Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Sugarloaf
Like everyone else, my big sister is worried about the ecology. Whenever she sees that TV commercial about the Indian brave crying over people littering and stuff, she gets all teary eyed herself. She digs it when rock stars connect with ecological statements as well, like Marvin Gaye (“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”) and Joni Mitchell (“Big Yellow Taxi”). We both dug the Beach Boys’ sort-of ecological statement, and we both got off to today’s album, Spaceship Earth by Sugarloaf, from 1971.
Sugarloaf came out of Colorado about 1970, when they hit the Top 5 of the pop charts with the single “Green Eyed Lady.” Jerry Corbetta, the band’s singer/keyboardist/songwriter, was the founder and leader of Sugarloaf. The band also included drummer Bob MacVitte, lead guitarist Bob Webber, bass player Bob Raymond and yes, Bob Yeazel on guitar. Yeazel joined the group right after the first album with the hit, and he wrote or co-wrote many of the tunes of Spaceship Earth.
So, the time was right to do one of those “save the earth” albums, to support (and capitalize on) the ecology social movement that grew out of nuclear and pollution anxieties in the late 1960s. The title song kicks off the album and it’s an semi-psychedelic instrumenta, designed to show off the band’s musical chops and prog-rock leanings. Corbetta’s playing on organ anchors this track but Webber’s guitar work shines here.
“Hot Water,” which opens with a hot riff from Webber, encroaches on Grand Funk Railroad’s heavy territory. “I Don’t Need You Baby” is a bit of jazz rock to slow the proceedings down a bit – it isn’t a song about the environment, rather it’s a message to a lover: “We need some time apart to keep our heads together.” Corbetta and Webber (or maybe it’s Yeazel) shine on this one, as it leaves a lot of room for playing between the verses.
“Rollin’ Hills” takes us back to the earth with a rootsy slide guitar-driven romp. “Mother Nature’s Wine” introduces the recycling concept decades early, as it blatantly retools “Green Eyed Lady” for another shot at a hit single. “Woman” is another uptempo offering, with decent harmony singing and “Music Box” is a precious little novelty that seems a little gentle and out-of-place on this album.
The LP wraps with the seven-minute jam “Tongue In Cheek” which pulls out all the instrumental stops (in contrast to the delicate “Music Box,” which precedes it) and is perhaps the heaviest song Sugarloaf ever cut. Lots of good rockin’ guitar and organ fills on this one – a nice way to end the album and save the world and stuff. “Tongue In Cheek” was edited down to a single, and it became a moderate hit.
After Spaceship Earth, Sugarloaf soldiered on – they hit again in 1975 with the music biz inside joke “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.” Corbetta broke up the group sometime after that; he cut a solo album and wrote a hit for Grace Jones, “On Your Knees.” He performed with the group Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes (“Get Dancin'”), which was a project of producer/songwriter Bob Crewe. Crewe helped Corbetta produce a Frankie Valli album, then Corbetta joined the Four Seasons for their 20th anniversary tour. He still performs in classic rock packages today, occasionally playing with a group he calls Sugarloaf.
Other rockers would tackle the ecological theme from time to time, but that movement faded by the mid-1970s as concerns over gasoline prices and the Middle East took center stage. All of the things they warned about in the 1970s – monstrous oil spills, damage to the atmosphere, global warming and nuclear accidents – would all come to roost in the 21st century, as if to mock us for not paying attention and taking real action nearly 40 years ago. Maybe we should have listened more closely to Sugarloaf.