How the music charts began

The inception of the pop charts and the 1960’s

The popular music charts began in 1940 when the popularity of a song was gauged by sales of sheet music.  We can all agree there’s plenty of sheet music around these days but it all seems to get in the charts somehow.  The music magazine Billboard had the idea of compiling a chart based on sales which was then updated in 1952 when someone decided the best way to listen to music was to get someone else to play it and sing it and put it on a kind of plastic disc so you could listen to it whenever you liked instead of having the band come round and perform the song in your front room.

Hello? Dean Martin? Are you in there?

Back then it was called the Top 12! Twelve songs complied by ringing twenty record shops to find out what the best-selling songs that week were.  ‘Here in my heart’ by Al Martino was awarded the very first top spot, a song about ventricles, and began the tradition of listing things for no reason.  Other magazines got involved by 1955 basing their charts on postal returns or telephone polls.  Then album charts started somehow and the NME, Record Mirror and Melody Maker were all getting involved.  The upshot was, people were being told what everyone else thought was good music, namely the public, the radio stations and the record stores, but mainly the latter two.  It didn’t seem to matter what the singers were waffling on about, songs about how love hurts or how love is the greatest thing ever using lyrics written with crayons were flying up the charts and making songwriters stupidly rich. 

Chart topping cutting edge wailing

The 60’s is probably best known for the twangy guitars and tinny production of rock and roll, beat and pop music.  The Beatles were the forerunners of course, making monk’s haircuts fashionable for the first time since the Vikings invaded. The Monkees tried to copy but only two of them had a monk’s haircut and so were doomed to failure.

"We're not allowed to play our own instruments! Ha ha ha ha."

“We’re not allowed to play our own instruments! Ha ha ha ha.”

Skiffle became a novel way of utilising old kitchen equipment and brought success for the likes of Lonnie Donegan. Liverpool was a hotbed of music with over two bands touring the local clubs and ballrooms, using Buddy Holly as inspiration. The Beatles got good in 1962 and allowed other bands who wanted to be them, but weren’t quite as good, to get into the charts too such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers and the Swinging Blue Jeans (getting their band name from the contents of their washing line on a windy day). 

Some bands were better than the Beatles but for whatever reason, didn’t have as much success; bands such as The Kinks and the Yardbirds.  The Rolling Stones emerged as a rival, sporting different but equally silly haircuts. Barber shops up and down the country had never been so busy. “I want to hold your hand” was a lovely title for a song and a very respectful thing to say to a lady.  Towards the end of the 60’s, out went Fats Domino to start a pizza shop, Chubby Checker (who despite his name, never checked chubby people) and even Elvis began to struggle in this new rock and roll tidal wave.

Elvis, contemplating a white jump suit, massive sunglasses and a cheeseburger

Rock music began to splinter by the mid-decade into various genres.  Psychedelia was one of those, based on making your mind ignore reality with or without the help of chemicals.  Sitars and surreal lyrics became the identity of the genre as well as weird noises, hidden messages and atmospheric effects.

This is all Bob Dylan could see for the entire decade

Folk music came back to life for a moment and gave people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot a reason to get out of bed in the morning. ‘Protest songs’ were the in-thing even though people also protested against protest songs although I’m not sure if they wrote songs about their protests against protest songs as that would have been hypocritical.

The sound on The Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine man’ was obtained with a 12 string guitar, which in my opinion is far too many strings. Folk rock reached the peak of its popularity in 1968 before it tailed off into country rock and various other denominations of rock music. The first psychedelic rock song was called ‘hesitation blues’ and it was a song nobody was sure when to start playing.  The Doors became popular and opened for many acts, they also closed for some too; sometimes however, they were just ‘ajar’. Psychedelia had its last hurrah at Woodstock in 1969 and was never heard of again.

Worst Drive-in Movie Ever!

The music we associate most with American teenagers in the early 1960s is surf rock; something that usually results in your surf board being broken in two and you upside down in a rock pool. ‘Movin’ and Groovin’’ by Duane Eddy was one of the first surf rock songs and despite many other Californian surf rock bands popping up, the Beach Boys not only played the music, they named themselves after somewhere you can actually surf! Genius. 

Pop music was as superficial as ever with hits like ‘The Twist’ and the ‘Locomotion’ getting us all on the dance floor to do weird angular upper body movements and songs such as ‘Sugar Sugar’ which sparked the term ‘Bubble-gum pop’. Motown emerged as a pop answer to soul music and one of the greatest genres of music was born. A never ending string of number one singles followed for The Supremes, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and the Jackson Five

The sad thing about Motown is that there’ll never be anything as good ever again

Sam Cooke was flying the flag for soul and James Brown was bringing funk to the masses. The beginnings of disco music can be heard in the Supremes song ‘You keep me hanging on’.

Television brought country music into people’s homes and raised its popularity. Records by Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell and Tammy Wynette were flying off shelves in local record stores. Marty Robbins managed hits in country, western, pop, blues and Hawaiian (that’s straight pop whilst eating some  ham and a pineapple). Johnny Cash became one of the most influential musicians of the decade (and most other decades for that matter) recording in many styles, genres and prisons. Dolly Parton came down from the mountains in Tennessee to capture the hearts of a nation with her biographies set to music.

And then, it was over.  1970 came along and changed everything…


Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1974

Open in Spotify


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.

(36) Magic - Pilot

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!

(21) W.O.L.D. - Harry Chapin

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.

Did you spill my pint?

Did you spill my pint?

(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.

(1) Killer Queen - Queen

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.



Honourable Mentions

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.

I can help - Billy Swan

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.

You little trustmaker - Tymes

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.



Spotify playlist : 1973

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1973

I remember looking through one of those 'greatest hits' books that lists artists A-Z and tells you all the songs they released and what number they reached in the chart. Flicking through, I found Cliff Richard and saw how many songs he had and how few of them I'd ever heard. Made me wonder how he had so many top 20 hits that I'd never heard played anywhere - ever.

His 60s stuff was everywhere; repeats of his films on BB2 on a Saturday afternoon, nostalgia shows, variety shows and even oldies radio. But most of his songs seemed to be released, rocket up the charts to the top 10 and then disappear completely. I'd wager Cliff himself probably forgot he'd recorded most of them yet Living Doll and Summer Holiday hung around like that smell in the kitchen you can't discern the origin of.

In 1973 there were some artists whose songs got into the chart on Merit, not because of who they were (see David Bowie - The Laughing gnome) and the songs actually had something about them. What I mean by this is that the artist had become bigger than their music - it was more a case of, ooh, T-Rex and Slade have released their new songs, let's go and buy them regardless, rather than hearing a catchy tune on the radio, finding out who it was and then going to buy it because of the quality of the song. I'm not saying artists got to number 1 on this basis but there were some definite duffers in the top 20 which really shouldn't have been there and songs which since disappeared without a trace for good reason.

There were a lot of very similar sounding songs in 1973 (and a lot of the 70s actually) - like everyone was influencing each other. Wings released 'Helen Wheels' which was a kind of blues riff made to sound like Status Quo and nothing like Live and Let Die - and lots of the heavy rock and heavy metal bands of the time were using Chuck Berry staples to build songs around. Very simplistic songs which were ideal for singles which were meant to be bought, listened to non-stop for a week and then thrown in the cupboard to be replaced by the next big single. Alvin Stardust's 'My Coo Ca Choo' was just a rehash of 'Singing the Blues' for example but nobody really cared - he was 'cool' and wore leather a lot.

Using tried and tested formulas rather than going for something radical was normal in the early 70s. There was a great deal of innovation however, but it was confined to the darkened corners of places 21 to 40 in the charts. The 'safe' songs were true singles though. Songs that were meant to capture the moment, what people wanted to hear and buy and written specifically to chart highly - especially when The Partridge Family released cover versions of songs their record company knew would sell based on their popularity regardless of the quality of the track.

Often, there wasn't a great deal of care or attention paid to writing something that would echo through the ages except for a quick blast of nostalgia. The Carpenters and Abba managed to write tunes which were truly timeless (Abba weren't a thing in 1973 though). Perry Como had some fantastic songs but they were of the 'Granddad singing you to sleep' type and as music production moved forward and tastes changed (or the demographic of those buying most of the physical vinyl records changed), the charts split off into various subcultures and there was suddenly a place for music which wasn't as accessible as a track by The Sweet or T-Rex.

However, in my top 40 of 1973 you'll see that there were some artists who were getting away with being different and novel and creating something that would shift the musical glacier another inch down the valley towards the explosion (and main-stream acceptance) of weirdness we had in the 1980s. On with the Chart...

(40) Alright, Alright, Alright - Mungo Jerry

It's strange that the only Mungo Jerry song that seems to have survived in popular culture is 'In the summertime'. It's a great song but this one's better and just as feel good. This reached number 3 for two weeks. Lead singer Ray Dorset wrote the song 'Feels like I'm in love', intending it to be sung by Elvis.  But for a misadventure with a cheeseburger, Kelly Marie, jump suit and all, may never have topped the chart with it in 1980.

(39) Amoureuse - Kiki Dee

I'd be surprised is Kate Bush and Suzanne Vega weren't in some way influenced by this track. Kiki Dee was a very underrated vocalist, known for more upbeat songs like 'Don't go breaking my heart' with Elton John, but could have probably sang in any genre. This only got to number 13 (which matched her other big hits 'Star' and 'Loving & Free' but stayed in the chart longer) and she should have had much more success with that voice than she did. Amoureuse was a french language song written and recorded by Veronique Sanson in 1972. It was translated (loosely) into English and picked up by Kiki's record label who suggested she give it a go.

(38) The Ballroom Blitz - Sweet

This sounds like it could have been in the Rocky Horror Picture Show - which came out two years later in 1975. That alone puts me off the song, that and it's overly dramatic vocals in places. The song doesn't really suit a ballroom and I'm not sure if the word Blitz (German for 'lightning') was perhaps still a little raw for people who had seen the 1940s come and go.  Still a brilliant single though hence it's chart placing (number 2). Sweet ended up having five singles that got to number 2 and only Blockbuster which got to number 1 - how frustrating!!

(37) Feel the Need in Me - The Detroit Emeralds

I remember Shakin' Stevens on Top of the Pops jiving around in his jeans, standing on his toes and doing a double point into the audience around 1988 when his quirky 50s tribute act had worn thin. It ruined this song for me somewhat. Still, I love the Motown strings and the fat snare drum on this. It's like a warm blanket. Just lovely. I still wonder why so many lyrics tell us that something is better than Cherry pie. Isn't everything? Cherry pie is vile.  This was The Detroit Emeralds' first hit and reached number 4.


(36) C Moon - Wings

I've always been baffled why some songs were released as 'Wings' and some as 'Paul McCartney and Wings'. McCartney was the master of the singable song though. Forget Raffi. After two listens of this, it's in your head for the entire day. Exactly what makes a great single. The other A-side to this was 'Hi Hi Hi' which the radio stations thought was about drugs so they did't play it. This got to number 5.

(35) Sweet Illusion - Junior Campbell

This guy's passion drives this song along. Another one of those violin punctuated soul songs which sweep you along. It's a brilliant single and his voice doesn't match his face (which matters, believe me). It hit number 15 and was his last hit. He was a member of Marmalade who had a hit in the 60s with Ob-la-di-ob-bla-de-hell.  His true claim to fame however is that he went on to compose the theme tune for Thomas the Tank Engine and listening to this, you can sort of tell!

(34) I'm doin' fine now - New York City

A really nice song but lacks a little bit of the urgency the Pasadenas managed to inject.  The groove is infectious and it's just a shame groups like this were considered also-rans, they could and probably should have had a string of hits. The song's got bongos in it. Any song with bongos is enhanced by about 34%. This reached number 20 and was their only hit.

(33) Our last song together - Neil Sedaka

Very melancholy this - Like Neil realised his brand of chirpy music was quickly getting out of date. This song addresses his glory years and his parting from a longtime songwriting partner Howard Greenfield who he'd been with since the 50s. I like this a lot. It only got to number 31 which is a damn shame! He did have further number 1 singles in the US all the way up to the 80s but not here.

(32) Roll away the stone - Mott the Hoople

The guitar intro reminds me of 'I close my eyes' by Dusty Springfield and 'Tragedy' by the Bee Gees. It's hooky! I like the transition from that (pentatonic?) minor motif into the major key verse. There's a lot of familiarity in the vocal melody too but it's catchy, sing-a-longy and has plenty of sha-na-na-nas. The speaking part in the middle was a bit of a mistake mind - although when he tells us there's a rock-a-billy party on Saturday night, you realise this song isn't their attempt at a Jesus themed Easter hit. This wasn't their highest charting song but they managed a decent number 8 with this and it remained on the chart longer than any of their other hits.

(31) Rock a doodle do - Linda Lewis

They don't write them like this any more. It sounds like it's going to be a novelty song but then it's not. I'm not entirely sure that's not Michael Jackson helping out in the chorus. If it's Linda singing both the verse and the chorus then I'm really impressed. The shift in tempo makes you feel a little uneasy but keeps you interested. This was Linda's first hit and reached number 15.

(30) Wishing Well - Free

What makes this a joy to listen to these days is you know everyone is actually playing musical instruments. Listen to how crisp the sounds are in that iconic intro. The drumming is tight, the guitars are chunky, the vocals are precise. Ah remember when music was this pure? Free had one hit per year from 1970 (Alright now), 1971 (My brother Jake), 1972 (Little bit of love) and then this in 1973 which was their last original release to chart and it got to number 7. Listen to that repeating high note over the main riff. That's used a lot in songs and you probably didn't notice. It's almost always used as a rhythmic device to pull away from using overfamiliar percussion like tambourines and triangles and the like. There's a subtle and clever use of it here.

(29) Lay Down - Strawbs


Brilliant single overshadowed by the less good 'Part of the Union' which was popular for different reasons, not all of them to do with pop music per se. The singer sounds like Bob Dylan has had singing lessons and made his music easier to listen to. This is the kind of track that would have inspired kids to pick up guitars, learn a few riffs and sing along. There were plenty of songs with great guitar parts in the charts around this period but very few that would have made kids want to sing along too! This was the first of their 3 hits before they split up, made other bands and had other hits separately. The B-side was called 'backside' which I'm assuming wasn't a song about bums. This was technically from 1972 when it had hit number 11 in November. However, the charts were funny in those days; they only compiled a top 30 some weeks and even repeated the previous week's chart over the Christmas period because the people counting the sales wanted to be at home with their families (during which time this song vanished from the countdown) so when it re-entered in January 1973, it was a bit of a surprise to everyone but then it disappeared again and qualified for my personal top 40 of the year. I bet they're thrilled!



(28) That's when the Music takes me - Neil Sedaka

Whenever I hear this number 18 peaking single, I can see the Albert Hall full of people up clapping along, full of pure joy. Neil Sedaka is great isn't he? He'll tell you he's great himself too! This song can't fail to lift you on the greyest of days. Sounds quite a lot like 'Love will keep us together' but who cares, they're both great.

(27) Caroline - Status Quo

Quo had finally evolved into the Quo everyone would remember they ever were. Who were they before that? I don't think they even knew. For them to last from here until 1985 to open Live Aid, still selling over half a million albums with each release really was a feat.  One of the greatest thrills for a young musician picking up a guitar or a synthesizer was to be able to sound like something you heard on a record. I was always trying to sound like Nick Rhodes but I can imagine those who'd got a guitar and amp for Christmas along with a copy of this single found it quite simple to sound and play like Quo. Simple but effective. This got to number 5.

(26) The Jean Genie - David Bowie

I hear quite a lot of John Lennon in this (and other Bowie singles of the time). It got to number 2 and was replaced by 'Sweet' with Blockbuster which had almost the exact same introduction. I'm not sure who came up with that guitar riff at the beginning but it was totally overused by the end of the 70s. It probably began with Bo Diddley? Also, is a Jean Genie one that pops out of your Jeans if you rub them, giving you three trouser-based wishes? It's actually a pun on Jean Genet, the French novelist. Fun fact, the lyric 'He's so simple minded' gave the band Simple Minds their name!

(25) 20th Century Boy - T.Rex

You can't deny the power of the introduction to this song. INXS always reminded me of T. Rex - or maybe Marc Bolan and Michael Hutchence reminded me of each other? This entered the chart at number 3 but got no higher thanks to Donny Osmond and Slade.

(24) The Look of Love - Gladys Knight & The Pips

Gladys means every word of this Burt Bacharach / Hal David song first sung by Dusty Springfield. I'm a little bit scared of Gladys here if I'm honest. Don't listen to this alone is all I'm going to say. It criminally only reached number 21.

(23) I saw the light - Todd Rundgren

This is one of those singles you'd put on repeat, listen to about 20 times, get sick of and then never listen to again. I could see this being a hit in the 80s or the 90s if it had been recorded by someone like Kylie or even Take That… Maybe I'm stretching it a bit. I'm not sure how many people remember Maggie Moone?  She used to sing in the middle of a TV show called 'Name that tune' and she'd do a cover of something popular a few years back (from where she was in time).  This was the sort of song she'd do. Lots of fun she was! This song only spent 4 weeks on the chart and peaked at 36. He never bothered the top 40 ever again because he went all psychedelic and released albums 'to be listened to in context' so no singles were released. Incidentally, he was Liv Tyler's adoptive father! Now, look at his eyes on this single cover. You'll never sleep again.


(22) Can the Can - Suzi Quatro

12/8 was a popular time signature in the 70s.  Not always as obvious as Simple Minds' 'Waterfront' or 'Everybody wants to rule the world' but there were a lot of songs with dotted crotchets about. Intros were getting more and more dramatic and you don't get many better examples of either than this. Suzi was a bit of a legend without really getting as massive as I think she could have been. I think a lot of men would have been confused by Suzi in those days - she wasn't sitting on a stool in a big floaty dress singing about flowers and trees. She was playing guitar. Bass guitar! She was singing about the menopause and opening the door for female led rock groups (or Females in Rock altogether).  Women were sorely under represented in the charts in 1973 - something I think Suzi did a lot to change. The charting of this single epitomised that - as if people were 'getting used' to her. It entered at 34, climbed to 5, then 2 and then 1. She never sold many albums though for whatever reason... apparently 'can the can' means something you can't do; like you can't put a can in side another can if they're the same size. Or something.

(21) Superstition - Stevie Wonder

Stevie was so distinctive. The groove on this is infectious. Stevie wrote this with Jeff Beck on Drums but played the clavinet riff and Moog bass himself. "Very superstitious, the devil's on his way"; sends chills up your spine. You can hear echoes of this song throughout the next twenty, even thirty years. Listen to those horns near the end of the song - you know you've heard those in twenty other songs since.  Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel springs to mind. This was Stevie's 16th hit single and got to number 11.

(20) Love Train - The O'Jays

Not much to say on this apart from it's a bona fide classic. A song which has travelled well throughout the years. If you haven't heard this before, you probably think Billie Eilish is a musical genius. This was their second and biggest hit, peaking at number 9.


(19) Armed and extremely dangerous - First Choice

If this wasn't the theme tune to a cop show on a Saturday night, somebody missed a trick. Is this funk? Not sure; regardless, it's got jangly guitars and a driving bass line coupled with sweeping strings which is a winning formula in my book. This only reached number 16. Come on people of 1973, get it together!

(18) Life on Mars? - David Bowie

Bowie was probably the only artist of the era capable of this even though I can hear so much Lennon in this song (sorry everyone, I hear Lennon in Bowie a lot) I wonder how much of this came from the part of Bowie that wasn't deliberately drawing on his influences. It's still brilliant though. It was a few years old when it got released in 1973 and spent three weeks at number three.

(17) Joybringer - Manfred Mann's Earth Band

I'm not saying by any means that this is the first obvious synth in a charting pop song but it was a very risky gambit from whoever produced this song to use a sound as defining as this.  There definitely weren't many synth solos in songs at this point in pop history. The energy is spot on here though and it feels like they're at the front of a queue to the future trying to egg everyone else on to catch up - but nobody seems ready for it, like they actually want to go off into space. This is a great track and should really have been covered in the early 80s by Ultravox or someone of that ilk. It was adapted from Holst's 'The Planet suite' (Jupiter in particular) and hit number 9. Look at the single cover; why did everyone in the 70s look like they could have presented Playschool?

(16) Gudbuy T'Jane - Slade

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was classic Rolling Stones before Noddy starts warbling.  (Everyone says Oasis were a rip off of the Beatles, and I totally agree, apart from the fact they're more of a rip off of Slade. Just listen to this - it could have fit nicely on 'Definitely, Maybe'). A track with plenty of energy and laced with catchy hooks. Whereas all of Wizzard's hits in 1973 sounded almost exactly the same, Slade sounded nothing like their Xmas 1973 number 1 'Merry Xmas Everybody' here. This reached number 2 and was kept off Number 1 by the quite ridiculous 'My Ding-a-ling' by Chuck Berry. How to destroy your own legend.




(15) Summer (The first time) Bobby Goldsboro

There's no shortage of beautiful songs in 1973. As soon as he says "She was 31, I was 17", you really get into the haunting atmosphere of the song. At the end when he says he saw the sunrise as a man, it's nowhere near as creepy as Heaven 17's 'Come live with me' which is the same song from the other perspective. The electric piano is everything here though and the bass guitar is wonderful. This was Bobby's second hit and reached number 9.

(14) Live and let die - Wings

I think Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody owes a lot to this song. Paul McCartney draws a lot on the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' in the middle too (and 'Let it Be' and the theme tune to the TV version of Batman from the 60s). I wonder if there's one too many movements in this though - can't deny it's appeal though and it's still a great listen these days. This was the theme tune to Roger Moore's first outing as Bond. There's a curious use of grammar in the song when he says 'in this world in which we live in'.  Someone should have been proofreading surely? This has since been covered by Guns and Roses when they were 'cool' and Geri Halliwell. Don't ask. Also, are they camels on the single cover?



(13) Nutbush City Limits - Ike & Tina Turner

This is just so different to the first version I ever heard - the remix in 1991. I think I actually prefer the updated version with the sax solo which sounds like the theme tune from Rainbow. Brilliant vocal performance from Tina on the original with that distinctive fuzz guitar, which was her last chart entry for ten years! This was their first hit for four years as a duo and the biggest since 'River Deep, Mountain High' in 1966. It reached number 4

(12) Do you wanna dance? - Barry Blue

A sublimely constructed song this. From the voice, the vocal treatment, the multi-layered backing vocals, the constant four-four thump of the drums, the dramatic string interlude, the syncopated chorus which stops it all being too repetitive, the breakdown in the middle which aims to get the gathered imaginary crowd involved, the delay effect at the end which was in it's infancy and definitely not in mainstream usage in studios, the key change for the outro - then wanting to take the needle back to the start as soon as the song ends. This is exactly what a seven inch single should sound like. This was his last top 10 hit but he has since written for Diana Ross, Celine Dion, The Saturdays, The Wanted and Pixie Lott.



(11) Always on my Mind - Elvis Presley

Not originally an Elvis track but probably one of his greatest performances and the first version of it to chart here reaching number 9.  Willie Nelson did something not a lot of artists can do (a bit like Johnny Cash) and made the song his own despite someone else being so strongly associated with the original. A truly heartbreaking song and one which will stand up in any decade even when music has been reduced in the future to people hitting holograms with wifi. (I've deleted the Pet Shop Boys version from my memory files)



(10) You can do magic - Limmie & Family Cookin'

A song you know but you don't know how or where you heard it. Catchy as anything and perfect for 7" vinyl! This got to number 3 and rightly so. The had one more top ten and a minor hit within the following 12 months.





(9) Can't Keep it in - Cat Stevens


Joyous. Cat's first album went top 10 in 1967. He's most famous for writing 'The first cut is the deepest' and 'Father and Son' and has been inducted into various Rock and Roll halls of fame and won Ivor Novello awards and what have you. He got to number 13 with this power-ditty but should have got higher. I love the energy of this. More like this please!



(8) Gaye - Clifford T. Ward

The hair. The 'T' to make sure he's not confused with all the other Clifford Wards. The quotation marks around the title. A beautiful song this and another song out of time.  None of the fuzzy analogue production problems most of the stuff in the 70s suffered from. It's so glossy! This got to number 8. He had one more single release called 'Scullery'. It got to 37. It's not the most evocative song title.




(7) If you don't know me by now - Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Listen to the pain in his voice. Simply Red didn't know they were born. "10 long years we been together baby, oooaawwhhhh", gets you right there doesn't it? The choral backing is gorgeous - complete with the 'Stylistics-esque' singing. This was the first of six hit singles for Harold and this got to number 9. Ricky Gervais almost managed to ruin it for me.

(6) Top of the World - Carpenters

Another gem from the Carpenters who had seven top ten hits, each a classic. What a voice and what a fabulous tune. Got to number 5 and stayed in the 40 for 16 weeks.  At secondary school, my music teacher was obsessed with this song, making us sing it in a Christmas Concert and paying particular attention to the low note near the end where it goes 'I'm at the top of the world looking DOWN'.  In 1973, newspapers would run an advert with a telephone number you could ring and listen to the 'hits' and this was one of those advertised. Not sure if 'streaming' on the phone counted towards the chart position though. Probably not. This was an odd release at the time because the song which charted before it 'Yesterday once more' was taken from their most recent album but 'Top of the world' was taken from the album released before that in 1972. Has that ever happened again?

(5) I wish it could be Christmas everyday - Wizzard

This was 'See my baby Jive' with different words. If you listen to this song in April to September, it doesn't actually sound Christmassy. But listen to it around Christmas time and it's really Christmassy. Weird that. This was the first Christmas single released in 1973, maybe a little too early as it failed to reach the number 1 spot, stalling at number 4.


(4) Could it be I'm falling in love - The Spinners

How absolutely brilliant is this? It didn't chart as well as Jaki Graham and David Grant's cover in the 80s but it's got a lot more soul and is way ahead of it's time. This song was credited to the 'Detroit Spinners' who were nothing to do with the Detroit Emeralds. Their name was actually 'The Spinners' but there was already a band in existence in the UK called that. This only reached 11 for reasons beyond logic; maybe as I say, ahead of it's time? The had some other cracking singles too; 'The Rubberband Man', 'Working my way back to you' and 'Ghetto Child'.

(3) Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade

This sounds Christmassy whenever you listen to it. It charted higher than Wizzard's effort and stayed in the chart longer. I think it was just a little bit more accessible and appealed to all demographics whereas Wizzard's was a bit less commercial. There were a lot of songs in 12/8 in 73 (as previously mentioned), this gave a single a quirky feel that one in simple 4/4 wouldn't have, but this one isn't obviously in 12/8, it's subtle - you have to listen to the drums to realise. I think that's one of the reasons it feels a bit 'off' which is a good thing. It entered at number one and stayed there for five weeks. It was the last single to enter at number 1 for six years!


(2) See my baby Jive - Wizzard

Another song in 12/8 and yes, it sounds exactly like 'I wish it could be Xmas every day' but if you've got a formula, why change it? Both songs are great. This is one of the songs of the decade, never mind 1973. I'm also curious to see an actual baby jive - I've checked on YouTube and the best I can find is a computer generated one. Also in this song, look for a nod to The Beatles' 'I'll be back' near the end of each verse. This hit number 1 for four weeks! Roy Wood's 'take' on glam rock was eccentric to say the least. It wasn't just make-up and glitter he wore on his face, it was the entire art supplies aisle of his local hobby craft.



(1) Yesterday once more - Carpenters

There's nothing like this around any more. There's nothing like decent music around any more for that matter. Not for a good ten years now I'd say. What a voice though eh? What a lyric too! What a melody!! If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you've either got no eyes or no tear ducts. Not sure why someone gets on a motorbike at the end - maybe yesterday was where they kept their bike? They spent two weeks at number two with this. They never had a number 1 which is absolutely criminal.





Honourable Mentions

Part of the Union - Strawbs

Not a great song this but it hung around in the charts for a long long long long time. It was more like a nursery rhyme than a top 10 hit, but it probably inspired a lot of people to hate the government and the company they worked for even more than they already did. Maybe it was a secret parody of working class people? Who knows? Also, sounds like it inspired the whole 'You can't get better than a Kwik Fit Fitter' thing which is a bad thing. It spent three weeks at number 2 this.

And I love you so - Perry Como

Better than Frank Sinatra and all those over-singers (I hate people who over-sing like every X-Factor finalist).  Perry found making a nice noise with his mouth effortless. No gimmicks or drama, just a proper singer singing proper songs. He was probably better than Bing Crosby as well. Probably. This song is really nice. Probably didn't fit into the 70s musical landscape but there were still those around who had turntables, money and a penchant for crooning who were nipping to their local Woolworths to snap up this single. Hard to imagine a song like this hitting number 3 in the charts these days but far from being out of time in 1973, Perry had his longest charting single of all time with this - 35 weeks in the top 50! Fact fans will be excited to know that it was written by Don McClean. I wonder if he ever tried to sue Disney for the whole 'Tale as old as time' thing?

Hello Hooray - Alice Cooper

Catchy, not the most inventive but still a good single with a nice vibe. 3rd consecutive top 10 hit for Alice, 'Schools out' hit number 1, 'Elected' reached number 4 and this one only number 6. Each single he released subsequently, peaked lower and lower until 1989's 'Poison' hit number 2. Surprised this was never covered and made the charts again.

Tie a yellow ribbon round the old Oak Tree - Dawn

This was massive in 1973. People really did love a song with a story - it sounds like a standard doesn't it? Probably why it was so popular. It's jaunty and inspired so many similar sounding songs after it (strangely, it always reminds me of The Wurzels and I'm not sure why). Brotherhood Of Man fashioned an entire career around songs that were almost exact copies of this. Not sure if the tale of a criminal waiting to get out of jail deserves such a jaunty ditty or not. It was on the chart for seven weeks before it hit number 1 and stayed there for four weeks and stayed in the top 40 for 35 weeks in total becoming the biggest selling single of the year.

Hell Raiser - Sweet

Not my cup of tea but it's a great song. I can imagine being 11 years old, searching for an identity and latching on to this. It sounds more punk than glam rock to me and it's a bit over the top too; sounds a bit forced - still, great single. It got to number 2 as did their next two singles. It always reminds me of Butlins this song... or maybe it's Sweet themselves who remind me of Butlins... or the song Hi-Ho Silver lining which wasn't even by Sweet. It was by Jeff Beck. Hang on... what was I talking about again...

Daytona Demon - Suzi Quatro

Loads of drive and energy here. An example of how powerful music can be, you can see the effect it would have had on people in the clubs of the day - it's like a soundtrack to an attitude. After hitting number 1 and 3, Suzi only reached 14 with this. The chorus is a direct rip-off of 'Glad all over' which she covered a few years later.

Forever - Roy Wood

Shades of Del Shannon and the early 60s here but it works somehow. The b-side was called 'music to commit suicide to'; either an indictment of his songwriting or a theme tune for a euthanasia clinic advert - not sure which. Regardless, it was quite jaunty with circus noises and Timpanis. Roy released this around the same time Wizzard released that Christmas song. Not sure what the record company were thinking but this reached number 8.

Daydreamer - David Cassidy

This is the template for 'Can't smile without you' and 'Last Christmas' - which I think Barry Manilow kicked off with Wham about not realising this song was before his. It's nice this… it was number 1 for three weeks

Nights in White Satin - The Moody Blues

This is sultry and dramatic. Almost classical and Wagner like (the composer not the X-factor finalist) If this wasn't used in an Old Spice commercial, it should have been. It was originally released in 1967 (hard to believe I know) and only reached number 19 (!). It got to number 9 this time round.

Never, Never, Never - Shirley Bassey

Impressionists were huge in the 70s weren't they? Poor Shirley - she had such pronounced mannerisms that the impressionists used to overplay for such comic effect, you couldn't think of Ms Bassey as anything other than an overly dramatic gurning warbler. Nothing could be further from the truth however as this tune is beautiful and wonderfully sung. Listen to the words too - so sweet. This song reached number 8 and stayed in the chart for ages.

The Ballad of Michael Collins (the NASA one!)

Something has bothered me since 1969. It was six years before I was born but it’s definitely bothered me since 1969.

Imagine you’re ten years old. Your parents have just told you that you’re going to Disneyland. You’re the type of child whose soul is filled with whimsy and possibilities. You’re the one who usually organises the potato printing parties and brings the bags of swizzell sticks. You get in the car/bus/helicopter and off you go. Your rosy cheeks reddening with anticipation as the hours tick by, your supplies of Werthers dwindling, your heart thumping faster and faster as you near the front gates and see a 12 foot Cinderella winking at you from the top of a huge plastic castle.

The car pulls into the car park and everyone gets out – except you.

You’re told you have to stay in the car, circle the park and await their return whilst looking after the ‘equipment’. Everyone then toddles off into the park and (via CB radio) give you a running commentary of all the breathtaking things they’re doing whilst you’re stuck in the hot car with nothing but a puzzle book and a pen that doesn’t work. You’re not allowed out. Not even allowed to wind the window down to allow a cheeky fart to escape.

You wait until everyone else comes back, full of their stories of adventure and wonder, then imagine what could have been as they drive you home again.

Spare a thought for Michael Collins. He went to the moon. He wasn’t allowed to actually go ‘on’ the moon however. Yes, he got to leave earth’s atmosphere, see a big white ball of rock a bit closer up than usual (albeit out of a window with really really thick reinforced glass), and then sit in the command module on his own for the entire day while his friends went outside, leapt about on the universe’s biggest bouncy castle, went down in the history of forever for saying some iconic lines and then give Michael a running commentary about how amazing the whole thing was with the caveat, ‘but you’re not allowed out to play’, like he’d been grounded for being naughty on the way through the Troposphere.

It’s like that bit in Home Alone where everyone gets pizza and even though Kevin hasn’t done anything wrong, he gets no pizza and sent to his room (both scenarios contain someone called Buzz. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

“Didn’t want to stand on the moon anyway.”

Despite Collins being able to debunk the moon-landings conspiracy theories first hand, I can’t help thinking he would have felt he was part of a smaller, more personal conspiracy about why he wasn’t allowed outside. That must have followed him throughout his life from that point. Like when he squeezed the ketchup and mysteriously, there was none left or when he couldn’t find one of his socks (it’s the Government!) or when he waited in a queue at Disneyland for four hours and when he got to the front, they closed the ride for the night (it’s the Illuminati!!). Why is it always me? He must think. Probably.

Poor Michael.