Monday, August 22, 2005

The Top Songs of 1973

Taking the baton passed from Karen ...

It was my high school graduation year. And, as in most years since 1968 or so, it was filled with musical tripe and mediocrity. The best-selling songs:

1. Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Ole Oak Tree, Tony Orlando and Dawn
2. Bad Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce
3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack
4. Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye
5. My Love, Paul McCartney and Wings
6. Why Me, Kris Kristofferson
7. Crocodile Rock, Elton John
8. Will It Go Round In Circles, Billy Preston
9. You're So Vain, Carly Simon
10. Touch Me In The Morning, Diana Ross
11. The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia, Vicki Lawrence
12. Playground In My Mind, Clint Holmes
13. Brother Louie, Stories
14. Delta Dawn, Helen Reddy
15. Me And Mrs. Jones, Billy Paul
16. Frankenstein, Edgar Winter Group
17. Drift Away, Dobie Gray
18. Little Willy, Sweet
19. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, Stevie Wonder
20. Half Breed, Cher
21. That Lady, Isley Bros.
22. Pillow Talk, Sylvia
23. We're An American Band, Grand Funk Railroad
24. Right Place, Wrong Time, Dr. John
25. Wildflower, Skylark

Aside from the soulsters/funksters (Marvin Gaye, Dobie Gray, Stevie Wonder, Isley Bros., Dr. John), this is an excruciatingly bad list. Not much has changed with the Top 40 since then, either. Tony Orlando and Dawn, Helen Reddy, Cher, soft porn from Diana Ross, total schlock from Elton John and Paul McCartney, who at one time had talent. It is not a pretty sight. What made it worse is that I worked as a busboy at a Holiday Inn throughout that year, a Holiday Inn that featured a particularly egregious lounge band with the requisite Helen-Reddy-wannabe vocalist, so I not only had to put up with this crap on the radio, but I then had to hear it over and over again on Friday and Saturday nights as the lounge band "entertained" the patrons who were already in a food-and-alcohol-induced coma. I'd like to think that those are the only reasons why they didn't simply leave or stick around and throw the high-priced bananas flambee.

I note with some interest that "Hocus Pocus" by Focus actually made it all the way to #68 on the charts that year, perhaps the only hit song in which yodeling is prominently featured.

What was I listening to instead? Jethro Tull ('73 was the year Passion Play was released, although Aqualung and Thick as a Brick were still in heavy rotation), Traffic (Low Spark of High Heeled Boys), a hippie folkster named Shawn Phillips, early Fleetwood Mac (the blues-based band, well before Stevie Nicks, The Embraceable Ewe, arrived on the scene), Wishbone Ash, Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin, and megadoses of Pink Floyd (the most apt metaphor, unfortunately; Dark Side of the Moon was released in '73 as well, but I was particularly into Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, and Meddle). And Focus. I thought the yodeling was cool. Or at least different.

13 comments:

danthress said...

Andy, your list is much more interesting than my list. What first stuck me is that all the songs on your list we're played by actual musicians rather than machines or machine-human combos. That's really positive. Here's the negative; each one of these "hits" was bought by either coke, prostitutes, or cash given directly to the program directors across the US. Have you been watching the 50 million $ law suit brought against Sony this summer? The more things change...

I was 12 when your list came out. Annie wasn't even born yet. She missed some great funk and also some great songs:

3. Killing Me Softly With His Song, Roberta Flack

(beautiful and sad. she loved that guy. what a groove by idris muhammad on drums and ralph mcdonald on percussion. i have all those parts memorized)

9. You're So Vain, Carly Simon

(man, who's she talking about? so sweet, so mean, such a turn on. great chorus, GREAT guitar solo!)

11. The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia, Vicki Lawrence

(this song sort of scared me, but i loved listening too it. i was always shaken by "that's the night they killed an innocent man..." could that have shaped my political beliefs?)

14. Delta Dawn, Helen Reddy

(I thought she was kinda hot. there i said it.)

15. Me And Mrs. Jones, Billy Paul

(meeeeeeeeeeee, eeeeeeeeeeeeee,eeeeeeeeeeee, eeeeeeeeeee, mrs, mrs jonessssss, we got a thing (beautiful harmony right there) goin' on. i'm gettin chills.

16. Frankenstein, Edgar Winter Group

(c'mon it had a freakin' timbale solo! i dug every second of this tune, especially the synth solos)

20. Half Breed, Cher

(classic. "half-breed, that's all i ever heard, half-breed how I grew to hate the word.")

I understand what you're sayin. By the time I graduated HS I was only listening to ECM jazz from the Worthington library, a band called UK, and a radio station called WVKO which played great sould and R&B. As you saw at my wedding, high-schoolers can be some totally clued-in musicians.

Karen said...

a bit unrelated but regarding: #10...
have you seen that commercial for the scrubbing bubbles spray shower product?
it's so disturbing...a shower bubble singing:
"touch me in the morning...then just walk away..."

*shiver*

John McCollum said...

Never heard of any of them. Sorry.

John McCollum said...

Was Paula Abdul around then?

danthress said...

Amy Grant, you know her right?

Fred Kohn said...

wow andy thanks for the list.

too many people forget that elton john actually wrote some great songs- crocodile rock is not among them.

i agree totally with dan about frankenstein- i even think that it is one of the few singles that i bought, although i lost it or sold it years ago. Or maybe i smashed it to smithereens in a religious frenzy at a fundy church event.

BTW i also think that jim croce, carly simon, and to a lesser extent helen reddy did do some great songs (not that i care for the ones on this list) but heck, i even think that neil diamond did some great songs.

Andy Whitman said...

Yeah, "Frankenstein" is pretty good. I always preferred Johnny to Edgar, but both those Winter boys could play. And they had soul.

The early Elton John albums are great -- the self-titled debut, "Tumbleweed Connection," "Madman Across the Water." Absolutely great. But he lost it quickly (although he had many more hits in him, for what that's worth). He started to lose it in 1972 with "Rocket Man" (not the song; but several songs on that album, such as "Honky Cat," augured the schlock that was to come), and aside from some decent songs (amidst the schlock like "Benny and the Jets") on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," Elton was finished as far as I was concerned.

Never liked Helen Reddy. She was an ideal lounge/Vegas singer, for what that's worth, but lounge/Vegas singers never particularly thrilled me. Jim Croce had some decent tunes, as did Carly Simon. They're far from the worst on that list. But they didn't really do much for me, either.

danthress said...

"ba ba ba ba ba ba ba benny and the jets"

oh man, what's not to love about that that especially the crowd sounds they threw in there, and that guy whistling. good solo from elton too.

flicking the channels a few weeks ago i saw elton playing some huge concert and he had his original drummer nigel olsen. the cat was playing all the fills and beats spot-on cause he made the stuff up in the first place. very powerful really.

c'mon andy, you can love this and soft machine at the same time!

gong and helen ready would be a a leap though.

Mark K said...

Wishbone Ash, I'm going to have to find them on CD.

BTW, I've got a copy of the little known Empty Sky, which I believe is Elton John's real frist album.

Andy Whitman said...

Sorry Dan, no can do on "Ba-ba-ba-Benny and the Jets." Maybe it has something to do with when one "discovered" Elton, and certainly many people discovered him in the mid-70s. But I bought his first five or six albums and heard a fairly serious, complex singer/songwriter (I didn't always know what he was singing about, but it certainly sounded heavy, man). And he had an electrifyingly great voice. But then he started singing crap like "Get back, honky cat" and "Rockadile Crock" and "Ba-ba-ba-bubblegum." Sad. So sad. In the immortal words of Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus (who was actually writing about Rod Stewart), "Never has such talent been placed in the service of such insipid material."

Mark, there are at least two Wishbone Ash albums on CD - "Pilgrimmage" and "Argus." "Pilgrimmage" sounds a little dated, but "Argus" still sounds great. I love that twin guitar attack.

danthress said...

C'mon, no props for a Gong reference? Did you ever hear those guys?

Andy Anderson... not signed in said...

in response to Karen... yes... I have seen that commercial. And it does scare me. I get the willies everytime i see one of those evil rounded scrub brushes...

ugh

Dylan said...

Billy Preston... yikes. Memories of the super 70's flooding back. CKLW outta Detroit filling my head. Gotta look that tune up. Thanks, Andy.