Friday Five: 1972

This is the end of the first week of the spring semester at the Claremont Colleges. And each spring I get to teach my class on comparative race movements of the post-WWII era, “All Power to the People!” One of my favorite things about the class is the music. We start each class with a song, something that usually aligns with the topic or theme of that day’s class.

Even though I’m the teacher, it’s a great learning experience for me. The goal of finding music that’s appropriate for the class fuels a lot of my listening habits on a weekly basis. As a result, I continue to discover songs from the past that I’ve never heard before, songs that are great and that fit perfectly into the class. I also get to play songs I know intimately and love passionately with a group of young people who, often, have never heard them before.

That’s always been the point behind this “Friday Five” thing, too. So, I started thinking it might be fun to cover the span of my life through these weekly posts. I can still share music, but by covering one year each week I get a more organized way of writing about the music I love and remember, as well as discover stuff I missed along the way or rediscover the stuff I forgot about.

So, here we go! I was born in 1972, and so the music I love from that year is a mix of songs I remember hearing a lot as a small child as well as songs I’ve come to love in my teen and adult years. These five are a mix of both, all worth a listen.

5. “Garden Party” (Rick Nelson)
At some point in the 1980s, one of the “basic cable” stations started playing repeats of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” I knew about Ricky Nelson and his family before that, mostly through pop cultural references and appearances on talk shows. While his teen hits were in regular radio play in my youth, this is the song I most associate with the times. It’s a mix of country and rock, something that somehow sounds so 70s and, yet, kind of reminiscent of earlier sounds.

4. “A Horse With No Name” (America)
At some point in the 1980s, I started to understand the negative reaction to 70s pop that was widespread within segments of the hardcore rock ‘n roll purists. I suspect folks like that hated the band America. The lead singer sounded like Steven Stills, and their music sounded like the kind of “AM Gold” that dominated the airwaves in the 70s. But I can’t deny this song its rightful place in my youthful memories. I can remember hearing it as a small kid, riding in our Ford Pinto, holding on to my doll of The Six Million Dollar Man. Even now, the sound of it is both comforting and kind of haunting.

3. “Burning Love” (Elvis)
It’s the King’s last song to enter the Top Ten, and his last #1 single. And it’s so gorgeously white-leather-jump-suit-in-Vegas that I can’t help myself!

2. “Use Me” (Bill Withers)
I just couldn’t be happier that Bill Withers is getting inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame this spring. The man was viciously good, as a song writer and performer. This is, hands down, my favorite song of his. I can still remember the first time I ever really listened to the lyrics. I was a teenager and even though I had known the song for my entire life, I had never really thought about what it was about. It’s a hefty piece of music, sexy, soulful, and funny. (The single version, below, is tight. But I’ve long had a soft spot for this acoustic version, too.)

1. “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green)
It might be cheating to add Al Green’s most famous hit to a list of 1972 songs since it was first released as a single the year before. But the song was the highlight of his album of the same name, released in 1972. The song reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100” in that year, coming in at #11 for the year overall. Al Green is in my “holy trinity” of musical performers, along with Elvis and Tom Waits. Few people can turn it on like he could. Willie Mitchell, his producer, deserves a lot of the credit. But that voice!

Bill Withers speaks out

Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America features an interview with legendary performer Bill Withers on his most recent podcast.  It is an informative discussion, shedding particular light on Withers’ decision to leave the limelight more than 20 years ago.  While most have called it a “retirement,” in his eyes, it is anything but.

Withers is featured in the film “Soul Power,” a documentary about the 1974 music festival in Kinshasa, Zaire which featured James Brown, B.B. King, Celia Cruz, Withers, and an assortment of R&B legends sharing the stage with performers from the southern part of the continent.  The three-day concert was designed to accompany the Muhammad Ali and George Foreman title bout known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.”  Along with 1971’s “Soul to Soul” concert in Ghana, the performances stand as historic instances of “American” music returning home to its roots, as its most spectacular ambassadors did the same.  “Soul Power” open this week in NY and LA.

Here is Withers performing the song “Hope She’ll Be Happier” from the documentary.

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Bill Withers on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod.

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Use Me

Four years ago today, I started my first blog. I deleted it about a month later, and then for the next two years or so periodically would start something, then let it flounder, start, flounder, start flounder…you get the point. What can I say? I’m a product genX through and through.

ANYWAY, the first thing I posted on that defunct blog was a link to a clip of Bill Withers performing “Use Me.” I pretty sure it wasn’t this exact clip, since I don’t think it was on YouTube, but regardless, I post it now to commemorate the day.

And just ’cause nobody should every have to stop with just one little taste of Mr. Withers…

And, now, the Godfather of Soul, for no reason other than to get you off your ass.