What the Riff?!?
by Rob Marbury, Wayne Rowan, Bruce Fricks and Brian Dickhute
October 5, 2020 6:00 pm
Every week, “WHAT THE RIFF?!?” takes a look at a ROCK AND ROLL album that debuted or peaked on the U.S. Billboard charts during a random month between 1965-1995. Four friends discuss the artists and 4 tracks from the album as it plays in the background. Then we riff on 4 “staff picks” of other artists that were also in the charts during that month and year. You’ll hear some familiar tunes as well as some deeper cuts and entertainment tracks as we share a little look into the culture and happenings of that day— having fun recalling that “old time rock and roll.” We hope to bring back memories for you — and we encourage you to find and purchase the tracks and albums from iTunes, Spotify or your other favorite music service. You’ll find each episode with a short blog on this site. Please subscribe so you don’t miss any release! We also invite you to follow us and learn more about us @whattheriff on Facebook.
Sometimes called “the American Beatle,” Harry Nilsson was cited by the Beatles as their favorite American group during a 1968 press conference. Nilsson Schmilsson was Harry Nilsson’s (known professionally as Nilsson) seventh and most commercially successful album.
Nilsson grew up without a father and was poor. He began working early in life, and worked on computers in a bank by night, pursuing songwriting by day. Nilsson would come to work for Phil Spector and would write for a number of artists including the Monkees and Little Richard before going out on his own. He established a solid reputation as a songwriter through hits such as “Everybody’s Talkin'” from the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack, and through pieces such as “Best Friend,” the theme from the television show “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” Nilsson was one of the few major artists of the era to achieve commercial success without ever touring.
Nilsson also established a different type of reputation, indulging in excessive drinking and drug use, and instigating with famous people to do the same. One of the more infamous occasions was Harry Nilsson’s involvement with John Lennon’s “lost weekend” in the 1970’s.
Nilsson was connected to virtually everyone in the music industry and his funeral was attended by some of the biggest names. If you haven’t been acquainted with Harry Nilsson before, you may be surprised by how familiar his songs are to you.
Jump Into the Fire
This song has a more hard rock style than is typical of Nilsson’s other work. It gained further recognition following its inclusion as the soundtrack to a pivotal scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film “Goodfellas.”
This slower track was written by Badfinger and shows off Nilsson’s 3-1/2 octave singing range. Nilsson’s cover went to number 1. Mariah Carey also took a cover of this song to number 1.
Gotta Get Up
The transition from a carefree youth to adult responsibility can be a difficult one, and this song discusses that dread of facing responsibility. You may recognize this as the “reset” song in the Netflix series “Russian Doll.”
This calypso number was a novelty song featuring four characters (the narrarator, the brother, the sister, and the doctor) al sung in different voices by Nilsson. The entire song is played using one chord, C7. Nilsson wrote the word “coconut” on a matchbook during a vacation in Hawaii, thinking it would make a great lyric for a song. He wrote the song in his car after finding the matchbook while driving in Los Angeles.
Finale from the motion picture “Fiddler On the Roof”
This musical comedy film was based on the Broadway musical of the same name about life in a Jewish community in pre-revolutionary Russia.
“Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards
Rob brings us a country-folk song off Jonathan Edwards debut album. Originally, this song was not going to be on the album, but the engineer accidentally erased the master of another song and put this one on the album instead. It was fortuitous, because it would go to number 4 on the charts.
“Imagine” by John Lennon
Brian’s staff pick is perhaps the most iconic John Lennon song. Inspired by Yoko Ono, the song asks the listener to imagine the absence of all the things that divide us. .
“Where Did Our Love Go” by Donnie Elbert
Bruce features this cover of a Supremes hit from 1964. Elbert took the song to number 15 in 1971. Donnie Elbert was a soul singer and songwriter who grew up in Buffalo. This was one of his biggest songs. You may also be familiar with a cover by Soft Cell, done as an outro to “Tainted Love.”
“Get It On” by T. Rex
Wayne’s staff pick is from the glam rock group T. Rex. This was their only hit in the United States. Front man Marc Bolan claimed to have written this song out of a desire to record Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” and said that the riff was taken from that tune.
“Shanty” by Jonathan Edwards
If you grew up in Atlanta in the 80’s you will recognize this song from the 96 Rock “5 O’clock Whistle.”
1971 - November: Harry Nilsson “Nilsson Schmilson”6 days ago
1994 - July: Hootie and the Blowfish “Cracked Rear View”2 weeks ago
1980 - November: The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”3 weeks ago
1994 - April: Hole "Live Through This"4 weeks ago
1980 - October: Ozzy Osbourne "Blizzard of Ozz"1 month ago
1973 — August: Lynyrd Skynyrd "(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)"1 month ago
1970 - March: The Guess Who “American Woman”2 months ago
1975 - April: Aerosmith "Toys in the Attic"2 months ago
1965 — February: Herman's Hermits “Introducing Herman's Hermits”2 months ago
1970 - January: Chicago “Chicago II”2 months ago