Category Archives: Gladys Knight & the Pips

Today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969

It was a chilly December day in 1969 when my father, then 38, arrived home from Vietnam, where he’d worked the previous 15 months as an electronics field engineer attached to the 5th U.S. Marine Base at Da Nang. He maintained the Marine Corps’ communication system called TRC-97 at fire bases and outposts between Da Nang and the DMZ, and sometimes took sniper fire while riding a motorcycle from one site to the next. He wasn’t a G.I., having left the Army after serving in the Korean War the decade before, but an RCA employee.

According to the thorough family history written by my grandfather the following year, my dad left for Vietnam on Sept. 16th, 1968, and returned stateside on Dec. 15th, though I imagine he first touched ground in Hawaii or San Diego and, even if he flew straight through, made it home a day later. What I recall: my mom crouching beside me, who was all of 4 1/2, and pointing to a tall man dressed in fatigues walking toward us. “Daddy,” she whispered in my ear. I ran to him, arms outstretched, and bellowed the same.

Young children welcoming a parent home from war: It’s a scene played out many thousands of times every decade, it seems. And, as with me, I’m sure it’s the first memory many have of that parent.

I was reminded of the day by Herc’s thoughtful write-up of The Vietnam War, the Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary series that recently aired on PBS. I haven’t watched it yet, though at some point I likely will, but it got me to thinking of December 1969 and the winter that followed – it’s the last time, I think, that I enjoyed snow. By the next Christmas we were in Saudi, and snow and frigid weather were non-factors for the next five years.

Anyway, Christmas of 1969, as I remember it, was great; the family was together and, in addition to my dad, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: Billy Blastoff. (It was an action toy, not a doll!)

To pull the magnifying glass away from me, major events of this month included, on the 1st, the initial draft lottery; on the 2nd, the 747 making its official debut; and, on the 6th, “Woodstock West,” aka the Altamont Free Concert, erupting into violence. Unemployment for the month was just 3.90 percent, but was about to begin a gradual climb to 6 percent by the end of 1970; and inflation was relatively high, at 5.5 percent.

(For more on 1969, see here and here, though each now features a clip that’s gone AWOL from YouTube.)

Movies released this month included A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Hello, Dolly!, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Topaz and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Top television shows included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D. and Family Affair. Brady Bunch aficionados will know that the kitsch classic’s lone Christmas episode, when Carol came down with a bad case of laryngitis, aired on the 17th; another historic Christmas-tinged TV moment came 10 days earlier with the first airing of Frosty the Snowman.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: December 27th, 1969 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” This, Diana’s final single with the Supremes, closed out the 1960s in spectacular fashion. (Producer Johnny Bristol can be heard harmonizing along, and giving Diana encouragement.)

2) Peter, Paul & Mary – “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I never knew this was written by John Denver until the mid-2000s, when I watched an excellent PPM biography on PBS. There’s this, too: PPM recorded it in 1967 for Album 1700, but didn’t release it as a single until October 1969. It promptly ascended the charts and, on Dec. 20th, became their only single to hit No. 1. This week, it dropped a notch to No. 2.

3) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Written for the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid film, this classic Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, which won an Oscar, has been covered more times than than ASCAP/BMI can count. (Just a joke.) Here’s B.J. Thomas singing it on Top of the Pops in February 1970:

4) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner”/“Fortunate Son.” The double A-sided hit  – one of the best – dropped to No. 4 from No. 3 (its peak) this week.

5) Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Who knew, as 1969 came to a close, that the chorus to this ditty – which topped the charts for two weeks in early December – would become one of the de facto sing-alongs at sporting events within a decade’s time?

And two bonuses:

6) Neil Diamond – “Holly Holy.” The No. 6 this week is this gospel-tinged classic, which may well be Neil Diamond’s greatest song. (And even if it isn’t, it certainly feels that way when he’s singing it.) Here he is performing on the BBC in 1971:

7) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Friendship Train.” Topping out at No, 17 is this under-appreciated Norman Whitfield-penned call for peace, love and understanding. Here’s Gladys & the Pips performing it in 1972:

 

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Today’s Top 5: January 11, 1974

Last night, Diane and I became so engrossed in Room 222 that we lost track of time – and of Orphan Black (one of our favorite shows), which airs at 10pm. I only realized our oversight just before turning in for the night, when I checked Facebook and found Cosima peering through my iPhone screen as if to say, “where the hell are you?” Really, Cosima, you couldn’t have popped up at, say, 9:30pm?!

it’s not really her fault, of course, nor the algorithm that drives Facebook’s newsfeed. I blame Pete, Liz, Alice and Mr. Kaufman.

The half-hour comedy-drama about the goings on at an L.A. high school originally aired on ABC from September 17th, 1969, to January 11th, 1974. If not for some unexpected Emmy nominations and wins, it likely wouldn’t have lasted that long – it wasn’t a ratings winner. Part of its failure to catch on, I think, is that although ostensibly aimed at kids, it’s actually about the aforementioned adults – history teacher Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), student teacher-English teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine) and principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine). One or two (or more) of them, though usually Pete, step in to help a kid solve a problem.

And, too, it was a topical show with a capital T, so I’m sure some viewers – kids and adults alike – turned the channel just because of that. Among the problems tackled: pollution, racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, guns in school, and teen pregnancy. An underlying theme also runs through every episode: respect. To lean on a cliche, it preached that one can disagree without being disagreeable, a lesson that’s (sadly) still applicable today. The result is far more earnest and wry than laugh-out-loud funny, though chuckles are to be had – especially when Alice is involved.

Anyway, I picked up the DVD sets for seasons 1 and 2 years ago only to learn that Shout TV (apparently) has no intention of releasing the final three seasons. As I’ve written before, it’s a show that takes me back – and it does the same for Diane. So when I discovered last week – quite by accident – that it airs every weekday from 9am to 11am on the Aspire cable channel, I did what any self-respecting fan would do: I scheduled all airings to be DVRed. And last night, with some 15 episodes from seasons 4 and 5 on hand, we binged.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: January 11th, 1974, the date of Room 222’s final episode. The songs are drawn from the charts that end on the 12th over at Weekly Top 40.

The 11th was a Friday, I should mention, and all was not great in the land. Here’s the day’s headline from the Chicago Tribune:

Also: unemployment rose to 5.2 percent this month; and the wage-killer known as inflation was 9.4 percent. Super Bowl VIII would be played in two days in Houston, where the Miami Dolphins decimated the Minnesota Vikings 24-7.

Yeah, yeah, yeah: Enough of the intro.

1) Steve Miller – “The Joker.” The No. 1 song in the land, this week, is this staple of today’s classic rock.

2) Jim Croce – “Time in a Bottle.” This song from the South Philly-born singer-songwriter, who died at age 30 in a plane crash on September 20, 1973, dropped from the top spot to No. 2.

3) Al Wilson – “Show and Tell.” Rising to No. 3 (from No. 5) is this smooth soul classic, which would hit No. 1 the following week.

4) Brownsville Station – “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The Ann Arbor, Mich., rock band scored a multi-platinum hit with this single, which hit No. 4 this week.

5) Gladys Knight and the Pips – “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” Gladys & Co. clock in at No. 5 with this killer track, which was written by Gerry Goffin and Barry Goldberg.

And a few bonuses:

6) Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City.” The instant classic, from Stevie’s Innervisions album, hits its chart peak this week – No. 8.

7) Paul McCartney & Wings – “Helen Wheels.” Another instant-classic, written forMcCartney’s Land Rover, also reaches its chart peak – No. 10.

8) Charlie Rich – “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” And, finally, falling to No. 12 (from No. 4) is  this country-flavored hit, which enjoyed a two-week run at No. 1 in December 1973. It’s one of a few songs that I know primarily for its appearance on one of the compilation albums routinely hawked on TV in the mid- and late-1970s.

Today’s Top 5: Good Girls Revolt, Take 2 – March 23, 1970

Earlier today, I watched (for the umpteenth time) one of my favorite films: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which was released in 1962. It’s a whimsical love letter to eccentricity, escape and the human-feline bond, and Holly Golightly may well be Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic role. The movie is also notable, of course, for introducing the Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer song “Moon River” to the world.

Here’s some food for thought, though: In 1962, Holly’s opportunities were extremely limited because of her gender. She would have been disqualified from many jobs; and, even if an employer made an exception and hired her, she could expect to be paid much less than a guy doing the same work. She also wouldn’t be able to get a prescription for the birth-control pill, as it was only given to married women (and only in some states); and, regardless of her marriage status, she could be fired if she became pregnant. And if a male colleague or superior grabbed her ass? She had no recourse. Sexual harassment, as a concept, didn’t exist. Oh, and even if she had graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, she couldn’t apply to Harvard, Yale or Princeton, as women weren’t accepted as students. She’d also have difficulty getting a credit card.

fullsizeoutput_10a5Which is why Good Girls Revolt, a fictionalized account of the experiences of women at Newsweek during late 1969 and early 1970, is such an important series. On the surface, of course, it’s about women fighting for the right to pursue their dreams – in this case, reporting and writing. But it’s more than that. It’s about an era when change was spreading through society writ large. And while the America of 1969-70 was different than it was in 1962, it was not as different as, at first blush, it may seem – within the counterculture? Yes. Within the wider culture? Not so much. In 1970, for instance, CBS nixed the idea that Mary Tyler Moore would portray a divorcée in her eponymous sitcom because executives feared it would offend viewers. Instead, her character (Mary Richards) moved to Minneapolis after breaking off a long engagement.

Good Girls Revolt, for those who’ve yet to see it, opens after the concert fiasco at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in December 1969. As I said here, the dialogue’s occasionally clunky in the first few episodes and the characters sometimes teeter near stereotypical – but it’s well-acted. Let me add an adverb: It’s extremely well-acted. (Genevieve Angelson, who plays lead character Patti, deserves an Emmy Award.) While glimpses of greatness are seen in the early going, it’s not until midway through the 10-episode run – the New Year’s Eve episode, to be specific – that the series hits its stride. (That’s not a criticism; most new shows take a while to find their groove.) By the last episode, when the employees take a public stand, you’ll be left wanting more. Much more.

However, last week, Amazon nixed a second season despite the show doing well in every available metric. According to Hollywood Reporter, Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, is currently shopping it to other networks – ABC, Freeform, USA Network, Bravo and Hulu are all said to be interested – but they won’t take it on if they don’t think there’s an audience. So head over to Care2 and sign the petition.

The women themselves let their voices be heard on March 16, 1970, the same day that Newsweek published a cover story on the nascent women’s movement. The issue is actually dated March 23rd; like most magazines, then and now, Newsweek pre-dated its issues so that it retained newsstand appeal. For the purposes of today’s Top 5, I’m sticking to the 23rd – well, actually the 21st. The charts over at Weekly Top 40 are two days off.

Anyway, here’s today’s Top 5: Good Girls Revolt, Take 2 – March 23, 1970. These are the songs by female artists that, according to Weekly Top 40, were in the Top 40 that week.

1) Aretha Franklin – “Call Me.” The top 18 hits this week are by men; the highest-charting 45 by a woman is this, at No. 19. It was the lead single from Aretha’s 1970 This Girl’s in Love With You album.

2) The Supremes – “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” The next female act, the Supremes, comes in at No. 25. It’s notable as the first post-Diana Ross single by the Motown stalwarts; Jean Terrell handles lead vocals.

3) Lulu – “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby).” This gem from Lulu (one of my favorites by her) ranks at No. 31.

4) Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell – “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Of this week’s Top 40, exactly three and a half songs are by women. (Let that sink in for a moment.) This, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ classic, ranks No. 34.

5) The Five Stairsteps – “O-o-h Child.” This was a newly ranked single within the Top 100; along with its flipside, “Dear Prudence,” it was No. 85. (The Stairsteps were five siblings – four brothers and one sister – and they all take a turn singing lead here.)

And one bonus…

6) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You).” Another new entry this week, coming in at No. 87.

And that, believe it or not, is the extent of women in the chart, which covers Numbers 1 through 50 and adds 14 additional “new this week” entries for the Top 100 as a whole.