Friday, October 20, 2017

You Are the Woman (1976)

Performer: Firefall                                              Writer: Rick Roberts
Highest US Chart Position: #9                           Label: Atlantic Records
Musicians: Rick Roberts, Larry Burnett, Jock Bartley, David Muse and Michael Clarke

Initially this seems like something that would have been written by John and Johanna Hall for Orleans. Most Firefall songs were not kind to women. But the group no doubt learned what every performer in the seventies did: sentiment sells. In the words of lead guitarist Jock Bartley, “Every female between the ages of 18 and 24 wanted to be the woman portrayed in the song, and that caused their boyfriends and spouses to call radio stations and subsequently flood the airwaves with dedications.” Rick Roberts’ “You Are the Woman” was the second single released off the group’s self-titled debut album and would be their only top ten hit, going to number nine in mid-December of 1976. The song will always be important to me because of the strong associations it has with my first girlfriend in high school. The moment I learned about her was in October of my freshman year, sitting in the lunchroom with a couple of my friends. A guy from our class came up to us and, looking right at me said, “I know who likes you, and she’s a babe.” Obviously I was thrilled, but also completely mystified. I lived in a tiny town and in the course of grade school and junior high had become well acquainted with all of the babes in school. I couldn’t imagine any of them suddenly changing their minds about me. My confusion was soon dispelled when he gave me the only possible answer for who this person could be: a new girl. What a great way to start high school.

The song begins with Michael Clarke’s toms on the and of three, a single-string slide up the frets of his electric guitar by Jock Bartley on four, and acoustic guitars hitting on the downbeat. The distinctive flute line of David Muse comes in on the and of one and at the end of the intro the band hits three eight notes together and stops, before Bartley does the guitar slide into the chorus. Rick Roberts’ lyrics are simple and straightforward. “You are the woman that I’ve always dreamed of. I knew it from the start. I saw your face and that’s the last I’ve seen of my heart.” The structure of the song is interesting because it reverses the usual arrangement of the verses and choruses, even going so far as harmonizing Roberts’ vocal on the verses while leaving him to sing solo on the chorus. The first verse is accompanied by acoustic guitars, with occasional fills by Muse on flute. Also prominent on the mix are congas played by Joe Lala. The verses have a nice contrasting chord progression, supported by Bartley’s electric guitar. After another chorus the second verse adds some electric piano by Muse and dense backing vocals that fade into the next chorus, which precedes Bartley’s distinctive guitar solo. The bridge is vintage Firefall: “It’s hard to tell you all the love I’m feeling, that’s just not my style.” It’s the one part of the song that didn’t reflect my sentiments, as that was very much my style. The bridge concludes with the three eight notes that ended the intro and another slide into the final chorus. The last line repeats a couple of times with Roberts ad-libbing and the song ends with the band retarding on two sets of the three eight-note stops and a final trill by Muse.

The song had an impressive twenty-two week chart run, entering the Hot 100 at number 82 at the end of August, just before school started. It reached the top forty a month later and stayed on the charts for the rest of the year, peaking at number nine on December 11 and staying there for another week before taking another month to drop of the charts at the end of January. On the B-side is “Sad Ol’ Love Song” by the group’s other writer and lead vocalist, Larry Burnett. It’s a medium slow country rock number with some tasty slide guitar by Bartley, but the chord progression is just a bit too convoluted to be catchy. I definitely bought the single along with a bunch of other songs that were popular, because it reminded me of my girlfriend, but it was ubiquitous on the radio that fall and so I heard it all the time. It also reminds me now me of my Washington State history class because sometimes the teacher would play the radio low while we were reading, and she sat right in front of me. “You Are the Woman” is easily one of my favorite songs from late 1976 because I had found the girl I had always dreamed of. I can’t remember now if the song was one of her favorites, but it certainly was one of mine, and seemed to express--for the most part--exactly how I felt about going out with the best looking girl in the school.

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