YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1974
Even if you were into music in a big way in 1974, I doubt you could have heard every single song that reached the top 40. Before the internet became a household thing, I loved listening to the chart rundown on a sunday night, Razzamatazz, Top of the Pops, whatever childrens saturday morning show had pop stars of the day being interviewed - but a lot of stuff that made the top 10 in the 80s passed me by just because it wasn't on the radio or TV decided it wasn't appropriate to hear. Now the internet is everywhere and in particular Spotify and YouTube, I can listen to everything - ever! It's like Christmas every day (Roy Wood got his wish!) and here I am, listening to everything and helping you, dear reader, discover songs you'd never have known existed.
Why the 70s? Well, it's where my musical heroes drew their inspiration. Duran Duran, U2, Tears for Fears, Nik Kershaw... and to some who grew up in the 70s, loving the musical landscape, it must have been quite a disappointment when Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Kajagoogoo were the biggest things around and not Slade or David Essex. Music evolved so far in the mid-80s that it was quite unrecognisable from that in the early to mid-70s and even towards the latter end of the 80s, the chart became so rich with different genres (brand new ones too, including Acid House) that it would have been hard to keep up and let one's musical tastes evlove along with it to stay interested in 2 Unlimited and Scatman John when you'd grown up listening to Queen and Stevie Wonder. It was easier in the 60s and 70s to like most of what was in the chart, because the diversity wasn't massive. It was mostly 12/8 rock blues, ballads or soul (with a few exceptions). For a 70s child, the late 80s into the 90s must have been an affront to their earholes. Much like myself - I loved the 80s, almost all of it in fact. The 90s were great, not that I ever got on board with Brit Pop, and then in the 2000s, I started to like less and less of what was happening. The 2010s onward didn't speak to me much; there's very little adult contemporary around now (rock music has disappeared altogether) - it seems it's all aimed at a very young demographic (25 and under) whereas the 70s was swimming with music for the over 30s. No mention of a booty-drop or other mildly veiled gratuitous sexual reference.
Back to this particular year though:
1974 was all about the chorus. Brilliant catchy memorable choruses. Often, the songs released in 1974 had forgettable verses but exploded into a hooky chorus that would have you running out to Woolworths and parting with your 29p. There's a lot of purity in this countdown - by which I mean, the messages are clear and the song structures conform to the accepted standards. There's nothing wrong with that however; it makes for good singles. Familiarity is always going to appeal more to the listener than something completely different or weird. However, among the pure songs, there were shoots of odd appearing.
The main culprit was Peter Gabriel as frontman of Genesis - crowds gathering to watch his bizarre on-stage antics just as much as the music. Sparks with their irregular time signatures, The Rubettes, Eddie Holman and the Stylistics with their soaring falsettos and Rupie Edwards bringing his brand of Reggae into a largely Reggae-less top 40. The general music buying public were getting tired of David Cassidy ballads and started buying Showaddywaddy, Drifters and ABBA instead.
This was the year before I was born so again, I'm not compling this list from any place of authority but I have listened to all 264 top 40 songs released in 1974 several times over and ranked the songs based on how good a single they are rather than how good a song they were. A single needs to sell - a song can mature over time and in some ways, act like a piece of art. Something you want to listen to for the textures and layers rather than a quick 3 minute blast of catchy joy. That's not to devalue the art of the single as 'throw-away' - as you'll see from the list, a great single can also be a great song!
On with the Chart...
(40) Then came you - Dionne Warwick and The Detroit Spinners
I love Dionne's voice. It's so distinctive and complemented this Philadelphia track perfectly. This was her first real success of the 70s after her career had dwindled a bit. The Detroit Spinners were one of the most successful groups of the 70s so this was a marriage made in heaven. The swagger in this track is great - so infectious.
(39) Goodbye, Nothing to say - Javells and Nosmo King
I was enraged when I first heard this. "That's 'Right back where we started from'", I yelled. Then read the Wiki - it was actually written first and 'right back' was a remake using a sample from this track. I calmed down to realised that it was vastly superior to the version by Sinitta! And anyway, it was Maxine Nightingale who had the first hit with it in 1976.
(38) Tiger Feet - Mud
It spent four weeks on top and became the best selling single of 1974. It would be six years before another best selling single of the year spent so few weeks on top. I have no idea what tiger feet are. I thought tigers had paws? Regardless, there was a production technique around this period of the 70s where the voice was doubled with another which sang an octave above but in a weird sort of parody fashion. Racey used this too later in the 70s (and there are numerous other examples) but these days, it seems fashionable to sound as much like Alvin and the chipmunks as possible and forget the art of vocal performance altogether. Kids these days eh?
(37) Sundown - Gordon Lightfoot
I first heard of Gordon when Johnny Cash covered If you could read my mind. I'd call this country but I'm not sure if it is? It reminds me a lot of Sheryl Crow so I'm going to stick my neck out and say she's one his fans. I grew up in a household that played a lot of Country and Western - Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton et al. I don't remember Gordon's pipes warbling though so maybe he wasn't part of that stable. This is a great single though.
This is a riot isn't it? It's got such a raw 70s sound. 'Magic' was coining a phrase being used a lot at the time courtesy of the popular sitcom 'Oh No It's Selwyn Froggett'. Reached number 11 and paved the way for an even bigger hit the following year.
(35) (Hey There) Lonely Girl - Eddie Holman
One of the many songs this year featuring soaring falsetto - a voice you couldn't imagine coming out of the bloke who sang it. This is such a classic single, originally a hit in 1963 for Ruby and the Romantics under the title 'Lonely Boy'. Eddie's version is quite forlorn and really gets you where it matters when he says 'Hey there lonely girl, don't you know this lonely boy loves you?'. *sniff*
(34) Hey Rock and Roll - Showaddywaddy
This first hit for Showaddywaddy reached number two. I'm all for borrowing from bygone eras, especially if you can do something fresh. This is in danger of being a bit dull but the chorus it catchy enough to prop the rest of it up. What I know of them from the later 70s when I started watching Top of the Pops, I thought they had a really good look (not knowing anything about Teddy Boys etc.) and was fascinated by the lead singer (Dave Bartram) who I thought of as an ideal front man for band. I also liked the name of the band, which definitely appealed to a four year old. It was fun to say.
(33) Kung Fu Fighting - Carl Douglas
Carl hit number one with this - I was never sure if it was a novelty record or not. It had all the soul disco hallmarks but had Kung Fu noises throughout. It's a bit of a joke record these days but I'm guessing it was novel at the time and not so derided. If you get a chance, listen to his follow up 'Dance the Kung Fu'. I mean, they say if something isn't broken, don't fix it. However, just changing the lyrics and releasing the same song again, wasn't what they meant. He was in danger of being the latter-day Jamiroquai. The joke about Jay Kay at the time was that they'd been given a five album deal but someone didn't tell them they had to release five different albums.
(32) Highways of my life - Isley brothers
This is pure summer. You'd mix tape this and take it to a field in the middle of nowhere with a picnic. The lyrics are a bit naff but they're sang with pure heart. If I had a time machine and and invisibility machine (or maybe just find some footage online) I'd love to be at the recording sessions of tunes like this and 'Summer Breeze'. Watch Stevie Wonder at work in his studio, laying down tracks; Isaac Hayes, Barry White - what a time to be alive.
(31) Bangin' Man - Slade
This needs more cowbell. But seriously, I had no idea how great Slade were until I started doing these countdowns. This would have charted in any era, especially the mid 80s when Poison, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard were all having their salad days. Their follow up to this 'Far Far Away' was brilliant too but just missed my top 40 (see honourable mentions).
(30) I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) - Genesis
This was the first the world heard from Peter Gabriel. A lot of music fans find him difficult to understand but if you think of him as an artist, using anything he has at his disposal to tell a story, you're most of the way there. This got to number 21 where their first five singles didn't chart. Nothing they did was chart friendly - the saving grace of this song was the chorus. The album 'Selling England by the pound' is great too. 'So', his 1986 effort however, will remain one of the greatest albums of all time.
(29) Too good to be forgotten - The Chi-Lites
I don't know if the line in the opening verse 'one thing led to another' is creepy or not - especially when twinned with the line 'she made me forget my marbles'. Were they the mental kinds of marbles or actual marbles? Anyway, this was the third hit in less than a year for this wonderful group. I used to frequent pub quizzes in the mid to late 90s and in the music round you could guarantee one of the answers would be The Chi-Lites. It must have been the compare's favourite group. You can see why. This song gave Amazulu their biggest hit when it reached number five in 1986 - albeit sung from a female perspective.
(28) I won't last a day without you - The Carpenters
I wasn't sure about this when I first heard it but it grew on me. The chorus feels a little bit wasted after that wonderful verse - it doesn't quite lift you like 'Every sh-la-la-la every woah-oh-woah still shines'. But then, maybe when they were writing it, it was too close to that and they had to pare it back. Lovely song though and that voice echoes through the ages - hats off to whoever the engineer on this was; they captured Karen Carpenter's voice so well. It's as pure as a glass bell.
(27) Hot Shot - Barry Blue
Barry is great isn't he? King of the hook - ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly-ly... and the thumping chorus. This would have had everyone up off their seats at wedding receptions across the land. Baffling why stuff like this never made it out of the decade. I might start a mobile disco. Tell the world.
(26) Baby We Can't Go Wrong - Cilla Black
Cilla Black peaked at number 36 with the last of her 19 hits. Listening to this in the 2020s without prejudice, it's a beautiful little ditty and I'm especially pleased she was using her 'sweet' voice on this and not the grainy one she sometimes cracked out and cracked my ear drums with. It's a sign of the times (1974) that this only just scraped the 40, mainly because she was 'old hat' at the time despite the song being something that would have charted well in the late 90s if done by someone like Moloko or Sixpence None the Richer. Shame on you record buying public of 1974!
(25) The Most Beautiful Girl - Charlie Rich
This peaked at number two in the UK and number one in the States. I think this might not have made the top 40 of my list were it not for the superb change of atmosphere achieved by the 'Tell her I'm sorry, tell her I need my baby' and that violin... sometimes it's the little touches that add the magic.
(24) Sugar Baby Love - Rubettes
Wow! This is so 50s it hurts. With the arpeggio vocal opening (which I first heard on Bowie's 'Let's Dance') and the impossibly high falsetto - it drags you through all the emotions. Bop-shoo-waddy-bop-shoo-waddy-waddy, they sang. I don't know if Showaddywaddy got any royalties for this? It sat at the top of the charts for four weeks because it grabbed your attention from the first second to the last. Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington had created the band from session musicians after quite a few existing acts had rejected this song. But the apparent lead vocalist Alan Williams was miming the vocals to this song when performing. The vocals had actually been recorded by Paul Da Vinci (who later had a hit in his own right with "Your Baby Ain't Your Baby Anymore"). Later, band member Tony Thorpe formed a new band called The Firm in the early '80s, and had hits with Arthur Dayley e's alright in 1982 then in 1987 they reached number one with the godawful Star Trekkin'. It was like Shaddup you Face all over again.
(23) Honey Honey - Sweet Dreams
This is a cover of a track from Abba's 'Waterloo' album. Abba released their own version in America but not in the UK. Sweet Dreams were Polly Brown from Pickettywitch (the best band name of all time) and Ron Roker. This is the only charting track in history I'm aware of that has an actual Tuba playing the bass line. Any others?
(22) Floating in the Wind - Hudson-Ford
This has a lot of Beatles in it. They inspired countless musicians across the decades but when you hear something as nice as this, it makes you even more grateful for George Harrison's existence on this planet. I love the theramin in this (probably a Moog), the middle section is a joy followed by the synth solo which predated Gary Numan by a good few years. Check it out!
Proper MOR this. Stuff the Levellers or World Party were releasing in the early 90s. I guess it's the stuff The Cure and the Charlatans were inspired by - if not directly by this song, definitely the production and soul of the genre - updated for their musical moment in time. I'd never heard this before compiling this list but apparently it's a bit of a classic. There are some songs which seem to have just stayed in the 70s, never creeping out into the other decades like most of ABBA and Queen's stuff. In the 1974 list, I noted the novel use of delay which nobody seemed to be interested in. Probably thought it was gimmicky. Is the delay on 'W.O.L.D.D.D.D.D.D.D.D.' gimmicky? Also, I wonder if Kenny Rogers did a version of this...
Harry Chapin died in a road accident in 1981 and his epitaph was taken from his song 'I wonder what would happen to this world' :
Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man's life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world
(20) Ring Ring - ABBA
Although this is quite raw and basic, it showed how exciting the future of this group was going to be. The tom tom break is quite unique and to reiterate a point of the 70s being the inspiration ground of a lot of my own musical heroes, to think a young Andy Bell of Erasure was playing this over and over in his bedroom, plotting his own meteoric musical career makes me very happy indeed. When I first saw ABBA in the late late 70s, I thought Luke Skywalker was the guitarist. I was very confused.
(19) The Poacher - Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance
Don't be put off by the fact this sounds like the introduction to an Open University program on early 80s TV. Also, ignore the line 'his mind upon his tackle'. It only got to 36 which sort of justifies the making of this list. Hardly anyone must have heard this song (unless you were a (small) Faces fan) and it's very jolly! 'How Come' was great too (see honourable mentions)
(18) Summer Breeze - The Isley Brothers
Gorgeous! Listen to those vocals and the response from the guitar in the chorus. I hear a lot of this in Seal's self-titled 1994 album which is also worth a spin. Not sure why they've got Jasmine in their mind. Maybe they like Aladdin?
(17) Sad Sweet Dreamer - Sweet Sensation
It's not often something this gorgeous comes from a TV talent show winner. It got to number 1 but they only got into the chart one more time before loads of their singles failed to chart and they were dropped by their record company. They opened the door for groups like Imagination and The Real Thing though. It sounds like something the Jackson Five would have recorded and not had as big a hit with. Barry Johnson, the bass guitarist, later joined Aswad!
(16) Amateur Hour - Sparks
The first of two songs from this pair in my top 40. Catchy hooks all over this, like velcro. The notes they use in the verse feel like they sat and planned them all one by one in a big meeting where twenty people get an opinion. It works though. The chorus gets stuck in your head all day too. There's a bit in the middle which sounds like U2 on their 'Boy' album - which was a good few years after this... so I don't know if the two are linked at all. And Yehudi Menuhin gets a cheeky mention in the third verse.
(15) Burn Baby Burn - Hudson-Ford
The stomping anthemic feel of this song is so good isn't it? The double time chorus about things being extremely dry and catching fire is superb too. It only made number 15 for some reason. Imagine buying this and sticking it on repeat all day. This is what singles are meant to sound like.
(14) Kissin' in the back row - The Drifters
A number 2 this - same as their 1960 single 'Save the last dance'. Surprisingly, their last charting single was in 1976 even though I think they're still touring! It's such a nostalgic sound without sounding old.
(13) Listen to the Music - Doobie Brothers
How did this only get to number 29? Nobody knew who the Doobie Brothers were at the time I suppose but this is such a banging single it belies belief. It paved the way for Dr. Hook and the Bellamy Brothers to sneak into the charts with their folk guitar pop and that was a very good thing. Also, Michael McDonald has one of the best voices in music, a criminally underrated musician too.
(12) You ain't seen nothing yet - Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Pity this is mostly associated with Smashie and Nicey as it's a brilliant song - associating it with a comedy sketch ruins it a bit. However, if you're not aware of that sketch then go treat yourself. The delay guitar in the solo parts is the best thing about this closely followed by the power chords in the chorus. It only got to number 2 this and they never got as high again. They became B.T.O., split up, got back together and split up again. Randy Bachman left the band and became a songwriter for the Beach Boys.
(11) Rock your baby - George McCrae
Now I've made my chart, I'm thinking this should have been higher up than 11. It's brilliant. I think the opening tom-tom bit must have inspired Blondie's 'Heart of Glass' but I can't back that up. This song is so smooth and George's voice is nothing other than wonderful. Never intrusive and complements that wobbly electric Mark One piano perfectly. This song is universally accepted as the first disco number one (in the UK at least). It's the bass line that defines it as Disco - even though it's not obvious. It hit number one unsurprisingly - but maybe the BBC strike had something to do with it. It wasn't on the telly so people either heard it on the radio or in their local disco. After recording with his wife Gwen didn't yeild any success, George managed his wife's solo career instead. This didn't go well either so when he heard 'Rock your baby' which was written by KC and the Sunshine Band, he wanted it! He got it. He's now a chart topping legend!
(10) I've got the music in me - The Kiki Dee Band
It took Kiki a year to return to the charts with her second hit. It's incredibly hooky so I'm surprised it only reached number 19. She had a very underrated voice, almost Janis Joplin-like. I reckon she was a bit like Heather Small - great voice but if she was to sing the stuff her voice suited, it wouldn't chart and she'd have no career. This song had huge appeal beyond it's number 19 placing however, it was covered by Thelma Houston, New Seekers, Heart, Tina Turner & Cher, Sheena Easton, Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion and Jennifer Lopez.
(9) If you're ready (Come go with me) - The Staple Singers
Another number one single here which relies heavily on the 'come go with me' gospel-sounding hook. The breaks in between aren't verses and the little instrumentals are bridges with lucious bass and twangly guitars like a lovely jam around a groove. It feels like one of those sessions I used to have in a random person's student flat on a wednesday afternoon. Playing the same two chords over and over on a DX-7 whilst the one with the long hair played an endless solo and nobody knew when we were done and could go home. This song is only 5 minutes long but it feels like 20. That's ok though because it's so nice.
(8) Can't get enough - Bad Company
This first hit for Bad Company was also the biggest of the three that they had, peaking at number 15. This song appeared on many of the 'greatest rock songs of all time' compilations I bought in the early '90s. I can imagine this song not fitting into the landscape of 1974, as it sounds quite late-60s in it's production but it's got such a great guitar and drum sound. For fact fans, the guitar was tuned with an open-C which gives it that 'ring'. The harmony guitars during the solo are great too.
(7) Don't let the sun go down on me - Elton John
Elton is an example of someone way ahead of his time. In five years, he released 16 singles and only hit the top ten with three of them - two of which were cover versions (Lucy in the Sky and Pinball Wizard). The other was a collaboration with the much friendlier looking Kiki Dee. It only reached 16 in 1974 and most of the other songs he released around this era and now considered classics. The music buying public of the time didn't agree however. The thing that lets this song down is the second verse that doesn't rhyme or scan. This is fine if you're one of those arty bands or singers but Elton was a straight laced pop song maestro so it just came off clunky and off-putting. That chorus though! It had it's time in the sun when Elton re-recorded it with the help of George Michael in 1991. That release was a long time coming, as they had first sang it together at Live Aid in 1985.
(6) Waterloo - ABBA
Waterloo was ABBA's debut in the chart following their Eurovision Song Contest win. It went to number one within weeks and became a timeless classic. This is what I mean when I say 'great single'. You're in, you're entertained, you're out. It sweeps you up in it's energy and spits you out the other side. Thank heavens for record players that had the repeat function, sending the needle back to the beginning of the disc to go again.
(5) Living for the city - Stevie Wonder
Stevie peaked at number 15 with this. It's got so much soul, probably because Stevie played all the instruments on it. It deals with systemic racism, A young black man from Mississippi is looking for work in New York and is framed for a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison for ten years. On a shallower note though, listen out for the T.O.N.T.O. Synthesizer.
(4) This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us - Sparks
This was the first hit for the Mael brothers, and was also their biggest reaching number two. Rhythmic changes, changing time signatures, wails, gun sounds, tom toms, tacky tigers and a moustache made famous by Dennis the Menace's Dad, Charlie Chaplin and that other Austrian bloke.
(3) Rock the Boat - Hues Corporation
On initial release this song go no airplay at all and looked like it was going to disappear forever. Their first two singles barely touched the top 100. It was suddenly adopted by discos in New York and radio finally cottoned on. It hit number one in the states and top ten in the UK. Probably not the first disco genre hit but if it's not, it was close. It was covered in 1982 by Forrest (reaching number 4), which is where I first heard it but this version is superior. The single cover looks like the time they were all taken hostage.
(2) Laughter in the Rain - Neil Sedaka
When it reached number 15, it became Neil's biggest hit for 12 years. It's a gorgeous song with a sublime hook in the bridge into the chorus. This song has never aged; even the 'of-the-time' sax solo sounds fresh. Neil's subtle vibrato brought most of what he sang to life and you can just see his smiling little face, grinning at you as you listen to this.
The second hit for Queen (the first was 'seven seas of rhye') spent two weeks at number two in November, being blocked from a place at the top by David Essex. The song had a total of 12 weeks in the top 40. The vocal treatments on this are phenominal for the time - all from the mind of Freddie. Brian May's guitar was unique for the time too. Other pseudo-rock bands were using the sounds he was, but not in such an upfront way - making most of what he was doing, integral to the sound, the rhythm and the fabric of the song. Hearing this for the first time in 1974 must have given you an indication of how bright this band's future was going to be. Looking at Freddie on Top of the Pops however, you'd have been forgiven for thinking, maybe not.
Devil Gate Drive - Suzi Quatro
This was Suzi's second number one. She had previously hit the top for one week with Can The Can eight months earlier, and then followed it with the top three hit 48 Crash, and Daytona Demon which sounded a lot like Glad all over. She managed to hold on to the top spot for two weeks with Devil Gate Drive, but it would be over four years before she appeared in the top five again. There's a moment in the middle of the song where she makes you feel like you're part of her biker gang. You really feel like you're in some kind of exclusive group of which she is the lord and master. It's nice.
Far Far Away - Slade
The Bass guitar is what makes this song. Although the song sounds simple, there's an underlying complexity to the structure, chords and melody that belies their rock frontage. Having 'grown up' in the 80s and 90s, I paid particular attention to the singes and bands that were cited as influences by my heroes of that period. Having delved into the 70s, I'm shocked there weren't more contemporary artists lauding Slade. Maybe it was the Christmas song that overpowered their amazing body of work?
How Come - Ronnie Lane
Ronnie Lane (recently of the Faces) peaked at number 11 with this first of two solo hit singles. His band 'Slim Chance' included the duo of 'Gallagher & Lyle' who went on to have their own couple of hits in 1976. Very 50s skiffle this. I can hear Rod Stewart singing this in my head so it was either written with him in mind or not given to him to sing at all. Either way, it should have been Rod who sang this. It's one of the only songs I'm aware of that has an accordion solo.
Until you come back to me - Aretha Franklin
Stevie Wonder was one of the co-writers, but I don't know whether he ever recorded it. Not that big a hit for Aretha, it only reached number 26 despite making it to number three in the America. Aretha didn't hit the top 40 again until late 1985. At that point in my life, I was completely unaware of her Godess-like status and thought she was some singer from ancient days of yore trying to make a come back. Oops!
Pinball - Brian Protheroe
Brian only ever had this one hit, and he didn't rise any higher than number 22 with it. Brian has since worked as a session musician, and has written many TV themes. This is absolutely brilliant however.
The first and only hit for Billy got to number six despite him looking like a darts player. Elvis did a version of this too!
Streets of London - Ralph McTell
Ralph spent two weeks at number two with his tale of the homeless. Look at his angry little face. He looks like someone just interrupted his session at the buskers night.
Spinnin' and Spinnin' - Syreeta
Presented by Stevie Wonder apparently, according to the record sleeve. Didn't sound like a Stevie Wonder song though. I played dizzy ducklings in the playground at junior school once and was violently sick on a dinner nanny. Not sure if it was a similar experience which inspired this song.
Ire Feelings - Rupie Edwards
You have to listen to this. It's brave and bold and fun and funny. I don't know what Skanga is and I have no idea what Ire Feelings are but this is excellent.
What did you call me? The Tymes had reached number 21 with "So Much In Love" in 1963, and had then had to wait five years and eight months until 1969 for their second hit when "People" hit number 16. Now after a gap of five years and six months they were back again and on their way to number 18. Fortunately, they wouldn't have to wait long for their follow up to this, it hit the chart at the end of December.