Joel Goldenberg: The 1970s top-10 hits review part 12

Joe Cocker during a 1990s TV performance of You Are So Beautiful.

We now resume our survey of the top-10 hits of the 1970s, with groups and artists beginning with the letter C.

The Chi-Lites: The early 1970s was a glorious time for what could be called "symphonic soul," and along with producer-songwriter-arranger Thom Bell, producer-songwriter-singer Eugene Record was a key practitioner of the genre, not only with his group, the Chicago-based Chi-Lites, but for fellow Brunswick Records artist Barbara Acklin, who co-wrote songs with Record. The Chi-Lites' first top-10 hit, Have You Seen Her, made a huge impression on me, not only because the song is stunningly beautiful, but because the sound quality of that song on my 1983 Chi-Lites greatest hits vinyl collection was also stunningly beautiful. The other top-10 hit, Oh Girl, which hit #1, is yearning singing at its best, with great echo.

Eric Clapton: I may get flamed for this on social media, but with some exceptions, I don't find Clapton's solo 1970s output particularly exciting. My issue is not with his exemplary guitar playing, but the songs and their laid-back vocal delivery. His first top-10 of the 1970s, however, was his most exciting song of the decade — but it was released not as Eric Clapton but as Derek and the Dominoes. I speak, of course, of Layla, a soul-baring confessional of Clapton's love for Pattie Harrison (Beatle George's wife) that is not only searingly sung, but also searingly performed instrumentally (along with late Allman Brother Duane) and the rest of the group. In fact, the entire Layla album was a landmark of soul baring blues-rock, but what followed was real-life misery in the form of Clapton's heavy heroin addiction.

So, coming out of that in one piece, I don't blame Clapton for wanting to cool out performance wise. It's just that the result doesn't particularly inspire me, including the pleasant #1 hit I Shot the Sheriff, done better but less commercially by Bob Marley and the Wailers. The other top-10s, Lay Down Sally and Promises, are also mildly pleasant listens, and I prefer the latter.

Tom Clay: A one-hit wonder Motown artist, but his hit had an enormous emotional impact. Musically, it's a medley of What the World Needs Now (the Jackie DeShannon song) and Abraham, Martin and John (the Dion hit mourning the passing of Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy). But it's the spoken word parts that pack a punch — a child is asked what segregation and hatred are, soldiers are chanting as they march and radio and TV recordings associated with the assassinations of JFK, King and RFK are played, including Andrew West's horrifying on-the-scene radio report of Bobby's shooting. The JFK assassination broadcast is also dramatic, but it was a re-creation featured on a Colpix LP in 1964. But the whole track still has the desired emotional wallop effect.

Climax: This was a one-hit wonder group from 1972, featuring a member of the 1960s group The Outsiders of Time Won't Let Me fame. Precious and Few is pretty good pop rock, on the softer side of the genre, although the sound is a bit hissy.

Climax Blues Band: This British band's Couldn't Get It Right, from 1977, gallops along nicely, but I far prefer the emotional 1981 #12 hit I Love You.

Joe Cocker: Cocker was one of those artists I respect for work that I know has high quality, but is just not my cup of tea. His two top-10 hits are interesting, though. One is The Letter, the Box Tops cover which is best known for the frenetic live version that is part of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen various-artists album. However, the hit single version was a studio recording, which is rarely heard. The other 1970s top-10 was the emotional You Are So Beautiful, which I like but which I prefer in Dennis Wilson's live version at Beach Boys concerts. A long-standing rumour is that Wilson, along with Billy Preston, helped write that song. Preston denied that for years.

Next time: Dennis Coffey and others

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