Friday Five: April 1972

Did anything good come from 1972?

We got The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, and Cabaret in films. Kung Fu, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, and Emergency! all premiered on TV. As for albums, Exile on Main Street by the Stones dropped in ’72. So did Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and Still In Love With You. Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers, Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and The World is a Ghetto by War all came out that year.

And in May, I was born.

Quite a year indeed! Here’s five top five hits from April 1972, just before I entered this world.

“Betcha By Golly, Wow by the Stylistics”
Ah! Pure 70s soul. It climbed up the charts in April, hitting the #4 spot on the R&B charts that month before peaking at #2 the following month. It also topped out at #3 on the Hot 100.

“A Horse With No Name” by America
It was the debut single for the band America, which also became their biggest hit. It was the top song in the country for three weeks, including the first two of April ’72. Detractors thought it derivative of Neil Young (singer Dewey Bunnell sounds like him, too, as well as Young’s buddy Steven Stills) but it’s an enduring song, to say the least. While I wasn’t old enough to know it in its heydey, it was a frequently played song in my memories of the 70s. I remember being in our old Ford Pinto hearing the song and being taken by it’s mystery.

“Look What You Done For Me” by Al Green
The first release from Green’s I’m Still In Love With You album——my favorite of all his albums——this is the master doing what he does best. It peaked at #2 on the R&B charts in April (and #4 on the Hot 100).

“I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers
This song hit #3 on the R&B charts in month of April. It would eventually hit the top spot in May and, in June, hit #1 on the Hot 100. Some say it’s a song about the utopian world of racial equality, a song about when the movement is done. All I know is that it’s perfection, plain and simple.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack
Roberta Flack was already making amazingly good music but she wasn’t topping the charts before this song. Clint Eastwood chose it for the soundtrack to his 1971 movie Play Misty for Me and it took off from there. It was the #1 song in the country for six weeks from April to May 1972 (which means it was the #1 song on the day I was born). Billboard ranked it #1 for the year. It won the Grammy for best song (for the writer) and best record (for the performance of the single). In short, it was a massive hit. What I didn’t know until right now was that it was written by a British folk singer (Ewan MacColl) in 1957 for his future wife Peggy Seeger, who is the half sister of Pete Seeger.

Friday Five: April 1971

We’re one year away from the year I was born and yet we’re squarely in the music that I love to this very day. 1971 had a bunch of amazing music——”Brown Sugar” by the Stones, “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, and “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. And then there’s songs by Neil Diamond (“I Am I Said”), The Bee Gees (“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”), John Denver (“Take Me Home, Country Roads”), and even the Five Man Electrical Band (“Signs”). And we’re still not even scratching the surface.

Here’s 5 of the top 5 of April 1971, a worthy peak in the year.

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by The Jackson 5
It’s a masterpiece of an early 70s love song. Written by Clifton Davis——who I first met as the star of the 80’s television show Amen (which also starred Sherman Hemsley of The Jeffersons)——it was only a moderate hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the Jackson brothers, peaking at #4 in April. The same month it hit the #2 spot behind Marvin Gaye on the R&B charts before spending three weeks at #1 in May. It was one of their enduring hits, a standard for Michael in his later years, and a source for beautiful cover versions by Isaac Hayes and another by Gloria Gaynor.

“Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night
Songs like this are proof that everybody in music is smoking pot in 1971. That said, it’s a solid piece of rock history and it ruled the Hot 100 for six weeks beginning in mid-April. The lyrics are odd and weird and often non-sensical, but the eclectic and fun melodic rhythms all know what they’re doing.  Of course, it was famously used in the 1983 hit movie The Big Chill.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” by The Temptations
This hit the #1 spot for the first two weeks of April 1971 (after having been #1 on the R&B charts in March). At their best, the Temptations are untouchable, and this is among their best. This is a “story” song that makes stellar use of the orchestral sounds that helped make so many of their songs into the masterpieces they were. This was the last single to feature founding member and lead vocalist Eddie Kendricks. (Here’s a little Chicano-style video version of it…)

“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
Three Dog Night kept Marvin Gaye out of the top spot on the Hot 100. While the song only peaked at #2 there, it held #1 spot on the R&B chart for five weeks, from the end of March through all of April. But what do the charts matter when you write a song that captures the moment like few others? It’s one of the greatest songs of all time from an album that was a change of pace for the Motown stalwart.

“Proud Mary” by Ike & Tina Turner
Here’s a song that’s bigger, better, and more historic than its place on the charts. It peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 in March and then dropped quick, but it was at #5 on the R&B charts in April, so it squeaks into this list. Ike and Tina took the two-year-old song by John Fogerty (performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival) and made it into deep, Southern, electric, and sexy soul music. It’s one of my favorites of all-time, and one of the best things Tina Turner ever did (which is saying a lot). Here it is live and psychedelic…

Friday Five: April 1970

We’re in the seventies now! Here’s five songs that cracked the top 5 on the billboard charts in April 1970.

Let It Be” by The Beatles
This is the next to last single released by the Beatles, and their next to last number 1 song. It topped the charts for two weeks in April 1970. It was followed by “The Long and Winding Road” which hit #1 the following month when Let It Be (the album) was released (after having been remixed by Phil Spector).

ABC” by The Jackson 5
It was the second single ever released by the group and their second number 1. By the end of 1970 the Jackson brothers released five singles, all of which hit #1. This song sat atop the Hot 100 for two weeks, knocking the Beatles’ “Let It Be” out of the top spot in the last week of April. It also hit #1 on the R&B charts, a position it held for all four weeks of the month.

The Fightin’ Side of Me” by Merle Haggard and The Strangers
It’s an anti-antiwar song that topped the country charts for the whole month of March 1970 and remained in the top 5 for the entire month of April. This is the apex of the Vietnam antiwar movement, following the three year period stretching from 1967-1969 when 40,000 US troops perished (out of what would become a total of just over 58,000). Haggard ignores most of that, as he emboldens a crowd that wanted to make American great again.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon & Garfunkel
While Merle Haggard was sitting on top of the country charts this song was #1 on the Hot 100, a position it held from late February through the first week of April. Viewed as making use of Phil Spector techniques, it’s a snapshot of its moment in time.

“Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” by John Ono Lennon
Billed as Lennon/Ono and the Plastic Ono Band everywhere but the US, this song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono peaked at #3 on the hot 100 in April 1970. The Beatles were done, officially, but their last album was just about to drop. At the same time, The Beatles themselves were moving on with their individual projects. This single, produced by Phil Spector, is one of the best things done by Lennon.

Friday Five: March 1969

5. “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe
Tommy Roe was more than a one-hit wonder. He had eight gold records and two number one pop hits——”Sheila” in 1962 and “Dizzy” in 1969. That’s an interesting spread considering the evolution in pop music in that time period. This song sat at the top of the charts for four weeks and sold more than two million copies in the US. It became a chart topper in the UK and Canada, too. I hope he’s still living off some of that success today.

4. “Give It Up or Turnit A Loose” by James Brown
James Brown was making some amazing music in the late 60s and early 70s and this hit is no exception. It hit the top of the R&B charts in March 1969. It has that soul groove that just sounds like the soundtrack for young, urban, Black folks on the move. Without many words he manages to communicate heaps of meaning when placed in the context of the moment.

3. “The Weight” by Aretha Franklin
I love that Aretha is covering songs that haven’t even been out that long and hitting the charts as she does. The Band released “The Weight” in August 1968 as the first single from their debut album. It started to make them a known entity in the world of rock but it didn’t do much in the US (it peaked at #63). Aretha released it the next spring and went to #3 on the R&B charts with her cover. It might be The Band’s signature tune, a reflection of their rural storytelling lyrics and, in the original, the raw beauty of Levon Helm’s voice and the group’s exquisite musicianship. Aretha makes the song her own, aided by her sheer force and presence, and the guitar work of the legendary Duane Allman behind her.

2. “Time of the Season” by the Zombies
I wasn’t alive in 1969 but this song makes me think I can feel what it was like to have been. The bass and off beat clap got it going on. Add the guitar riff, vocals, and keyboard, and you’ve got quite a little sample of psychedelic pop. It peaked at #3 in March 1969.

1. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension
Talk about feeling like the 60s. Although this one is more contrived than the other. It’s a medley from a broadway production about hippies sung by an African American vocal group. I’ll leave it to somebody who was around back then to explain the rest. It peaked at #4 in March 1969 and reigned at #1 for six weeks between April and May. The Beatles would finally knock them out of the top spot with “Get Back.”

Friday Five: March 1968

5. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
Country legend Kenny Rogers’ first hit (it peaked at #5 on the Hot 100) wasn’t a country song, it was a psychedelic song that takes us on the journey of an acid trip. It was supposed to caution people against doing LSD but I doubt that message got across. Check out the band’s “performance” on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. I don’t ever recall hearing the song until 1997’s The Big Lebowski, which embraced the comedic potential of the song beautifully.

4. “I Thank You” by Sam & Dave
This Sam and Dave classic barely cracked the Top Ten on the Hot 100 and it peaked at #4 on the R&B charts. Its moderate success hardly begins to capture its endurance. It lives on into our present as a standard for rhythm and blues bands everywhere.

3. “Take Me To Your World” by Tammy Wynette
1968 was an amazing year in rock, pop, and R&B but it was also pretty good in the world of country. Tammy Wynette——the first lady of country——was making her climb through a string of top ten singles that would stretch from 1967 to 1970. After her first #1 in late 1967, she’d hit the top spot three times in ’68, culminating with her classic (and signature tune) “Stand By Your Man.” This song started the #1 streak of that year for her.

2. “Valleri” by the Monkees
From Wikipedia: “Screen Gems president and music supervisor Don Kirshner’s asked [Tommy] Boyce and [Bobby] Hart if they had any “girl’s-name” songs to be used in the Monkees’s television series. After pretending over the telephone that they had a song which was already finished, Boyce and Hart improvised “Valleri” on their way over to Kirshner’s office.” What can you say? It’s written on the ride to work. RIP Peter Tork.

1. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
It reigned at #1 for March 1968 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Written by Otis Redding and Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, it was recorded in 1967, on November 22 with some additional work on December 7. After Otis died in a plane crash on December 10, Cropper mixed the song (including the addition of the ocean and seagulls) and the rest is history. Not a “finished” song by the Bg O’s standards, the informality worked. It is one of the greatest songs in popular music, and a fitting tribute the one of the greatest voices of soul.

Friday Five: March 1967

5. “Happy Together” by the Turtles
The Turtles were more than a one hit wonder, but this song eclipsed all they’d ever record when it pushed The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the top spot on the pop charts in March 1967. It would stay there for three weeks. It’s a captivating song that encapsulates the spring before the Summer of Love in so many ways. A love song, the haunting background vocals, military drumbeat, and pure 60s guitar all explode when the refrain hits, backed by some brass and more. Twenty years after its release, when it was used in the movie Making Mr. Right (a bomb with John Malkovich), the song was re-released as a single with an accompanying video on MTV and VH1. I got sucked in like I was in 1967.

4. “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by Cannonball Adderly
Julius “Cannonball” Adderly was a jazz saxophonist.  In 1966 he released Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at “The Club” a live album, as the title would have us believe. In reality, it was recorded in front of an audience of friends at Capitol records in Hollywood while the liner notes said it was recorded at a club in Chicago. Maybe the quotation marks around “The Club” were the clue.  The title track became an unlikely hit record in 1967, hanging out on the R&B charts for months in the spring where it reached the #2 spot. It even made it to #11 on the Hot 100.  It’s a song that overtly tries to capture the progress of the Civil Rights Movement at what was, historically, something of a critical juncture.

3. “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” by Sam and Dave
After their breakout success with 1966’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater) started carving out their reputation as one of the most successful soul duos of the era. This 1967 hit——it cracked the top five on the R&B charts in March and peaked at #3 by April——was their only ballad hit. Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, with music played by Stax band Booker T. & the M.G.’s and horns by the Mar-Keys, it was followed by “Soul Man” later that same year.

2. “It Takes Two” by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
The folks at Motown were looking for a duet partner for Marvin Gaye. They seemingly found one in Kim “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” Weston. This song peaked at #4 in March on the R&B charts. A month later Motown would release “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a duet by Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and people forgot he had ever recorded with anyone else.

1. “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” by Aretha Franklin
Five years and nine albums at Columbia Records still hadn’t made Aretha famous. When Jerry Wexler signed her at Atlantic, he brought her to Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios where she (and the studio’s legendary musicians) started on one of the greatest R&B albums ever made, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The title track (with parentheses) was released in February. It hit #1 on the R&B charts in late March, becoming her first hit single. The B-side was “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.”

Friday Five: March 1966

5. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler
An unlikely pop hit to be sure, this song was #1 on the Hot 100 for the entire month of March 1966 and hit the #2 spot on the country charts at the same time. Wikipedia tells me it was written, in part, to honor the first Native Hawaiian killed in the US war in Vietnam, a young man named James Gabriel Jr. The recorded version dropped the direct reference to Gabriel. While the song makes no direct mention of the Vietnam War either, the message was clear as US involvement in the war began escalating. Troop levels more than doubled from 1965 to 1966, from about 184,000 to more than 385,000.

4. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas
I’m surprised to learn this classic only made it to #5 on the Hot 100. Along with the above, it might be the definitive song of the year. Celebrated as a harbinger of the emerging counterculture and a slice of an equally emergent California sound, it was the first hit for the group and a signature song of the era. (It was produced by Lou Adler, who’s half-Mexican and half-Jewish and raised in Boyle Heights.)

3. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
This song was #1 on the R&B charts for five weeks from January to February, the same time it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. By March it was on its way down, sliding from #2 to #7 on the R&B charts. The young Stevie Wonder shared writing credits on the song, his first hit with a writing credit and a sign of greater things to come. Stevie’s voice change is prominent here, another sign of things to come for the future father of nine kids.

2. “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones
Nancy Sinatra and her boots kept this out of the top spot on the UK charts while the Green Berets did the same in the US. Peaking at #2 in March, this Rolling Stones classic has that signature sound of the early group. I love the mix of the “British sound” with US blues in this era of the band. They were well on their way to legendary greatness.

1. “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles
Talk about on their way to greatness. This song is from the Rubber Soul album, the first album people started to realize this was more than your average pop band. The lyrics of “Nowhere Man” help it stand out. John is experimenting in life and in art, and he’s written a song that is not about boys and girls in love. What is it about? It’s deep, sometimes confusing, and filled with antiestablishment possibility. But who knows?