Today’s Throwback Thursday playlist makes a strong case for 1968 being the best year for pop music in the rock era. So many classics hit that year. Yes, I know I didn’t include all of them. I didn’t want to be too classic rock heavy, as other genres produced timeless pieces as well. There’ll be a part 2 one of these weeks. Until then, enjoy!
I recently read a book about the music of 1971. It was pretty bad. I should have been clued off seeing that the book derived its title from the name of a Rod Stewart album that came out in…1972. The author and I agree that 1971 was a great year for music, though he focused mainly on white acts. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, recently named the number one album of all-time in Rolling Stone, was dismissed as being overrated due to white guilt, something the author clearly doesn’t feel. I humbly suggest that the playlist below shows more of the greatness (and diversity) of 1971’s music than this book.
In 1966, Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby wrote a piece of music and recorded it. Wonder couldn’t come up with any lyrics to go with the music, so he gave a tape of the song to fellow Motown singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson to see if he could come up with something. The music reminded Smokey of the circus, so he free associated and came up with the image of a clown. That reminded him of a story he heard as a child – the story of the opera Pagliacci, about clowns who must cover up their sadness, as their jobs required them to entertain and elate the public. Based on this idea he wrote the words to the song that became “The Tears of a Clown.” He and his group The Miracles recorded the song. Smokey didn’t think much of it, though it was included as the last song on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen. Two singles were released from that album – “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” which reached #20, and “More Love,” which reached #23.
In 1969, tired of touring, Smokey told his group The Miracles that he would be retiring from the group so he could stay at home with his family and focus on his job as a Vice President at Motown. That same year, a reissue of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” made the top ten in the UK. Though the group had many chart hits in the US, “Tracks…” was only their second song to crack the top 40 of the UK singles chart, following “I Second That Emotion” a year earlier. Motown Britain wished to capitalize on the late but growing fame. Learning there was no new material forthcoming from the group, the label asked the head of a UK Motown fan club if she had any suggestions for a Miracles song that would make a good single. She suggested the last cut on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen.
In 1970, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown” went to #1 in the UK. Seeing its success, Motown US released the song as a single stateside, albeit with a slightly updated mix. “The Tears of a Clown” became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (though The Miracles would hit #1 one more time following Smokey’s departure from the group.)
(Some bonus trivia: Stevie Wonder was initially brought to the attention of Motown Records by Miracles member Ronnie White.)
Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the 81st birthday of Smokey Robinson with a playlist of songs he sang and/or wrote, plus a tribute song, kicking off with “The Tears of a Clown.”
This Throwback Thursday we revisit 1972. What happened in music in 1972?:
Michael Jackson had the first of 13 solo US #1 Hot 100 singles with a song about a rat.
Chuck Berry had his first US #1 single with a song about his penis.
Roberta Flack spent six weeks at #1 on the US Hot 100 with a song she released in 1969.
Helen Reddy rerecorded a song from her 1971 album I Don’t Know How To Love Him. It became the first of her three US #1 Hot 100 singles and became an anthem for women’s equality.
The Staple Singers scored their first of two US #1 Hot 100 hits with a classic song that had only one verse.
Neil Young scored his only US #1 Hot 100 single.
Some of the other classic singles to peak in 1972 are “American Pie,” “Let’s Stay Together,” “Me & Mrs. Jones,” “Without You,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Alone Again (Naturally),” “Lean On Me,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “School’s Out” and “The Harder They Come.”
David Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
The Rolling Stones released Exile on Main St.
Elton John released Honky Château.
As far as music goes, I’d say 1972 was pretty pretty pretty pretty good. Even the bad songs were good! Here are thirty highlights.
This week I’m reviving a feature I used to do on Tunes du Jour – Throwback Thursday, with each week focusing on a different year in the rock and roll era. This week we’ll listen to the music of 1966. Some notable events:
The Mamas & the Papas had their first hit with “California Dreamin’.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
Simon & Garfunkel had their first top 40/top 10/#1 single in the US with “The Sounds of Silence.” The duo had actually broken up already and were unaware that their record label released a version of their 1964 acoustic recording on which electric guitar and drums were added.
Bob Dylan released his game-changing album Blonde On Blonde, a staple of greatest albums of all-time lists since.
? and the Mysterians released their debut single, “96 Tears.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
Producer Phil Spector released what he considered to be his best work – Ike & Tina’s Turner “River Deep – Mountain High.” In actuality, Ike had nothing to do with the recording. Though a hit in the UK and several European countries, the single stalled at #88 in the US, leading Spector to retire for two years and produce far less frequently following that.
Percy Sledge released his debut single, “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Perhaps you’ve heard it.
The Beatles performed their last official concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
The Supremes scored two more #1 pop singles plus another two that went top ten. During their career the group would have 12 #1s and 20 top tens. Many more hits followed for the trio’s usual lead singer, Diana Ross. Perhaps you’ve heard of her.
New York City’s WOR became the first FM radio station in the US with a rock format.
Inspired by the season and the December 17 birthdays of The Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Bananarama’s Sara Dallin, The Emotions’ Wanda Hutchinson, Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth,The Meters’ Art Neville, and Dave Dee.