Category Archives: Stevie Wonder

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.

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Today’s Top 5: September 26, 1974 (via Rolling Stone)

1974 was a bad year. Leave aside, for a moment, the horrors of Watergate and Richard Nixon, which culminated on August 9th with that wretched excuse of a president tendering his resignation. The economy was in tatters. At year’s start, unemployment clocked in at 5.10 percent – not bad, but it was on an upward trajectory to, by year’s end, 7.2 percent. Inflation, too, was spiraling upward. It began the year at 9.4 percent and surged to 11 percent by December.

There were many reasons for the turmoil; this 1974 end-of-year report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, aptly titled “The Limping Giant,” does a good job of explaining them.

In the months between Nixon’s resignation and this September 26th issue of Rolling Stone, new president Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon and offered a conditional amnesty to draft dodgers; and, in related news, Evel Knievel failed in his attempt to jump Snake River Canyon.

According to Weekly Top 40, the No. 1 song this week was Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”; and, according to Billboard (via Wikipedia), the No. 1 album was Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale. Top TV shows included All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, The Jeffersons and M*A*S*H. The year’s top films included Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Godfather Part II and The Longest Yard.

Not that I saw any of them at the time. I was all of 9 years old that fall and just starting fourth grade. As I’ve written here, here and here, at the time we lived overseas – in Saudi Arabia, one of the countries responsible for the oil embargo that had helped stall the already sputtering U.S. economy the year before. I liked music, but had yet to become obsessed with it, though Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits got a lot of play on my portable Sanyo record player.

img_2655I’d never heard of Tanya Tucker, the country singer whose face graces this Rolling Stone, and wasn’t familiar with any contemporary singer except Neil Diamond, though distinct memories of some songs – “Doctor My Eyes” and “Bennie and the Jets” especially – bounce about my brain from time to time. I’m sure I was exposed to popular music, in other words, but it wasn’t where my attention was fixed.

Anyway, Tanya – who I discovered in 1978 with her incendiary TNT album – first found success in 1972, at the age of 13, with her rendition of “Delta Dawn,” which she recorded after either she or producer Billy Sherrill heard Bette Midler sing it on The Tonight Show. (Different stories abound.) She sounded older than her years.

fullsizeoutput_1242Titled “Tanya, the Teenage Teaser,” the Chet Flippo-written profile catches up with Tucker at the Fifth Annual Altoona Fire Fighters Show in Altoona, Pa., where her rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” apparently sparked flames of lust in the male folk. “Her face was a study in wide-eyed childish innocence, but her body had another message and her knee drops and pelvic thrusts raised the temperature several degrees around the stage,” Flippo writes.

The article was likely Tucker’s introduction to many Rolling Stone readers; it delves into who she is, both as a person and an artist, and explains that “[s] has had five Number One country hits in two years, including ‘Delta Dawn,’ ‘Blood Red and Going Down,’ and ‘Would You Lay with Me (in a Field of Stone).’ She has Nashville’s top producer, Billy Sherrill—his other major artist is Charlie Rich—working for her. She has limitless ambition and energy, complete backing from her family and a powerful, instantly identifiable voice —low, brassy and vibrating, like a country Ste. Marie. And she has a natural stage presence that is all things to all people.”

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fullsizeoutput_1245img_2806In the article, she acknowledges that “[p]eople say I act older and look older and talk older and sing older, but I don’t know. You don’t find many 15-year-olds with a strong voice. To me—I think everybody should be able to sing, but it’s not that easy. Just like I can’t play guitar or walk a high wire. That’s easy to some people.” Later, she also says “I don’t want to be labeled just a country singer. Right now I guess I am but I’d rather, you know, be labeled like Elvis.”

Onward to today’s Top 5:

1) Tanya Tucker – “Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone).” Her rendition of the David Allen Coe-penned classic apparently didn’t go over well with some because of her young age. “An executive of another record company told me that if you were one of his acts he’d stop having you record what he called ‘scurrilous’ songs,” Flippo tells her.

fullsizeoutput_1240“‘Well,’ she huffed, ‘people get the wrong ideas. Like I had an interview in New York City the other day and the guy was an older man and he asked me to name my songs and I said ‘Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone,’ and he said, ‘What? You’re 15 and you sing songs like that?’ I said, you don’t even know nothin’ about it—you haven’t even heard the song, that’s just like judging a book by its cover. I gave him the record and he called me the next day and said, ‘I liked you when I interviewed you but now I love you.’

“‘I think I’ll use that song for my wedding vows. There’s not much love like that hangin’ around. You don’t find it on every street corner. But some people would like to try to tell me what I should and should not sing….I think two radio stations wouldn’t play ‘Lay with Me.’ So—I just think their minds were in the gutter, they were thinking bad, not me. Some people are always gonna take anything you say dirty. But we don’t need them anyway. We sold 300,000 copies.’”

fullsizeoutput_12472) Stevie Wonder – “Creepin’.” The review section spotlights a few major releases, including Stevie Wonder’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale, which – as I noted above – was the No. 1 album this week. Ken Emerson writes that “FFF concerns the love of God. Wonder’s faith has become more inner-directed and otherwordly, less easily threatened by the here and now. ‘Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away’ but Stevie Wonder can feel God within him, despite His seeming absence from the contemporary scene.” Later, Emerson observes that “FFF is less funky, less specifically black than its predecessors. For Wonder’s onward and upward development has consistently been away from strict soul music and racial categories or limitations. Because of this, his appeal – greater than that of almost any other performer today – cuts across social and racial barriers.”

His conclusion: “The album explores rich harmonies with splendid results, particularly the duet with Wonder’s protégée, Minnie Riperton, on the slinky ‘Creepin’.’ The refrain is ‘in my dreams.’ FFF succeeds in making Stevie Wonder’s dreams seem attractive and real.”

fullsizeoutput_12493) Neil Young – “Revolution Blues.” Stephen Holden tackles Neil’s classic On the Beach: “The hard-edged sound of On the Beach is a contributing factor to its greatness, since the album poses aesthetic and political questions too serious to be treated prettily. Through various opposed personae, Young evokes primary social and psychic polarities that exemplify the deterioration of American culture. Though not named, the figures of Charles Manson and Patricia Hearst appear as emblems of apocalyptic social dislocation in the album’s two masterpieces, ‘Revolution Blues’ and ‘Ambulance Blues.’ In each song, by empathizing with the emotions of both predators and victims, Young has dared what no other major white rock artist (except John Lennon) has—to embrace, expose and perhaps help purge the collective paranoia and guilt of an insane society, acting it out without apology or explanation.”

fullsizeoutput_124a4) Harry Nilsson – “Black Sails.” Ken Barnes says of Pussy Cats: “On his new album Harry Nilsson combines the fashionable practice of revamping hits of the past with originals; fortunately the result, though occasionally unsettling, is always entertaining.” He calls this song “the most intriguing new number, with haunting strings and a clever piratical/anatomical metaphor, highlighted by a neat ‘You’re so vain’-like chorus. Nilsson’s lyrics, as usual, are characterized by seemingly offhand but highly adroit wordplay, and tend to overshadow the essentially low-key music. Nilsson’s vocals, unusually, are confined to a limited range, with none of the normal legerdemain, and contrive to sound hoarse.”

img_2830img_28315) Minnie Riperton – “Lovin’ You.” Believe it or not, but Mark Vining never mentions the classic “Lovin’ You” in his review of Riperton’s second album, Perfect Angel, which he mistakes for her debut (which was actually Come to My Garden in 1970): “Even Minnie Riperton’s octave-bounding, quietly commanding voice can’t keep her debut solo album from losing some of its radiance after a week or two of play.” He concludes with: “Perfect Angel is sometimes subtly fine within its set boundaries but a stronger, more varied production would draw out the hidden color and zest in her voice.”

Today’s Top 5: March 21, 1966 (via Newsweek)

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Newsflash: Teenagers confound adults.

fullsizeoutput_1158In 1966, however, they weren’t just confounding the older generations; they were concerning them, too, because of the largeness of their numbers. According to the unsigned editor’s note in this Newsweek issue, the “17.9 million young Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 loom like a subcontinent within U.S. society. Their numbers exceed the population of Australia and New Zealand, and at times they seem as far-off and hard to reach.” Thus, the magazine’s braintrust decided to delve deep into the world of the modern teen, to learn not just who they were but, as noted newsman Les Nessman might phrase it, what they were plotting.

That tongue-in-cheek reference to the WKRP in Cincinnati reporter serves a purpose. If you watched the show, odds are you remember the shy and sly Bailey Quarters –

Bailey was played by Jan Smithers – who, it just happens, is the 16-year-old girl riding the motorcycle on the cover. Inside, she’s afforded a mini-profile in a section titled “Six Faces of Youth”: “Beneath the Fluoristan smile, Jan worries. ‘Sometimes when I’m sitting in my room I just feel like screaming and pounding my pillow,’ she says. ‘I’m so confused about this whole world and everything that’s happening.’ But she wants to understand why.” She also observes that ‘[w]hen you’re young you might as well take advantage of it. And even if I become old and saggy, I’m still going to be young.”

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fullsizeoutput_1154As a whole, the in-depth investigation of all things teens paints kids as spoiled creatures who subscribe, more or less, to a parentally-approved lifestyle: “In contrast to the troubled minority, most teenagers seem docile indeed. They criticize themselves sternly: drinking, smoking, long hair, hot rods, eye makeup, net stockings, eccentric clothes.”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: March 21, 1966 (via Newsweek).

1) The Beatles – “Nowhere Man.” There, on page 102, is an article titled “Bards of Pop.” In the last three years, we’re told, Beatle bards John Lennon and Paul McCartney “have written 88 songs that have been recorded in 2921 versions and have sold close to 200 million copies.”

fullsizeoutput_1140“Their latest album of originals, ‘Rubber Soul,’ now fourth on U.S. charts, marks a turning away from the percussive electric backgrounds of rhythm & blues to more intimate settings and subtler forms. Still simple and direct, their lyrics are no longer concerned with handholding, but with desertion, seduction and satire.”

Later, McCartney makes a cogent point: “Our best influences now are ourselves. We are so well established that we can bring fans along with us and stretch the limits of pop.” He also says this: “I wouldn’t mind being a white-haired old man writing songs, but I’d hate to be a white-haired Beatle playing at Empress Stadium.”

Anyway, according to Weekly Top 40, “Nowhere Man” was the No. 4 song of the week – and here they are in Munich performing it:

2) The Temptations – “Get Ready.” There’s also a mini-profile of 15-year-old Tommy Brewer, a black kid from Chicago, in “Six Faces of Youth” section, that follows the peek into Jan’s life. He “travels 6 miles via two buses and an El” to attend Lindblom Technical High School because, unlike his neighborhood school, it has science labs, electronic courses, and woodworking and metalworking shops.” Out of school, he “divides his time between Look and Ebony. He listens to WVON, a Negro rock ’n’ roll station, and his favorite groups are the Temptations and the Miracles…”

“Get Ready” was one of the week’s “power play” songs, having jumped from No. 53 to 42; and here are the Temps, from an appearance on Where the Action Is

3) The Rolling Stones – “19th Nervous Breakdown.” The piece on the Beatles opens with this line: “How long can Animals, Beatles, Stones, Spoonfuls or Supremes survive in the musical jungle? The cruel laws of pop says they will die commercially before they are 30.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

4) The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Daydream.” And about those Spoonfuls…they had the No. 10 single of the week with this cool confection. This clip also features John Sebastian explaining how the song was inspired by the Motown sound…

5) The Supremes – “My World Is Empty Without You.” And speaking of Motown, here’s the No. 30 single of the week…

And one bonus…

6) Stevie Wonder – “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” In the Jan Smithers piece, there’s this: “Most of the action centers on The Trip, a vibrating folk-rock haven…” I googled that club, and found this cool flashback. It was a short-lived venture, but – by looks of the pictures – booked quite a few happenin’ acts, including Stevie.

“Uptight” was the No. 40 single this week, having fallen from No. 13 the week before. Here’s Stevie from Top of the Pops in ’66…

And, for the curious, here are a few more looks inside this edition of Newsweek:

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