Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Singles, Part 2
More singles from the back of my sister’s closet: they’re almost as good as albums!
First up, an all-but forgotten band from the late 1960s-early 1970s era: Seatrain. Formed from the ashes of the ill-fated Blues Project by two of that band’s former members, bassist Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfeld, Seatrain hit its stride with a self-titled album in 1970. By this second album, there had already been a shift in the lineup – it now included folkie guitarist/singer Peter Rowan. Anyway, the big hit single was “13 Questions,” which just missed making into the U.S. Top 40. I remember FM radio used to play Seatrain’s wild version of “Orange Blossom Special,” from the same LP – the band finally broke up in 1973 after its third album.
The band McGuinness Flint was a British counterpart to Seatrain; it was also made up of former members of hit-making bands. Tom McGuiness played with Manfred Mann, and Hughie Flint played with John Mayall, and their namesake band included songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle. And they had a minor U.S. hit with “When I’m Dead And Gone” (although it was big in the U.K.) but subsequent efforts stiffed. Gallagher & Lyle quit to record as a duo – in addition to writing “When I’m Dead And Gone,” they later wrote hits for Art Garfunkel, Don Williams and others.
Here’s another band with a similar trajectory: King Harvest, which had its beginnings when four Americans joined forces in Paris, where they happened to be living at the time. At one point the band had three keyboard players, including Sherman Kelly, who wrote the song “Dancing In The Moonlight.” It was released as a single in Paris and it failed – but in 1973, the group re-formed in the United States and signed to a new record label. The label re-released “Dancing” and it became a hit, climbing into the Top 20. The group could never match this success and after disbanding some of King Harvest’s members including keyboardist Ron Altbach, sax player Rod Novak and guitarist Ed Tuleja toured with the Beach Boys and Mike Love’s Celebration.
Michael Nesmith left the Monkees and became a country rocker with his First National Band, around 1969. “Nevada Fighter” is the title song from the First National Band’s final LP, and it charted briefly in 1971. Nesmith went on to record more solo albums, become a pioneer in the fields of music video (“Elephant Parts”), a movie producer (Repo Man), a novelist (The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora) and an internet entrepreneur (Videoranch 3D).
Now our final song today is a real curiosity: it was recorded by at least a half dozen singers before it finally became a hit. The song began as “Superstar (Groupie),” written in 1969 by Bonnie and Delaney Bramlett, with Leon Russell. Bonnie Bramlett sung it first, then Russell gave it to Rita Coolidge and her version appears on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen album (1970). Then-unknown Bette Midler sang a stripped-down version on “The Tonight Show” and it was also cut by Cher and Vikki Carr. But Richard Carpenter, the brother/arranger for pop band the Carpenters, saw Midler performing the tune on TV and cut it with his sister Karen Carpenter doing the vocals. He also changed the lyrics a bit to make it more appropriate for radio play. So in 1971 the song became a No. 2 smash (held out of the top spot by Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”) and would give the easy-listening Carpenters at least a sliver of rock credibility, at least temporarily.