. But since we often love the stuff of youth more than the stuff that comes along later, some of what I discovered that year has never left me. I’ve written about a couple of them recently, and here are a few words about some more of them.

“Rings”/Cymarron. I know people still do it, but a barefoot beach wedding seems like a thoroughly 70s thing to do. “Rings” is a lovely frozen moment from the summer of 1971 that ran the charts right alongside “Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes. The only thing wrong with the song is that it’s too short—a defect remedied here.

“Spanish Harlem”/Aretha Franklin. Ben E. King may have done it first, but Aretha owns it. By the time “Spanish Harlem” hit the radio late in the summer of ’71, I had already developed a hearty appreciation for soul music, despite also being devoted to Dawn and the Partridge Family. Me and Walt Whitman, we contained multitudes.

“Do You Know What I Mean”/Lee Michaels. Three minutes of glorious bashing that has never sounded right to me on anything other than AM radio, although this guy’s 45 gets close.

“I’ve Found Someone of My Own’/Free Movement. I would not have understood the emotional dynamic of this record in 1971, which is best described as “You can’t leave me because I’m already gone.” All I heard was how great it sounded on the radio.

“Have You Seen Her”/Chi-Lites. In which the line between the pain communicated by the lyric and pleasure generated by the vocal performance becomes too thin to perceive clearly, or even to matter.

“Respect Yourself”/Staple Singers. Good lessons for an 11-year-old boy, and for everybody else, wherever they are, down unto the present day. If you aren’t inclined to listen when your mama tries to school you about how to behave, you better not pull that shit with Mavis.

That’s not everything on the list from 1971, but it’s enough for today.

Recommended Reading: I think I’ve mentioned the Daily Mirror before—it’s an online feature of the Los Angeles Times that reprints old stories, columns, and photos from the paper’s archives. Yesterday it featured a fascinating column by music critic Robert Hilburn, written in the runup to the 1981 Grammy Awards. Grim as this year’s list of nominees seemed to me, 1981 may have been grimmer, dominated by Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Christopher Cross, the eventual big winner. (That year represented the nadir for Record of the Year nominees: “The Rose” by Bette Midler, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, Sinatra’s “New York New York” and Streisand’s “Woman in Love,” and “Sailing” by Cross, the eventual winner—the dullest and most uninspired set Grammy ever yakked up.)

Our friend Jason Hare found a great artifact over at Buzzfeed—five-second snippets of every Billboard Number-One single from 1955 through 1992, edited into a two-part audio montage. The thing runs about 74 minutes, but once you start listening, it won’t seem nearly that long.


7 responses

  1. I LOVE 1971’s music the most, and many of my all-time favs are on your list. It was odd hearing the mono 45 version of “Rings” at first, slower tempo than its stereo counterpart.

    I would have to agree that some songs never sounded better than on AM radio, right after the top of the hour legal ID and jingle.
    I’d have to add “Don’t Pull Your Love” to the list if I were to create one.

  2. Having run my own FM station out my dorm room during freshman year of college, then having to atone for it academically sophomore year, I joined the student-run station on campus while it was off the air during the summer of ’71. It was after spotting – and being able to actually *touch* – a real, honest-to-god white-label promo 45 of “Do You Know What I Mean” during that first training session that I felt like I’d made the big time.

    There was one favorite track that year that sounded awful on that campus AM station: “Son” (We’ve Left The Room Just The Way You Kept It)” from the Michaelangelo album, ‘One Voice Many.’ The LP was mixed with many elements purposely out-of-phase to give it an ethereal lift. Unfortunately, that approach (see Moby Grape’s debut longplayer) cancelled out all of the nifty autoharp and most of the rest of the backing track when summed to mono over the station’s AM signal. Whoops.

  3. When it came to “Spanish Harlem,” I opted for the original, but it’s a damn close call, and Aretha does tear it up. No such divergence on the rest of the tunes mentioned here. I would guess that 1971 comes in third among listening years for me, and I nodded emphatically at the idea that “Absolutely everything was new because I hadn’t been listening long enough to know the context of very much.”

  4. I love the song “Rings.” What I find interesting is that two remakes of the song (one by Lobo, the other by Reuben Howell) entered the Billboard Hot 100 at the same week. But in 1974. I wrote about them in my blog:

    I am also a big fan of “I’ve Found Someone of My Own” and “Have You Seen Her.” I was 13 when I first heard the Chi-Lites and was immediately drawn to the story of the sad man on the park bench, as a doo-wop chorus did its best to help break him out of his somber mood. As for “I’ve Found Someone…” it took me longer to get into. At first I thought it was rather slow and dull, but once I actually listened to the words, I came around. I seem to have had that happen a lot as I’ve matured.

    (That’s “matured.” I don’t think I’ve actually grown up yet).

  5. I loved “Rings,” too. On KHJ in Southern California, it reached the lower part of the Boss 30 that summer, but early in 1972, the station played yet another version, by Lonnie Mack, which turns it into a ballad. I always liked that one, too, and bought the single. It never charted on Billboard, though. Interesting that there were so many versions of the song in that period.

  6. “Rings” is a great song. I’ve always marveled at the line “got _________________________on the stereo.” In some versions it’s James Taylor; others the Allman Brothers etc. Tompall Glaser’s country version had Merle Haggard on the stereo. I found the Reuben Howell version about a year ago (it’s on Motown) but can’t remember who he had playing on the stereo.

    Leo Kottke also is known for his version; he did it when I saw him last October but was so enthralled with his playing I forget what he sang when that line of the song came around.

    1. Porky,

      Reuben Howell had Jim Croce playing on his stereo.

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