The companion Spotify playlist has all the songs discussed in the blog that are available. The playlist on the right is just the songs from this post.
**Underlined songs were on my top 100 this month in 1970 & the number in parentheses is its position on the chart.
Part 2, Family Ties, The 70/20 Parallel and the Writer Behind the Song
The Carpenters/(They Long To Be) Close To You (2)
I was definitely not finished with my discussion of the Carpenters. Since my mother was such a huge fan of Karen Carpenter, I was fortunate enough to have my first concert experience when I was 10 years old. We drove in the wood-paneled station wagon down to the Garden State Arts Center to see them perform. I can’t say I remember much about the concert itself, but I remember the excitement of going and the feeling of being in this cool amphitheater. Years later when my sister was a teenager in dancing school her troupe got to perform on that stage as well, which was a big deal.
In listening to the songs from the album I was surprised at how many of the songs I remembered but I am sure that most were played at the concert as well. One of the more interesting ones is the Richard Carpenter/John Bettis penned “Mr. Guder”. Triangle, Flute, and signature harmonies are the backdrop for a song about a robotic company man. With Carpenter, Bettis penned quite a number of the duo’s hits like “Only Yesterday” and “Yesterday Once More”. Bettis has co-written songs for a myriad of Pop and Country artists including “Crazy For You” by Madonna, “Slow Hand” by the Pointer Sisters, and George Strait’s “Heartland”. In addition, he wrote the theme to the sitcom “Growing Pains” and the anthem for the Summer Olympics in 1988, Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time”.
One of my favorites from the album is “Maybe It’s You” with its prominent use of the oboe and lovely chorus. In Sept. 1970 they released “We’ve Only Just Begun”, my #11 of the year, co-written by another well-known lyricist, Paul Williams. Williams had his fingers in another television theme song, writing lyrics for “The Love Boat”. 2 of his most important songs, in my opinion, are Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen” from “A Star is Born” and “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie”. Many people may remember him from his acting career as well. He showed up a lot in TV and film through the ’70s, most notably the “Smokey And The Bandit” film series.
The origins of ‘Begun’ are interesting as well. It first showed up in early 1970 as the music in a commercial for the Crocker National Bank of California, sung by Williams. Upon hearing it Richard Carpenter asked Williams if there was a full version of the song. They were both under contract with A&M Records. From an insignificant beginning to a major radio smash (hitting #1 in Cashbox Magazine and #2 for 4 weeks in Billboard), the song was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 as well as making the Rolling Stone top 500 of all time at #414.
Of particular note, it stalled at #2 in Billboard behind 2 other families. The real family, Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”, and the fictitious family, the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” (more on them later in the year). Right behind the Carpenters on my July 1970 chart is the Jackson 5 with “The Love You Save” (3), their third of 4 Billboard #1’s that year. While the previous 2 songs had reached my top 10 (“I Want You Back” #7 and “ABC” #5 (38)) this was my favorite of the bunch. You may not be aware that the song references 4 historic figures; Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, and Christopher Columbus.
The ballad “I’ll Be There” followed ‘Save’ in September and became the group’s biggest hit, and their last #1 in Billboard. It would not be the last time the song reached #1, as Mariah Carey brought it back to the summit in 1992. The song replaced Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through The Grapevine” as Motown’s most successful single until it was supplanted in 1981 by “Endless Love” the movie theme sung by Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross. Of course, Mariah Carey comes back into play, as her version of this song with Luther Vandross climbed to #2 in 1994.
While the group did not have another Billboard #1, the next 2 singles which peaked at #2, both reached #1 in the rival magazine Cashbox. “Mama’s Pearl” was another favorite of the time. It certainly fell in line with the other bubblegum oriented tunes from the group. The original name of the song was “Guess Who’s Making Whoopie (With Your Girlfriend)’” but that was changed (along with lyrics) to keep the 12-year-old Michael’s image pure. The song was kept out of the top spot in Billboard by another group of brothers, The Osmonds, and their song “One Bad Apple” (a 5-week chart-topper), ironically written by a guy named George Jackson. He also co-wrote “Old Time Rock ‘n Roll” for Bob Seger and a song called “The Only Way Is Up” for soul singer Otis Clay in 1980 (thought the version that became a hit was by Yazz and the Plastic Population in 1988 ( a UK #1 and Dance chart #2). That version surprisingly only reached #45 on my chart, a song that has stood up quite well for me.
The next single, “Never Can Say Goodbye” was written by Clifton Davis, an actor best known for his roles in the mid-70’s sitcom “That’s My Mama” and the late 80’s sitcom “Amen” starring Sherman Hemsley of “The Jeffersons”. The ballad was re-imagined as a dance song twice, first by Gloria Gaynor in 1974 (#9 Hot 100, #1 Dance) and then by the UK outfit The Communards in 1987 (a #2 Dance hit and top 5 in the UK).
The next band has a connection to the Jacksons. Alive ‘N Kickin’ was a one-hit-wonder from Brooklyn that scored a major hit in 1970 with “Tighter, Tighter” (7), a song co-written by Tommy James. The band had started working with him in 1968 and he almost gave them his 1969 hit “Crystal Blue Persuasion” but decided to keep it for himself. Their song peaked at #7 on the Hot 100. One of the 6 members of the band was Bruce Sudano.
In 1984 he wrote the song “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming (Too Good To Be True)” for Jermaine Jackson featuring Michael Jackson. That song was never released as a single due to conflicts from the 2 brothers opposing record companies but did reach the top 10 in airplay on the Pop chart in June 1984. It also received a Grammy nomination for R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Some of you may know that Sudano, who was a member of Brooklyn Dreams later in the ’70s, is Donna Summer’s husband. I discovered their 1979 song “Make It Last” when I was working on the precursor to these blogs last fall. The very ’70s era Hall & Oates style song made it up to #62 on my chart this past January. They had a few minor chart entries in the late ’70s but scored best with their collaboration with Summer, “Heaven Knows”, reaching #4 on the Hot 100 in early 1979.
The Jackson 5 had been given the moniker “the first family of soul” but it originally had been bestowed on the Five Stairsteps, a Chicago family of 5 boys and 1 girl. Between 1966 and 1969 they charted 13 songs that made the lower reaches of the Hot 100, many of which made the R&B top 20. It wasn’t until 1970 that they scored their signature hit “O-o-h Child” (18), a song that also shows up in Rolling Stone’s top 500 of all-time at #402.