Monsters

(Pictured: John Kay and Steppenwolf. History does not record whether they had to be restrained from smoking the backdrop.)

Since the last installment of One Week in the 40 dealt entirely with songs from the 1960s (all but one), let’s look at some 70s entries from the list. As before, all of these records spent a single week in the Billboard Top 40—so not big hits, but not complete busts, either.

In 1970, three songs made the list, including “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics, which was the non-60s ringer in our previous installment. “Cupid” by Johnny Nash, a reggae take on the familiar Sam Cooke original, hit #39 on January 24, 1970. Two weeks later, something completely different occupied the #39 position: Steppenwolf’s “Monster.” Edited to 3:45 from an original running over nine minutes, “Monster” strongly criticizes the way America’s founding idealism had been corrupted by imperialism and war by 1970: “It’s a monster and will not obey.”

Of the 10 songs on the list from 1971, we’ve already mentioned four, by Ashton Gardner and Dyke, B. B. King, Freddie North, and James Taylor. Of those remaining, two are particular favorites of mine: “Charity Ball” by Fanny may have only made #40 for the week of November 6, 1971, but it went all the way to #3 on WLS and WCFL in Chicago. It was also Top 10 in Denver, Cleveland, and Wichita, among other places, and #1 at Wonderful WFOM in Marietta, Georgia. And no wonder: even in one of the Top 40’s finest seasons, it absolutely smoked everything else on the radio. The same week “Charity Ball” hit #1 in Marietta, the #2 song in town was “What Are You Doing Sunday” by Dawn. It, too, was a big hit in Chicago (#3 on WCFL and #10 on WLS), made the Top 10 in Milwaukee, Honolulu, Tucson, and Vancouver, and was #1 at WENY in Elmira, New York. “What Are You Doing Sunday” came at the end of a 14-month period in which Dawn put five singles into the Top 40. There was even a video, in which Tony Orlando appears to propose to both of his singing partners in Dawn—but the song is such perfect pop cheese that it doesn’t seem weird at all.

Although many scholars (and low-rent amateurs such as I) place the beginning of the disco era circa 1974, you could make a decent argument for—and here’s that season again—the fall of 1971. “K-Jee” by the Nite-Liters, which spent the week of September 11, 1971, at #39, has the formula in the test-tube. (“K-Jee” would appear in Saturday Night Fever later in the decade, in a version by MFSB.) But disco’s time was not quite yet; more traditional forms of R&B were still dominant, such as the sweet soul of the Stylistics. “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” hit #39 on July 17, 1971, but it spent the next two months trying to get back that high, bouncing up and down in the 40s. One month after it left the Hot 100, “You Are Everything” would make its debut, and eventually become the Stylistics’ first Top 10 hit.

In 1971, Barbra Streisand was a rock singer. She’d started the year with a Top-10 version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” and on August 28, her version of Carole King’s “Where You Lead” spent a single week at #40. Although it would briefly return to the Top 40 one year later in a medley with “Sweet Inspiration,” the 1971 single is the one you want. It’s from the album Barbra Joan Streisand, which includes covers of John Lennon’s “Mother” and “Love” and King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” as well as “I Mean to Shine,” a song written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker before anybody knew who they were.

Lee Michaels hit the Top 10 in the fall of 1971 with “Do You Know What I Mean.” On the chart dated December 25, 1971, “Can I Get a Witness” sneaked to #39. If your reaction as you listen is, “Damn, I want to hear more Lee Michaels,” you’re coming correct.

There are many songs from the 70s on my list, and I’ll cover more in the next installment.

3 responses

  1. If you want to know what a Hammond B3 really sounds like, check out Lee Michaels cover of “Stormy Monday”.

  2. “K-Jee” jumped out at me one night while listening to the 70’s music channel on cable. Those obscure tunes have a way of doing that. I love and (going back to 3rd grade) always loved “Hey Lawdy Mama” but Steppenwolf always seemed like the group whose records your older cousin had.

  3. I first heard “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” on a Top 40 rerun a little while back, and fell in love with it instantly. To have that song just show up as a blip on most listeners’ radios back then is truly heartbreaking.

    As for Lee Michaels, that dude is very underrated. His first few albums are magnificent and well worth seeking out.

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