Music Throwback Saturday: Fire

Three songs that are all in my collection called Fire, they are very different pieces of music.

October 9-14 this year is Fire Prevention Week in the US, “established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire, the tragic 1871 conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on October 9, 1871.”

Each year has a theme. 2016’s theme is Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years.

Watching the terrible fires in California, and elsewhere in the western United States, following the severe drought conditions, was sobering. Yet, as is often the case, it also reminded me of music. Specifically of three songs that are all in my collection called Fire, but which are very different pieces of music.

The earliest is a 1968 song, originally credited to Arthur Brown and Vincent Crane, and performed by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. “The single reached #1 in the UK and in Canada, #2 in the US Billboard charts,” and Top 10 in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Ireland.

Though its lack of guitars or bass guitar, relying instead on the Hammond organ, it was considered “an example of the psychedelic rock of the period… Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker successfully sued for co-credit and royalties based on melodic similarities to their song ‘Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind'”, which I’ve never heard. The song was covered on Pete Townshend’s The Iron Man collection.

Fire is ALSO “a hit song by R&B/funk band Ohio Players. The song was the opening track from the album of the same name and hit #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Soul Singles chart in early 1975. It spent five weeks atop the soul chart. Fire was the Ohio Players’ only entry on the new disco/dance chart, where it peaked at #10. The tune is considered to be the band’s signature song along with Love Rollercoaster.”

Fire is ALSO a song written by Bruce Springsteen in 1977, which did not appear on his June 2, 1978 album release Darkness on the Edge of Town, because of its “inconsistency with Springsteen’s ultimate thematic vision for that album.” But it showed up in the live shows from the period, and as a live single nearly a decade later.

Robert Gordon recorded a version with Link Wray in 1978. But it is the inaugural single by the Pointer Sisters as the trio (Anita, June, and Ruth) that became the big hit: #2 on Billboard Hot 100 (February 1979), #14, and #22 on the magazine’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Adult Contemporary charts, respectively, and #1 in Belgium, the Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand, #3 in Canada, #7 in Australia, and #10 in Austria, plus Top 40 in Germany and the UK.

Listen to

Fire – the Crazy World of Arthur Brown HERE or HERE
Fire – Pete Townsend HERE or HERE

Fire – Ohio Players HERE or HERE (album version, I think)

Fire – Bruce Springsteen HERE or a different take HERE
Fire – Robert Gordon and Link Wray HERE or HERE
Fire – Pointer Sisters HERE or HERE

P is for Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters’ second album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic as their first.

RB1001_POINTER_SISTERSThe Pointer Sisters had a bunch of big hit singles in the 1980s [LISTEN to snippets], but it is their early work I want to concentrate on. The group was a quartet at the time – Ruth, Anita, Bonnie, and June – raised in Oakland, California by their minister-parents, who were NOT encouraging them to sing secular music.

They must have nevertheless listened to a varied mix of musical genres because that’s what showed up in their early recordings. Their eponymous first album yielded a #11 pop single, Yes, We Can Can [LISTEN to the album version].

Their second studio album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic. Here is the iTunes preview.

1. Bangin’ on the Pipes/Steam Heat (Medley). The seemingly autobiographical first part segues into the song from the 1954 musical Pajama Game. Though it only went to #108 on the pop charts, it became an early signature song with the group performing it on The Carol Burnett Show broadcast of September 28, 1974. LISTEN to a live version of Steam Heat.

2. Salt Peanuts [LISTEN]. This Dizzy Gillespie’s bop classic allows the sisters to sound like horns, sing scat, and bend harmonies. I remember them performing this on Carol Burnett for laughs, with the hostess unable to keep up with the frenetic pace.
(They were on the Burnett show frequently in that period; here’s the lengthy skit Cinderella gets it on from November 29, 1975.)

3. Grinning in Your Face [LISTEN]. Bonnie Raitt played slide guitar on this Son House blues number.

4. Shaky Flat Blues. Written by June, Anita and Bonnie, it suggests a much earlier time.

5. That’s a Plenty/Surfeit, U.S.A. (Medley). A Dixieland feel.

6. Little Pony [LISTEN]. Music by Neal Hefti, and previously performed by Count Basie, with exuberant lyrics by Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert.

7. Fairytale [LISTEN]. Written by Anita and Bonnie, it made it to #13 on the pop charts and the Top 40 on the country charts. It won them their first Grammy, for Best Country & Western Performance by a Group, AND the sisters became the first black vocal group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. The song was covered by Elvis Presley.

8. Black Coffee [LISTEN]. Bonnie sans her sisters on the torch song immortalized by Peggy Lee, and later sung by k.d. lang.

9. “Love in Them There Hills”. This early sound of Philly song written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, with Roland Chambers, is an OK three-minute B-side [LISTEN]. But here, it’s over eight minutes [LISTEN!] with a hypnotic middle section that is “a cosmic, free-flowing funk jam” that predated those 12-inch dance records. I used to turn off all the lights in my apartment to listen to it.

Eventually, Bonnie left to be a solo act with Motown, and the other three had some of their biggest hits. The Pointer Sisters still perform. While June died in 2006 of cancer, both Issa Pointer, Ruth’s daughter with Dennis Edwards of the Temptations; and Sadako Johnson, Ruth’s granddaughter, have been part of the group, on and off.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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