Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Andy Coakley, quoted in The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (p. 21): “It was September 1 , and that was Straw Hat Busting Day in the major leagues. The custom died with the retirement of Babe Ruth. Rube Waddell was going around destroying straw hats. I had a pretty expensive skimmer which was in fine condition, and Waddell was waiting for me. As he ran for my hat, I backed up the aise. He lunged. I struck him with my bag. He slipped and landed on his shoulder.” This kept Waddell from pitching in Philadelphia’s World Series victory over the New York Giants.
I’ve been running an Early ’70s Radio blog related to my book - it’s all likely of some interest to those of you have found themselves here. A roundup of recent posts:
Israeli go go music with mischief afoot. You need to listen to this English version while looking at the album cover, which shows Arik whispering something to Shalom. After the two minute mark you’ll start discerning more of the words: “I liked to play in the barnyard/She took me down to the water/That’s where I met her daughter/Hiding behind a treeeee….She remembers who is he/He is me/We are three.”
The first official Earth Day (April 22, 1970) reflected a new environmental awareness taking cues from the Woodstock generation’s urge to get “back to the land.” This urge went mainstream in the form of environmental legislation, brisk-selling books like The Whole Earth Catalog, Future Shock, and The Late Great Planet Earth, and a booming health food industry, among other things. In pop music, ecological issues became an identifying feature. No era’s top selling singles before or since would reference pollution quite so frequently.
The following list includes the biggest singles from the era that show a distinct sense of ecological concern. To make the list, the songs had to have appeared somewhere between 1 and 130 on Billboard’s pop singles chart at any point from 1970 to 1974 and contain at least one line expressing concern for the air, the water, or the land. Not included here are any of the numerous songs that merely celebrate country life or any ecologically-oriented non-charting album tracks, however well-known. All of the titles are ordered according to the date of their first appearance in Billboard. This is because it’s common for any one of these to be written about as “the first,” but no, the subject was a happening thing back then.
1. Pacific Gas and Electric – “Are You Ready” (#14, 5/30/70): Pollution gets listed as one of the social ills Jesus can help fix. (”If you breathe air you’ll die/ Perhaps you wonder the reason why.”)
3. The Guess Who – “Hand Me Down World” (#17, 7/18/70): The environmentalism is implicit here (”Anybody see the sky weeping tears for the ocean?”). The Canadian group’s follow up hit, “Share the Land,” had a made-to-order Earth Day title, but the lyrics focused instead on communal hand-holding.
4. Three Dog Night – “Out in the Country” (#15, 8/29/70): This one stands apart from other frolics in the hay by painting a grim picture in the chorus: “Before the breathin’ air is gone/Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time/ Out where the rivers like to run/ I stand alone and take back something worth remembering.”
6. The Kinks – “Apeman” (#45, 1/2/71): Typically cheeky, Ray Davies takes the nature movement to the extreme, lauding the lifesyle of primates. (”I look out my window but I can’t see the sky/ ‘Cause the air pollution is a-fogging up my eyes.”)
8. R. Dean Taylor – “Ain’t It a Sad Thing” (#66, 2/14/71): The “Indiana Wants Me” singer-songwriter offers up one of pop’s catchiest whistle choruses. (”Cities eating up the land/ Progress eating up the planet”)
9. Spirit – “Nature’s Way” (#111, 3/20/71): Spirit’s final charting single, although not especially detailed, was reportedly prompted by an environmental conversation between band member Randy California and a friend.
10. Brewer and Shipley – “Tarkio Road” (#55, 5/15/71): In their hazy way, the “One Toke Over the Line” duo zeroes in on 1916 as industrial Year One in Crete, Nebraska. (”Fifty-five years of pollution/ Everybody knows how the puzzle was laid/ But can anyone recall the solution.”)
11. Marvin Gaye – “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (#4, 7/3/71): The ultimate ecology record is this one, from top to bottom.
12. Ten Years After – “I’d Love to Change the World” (#40, 9/25/71): Alvin Lee’s repeating guitar riff is both unsettling and seductive - one of rock’s greats. The opening lyrics sound like Axl Rose source material (”Everywhere is freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity”). Pollution makes the grievance list in verse three.
13. The Staple Singers – “Respect Yourself” (#12, 10/16/71): This take-responsibility proclamation was a highlight of the Staple Singers’ classic early seventies output. (”Keep talkin’ ’bout the president/ Won’t stop air pollution/ Put your hand on your mouth when you cough/ That’ll help the solution.”)
14. Lighthouse – “Take It Slow (Out in the Country)” (#64, 12/11/71): Like with Three Dog Night’s “Out in the Country,” the jazz-rock army Lighthouse’s “Take It Slow” made air quality a case in point: ”Trying to find fresh air to breathe/ Just can’t be done.”
15. The Stylistics – “People Make the World Go Round” (#25, 6/3/72): The pulsing intro and menacing strings make for a musical approximation of urban smog. This is one of producer Thom Bell’s many masterworks. (”Buses on strike want a raise in fare/ So they can help pollute the air.”)
16. Tom Rush – “Mother Earth” (#111, 6/3/72): Although the folksinger Rush is known for more than his pop chart appearances, this is one of his very few. (”Though I treat her carelessly, Mother Earth provides for me.”)
17. Albert Hammond – “Down by the River” (#91, 7/22/72): This is not one of the handful of charting cover versions of Neil Young’s murder tune. It’s Hammond’s hand-clapping report on how he swam in a contaminated country river and had to go to the doctor.
18. The Osmonds – “Crazy Horses” (#14, 10/21/72): The Osmond brothers’ hardest rocking track depicts air quality in Book of Revelation horses-of-the-apocalypse terms. (”There’s a message floating in the air…There they go, what a show, smoking up the sky… If they keep on moving then it’s all our fault.”)
19. John Denver - “Rocky Mountain High” (#9, 11/25/72): John Denver turned early seventies nature-consciousness into a career, but his “Rocky Mountain High” is his only chart hit from the era to express outright concern: “Now his life his full of wonder, but his heart still knows some fear/ Of some simple thing he cannot comprehend/ Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more/ More people, more scars upon the land.”
20. Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City” (#8, 11/10/73): Wonder’s urban-struggle mini-epic from his Innervisons LP features more gasping and hacking: “He’s almost dead from breathing on air pollution.”
21. Hall and Oates - “She’s Gone” (#60, 2/9/74; #7, 7/24/76): Although it went Top Ten as a reissue in ‘76, “She’s Gone,” in which the duo sings of taking heartbroken refuge in the city to let the “carbon and monoxide choke” their “thoughts away,” first charted in ‘74,
22. Prelude – “After the Gold Rush” (#22, 10/5/74): Neil Young’s own 1970 recording of this song, with the line “look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s,” is the classic version, but this lovely acapella curio from Britain is the one that charted.
Have I forgotten any?
A fixture in the seventies power pop canon and this Ohio band’s hookiest song. But the bridge (the “Abracadabra” part) at 1:40 was probably an unfinished snippet they had lying around, so they attached it to “Have You Seen Her” with Scotch tape, like magic.
A 1966-67 TV ad campaign for Benson & Hedges 100’s focused on the extra long cigarettes’ disadvantages, making for situational giggles. The commercial was popular enough for the alluring musical backdrop to get some airplay on its own. Written by Mitch Leigh, the same man who scored the Man of La Mancha musical, the genuine as-heard-on-television article made enough noise in Cleveland to chart locally and to get listed in a 2/11/67 issue of Billboard as a potential breakout hit. This record was credited to The Answer on the red Columbia label, and the arrangers are listed as “Music Makers,” aka Leigh’s own production house. (Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles erroneously cites Bill Dean and John Campbell as the songwriters.) Another arrangement of this song, by Phil Bodner’s studio assembly the Brass Ring, entered the charts a week earlier on the Dunhill label with the hyphenated title “The Dis-Advantages of You” (and an arrangement of the “Dating Game” theme on side B). Peaking at #36, it outpaced the original as a full-blown Top 40 hit.
Dan Epstein’s Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ‘76 tells the story of my baseball card collection, most of which I amassed as an 8-year-old in ‘76 and ‘77. In those days I loved the Bird, the Big Red Machine, and Hostess products, which came in boxes with baseball cards you could cut out. Still have my Dave Concepcion, Goose Gossage, Richie Zisk and more from that series along with most of the Topps cards. I had already scarfed down Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass, so I was especially pleased to see he’d zeroed in on the year of my personal baseball awakening. I hope he has more projects lined up.
For your consideration - a list of selected players and managers whose nicknames are addressed in Epstein’s book, along with links to their corresponding ‘77 Topps card.
Sparky “Captain Hook” Anderson: So nicknamed “for his tendency to pull pitchers at the first sign of trouble” (135).
John”The Candy Man” Candelaria: “Looked more like the sort of college kid you’d see smoking a jay upstairs in the cheap seats at Three Rivers Stadium than a top-notch pitcher capable of dominating major league offenses” (241).
Ron “The Penguin” Cey: Nickname “derived from his squat build, stubby limbs, and waddling gait…” (94).
Darrell “Nort” Chaney: Nickname chosen by the Atlanta Braves for the team’s nickname-on-jersey experiment “because of his resemblence to Art Carney’s Ed Norton character on TV’s The Honeymooners” (138).
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych: So nicknamed because of his “resemblance to Big Bird from the PBS children’s show Sesame Street” (128).
Tim “Crazy Horse” Foli: Nicknamed for his “tendency to go off on his own abrasive tangents” (158).
“Disco” Dan Ford: Nicknamed “for his love of the Minneapolis nightlife” (107).
Whitey “The White Rat” Herzog: “A reference to his shock of light blond hair” (258).
Burt “Happy” Hooton: He was “perpetually gloomy looking” (203).
Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky: “Perhaps the most confrontational pitcher in the game” (112).
Ralph “Road Runner” Garr: “Speedy” (15).
Randy “The Junkman” Jones: For his junk ball - a “sinking fastball that topped out on a good day at somewhere around 73 miles per hour” but which batters were “losing their minds trying to hit…out of the infield” (131).
Dave “Kong” Kingman: He preferred to be called “Sky King” (110).
Garry “The Secretary of Defense” Maddox: Because of his “startling speed and sparkling glove work in the outfield” (28).
Mike “Iron Mike” Marshall: For “herculean” performances in 1973 and 1974 that “earned him the first Cy Yound Award ever won by a relief pitcher” (62).
Andy “Bluto” Messersmith: As part of the Braves’ nickname-on-jersey experiment, Messersmith had to use “Channel” because his number was 17 and that was Ted Turner’s station. He was later permitted to use his college nickname “Bluto” (139).
Phil “Knucksie” Niekro: Knuckleballer (139).
Marty “Taco” Perez: Not a racial slur, but chosen as his Atlanta Braves jersey nickname because he “really, really liked tacos” (139).
George “Boomer” Scott: “The most feared hitter in the Milwaukee lineup” (131).
Earl “Heavy” Williams: Self-chosen for the Atlanta Braves nickname-on-jersey experiment “because the moody catcher and first baseman considered himself to be one bad dude” (138).
Players with Topps cards whose nicknames are mentioned but not addressed:
“Downtown” Ollie Brown
Rick “The Rooster” Burleson
Jim “Catfish” Hunter
Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock
Lynn “Big Mac” McGlothen
John “The Hammer” Milner
John “The Count” Montefusco
Dave “The Cobra” Parker
Biff “Poco” Pocoroba
Rick “The Whale” Reuschel
Fred “Chicken” Stanley
Dick “Dirt” Tidrow
Jim “The Toy Cannon” Wynn
From a 1973 issue of Black Enterprise. Courtesy of Old Sneaker Posters.
And there’s this from Ron Weisner’s book (pp. 141-142):
“Later that week in London, Michael and I were relaxing in his room, watching Top of the Pops…Halfway through the show, the host - I think it was Simon Bates - said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Ant!’
“Michael and I knew of Adam, but we had yet to see him perform. He sounded great, but more important for Michael, his look was arresting: He was clad in full military gear. Michael stared at the screen, silently, intensely. I could see the wheels spinning, but I wasn’t sure in which direction.
“…For the rest of his life, Michael was rarely seen in public wearing anything other than a military uniform. And for that, you can thank Adam Ant. (P.S. Michael never credited Adam. Whenever he was asked about his military obsession, he’d say, ‘I was inspired.’ That’s all. Just, ‘I was inspired.’) ”
Tit for tat? I vaguely remember reading an Adam Ant interview in 1980, shortly after I’d first heard Kings of the Wild Frontier, and he said that his favorite album was Off the Wall. I remember being surprised by this.