Monday, July 19, 2004

Fickle Finger of Fate: The Man in Black, the Doctor, and Baby Blue

As a writing exercise tonight, I picked up Joel Whitburn's Pop Singles Annual: 1955-1986, opened it to a page at random, and pointed.

First I landed on an entry from 1970, showing all the records that peaked at number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The best of that lot is "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" by Johnny Cash, which may have barely missed the pop Top 40 but was a smash on the country charts, spending a couple of weeks at number one. It's a Kris Kristofferson tune full of boozy regret over time wasted and opportunity lost. My list of great Johnny Cash records is lengthy, but "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" is at the top. I've been listening to it for almost 34 years and I still haven't found its emotional bottom yet.

Coincidentally, my next random point also landed on a number-46 entry, this one from 1977, and the best of those was "Walk Right In" by Dr. Hook. This is the same "Walk Right In" that went to number one for the Rooftop Singers in 1963--another reason why the British Invasion had to happen. (And as we noted last Friday, by 1977, a lot of reasons why punk had to happen were rising to even higher positions on the charts.) During the summer of 1980, in my position as night guy at WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois, I got to interview the two primary members of Dr. Hook, Ray Sawyer (the guy with the eye patch) and Dennis Locorriere (the lead singer on most of the group's hits). Somewhere in my audio archives, there's a tape of the interview, which I lack the courage to listen to.

Finally, the fickle finger of fate pointed to songs peaking at number 14 in 1972, and by far the best of those was Badfinger's "Baby Blue." This tune is on my Desert Island Tape (which itself is a topic for another time), and continued Badfinger's streak of note-perfect records that included "No Matter What" and the transcendently beautiful "Day After Day." The version of "Baby Blue" you want is the 45 mix--the album version lacks the drum fills that give the single its kick. Both versions are on the CD reissue of Straight Up, the Badfinger album to have if you're only having one.


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