Monday song of the day: Today’s song is the first English-language solo recording from this member of ABBA.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad was a member of the hugely successful Swedish band ABBA from 1972 to 1982. Although ABBA was still officially together in 1982, they were in the process of breaking up, in part because Lyngstad and fellow ABBA member Benny Andersson had divorced in 1981. As a result, Lyngstad resumed her solo career, under the name Frida. She had recorded one Swedish-language album before joining ABBA, and another in 1975, but this new project would be her first English-language solo album.
Called Something’s Going On, the album was produced by Phil Collins and released in September 1982. The first single from the album was the similarly titled I Know There’s Something Going On, a song of a woman becoming aware that her partner is cheating on her. It turned out to be a hit, placing at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While she has since had a few hits in Europe, this was the only time Frida broke the Top 100 in the United States as a solo performer.
Tuesday song of the day: Yes, today’s song is about smoking pot.
Brewer & Shipley were a mildly successful folk-rock duo who came together in 1967. They released albums in 1968 and 1969, but their breakthrough was with their third album, 1970’s Tarkio. The first single from the album, One Toke Over the Line, became by far their most well-known song.
As the title would suggest, it was a song about smoking pot. The line came from something Tom Shipley said one night when he was particularly high. A friend had given him some hash and had advised him that it was very potent so he should only take two hits. Shipley took three. He then recounts, “I go out of the dressing room – I’m also a banjo player, but I didn’t have one, so I was playing my guitar – and Michael came in and I said, ‘Jesus, Michael, I’m one toke over the line.’ And to be perfect honest, I don’t remember if Michael was with me when I took that hit or not. I remember it as ‘not’; I think Michael remembers it as ‘yes.’ And he started to sing to what I was playing, and I chimed in and boom, we had the line.”
His partner Michael Brewer concurs, explaining, “I just cracked up. I thought it was hysterical. And right on the spot, we just started singing, ‘One toke over the line, sweet Jesus,’ and that was about it; then we went onstage.”
In 1970, a song about getting high was still mildly controversial. As One Toke Over the Line began getting radio airplay and selling well, Spiro Agnew, then Vice President of the United States, cited it as an example of pro-drug propaganda and urged the FCC to ban the record. The FCC stopped short of banning it or any other specific songs, but in 1971 warned radio stations that they could lose their licenses if they played songs that promoted drug use. Eventually the issue blew over and nobody lost their broadcasting licenses.
While all this was going on, One Toke Over the Line began climbing the charts, finally topping at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart right around the time the FCC issued their lukewarm edict. Brewer and Shipley had two more singles that charted, 1971’s Tarkio Road at #55 and Shake Off the Demon, which hit #98 in 1972. With both later songs well out of the Top 40, this would officially make Brewer & Shipley one hit wonders for One Toke Over the Line.
A particularly odd performance of the song took place in 1971 as well. Then in its final season on network TV, that bastion of squareness The Lawrence Welk Show featured singers “Gail and Dale” – Gail Farrell and Dick Dale – performing a very lame version of One Toke Over the Line. One suspects that they had no idea what a toke was, or that the song was about drugs. Apparently, they had heard the lines about “Sweet Jesus” and just assumed it was a nice wholesome song. After their performance, an equally clueless Lawrence Welk referred to it as “a modern spiritual.”
Wednesday song of the day: Today’s song was a hit when re-recorded and released two years after the original flopped.
Jeremy Ryder, Nick Feldman, and Darren Costin had played together in previous bands before forming as Huang Chung in 1980. In the beginning, all three performed under stage names, and were known as Jack Hues, Nick DeSpig, and Darren Darwin respectively. A few more members were added later, and they too used pseudonyms. The band released their first album on Arista Records, Huang Chung, in 1982. One of the singles from the album was Dance Hall Days, an odd song about relationships that used dancing as a theme. The lyrics started off normally, with “Take your baby by the hand,” and then got increasingly ridiculous. The single was largely ignored.
The next year, the band changed their name to Wang Chung and signed to Geffen Records. Around this time, the members stopped using stage names, with the exception of Jeremy Ryder, who continued to be known as Jack Hues. On Geffen they released their second album, Points on the Curve. It was released in July 1983 in the band’s native UK, and in January 1984 in the United States. The album featured a new version of Dance Hall Days, recorded in a more New Wave style than the original. This time it became a hit, with the single placing at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
To promote the song, a music video was made by director Derek Jarman, using footage his father had shot in the 1940s interspersed with new footage of the band performing. Not long afterward, an alternate video was produced, with a fantasy theme and slicker imagery. It was this second video that is more well-known, having been in heavy rotation on MTV.
Oddly, Dance Hall Days was Wang Chung’s only Top 40 hit in the UK, where it placed at #21 on the singles chart. Despite being a British band, Wang Chung was much more popular in the United States, cracking the U.S. Top 40 five separate times, including a #2 hit in 1986 with Everybody Have Fun Tonight, and a #9 hit with Let’s Go! in 1987.
Thursday song of the day: Today’s song was recorded four times over the course of a year before the performer thought he got it right.
Folk-rock singer/songwriter Steve Forbert released his first album, Alive on Arrival, in 1978. It was not a hit. At the time, he had written a song called Romeo’s Tune, about concentrating on your lover instead of worrying about the rest of the world. He thought the song had potential but did not include it on his first album because he felt that it didn’t fit thematically with the rest of the record.
When he began working toward his second album, he recorded Romeo’s Tune with producer Steve Bergh. The results were not good. Shortly afterward, Forbert went on tour and started playing the song in front of audience to hone his performance. Audiences generally liked it, and then Forbert’s manager suggested adding another verse. Forbert wrote another verse and felt that it did in fact improve the song.
Then he recorded a version of the expanded song in Nashville, with John Simon producing. It was an improvement, but still not quite right. Forbert and Simon made another attempt at recording Romeo’s Tune at CBS Studios in New York, but didn’t care much for the results that time either. The two made a final attempt in Nashville, and that was successful in capturing the sound Forbert had in mind.
This fourth recording was included on Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim, which was released in 1979. Romeo’s Tune was the first single off the album, and performed very well, making it to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It turned out to be Steve Forbert’s only hit, with the follow-up single from the album, Say Goodbye to Little Jo, making it only to #85 on the Hot 100.
Although Forbert has since recorded eighteen studio albums and continues working in 2020, he has never again had a single even break the Hot 100.
In 2007 country music star Keith Urban recorded a fairly faithful cover version of Romeo’s Tune for inclusion as a bonus track on a greatest hits album, Greatest Hits: 18 Kids. While the album was a hit and sold well over a million copies, Urban’s cover of Romeo’s Tune was never released as a single, and thus never charted.