March 1 – When The Eagles Began To Soar High

Perhaps no one would have been surprised back in 1975 when the Eagles finally hit #1 on U.S. charts for the first time. They had been one of the hottest new acts of the decade thus far and scored a number of radio hits like “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman.” However, few would have guessed the song that took them there on this day 48 years ago – “Best of My Love” seemed like a sure-fire hit, a nice, slightly achy love song with some fine steel guitar from Bernie Leadon. Yet it bucked the odds three different ways.

The song was from their third album, On the Border, which had done OK for them but hadn’t really grown their profile or stature with the singles “Already Gone” and “James Dean.” Even the fact that it was available in quadrophonic sound in its 8-track version didn’t spark a stampede to the sales counter. The label, Asylum Records, were all but ready to throw in the towel on it and get them working on a new record… until surprising things happened.

One DJ in Kalamazoo, Michigan liked the song and played it, despite it not being a single. His listeners loved it too and kept requesting it and soon it was on the one station’s hit chart. Asylum took notice and pressed 1000 copies of a 7” single of it and gave it to the station to distribute. So popular were they that Asylum decided to release it as a surprise third single from the record across the world. It soon picked up fans everywhere, including on the adult contemporary stations which hadn’t been big on the band until that point. It got to #1 in the States and Canada, their first in each country, and hit #14 in Australia, their first hit there. Soon it went gold in the U.S.

If that wasn’t unlikely enough, the songs origins made it more so. It was written by a trio of members, Glenn Frey, JD Souther and Don Henley. Souther says “Glenn found the tune…the three of us were writing it in a deadline to get it finished.” Frey remembers “I was playing acoustic guitar in Laurel Canyon and I was trying to figure out a tuning that Joni Mitchell had shown me…I got lost and ended up with what would later turn out to be ‘Best of My Love.’”

Henley wrote the lyrics, largely about a recent breakup with a girlfriend, sitting in an L.A. restaurant. They took the song with them to England, where they began recording the album with famous producer Glyn Johns. However, that didn’t go well as they didn’t gel well with Glyn. He wanted them to sound more country, they wanted to be a little more rock’n’roll. And he didn’t like them being high while working, and by then the Eagles (as with many California acts) consumed vast quantities of cocaine. They soon ditched the UK and Johns to finish recording close to home in L.A. with Bill Szymczyk, who ended up doing the final mixing of this song (and produced almost all the rest of the album.)

So everyone was ecstatic in the band’s camp when the song was a smash…right? Well, not quite. The record label lopped over a minute off the album version to make the single, without consulting with The Eagles. Henley in particular was furious, as was the manager, Irving Azoff. When it went gold, Azoff broke a piece off an actual gold record and sent it to the record company office, calling it the “Golden Hacksaw Award.” Guess the record executives didn’t always get the best of the Eagles love back then. Although after Hotel California went multi-platinum and the band’s Greatest Hits went on to sell something in the range of 40 million copies, we suspect all was forgiven!


February 28 – Music From The 4077 Was #1 To Brits

If you’re over, oh let’s say about 50, we can predict what you were doing this night 40 years ago. If you were in North America, we probably have at least a 50-50 chance of being right about it too, because that was when the final episode of MASH aired on TV.

The 1983 show was more than just a TV show running to its end, it was an event! The dramedy was wrapping up after 255 previous episodes and 11 seasons. It was of course based on a 1970 movie, and while about the Korean War, it brought home some of the realities of the horrors of war to Americans when they were fully involved in Vietnam. After a slow start initially in 1972, the show hit its stride and became a ratings hit by its second year, being in the top 10 ratings almost every year and averaging about 18 million viewers a week, a number many shows today would kill for. It made Alan Alda a household name and major star and won 14 Emmys. But the finale was an event unto its self. The two-and-a-half hour edition showing them finally getting to go home was the most watched TV show ever to that time. It was watched by 125 million people in the U.S. – over half the entire population then! – and was on 77% of all TVs that night, according to Nielsen, a record to this day. It’s said New York City hit its all-time record for water use at 11:03 that night – so many people had been waiting til the show’s end to run to the bathroom, and about three minutes later, one giant flush! All of which is interesting, but has little to do with music. But of course, there is music that is synonymous with the show.

The theme song has to be one of TV’s best, and best-known. The song is actually called “Suicide is Painless” and yes, it was a song with lyrics, though the TV show used an instrumental version. It first showed up in the movie. A character, the base’s dentist, said he was suicidal, so his colleagues there decided to throw him a going-away, “last supper” to mark the occasion, a scene of dark humor that ran through the film and the TV show. Director Robert Altman wanted a song that was about suicide and was “stupid” for another character to sing to the despondant dentist at the supper. He had Academy Award-winning composer Johnny Mandel come up with a piece of music, which was the theme we know. He tried to write lyrics himself, but found he was too mature to write something so juvenile. But he knew what to do.

I’ve got a kid who’s a total idiot,” he told the staff, and gave the job to his teenaged son Mike. Mike was 14 or 15 at the time, depending upon which account you read. He penned lyrics with such insights as killing yourself brings about changes, in five minutes. He wanted a guitar in return. Luckily for him, his dad gave him a standard royalties contract instead. Twenty years later, Mike had made over a million dollars from it! Helping that along the way was the fact that it was released as a single by Columbia Records and hit #1 for a full four weeks in the UK, and also made #1 in Ireland. It seems remarkable, looking back, that the TV instrumental didn’t come out as a single in the ’70s when other themes like “The Rockford Files” were doing so well.

The single was put out under the name “The Mash”, who were more anonymous than some of those muddied faces in the Korean jungle the show dealt with. While the TV theme ran 90 seconds in the premiere then was cut to 45, sometimes 50, seconds after that, the single, with singing, came in just under three minutes.

What we do know about The Mash is that the singers were a quartet led by Ron Hicklin, who’d done backing vocals for the Laverne & Shirley theme, for the Partridge Family and various commercials. The actual musicians playing the tune are even harder to track down, but super-bassist Carol Kaye is reported to have played bass which would suggest the Wrecking Crew played it, likely with Hal Blaine on drums and Larry Knetchel on keyboards among others.

As for Mike Altman – five minutes work, a million dollars.. Not so stupid after all!

February 27 – The First Of Gord’s Gold

If you could read the Billboard charts, you’d have seen that Canadian newcomer Gordon Lightfoot was doing pretty well 52 years ago today. His first American hit, “If You Could Read My Mind” had peaked at #5 this day in 1971. Earlier the song had hit the top of the charts in his homeland, where the folkster was already a bit of a big deal.

The song was from Gord’s fifth album, but first on the Reprise label who’d spared no expense in the recording of it in L.A. Kris Kristofferson, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and John Sebastian are among the other musicians who appear on the record, but for this song a more basic arrangement was used, with Gord on guitars – often 12-strings – and a number of violins arranged by Nick Decaro.

Simple in production and obvious in theme, the lyrics though showcased Lightfoot’s talents with words and crafting memorable melodies. The song was inspired by his own divorce and written “sitting in a vacant Toronto house.” One might surmise with lyrics like “I’d walk away like a movie star, who gets burned in a three-way script” that the first Mrs. L left him for another man. Probably her loss but the public’s gain.

The album it came from was initially titled Sit Down Young Stranger, but Reprise quickly renamed it If You Could Read My Mind when the single became a worldwide hit. He admitted in a documentary that he fought the label tooth and nail over the title change – but once it quickly tripled in sales he relented and learned not to second-guess them.  The album got to #12 in the U.S., where he was being compared to a northern Bob Dylan, and #20 in Australia. At home, it hit #8 during its run of nearly a year-and-a-half on the sales chart. The record also contained his go at “Me and Bobby McGee” which did well on country charts.

The Dylan comparison is all the more apt since Bob himself has commented that when he “first heard a Lightfoot song” he “wished it would last forever.” Since then he’s had some 15 top 40 hits (including “Sundown”, an American #1 song) and a double-platinum greatest hits album at home and been awarded the Governor General’s Award, the highest honor for Canadian entertainers, as well a similar accolade from Queen Elizabeth.

And if you find yourself thinking, “that song sounds vaguely familiar even though I haven’t heard Gord singing it for awhile”, you may be right. It’s been covered by artists including Liza Minelli, Glen Campbell and, most powerfully, Johnny Cash since. Then there’s Whitney.

In 1987, Gordon had sued Michael Masser, not exactly a household name, for plagiarism. Masser had composed the song “The Greatest Love of All”, a platinum selling single for Whitney Houston the year before. Lightfoot explained “it really rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t want the present day generation to think that I stole my song from him.” Eventually he dropped the lawsuit as he thought it was doing more to harm Whitney than the actual writer; at that point Masser apologized publicly for the faux pas. Ironically, Duran Duran have said that the chorus of “Save a Prayer” was loosely based on the melody to “If You Could Read My Mind” as well, but didn’t get sued. Perhaps ‘fessing up is the best policy…because who knows if people could read your mind?

February 25 – Pointers Career Heated Up Thanks To The Boss

On this week in 1979, For the second time in two years, Bruce Springsteen saw one of his songs jump high into the Billboard top 10. And like the first time, it wasn’t recorded by him! Almost two years to the day since Manfred Mann hit the top with “Blinded by the Light”, the Pointer Sisters scored the biggest hit of their career to that point with their take on his song “Fire”. It hit #2 on this day 40 years ago.

Springsteen had written the song after seeing an Elvis concert and recorded it with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He liked it well enough but felt it didn’t fit into that album, so shelved it. Somehow producer Richard Perry (of Nilsson’s “Without You” fame) heard it and showed it to Oakland girl group the Pointer Sisters.

The Pointers had been around all decade long, starting as a duo of Bonnie and June, then known as Pointers a Pair, who’d sung backup for the likes of Boz Scaggs and Grace Slick. They added in two more sisters, Anita and Ruth, changed to their current moniker and got signed onto Atlantic Records. Although they had some decent success on R&B charts in the ’70s, they’d not done a whole lot on mainstream radio. They decided to change that with their late-’78 album Pure Energy. They brought in Perry to produce it, musicians including Randy Bachman, Waddy Wachtel, Toto’s David Paich (who plays keyboards on this single) and Jeff Porcaro, Elton John’s guitarist Davey Johnstone among others to work on it and covered songs like Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, Loggins & Messina’s “Angry Eyes”, Fleetwood Mac’s “Hypnotized”… and the Springsteen one.

It worked well. The album became their third to go gold at home, and broke through to the north in Canada, going platinum, but the real difference was this hit. The smoldering single that critic Christine Arnold notes “might well have been done by the Ronettes in the ’60s” got to #2 in the U.S., #3 in Canada (where they’d not been in the top 30 before) and topped New Zealand charts. As Anita says, it “became our first gold single…one song is played over and over all over the world. It really became a major hit for us and made a total difference in our careers.”

Indeed it did. they’d go on to notch six more top 10 singles in the ’80s with songs like “Slow Hand” and “I’m So Excited”, although that #1 rank remained elusive to them.

The Pointers continue on to this day, although with the death of Anita last New Year’s Eve, only Ruth remains of the original sisters. As for Springsteen, he’s done not too badly himself since then! And oh, the public finally did get to hear him do it himself – he released a live version of it as a single in 1987, although it only got to #46 on the charts.

February 24 – A Song About A King, An Honor From The Queen

A red-letter day on Elton John‘s calendar. Or, make that “Sir” Elton John, because as of this day in 1998, that’s what he officially is. And it also marks the anniversary of one of his biggest, and best, hits coming out. “Philadelphia Freedom” was released this day in 1975.

We’ve looked at that song here before, but to recap, it was a standalone single he released between the Caribou and Captain Fantastic… albums and was a tribute to his friend Billie Jean King. As well as to the sounds of Philadelphia, which Elton loved – bands like the O’Jays and Spinners were very hot at the time. Billie Jean was a tennis star who’d become one of the premier names in a new team tennis league, and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. Elton wanted something to celebrate her, but Bernie Taupin had difficulty putting together lyrics about tennis, so he made it a bit more wide-ranging, a sort of love song to her as well as to the city and the American concept of freedom and liberty in general. The song went on to be one of his biggest, and most enduring, topping North American charts and being one of a remarkable 10 platinum-selling singles he’d release in the States during that decade alone (the Bee Gees, the kings of disco, had four for comparison’s sake.)

Jumping forward a little over two decades, we come to his being knighted by the Queen. Being made a knight is an honorary thing in Britain, although Famous Daily note “knighthood does not mandate royal duties or responsibilities.” So, despite what Monty Python skits might suggest, if attacked, being a knight doesn’t mean you have to don armor, pick up a sword and say “ni” repeatedly. Rather, it’s just a show of respect from the nation which allows you to be referred to officially as “Sir”, or “Dame” if you happen to be female.

Elton received the honor for “outstanding service to music and charitable services.” Elton had long been very involved in various AIDS charities, among the most prominent and earliest celebrities to do so. He wasn’t the lone rock star to be given the honor, in fact it’s not all that rare. Paul McCartney had been dubbed “Sir Paul” the year before, and Cliff Richard before that. Even Mick Jagger would make the grade, in 2003.

Being knighted requires kneeling down in front of the monarch, who typically touches a sword to your shoulder and gives you a medal. Perhaps disappointing some of his fans, he wore a conservative dark jacket and tie rather than a chicken suit or flamboyant head dress. It wasn’t the first time he’d met Queen Elizabeth mind you; his being friends with Lady Di – her death the previous year and his charity single “Candle in the Wind ’97” in her memory might have dictated the timing of his award – had him moving in similar circles to her at times. In fact, he met her as far back as 1981, at a royal birthday party where Princess Anne asked him to dance despite the fact “the (music) was turned down about as low as you could get without switching it off”. He said he “ended up just shuffling awkwardly from foot to foot, trying to make as little noise as I could so I didn’t drown out the music.” Was that what was going through his mind as he took his place in front of Her Majesty?

Turns out no. He says he was thinking of Groucho Marx! That was because he was erroneously introduced to the queen as “Sir John Elton”…and he’d had a signed Marx Brothers poster which had also been dedicated to “John Elton”.

February 23 – George Tried To ‘Blow Away’ Problems Of The ’70s

In the early days of the ’70s, in the first year or so after the breakup of The Beatles, people may have guessed that George Harrison (or even Ringo Starr) was going to be the solo superstar from the Fab Four. His All Things Must Pass was not only great, it was a triple album. That’s a lot of talent. But by the tail-end of the decade, the tide had shifted. John had fashioned out a nice career, Ringo was largely an afterthought and it was Paul, with his band Wings, who stayed in the public eye and rolled out hit after hit. And George? George? “Oh yeah, that guy. Isn’t he making movies or something?” Harrison had largely fallen from the radar.

He set out to change that this day in 1979 with the release of his self-titled album, the sixth studio one of his post-Beatles career. Although he’d put out records now and then throughout the decade (his previous one, 33 and a Third came out in late-’76) but few garnered had garnered attention after Living in the Material World in ’73. In the years between, he’d been involved in a lengthy court case over the song “My Sweet Lord”, become a bit disillusioned by the music industry, briefly fallen back into heavy substance abuse, split up with Pattie Boyd and then started a film company, Handmade, largely to help his friends in Monty Python put out the Life of Brian. However, during 1978 things began to change for the better. Life of Brian got made and came out to generally great reviews and George fell in love again, got married to Olivia and became a father. They took a lengthy holiday in Hawaii and there he wrote much of what would become George Harrison.

The ten-song, 40-minute release wasn’t nearly as ambitious as his opuses All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World, but was a nice, well-made record with a sound that fit the times – at least those in North America, perhaps because of the production. While George recorded it in Britain and used a lot of British talent to help out, he had Russ Titelman to produce it with him. Titelman was an American who’d won accolades chiefly working with James Taylor and Randy Newman earlier in the decade. Among the talent George called on to lend a hand on the record were Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Gary Wright and drummer Andy Newmark. Harrison himself played guitars, mandolins, dobro and even reprised his trusty sitar from the “White Album” era. Speaking of which, one song, “Not Guilty” had first been done with the Beatles for that album but hadn’t made the cut. Another song, “Here Comes the Moon” was created as an obvious sequel to his Beatles hit “Here Comes the Sun.”

The other songs were new, and largely upbeat. “Faster” was written about F1 racing, then a passion of his and his new bride. Said George then “everything has been happening nicely for me. My life is getting better all the time and I’m happy and I think it’s reflected in the music.”

Most critics were happy enough with happy George. Billboard back then labeled it the “spotlight album” – the best of the weeks new arrivals. The NME compared it to the better work of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Rolling Stone called it his best since All Things Must Pass, a “refreshingly light-hearted” listen reminding us Harrison “was always a better tunesmith than priest.” Even years later, Uncut would rate it 4-stars, labeling it “a minor treat, a fulsome rocker replete with sunshine melodies and gorgeous slide guitars.” Only allmusic disagree, with them rating it just 2.5-stars, lowest of his solo career at that point. While they liked the hit “Blow Away”, they found it too “polished, L.A.-made” in sound and very “ordinary album from an extraordinary talent.” As to the public, the NME probably hit the nail on the head when a few years after they noted that while bands like the Doobie Brothers ruled U.S. airwaves in ’79, the new wave sound was king in the UK and “interest in Beatle product was probably at an all-time low.”

So it was that the record did alright in North America but flopped in his homeland. “Blow Away” hit #16 in the U.S., #7 in Canada where it was his biggest hit since 1971, but topped out at #51 in the UK. “Love Comes to Everyone” didn’t make the sales chart but did get decent airplay on North American radio, helping the album hit #14 in both the States and Canada, and go gold in the U.S. In Britain it got to just #39 and quickly disappeared from the charts. Happy George dabbled in music again on and off through the ’80s until returning in a big way with the Traveling Wilburys and the solo comeback Cloud Nine.

February 20 – Nitty, Gritty And Hit-ty

A “gritty” autobiographical song helped make a career for one of the States’ longest-running bands. “Mr. Bojangles” peaked at #9 in the U.S. this week 50 years ago, making it the biggest hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

The 1971 hit was a cover version of a song written and first recorded by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker (who’d gotten to a rather lowly #77 with his take on it). Walker wrote the song after spending a night in a New Orleans jail for public drunkenness. In there he met an aging man who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” to avoid identifying his real identity according to the singer. Much of the song’s lyrics were pretty much what happened – Bojangles talked a lot about his life on the street, dancing for tips, spoke of a pet dog who’d passed away, and did some tap dancing in the cell to lighten the mood.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered it for their fourth album, Uncle Charlie and his Dog Teddy. The California country-rock band packed that 45 minute album with 21 songs, including ones written by Michael Nesmith, Randy Newman and a yet-to-be-famous Kenny Loggins (“The House On Pooh Corner”) . They’d begun about five years earlier as a throwback band using fiddles, banjos and other acoustic instruments. According to Jeff Hanna (who sang lead on “Mr. Bojangles”) it was mostly a way for them “to figure out how not to work for a living.” It seemed to work! The band is still going, with Hanna still a member. At various times, Jackson Browne and Bernie Leadon (later of the Eagles) were among the 22 members that have cycled through it. In 1977, when they were going by the name The Dirt Band, they became the first American band to be allowed to tour the USSR.

Hanna sang lead on the single, as well as playing acoustic guitar, but no washboard, unlike some of their songs! Jim Ibbitson added harmonies and among the other musicians was Wrecking Crew drummer Russ Kunkel.

The song hit #9 at home and #2 in Canada, where “The House on Pooh Corner” also made the top 30. Curiously, the album scored its best showing in Australia – #31 – where neither single was as big as in North America.

The song quickly seemed to attain “classic” status. Sammy Davis Jr. adopted the song as his signature for years in his live act and artists ranging from John Denver and Jim Stafford to Lulu and Harry Belafonte have recorded it since..

February 18 – Movie Music John, Part 1

Happy birthday to a man who while only marginally tied to music, has left his mark on one of the biggest records ever. And appears on the front covers of two of the biggest-selling records of all-time.  John Travolta, famed actor and Scientologist, turns 68 today. The New Jersey-born lad’s mom was an actress and grew up with a desire to act, that he “acted” upon. Upon graduating high school he headed to Broadway and the stage, which in turn led to his dalliance with musical success. He played in the Broadway version of Grease, which apparently required a little singing. This coupled with his fame from TV’s Welcome Back Kotter got him a record deal in the mid-’70s that led to a moderately-successful, but largely forgotten single, “Let Her In.” Soon after, as we know he got the lead, Danny, in the movie Grease, despite producer’s concerns about his singing and Olivia Newton John’s acting. Of course, he’d already starred in Saturday Night Fever, and is on the cover of that album, but he didn’t sing in it. Hesitant producer or not, they were cast and the rest, as they say, is history. The soundtrack sold in the tens of millions and John dueted with Olivia on one of the biggest-selling singles of all-time, “You’re the One That I Want.”  He even had a minor hit of his own from the soundtrack, “Greased Lightning”. The pair’s 1983 reunion, Two of A Kind wasn’t so popular but no matter. They apparently stayed friends until her death last year. He wrote “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible, love you so much…your Danny, your John”. Meanwhile, Travolta’s acting career took off and to this day his voice is heard on oldies and retro radio stations more than many of his contemporaries who’d dedicated their lives to music.

Travolta of course wasn’t the first, nor the last actor to take a run at crossing over to singing. Before him there was David Cassidy, who got cast in The Partridge Family merely because of his looks. Cassidy sang with that TV group and had a couple of hit records of his own, notably his version of The Association’s “Cherish” which was a #1 hit in Australia and a top 10 in North America and “Daydreamer”, a UK chart-topper, in 1973. Around the time Travolta was Vinnie on Kotter, David Soul was Hutch on the cop show Starsky & Hutch; he parlayed that into a recording contract and a #1 single in his apparent soft-rock ode to erectile difficulty, “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby” and, surprisingly five albums through the late-’90s. And let’s not forget action hero Bruce Willis – sadly diagnosed with dementia this week – , whose David sang old rock standards drunkenly on the show Moonlighting. People liked it when he did that on TV so he put out an album of the same, The Return of Bruno (remarkably it was on Motown!) . The album sold some, with oldies like “Secret Agent Man”, “Under the Boardwalk” and “Respect Yourself”. The latter was a top 5 hit for Willis.

One person often lumped in with this group doesn’t fit – Rick Springfield. Although he undoubtedly cashed in on his General Hospital soap popularity with his early-’80s records including the Grammy-winning “Jessie’s Girl” , the Australian’s first love was music. He’d been influenced, like so many others, by seeing the Beatles as a kid and learned guitar. By 1972, he’d been in a rock group Down Under and had a solo record released- long before seguing onto a TV screen near you.

February 15 – Song Was Pretty Good Even If Subject Wasn’t

The scoundrel she was singing about might not have been any good, but the song was. Linda Ronstadt hit #1 on the Billboard Singles chart for the first – and only – time this day in 1975 with “You’re No Good.”

It was the lead-off single from her fifth solo album, Heart Like A Wheel, which allmusic correctly point out was the one where she “comes into her own” and fittingly, became a major star. That’s perhaps a bit surprising because it was released on Capitol Records… after she’d lept ship from them to join Asylum Records, run by her friend David Geffen and boasting her other, famous friends, the Eagles on their roster. Oftentimes in situations like that, the label the artist departed doesn’t put a lot of effort into promoting the record, but Capitol knew it was too good to waste apparently.

You’re No Good”, like all her hits, was a cover, but one most people didn’t recognize and she in effect made her own. It was written in the early-’60s by Clint Ballard and was first record by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s sister. It wasn’t a hit, but in 1964 it was redone by the Swinging Blue Jeans, who did well with it in Britain (a #3 hit) but were ignored in North America.

Although it was a song she says is not one “I get a lot of satisfaction out of singing,” it was one she’d played in concerts long before the album came out. In fact, she sang it on the Midnight Special back in 1973. So, being a couple of songs short for the album, she suggested it to her producer, Peter Asher. It was a perfect fit. He says “she’d been doing the song already and it was always a favorite of mine,” referring to the Swinging Blue Jeans cover of it.

She sang it over a sparse guitar track then Asher and multi-talented Andrew Gold (of “Lonely Boy” fame) worked it up. Gold played the electric guitar (there was also a pedal steel guitar on it by Ed Black), drummed and played keyboards, while her former bandmate in the Stone Poneys, Kenny Edwards played bass. Surprisingly, not only does Linda not like the song that much she later said “”I thought the production was very good but I didn’t sing it very well.”

The public thought otherwise. It hit #1 and the B-side, a Hank Williams cover, “I Can’t Help It”, was a big hit on country radio, making it to #2 there. The album was her first to go platinum, and actually ended up twice that.

Oddly, although she became a major star with Heart Like A Wheel, she never had another #1 single, though she came close with the follow-up “When Will I Be Loved” and in 1989 with her Aaron Neville duet, “Don’t Know Much.”

February 14 – Simon Presented Opposing Argument To The Day

For every action, there’s an inverse reaction, it’s said. So fittingly – at least to fit that rule – on this Valentine’s Day in 1976, there was sort of an “inverse” song on top. Paul Simon‘s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” was back at #1 for the second of a three week run on top. Amazingly, it’s Simon’s only solo #1 song yet in the U.S.

The timing might have been coincidental, but I imagine a lot of singles and unhappy halves in couples were feeling the song more than ever at the season of hearts and roses. It was the second single off Simon’s 1975 album Still Crazy After All These Years, his first #1 album without Art Garfunkel by his side. If the song came across as a bit callous and cynical about love… well, no wonder. Simon wrote the record while going through a divorce from his first wife, Peggy.

I woke up early one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my head,” he said, adding “it’s basically a nonsense song.” His brother says Paul developed the words to teach his three year old son how to rhyme. He wanted a sparse sounding record so he built it around the subtle and sublime drumming from Steve Gadd. Gadd was an in demand session drummer who’d just done the disco hit “The Hustle” with Van McCoy and would soon after go on to work with Steely Dan. Simon might have been losing a wife, but was never alone it would seem. He had help from much of the Big Apple’s finest studio musicians including guitarist Hugh McCracken ( a veteran of records by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, the Left Banke and Paul McCartney) and on organ, Kenneth Ascher, a regular on John Lennon’s records of the era. To keep him, and his voice company were backing singers Valerie Simpson, Patti Austin and Phoebe Snow, with whom he’d collaborated on the album’s first single, “Gone at Last.”

We don’t know if “Stan” or “Roy” took his musical advice and went their own ways, but we do know the song started a sort of party game with people offering their own rhyming advice on how to ditch one’s partner, and was a popular hit worldwide…although nowhere more so than in his cynical or bored homeland. The song got to #7 in Canada, #2 in France and #23 in Britain. In the U.S. it scored him a gold single and ended up among the Bicentennial Year’s top 10 songs.

Valentines take heart though. While “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” was a big hit, the year’s top single was one with the opposite sentiment – “Silly Love Songs” by McCartney and Wings, which ended up being the top single of the entire year.