(Pictured: the Buffalo Springfield in 1967. Three years later they would make a mysterious connection with an anonymous West Coast band that resulted in one of the most obscure singles ever.)
I have spent many hours the last week or so listening to a Spotify playlist assembled by Matt Hinrichs, maestro of Scrubbles.net. “Beyond the Top 40: 1970” is just that—every song in the Spotify library that charted at #41 or below on the Hot 100 or the Bubbling Under chart, during 1970. And holy smokes is it loaded with cool songs, many of which I had never heard before. Here are five of them:
“One Light, Two Lights”/The Satisfactions. This group started in 1954 as a street corner doo-wop outfit in the District of Columbia and released several singles under various names for various labels between 1958 and 1967. By 1970 they were without a record deal, so they went to Oklahoma on their own hook and recorded some songs at a studio owned by country star Conway Twitty. A couple of them were picked up by the Lionel label, part-owned by songwriter Jimmy Webb. The great “One Light, Two Lights” was the most successful of the Lionel sides, creeping into the Hot 100 for a couple of weeks and peaking at #94 in November 1970.
“The Witch”/The Rattles. The Rattles were gigging in Hamburg the same time the Beatles were, sometimes on the same bill, playing the same type of amphetamine-fueled rock ‘n’ roll shows. They went on to a great deal of success in their home country throughout the 1960s, although it didn’t translate much abroad. “The Witch” is a rager, and how it’s missed being unearthed for Halloween airplay every year I dunno. It got to #79 on the Hot 100 in a five-week run during the summer of 1970.
“Airport Song”/Magna Carta. This band is usually numbered among the early British prog rockers, and logically enough, because their 1970 album Seasons contained a side-long, multi-part suite, but “Airport Song” sounds more like Simon and Garfunkel on heavy sedation, albeit in a good way. Seasons was produced by Gus Dudgeon, famed as Elton John’s longtime producer, and it features Elton’s future guitarist, Davey Johnstone. (Rick Wakeman is also on Seasons, playing keyboards.) “Airport Song” bubbled under for two weeks in December 1970, reaching #111. An edition of the band, fronted by co-founder and lead singer Chris Simpson, is still together today, and still records prolifically.
“Down by the River”/Buddy Miles. Every listener has some holes in his knowledge, and Buddy Miles has long been one of mine. I knew of his collaboration with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys and that he worked with Carlos Santana, but I had never listened to much of his music. Matt’s list contains three tracks from Miles’ album Them Changes (plus the title track from his next album, “We Got to Live Together”), and they’re fabulous—none more so than Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” An edit to 3:07 reached #68 on the Hot 100 in August 1970. And on the subject of Neil Young . . .
“Down to the Wire”/Yellow Hand. It is a mystery how, for the only album they would ever make, this obscure West-Coast band got their hands on six songs by Young and Stephen Stills that had once been destined for the Buffalo Springfield. Neil Young would eventually release his own version of “Down to the Wire,” but the Springfield versions of four others have circulated only as bootlegs, and one of them has apparently never been released by anybody anywhere, bootleg or legit, except on the Yellow Hand album. “Down to the Wire” is so obscure it doesn’t exist at YouTube—reasonable considering it bubbled under at #120 for only a single week in December 1970—but if you use Spotify, you can hear the whole Yellow Hand album here.
You should really listen to the whole 1970 list—and I suspect I might highlight a few more songs from it in a future post. Matt has posted lots of other good Spotify playlists, too, including similar Beyond the Top 40 lists for 1971 and 1972, which I’m onto next.