Billboard's Hot Soul Singles: the '70s: the #1s: reviewed. Hit me!

Friday, April 09, 2004

"Call Me," Aretha Franklin (3/21/70)
Before I get to the single itself, let me break down a few things about the Queen of Soul and her R&B chart stats for you. On the pop charts, she’s had 2 #1s. On the R&B charts, she’s tied for #1 with 20 (tied with Stevie, that is). Those 20 charttoppers spent among them 65 weeks at #1. Aretha was the #5 R&B artist of the '60s, the #2 of the ‘70s, and the #8 of the ‘80s. Respect, indeed. "Call Me" was Re’s 8th #1 overall, and her first of the ‘70s. It’s from the midst of her most astounding period, when she was cranking out classic after classic with the Muscle Shoals crew for Atlantic. And it’s just – oh! The strings are subtle, the piano is subtle, the friggin’ backing singers are subtle, in that none of them ever overshadow that voice Damned right Jerry Wexler knew what he was doing – she’s never overshadowed, yet always accented to perfection by the various elements of "Call Me." Aretha, of course, pours herself relentlessly into the lyrics of "Call Me," begging her man – with whom she understands things have to end – to "call [her] the moment [he] get[s] there," intoning to him "I love you, and I love you" forever and ever, amen. In this case, masterpiece is an understatement. A+
"Rainy Night In Georgia," Brook Benton (3/14/70)
Benton was a smooth-voiced singer who hit the top of the R&B chart with a hat trick of singles in ’59, and again in ’60 – and then didn’t have another #1 until this breathtakingly gorgeous record in 1970. Only 39 at the time of "Rainy Night," his voice sounded much more weathered and (here’s the key) worldly. Not only was Benton in extreme control of his gift, his voice, he imbued the lyrics he sang with an authority; the man had presence beyond repair. To my ears, Ray Charles’ version of this comes off as slightly "I love Georgia" hammy, whereas Benton gets the song’s true intent and feel. A class act, and a bravura performance. A
"Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)," Sly & the Family Stone (2/7/70)
Sly and his family are true sacred cows – I’m sorry, but JB did the funk better and Hendrix did the black psychedelia better. "But Sly combined the two!," you respond. True, but both ended up a bit watered-down as a result. This is by no means a bad record, but it’s also by no means as great as you’ve been told. And it’s the epitome of overrated. B

Monday, April 05, 2004

"I Want You Back," The Jackson 5 (1/10/70)
This, however, is likely better than you remember it. The brothers Jackson's first single commenced a phenomenal year for them, with their first four singles all hitting the top of the chart; they spent 20 weeks atop the R&B chart in 1970. "Back" has got the Motown sound to it, but is so much more, nearly overloaded with joie de vivre and the ebullience that just pours from both kids and those who know it might be their only shot. If "I Want You Back" can't make you smile, then you're obviously a pigfucker. I mean, come on: that killer piano riff, the chicken-scratch greasy guitar, little Michael's let-the-sunshine-through leads, and the superb backing of his brothers all add up to not just a J5 classic, but a classic single (let alone debut!), period. A-
"Someday We'll Be Together," Diana Ross and the Supremes (12/13/69)
As the '60s drew to a close and the '70s began, it was certainly fitting that the sound of black America (and whatever Berry Gordy may have wanted us to believe, that's what Motown was, as well as the sound of young America), Motown Records - and more to the point, their queen, Miss Ross - were topping the Hot Soul Singles chart with their final single together. Though really they're together in name only; this is Diana's baby. And while it's still got sparks of that Motown magic, it's also a bit overly florid, presaging Diana's career as a blow-out-the-lights big-voiced balladeer to come. Honestly, while good, it's not as good as you likely remember it. B-

Sunday, April 04, 2004

This is like Rock Me Tonight, only a decade earlier. And yes, I'll post occasional mp3s here too, along with featuring "The Platters that Matter," et cetera, etc.

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