Category Archives: Gladys Knight & the Pips

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.

Today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two

I’ve written before of my affinity for cover songs. There’s just something magical when a singer tackles a contemporary’s tune and/or digs deep into the charts of history to celebrate an influence. It sheds light on him or her, I think, in a way that one’s own work doesn’t.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, of course, cover songs were somewhat de rigueur. Many a Motown LP followed a simple pattern: the artist’s current single(s); versions of their stablemates’ hits; and renditions of Beatles’ songs and other current tunes. Gladys Knight & the Pips’ If I Were Your Woman album, from 1971, includes her renditions of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” for instance, and her Standing Ovation features her sultry take on Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

In today’s world, many an aspiring singer has a YouTube channel loaded with their renditions, many of them very good, of current and classic songs. I’m sidestepping that rabbit hole to focus primarily on artists who’ve released original works, however.

So, without further adieu, here’s today’s Top 5: Cover Songs, Part Two.

1)  Rumer – “Balance of Nature.” This is another tasty treat from the Brit singer-songwriter’s upcoming album, This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook. (It was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick for her 1972 Warner Brothers’ debut, Dionne.)

2) Rylie Bourne – “Fist City.” One of my favorite new artists shows off her roots with this rendition of the feisty Loretta Lynn classic.

3) The MonaLisa Twins – “God Only Knows.” So, above, I mentioned the rabbit hole of YouTube. The MonaLisa Twins, who I discovered courtesy of YouTube’s algorithms, are singing sisters from Austria who moved to Liverpool a few years back – and, man, what voices! This hails from their 2014 MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More album.

4) Paul Weller – “What’s Going On.” The “modfather” is joined by Lena Fiagbe for this cover of the timeless Marvin Gaye song.

5) Britta Phillips – “Drive.” A cover of the Cars’ song; a studio version can be found on her recent album, the sublime Luck or Magic.

And a few bonuses…

Elvis Presley – “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Presley expanded his Vegas sets with a plethora of contemporary tunes. This wondrous rendition of the Simon & Garfunkel chestnut comes from the That’s the Way It Is film, which documented his 1970 return to live performance in Las Vegas.

Alicia Keys – “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” Here’s Alicia from the America: A Tribute to Heroes TV special in 2001 performing a stirring rendition of the 1973 Donnie Hathaway classic.

Juliana Hatfield – “It Never Rains in Southern California.” A few years back, Juliana offered to record song requests for one of her PledgeMusic projects – for $1000 a pop, if my memory is correct. That was far and away out of my budget then, and still is now, but hey – someone ponied up the cash. Here’s one of them: a wistful version of the 1972 hit by Albert Hammond.

 

Today’s Top 5: Classic Trax

My niece turns 21 this week. Hard to believe. A few years back, I wrote about how times had changed since her birth. In the three years since, change continues unabated – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Spotify and Apple Music, among other services, are upending the long-accepted order of how we listen to and enjoy TV, movies and music. Think about it: Where once we had to own the DVDs to binge on a show, now one just has to sign into the service that has what we’re in the mood to absorb. And for music – is there even a need, anymore, for CDs? Everyone seems to use a streaming service of some kind. Even me. I’m listening to the Bangles’ classic Different Light via Apple Music as I type.

Well, I certainly hope that CDs are still in demand; I still buy them, at any rate, and hopefully one newly minted 21 year old still listens to them. The titles I sent her include yesteryear classics that have influenced just about every generation since their long-ago releases; and a few newer albums by relatively new artists that are, to my ears, modern-day classics.

Today’s Top 5: Classic Trax, however, isn’t drawn from the CDs I picked for her. They’re more of an addendum – tracks that hail from classic albums that, if there was justice in this universe, would be in everyone’s collection or playlist.

1) Rickie Lee Jones – “We Belong Together.” Rickie Lee Jones’ 1979 self-titled debut was a stone-cold classic. Pirates, her 1981 follow-up, actually improved upon it – a hard feat. This song, the lead track, is a riveting, romantic street opera.

2) Gladys Knight & the Pips – “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” Imagination, released in the fall of ’73, is a five-star set that features such songs as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and this one, which hit No. 3 on the singles chart in April ’74.

3) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – “Down by the River.” This song hails from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), one of my Top 5 Albums of All Time – a list that, now that I think about it, I need to put together and share. One of my joys in 2015: taking my nephew, who was 19 at the time, to see Neil & Promise of the Real in concert. (He was already a fan, I should mention.) It was, as I wrote here, an incredible show; and this epic performance blew us both away.

4) Lone Justice – “Shelter.” The title track to the second Lone Justice album, released in 1986, is one of those songs – as I used to write (too often) on my old website, “it takes you there, wherever there is.”

5) The Bangles – “September Gurls.” Different Light, the Bangles’ 1986 album, is as perfect a pop record ever released, I think. It featured two Top 5 singles (“Manic Monday,” which hit No. 2, and “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which hit No. 1) and a wealth of classic songs, including this cover of the Big Star tune. (This performance, by the way, is from the World Cafe Live in 2014, which I wrote about here.)