Saturday, August 19, 1978

Journey “Lights” charted

Lights

Journey

Writer(s): Steve Perry, Neal Schon (see lyrics here)


Released: July 1978


First Charted: August 19, 1978


Peak: 68 US, 67 CB, 63 HR, 30 AC, 4 CL, 74 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 22.3 video, 49.67 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Journey formed in 1973 as an offshoot of Santana. Their first three albums had more progressive leanings and failed to generate any commercial impact. The band’s fortunes changed in 1978 with the arrival of Steve Perry, who was accepted into the band after the group’s manager listened to just fifteen seconds of his audition tape. SF While Gregg Rolie was still on board with the band as a singer and keyboardist, the 1978 Infinity album very much signalled a changing of the guard.

The band got their first whiff of the charts with the lead single, “Wheel in the Sky,” hitting #57 on the Billboard Hot 100. That song and the third single, “Lights,” both featured Steve Perry on vocals. While the latter only got to #68 on the charts, it has become an album rock classic.

Perry wrote the song about San Francisco, where the band formed. However, he initially wrote it about Los Angeles, featuring the line “when the lights go down in the city / And the sun shines on L.A.” He didn’t like the way it sounded and when he joined Journey, he was inspired by an early morning trek across the Golden Gate bridge and changed the line to “the sun shines on the bay.”

The song has since become a feature for San Francisco and Oakland, California sports temes including the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics baseball teams, the San Francisco 49ers football team, and the Golden State Warriors basketball team. It was the last song played on the legendary San Fracisco top 40 radio station KFRC 610 before it changed formats in 1986. WK


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First posted 7/7/2022; last updated 7/12/2022.

Tuesday, August 15, 1978

50 years ago: Louis Armstrong released “West End Blues”

West End Blues

Louis Armstrong

Writer(s): Clarence Williams, Joe “King” Oliver


Released: August 15, 1928


First Charted: September 15, 1928


Peak: 8 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): --


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 4.82 video, -- streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Dan Morgenstern called “West End Blues” “one of the handful of unsurpassed artistic achievements of the 20th century.” SS Music historian Steve Sullivan said it was “the most important jazz recording ever made” SS by the musician who “casts a shadow upon every other jazz musician…in the same way that Babe Ruth looms over baseball history.” SS On the Don’t Stay Up Too Late website, Jonathan Bogart goes a step farther, calling Armstrong “the most important figure in twentieth-century music.” DS

Joseph “King” Oliver, Armstrong’s mentor, composed “West End Blues” and recorded it on June 11, 1928, for Vocalion SS with his Dixie Syncopaters. TC The song has typically been performed as an instrumental, but did have lyrics added by Clarence Williams. WK The song was named for the West End of New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain, where people went to relax TC and where many jazz musicians were employed in the summer months. DS

On June 28, 1928, TC Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five (which included pianist Earl Hines) did their take, slowing down the tempo of the original. DS Armstrong plays trumpet – including a multi-layered, complex solo which set the standard for jazz musicians AMG – and scats. It was this version which became a New Orleans jazz favorite JA and “helped define what jazz could be.” AMG

“West End Blues” was one of the eight original songs selected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in its beginning year of 1974. The song is one of only two jazz recordings selected for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. SS


Resources:

  • AMG All Music Guide
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 688-9.
  • DS Don’t Stay Up Too Late (blog)
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 208.
  • SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 28-31.
  • WK Wikipedia


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First posted 8/15/2014; last updated 8/16/2022.

Saturday, August 12, 1978

Commodores hit #1 with “Three Times a Lady”

Three Times a Lady

Commodores

Writer(s): Lionel Richie (see lyrics here)


Released: June 8, 1978


First Charted: June 17, 1978


Peak: 12 US, 14 CB, 15 HR, 13 AC, 12 RB, 15 UK, 14 CN, 15 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.91 UK


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 17.3 video, 82.19 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

It doesn’t get more successful than this. “Three Times a Lady,” the first #1 pop song for the Commodores, topped the Billboard Hot 100 as well as comparable U.S. pop charts Cashbox and Hit Records. It was also a #1 on Billboard’s R&B and adult contemporary charts. Internationally, it reached the pinnacle in the UK (where it was the biggest hit for Motown Records SF), Canada, Australia, Ireland, the Phillipines, and South Africa and reached the top 5 in 25 other countries. WK

Lionel Richie was a freshman at Tuskegee Institute in 1968 when he met his fellow bandmates who would become the Commodores. In 1971, they were signed ast the opening act for a tour for the Jackson Five. It would be two more years before they made their first recordings with Motown. One was an instrumental called “Machine Gun” which reached the top 10 on the R&B chart. In 1975, the Commodores hit #1 on the R&B chart with “Slippery When Wet,” which also reached the top 20 on the pop charts.

That song was written by guitarist Thomas McClary. However, Lionel Richie would soon become the breakout star of the group with more ballad-oriented fare through hits like “Sweet Love,” “Just to Be Close to You,” and “Easy.” All were top ten hits on the pop charts and the latter two reached #1 on the R&B chart.

Still, when Richie first wrote “Three Times a Lady” he wasn’t sure it was right for the Commodores. The song was inspired by the 37th anniversary party for Lionel Richie’s parents. His father toasted his mother, Alberta, saying, “She’s a great lady, she’s a great mother, and she’s a great friend.” WK Richie decided to pen a thank you to Brenda, his wife at the time. He envisioned the song, which he wrote as a waltz, being sung by Frank Sinatra. However, when he played it for James Carmichael, who was producing the Commodores, he insisted it be on their album. WK According to Richie, his neighbor said “if a man wanted to buy her a present, all he need do is buy her that record.” SF


Resources:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Commodores
  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Lionel Richie
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 487.
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 240.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia


First posted 5/22/2022.

Friday, August 11, 1978

50 years ago: The Carter Family charted with “Wildwood Flower”

Wildwood Flower

The Carter Family

Writer(s): A.P. Carter (see lyrics here)


Recorded: May 10, 1928


First Charted: August 11, 1928


Peak: 3 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 9.7 video, 2.08 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Comprised of Alvin Pleasant (A.P., aka “Doc”) Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle, the Carter Family has been called “the first family of country music.” TM They gave the genre its foundation NRR by defining its sound, as well as bluegrass, in the first decades. TM In his book, The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs, Ace Collins asserts that it is “Wildwood Flower” specially which serves as “the cornerstone on which country music finally built its own identity.” AC

Before 1927, country songs were typically recorded as novelties by artists who “knew more about Broadway than they did about hillbillies.” AC However, the Carter Family popularized old folk and mountain songs with their own Appalachian spin. TM In addition their close harmony singing, the Carter Family brought a unique picking style to the genre. NRR The approach introduced more instrumentation to a format which had been vocally driven. Maybelle played the guitar by using her thumb to pick chords on the low strings while she played lead on the high strings. AC

On “Wildwood Flower,” that is apparent in “the song’s 12- (or so) note guitar part” TM recorded on Maybelle’s 19th birthday. TM The song is credited to A.P. Carter, who did not write it, although the Carter Family certain should be credited with their arrangement and popularization of the song. SF In actuality, the lyrics originated from J.P. Webster and Maud Irving’s “I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets.” SF The tune, which is about a young woman abandoned by her beloved, dates to the 1860s. According to Michael Koppy, an American musicologist, the song’s copyright expired in 1902 and should have stayed in the public domain. SF

Like many of the songs recorded by the Carter Family, this “part ode, part folktale” AC was passed down from generation to generation without the lyrics ever being written down. In the hands of Sara and Maybelle, who have both sung the song, vowels were flattened so “hair” becomes “herr” and “flower” becomes “flarr.” TM The confusing lyrics and unexplained symbolism make the song peculiar, but the melody has kept the song popular for years. NPR


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First posted 8/11/2012; last updated 8/27/2022.