For reference, here are the last five entries I’ve covered in my Billboard Hot 100 challenge:
– Like A Rolling Stone: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1965
– Land of 1000 Dances: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1966
– Groovin’: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1967
– Dance to the Music: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1968
– Time of the Season: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1969
As the start of a new decade arises, the promise for potential new forms of creativity in the music field (the likes of which had been strong in the previous two decades) also comes into fruition. Yet as the year-end Hot 100 of 1970 suggests, such changes may come in a very different form than had been seen in the past. For one thing, the general mood overall that introduces this decade is one of exhaustion, particularly in relation to the various social movements and pushes for change that defined the latter half of the 60s. As the cynicism in various singles from ’69 indicate, the counterculture movement’s efforts toward a more accepting, peace-and-love demonstrating existence have come to seem futile, in relation to the harsh realities that overpower these dreams. The deaths of young musical icons Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix this year also seem symbolic of this era’s failures. Yet these good vibes aren’t completely fruitless. Without a doubt, the Woodstock festival was one of the most important bits of musical history, and even as early as 1970 there were songs already composed about it. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (#94) captured the cultural significance of this event, as did Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” (#23); what these both also have in common, however, is their understanding that the collective gathering of Woodstock also signified a sort of spiritual awakening, one that surpasses the supposed success of failures of any external fight for social justice. Although the age of the hippie may be dead and gone, its willpower lives on through the music it creates.
One of the more prominent changes in the trend of popular music appears in the form of a softer, more toned-down sound that appeared in both rock and pop sectors. Before listening to this list, I’ve already had a rough sketch of the kinds of music that remained the most commonplace through this decade. This couldn’t have been encapsulated any better than with The Carpenters’ duel singles on this list, “We’ve Only Just Begun” (#65) and “(They Long To Be) Close To You” (#2). The adult contemporary sound – defined by its techniques of rock music merged with pop and folk influenced to create a lighter, lush quality of production – is almost completely realized with these two singles alone. Led by a series of combination of acoustic instruments (particularly piano, percussion, and horns), with an emphasis on melody, vocal harmony, and themes of romantic love, The Carpenters introduced everything wholesome and wonderful about this fresh kind of pop-rock. This is all tied together with Karen Carpenter’s truly angelic voice, bringing an ethereal quality to their songs as a whole.
Of course, this group isn’t the only visible presence of soft rock on this year’s list. With its soulful, delicate delivery and elegant production of strings atop crooning, romantic lyrics, Bread’s “Make It With You” (#13) is another prime example of the genre. B.J. Thomas debuted on last year’s list with the lovely “Hooked On A Feeling” and reappears here with the mellow “I Just Can’t Help Believing” (#75), as well as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (#4); like “Close To You”, the latter was written by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis and is also a terrific theme for the terrific film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even Neil Diamond takes an ascent into soft-rock, with the poppy “Cracklin’ Rosie” (#17). Soft rock is also exemplified with the sing-along melody, romantic lyrics, and smooth, percussion-and-horn-driven sound of Alive N Kickin’s “Tighter, Tighter” (#47). While the mood in James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” (#67) remains just as relaxed as the others, the content is significantly darker – instead of the focus on love and companionship, this song is partially inspired by suicide and addiction, making for a much more melancholy track overall. It seems that just as the divide between pop and rock had formed itself in previous, now the divide seems to be driving itself between the polished quality of soft rock and the grittiness of hard rock. Likewise, it’s apparent that a golden period of AM rock has been entered into, and these types of songs are sure to pop up again in the very near future.
While many of the most influential rock bands of this era don’t ever make the year-end Hot 100 (The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, etc.), there are a good amount that great rock songs that reach right at a certain level of popularity to make the cut. Continuing the trend from the previous year, ’70 is still the year of Creedence Clearwater Revival as they nail three separate singles on this list: the rowdy, celebratory “Up Around The Bend” (#73), the Little Richard-inspired “Travelin’ Band” (#89), and the iconic “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (#36). Sadly, 1970 marks the year of The Beatles’ official break-up, with their final two singles as a band – “The Long and Winding Road” (#41) and “Let It Be” (#9) -offering a more softer, poetic sound than their earlier releases had introduced. While both Three Dog Night and The Guess Who had made strong debuts in last year’s list, this year promises a much greater depth and breadth of their sound and content. Three Dog Night rocks listeners’ worlds with the psychedelic “Mama Told Me Not To Come” (#11), while The Guess Who’s more upbeat, plugged-in sound in both “No Time” (#70) and “American Woman” (#3) promises good times all around.
The greatest imitator of CCR’s sound is the short-lived group Christie seen here with “Yellow River” (#83), with a toned-down Southern rock sound that alludes to wartime. Also found on this list is Chicago, with their two horn-driven singles – “Make Me Smile” (#59) and “25 Or 6 To 4” (#61) – both absolutely rockin’. 1970 also brought us the first hit single from a former member of The Beatles, that being John Lennon with “Instant Karma!” (#34) a tune that very may as well have come from the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s phase. Two of the most important, influential, Latin-based bands make their debut on this year’s chart: War and Santana, the former presenting the absolutely cool “Spill The Wine” (#20) (Eric Burdon singing lead), and the latter giving us the smooth “Evil Ways” (#69), with its organ and guitar solos being highlights. This year also gave us some notable one-hit wonders, namely Norman Greenbaum’s gospel-influenced “Spirit In The Sky” (#22), Mungo Jerry’s infectiously catchy “In The Summertime” (#53), Mountain’s hard rockin’ “Mississippi Queen” (#78) (important to the development of heavy metal in later years), Free’s soaring, simply fantastic “All Right Now” (#27), Frijid Pink’s garage rock throwback cover of The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” (#60), and the iconic “Venus” (#33) a surprising, fun entry from Dutch band Shocking Blue. At this point, it’s clear now that rock music has become absorbed and accepted into the mainstream, a huge turnaround from its backlash and criticism in the 50s. While its true that rock music has reformed itself back to traditional form, this newfound acceptance also means that a rising variety of genres and styles are soon to come into fruition with upcoming years.
In keeping tradition with a recurring trend of this Billboard challenge, this year’s Hot 100 proves once again that representation does not fare well for women in the music industry. Indeed, this year gives us only twenty-nine women across twenty different songs – certainly not the worst of years, but it’s also been better. The good news is that, unique from previous years where the names of individual ladies were mostly obscured by their involvement in male-coded bands, this year gives us a good number of solo women performers and songwriters. The most notable of these is Diana Ross, breaking apart from The Supremes to deliver a groovy, completely original cover of the explosive Gaye/Terrell single “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#6). Also featured in the top ten is Freda Payne with the high-flying “Band of Gold” (#10). Making strong returns are songbirds Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, the former once again showcasing her impressive vocal talents with the sleek, soulful “Call Me” (#100) and the latter creating a truly catchy, perky rendition of the Bacharach/Davis tune, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” (#95). Finally, Tina Turner, along with Ike Turner, returns with a cover of the fun and funky “I Want To Take You Higher” (#79), their first appearance on the Hot 100 since 1961’s “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine”.
Women also continue to be stellar within their involvement in bands and groups. Susan Jacks’ foray as vocalist for The Poppy Family is exquisitely presented in the calmly beautiful “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” (#26). Despite Ross’ absence, The Supremes still make waves with new lead singer Jean Terrell on “Up the Ladder to the Roof” (#88); while it hardly rivals the early Supremes material, it’s still a rather fun tune. The New Seekers’ vibrant rendition of “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma” (#96) features Eve Graham’s awesome vocals, as well as a modern take on tinkling, piano-led vaudeville era music. Under the name “Dawn”, Sharon Greane, Linda November, and Tori Wine join lead Tony Orlando to deliver the fun, sunny “Candida” (#18) (co-written by Wine). And then there are the two multi-gendered R&B groups on this list: The Friends of Distinction, delivering shades of sunshine pop with “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” (#63), and Sly and The Family Stone, with the bombastic, outrageously titled “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (#19).
In terms of numbers, the most prominent section of music featured on this list comes from the R&B and soul music-makers. While at least a quarter of this list consists of a variety of acts across multiple record labels, arguably the most success this year comes from songs and artists performing under the Motown umbrella. The most represented group on this list – The Jackson 5, with four singles – also demonstrates the most prominent debut year since The Beatles back in ’64. As a band of brothers featuring the explosive vocals of 12-year-old Michael Jackson, “ABC” (#15), “I Want You Back” (#28), “The Love You Save” (#16), and “I’ll Be There” (#7) all reached #1 at some point during the year – a pretty great year, if I say so myself. The other major Motown successes this year are all returning acts, including The Temptations, whose singles – the aptly titled “Psychedelic Shack” (#91) and the topical “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” (#24) – continue the rich, layered sound they introduced in the previous year. Edwin Starr’s extreme anti-prejudice anthem “War” (#5) also makes some major waves this year, while Four Tops appears with a relatively smoother sound in “Still Water (Love)” (#58). Finally, Stevie Wonder comes back again with yet another super catchy, iconic sing-along anthem “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” (#31).
As for the rest of the R&B selections, the tendency (with some exception) is for the chart to favor most smoother, slower, soulful songs, rather than the danceable funky stuff. This may tie into both the popularity of soft rock, as well as the return of admiration for traditional genres such as doo-wop, although this is just a theory. One of the highest ranking of these more easygoing singles is The Moments’ beautifully written “Love on a Two-Way Street” (#25). Many songs such as these tended to favor a past trend of their male vocalists singing in falsetto, also demonstrated in The Delfonics’ Philly Soul classic “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” (#71) and Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl” (#44), although Brook Benton in “Rainy Night in Georgia” (#37) and The Originals’ vocals in “The Bells” (#82) exemplify a more richer, deeper sound. Of course, not all of these songs tend toward the slow and sleepy, as the soul-injected fun sound of Motown was widely sought among artists outside of the label. Some of the best can be found in The Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child” (#21), Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself” (#57), The Spinners’ “It’s a Shame” (#76), Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just a Little More Time” (#39), and Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back the Hands of Time” (#51).
And now for a few points I’d like to make before I move onto my top five of the year.
- This year saw the comeback for folk duo Simon and Garfunkel, who in ’70 released what would be their final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their departure from the relative minimalism of past albums could be heard in “Cecilia” (#49) alone, with its incorporation of a wider array of percussion and a more poppy sound overall. Yet this more layered sound in fully realized with the inspirational sonic masterpiece “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (#1), which finds its influences in gospel and climaxes to a clean, stunningly lovely finish.
- As the years pass by, the number of cover songs on these lists seem to increase in frequency, especially with covers of songs that had previously charted. Besides the aforementioned singles, there is also Joe Cocker’s bluesy yet ultimately lacking cover of The Box Tops’ “The Letter” (#80). On the other hand, studio musician Glen Campbell makes a terrific debut on the Hot 100 with the vastly improved, Orbison-esque cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” (#99).
- The comeback of Elvis, while up to a promising start in the previous year, has seemed to slow down to a grind in ’70. “The Wonder of You” (#72), while definitely demonstrating his superb vocal talent at the core, is ultimately a rather uninteresting song, with an uninteresting live recording to match. However, he is the King and I doubt that this slump is long-lasting.
- In case you thought bubblegum pop had fallen off completely, a few entries on this list go to show that it’s here to stay. Bobby Sherman, with his happy-go-lucky, youthful vocal style, probably best demonstrates the trajectory that bubblegum would go through the course of the 70s. “Easy Come, Easy Go” (#56), with its infectious melody and horn-drenched atmosphere, sounds like something The Brady Bunch would perform. “Julie (Do Ya Love Me)” (#29) isn’t quite so effective, but the squeaky-clean vibe is all there nonetheless. Another important name to know from this realm is Tony Burrows; while he has no songs under his name alone, he performs lead vocals on four different singles from four separate groups. These include White Plains’ happily romantic “My Baby Loves Lovin'” (#62), Brotherhood of Man’s plea for peace “United We Stand” (#64), The Pipkins’ outrageously corny novelty hit “Gimme Dat Ding” (#86), and Edison Lighthouse’s absolutely charming “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” (#40) – all three of these being the corresponding group’s only major hit. In the classic sense, The Jackson 5’s “ABC” – with its childish method of correlating young love with arithmetic – could also be a fine example of the bubblegum phenomenon.
- Interestingly enough, this year marks the very first time that there are absolutely no purely instrumental singles present in the year-end Hot 100. A pleasant substitute, however, comes in the form of B.B. King and his legendary version of “The Thrill is Gone” (#98). This recording, with its smooth sound and exquisitely illustrated blues atmosphere, has some of the finest production work of any song on this list. It just can’t be beat.
And now for my top five of this year.
Honorable mentions: “The Thrill is Gone” (#98), “Psychedelic Shack” (#91), “25 Or 6 To 4” (#61), “In The Summertime” (#53), “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (#46), “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (#36), “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” (#31),“I Want You Back” (#28), “All Right Now” (#27), “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (#19), “ABC” (#15), “War” (#5), “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” (#4), “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (#1)
5) “American Woman” (#3)
I could only imagine the reaction of someone listening to a song like this on the radio for the first time. Starting off as a quiet, bluesy throwback, only to kick into full gear about a minute-and-a-half in, with its sharp, signature riff and Burton Cummings’ plea in his electric voice: “Colored lights can hypnotize / Sparkle someone else’s eyes”. I love the concept of this evil, deceptive woman that this (presumably) male speaker is so afraid of – and also that these lyrics were accused of being anti-American. Awesome.
4) “(They Long To Be) Close To You” (#2)
Yes, I’m one of those people. I absolutely adore “Close To You” – I did from the first moment I ever heard it and I probably always well. Then again, Karen Carpenter could probably single “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and I would tear up in awe. The lyrics seem to be from some weird, surreal, romantic fantasy land, also making it inevitable that I’d love it. The bridge alone is a classic example of such: “On the day that you were born, the angels got together / And decided to create a dream come true / So they sprinkled moondust in your hair / And golden starlight in your eyes of blue”). Of course they did. This song never seems to want to escape from my existence, and frankly I hope it never does.
The title of this song sounds corny as heck (“ball of confusion” sounds like something out of my bad poems in high school), yet the song itself proves to be anything but. While the psychedelic aspect that I loved so much about “Runaway Child, Running Wild” is definitely toned down here, it’s replaced by a bombastic spillage of real talk, a concentrated effort to create a song about the failed efforts of the 60s’ love and peace era. Not to mention that every one of the vocalists present have something unique to offer to this work of art as a whole; it wouldn’t be the same without all those layered voice. Or that harmonica. I love that harmonica.
2) “Let It Be” (#9)
It’s 1970 and The Beatles are officially no more. How sad. At least they left behind a good number of albums we could appreciate in their absence, deviating through a variety of different, complex sounds. Yet, as much as I love all the weird stuff the band has put out through the years, there’s something about the simple, quiet stuff that really soothes my soul. Hence my love for “Something” and hence my love for “Let It Be”. Coming from a Catholic background, I always interpreted “Mother Mary” as being a religious allegory, though I appreciate it as a vague symbol of hope and prosperity. It’s not a risky recording, nor a groundbreaking one, but it is beautiful and spiritually significant in all the most important ways, and I think that’s what really matters most in music.
1) “I’ll Be There” (#7)
At first, it was a bit difficult for me to decide which Jackson 5 song to place in my top five – they’re all so good! In the end, I went with the most honest and significant one of them all. “I’ll Be There” is impressive as when it’s sung by young Michael, it’s a promise for young friendship; when Jermaine sings his parts, the romantic parts bloom forward so naturally and effortlessly. In either case, it absolutely works. It’s such a lovely songs that brims with positivity and celebrates life and all the beautiful things that come along with it. It also showcases the talents of all of the boys, proving their their skills are honed for much more than funky, innocent music to dance to. Practically everyone knows this song, and for good reason – it’s a lovely song to its very core. It’s as simple as that.