Continuing a series of looks back at the pop charts in summer, ergo the title change. This chart from 45 years ago is an interesting one; more interesting than I expected, definitely. Songs not in the accompanying Spotify playlist are linked in their titles.
1 1 ROCK YOUR BABY –•– George McCrae (T.K.)-8 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — I love the tinny drum machine flavor that so many T.K. records had, and this is not only no exception, it’s a shining example. The song is, frankly, nothing special, but the simpleness of its arrangement sells it.
2 2 ANNIE’S SONG –•– John Denver (RCA)-8 (2) — As a kid, as my Mom played this over and over and over on her stereo, I assumed the song was titled “You Fill Up My Senses.” Good god, he was saccharine.
3 10 ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN –•– The Righteous Brothers (Haven)-9 (3) — Eight years beyond their last #1, “Soul and Inspiration,” these hacks did their hackiest work with this cliché-fest, the ’74 version of a Buzzfeed listicle of dead rock stars. I hate this with a white-hot passion.
4 6 DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME –•– Elton John (MCA)-5 (4) — I’d argue this has been overwhelmed over the years by the ’92 live duet version between Elton and George Michael; this hit #2 and the cover hit #1, and to my ears the cover’s plenty better. There’s something thin about the arrangement on this version.
5 5 ON AND ON –•– Gladys Knight and the Pips (Buddah)-9 (5) — Just as he’d do with Aretha for Sparkle in 1976, the soundtrack to the James Earl Jones/Diahann Carroll film Claudine was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, and in this case, sung by Gladys Knight and her Pips. You can hear it here, too: “On and On” is not only the funkiest single they’d released in years, it’s also sexy. At its pop peak here, this made it to #2 R&B as well.
6 3 ROCK THE BOAT –•– The Hues Corporation (RCA)-9 (1) — Cheesy (“voyage of love,” ick) but musically solid.
7 13 RIKKI DON’T LOSE THAT NUMBER –•– Steely Dan (ABC)-11 (7) — Weirdly, their biggest hit ever, on its way to #4. To my ears, as a devoted Dan fan, it’s mid-tier. I mean, it’s no fucking “Deacon Blues,” is it?
8 8 YOU WON’T SEE ME –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-14 (8) — This Beatles cover became Murray’s third pop top 10 and fourth AC #1 — and it’s one of my favorite Beatles covers by a longshot. The arrangement is strong, and Murray sings the hell out of it, making it clear that she’s not taking any of your shit.
9 9 THE AIR THAT I BREATHE –•– The Hollies (Epic)-14 (9) — I have no use whatsoever for these British Invasion jerks, but if I have to hear one song by them, I’ll pick this one, which has a slightly sinister undercurrent I can kinda get off on. The first 15 seconds are great.
10 12 IF YOU LOVE ME (Let Me Know) –•– Olivia Newton-John (MCA)-15 (5) — She got better as she got poppier. And sexier. Which she is neither of here.
11 14 SIDESHOW –•– Blue Magic (Atco)-10 (11) — Sky-scraping falsetto was all the rage in early ’70s R&B, which helped this semi-kitschy ballad top the R&B chart (it’s on its way to a #8 pop peak). It’s pretty as hell.
12 4 SUNDOWN –•– Gordon Lightfoot (Reprise)-15 (1) — Lightfoot’s only #1, which is a shame on a couple of levels: firstly, my love of his 1976 #2 “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is something I’ll shout from the mountaintops; secondly, this number, while fine enough musically, is lyrically a little nasty, clearly about a relationship going kind of sour.
13 7 BILLY, DON’T BE A HERO –•– Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (ABC)-14 (1) — Ah, story songs in the early ’70s. This has a rep worse than it probably deserves, but not by that much.
14 11 ONE HELL OF A WOMAN –•– Mac Davis (Columbia)-17 (11) — It’s got a little southern soul in its DNA, but also a heaping helping of Vegas, and his voice ain’t much. But that title, in 1974: racy!
15 16 RADAR LOVE –•– Golden Earring (Track)-11 (15) — Butt rock (see also #20) from the Netherlands that might as well have stayed there.
16 22 FEEL LIKE MAKIN’ LOVE –•– Roberta Flack (Atlantic)-5 (16) — First of all, this inspired great cover versions by both Bob James (released the same year!) and D’Angelo (one of Voodoo‘s best tracks, frankly). It also, once it hit #1 later in the summer, made Flack the first woman to top the Hot 100 in three successive years. (Five weeks atop R&B, too.) A magical, warm-yet-cool, sexy-as-hell ballad about sex — which is more rare than you might think. This song could make just about anyone “[moan] sweet and low.”
17 21 FINALLY GOT MYSELF TOGETHER (I’m a Changed Man) –•– The Impressions (Curtom)-12 (17) — Their biggest hit post-Mayfield (at its pop peak, this spent two weeks astride the R&B chart), and it’s — okay. Pretty average ’74 soul.
18 18 WATERLOO –•– Abba (Atlantic)-8 (18) — Napoleon would’ve surrendered before the might of this record, too. A leviathan, awe-inspiring monument to pop brilliance.
19 23 PLEASE COME TO BOSTON –•– Dave Loggins (Epic)-8 (19) — Better finger-picked folk than I’d remembered; I really like the way he sings it.
20 24 TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS –•– Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Mercury)-10 (20) — I like this single’s predecessor “Let It Ride” fine, but boy, the term “butt rock” was made for these mooks, wasn’t it?
21 25 IF YOU TALK IN YOUR SLEEP –•– Elvis Presley (RCA)-7 (21) — I was unfamiliar with this song before covering this chart, and it’s great, Elvis in soupy ’70s soul mode. But what’s even more exciting is to discover the mind-blowing Elvis at Stax collection, three discs’ worth of this stuff, dipping into pop, soul, and country, but uniformly sensational. Goddamn, he was good.
22 26 MACHINE GUN –•– The Commodores (Motown)-6 (22) — A fine, gritty funk instrumental, one that the Beastie Boys unfortunately ruined for me.
23 27 CALL ON ME –•– Chicago (Columbia)-5 (23) — Great Cetera vocal, great horn charts, great everything. One of my favorites from their ’70s output.
24 28 THIS HEART –•– Gene Redding (Haven)-12 (24) — The only hit for a fellow Hoosier (!) discovered by Etta James (!!) at a USO club (!!!) in Anchorage, Alaska! It’s a sweet soul ballad that sounds more ’68 than ’74.
25 39 TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD –•– Rufus (ABC)-6 (25) — It’s easy to take this classic (heading for dual #3 pop and R&B peaks) for granted, but resist the impulse, no matter how many times you’ve heard the song. Listen again, preferably with headphones, and revel in that nasty, greasy guitar, and Chaka Khan’s too sexy vocal. Sure, songwriter Stevie Wonder could’ve made a perfectly great record on this, but he was wise to give it to Rufus, because what Chaka’s got… well, you know.
26 15 BAND ON THE RUN –•– Paul McCartney and Wings (Apple)-14 (1) — Mid-table Wings that goes on for far too long.
27 20 BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GOT –•– William DeVaughn (Roxbury)-12 (4) — So smooth, so Curtis Mayfield — and interestingly, the band on this is pulled from the membership of MFSB! #1 R&B, #4 pop, and gold within two months of its March ’74 release; it eventually sold 2M+. Listening to it now, I think, “Well, of course Massive Attack covered it [for Blue Lines].” They didn’t top the original, though.
28 35 KEEP ON SMILIN’ –•– Wet Willie (Capricorn)-9 (28) — Of course these southern rockers were signed to Capricorn — and of course they didn’t get much chart action beyond this #10 hit, which is, as the phrase goes, fair-to-middlin’.
29 34 FISH AIN’T BITIN’ –•– Lamont Dozier (ABC)-6 (29) — 1/3 of Holland-Dozier-Holland steps in front of the mic, and makes a pretty great, clean-sounding soul record. A great discovery.
30 30 COME MONDAY –•– Jimmy Buffett (Dunhill)-10 (30) — This wants to be sincere folk but can’t avoid dunking itself in commercial string-wash, which makes sense from a hack like Buffett.
31 38 SURE AS I’M SITTIN’ HERE –•– Three Dog Night (Dunhill)-4 (31) — After ’75 they’d never bother the chart again, but this was the 19th of their 21 consecutive top 40 hits, a run that started in ’69. Most of them, this included, are awful. One of the most inexplicable hitmakers of the first half of the ’70s.
32 40 THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED –•– Paper Lace (Mercury)-6 (32) — We all died a little, didn’t we?
33 36 BALLERO –•– War (United Artists)-7 (33) — I loathe both “Spill the Wine” (gross hippie rock) and “Low Rider,” but much of the rest of their prime is, well, prime stuff. These guys could play, and had soul for weeks. This live cut is as good a starting point as any, though my personal faves are ’72’s “Slippin’ into Darkness” and “The World Is A Ghetto.”
34 63 SHININ’ ON –•– Grand Funk (Capitol)-2 (34) — I can’t believe I’m saying this publicly, but: when so inclined, these guys could boogie, couldn’t they?
35 62 WILDWOOD WEED –•– Jim Stafford (MGM)-3 (35) — This asshole did like his wink-and-a-nudge songs, didn’t he? On its way to #7, this would be his second top 10 pop single. (The country chart was smart enough to never let him get higher than #57.) Least surprising line in his Wikipedia entry: “Stafford has headlined at his own theater in Branson, Missouri, since 1990.”
36 42 ROCK ME GENTLY –•– Andy Kim (Capitol)-5 (36) — This soft-popster just sounds like a one-hit wonder, even though I know he’s not actually one. And it makes perfect sense that he wrote the garbage that is “Sugar, Sugar.”
37 43 YOU AND ME AGAINST THE WORLD –•– Helen Reddy (Capitol)-6 (37) — There’s twee — and then there’s Helen Reddy.
38 17 HOLLYWOOD SWINGING –•– Kool and the Gang (De-Lite)-14 (6) — A friendly reminder that in the days long before their ’80s pop heyday (cf. “Joanna”), they were funky as fuck.
39 52 HANG ON IN THERE BABY –•– Johnny Bristol (MGM)-4 (39) — Not surprising how glorious this record is, as Bristol wrote and/or produced at Motown for the likes of Marvin & Tammi, the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and the Miracles. Bristol wrote, produced, and sings this soaring midtempo R&B number, which flirts with early disco just so.
40 32 WORKIN’ AT THE CAR WASH BLUES –•– Jim Croce (ABC)-7 (32) — The absolute worst kind of “folksinger.” I find his entire catalog vile.