|Posted by powerpopclassics on November 30, 2014 at 10:30 PM|
Casey Kasem counted down one of the best Billboard Charts ever on December 1, 1973. Of the forty songs played on American Top Forty that week, fourteen were offered up by truly credible Soul artists, nine were released by respectable Album Rock acts, and seven decent Pop records charted. With five more slots taken by some excellent to tolerable Country crossover hits, we are left with only FIVE "bad" songs on this survey. Of course, we can remove only one!
Let's start with what's good about this week in chart history. Just look at this Detroit to Philly to Memphis Soul onslaught: The Four Tops, Gladys Knight, Eddie Kendricks, Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, Marvin Gaye (solo), Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Harold Melvin, The Stylistics, Barry White, The Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor. Not a dud in the bunch. Then, from Meridian, Mississippi, we have Al Wilson, with his soon-to-be #1 hit, "Show and Tell" at #33. And at #38, Ike & Tina Turner pay some gritty homage to Tina's tiny little West Tennessee hometown with "Nutbush City Limits." Even if there were NO other passable songs on this chart, the above list alone would make this a Top 40 worth hearing.
Next we switch gears to the Album Rock acts. Amazingly, we see the rare occurrence of Dylan ("Knocking On Heaven's Door"), Lennon ("Mind Games"), and Led Zeppelin ("D'yer Mak'er") simultaneously charting with SINGLES! Not to be outdone, Ringo, with George as co-writer, actually outperformed John with "Photograph" at #2. The Stones rolled up to #19 with Jagger's alleged ode to Bowie's wife, "Angie." Musical genius Todd Rundgren answered in at #11 with "Hello, It's Me" while Steve Miller toked his way to #22 with "The Joker." Elton John, still a credible FM artist, was planted at #3 with the title track to that week's #1 album, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." And rounding out the Album Rock stable was one of the greatest fade-out jams ever, "Ramblin' Man" by the Allman Brothers at #39.
Pop was also well represented on this chart, with these seven listenable singles: "Be" by Neil Diamond; "Let Me Serenade You" by Three Dog Night; "We May Never Pass This Way Again" by Seals & Crofts; "Ooh Baby" by Gilbert O'Sullivan; "My Music" by Loggins & Messina; "Just You 'N' Me" by Chicago; and the impressive vocal of Art Garfunkel at #23 with "All I Know." Not earth shattering music, but pleasant enough to hear without an eruption of visceral convulsions.
Country acts crossed over with varying degrees of critical success. Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me" easily won the battle here, as it is a solid song presented in a believable recording. Charlie Rich's "The Most Beautiful Girl" seemed like a belated Nashville reward for an artist that built credibility without much commercial success while paying dues at Sun Records in Memphis. The impossible-to-pigeonhole Jim Croce had two posthumous chart entries, "Time In A Bottle" and "I Got A Name." Both songs sounded Country to true Rock fans, and sounded like Pop/Rock to the Country fans of the day. (Whatever label you put on Croce, his September 1973 death silenced a beloved folk storyteller who was more seasoned and manly than John Denver and a little less bar-wise than the up-and-coming Jimmy Buffett. We'll call him Folk/Country.) Finally, fourteen-year-old Marie Osmond, without Donny, surprisingly and not terribly, wrapped up the Country acts with the Donna Fargo-ish "Paper Roses."
Whew. We have now covered 35 of the 40 entries on this chart, and have not yet encountered one truly puke-worthy record! Can this Top Forty hold out and be the one perfect full-spectrum chart full of irreplaceable hits? Can this be THE chart?
Well, no. Cher is on this chart. "Half-Breed" would, under most circumstances, be an automatic candidate for removal. So would "Top Of The World" by The Carpenters, the #1 record that week, and the SECOND WORST use of Karen's beautiful voice EVER. (Regular ALT UNIVERSE readers have already read about the worst, right?) Then we have "Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat" by The DeFranco Family, an act that was derided as an Osmonds copy, but whose hit on this chart is actually a well-constructed song, one that is nowhere near as offensive as the two true klunkers that are left.
Helen Reddy's "Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)" is one of the two remaining flubs, and it really does make me want to throw up. I don't know who wrote it or where it was recorded, and I refuse to waste my time looking it up. Obviously, they tried for a New Orleans feel that simply didn't come to pass. Eeeeeek. And, yet, as bad as this record disturbs me, there is one absolutely ROTTEN, VILE and NOXIOUS recording that, WITHOUT QUESTION, allows Cher and Helen Reddy to remain on this chart. What on earth could be so OBSCENE?
"Who's In The Strawberry Patch With Sally" by Tony Orlando & Dawn.
If you want to torture yourself, look it up. Test yourself. See if you can listen to "Who's In The Strawberry Patch With Sally" from beginning to end. You can't. No reasonable music fan can sit through it fully awake and unmedicated. Tony Orlando delivers so little soul on this recording that Pat Boone records from the '50's sound good in comparison. There should be a hefty reward offered up by Arista Records for that person (if he or she exists) who can actually make it through this entire song without immediate regurgitation or a sudden onset of eardrum contortion. I'm getting woozy just contemplating listening to a record that sounds worse than rotten strawberries smell.
Besides, it comes down to a matter of principle. Any episode of American Top 40 loaded with this much fantastic Soul, and with Rock acts like Todd Rundgren, Steve Miller, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, The Stones, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers piled in together with Kris Kristofferson is, well, no place for Tony Orlando & Dawn. Period. See you later, Tony. You may have been friends with Toni Wine and Ellie Greenwich, but that won't save you here. You're out.
So, who do we slip into the solitary spot vacated by "Who's In The Strawberry Patch With Sally?"
Hmmmm. This may be a little out there, but if there ever existed an American Top Forty within which a Rock/Soul jam like "Eyes Of The World" by the Grateful Dead fit in, THIS is that chart. No, I'm not a Dead Head. Never have been. But the WAKE OF THE FLOOD album by Jerry and the gang, released on October 15, 1973, would have had just enough time to generate a chart life for "Eyes Of The World." At this point, it was still about the music for the Dead, even if a lot of it was sloppy. Whatever they did to come up with this song, though, they did it right. The solos are obviously improvised, but the modulations in the song are obviously not. The vocals are a little off, but the backbeat more than makes up for that small detail. And within the context of this particular chart on this particular week, there would have been no time more perfect to have a Grateful Dead offering on the singles chart. "Eyes Of The World" is the proper offering.
No tie-dyes needed here, just listen and you will wake up and find...
OUT: "WHO'S IN THE STRAWBERRY PATCH WITH SALLY" - TONY ORLANDO & DAWN
IN: "EYES OF THE WORLD" - GRATEFUL DEAD