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This Week In History: “The Man With the Golden Ear” Strikes Again!

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AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano

AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano

Big-Jay-Sorensen Big Jay Sorensen
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The music history books are vast and full of interesting bits of knowledge. “Big” Jay Sorensen gives you a recap of the biggest and most interesting music news from the week; something from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

This week Big Jay remembers “The Man With the Golden Ear,” the Windy City’s first number one from their namesake band and some girl power from Diana Ross that turned us upside down.

The 1960s

The Archies
Record pigs recognize that the Archies never actually existed. They were merely another studio-only aggregation put together by music magnate Don Kirshner, who had been booted as music supervisor for the Monkees TV show by Colgems Records (a subsidiary of Colpix Records—Columbia Pictures) after he lost a celebrated battle with the members of the Monkees who wanted to perform instrumentally on their records and write material. He was fired mostly for releasing a Monkees single in Canada without permission. Not to be dissuaded, the so-called “man with the golden ears” figured if the blueprint worked once, it would work again; this time providing music for an animated TV show.

The pre-teen market was still ready (as it always will be) for youthful, fun-sounding music in 1969. Kirshner enrolled the talents of top songwriters for this creation by the Archies, including Jeff Barry and Canadian singer/songwriter Andy Kim. Add to the mix Staten Island native Ron Dante — the man who sang on dozens of songs and numerous commercials through the years — singing lead. Dante happened to be employed by Kirshner’s Aldon Music Publishing. Toni Wine, a commercial jingle singer and songwriter was added to the vocal assembly, with some help by the “Sugar Sugar” co-writer Andy Kim (who had hits on his own). “Sugar Sugar” was the leading hit in the land this week in 19 69 on Calendar Records — distributed by RCA Records — in its second of an ultimate four consecutive weeks at number one. The song was so well received (even as a bubblegum song at a time when rock was king) it became the crowning Pop single of the year.

Dante says they by no means toured, as the publishers of the comic only wanted the Archies to be presented in animation form. Ron went on to a long involvement with Barry Manilow, producing a number of his albums and providing backing harmonies. Jeff Barry (Joel Adelberg) has had a fertile career, including his songwriting joint venture with Ellie Greenwich, whom he married and later divorced (she died in 2009.) Barry insists “Sugar Sugar” was never turned down by the Monkees (as has been described for years) because the group was never offered the song! Toni Wine co-wrote “Groovy Kind Of Love”, “Black Pearl” and “Candida” and has toured with Tony Orlando. Kirshner went to rock & roll heaven in 2011.

The 1970s

Chicago V
The genuine Chicago Transit Authority didn’t like the fact that a musical group used their moniker. That name was abridged to simply Chicago as a result after the release of their initial album; a two-record set. At a time when an album could be recorded in its entirety in just one week, Chicago went to the Columbia Recording Studio in New York City to lay down the tracks for what became the Windy City band’s first number one LP in America (their first one vinyl disc album.) Their first three albums had all been double LPs. Their fourth album release was a four-disc set recorded live at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, recorded during April of ’71. That concert collection got the four-LP treatment because producer James William Guercio thought the week of recordings truly captured the group at its finest. The band ended up with a lower royalty rate because of all of their multi-album sets. The group now feels Chicago At Carnegie Hall was over-indulgent, and even fans concur.

Released on July 10th, Chicago V featured their highest-charting Pop single to date with “Saturday In The Park” reaching number three this week in ’72. Many of the songs on the long-play were written by keyboard player Robert Lamm. “Saturday In The Park” was inspired after Lamm viewed a bunch of street musicians and diverse characters in Central Park. Another more notorious song, later released as a single from Chicago V, was called “Dialogue (Part I & II)” using a point-counterpoint analysis of the world at the time between vocalist/bass player Peter Cetera and guitarist Terry Kath; written by Lamm. The song wraps up on an optimistic note with the band claiming the world can be an improved place; chanting, “WE can make it happen.”

Chicago V also made its way to the R&B album chart in ’72—an exhibition of their blending of genres. This was week number six of an eventual nine weeks as the top LP in America for Chicago V. If you go by Billboard Magazine’s stats, the group is the second most successful U.S. group in the rock era—if you measure sales of both albums and singles—second to the Beach Boys. However; unconscionably, Chicago is NOT in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame despite their long list of accomplishments.

The 1980s

Diana Ross Upside Down
Recording since 1962, 18 years later, Diane Ernestine Earl Ross had the leading studio album of her career with her set diana (small “d”) on Motown Records. That LP was number one for eight successive weeks beginning with the week ending July 26th through the week ending September 13th in 1980.

The single “Upside Down”, within six weeks of debuting, detonated to the number one spot on the Pop singles chart, and, just three weeks after first charting on the Soul singles list. On the Soul side, the song was the biggest hit in the homeland for eight solid weeks (currently week seven of eight total) and on the Pop chart this week, the record sat in its fourth and final week in the top slot. Ms. Ross was not content with the mix that producers Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards gave her. Ever being the diva, Ross had it remixed after a very powerful New York radio personality Frankie Crocker told her, “that mix will ruin your career.” She took it to Motown’s people and entirely re-mixed the tracks and re-recorded her vocals to make them stand out more significantly, without the producers’ awareness. Initially, Rogers and Edwards were livid, because they claimed they paid close attention to details and they did what she asked. So what we heard on “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” (the album’s other top ten single) was not what the producers originally had in mind. They considered having their names stricken from the credits, but after Motown agreed with Ross, they let the subject go when they remembered they had a deal to produce one more record for the star. That situation ended up in litigation, as Ross left Motown for RCA Records, leaving Edwards and Rogers of the Chic Organization without an assignment.

The album reached number two on the Pop album chart; no small feat for someone who hadn’t had a major hit since 1976’s “Love Hangover.” The diana LP sold in excess of six million copies. The single “Upside Down” has sold over a million, with the song reaching peak places on charts around the world. In fact, according to Billboard Magazine, for their 50th Anniversary, they listed the single as number 62 in their list of Top 100 songs. The tune was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, losing out to “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills, which also won for Best R&B song that year.

–Big Jay Sorensen/WCBS-FM


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