I am seriously starting to wince whenever I look up what happened on each week’s target date. In the last month, I’ve hit “Houston, we have a problem”, Kent State, and this week I bring you the great Lubbock, Texas, tornado of May 11th, 1970. This monster first touched down somewhere near the campus of Texas Tech and at its peak ripped a 2-mile wide path through downtown Lubbock. 26 people died, a quarter of the city was devastated, and the damages topped $250 million. Those damages included the 21-story Great Plains Building, twisted to a point that early the next morning the sheriff warned “it could fall at any time”. Not only did it not fall, but after debating its fate for a head scratching 5 years, it was finally remodeled and still stands today.
Welcome to Time Machine, where we look back to an era of simpler, joyful music. (If you are upset at not getting your time machine fix, blame Blogger- it obviously doesn't know the difference between 9 AM on May 11th and whatever time it was planning to put this up.) Today, the teaser includes working from the Friends Of Distinction to radio jingles in six easy steps; the very first record by an African-American, and believe me, the lyrics would not be approved by the NAACP, the AARP, the SCOTUS, and likely the KKK might be a little leery; a Where Are They Now salute to one of the most long-lived quartets in history; and other such bits of funnery. Climb aboard; my time machine has not been co-opted by Donald Rumsfeld!
First off, we had 12 debuts on the hot 100 this week in 1970, but despite some familiar names, we’re a bit short on the notable end. Mountain’s Mississippi Queen, made famous in this generation by a Miller Genuine Draft ad, comes in at #89. Up at 69, probably my favorite Elvis song- The Wonder Of You, debuts. Its B-side, Mama Liked The Roses, came in at 72.
The birthday list is a bit scraggly this week. Turning thirty is Juice Newton’s Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me; turning 45 are the Mamas And The Papas’ Creque Alley, Aretha and the Heavyweights’ Respect, Tommy James and the Shondells’ Mirage, and Him Or Me (What’s It Gonna Be?) by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Turning 55, the Coaster’s Young Blood. And turning 50, Ray Charles’ I Can’t Stop Loving You, Freddie Cannon’s Palisades Park, and David Rose’s The Stripper. Oh, yes, and one more turning 50 today…
…that’s right, Laurie turns the big 5-0 today! (Not gloating, it’s my turn Wednesday.) In honor of the occasion, and to make some of you feel even older than you usually do, here’s the top 5 from the week of our birth:
At #5, Elvis with Good Luck Charm;
Number 4 was Shelly Fabares with Johnny Angel;
3 was Mr. Acker Bilk’s Stranger On The Shore;
#2 was Dee Dee Sharp with Mashed Potato Time;
And at the top were the Shirelles with Soldier Boy! Blow out the candles…
The big dropper this week was the Supremes falling off the ladder from the top 10 with Up The Ladder To The Roof, tumbling 14 to #45. The big mover, up 16 to #70, are the Chairmen Of The Board with (You’ve Got Me) Dangling On A String.
Today my discovery on the #1s of past years took me at random to 1891 and a man named George Washington Johnson (1846-1914). Born in a slave household, he learned music from observing the flute lessons of the master’s son. He became an expert whistler, earning money by whistling popular tunes for spare change. In 1890, he was ‘discovered’ by a couple of the first recording companies looking for records to stuff their nickel machines with. Johnson became the first black recording artist of all time, but it was hardly a deal. Each record had to be recorded INDIVIDUALLY, so he spent his days singing the same song to three or four machines at a time, 50+ times a day, at 20 cents per performance. Put this in perspective, the man sold between 25 and 50 thousand records between 1890-5.
|Kinda got that Samuel L. Jackson thing going on, eh?|
The thing is, he basically had just 2 songs, featuring him both whistling and singing. The one was called the Laughing Song. The other? it was called The Whistling Coon. I kid you not. It took me a half-hour to find the lyrics to this, just to make myself believe a black man of any era would sing this:
Oh! I’ve seen in my time some very funny folks,
But the funniest of all I know
Is a colored individual, as sure as you’re alive,
As black as any black coon;
You may talk until you’re tired,
but you’ll never get a word
From this very funny, queer old coon;
He’s a knock-kneed, double-jointed, hunky-plunky moke,
And he’s happy when he whistles this tune:-(Whistles.)
Oh, lie’s got a pair of lips, like a pound of liver split,
And a nose like an injun rubber shoe,
He’s a limpy, happy, chuckle-headed, huckleberry nig,
And he whistles like a happy killy-loo;
He’s an independent, free-and-easy, fat-and-greasy ham,
With a cranium like a big baboon;
Oh, I never heard him talk to anybody in my life,
But he’s happy when he whistles this tune
Oh, he’d whistle in the morning,
through the day and through the night,
And he’d whistle like the devil going to bed.
Oh, he’d whistle like a locomotive engine in his sleep,
And lie whistled when his wife was dead;
One day a fellow hit him with a brick upon the mouth,
And his Jaw swelled up like a balloon,
Now he goes along shaking like a monkey in a fit,
And this is how he whistles that tune .
By 1905, his fame was evaporating, records were copied from the master, and a vaudeville buddy got him a job as an office doorman. He did eventually record two more songs- not surprisingly called The Laughing Coon and The Whistling Girl, in 1897. He had two common law wives that died under mysterious conditions. The first, only known as “the German woman” , was found dead in their apartment in 1895; and the second was found beaten to death in October 1899; George was tried and found not guilty.
Wow, we’re in the middle of a feature-triple-feature! Next up is the Where Are They Now feature. This week at #50 are the Four Tops with their cover of It’s All In The Game. The amazing thing about this group was how long the original group- Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson, and Lawrence Payton- hung together. The original four stayed together for 44 years, from 1953 until Peyton died in June of 1997. Theo Peoples, recently of the Temptations joined in his place, until last year he left and was replaced by Spike Bonhart. Stubbs left the group after a stroke in 2000, replaced by musical director Ronnie McNeir. Stubbs passed away in 2008. Obie Benson was claimed by lung cancer in 2005, replaced by Payton’s son Roquel Payton. Fakir, at 77 years old, is the only surviving original- and is still touring!
Feature #3 in a row is our new falling from the heights section. Five songs that peaked outside the top ten are now on the way down. BJ Thomas’ Everybody’s Out Of Town stopped at 21 and is headed down at 33. Gladys Knight’s You Need Love Like I Do topped off at 28 and is at 34 this week. Mark Lindsay peaked at 31 with the underrated Miss America, and is now down to 39. Family Stone spin-off Little Sister peaked at 20 with You’re The One, which slips now to 49. And last week’s WATN feature, BB King’s So Excited slides 9 to #59.
Four new songs in the top 40. At 40, up 2, are the Doors with You Make Me Real. At 37, up 18, is Vanity Faire and Hitching A Ride. The Sandpipers come in at 35 with Come Saturday Morning, rising 9 spots. And the high debut, up 12 to #3, are the 5th Dimension with Puppet Man. And with two songs joining the top ten, two drop out. The droppers are Instant Karma (5 to 19) and Come And Get It (7 to 20).
Bobbi Martin comes in at 10, up one notch with a song I’ve had in my heart ever since I did the story on looking for her father a few weeks back, For The Love Of Him. Up three to #9 are the UK band Marmalade with the haunting Reflections Of My Life. And at #8 for the second week, our six degrees victim.
The Friends Of Distinction ( at #8 with Love Or Let Me Be Lonely) are a quartet formed by Harry Elston and Floyd Butler. Their original group themselves the Hi-Fis and included Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo. They were discovered by Ray Charles, they backed him up on his 1964 tour. The Hi-Fis split after the tour, with McLemore and McCoo going on to form the Fifth Dimension . The 5D had their big breakthrough with the Jimmy Webb song Up Up And Away, which hit #7 in 1967. In the UK, however, the song flopped for them, but became a #3 hit for the Johnny Mann Singers. Johnny Mann hosted a patriotic musical show on syndication, Stand Up And Cheer, from 1971-74, which featured a salute to a huge American flag at the end of each episode (and this was the guy who charted in the UK, go figure.) the JMS are still together, making a living off radio jingles.
Tyrone Davis moves up 2 to #7 with Turn Back The Hands Of Time. The Ides Of March march up 4 to #6 with Vehicle. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition climb one more to #5 with Something’s Burning. The Beatles cling stubbornly to #4 with Let It Be. Another former top dog, the Jackson Five’s ABC, slips one to #3. The Guess Who ascend to the runner-up spot with American Woman, up from 3. And still holding that #1 spot, Norman Greenbaum and Spirit In The Sky.
Woof, that was a mouthful! Tune in tomorrow for the eighties countdown, and if you see Laurie today- have yer paddle ready.