Monday, April 19, 2010

You, too, can have a No. 1 song

The stories behind songs that become No. 1 can be bizzare, baffling and just plain unbelievable. But the story behind the song that topped the charts on this day in 1973 is, well, you tell us...

First, you start with the song: "The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia."  At first listen, it's not the sort of tune you'd think would have the legs to make a run at No. 1.  The songwriter, Bobby Russell ("The Joker Went Wild," "Little Green Apples," "Honey") didn't even think that much of it.  Among the artists who passed on it was Sonny Bono, who was at the time selecting music for Cher.

(Now if you think about it, Cher and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" make perfect sense.  If a singer can turn "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and "Half-Breed" into chart-toppers, this song would have been putty for her. But, um, apparently Sonny didn't even mention the song to her.)

Next, you have a singer who wasn't really even a recording artist. Vicki Lawrence, in fact, wasn't even an actor until Carol Burnett discovered her as a lookalike and cast her in the Carol Burnett Show playing Carol's sister.  What Lawrence had going for her was her marriage to ... Bobby Russell.  She liked the song and recorded the demo that Sonny and others turned down.

But the marriage between Russell and Lawrence was brief, and the strain of the disintigrating relationship soured Lawrence on the song and any thoughts she may have had about a singing career.

Finally, you have the American record-buying and listening audience circa 1973. And here's where we learn that virtually any song had a chance.  Before Lawrence's two-week reign the O'Jays took "Love Train" to No. 1.  And the week after it was Dawn and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree."

The Billboard Top 5 on this day in 1973:
1. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Vicki Lawrence
2. Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye), Gladys Knight & the Pips
3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack
4. Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got), Four Tops
5. Break Up to Make Up, Stylistics

It's almost impossible to comprehend how a month later the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" made it to No. 1.  Or maybe not.

1 comment:

  1. A guy in Atlanta once said, "After 'Rock Me Amadeus' it's anybody's turn!"