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. 2 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.

Garrett Kato in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

I’d be remiss in writing about Kasey Chambers’ phenomenal show at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia without mentioning the opening act, Garrett Kato. He found himself on the tour, he said, because of Kasey’s grace. She heard him busking on a street corner, bought his CD and, later that same day, wrote about how good he was on Facebook. It took his girlfriend to explain that Kasey is sort of (and sort of not) like Dolly Parton in Australia. They eventually bumped into each other in a recording studio – and now he’s not only opening for her on this tour, but manning the soundboard.

Such small acts of kindness are less small to those on the receiving end, of course, especially one who’s an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. (The terrain has changed so much from the days of yore that, honestly, I wonder sometimes why so many still choose that path. But that’s a post for another day.)

Anyway, I wish I knew the names of all the songs he performed, but aside from a very cool cover of “My Girl” I can’t. Oh, and this one, “The River Mouth” –

When he got to the part where he incorporates “Dancing in the Dark” – well, I have a bruise the size of Nebraska on my arm now thanks to Diane, who was so excited to hear a bit of the Boss that she began punching me.

Obvious by the fact that the clip is from Columbus, I suppose, is that no one in the audience captured this night’s performance (or, at least, uploaded it to YouTube). That’s no reflection on him and his talent, just – speaking for myself – the realities of battery-operated devices. Not only are his songs damn good, but he has a disarming stage presence – and a wondrous grainy texture to his voice. Here’s another song, also from Columbus, that he sang in Philly:

He also reflected on his move, seven years back, from Canada to Australia, which became more-or-less permanent when he met a girl there and they had a baby. He also shared a funny story of writing a sweet song for his mom when she was going through a tough time… only to have the producers of Bad Moms ask to use it in the movie. He then had to call his mother and explain that a payday would have to trump his heartfelt sentiment. (It was funnier when he told it. Trust me.) The song is “Sweet Jane” – not to be confused with the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground classic – and is well worth the listen.

Here’s a version he uploaded to YouTube:

 

Kasey Chambers in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an alt.country delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist: