Bet you didn’t expect to see this here.
After almost five months of absence from this challenge, I am back! Essentially, the lack of my keeping up with this challenge can be drawn to a good number of factors, the most noteworthy of which being the death of my beloved laptop (2009-2016). As you’ve probably noted in some of my previous Billboard challenges, my posts tend to run somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 words per post. That’s a lot of research, lots of close listening, and even more exertion of energy on my part from all the writing I choose to do on each post. I am still saving up for a computer, and once I retrieve it I hope to be much more consistent with these posts (and with my blog in general). For now, however, I’m going to be doing something a little different. Starting with this post, I want to go through each song and write a short summary of each, including information I would normally put in my regular posts and my general opinion of each song. Of course, I’ll no doubt be motivated to write more on certain songs and less on others. In any case, I want this to be somewhat stream-of-consciousness, giving me an opportunity to change up what I had been doing before.
I don’t get many comments on this side of the web, but any feedback on this would be greatly appreciated. I am in no way an expert on the history of pop music and my information may be particularly rusty, having been away from the chair for a little while. Nonetheless, conversations are fun! Now, without further ado, here we go.
100. “Mighty Love” – The Spinners: Previously, The Spinners had found its way on the year-end Hot 100 with their singles “It’s a Shame” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”, and “One of a Kind (Love Affair). Like most good Motown records, their strong suit lies in soaring love songs and this song is no exception. Philippé Wynne’s vocals are especially strong here, although its melody is suspiciously similar to “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”.
99. “Wild Thing” – Fancy: I’m a huge, huge sucker for cover songs, but I’m still willing to point out a lackluster one when I see one (or listen to one, for that matter). This is a particularly uninteresting cover of a song that was already simple and minimal to begin with, all the way down to its forced orgasmic moans from Penthouse Pet Helen Caunt. A one-hit wonder barely deserved.
98. “Call On Me” – Chicago: I really don’t have many strong opinions on Chicago. With the exception of “25 Or 6 To 4” in 1970 (I really like that song), they just seem so ordinary to me, practically the encapsulation of everything uninteresting about 70s soft rock. I will say, though, that the drums on their singles are consistently good, which is also the case with “Call On Me” and Guille Garcia’s awesome conga backdrop.
97. “I Honestly Love You” – Olivia Newton-John: Is it a silly title for a song? Probably. Yet Olivia Newton-John’s sensational vocal delivery and its song’s beautifully sad lyrics. I’m so easily won over by lines like, “If we both were born in another place and time / This moment might be ending in a kiss / But there you are with yours and here I am with mine / So I guess we’ll just be leaving it like this”. Guilty pleasure? Definitely. But oh what a wonderful one it is.
96. “Rockin’ Roll Baby” – The Stylistics: This is a fun song and everything – what better image than one of a wee little baby singing and strutting like Elvis? – but something tells me that Russell Thompkins’ distinctive falsetto is more suited for slow, dreamy ballads. Still, it’s quite a wonderful proto-disco ditty with a great melody that hardly overstays its welcome.
95. ‘”Me and Baby Brother” – War: Since this Billboard challenge has given me many more opportunities to explore a multitude of artists, I could safely say that War just might be one of the greatest bands of all time (once I listen to more than just their singles). While they cover a variety of topics – namely prejudice and poverty – they somehow manage to still sound like they’re having a great time while doing so. Always laughter behind the tears. Such is the case with “Me and Baby Brother”, which keeps its upbeat tone from beginning to end, even though the story behind its lyrics is rather sad. One of the most fun anti-violence songs you could ask for.
94. “Beach Baby” – First Class: Yet another one-hit wonder, and also one of the most convincing Beach Boys ripoffs you could ask for. Still, this song practically bleeds summertime fun and is catchy almost to the point of annoyance. Not bad for a British band trying desperately to sound Californian.
93. “Wildwood Weed” – Jim Stafford: Country music isn’t really my forté; nonetheless, “Wildwood Weed” is more like parody of a country song anyway. Essentially, through his talk-singing style, Jim Stafford stumbles his way through his experienced with the titular plant. Spoiler alert: this song is about marijuana.
92. “Helen Wheels” – Paul McCartney and Wings: Paul McCartney is definitely, definitely my least favorite Beatle. Still, I tend to be positively receptive to his 70s work as part of the band Wings. “Helen Wheels” – essentially about Paul and Linda’s Land Rover’s trek across the country – is weird. While I can do without McCartney’s obnoxious screeching during the choruses, it’s hard not to enjoy those wild guitars.
91. “My Mistake (Was to Love You)” – Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye: The fact that this is one of the weakest songs from either of these two artists, yet is still a really good song, goes to show just how prolific these two are. We should just be blessed that we even got a Ross-Gaye duet in the first place.
90. “My Girl Bill” – Jim Stafford: Hoo boy. I have quite complicated feelings about this song. Okay, so once again, Stafford the comedian utilizes his talk-sing style to trick listeners into thinking he’s in a love affair with someone named Bill. The twist comes in the final verse when the situation is clarified with the line,, “You’re gonna have to find another / ‘Cause she’s my girl, Bill”. Now, I can’t speak for how conservative times were in the 70s since I wasn’t alive, but I’m wondering just how much of a controversy this song put out, if any. I’m sure gay panic was much more of a prominent issue, and for that, I think it’s maybe a cool move for Stafford to make a mockery of it by dancing around the assumptions of homophobes. At the same time, though, I’m not exactly sure if this is what he was intending. I have this uneasy feeling that his “joke” is simply surface-level and that the half-implied homosexuality in the song is a jest in and of itself. Both cases are equally as possible, which makes this one mess of a song. There’s really nothing much to say about this song otherwise, with its generic production and Stafford’s indistinct voice.
89. “A Very Special Love Song” – Charlie Rich: As I said before, country music isn’t really my thing. Moreover, country love songs are even worse for me. I really don’t know what makes Charlie Rich’s love song “very special” – its lyrics are pretty similar to a million other love songs I’ve heard. Nonetheless, the string and piano arrangements are what make this song as lovely as it could be. I could do without Rich’s vocals; I never was much of a fan of his anyway.
88. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” – Stevie Wonder: Stevie Wonder, on the other hand, is a musician I’ve always loved and probably will always love. I even love his goofy shit, such as his weird mock Spanish in this particular single. It’s not among my favorites from Wonder (once again, that’s not saying very much about this absolute legend of a performer), but it’s got such a clean, groovy hook. It’s hard not to be in a great mood while listening to this.
87. “Trying To Hold On To My Woman” – Lamont Dozier: Before this single, Lamont Dozier had primarily been known as a co-writer of some of the biggest Motown hits of all time. This was his most successful single as a solo performer; frankly, it’s unimpressive. I just can’t get behind these songs that portray the narrator’s romantic relationship as destructive and unfit, all while trying to convince us that the two are meant to be together. This is yet another one to add to the pile. And that’s not even mentioning his singing – it’s probably a good idea that Dozier stuck to songwriting alone.
86. “The Lord’s Prayer” – Sister Janet Mead: When did we decide as a collective that Christian rock had to be overbearingly generic and dull? I’m shocked to say that this rendition of The Lord’s Prayer is awesome as fuck. This is the peak of the genre and no one can convince me otherwise.
85. “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in Song” – Jim Croce: Jim Croce’s career was tragically cut short, even more tragic considering that his posthumous releases demonstrate a more nuanced level of maturity than his previous successes, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”. The message of this particular song is sweet and simple: sometimes, words alone just won’t do. It’s universal enough to apply to the situations of practically anyone who’s ever been in love, yet is rather lovely in its simplicity overall.
84. “Clap For the Wolfman” – The Guess Who: As The Guess Who makes headway into the 70s, “Clap For the Wolfman” is proven to be their most pop-flavored hit yet. As an homage to radio culture and disc jockeys, it even features guest vocals from Wolfman Jack himself. It’s a little hokey, but that reverberated guitar riff is a killer.
83. “I Love” – Tom T. Hall: Sample lyrics: “I love winners when they cry / Losers when they try / Music when it’s good / And life / And I love you too”. Yeah, this song sucks.
82. “Hello It’s Me” – Todd Rundgren: As it stands, I still have not listened to Something/Anything?, although I definitely plan on it. “Hello It’s Me” is a pretty decent introduction to his work. While I can’t see anything worthwhile in its production that’s worth writing about, the story in its song is intriguing. It seems like he’s infatuated with his subject, although they definitely don’t feel the same. Yet he’s so willing to give himself up unconditionally, even if they don’t feel the same – “I’ll ‘spend the night’ – but only ‘if you think I should'”. It’s hard to know if these are the signs of a fading relationship or if Rundgren’s just disobeying their demands for their own space. Either way, it’s charming in its own ways and has me interested in Rundgren’s other stuff.
81. “I’m Leaving It (All) Up To You” – Donny & Marie Osmond: Yet another painfully vanilla cover of a song that already had very little going for it. The difference here being the superstar status of Donny Osmond, now accompanied by his younger sister (who is probably the better singer of the two). There’s really nothing here that you can’t already get from the Dale & Grace original.
80. “A Love Song” – Anne Murray: This is Anne Murray’s second cover of a Loggins & Messina tune, although I certain prefer “Danny’s Song” over this one. Despite her sumptuous signature voice, the words and melody of this one are relatively weaker, leading to this one having little lasting effect long afterward.
79. “Tubular Bells” – Mike Oldfield: While most of the world recognizes “Tubular Bells” as the theme to The Exorcist, it should be noted that Mike Oldfield’s most famous work is a genuine instrumental masterpiece in and of itself. It’s essentially just layer upon layer of a multitude of sounds and jams, all melding into quite the twisty experience. Oldfield played most of the twenty-some instruments featured in the single, a fact which only aids the listening experience. It really is quite the journey; so much so that words can’t really do much in describing the density of its substance. I couldn’t recommend this piece any more highly.
78. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – Elton John: Elton John and Bernie Taupin make up one of my very favorite musical pairings; John’s distinct vocals and Taupin’s soothing lyrics are the stuff of dreams. Likewise, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” is one of the best sonic depictions of the dreary hopelessness of depression. Sure, it’s most likely meant to be a song about a romantic relationship reaching its end, but it’s message of self-betrayal is much more stronger and poignant. Although this wouldn’t be in my top five John songs (he’s got so much great stuff!), it’s still a real bonafide classic.
77. “Jet” – Paul McCartney and Wings: This song is far more weirder than “Helen Wheels”, for sure. What is it even about? What does the line “I thought the major was a lady suffragette” mean?? Practically everything about this song’s existence and longstanding popularity absolutely baffles me, which proves that McCartney could come out with practically any nonsense and folks will eat it up.
76. “I Shot the Sheriff” – Eric Clapton: How do you take a fun, feisty, fiercely political reggae classic and squeeze every bit of life from it? You have Eric Clapton perform a cover of it. Easily one of my most hated cover songs ever.
75. “For the Love of Money” – The O’Jays: As one of the best groups during the peak of Philly Soul, The O’Jay’s are most influential for the production, rather than their vocal ability or lyrics. Such is the case with “For the Love of Money”, which has one of the best introductory bass licks of all time. The message of the song isn’t anything controversial: “money is the root of all evil” and all that. Hell, the “money, money, money, money” hook is really all I can immediately remember as far as lyrics go. Yet sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Overall, this is a truly sharp, outrageously funky single has long stood the test of time and deservedly so.
74. “Oh My My” – Ringo Starr: With little exception, practically any song that prominently and non-ironically uses “boogie” in their hook is set to sound dated and bad some years from now. Sorry Ringo, but you’re not the exception. Let’s all vow to never let that word come back in style again.
73. “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” – Chicago: These are some of the weakest lyrics I’ve come across in any Chicago song thus far. Literally every line is a generic pseudo-uplift that has been used in thousands of songs prior and since. I’m also getting really tired of all those goddamn horns. Last but certainly not least, I feel like any second I have to endure Peter Cetera’s voice from now on will not be very fun at all.
72. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – Elton John: Now this is beautiful stuff. It’s got probably the most beautiful melody of any of John’s compositions (rivaled, to me, only by “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”). It’s got some exquisite, fantastical imagery, clashing wonderfully with the gentle atmosphere emitted through its production. It’s also far too short; I wouldn’t mind it going on for two more verses and five more minutes. In general, though, it’s a really sad song – musically speaking, few things are more tragic than the feeling of self-awareness through a newfound jaded sensibility. Growing up sucks.
71. “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” – Helen Reddy: I wish I liked Helen Reddy more. I do admire her singing voice, but it seems that all of her material is too dry to enjoy, despite the feminist edge that her major hits encompass. “Leave Me Alone” is her most fun song to date, but unfortunately just so, so bland. The constant repetition of its title phrase doesn’t make this any better.
70. “Oh Very Young” – Cat Stevens: I don’t really have a valid reason not to love Cat Stevens. He fits right into the mold of folky singer-songwriters that tend to appeal to me the most. I do rather admire Tea For the Tillerman, in fact. For some reason, though, “Oh Very Young” just isn’t doing it for me. It may be due to its whimsical tone, which doesn’t fit very well with its otherwise mature, fatalistic themes. Nonetheless, it’s still a perfectly fine track.
69. “On and On” – Gladys Knight & The Pips: This is the first time I’ve listened to Gladys Knight perform something other than sad, soulful breakup music – which she does beautifully, by the way (“Midnight Train to Georgia” is a classic). While this is the least memorable of the quartet’s singles thus far, it’s a great showcase of its funky wah-wah guitar backup. It’s also an excellent use of The Pips during the choruses and climactic final bridge. So nice to hear quite an uplifting track from these folks for once.
68. “Put Your Hands Together” – The O’Jays: It’s not hard to see how “Love Train” would be the track that would come to be long associated with The O’Jays rather than this one, despite the former ranking lower on this list. While “Love Train” has a message of universal peace and tolerance among all people, “Put Your Hands Together” filters this same message through a veil of (presumably) Christianity. This may have worked for the conservative 70s – it certainly makes sense with “The Lord’s Prayer” also being a hit – and while it’s got some great gospel-infused production, the song itself is a bit weaker than what I’m used to seeing from the guys.
67. “Lookin’ For a Love” – Bobby Womack: Bobby Womack seems to be some mix of James Brown and Al Green. though with considerably less charisma than either of them. At least that’s the initial impression I get from this track, which has got one of the more boring hooks on this list thus far (“I’m lookin’ here and there / Searching everywhere”). Hopefully he comes back in later years with something more promising.
66. “Keep on Smilin'” – Wet Willie: First off, Wet Willie is a terrible name for a band. Secondly, well, if I thought the writing in the last song was lazy, I haven’t heard anything yet. This might be a pretty uplifting song for someone in a highly relatable position as the lyrics entail, but there’s no denying that it’s filled to the brim with cliché after cliché. At least the choir backing in the chorus is a nice touch, but it leaves no real lasting impression in general.
65. “Please Come to Boston” – Dave Loggins: Soft-rock, as a whole, feels like a 70s-specific virus that overtakes everything it comes across and refuses to leave. I wouldn’t mind this trend much if a significant portion of its output was actually good – I loved the garage rock takeover of ’67, for example – but the soft-rock sound is just so mind-numbingly generic, it’s hard to find much value in most of it. “Please Come to Boston” tells the tale of a “ramblin’ boy” who is trapped to choose between the fast life in big cities or a humble abode in his hometown. This makes for some ripe subject matter, yet it unfortunately keeps its dreary, sluggish pace throughout its entirety, not doing anything particularly interesting or risky. Though I guess I may be biased – as a city-person, life in the country simply has little appeal to me.
64. “Radar Love” – Gold Earring: On the other hand, one of the 70s biggest strengths come in the form of its harder, upbeat rock ‘n’ roll. While not always on point lyrically, it usually makes up for this with cool arrangements and fiery production. “Radar Love” is a stellar example of this. The chorus is great, even though it never clarifies what the hell radar love is anyway. Yet somehow, this doesn’t matter – when vocalist George Kooymans emits this line, you believe him. The horns on this track came as completely unexpected to me and they’re just so freakin’ cool in combination with the (also unexpected) drum solo. Overall, this is a super catchy song and I never want it to end.
63. “Takin’ Care of Business” – Bachman-Turner Overdrive: This song starts off so well, with a driving guitar hook and a great piano riff to set the mood. The mood is slightly killed, however, when it’s revealed that this song is actually about both working hard and hardly working. I’ve listened to this song dozens of times over the years, yet I’m still not sure what the message is. It sounds like a worker’s anthem at first – “If your train’s on time, you can get to work by nine” resonates with me especially – but is told from the perspective of an unemployed spectator. What exactly is this song trying to promote – or condone, for that matter? It’s a mess of a song, but boy does it stick.
62. “Eres tú” – Mocedades: It’s always nice to come across music in the Hot 100 that isn’t in the English language (“Sukiyaki” is still one of my favorite new finds since starting this project). As such, “Eres tú” is one of the simple and beautiful songs I’ve come across here. While I can only gain a blanket understanding of what its lyrics translate into, the performance of vocalist Amaya Uranga make me believe that all these emotions are real and human.
61. “Hang on in There Baby” – Johnny Bristol: Judging from this single alone, Johnny Bristol comes off to me as a poor man’s Barry White. I’m sure with a better producer there’d be more potential there, but this one isn’t really doing it for me.
60. “Be Thankful For What You Got” – William DeVaughn: The message of this song is very succinctly summed up by its title – count your blessings! Yet William DeVaughn’s bedroom vocals make this all sound so, so sexy, helped by a smooth and jazzy production and some real funky guitar licks. DeVaughn, to me, is a clear example of a one-hit wonder that I really think deserved much better.
59. “Hollywood Swinging” – Kool & The Gang: Here’s one song that was initially familiar to me through its usage in various hip-hop songs of my upbringing. Kool & The Gang are major players to the funk scene that would explode in the next couple of years and this years marks their first major presence in the Hot 100. Literally every aspect of this single just sticks so, so well, from the bumping bass, to the catchy percussion, to the horns and guitars driving the punch, to J.T. Taylor’s explosive vocal performance. This song is swinging, indeed.
58. “Rock and Roll Heaven” – The Righteous Brothers: Oh boy, here’s another one of these songs. So back in ’59 there was this song from Tommy Dee, titled “Three Stars”, which explicitly paid homage to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, who all died tragically in a plane crash the previous year. Fast-forward fifteen years later, and now we’ve got this tune from the legendary Righteous Brothers, who opt to cover the multitude of other musicians who have perished since. While this song is nowhere near as cloying as “Three Stars”, it certainly isn’t much better. It still feels like a cheap cash-in on famous deaths, with cheap production and songwriting at that. Kind of a shame that this would come from the same talented folks who gave us “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”.
57. “You and Me Against the World” – Helen Reddy: I read that Helen Reddy made the decision to include the speaking voice of her young daughter at the start of this track, instantly warping the song from a tired love song to one about a mother speaking to her child. While this does give this song a bit of an interesting turn, I still don’t feel particularly stoked about Helen Reddy, for reasons I mentioned earlier.
56. “Tell Me Something Good” – Rufus & Chaka Khan: And now for one of the greatest songs of all time. Obviously, this track is funky as hell and I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t feel like dancing once that intro bass line comes in (I’m dancing in my chair right now!). Chaka Khan’s voice is absolutely perfect for this song, her shrill tones melding smoothly with the deep guitars. It’s also got one of the earliest and best uses of the guitar talk box, making this a song historically proven to be totally flawless.
55. “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” – Barry White: There are few people who can so effortlessly exude sex as well as Barry White. His music is one reason why I’ve got such a huge spot in my heart for disco, despite the genre’s obvious kitsch qualities. He’s also just got such terrific, sultry vocal talent, so there’s that.
54. “You Won’t See Me” – Anne Murray: I never expected Anne Murray to cover a Beatles song, but I guess now we’re here. To be fair, this is a really good cover, with Lennon’s and McCartney’s lyrics a great complement to her rich singing voice. The production is boring, however, but that’s a flaw I’m willing to put aside for the rest of its qualities.
53. “Help Me” – Joni Mitchell: I must confess that I haven’t listened to very much of Joni Mitchell at all, though that’s my own fault entirely. “Help Me” is interesting, though, as it starts off as a song about falling in love, ending on a resonating note of heartbreak and heartache. Even though the song takes on the same upbeat tone through its entirety, one could effectively feel the tone darkening through her use of words alone. At the same time, though, the song isn’t particularly mind-blowing at all, even though Mitchell is a great musician. I guess I should probably look into her other work a bit more thoroughly.
52. “Mockingbird” – Carly Simon & James Taylor: The dangerous thing about covers of songs I already know and love is the risk of the new rendition just making me yearn for the original. This is even the case with this cover of Inez and Charlie Foxx’s “Mockingbird” from Carly Simon and James Taylor, two musicians whose talent and songwriting I deeply appreciate. Yet they come across as a middle-aged couple performing badly at a karaoke bar with this particular tune. Definitely not a favorite from either of the two.
51. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” – Steely Dan: Going through this challenge has given me a newfound appreciation for Steely Dan that I didn’t even know I possessed. I had always just thought of them as catchy background music for family barbecues rather than the tight collaboration of several talented musicians that they undoubtedly are. “Rikki” is the most downbeat single of theirs I’ve listened to thus far, but it continues to demonstrate some exceptionally clean musicianship, coupled with some rather poetic lyrics. As with their other songs, the meaning of this song is rather ambiguous and I’m still trying to figure it out – although it’s lovely, nonetheless.
50. “The Air That I Breathe” – The Hollies: The Hollies are really fascinating to me, mainly with how seamlessly they’ve seemed to transition from one era of music to another through the span of about a decade. Besides The Rolling Stones, they’re pretty much the only band of the British Invasion phase to do so – even the members of The Beatles seemed anxious to divorce themselves of the signature sound for which they were famous. As is evident from “The Air That I Breathe”, it seems that The Hollies even successfully matured their own sounds, something that not even The Stones could proclaim. As a typical love song its message doesn’t run too deep, but it’s so damn melodramatic it’s hard not to feel warm and fuzzy throughout the listening experience. This is not only the band’s greatest single, but one of the all-time greatest love songs as well. Additionally, it was used to excellent effect in Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, which is a great little rom-com everyone should watch.
49. “Waterloo” – ABBA: And now for one of my favorite musical groups of all time, making their first ever appearance in the Hot 100. Amusingly enough, not only is the second song I’ve come across in the Billboard challenge titled “Waterloo” – the first being from Stonewall Jackson in ’59 – but it also follows a very similar theme as its predecessor – namely, comparing Napoleon’s unsuccessful battle at Waterloo with an identical fate of falling head-over-heels for someone. I would call this one of the catchiest songs of all time, but there are at least five other ABBA songs that could easily overtake this one. Nonetheless, I was hooked from the very first listen; dozens later and it still has a tight grip on my heart. Thank you, Eurovision.
48. “The Entertainer” – Marvin Hamlisch: I was never a huge fan of The Sting, but one of the best things about it was Hamlisch’s reworking of Scott Joplin’s classic rag, for which he won an Academy Award. Light and airy while also exceedingly charming, it’s one of the most deserving recipients of this award.
47. “Then Came You” – Dionne Warwick & The Spinners: This is the most upbeat song I’ve heard from Dionne Warwick thus far, having only listened to her recordings of mostly Burt Bacharach compositions. Pleasantly enough, her talents translate pretty well while given the Philly Soul treatment, although it did feel like The Spinners weren’t given equal time or space to shine. Still, it’s hard to complain about Dionne Warwick, even if the song itself is average quality at best.
46. “The Night Chicago Died” – Paper Lace: I definitely prefer this song much more than Paper Lace’s other hit this year “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” (which I’ll cover later in this post). It’s just got a bunch of elements by which I can’t help but be won over. It’s super catchy with content about gangsters in the 1920s; it just doesn’t sound like anything else that’s on the charts this year. The final kick is the kazoo-laden outro – I’m such a huge sucker for kazoos, it’s not even funny.
45. “Living For the City” – Stevie Wonder: As far as vocal talent is concerned, Stevie Wonder hardly ever disappoints. However, the multi-layered atmosphere offered in “Living For the City” demonstrates some of the best production in any Wonder single. With themes such as poverty and systematic racism, this could definitely be a great companion piece for The Temptations “Runaway Child, Running Wild” – or practically any track from Sly & the Family Stone’s Stand!, for that matter. Lyrically, it’s some of Wonder’s best; you could practically feel every line in the song, like a series of sharp punches.
44. “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” – Brownsville Station: Everything that really needs to be said about this song could be found in its song title. They’re smoking – gasp! – in the boys room – double gasp! Sure, its blues-rock vibe is interesting and keeps the listening experience from being a total drag, but that’s pretty much all it’s got going for it. These guys were definitely a one-trick pony and it’s very evident from their sole hit single alone.
43. “Rock the Boat” – Hues Corporation: In case you didn’t know, ’74 was quite a landmark year, as far as setting what trajectory pop music would go for the rest of the decade. Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” was one of four hit singles this year that largely helped with the popularity of disco music (the other three I’ll talk about later). It’s also one of my favorite disco songs and one of the reasons I love the genre so much. Its hook is so damn infectious, as is its sensual combination of strings and piano throughout. It’s an irresistible combination of funk, pop, and soul elements coming together during the peak era of all three, resulting in quite a lovely work of musical art.
42. “The Show Must Go On” – Three Dog Night: With some exception, I’ve never been too big on Three Dog Night. Nothing about them really marks them as particularly distinct and interesting; it doesn’t help that most of their singles output are in the form of covers. I enjoyed Chuck Negron’s vocal work on “Joy to the World”, so I was glad to see him make a reappearance on “The Show Must Go On”. Moreover, they’ve always seemed slightly cabaret to me, so their inclusion of “Entrance of the Gladiators” as an intro makes perfect sense. As a whole, overall, it doesn’t have the staying power that some of their earlier singles, while simple, still possessed. That this would come to be their very last top 10 hit single is perhaps fitting.
41. “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” – Gladys Knight & The Pips: There are a lot of themes I love in music, but some of my favorites are happy-sounding songs with not-so-happy lyrics. “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” could be a rather heartbreaking song if given the proper treatment. Yet Gladys Knight & The Pips turn it into something positively light and soulful, and to marvelous effect at that. While I still don’t prefer her more upbeat material to her slow, moody classics, it’s still completely evident that Knight can do no wrong no matter what mood the track portrays.
40. “The Joker” – Steve Miller Band: Almost every line of this song contains the words “I”, “I’m”, “me”, and/or “my”. No one cares what you think people say about you, Steve Miller. “Pompatous” is not a word. This is a bad song.
39. “Top of the World” – The Carpenters: If you’ve been following my posts through this challenge – first of all, thank you so much; you are all the motivation I need – secondly, you probably are well aware of my love for The Carpenters. Out of all the soft-rock darlings, this duo is the absolute sweetest and “Top of the World” demonstrates this exquisitely. While the guitar in this one is particularly fun, this song – as with most songs from The Carpenters – belongs completely and wholly to Karen Carpenter, who brings out the most luminous of light in every line she croons.
38. “Rock Your Baby” – George McCrae: This is the second of the landmark recordings of the early era of disco music. The most obvious aspect of this is that it’s just groovy as hell. While McCrae has a decent singing voice and sure can hit those falsetto notes, the focus is less on the words themselves – which are very limited, anyway – and more on the terrific melding of guitar, percussion, and keyboards to create what would become the trademark disco sound. It’s not nearly among the best of the genre by any means, but it’s fascinating to observe what would build off of this simple little single.
37. “Nothing From Nothing” – Billy Preston: While this single is essentially just a continuation of the catchy piano-based groove that begun with “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles” from the previous year, it’s still quite a charming song by its own regard. Preston has never really been exceptionally talented with lyrics, but he can sure write a great hook and is one terrific producer. That’s pretty much all that we’ve got to work with here – but sometimes, that’s enough.
36. “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely” – The Main Ingredient: The Main Ingredient’s previous hit “Everybody Plays the Fool”, with its irresistible whistle hook and soulful vibes, was a welcome addition to the charts back in ’72. On that note, it’s difficult to overlook just how much this single rides on the coattails of that previous hit. Sure, it’s a bit of a slower, smoother ballad, but it still carries that Motown-esque atmosphere in similar ways. right down to the spoken word introduction. It’s an undeniably weaker song, but it’s still got its own charms regardless.
35. “Feel Like Makin’ Love” – Roberta Flack: With her previous successes “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and especially “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, it became immediately clear to me that Roberta Flack is a force to be reckoned with. Supremely Fitzgerald-like in quality, I’m surprised she isn’t more recognized as one of the all-time greatest jazz vocalists. “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, despite its straight-forward title, is actually one of her most modest tracks, both vocally and lyrically. It definitely falls in line with the groovy disco rhythm gaining headway during this time. In some respects, it even feels like the kind of low-tempo jam that could’ve come from Donna Summer, whose would rise to prominence around disco’s peak.
34. “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” – Gladys Knight & The Pips: This is the third and final single from the quartet put out this year. There’s no denying just how this song is the most successful of their singles from ’74; namely, it demonstrates the sheer skill put out by the group in the form of sweeping, dramatic, lovesick ballads. This isn’t an instant classic in the way that “Midnight Train to Georgia” is, but it’s still pretty damn good.
33. “Dark Lady” – Cher: After breaking away from Sonny Bono as a musical partner, Cher’s attempts to carve out a solo career for herself consist primarily of dark story songs with themes of deceit, exotic mysticism, and outcast vagrancy. “Dark Lady” is probably the best of these songs, even though it unashamedly borrows elements from Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”, and Cher’s own previous “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”. “Dark Lady”, in particular, is a bit preposterous, darkly humorous, and undeniably kitsch. While its high place in the list among soul, funk, and disco tracks may be questionable, its own particular charms are welcoming.
32. “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” – Olivia Newton-John: Olivia’s voice is always sensational, yet her singles with Mike Sammes on bass harmony are sadly just so hokey upon his inclusion. This is a nice little love song, but whenever he comes in with every chorus (as he also does in “Let Me Be There”, which ranks a little higher), I get so distracted and thrown off. It may be a silly complaint, but this is a needlessly silly production quality that really does nothing worthwhile.
31. “You’re Sixteen” – Ringo Starr: It was creepy when Johnny Burnette recorded this song at age twenty-five. And at age thirty-four, Ringo, it’s exceedingly gross when you sing it as well. You’re not sixteen; this is unacceptable.
30. “Boogie Down” – Eddie Kendricks: Remember what I said about “boogie” being an uncool word? Well, it’s still really dated and childish, though there are quite a few exceptions of it being used in acceptable and even impressive ways. It’s a word that I think epitomizes the overall mood of the 70s – carefree, copious intoxication and partying among conservative political tension. Likewise, Eddie Kendricks’ second successful solo outing “Boogie Down” captures all that is great about this corny early disco scene and creates a rather infectious dance track. From its piano-and-horns opener, it’s the kind of song that feels like it could go on forever, like a nighttime high full of dancing. Yet despite its great production, Kendricks’ vocals are weak and even sometimes a little annoying. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see another song from him that demonstrates the kind of vocal talent he repeatedly shown while in The Temptations… but for now, let’s just boogie.
29. “Rock Me Gently” – Andy Kim: Yet despite the growing trend of disco, soft-rock continues to retain its stranglehold on the decade. I’ve listened to “Rock Me Gently” at least three times now and every time I’ve completely forgotten about the song once it’s finished. I don’t know very much about Andy Kim, though upon listening he sounds like quite the exquisite Neil Diamond ripoff. And although I don’t enjoy Diamond, I can attest to him being a much better singer than Kim, who sounds like a rather poor studio musician.
28. “(You’re) Having My Baby” – Paul Anka & Odia Coates: Fuck you, Paul Anka. Take your sexist ass back to the late 50s where you belong.
27. “Sundown” – Gordon Lightfoot: I like Gordon Lightfoot quite a bit as a songwriter, yet, admittedly, this track didn’t particularly compel me as much as his beautiful, haunting previous hit “If You Could Read My Mind”. Just as enigmatic, “Sundown” covers the more specific topic of betrayal instead of ambiguous heartbreak. It’s definitely catchier and the melody catches on quickly, yet it’s more a showcase of the track’s production and less on his lyricism and guitar work, which I think are his strongest attributes. I haven’t heard much else from Lightfoot, but something tells me that there are much better examples of his skill elsewhere.
26. “Let Me Be There” – Olivia Newton-John: Okay, on this single I don’t mind Mike Sammes’ backing vocals as much, and I think it’s because he adds a cool twang to the otherwise ordinary chorus, making it all the more fun. Regardless, it’s still laughably contrived. Much love to Olivia, though.
25. “Annie’s Song” – John Denver: Here’s my stance on John Denver – “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is beautiful, anthemic, and deservedly ubiquitous; everything else seems trifling in comparison. I’ve nothing against the guy; just not really my thing. One thing that is certain, though, is that he really knew how to express his love for nature in some of the most exquisite ways. Which is why I felt slightly underwhelmed by “Annie’s Song”, a song specifically written for his wife. As a personal piece, it probably did its job well, but I doubt that this is really single material. I’ll stick to his songs about trees and mountains instead.
24. “Time in a Bottle” – Jim Croce: Sadly, Jim Croce was killed in a plane crash right at the height of his career in September 1973. Just like “Annie’s Song”, Croce wrote “Time in a Bottle” for his wife and never even intended it to be released as a single. Thus, also like “Annie’s Song”, the approach the song takes to mortality and the swiftness of life feels very personal, as it also doubles as a poignant love song. Yet there must have been a reason why this resonated with audiences – not only due to the tragic coincidence of Croce’s situation, but also for the universal sense of uncertainty for one’s life felt by many a listener. In any case, this is a tender, lovely piece, an impressive showcase of maturity from the guy behind “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”. I only wish there were much more.
23. “The Most Beautiful Girl” – Charlie Rich: As I mentioned before, I’m not big on Charlie Rich. I’m also not big on songs where the speaker demands that their estranged lover come back to them, despite the fact that they clearly aren’t meant to be. If you “said some things” to make her cry and it takes you until the next morning to realize your wrongdoings, it’s probably best for everyone involved that she doesn’t ever return. It doesn’t matter how beautiful she is. Besides this, the arrangement and composition is pretty boring; it feels like it would go somewhere interesting with the “Tell her I need my baby” line, yet goes right back to the generic country rhythm. Overall, I’m not a fan.
22. “Band on the Run” – Paul McCartney and Wings: Now here’s a fun one. Following a similar formula with their previous single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, this one is divided into three dissimilar parts. And much like McCartney’s other post-Beatles output, I don’t really know what the hell this one is about. It’s not that it’s badly written; rather, the story in the song doesn’t really make much sense. And while the concept of the three-part structure works well in both theory and execution (the middle “if we ever get out of here” section is my personal favorite), the transitions happen too quickly and too early to effectively hold its five-minute running time. While the title sequence is easily the most catchiest and most memorable, the concept eventually begins to wear very thin. Still, the orchestral arrangement halfway through and the guitars throughout work to impressive results. There’s no wonder how this is to be one of their most memorable hits.
21. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” – Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods: Interestingly enough, Paper Lace made this song a hit in the UK months before Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods made it hit in the US with their cover. I listened to both versions, and I do think the Paper Lace version is slightly inferior, especially coming off the coattails of “The Night Chicago Died”. With that being said, Bo and The Heywoods’ version is hardly much better. The production sounds like something that would come from the bubblegum craze of the mid-60s, which makes its dark war imagery a bit jarring. I do like the message of the song though – generally, that leaving behind your hopes and dreams to die a hero in the military is some political bullshit.
20. “Hooked on a Feeling” – Blue Swede: Lots of complicated feelings for this one. For one thing, I loved the original version of “Hooked on a Feeling”, first recorded by B.J. Thomas in 1968. That sitar! That voice! Those lyrics! Now, I get that the Blue Swede version has firmly notched a place for itself in pop culture, and it’s not hard to see why – namely because it’s supremely catchy. At the same time, though, the “ooga chaka” intro is reminiscent of “Running Bear”, which is a racist piece of shit I despise. Also, the tender romantic emotions found in the original are completely gone from this version, leaving much to be desired. But I guess it is fun to dance to.
19. “Sideshow” – Blue Magic: So, when I was little, I would frequently take road trips with my grandparents and other relatives to Texas – usually about a thirty-six hour drive. There were moments where my grandpa would drive us from sundown to sunup, playing music he enjoyed while the rest of us would doze off in the backseats. This was one of the songs he would play frequently. I’m telling this story to note that I have an unconscious bias in my opinion of this song – in that, no matter what, those introductory horns and bells will always remind me of sleepy late nights driving through deserts that never seem to end. Even the campy circus caller at the start immediately brings me back to my childhood. Musically, however, it represents some of the best and smoothest of Philly Soul. Ted Mills’ falsetto really hits the gut.
18. “Sunshine on My Shoulders” – John Denver: Like I said before, John Denver has the unmistakeable skill of making a song sound pretty. Yet upon closer inspection, the simplicity of “Sunshine on My Shoulders” actually works against it. It’s clear that he loves the sunshine, but him using it as an analogy for love and happiness falls flat. The result is painfully saccharine, with the same basic melody repeating again and again with no variation. Maybe John Denver’s music just isn’t really my thing.
17. “Rock On” – David Essex: If today’s Gen-Xers are annoyed with millenials’ current infatuation for 90s culture, it should be noted that this yearning for the past “good ol’ times” of pop culture is something that has always existed. Case in point: this song. It’s baffling how this song ranked up so high; Essex can’t sing, the instrumentation is boring, and I can’t imagine this being any fun to sing along to. Yet it’s all in the lyrics – references to 50s rock ‘n’ roll and “blue suede shoes” and literally name-dropping James Dean. Don’t be swayed, though; this isn’t a good song.
16. “Spiders and Snakes” – Jim Stafford: Just when I thought we were finished with Jim Stafford, he reappears with his most blues-rock single thus far. Like other Stafford songs, this is hardly anything special. The story in this song is also nothing special: a boy likes a girl and remains clueless after she rejects his advances, which involve a frog for some reason. Spiders and snakes have absolutely nothing to do with this song.
15. “Show and Tell” – Al Wilson: With piano, strings, and horn backing, this song is a positively smooth disco-esque love ballad. The words are pretty silly, in that the “show and tell” described is just describing parts of Wilson’s body. It’s a good thing, then, that Wilson is charming and convincing enough to pull it all off.
14. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” – The Stylistics: Remember when I said that the lead singer of The Stylistics was more suited for singing smooth love songs, rather than poppy dance tracks? This is precisely the song I had in mind when I made that statement. Once Russell Thompkins comes in with his explosive falsetto, the song reaches heavenly qualities of romanticism. The backing sitar is also a wonderful inclusion, almost tricking into the ear into hearing psychedelic qualities in the song. Yet its dreamy quality is simply the result of a variety of elements melding together to create quite the sexy masterpiece.
13. “Midnight at the Oasis” – Maria Muldaur: Maria Muldaur has noted that people have come up to her after concerts and noted the sexual experiences (and pregnancies!) that have occurred with help from her biggest hit single. While lyrically the song is very silly, practically throwing out every desert romance cliché in the book, it’s not hard to see how one could be swooned by the jazzy arrangement and Muldaur’s silky voice. I do think this is a fun little track, even if its mere existence has become a cliché in and of itself.
12. “Jungle Boogie” – Kool & The Gang: … Okay, maybe “boogie” really isn’t that terrible of a word after all. But who am I kidding – Kool & The Gang can make anything sound cool! In fact, “Jungle Boogie” is in the running for the funkiest song of all time. Get down, get down!
11. “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” – Aretha Franklin: At this point, I’ve accepted that practically anything Aretha Franklin does is bound to be incredible. In this instance, she takes an older, obscure Stevie Wonder song and transforms it into some kind of soulful proto-disco jam. It’s brimming over the top with her own brand of confidence, proving her undisputed talent at changing and evolving with the times. Such are the best kinds of artists.
10. “One Hell of a Woman” – Mac Davis: I take the success of Mac Davis as a mere case of right place/right time. 1972’s “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” is dull and, at points, even a little creepy. Moreover, “One Hell of a Woman” falls in the line of songs featuring men singing about how much they love strong, independent women who can still be delicate, dainty wives for their own pleasure. In other words, they are both perfect for the 70s soft-rock scene, and it’s no wonder how this is the second year Davis has made the top ten.
9. “Bennie and the Jets” – Elton John: To this day, I can’t listen to that beginning piano riff and not get filled with rabid excitement. This really is one of the best songs to sing and dance along to. It’s wacky and wild, yet also restrained in all the best ways. I still don’t know why the decision was made to compose it like a live recording, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Although it runs at over five minutes and is one of the lengthiest tracks on this whole list, it always feels to me as a part of an epic space rock opera and I’m always anticipating more after the song has long finished. While I hope I’m never in the position to name my favorite John/Taupin production, this would be way up there.
8. “The Streak – Ray Stevens: Somehow, for some reason, Ray Stevens always seems to wind up in the Hot 100 unexpectedly. This is like the Pat Boone crisis of ’57-’62! In his typical satirical form, “The Streak” describes a notorious man who also turns up unexpected, running through public locations in the nude. This may have been humorous for its time – which would explain its strangely high ranking – but it hasn’t aged very well at all. I also hate when there’s too much talking in music, with the voices in this one being particularly annoying. And that’s not even covering the laugh track, slide whistle, and old-timey sexism – why?! At least the banjo is fun.
7. “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” – MFSB: This is the third of the four major landmark disco recordings to come out this year, and boy what a track it is! Almost completely instrumental (producers Gamble & Huff included the sole sung line “Let’s get it on/It’s time to get down”), this is quite the fun melding of drums, guitar, bass, horns, and strings. It’s essentially an orchestral hodgepodge of everything great about 70s music; not only is it one of the great disco tracks, but it’s also one of the more pleasant additions to the Philly Soul craze. It remained the theme song for Soul Train throughout almost its entire run; give it one listen and it won’t be hard to see why.
6. “The Loco-Motion” – Grand Funk Railroad: This is probably one of the least necessary cover songs ever. Little Eva’s original is a fun, endearing example of a dance craze song done warmly and effectively. On the other hand, Grand Funk Railroad’s cover is too slow and sludgy to dance to, rendering the point of the song useless. The more pressing issue is Mark Farner’s unconvincing vocal performance – who could be expected to get up and dance to a voice like that? No one asked for a hard rock cover of “The Loco-Motion”, and the end result of this attempt sounds like a cheap cash grab.
5. “Dancing Machine” – The Jackson 5: I’m always pleased to see a Jackson 5 single on the charts; it’s even more of a surprise considering that Michael had broken off a couple years ago to embark on a solo career. As with most upbeat songs from the quintet, this one has great production that’s really great for dancing to. With that being said, this does not rank among the best from the group. It’s got a nice solid groove, that’s for sure, but I’m not convinced that they really knew what to do with it. It seems to just move forward aimlessly and not really approaching any real sonic climax; it doesn’t help that it’s also weak lyrically. Still, it’s presence here is still a warm, welcoming one.
4. “Come and Get Your Love” – Redbone: If we’re talking about weak lyrics, Native American group Redbone’s hit “Come and Get Your Love” has some of the weakest around. It seriously makes absolutely no sense. Yet it remains so be so damn charming and I think most of the reasoning boils down to the hook which is huge, melodic, and actually pretty great. What does “come and get your love” mean? No clue, but it sure feels good singing to it. The electric sitar is also a wonderful touch, proving that just about any song can sound groovy with a sitar backing.
3. “Love’s Theme” – Love Unlimited Orchestra: I consider “Love’s Theme” to be the granddaddy of all early disco tracks. From the very first seconds of the recording, everything builds up so beautifully. The opening violins sound like something from 1930s Hollywood. Then the high-hat cymbals make their appearance like a countdown for funk, punctuated by a sweeping piano breakdown. The wah-wah guitar kicks it up a notch and reminds us all that we should be dancing – at this point, it’s impossible not to. Love Unlimited Orchestra was founded by Barry White, which proves that he can produce something as smooth as his singles even without his vocals. I can’t listen to this song without the romanticized vision of disco culture dancing in my head, with all its big hair and colorful lights. Yet there’s also a bit of a tragic tinge to it, as if its aware that disco would just be a flash in the pan by the end of the decade. For now, though, let’s just keep dancing along.
2. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks: In an ordinary world, this would be the exact type of song I would condemn for being overtly saccharine and extremely popular for this reason. Nonetheless, while this could’ve certainly come off as rather cloying – a song about a dying man saying goodbye to his loved ones certainly would – I personally love its dark bittersweetness. It’s almost frustrating with how it refuses to let listeners have a good time despite how happy it sounds at points. It’s almost overwhelmingly sad once it gets to the verse about his young daughter. It’s the epitome of the “sad songs about death” stereotype, but I think that’s why I like it so much. If anything, it’s a real improvement over the Jacques Brel original, which was much more mean-spirited.
1. “The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand: I usually don’t agree with the choice for the #1 song of a particular year, yet while it’s generally too much pressure to have to choose the best of the best, this Streisand hit is a fair compromise. I’m not a huge fan of the film from which this single comes from, but “The Way We Were” is an excellent demonstration of Streisand’s unmatchable vocal talent and emotional delivery. I think anyone who’s lost a love can relate to those moments of being so swept up in “misty watercolor memories” of good times long gone, foregoing all other sense of reality. Her voice is just so pleasing to listen to as she recalls such instances; when she sings “What’s too painful to remember / We simply choose to forget”, I could practically feel her heart breaking in two. Whether or not it’s representative of the year as a whole is certainly up for argument, but there’s no denying how terrific this is as a moody cap-off to ’74.