May 28, 2024

FTV: Billboard Top 100

    Love, love will keep us together / Think of me babe whenever / Some sweet-talking girl comes along, singing her song / Don’t mess around, you’ve just got to be strong, just stop / ‘Cause I really love you, stop / I’ll be thinking of you / Look in my heart and let love keep us together …   

For me, this song by The Captain and Tennille puts me in Oregon in early June of 1975.  When I graduated from Northern Michigan University the first time, I celebrated by taking my first ever crosscountry airplane trip to visit my good friend Mitch in Lake Oswego.  Before Mitch and his roommate Jack decided to seek employment out west, we spent a lot of our time doing those usual late-teenage hijinks in and around Marquette.  I was still an undergrad when M & J quit their jobs at the local Red Owl and headed for Eugene, Oregon.  

     Their job seeking plans there hit a roadblock;  when they got there,  the grocery store workers in Eugene were on strike.  There had to be a quick change of plans so they headed north toward Portland to find work.  The prospects were better in Lake Oswego where they were able to land at a store in the Safeway chain.  Ironically, I only learned about their first destination when we got together for dinner at the WOAS-FM West Coast Bureau in Eugene a couple of years ago.  Funny how the events from fifty years ago have circled back around to Eugene.  The WCB relocated to the Emerald City about ten years ago and Mitch currently lives outside of Portland in the sleepy little hamlet of Boring.

     When they were clearing out their digs in Marquette, Mitch left me with a box of books from his student days.  Mitch’s mother worked at the NMU Bookstore and my mother would help out there during the early semester book rush.  Mom spied this box in the basement and recognized some of the titles from her time helping students find books.  I should note that I never had to run to the bookstore to get in line to find the cheapest (read: used) books because my dear mother would take my class list and set aside all my books before the bookstore doors opened for the semester.  It was at her suggestion that I took this box of leftovers to the resale window where I scored a modest $30 or so.  Yes, a box of books earned less than one used title would cost these days.  I dutifully sent a check to the Oregon boys and Mitch later told me this was my contribution to them not living on crackers and peanut butter until they got ahead of the game in Oregon.

     With my job search underway and one less than promising interview under my belt, I boarded the Blue Goose (the nickname of North Central Airlines taken from the logo on the tail of their Douglas DC 8 turboprop planes) and headed west.  Actually, we headed south toward Chicago with two or three intermediate stops.  From Chicago, it was a straight line flight on a big United Airlines jet to Portland.  I learned a lot by tuning into the radio chatter between the United flight deck and the ground control stations.  We were designated as a ‘heavy’ flight which helped the air traffic controllers keep us segregated from the smaller, lighter aircraft.  I don’t remember the flight designation, but every interchange always included something like ‘United 370 Heavy’ so I got the impression that in the airline world, we were a big dog.  I was tickled to have a window seat and a totally non-responsive seat mate to my left.  She tolerated my attempts to communicate with her long enough to mention she hated checking in her skis but she was bound for Mt. Hood for a June ski week.  With that, she promptly went to sleep for the rest of the flight.  

     As we neared Portland, the captain announced we were arriving early so he told us we would kill a little time by taking a 360 degree aerial tour of Mt. Hood.  I made the mistake of waking my seatmate up only to be told, “Yeah, I have seen it before.”  It was a bit of a disappointment for me, however, as we were seated on the right side of the plane.  When the pilot banked to the left, all I could see out of my window was blue sky.  Looking across the aisle, the only thing in view were rocks and forest zipping by – it was a pretty good indication of how fast we were traveling.  With the sightseeing done, we lined up and started our descent into Portland.  From my window, it looked like we were about to land in the Columbia River until the water gave way to the runway built on a patch of earth next to the river.

     When Mitch and I loaded my suitcase into the old Chevy he was driving, the music began.  Over the next two weeks, everywhere we went, we had the radio blasting.  I won’t pretend to remember the station call signs, but I do remember they were one of those ‘we play all the top hits all the time’ stations.  When we weren’t in the car, the radio was always on at the townhouse Mitch and Jack shared in Lake Oswego.  With the number of miles we covered during my stay, there was one constant – the playlist on the radio burned some of those top hits into my brain.

That is why there are a slew of songs from the Billboard Hot 100 list from June of 1975 that put me right back in Oregon when I hear them today..   

     Love Will Keep Us Together was No. 2 on the chart so we heard it every half hour.  The jaunty bounce of the intro brings an image of driving down the blacktop either toward Portland, the Pacific Ocean, or Mount Hood.  While I didn’t get a very good view of Mt. Hood on my flight in, we could see it clearly in the distance from just about any ground location.  We also took a car safari up and over the mountain on the way to visit a hot springs resort in the intermontain plateau called Ka-neeta.  We took a swing up to the ski area but only stopped there for a quick look see at the Timberline Lodge ski area.  It was a long day so I am betting we only heard The Captain and Tennille fifteen or twenty times that day.

     No.s 3, 4, and 5 on the hit list were When Will I Be Loved (Linda Ronstadt), Bad Time (Grand Funk), and Old Days (Chicago) – all songs that I still like a lot.  Even in my ‘still looking for work’ phase, I bought the three albums with those songs as soon as I got home.  Unlike today’s prices in the resurgent vinyl record market, albums only cost a couple of bucks, not $20 or $30.

I’m Not Lisa by Jessi Colter was at No. 6 and still rising up the charts but it was one of the few songs I remember from that period that got annoying to hear in heavy rotation.

     There must have been a little wiggle room for the DJs (or whomever was in charge of making up the station playlist) to not include some of the top sellers.  I can not remember even hearing Love Won’t Let Me Wait (No 7 with an up arrow by Major Harris), Get Down, Get Down (Get On The Floor) coming in at No. 10 by Joe Simon, or Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes Bad Luck – Part 1 (No. 15).  

     Elton John’s Philadelphia Freedom, The Average White Band’s (AWB) anthem Cut The Cake, and Michael Murphey’s Wildfire occupied slots No. 9, 11, & 12, respectively.  Elton John, of course, managed to hang around a few more years, didn’t he?  AWB eventually went away but bassist Hamish Stewart is currently touring as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and Michael Murphey changed lanes (but not too far away from his cowboy roots) and went totally country.  Philadelphia Freedom and Cut The Cake still get my feet tapping but I always felt like Wildfire was a bit too maudlin for me, but apparently the record buying public liked it.

     We had a standing joke that each and every time we headed down the hill toward the business district in Lake Oswego, we heard the Doobie Brothers.  At No. 14, Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me) was an energetic romp in a slightly different groove than they would hit when Michael McDonald joined the band.  Keyboardist/vocalist McDonald joined the band in April of 1975 to take some of the pressure off original guitarist Tom Johnston.  Tom’s health took him on and off the road a few times and the 1977 Takin’ It To The Streets album was the only Doobie’s record featuring both McDonald and Johnston.  

     The official video for Take Me In Your Arms also shows Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter on guitar in the period before he started sitting on a barstool while performing.  The opening guitar rhythm brings to mind a mental movie reel of us turning right out of Mitch’s driveway and cruising all the way to the ‘T’ intersection at the end of the main street.  My third band, Sledgehammer, only had a couple of gigs left in the early summer when I returned from Oregon.  Guitarist Lindsay had graduated from high school and had already left for Florida.  I had warned Barry and Mike that if a job came calling, I would also be leaving.  We had stopped booking new jobs even though we had to pass up a lot of requests.  If we had not been wrapping it up, I am pretty sure we would have added Take Me In Your Arms to our already Doobie Brother’s heavy list of tunes.

     Shining Star (No.16) came out well into Earth, Wind, and Fire’s career, but it marked their first song to crossover from the Hot Soul Singles Chart to become a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit.  Former Chess Records session drummer Maurice White first formed the core of the band in Chicago in 1969 where they performed as The Salty Peppers.  Once he relocated to Los Angeles, they released five albums in a stretch from 1970 to 1975.  Over the history of the band, more than 40 members have cycled through the ranks and their eclectic style led The Detroit Free Press’s Bob Talbert to write, “I’m not sure what to call this group.  Must there be a label? Afro-gospel-jazz-blues-rock?  ”  I would say, “Yes, if there needs to be a label, that would do!”

     After working on projects with Melvin Van Peebles (a movie soundtrack) and the Ramsey Lewis Trio, their popularity was trending upward, especially on the college circuit.  Appearing at the massive California Jam concert at the Ontario (CA) Speedway on April 6, 1974 cemented their reputation as a major act.  E,W&F’s fifth and sixth albums were recorded at Colorado’s Caribou Ranch Studio.  The sixth (That’s the Way of the World – released in March of 1975) included the infectious Shining Star.  The track made E,W&F the first black act to reach to top of both the Billboard Singles and Album Charts.  The song also won a Grammy for the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  The success of this record allowed them to hire their own horn section which they dubbed ‘The Phenix Horns’.

     I didn’t accidentally skip No. 13 on the list due to some superstitious impulse.  Alice Cooper’s Only Women Bleed was such a departure from anything else he had done it took me a while to warm up to it.  In June of 1975, it was still climbing the charts (it eventually reached No. 12) even though the title was listed only as Only Women on the single and some airplay charts.  No doubt some record company suit was concerned that the title might make people think it had something to do with the female menstrual cycle (and that may be true as some radio stations refused to play the song and it did also drew protests from some feminist groups).  The song was penned by Alice and guitarist Dick Wagner (formerly of the Michigan band The Frost) and was the second single released from Alice’s debut solo album Welcome to My Nightmare (March 1975).  The true subject matter concerned a woman in an abusive relationship and the music had been written for The Frost but Wagner never liked the lyrics.  He showed Cooper the riff and together, they re-wrote the lyrics.  Alice, it seems, was ahead of the times about women’s issues.

     The song did find critical acclaim, however, with a variety of trade publications weighing in.  The Billboard staff described the lyric content as ‘stunning’.  Record World called it, “A ballad with a surprisingly international flavor.  Alice’s new sound should prove a soft touch for reaching his widest audience yet.”  One British reviewer in Disc Magazine wondered if listeners would be, “shocked by the subdued sound of Cooper…the song is a fairly harmless lament about downtrodden maidens and quite unlike anything he’s done before.”  This probably describes my initial reaction (“That is Alice Cooper?”) but it grew on me and, again, the chart success would indicate record buyers got over their ‘shock’.

     There were a couple of offerings in the Top 25 by Freddy Fender, Roger Whittaker and Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes that didn’t move my ‘I like that’ meter much, so we will skip No. 19, 20, and 23.  Magic by Pilot took the No. 17 slot with an up arrow and that is still a humable tune for me (unfortunately, a new wonder drug is now using the tune to shill their product).  How Long by Ace made me a life-long fan of singer / keyboardist Paul Carrack – another instance where I went looking for their album as soon as I got home.  McCartney’s new band Wings was on a roll and Listen To What The Man Said was climbing up the charts while sitting at No. 22.  Perhaps not the strongest tune in the Wings arsenal but it did sell and get airplay.  Carly Simon hit No. 24 with Attitude Dancing which was released in May on her Playing Possum LP.  Attitude was a strong follow up to 1974’s Haven’t Got Time for the Pain single and would climb to No. 18.  With Carole King on background vocals, Rolling Stone called the track the album’s ‘show stopper’.

     There were other entries climbing toward the Top 20 by 10 cc, BTO,  Eagles, War, Steely Dan, and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, but it is time to retreat to the song sitting at No. 1 in June of 1975.  That honor fell to America and their latest hit, Sister Golden Hair.  Besides the constant radio play, the thing that made this one of my all time favorite America songs was seeing them perform it live.  Mitch had scored tickets to see them at the Paramount Theater.  When we got there, the line waiting to be admitted ran completely around the building which occupied a whole block.  We were at the end of the line not 100 feet from the people standing right in front of the main entrance.  By the time the line had snaked all the way around the building, we knew there would be no seats on the main floor.  I believe there were two balconies so we went to the top most level and happened to find two seats together just over the rail that separated the upper and lower sections of that area.

     Talk about a wonderful concert – all killers and no fillers.  Each familiar tune got a big reaction from the crowd but when the steel guitar riff that opens Sister Golden Hair started, the place absolutely erupted.  I was lucky enough to grow up across the street from the NMU campus and even before I could drive, there were a lot of impressive musical moments for me to experience.  Seeing America perform the No. 1 hit on the charts live ranks as my favorite concert moment and I make it a point to thank Mitch from time to time for making it happen!  

     Fodder for another time, but I couldn’t help but notice some of the songs that were just sneaking into the bottom of the June 1975 Hot 100.  Many of these would become background music for my first year teaching in Ontonagon – songs like Ballroom Blitz (Sweet No.100), Bloody Well Right (Supertramp / 92), Holdin’ on to Yesterday (Ambrosia / 88), Sweet Emotion

(Aerosmith / 83), Got To Get You Into My Life (Blood, Sweat & Tears / 81), Sail On Sailor (Beach Boys / 77) and the new trend setting Jive Talkin’ (Bee Gees / 65).

     As long as we started with The Captain and Tennille, let’s let them have the coda for this article – remember them adding this little gem to the chorus fade out?  Sedaka is back . . .



Top Piece Video – My favorite live concert moment – America’s No 1 hit Sister Golden Hair – Sorry – I could not find a version with Dan Peek playing the steel guitar but this version features the lick done on slide guitar after Peek had left the band.