Archive for the ‘Diana Ross’ Category

We watched Ordinary People last night. It’s a film we’d both seen before, though not in decades. Diane first saw it in a movie theater not long after its Sept. 19, 1980, release and I first saw it on PRISM, a now-defunct regional premium cable channel that was popular in the Philly area at the time, about a year later. An understated and powerful movie, it won a bevy of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford, in his directorial debut) and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).

ordinarypeopleFor those unfamiliar with it, the drama delves into the dynamics of a dysfunctional family following the death of eldest son Buck (Scott Doebler), who perished in a sailing accident that youngest son Conrad (Timothy Hutton) survived. As the story opens, Conrad has recently returned from a stay at a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt; he’s racked with survivor’s guilt. Mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is emotionally distant, more concerned with appearance than addressing his (or her, for that matter) needs. Father Calvin (Donald Sutherland), on the other hand, just wants everyone to get along. As Roger Ebert put it in his review, he’s “one of those men who wants to do and feel the right things, in his own awkward way.” Enter psychiatrist Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch) and the down-to-earth Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), a girl who catches Conrad’s eye. Both, in their ways, help him overcome the guilt – one knowingly, the other not.

In other entertainment events from that September, the Dionne Warwick-hosted Solid Gold syndicated music series debuted on the 13th.

I have no memory of whether I watched it or not; likely not. If I wasn’t out at a movie – at the Hatboro Theater in downtown Hatboro or the Eric Theater in the Village Mall in Horsham – I was likely reading the Sunday newspaper while listening to the oldies on the radio, listening to music in my room and/or watching TV. (How’s that for narrowing it down?) I was 15, a high-school sophomore and serious music fanatic.

Among the album releases for the month: Kate Bush’s Never for Ever; David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); the Doobie Brothers’ One Step Closer; Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz; Barbra Streisand’s Guilty; Utopia’s Deface the Music; Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July; and Molly Hatchet’s Beatin’ the Odds.

And, with that – onward to today’s Top 5: September 20, 1980, in which I cherry pick my favorite hits from the Weekly Top 40 for the week in question…

1) Diana Ross – “Upside Down.” For the third week in a row, Diana held the top spot with this infectious song. It, like the 1980 diana album as a whole, was written and produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, though the end result was not what they intended. Afraid that the original mix was too disco, which was quickly falling out if favor, Diana and engineer Russ Terrana gave the set a sleek, more pop-oriented makeover.

2) Irene Cara – “Fame.” Holding steady at No. 4 is this classic theme song. If you watched the above Solid Gold clip, you know that Irene sang (or lip-synced) it there; it’s such a great song, though, that I can’t help but share it again (And, yes, I know I’ve shared this same clip before – here, to be precise.)

3) Paul Simon – “Late in the Evening.” Clocking in at No. 7 is this classic from Paul Simon, which is one of my favorite songs by him.

4) Olivia Newton-John & Electric Light Orchestra – “Xanadu.” Just bubbling under the Top 10, at No. 12, is this, the title song to the movie musical, which was released the previous month. I saw the film at the aforementioned Eric Theater and, like most who did, didn’t find it a five-star affair. (An understatement, that.). The soundtrack, however, was darn good; I played it to death.

5) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.” Here’s a classic song from Michigan’s rock ’n’ roll laureate. Against the Wind, the album that it’s from, was my Album of the Year for 1980; I still think it’s great.

And, for today, a few bonuses…

6) Christopher Cross – “Sailing.” Falling from No. 5 to 15 is this Grammy Award-winning song from Christopher Cross. I imagine that this song, from Cross’ debut, would be lumped into what’s now known as “yacht rock.” Whatever. At the time, I found it a pleasant diversion that I didn’t need to own – it was played fairly often on the radio, after all. Nowadays? I often play Rumer’s version from her 2014 B-Sides & Rarities collection.

7) Olivia Newton-John – “Magic.” This classic ONJ number held the top spot for four weeks in August before beginning its downward drift. This week, it fell from No. 13 to 27.

8) Jackson Browne – “That Girl Could Sing.” Debuting on the charts this week, at No. 82, is this classic song from Hold Out, Browne’s only album to reach No. 1.

Thanksgiving night, after a wonderful get-together with family, Diane and I continued our trek through Good Girls Revolt. One episode centered on New Year’s Eve of 1969: As the ‘60s came to an end, Patti (Genevieve Angelson) and editor Finn (Chris Diamantopoulos) concluded that the decade had been about suppression and repression; the ‘70s, they predicted, would be about expansion. Then, at about 10:50pm, I received a message from iTunes: Rumer’s This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook was available for download.

It’s a lilting and lush set; the music possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and vocal finesse of the 5th Dimension, if that makes sense, and evokes the era in which the songs were born while remaining firmly rooted in the present. While one can imagine Rumer singing, say, “One Less Bell to Answer” on The Tonight Show in 1969, one can also imagine her swaying to the same music on The Tonight Show next month. At its best, music transcends time and space; and this set does just that.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of Good Girls Revolt and This Girl’s in Love (and, perhaps, too much turkey) led me to reflection – and to the realization that Patti and Finn, in their rush to pass judgment on the ’60s, were wrong. The decade was not a time of suppression or repression. To the contrary. It was a time when the collective American mindset pushed past a centuries-old prejudice (race) and began to do the same with another (gender). That’s not to say prejudice was eliminated; far from it. But the majority of folks realized it was wrong.

Consider this clip from Petula, a TV special starring British pop singer Petula Clark that aired on NBC on April 2, 1968:

The moment near the end, when Petula puts her arm on Harry Belafonte’s? Believe it or not, it spurred a controversy. A vice president of Chrysler, which was sponsoring the show, demanded that another take be used due to the “interracial touching.” Petula Clark and her husband, the special’s producer, said no; NBC sided with them; and the special, when it aired, was a hit. But if that touch had occurred a decade earlier? NBC likely would’ve cut the song or, if not, many TV stations, primarily in the South, would’ve refused to air the show.

That said, despite the decade’s advances, life wasn’t great. Two days after that special aired, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed; four months later, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent; six months later, Richard Nixon was elected president; and, all the while, the Vietnam War raged – more than 16,592 American soldiers died and 87,388 were wounded that year.

When we strip the gauzy nostalgia from the reality of any time, we’re left with this: What often made the time wonderful was less day-to-day life and more the promise of what had yet to come. It’s why succeeding generations continue to embrace the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think – despite the tumult of the ‘60s and woes of the ‘70s, the messages that powered much of the music were hopeful. And, by and large, we’re a hopeful lot.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow, circa 1970 and Billboard. These are the year’s top singles…

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

2) The Carpenters – “(They Long to Be) Close to You”

3) The Guess Who – “American Woman”

4) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”

5) Edwin Starr – “War”

6) Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

And a few singles that didn’t make the year’s top 100:

7) The 5th Dimension – “One Less Bell to Answer”

8) Elton John – “Your Song”

9) Dusty Springfield – “A Brand New Me”


Last night, Diane and I veered away from the never-ending Gilmore Girls marathon on Up to give the Amazon Prime series Good Girls Revolt a try. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the polished drama is a fictionalized adaptation of Lynn Povich’s 2012 book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. Names have been changed, characters invented and/or combined into one, and the magazine has been retitled News of the Week – but the gist remains the same. As with most professions in 1969 America, which is when the series is set, women were relegated to secondary and supportive roles in most newsrooms. It took a group of brave women to change that.

At essence, then, Good Girls Revolt is sort of a feminist spin on Mad Men. No, it’s not as solid as that series was out of the gate, but it is a step up from the other Mad Men-inspired series I’ve seen. My biggest complaint: the characters are more archetypical than fully formed. For instance, hippie-in-spirit researcher Patti (Genevieve Angelson) – the lead character – sometimes seems little more than a mature Karen Arnold (Kevin’s one-dimensional big sister on The Wonder Years); and her erstwhile reporter-boyfriend Doug (Hunter Parrish) comes across as a cardboard cut-out of a reporter-boyfriend.

I sound a tad harsher there than I intended; the series is a step above most network fare. It peels the gauzy nostalgia from our collective memory and shows that, indeed, not everything in the past was hunky-dory or better than the present. In fact, as most things societal go, the past was worse.

And, for purposes of this blog, it inspired today’s Top 5: Good Girls Revolt (circa 1969). 

1) Janis Joplin – “Work Me, Lord” From The Woodstock Art & Music Fair, 8/17/1969.

2) Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love.” From Dick Cavett’s post-Woodstock episode (8/19/1969) – note David Crosby playing tambourine beside Paul Kantner.

3) Laura Nyro – “He’s a Runner/Save the Country.” From Bobby Darin’s Sounds of the Sixties TV special (though I believe only “Save the Country” aired), which aired Jan. 22, 1969.

4) Roberta Flack – “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Not sure where this is from, just that it’s 1969. Great song, under-appreciated singer.

5) Dusty Springfield – “Son of a Preacher Man.” From a rather psychedelic 1969 German TV special.

And three bonus songs…

6) Jackie DeShannon – “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

7) Joni Mitchell – “Woodstock.” From a 1970 appearance on the BBC.

8) Diana Ross & the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together.” The last No. 1 hit of the 1960s…

IMG_5084Reading an old magazine is akin to unlocking a time capsule. You see the first draft of history before specifics are lost and/or second-thoughts have crept in. Which is why, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I began to pick up (select) old copies of magazines wherever I found them – usually, though, at the Book Trader on South Street in Philly. The store was a mammoth vault that housed dusty treasures, from used books to used vinyl to old magazines, such as this particular issue of Rolling Stone, which sports a cover date of March 15, 1973.

At the time, the magazine was printed on slightly thicker-than-newspaper paper and folded in fourths, as the picture below shows. It was headquartered in San Francisco, and considered counterculture – rock music as a whole was generally counterculture. The cover story is of Robert Mitchum. There’s a long article on Timothy Leary; a remembrance of the “landlord of the Woodstock Nation,” Max Yasgur, who’d recently passed away; a “crazy” Ben Fong Torres profile of Al Green; and a Chet Flippo piece on Bob Dylan’s experience in Mexico IMG_5085shooting Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid with Sam Peckinpah, James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson.

I was 7 years old. Rolling Stone was not on my reading list; the Three Investigators book series for kids was. Don’t get me wrong: Music was a known entity to me, but it wasn’t the all-consuming passion that, in five years time, it would become. My favorite album, if I had one, was Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits and that was because of his history-minded novelty songs, such as “Sink the Bismarck” and “The Battle of New Orleans.”

I acquired the LP – the sleeve held together with masking tape – from my father, who brought it home from a low-watt FM station that he helped run for the Raytheon compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where we lived at the time. It was a way to bring a touch of home to a decidedly foreign (and strange) land. Censors and customs officials sanitized and/or confiscated anything that might be construed as controversial; I remember my parents reading news magazines with blacked-out articles. In the Desert Kingdom, freedom wasn’t just a word for nothing left to lose; freedom, simply put, was forbidden.

This issue of Rolling Stone, in other words, would have been confiscated – or entirely blacked out. Which leads to today’s Top 5: March 1973 (via Rolling Stone).

IMG_50871) Diana Ross – “Good Morning Heartache.” Rolling Stone writer Stephen Davis – who would go on to author Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga and other rock bios – begins his review of the Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack with a tone-deaf take on Diana’s hit-laden resume: “Throughout a ten-year career of glamorizing what is essentially forgettable junk, Diana Ross has somehow managed to retain the fierce dignity that comes from knowing that you rise above your material.” He then goes on to trash the movie and first half of the double-LP set, which features “snatches of trenchant dialogue, guaranteed to bring back the drear of the film, interspersed with minute-long segments of songs and Michael Legrand’s always tawdry, kitsch-laden ‘love themes.’” But, he says, the second half of the set, which features Diana’s full-length versions of Billie Holiday classics, “succeeds brilliantly…Comparatively ancient standards like ‘My Man’ and ‘Good Morning Heartache’ come off as Ross’ finest recordings.” There’s much to take issue with in his assessment, of course, as Ross (with and without the Supremes) released a string of stellar singles and albums in the 10 years prior to the film, but I’ll leave that for another day.

IMG_50892) Neil Diamond – “Cherry Cherry.” The legendary Lester Bangs pens the review for Hot August Night, the double-LP live set this single was drawn from, and summarizes it as “a fine presentation of the entire spectrum of the Diamond oeuvre, from ‘Solitary Man’ to ‘Song Sung Blue.’ It’s great, pretentious, goofy pop. Neil has always had a marvelously evocative, hymn-like quality, but it’s pure Hollywood reverence, and he really should get a gig writing soundtracks. Which is no putdown. There’s always a place for good corn and good pomp, too.”

This is a song and album I may well have heard right about the time of the review, though I can’t say for sure; it may have been a few – or more – months later. My parents were Neil fans, we had several of his albums, and I recall them playing this, which we had on cassette, quite often.

IMG_50903) Elton John – “Crocodile Rock.” I’ve never been much of an Elton John fan, though I do enjoy some of his older songs – especially since Almost Famous came out in 2001. (How can one not love “Tiny Dancer” after seeing that movie?) Anyway, this fun song comes from Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player, which reviewer Stephen Holden calls “an engaging entertainment and a nice step forward in phase two of Elton John’s career.” Later, he explains, “Typical is the irresistibly catchy and corny hit, ‘Crocodile Rock,’” which “recaptures the spirit of late-Fifties rock ’n’ roll…with such affectionate high spirits that song emerges as a genuinely fresh artifact of the Seventies.”

IMG_50924) Helen Reddy – “I Am Woman.” One of the more interesting aspects of this 42-year-old music magazine is the lack of female artists spotlighted in its pages. Oh, sure, above I singled out Diana Ross and the Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack but, believe it or not, it was only one of two reviews of an album by a woman. The other was Yoko Ono’s Approximately Infinite Universe. The rest of the magazine follows suit. Bette Midler is mentioned briefly in a Ralph Gleason thought piece on the coming Next Big Thing; and, on page 14, there’s a decent-sized article about Helen Reddy, who’d just hosted The Midnight Special. “Dressed in butch battle jacket and pants, Helen sang with little expression and made embarrassingly inane conversation,” the article begins, before expanding to explain that she was an avowed feminist and intelligent, too; and that “I Am Woman,” which hit No. 1 in late 1972, wasn’t actually new, but a few years old. Its use in the end credits of Stand Up and Be Counted, a comedy film released in mid-1972, spurred its success.

IMG_50955) The Spinners – “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” Another interesting aspect of this issue: the lack of black artists featured within its pages. Just as there were many worthy and overlooked female artists of the era, there were many black acts that just didn’t get the (white) press they deserved. The Al Green piece was short; and this article on the Spinners was even shorter. Still, it explains how they toiled in the shadows at Motown for a decade before jumping to Atlantic Records, where they’d scored two hits with their first two singles, including this classic.