If the name Harry Chapin is familiar to you it is most likely because of Cats in the Cradle, his chart-topping hit from 1974. His first foray into the top forty was a more bittersweet entry.
Harry’s first expectation of a career was making documentary films. He directed a film about boxing in 1968 and even received an Academy Award nomination. By 1971 he had left that dream behind and started driving a taxi to make ends meet. He eventually started playing and singing in nightclubs in New York City. He was good enough that several record labels competed to sign him to a contract, and Elektra Records signed him to a multi-million dollar contract. His first album, Heads & Tales followed later that year.
The first single from the album was Taxi. The song tells the story of a taxi driver picking up a lost love. While it’s easy to think that the story in the song was based on Harry’s past, he insists it was simply his reaction to hearing about an old girlfriend who married an older man.
The record faced an uphill battle fighting for airplay: it was six minutes and forty seconds long, and the promotional copy sent around by the record company was not cut down to a shorter version. A single listen to the song will reveal the difficulty anybody would face trying to cut out any of the lyrics. Harry got some help promoting the long record from Jim Connors, a disk jockey at WMEX radio in Boston, and it eventually got up to #24 in 1972.
A few years later Harry recorded a follow-up to the song that was aptly named Sequel. He often sang Taxi and Sequel together in concert as one long story.
Harry spent a lot of time (and money) supporting non-profit organizations during his lifetime, especially those related to fighting hunger. He was tragically killed in an accident while driving to perform at a free concert in 1981 at the age of 38.
Dickie Peterson was a vocalist and bass player in San Francisco in 1967. He recruited a drummer and guitar player and formed a group that was named after a brand of LSD: Blue Cheer.
A few personnel changes took place that year, but the group quickly cut their first album, Vincebus Eruptum. The album was released in January 1968 and the first single from the album was Summertime Blues. By May the single reached #14.
Eddie Cochran wrote and recorded the original version of the song in 1958. He had one successful single in 1957 (Sittin’ in the Balcony) followed by two unsuccessful singles. His record company selected his next single in an attempt to get away from his rockabilly roots. The single was the ballad Love Again, but his version of Summertime Blues was on the flip side of the single and radio stations lost no time turning the record over and playing the hit. That version was a top ten hit and influenced rock and roll for years.
Blue Cheer showed up to lip-sync their record and talk with Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1968, giving viewers perhaps their first taste of heavy metal music before the term was even coined. Two years later the Who would cover the song and push into the top thirty, and in 1994 Country singer Alan Jackson would almost have a hit with it as well.
At least thirty musicians have been members of Blue Cheer as the group broke up and reformed a few times. Two of the three members who played on Summertime Blues (Dickie and Paul Whaley) have both died, and the third (guitar player Leigh Stephens) produced several solo albums, including one as recently as 2013.
Ownership of the group’s name is not well-defined. It appears to have been trademarked by the early 2000s by a fan who passed the trademark along to one of a dozen guitarists who had played in the group in the past. Nobody appears to be using the name at the present time, so at least we don’t have multiple Blue Cheer bands touring simultaneously.
Patty and the Emblems were a group from Camden, New Jersey that qualifies as another one hit wonder. In 1964 they hit the charts for the first and only time when their recording of Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl finished at #37 in the Summer of 1964. The line-up was similar to Gladys Knight and the Pips: a female lead singer (Patty Russell) backed up by three male singers (Eddie Watts, Vance Walker, and Alexander Wildes). They appear to have released eight more singles between 1964 and 1968 (some lists stop at 1967) before the group disbanded. While little information about their later careers is available online, it appears that Patty quit singing professionally when the group split up while the three back-up singers continued singing in other groups.
Their hit record is notable as the first top forty record that was written or co-written by Leon Huff. In 1964, Kenneth Gamble also co-wrote his first top forty single, Who Do You Love by the Sapphires. Later that year Leon and Kenny worked together on a song that Kenny wrote with Jerry Ross. Gamble and Huff started writing together and got their first top-five record in 1967 when the Soul Survivors recorded Expressway To Your Heart.
Dozens more hit records were written and/or produced by the pair in the next few years, and they started Philidelphia International Records in 1971. The Philly Sound became a driving force in the early seventies and rivaled Motown’s success for a few years. By the time the dust settled, Gamble and Huff had written and produced over 175 gold and platinum records and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Lighting in a bottle struck in 1958 when Dave Burgess recorded a single for Gene Autry’s Challenge Records. Okay, so maybe Train To Nowhere doesn’t sound familiar, but back in the fifties the pieces of plastic sold as records had to have songs on both sides. To fill the other side of the record a few studio musicians joined Dave and they jammed a little and created the instrumental Tequila. The group needed a name, and they named themselves after Gene Autry’s horse: the Champs. It took all of three weeks for disk jockeys to turn the record over to side two and help Tequila reach number one in the country.
A few more singles followed as either the Champs or Dave Burgess and the Champs, but there were no more hits at the level of Tequila.
There was a lot of turnover for members of the group, and by 1959 Seals and Crofts and Glen Campbell were all members. It simply isn’t clear if any of them actually took part in the recording of Too Much Tequila, which reached #30 in February 1960, but a video from that era seems to shows at least two of them performing the song.
Glen left the Champs and released his own minor hit in 1961 and he and Seals and Crofts performed together in 1963 as members of Glen Campbell and the GCs, but that group fell apart without ever releasing any recordings. The Champs had one more top forty single in 1962 and completely disbanded by 1965.
Lou Busch was a music prodigy of sorts and was playing piano and leading a ragtime band when he was only 12 years old. Four years later he abandoned school and became a full-time musician. In addition to playing piano, Lou began arranging as well.
After a break for military service in WW II, Lou got a job working for Capitol Records. Lou played on successful records for other artists and began to record his own singles as well.
Lou used the stage name Joe “Fingers” Carr to record pop singles using backup singers he named the Carr-Hops. Gary Cosby and his dad (Bing) released Sam’s Song in early 1950, and Joe’s version of the song came out four months later. Both records made it into the top ten that year.
In late 1955 Lou released a single using his own name that got to the top eighty on the charts, Zambezi. The record was listed as “Vocal Group with Orchestra” even though the only vocal in the record was a group singing the title a few times. The record was much more successful internationally.
As Joe and the Carr-Hops, he released several more singles in the following years, but his biggest hit in the US was recorded as a pure instrumental. In 1956 Portuguese Washerwoman got as high as #19. That was his last visit to the charts, although he continued to record and release music into the mid-sixties.
The most enduring song Joe worked on came about in 1950 when he and Milton DeLugg created the song Rollercoaster. While the song may not have been a big hit for Lou, it lives on as the song playing over the closing credits of What’s My Line from 1950 to 1957.
Marta Marrero was one of those rascally orphans in the film version of Annie. While that may not have led to a career in films, it did help her land a role in 1982 as one of the kids on Kids Incorporated.
Give yourself additional oldies points if you can name either the female superstar singer or the actress who is still starring on a current television show who also got their starts on Kids Incorporated. You get bonus points if you can name anybody else who came out of the show with a career.
In the second year of the show, Marta changed her stage name by dropping her last name and changing her first name to Martika. After two years of being a featured kid, she left the show and began a solo career.
She recorded her first album in 1988. She co-wrote her first two singles, the second of which topped the charts (Toy Soldiers, an anti-drug record). Her third single was a cover of a song from Carol King’s 1971 Tapestry album. I Feel The Earth Move was a dance number that bounced up to #25 in 1989. Martika toured the world with live performances of the singles from her album, including stops in Australia.
Martika’s career dimmed for a bit after her first few singles, but in 1991 she recorded a top ten record that she wrote with Prince. Her career from that point was eclectic: her biggest hit was sampled by Eminem, she formed a Latin-based band named Oppera, created her own video blog, changed her stage name and changed it back, and went on another tour of Australia with a host of 80s musicians.
Don Henley and Glenn Frey first worked together in 1971 as members of Linda Ronstadt’s back band. They eventually recruited a few more members and formed the Eagles.
I first saw the group when they were supporting their second album as the warm-up act for Procol Harum in the Summer of 1973. They had been touring mostly in the Northeast, and their mild country-pop music probably was a bit jarring to the crowds that showed up for Procol Harum. Their performance in Nashville was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm, and the group was clearly cheered by the reception.
The Eagles did fairly well in the rest of the seventies but splintered and broke up in 1980. Don began recording solo albums. His first album, I Can’t Stand Still, only spawned one hit record (Dirty Laundry).
His second album, Building The Perfect Beast, came out in 1984 and spawned four very successful singles. Boys Of Summer and All She Wants To Do Is Dance both hit the top ten on the pop charts and number 1 on the Rock Albums Top Tracks chart.
Not Enough Love In The World was the least successful of the four singles, only reaching #34 that Summer. The song was co-written with his frequent co-writer, guitarist Daniel Kortchmar, and keyboardist Benmont Tench (one of the founding members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).
Wikipedia repeated the rumor that the song was written about Don’s relationship with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac (which blossomed and faded in the late seventies). The record must have been somewhat important to him since he chose to perform the song live years later on the Letterman show when fans might well have expected to hear one of his bigger hits.
Don continued to release new albums and singles through most of the nineties. In 1994 Hell froze over and the Eagles finally reunited and hit the road again.