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Monday, November 24, 2014

I Can Help

This is the last stretch of  YOU NEVER NOVEMBER WHAT YOU'RE GONNA GET month, and I hope that you have been enjoying it!  I think that the year 2015 is going to be one of experimentation with this blog.  Consider this to be a preview of what is to come.

Now, I know that I only did a music posting only a couple of days ago, but for whatever reason, I opted to do another one today.  Consider this a Monday Jukebox edition.  Or, consider it a Jukebox sandwich, if you like, since Sunday was the main day for music in this blog for a really long time.

And the reason why I wanted to do a music posting?  Well, it has to do with a certain song that always perplexed me as a kid.  It's a song that sort of had an identity crisis when it was first released four decades ago.  Some people found it to be adult contemporary.  Some considered it pop.  Some even considered it country music!  Whatever the case, it is a song that hit the top of the charts exactly 40 years ago this week.

Now, I can't remember what life was like back in 1974.  I bypassed the decade of pet rocks, disco music, and flared jeans by being a child of the eighties.  However, I do feel as though I can identify a lot with today's song choice. 

For one, I know that like this song, I've gone through a couple of identity crises in my day, wondering how people see me.  But more importantly, I can identify with the lyrics of this song because in a way, I feel that they probably describe my personality a lot (and it is also how I want others to see me as well - to a point). 

I'll explain what I mean a little later in this entry.  For now, let us hear the #1 song on the charts from four decades ago this week.

ARTIST:  Billy Swan
SONG:  I Can Help
ALBUM:  I Can Help

Now, before I go ahead with today's music entry, I do have an announcement to make.  All year long, you have enjoyed hearing #1 hits from the past.  Sadly, this will be coming to an end today.  The remainder of all music posts for the year will feature holiday favourites, and beginning in 2015, we'll be going back to random song choosings.  But, hey, it was fun while it lasted.  And I am ending it off with a positive song. 

It certainly was a positive song for Billy Swan.  This song was his very first single release, and it reached the top of the Billboard charts the week of November 23, 1974.  But did you know that it also topped the charts in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, and France?  That's not bad for a debut single.

And here's where the song's identity crisis comes into play.  Not only did it top the Billboard Hot 100, but it topped the country music charts in both the United States and Canada as well!  And, it peaked at #6 on the American Adult Contemporary charts as well!

Talk about a song that was a real triple threat!

Anyway, "I Can Help" ended up becoming Billy Swan's biggest hit.  And, sadly, it was also one of his only hits.  Though Swan never did match the huge success that he had with his debut, he still continued to work in the music industry as a songwriter for other musicians.  But the story of how this song came to be is a rather interesting one.

When he moved to Nashville in August 1963, he and his wife lived in a small duplex, and his wife actually helped him convert a small closet into a music room, and it was here where he wrote most of his music.  According to an interview that he did with Richard Buskin in late 2007, he revealed that he basically came up with the words and melody for the single out of thin air.  He had wrote the first three verses in a matter of hours, and from there, he had written the perfect bridge to link them all together.

"I Can Help" was written in March 1974, and Swan recorded the track with assistance from producer and engineer Chip Young. 

TRIVIA:  The keyboard that Swan used in the song actually belonged to musician Bobby Emerson.  And because Swan played the keyboard in his own recording, the person who was originally hired to play the keyboards on the song - Bobby Wood - ended up joining Bobby Emmons and Chip Young in the control booth.  It was also Emmons and Young who came up with the idea to insert the distinctive hand clapping in the song.

The final product was released as a single in July 1974 as there was no album recorded as of yet.  Over the next few months, Swan and his team of musicians recorded several other tracks, and an album was set to be released a few months later.  However, there was a lot of disagreement over what would be the single to kick off the whole album.  Monument Records had actually wanted the song "The Ways of a Woman in Love" to be the first single, but Young argued that "I Can Help" was the hit, and therefore should be the single that kicks off everything.  In the end, neither party got what they wanted.  Track number one of the album was "Lover Please".  But I suppose if you wanted to name a victor in the battle, that would go to Chip Young.  I can help was on the A-side of the album, while the choice that the record company wanted was the second to last track on the B-side!

Now, as for why I like this song?  Well, I mentioned before that this song has a lot to do with how I see myself on a personal level.

Well, maybe not in the EXACT context of the song.  Clearly Swan is singing to his significant other, and I'm still single.  Still, I consider myself to be one of those people who would do almost anything for anyone and expect little to nothing in return.  I suppose that I've been that way my whole life, really.  I think initially that the reason why I did this was to make friends.  But, having the attitude that you will let people copy your homework and they would automatically be your new best friend is definitely not a great suggestion, so don't do it.

Of course, before I wised up and let people do their own homework, I have to admit that it made me feel good knowing that I was providing what I thought was some useful service.  It certainly made me feel good taking part in charity events like the "Relay for Life" because I was having fun and the money went towards a good cause.  I enjoyed doing school fundraising because the items that I was selling brought happiness to my customers and I was helping the school out.  I even enjoy doing crafty things, or wrapping gifts for people, or doing something that helps make another person happy.  I think that's why there's something about the Christmas season that despite all the stress that can come with it, it can be one of the greatest times of the year.  It's not about what you get, but what you give.

After all, Billy Swan said it best.  "It would sure do me good to do you good, let me help!"   

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