One of America’s quintessential album rock bands were suddenly on the verge of a No. 1 single on 13 October 1973.
The Allman Brothers Band had been climbing the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks with guitarist Dickey Betts’ ‘Ramblin’ Man.’ The group had flirted with the chart four times before, firstly in 1971 when ‘Revival (Love Is Everywhere)’ edged to No. 92. Three 1972 singles, ‘Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,’ ‘Melissa’ and their version of Elmore James’ ‘One Way Out,’ peaked at Nos. 77, 86 and 86 again, respectively. But even the top 40 was new territory for them until ‘Ramblin’ Man’ came along.
On the chart of 13 October 1973, the track made a sudden surge from No. 7 all the way to No. 2, behind Cher’s ‘Half Breed.’ The group’s Brothers and Sisters album was becoming the biggest of their career, and that same week, spent what turned out to be the last of five weeks in a row at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Could the great masters of southern rock now take the remarkable leap and become the kings of Top 40 radio too?
The answer, as it turned out, was no. A week later, the Cher single did fall from No. 1, but it was not ‘Ramblin’ Man’ that inherited its crown. Racing up on the blind side, the Rolling Stones’ ‘Angie’ accelerated from No. 5 to the top, denying the Allmans their moment of ultimate singles glory. To rub salt, the Stones also usurped the brothers on the album chart, ending that run for Brothers and Sisters with the Goat’s Head Soup album.
When Dickey Betts reminisced with the Wall Street Journal about the song, he said: “When I was a kid, my dad was in construction and used to move the family back and forth between central Florida’s east and west coasts. I’d go to one school for a year and then the other the next. I had two sets of friends and spent a lot of time in the back of a Greyhound bus. Ramblin’ was in my blood.
“But the song, as I originally wrote it, had a country flavour and needed to be Allmanised—given that rock-blues feeling. I thought of Eric Clapton‘s ‘Layla’ —which had come out a year earlier—with its long jam at the end. I figured something like that might work. When we went into Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon in October ’72, ‘Ramblin’ Man’ was the first song we recorded—and it would be [bassist] Berry Oakley’s last song before he died in a motorcycle crash a month later.”
‘Ramblin’ Man’ is on Brothers And Sisters, which can be bought here.
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