January 12, 1974: Jim Croce, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, Barry White, Bobby “Blue” Bland

Stateside newies

JIM CROCE: Time In A Bottle (ABC 11405).
Famed American radio programming and chart tipster Kal Rudman predicted, before it was even issued as a single, that this album-culled acoustic guitar roundelay would be one of the all-time Christmas hits – and, blow me, if the genius wasn’t right slap bang on the nail with the record reaching number one (where it stays still) exactly on Christmas week! The wistfully worded and sung spiralling slow tinkler is not at all Christmassy, in fact, but it has helped to kindle a massive interest in the tragically killed (in an aeroplane crash) 30-year-old Croce, who is now posthumously enjoying a Buddy Holly scaled vogue, with three albums up near the top of the chart too. It is a great shame that so few people in Britain latched on to his previous excellent US number ones, the jolly “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”. Maybe there’s hope now?

MERLE HAGGARD: If We Make It Through December (Capitol 3746).
The big Christmas hit at number one in the Country Chart, Merle’s self-penned song of hope is a gaily lilting “pom, te-pom, te-pom” jogalong bouncer that’s full of nasally-sung Easy Listening appeal. What with its story of factory lay-offs and biting cold, it would have been a good release here last month (or, with a slight re-write, right now!).

JONI MITCHELL: Raised On Robbery (Asylum AS 11029).
Now here’s one that really should be called “Raised On Rock”! Amazingly, winsome Joni has come up with a sputtering snarling angrily-backed modern rocker, the power of which not even her dulcet tones can diminish. One of the gases of the week!

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: I’ve Got To Use My Imagination (Buddah BDA 393).
Title track of their new “Imagination” LP, this Injun wardrums rhythm accelerating pounder is an ultra-commercial concoction from the pens of Messrs. Goffin and Goldberg, which Gladys and the guys wail and holler with molto gusto and lotsa bite amidst the alternately boomy then shrill backing. Oompa oompa!

BARRY WHITE: Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up (20th Century TC 2058).
With both long (4:44) and short (3:58) versions of this “Stone Gon” album-culled groaner to choose from, I am still of the opinion that it hardly advances Barry’s claim to originality, sounding as it does like a pastiche of “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” and “Love’s Theme”: however, that’s not altogether bad, and indeed the short side follows on from that latter named quite beautifully, as no doubt disco dee-jays have discovered! (They’ll be playing Isaac Hayes’ “Joy” after it, too, I’ll wager!)

BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND: This Time I’m Gone For Good (Dunhill D 4369).
Although super-popster Steve Barri is producing him now, the Beale Streeter is still as Bluesy as ever . . . maybe even more so, because if that isn’t his old Memphis comrade B. B. King plucking out those indigo tones on guitar it sure does sound like him! Not to be confused with another Deadric Malone blues, O. V. Wright’s “Gone For Good”, this is a throat-rasping sorrow-filled slowie which (to clutch at a convenient comparison) combines blues guitar with strings rather as Fleetwood Mac’s “Need Your Love So Bad” did. Great stuff!

American Singles

JOBRIATH: Take Me I’m Yours; Earthling (Elektra K 12129).
This skinny lily-complexioned porcelain pierrot is being promoted by his totally weird manager with the most unreal spaced-out super-hype of all time, “Elvis . . . Beatles . . . Jobriath” being its campaign slogan and the Paris Olympia its first rallying point. The proof of the poseur is in the delivery or otherwise of the goods: at this stage it’s too early to judge him without scepticism. Although I heard on the radio a track which sounded interesting, the evidence of these two sides suggests a mannered mixture of Jagger, Morrison and Bowie on a slinkily lurching well-accompanied slowie and slightly faster though similar flip. Very “Let It Bleed”, in fact, with yowling guitars, chanting back-up, jagged rhythms and exaggerated enunciated vocal posturing. Actually, y’know, with repeated listenings this has grown on me . . . completely thanks to its Stones sound! Hmmm, let’s wait and see. Meanwhile – MUSIC PICK.

TODD RUNDGREN: Hello It’s Me; Cold Morning Light (Bearsville K 15513).
With Gary Glitter already the Busby Berkeley of the new Depression and Slade shaping as the Bing Crosby of World War III, what others of the current crop will become in retrospect the nostalgic-classics of the great ‘Seventies slump, the toons we tightened our belts to? Whizz-kid of the studios, wizard Rundgren (a true star) is culling coin in America, where singles have big centre holes and thus need less precious vinyl than small hole fixated Britain’s, yet this lethargic re-working of his old tranquil slowie lacks the simple purity of his original Nazz version, and seems unlikely to make him the Rudy Vallee of our day (nice enough though it is). Both sides are, incidentally, from a fitfully brilliant 1972 double album called “Something Anything?” which really IS worth investigating. In fact, the gently churning plaintive slow flip is a good Neil Young-ish introduction to his brilliance. Remember, he created, played and sang every sound that you hear all by himself – some time before Stevie Wonder did likewise. MUSIC PICK.

JOHNNY CASH & JUNE CARTER: We’re For Love (CBS 1994).
Country Music’s Tony Byworth assures me that this is indeed the original version of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s 1967 hit, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I saw it on the Country Charts by someone else as well. Anyway, there’s a hint of the old Sun Sound amongst the string bass plucking behind Johnny’s laid-back groaning and his wife’s more upfront hollering. Lazier jog-along flip.

SUE THOMPSON: Oh, Johnny! Oh, Johnny, Oh!; Just Plain Country (Come To Town) (London HLE 10440).
The girl without whom there could have been no Carol Deens is back in her old “James (Hold The Ladder Steady)” (the bane of my youth!) cutesy-pie style on this anachronistic rehash of an old, old song, an early big band version of which by the Orrin Tucker Orchestra was sung in a similarly grotesque icky manner by the equally mature Evelyn Nelson under the pseudonym of Wee Bonnie Baker. Look, even Shirley Temple had to grow up, so can’t Sue leave this to Little Jimmy Osmond and carry on singing jolly Country ditties like she does on the flip?

GLEN CAMPBELL: Wherefore And Why; Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling (Capitol CL 15768).
Mister Vegas sounds happy enough turning this Gordon Lightfoot romper into a speeded-up version of “Elusive Butterfly”. Dreary slow flip by Bill C. Graham, not to be confused with Bill E. Graham (the hot potato artiste).

ROGER MILLER: I Believe In Sunshine; Qua La Linta (CBS 1878).
Not long ago I told you about the glut in the Country Chart of sunny titles, and this here was one of them. A fairly nondescript though jaunty chicks-based jogger, it’s nothing for Alan-A-Dale to crow over.

THREE DOG NIGHT: Let Me Serenade You; Storybook Feeling (Probe PRO 607).
Originally by Rhinoceros, this organ and piano-backed slow clapper is presumably meant to sound Gospelly: unfortunately, Ray Charles is not singing it, and it doesn’t. The Rascals or Van Morrison could both have done it better. Wishy-washy tinkling “atmospheric” flip.

MELANIE: Will You Love Me Tomorrow; Here I Am (Neighborhood NBH 9).
With HER recent record sales, will you love me TODAY would be a more timely plea, surely? Ole chubby face wails away with surprising restraint on this musty dusty from the grave of the Shirelles, and makes it her most pleasant and substantial offering since her “Lay Down” days. Billie Holiday she ain’t on the jazzy flip, but it’s a brave try that’s worth checking out.

GRAND FUNK: Walk Like A Man; The Railroad (Capitol CL 15771).
Two more trax from the Todd Rundgren-produced “We’re An American Band” album, these find the three plus one in their most concise and accessible form since “Footstompin’ Music”: however, Britain has hundreds of homegrown groups who make the same sort of beastly noise without any great success. Now, now . . . big girls don’t cry!

SONOMA: Love For You; Thank You Just The Same (Probe PRO 605).
Bubbling about the bottom end of the US Hot 100, the sweet-voiced chix who comprise Sonoma are in the Helen Reddy bag with overtones of Karen Carpenter on this comes-and-goes strummer, designed with radio programmers in mind. Just to be confusing, a bloke sings too on the slow chug flip, which isn’t bad in a totally sterile New Seekers-type way.

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS: Save Our Ship; Inner Crisis (CBS 1845).
Elton John meets “A Salty Dog”, if you want it in words of one syllable. Jazzy noodlings and doodlings on the dead soft and then brashly brassy instrumental flip. What we want is Blood, Sweat and Glitter!

STORIES: Mammy Blue; Travelling Underground (Kama Sutra 2013-078).
The Los Pop-Tops oldie gets speeded up by the Rod Stewart-accented Ian Lloyd, whose group did such a good and independently valid version of “Brother Louie” last time out. This time, the treatment is less successful. Burbling wah-wah swooshes about all over the moody slow instrumental flip, which could be more accurately titled “Underwater”.

LEON THOMAS: Boom-Boom-Boom; L.O.V.E (Philips 6073707).
A few weeks ago I referred to “Leon Thomas-type jazz yodelling” on Santana’s new single. How right I was, as it turns out, for indeed Leon is now part of the group! He came to fame via his unusual singing on Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan” (on the “Karma” Impulse LP), but his vigorous voice is in more of a nite-clubby bluesy vein on the fiddle-backed thumpalong John Hooker topside here. The jazzier flip, with a snappy rhythm, girlie group and honking tuneless sax, is much more interesting and well worth hearing.

One thought on “January 12, 1974: Jim Croce, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, Barry White, Bobby “Blue” Bland”

  1. Sadly the UK never did “get” Jim Croce. I’s almost forgotten how mainstream country music was in the UK during the 70s with a stream of regular top 20 hits throughout the decade. James is scathing on Barry White! Gladys Knight would have to wait one more year before her Buddah recordings would begin to chart regularly in the UK.


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