Moving on now in our much beloved series of looking back at what were the #1 pop hits in the summertime, we arrive at late summer 1970 through 1973, a changing time when professional recording studios were seriously upgraded and the sounds, therefore, became slicker. Singer-songwriters offered the mellow shelter the Rolling Stones previously gimme'd. R&B/ Soul music reflected both a new social consciousness and a sensual/sexual freedom previously only hinted at. The Beatles were kaput. Vietnam lingered. Cars got lousy gas mileage but they looked like heavy metal machines, distinctive. You never passed a Firebird on the road and mistook it for a Thunderbird.
These days, all the world's indeed an Accord.
We pick up in 1970, where the last blog rudely left off.
25) (They Long To Be) Close To You -- The Carpenters (1970): Burt Bacharach and Hal David had an able voice in Karen Carpenter, but the overwhelming mellowness is a sign of the times and like all trends was more difficult to enjoy when everything else sounded like it, too. Forty-three years removed, it sounds great in the mix with songs from other eras that aren't being played 12 times a day.
24) Make It With You -- Bread (1970): The dog days of August were really feeling the heat and the laziness. David Gates is another top-notch songwriter and just about any Bread hit is a lesson in tasteful musicianship. The fetal position warmth of this song is extremely soothing. Surely written for the cats resting in the windowsill enjoying the sunshine crowd. Purr….
23) War -- Edwin Starr (1970): OK, this wakes up the crowd as September hits. Summer officially says goodbye and school is back in session. Except for those who couldn't get a student deferment and likely felt the reality of this tune more than they would've liked. Another fine songwriting team here: Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong!
22) Brown Sugar -- The Rolling Stones (1971): Memorial Day Weekend 1971 in full effect and the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" brings in the summer. The idea that this song was ever new to people's ears seems impossible. Though the chunky guitar chords make you think of Keith, the song is primarily Mick's, written and recorded back in 1969. If one could clearly understand the words, it likely would never have made it to #1. Unless 'Gold Coast Slave Ships Bound for Cotton Fields" were really 'in' that season.
21) Want Ads -- Honey Cone (1971): The soul trio Honey Cone put this song on the two albums they released in 1971 and then released the original version of the song, "Stick-Up," as their next single, though that song only appeared on their second 1971 album. General Norman Johnson of Chairmen of the Board wrote both versions and eventually Taylor Dayne got ahold of it.
20) It's Too Late / I Feel The Earth Move -- Carole King (1971): Carole King's Tapestry wasn't just a wildly successful album. It was so packed with great songs that even the singles released from the record were overloaded with hits. In this case, both sides of the single were considered the #1 hit. Both songs went on to be covered by many people and to win many awards.
19) Indian Reservation -- The Raiders (1971): Lots of official, legal Americans who arrived on the Mayflower with all of their paperwork clearly in order have gone on to feel a little bad about the plight of their friends who were later caught up in 'legal snafus' and this particular song has been known by many names and been made into a record quite a few times. In 1968, Don Fardon had a #20 hit with it and in 1971 the reconstituted (No Longer Paul Revere and) the Raiders nailed it for a summer hit.
18) You've Got A Friend -- James Taylor (1971): 1971 was the year of Carole the King and nothing made that more obvious than when another fine, successful songwriter, James Taylor, had to grab one of King's current songs for a single for his own new album. But don't think it was only Sweet Baby James poaching her new tracks, Barbra Streisand released it on her 1971 album and Dusty Springfield would've done the same had record company politics not messed that one up. Looks to me like Carole's song should be heard more like a warning. You've got a friend!
17) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart -- Bee Gees (1971): Before they became a Disco Juggernaut in the late 1970s, the Bee Gees were still sticking around with some of the prettiest records you've ever heard. The British ignored it, but United States people made it the group's first US #1 pop hit. Could it be we love the rhetorical device?
16) Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey -- Paul and Linda McCartney (1971): Just because the Beatles were no more, someone in that organization had to try to keep the summer tradition alive! It wasn't going to be John who was now screaming for peace, but rather Paul, always the band's over-friendly concierge, took care of business with this likable track. It likely also helped that Paul and his wife kept their clothes on for all their album covers.
15) I'll Take You There -- The Staple Singers (1972): Taking the #1 spot at the beginning of the 1972 summer for one week showed just how wide the gates of entry were for a decent song. It had already done what it could on the R&B charts when the pop charts took it over. Sure, there's a soulful vibe, but that's a gospel choir lurking, too. Since when do the charts go to church?
14) The Candy Man -- Sammy Davis, Jr. (1972): You might see this as a bit of corn. But it's Candy Corn! I loved the song when I was four and the song was deemed wholesome enough for me to own it as an MGM single. Sammy Davis, Jr. may have been a member of the Rat Pack but it's this latter-day hit that he's best known for by kids all across the world. Nowadays, a song like this would automatically be about drugs. Is it?
13) Song Sung Blue -- Neil Diamond (1972): The Easy Listening Charts held onto this one for 7 weeks at #1, but the pop charts only asked for one. This was "Our Song" for me and my first girlfriend, who at 3-1/2 was much older and wiser than her years. Together we sang it while listening on her Close 'n' Play. She looked good in those Toughskins, I tell ya!
12) Lean On Me -- Bill Withers (1972): It's still one iconic song after another here, even if sometimes we're mellower than we once were. The B-side "Better Off Dead" was a great socio-political tune with a dramatic/ perfect ending and the A-side was a hand-holding-until-you're-clapping feel-good piece of community outreach by a guy with a great voice. Remember when people wanted to help one another?
11) Alone Again (Naturally) -- Gilbert O'Sullivan (1972): While so many people were riveted by Vonda Shepard's performance of this song on Ally McBeal and others by Nikki Sixx's version with his side-project 58, the truly convincing version remains by that of its author Gilbert O'Sullivan, who imagines an entirely alternate life for himself in just three and a half minutes, one that people liked more than his real life because it had more tragedy. People are awful! Go lean on somebody else!
10) Brandy (You're A Fine Girl) -- Looking Glass (1972): Though it only snuck into the #1 position for one week, in between the reign of "Alone Again (Naturally)" that preceded and succeeded it at #1, "Brandy" remains one of the single greatest singles of all-time, if only because it was inspired by the real life story of Mary Ellis, whose grave resides in New Brunswick, NJ. Mary Ellis' family home became the site of the legendary Route 1 Flea Market. Her grave can now be found in the parking lot of the Loews Cineplex. Make your travel plans accordingly!
9) Frankenstein -- The Edgar Winter Group (1973): What were you listening to Memorial Day Weekend, 1973? Likely this instrumental -- complete with drum solo -- that essentially gave bar bands the world over an excuse to play their "version" of this tune in 20-30 minute increments, regardless of how little their central riff sounded like the one on this record.
8) My Love -- Paul McCartney and Wings (1973): Paul McCartney liked being #1. He was used to being there. But he liked being in a band, so Wings were born and began cranking out hits. The intense mellowness of this track was what you always worried McCartney might churn out without neighborhood scruff John Lennon there to temper him. Notice now how badly people wanted there to be a real Beatles still there to rely on.
7) Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) -- George Harrison (1973): Yep, McCartney had his solo hit and then it was George's turn with this hopeful track that suggested that had the Beatles continued into the 1970s that George would've had more of an effect on the band, as its youngest member was coming into his own as a songwriter.
6) Will It Go Round In Circles -- Billy Preston (1973): Technically, Billy Preston is the only dude to get an actual credit on a Beatles single that was equal to the Beatles, so clearly they felt he was an important ingredient to the group. The Rolling Stones saw fit to hire him as an important part of their sound on a few key cuts and Billy's own solo career took itself to #1. This track is more famous than you think, too.
5) Bad, Bad Leroy Brown -- Jim Croce (1973): 1973 was a year of great change in terms of what dominated the pop charts. There are no songs that occupy the top slot for very long. However, this track was still charting in September when Croce died in a plane crash in Louisiana. The day the music died? Well, the day Jim Croce's did!
4) The Morning After -- Maureen McGovern (1973): Being also known as "The Song from 'The Poseidon Adventure'" helped this track become more popular than it might have otherwise. It'd been performed by another singer in the film, but when the film became a hit it was suggested that Maureen McGovern, who'd sent in a demo tape to the label and was working as a secretary, should sing the song. Just imagine the leverage an unknown singer had in negotiating this deal!
3) Touch Me In the Morning -- Diana Ross (1973): Though we now think of Diana Ross as a musical institution with a legendary career, in 1973, this was only her second solo #1 hit. Though it only spent one week at the very top, it spent 21 weeks on the Top 100 Pop Charts. It also became her first #1 Adult-Contemporary hit, which is a genre seemingly invented just for her.
2) Brother Louie -- Stories (1973): This powerful track about an interracial love affair was written By Errol Brown and Tony Wilson of the band Hot Chocolate, who had a Top 10 hit in the UK with the tune. Perhaps not aware of how to get the song to America, the song was covered by the American band Stories, featuring singer Ian Lloyd, nearly six months later. The version heard at the opening of the FX series Louie is produced by Reggie Watts and begins imitating the Hot Chocolate version at the intro and then features Ian Lloyd performing the vocal. So, now there are even more versions of the song.
1) Let's Get It On -- Marvin Gaye (1973): Sex sells. And Sex On the Beach? The topical stuff is good for everyone's consciousness but what's really on young people's minds in the summertime? Getting their school supplies at a respectable discount? Pre-reading the first few chapters of study? Making sure all the outdoor shrubbery is ready for the fall and upcoming winter? Switching over the closets? There really isn't enough music out there about doing your chores. Unless by 'getting it on," Gaye was referring to your chores!