It’s still my party, and you can still read if you want to, but…
…well, read anyway.
It’s still my birthday week, and if we’re not doing naked keg stands for it, at least remember what the Top 25 of March 22, 1972 kept in store for us.
Now, let’s get back to the countdown…
Sly and the Family Stone
Peaked at #23
Sly Stone was a man under pressure in the early-1970s.
CBS wanted a contractually-obligated album. The Black Panthers urged him to be more strident and socially conscious. And he started using cocaine and PCP to cope, while becoming more paranoid and reclusive. In 1971, the release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On calmed a lot of nerves but harshly divided critics, but the #1 single Family Affair got people groovin’ again.
Runnin’ Away, though, isn’t one of those instant hits you can decipher immediately. In a 2010 SPIN interview, Sly said it referred to people always running away, like the hippies cutting their hair in the 1970s and returning from a more normal existence. It has a Prince-like approach to the music, but it still feels a bit underdeveloped, as determined by a bunch of variations on “Hee-hee, hee-hee” replacing actual thought. This one is a 5.
Peaked at #16
Smokey Robinson had his first songwriting Top 40 hit for The Supremes since The Composer/I’ll Try Something New double-sided single in 1969.
And he got it by diving into the past and reviving their classic sound from the mid-‘60s. The vocals are actually very nice, a shared lead between Jean Terrell and Mary Wells, and the sound is absolutely nailed in the production. The words, though…if you’re gonna write about a man whose power over women is so strong they don’t care what his actual name is, at least make it make more sense. It’s a 6.
Sonny & Cher
A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done
Peaked at #8
One of those things that makes for better ideas than good songs, it’s a mix of pop and country and Russian folk influences (your mileage will vary) that can’t meet all three needs.
It uses the “cowboys & Indians” gambit as a romantic metaphor, and even though there’s a sense of TV-show theatrics going on, the whole thing just kinda goes on until it stops. The music is actually very interesting, but there’s a limit to whimsy, and, well, this is it. Stick ‘em up. A 4.
An Al Green obituary might require an extra page when we get to it, because he’s lived a varied, and not always noble, life.
But for all the complexity of the man, the simple Memphis-soul style was mastered by him, and Al knew how to deliver many different shades of sensuality and heartache as needed. If I gave anything less than a top score, I’d be lying to myself, because Let’s Stay Together is pure carnal magic, even when he’s only begging her to stay. A 10.
A luxurious hardcore soul love song between a veteran and a newcomer, it’s one of those lush ballads that promotes the mood at the expense of the specifics, and that’s…OK.
Brenda Lee can sing, and as a footnote, she holds a distinction not many people have: she co-wrote a song with Prince (Somebody’s Somebody, 1997). She’s also known for writing songs for Aretha and Gladys and even Cliff Richard. But she sings very well here, giving off steam with Jerry Butler (in his last pop Top 40 appearance). 7.
Peaked at #1
Any song that requires a Crazy Wall to explain itself isn’t usually a good sign.
American Pie struck a chord about “the day the music died”, February 3, 1959, though, so it subverts the notion a little. Still, for something that at its heart is nothing more than an epic poem, you need a roadmap to fully understand what a mercurial guy like McLean was getting it. Me, I have never seen the American Pie movies and can only bear this song once maybe every 18 months, so I use my GPS to find routes around the problematic traffic of Don and his song. 6.
Don’t Say You Don’t Remember
Peaked at #15
A grand, sweeping Easy Listening ballad, by a woman best known by then for appearing on Broadway in Hair, and deliberately fashioned to be a 1960’s-styled ballad for a girl-group.
It’s pretty broad, but she sings well and emotes how she needs to in order to get by. BTW, she is not a one-hit wonder: she had a follow-up single pink at #40 in We’re Free, a song about “free love” that found itself banned at its peak. What can I say? Sex is a sin, and we’ve never recovered from it. 6.
Rock and Roll Lullaby
Peaked at #15
The Blossoms and Duane Eddy help out B.J. on this…um, rock and roll lullaby. Soft-focus production was A Thing in the early-‘70s, where you could shroud singers in a fog of music and hoped it would serve to relax them. In this case, it did. It relaxed one all the way to the point of pharmaceutical effect.
Not that it’s a bad thing, as it was in B.J.’s wheelhouse, and his past experiences with The Number Ones before he passed showed he could have used relaxing things often. Still, for all the effort put into it, it glides off into space and never really returns. 6.
In the Rain
Peaked at #5
Songs about rain usually are sad, or downcast, but very few of them back around this time played with the theme as stylistically as this one.
Complete with both rain sounds, and a sort of avant-garde soul production featuring unique guitar sounds (by Dennis Coffey using an Echoplex effect), the song is a stone classic, embracing the disoriented guitar and the rain FX as an expression of devastation over love. It was their last hit, but what a way to go. I love rain songs. 9.
Peaked at #9
Decidedly mixed feelings about this song: Carole’s voice is in fine form, and the lyrics about resolving one’s life on her own terms are fine. But Paul Simon had a quote about his colleague: “Toast – when I hear Carole King I think of toast.”
That 1973 Rolling Stone quote kinda explains some of the non-Tapestry feeling I sometimes get about some of her singles. Sweet Seasons is at least buttered with some good music, but it didn’t seem to be as nimble as anything on Tapestry. 5.
Peaked at #6
From 1972 to 1982, classical music influenced pop music, in ways both new and old.
Eric Carmen and Barry Manilow had hits with songs based on classical compositions, and a variety of acts had hits with instrumental songs which either co-opted or updated a classical track. From Eumir Deodato’s jazz-funk take on Also Sprach Zarathustra to Miguel Ríos‘s version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 as A Song of Joy, symphonic pop was never higher.
The highest, and happiest, might be this harpsichord-happy version of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (or is it organ? I can’t tell, it might be organ), which really has a way of filling the heart with joy, and not the lemony dishwasher liquid kind. 9.
Peaked at #2
At The Number Ones, the TNOCS contingent was split on the song between being menacing and creepy, silly, or funky.
I’m not sure we got a majority vote on the merits. The lyrics read a bit problematic, but the music is funky, and even if you don’t dig Joe Tex as a singer the whole thing remains pretty catchy. HOWEVER:
Is a song really that problematic if you can stand to watch Liza Minnelli go all Lola Heatherton on it unironically? Spoiler: it’s actually not bad most of the way. 6.
Bang a Gong (Get It On)
Peaked at #10
Elton John mimed the keyboard parts when T. Rex visited Top Of The Pops in 1971, but he doesn’t do the keyboard stuff here: Rick Wakeman does…at least, some of them. Seems Rick, pre-Yes, was in need of rent money, so he contributed some piano glissandos, and maybe more. But no one recalls if he did more, as Blue Weaver is rumored to have played on the record, too.
Weaver did, however, play a massive role on the Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love, so…how rabbit hole-ish do you want me to go? Bang a Gong (Get It On), so named in the US because Chase’s funky single Get It On was riding the charts at the same time, is a banger no matter who got involved. 9.
Hurting Each Other
Peaked at #2
You would think, being something of an Easy Listening aficionado, that I’d be digging a Carpenters single of any stripe.
And you’d be right, yet this one, a cover of a Jimmy Clanton single in 1965 (later covered by Chad Allan & the Expressions—an early version of The Guess Who—and Ruby & The Romantics, from whom Richard Carpenter got the arrangement) goes about and beyond the Carpenters origin story. This is the first Carpenters single featuring bitter recriminations instead of longing or hazy romance.
And it works, because it picks up on two self-destructing people set on mutual pain. That, frankly, just sounds better because it isn’t perfect love, but imperfect humans. 8
Peaked at #8
I am down with the occasional blast of overly-ripe sexy in my favorite songs.
I find Liz Phair’s H.W.C. to be hilarious, and I adore the grungy industrial nose that is Lords Of Acid’s I Sit On Acid.
And for both of those songs: I expressly warn @LinkCrawford and my pals with uneasy constitutions to steer clear from, as I like them too much to drag them down with me.
But this is just crap. It’s a repetitive, percussive instrumental with guitar, and it features a woman alternately talking in a foreign language, and then very loudly experiencing certain waves of pleasure, ifyaknowwhatimean. And that’s it, for four damn minutes. It might be the first abstinence-only pop song to ever chart here. And that’s saying something. 1.
Down by the Lazy River
Peaked at #4
Now, if you take a look at the main YouTube clip for this song, you see the Osmond Brothers going all Jesus Jones on their instruments. I honestly don’t know if it’s a put-on, since I never knew them to be rock-band adjacent, but if you forget Donny trying to fake fake-playing the electric piano, they seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
And the rock sound (and not the rather squeaky-clean lyrics) is convincing enough to make you forget there are not a lot of Utah rock bands out there. It’s an unexpected rouser from the boys who thought the constipated One Bad Apple was Jackson 5-lite. Who knew? 7
Peaked at #3
Oh, the things I do for you people. I listened to this one again, a couple of years after first calling it out in TNOCS at Stereogum. I don’t recall the specifics of just what I said, but I believe the word “atrocious” may have come up. Along with my dinner.
Whatever I said, I meant it. Donny sings it like a school talent show contestant, right down to acting out the words as he’s singing. Whatever the opposite of “career achievement” is, this is. 1
The Way of Love
Peaked at #7
In 1972, you couldn’t slip any kind of gay reference anywhere unless it was, say, a “fruit” joke or an episode of Marcus Welby, MD where being gay was unmanly and leaned into the worst stereotypes. Cher, however, with the help of producer Snuff Garrett, took this cover of a French chanson and drove it through barricades.
The song is addressed to an ex, but it’s not clear if the singer is a straight woman addressing a gay ex-lover, or a lesbian addressing a bi woman, either of whom have left her for another guy. I know that the mystery doesn’t matter, it’s the feeling, and to that end, it’s magnificently camp feeling, a torch song that could, um, go either way. Cher, however, is best in her class at this. 9
Precious and Few
Peaked at #3
Remember when late-night TV aired commercials, and not infomercials? They’d offer up many things, like adjustable beds and life insurance and magazine subscriptions and knives and all that, but they would also spend two minutes offering compilation albums on LP or cassettes. This song was literally made for a commercial like that, offering up “secret love” for your 2 AM viewing of Three Coins In The Fountain.
It’s all gauzy soft-focus music, sung with questionable ability and arranged like a Dinah! Performance, but you could make out to it, if you tried hard enough. 4.
Mother and Child Reunion
Peaked at #4
Recorded in Jamaica, its title inspired from a Chinese dish called “oyakodon” (which was on a restaurant’s menu as “Mother And Child Reunion”), and its lyrics a study of death based on his dog that died about a year prior and filtered through his view of his then-wife Peggy, this one is…hard to pin down.
But it’s a pop-reggae track contrasting a reconnection against a backdrop of sorrow. And I learned a lot of this from a Rolling Stone interview from 1972. (Most fascinating bit there: Bridge Over Troubled Water was almost called Like A Pitcher Of Water. Why, God? 7.
Everything I Own
Peaked at #5
Are we ready for a Bread reassessment yet? I admit running hot and cold on them, and I don’t think it’d be easy giving reappraisal to something like Baby, I’m-A Want You. Still, when you learn things about something like Everything I Own, you tend to want to think they deserved better.
David Gates wrote it about his father, who passed in 1963 but had been long proud of his career before David hit it big. Well-earned sentiment goes a long way past any resistance to soft-rock music, and things such as this and It Don’t Matter To Me deserve respect for the little ways soft-rock songs transcend their bounds to warm the colder hearts among us. 8.
Peaked at #1
Big, torchy power ballads were in vogue in the 1990s more than they were in 1972. It didn’t matter to Pete Ham and Tom Evans at the time when the Badfinger duo wrote this, and it didn’t matter to Harry Nilsson, who just sings his heart out here.
It might have mattered to Mariah Carey, who had a #3 cover in 1994 and whose version was best described in print long ago as “the national anthem of a nation under siege”, and it was something of an epidemic for many pop fans back then – I recall @tleo at the SG TNOCS mentioning that Whitney Houston’s version of The Star Spangled Banner was called “Whitney über alles” in a CNN article he wrote years ago about songs people hate.
Nilsson, though, is sincere, and sincerely controlled in his vocal, as power is something he never had to rely upon. 8.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Peaked at #3
Arranged like someone lost a bet, sung with falsetto that could grind your teeth for you, complete with a tuba solo, what’s not to like? “The Lion Sleeps Tonight by the Tokens could move you, but this one is a slug someone used to jump a turnstile. 3
A Horse With No Name
Peaked at #1
I’m sorry, I still think of The Muppet Show when I hear this. The sketch with cows and horses and monsters and pigs and stuff writes itself in my mind when they hit the “na-na-na”’s on the chorus. 5.
Heart of Gold
Peaked at #1
My birthday song, and my life’s quest.
Something that has come to the fore in the last couple of months for me.
Neil was recovering from a back injury, so he recorded this one lying down—not coincidentally, Sly Stone did the same thing for There’s A Riot Goin’ On—and recruited Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor to sing backup.
It’s a rock-solid tune, one with meaning and ruminations about the quest for love at a certain age… and the trouble with it.
Now, does Neil Young like it? He had that famous quote from the album liner notes for Decade:
“This song put me in the middle of the road.
Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”
Regardless of that quote, I’m still unclear on how he feels about it in spite of dragging him into MOR radio territory. Maybe he’s mellowed.
But certainly: Heart Of Gold contains poignant magic, capturing the feeling of the quest some people never seem to resolve, about true love. 9.
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The things you do for us, Irish. Having to listen to “Puppy Love,” the Chakachas, “I Gotcha” AND “Precious and Few” in one countdown? I’m impressed you made it out with your wit(s) intact.
I guess it is fitting that “Jungle Fever” and Climax peaked at the same time.
I’ll see myself out. Happy b-day week.
I feel like America should have named themselves Canada, given their obvious affection for a certain singer-songwriter searching for a heart of gold.
Rick Wakeman was a busy dude, because he also provided much of the lovely piano in Bowie’s 71 album Hunky Dory.
One prominent exception to the “Don’t Say Gay” rule of 72 is Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (which technically peaked in 73, but whatever). Unless there’s a clean radio edit I’m not aware of, a song with lines about “then he was a she” and “even when she was giving head” somehow got to #16! I guess it was the “doo-do-doo”s.
I actually much prefer the Raincoat’s version of Sly’s “Running Away.”
Rick Wakeman was a very busy dude. He also played on Cat Stevens and Elton John records around this time, recorded his own album and was a full time member of folk rock group The Strawbs in ’70 – 71. Maybe he joined Yes just to give himself a break.
There actually was a clean edit of “Walk On The Wild Side”, which eliminated all the potential lawsuits it might have brought in 2023.
My classic-rock station actually played that, instead of the single edit, a decision I found appalling all the way through. The edit came courtesy of a Gold Disc compilation, which is/was a service that supplied musical libraries to interested stations.
Eventually, I say with no certainty, I think they eventually found the album version and added it after I was done there, but I really don’t know. The color of the unedited track makes it rank much higher. And that edited track eliminated half of the “doo, da-doo, da-doo-da-doo”s that the (background singers) sing. Criminality!
A real mix of the good, the bad and the Don McLean and BJ Thomas.
Praise be that it wasn’t the week Puppy Love reigned and instead we get Heart of Gold. His biggest UK hit too, reaching #10. It’d be another 21 years before he scratched the top 40 for the only other time, Harvest Moon at #36.
It was Nilsson at #1 here with Don McLean right behind him.
Thoughts: I have heard the Chakachas song. Once. That’s plenty.
Re-assess Bread? Only if you don’t think they’re awesome enough to put a “bread ROCKS” bumper sticker on your car (something I’ve always wanted). TNOCS has shared a fair amount of love for “Everything I Own”, but “Baby I’m a Want You” an unimpeachable 10 for me. It’s arrangement is gorgeous.
“Soft-focus” music. I like that description.
I need to check out that Beverly Bremers song.
Irish, I’m totally ok if you keep writing one of these per day. Or less, if that’s too much for you. 🙂
This is such a wonderful slice of the 70’s. Some stone classics and some that are…not. The 70’s undeniably produced some fabulous music. But when people wax rhapsodic about them, they have presumably forgotten people like Robert John (as I have tried to do for years).
Don’t give him sad eyes, love.
I’m lucky enough that Robert John means nothing to me. Wiki tells me his one hit here was Sad Eyes at #31 and that was when I was 3 so I wasn’t paying attention. The cover art shows how different the times were. Basic doesn’t even cover that drawing of a lion, I’m famed in my family for my lack of artistic ability, my daughter passed me in ability sometime around the age of 6 but even I think I could draw a better lion. And why is it wearing glasses?
There’s a band called Proof of Utah, but there’s not a lot of proof that they exist. It’s a name I remember from the Trouser Press Record Guide.
I thought my alma mater’s women’s basketball team was Salt Lake City-bound to play Utah. The plan was to fly in on Friday, watch the game on Saturday, then go home on Sunday. We were supposed to be the #15 seed. My alma mater had no shot of winning. The selection show was a shock. It didn’t make any geographical or RPI sense. Gardner-Webb, who got sent there instead of us, could have given LSU a good game, due to the proximity of the two schools. The team from Greenville, South Carolina put up 77 points against the Utes. They’re good.
I was outvoted. Nobody wanted the adventure of travelling to Baton Rouge.
I’m a big fan of The Osmonds’ Led Zeppelin phase. What if they ran the gamut of classic rock influences? Spotify may be a little evil, but I never would have stumbled upon Crazy Horses, and the title track.
(Or, I’m really sorry.)
Thanks, mt58. A remix!
This period of the Osmonds would make for such a compelling film. Instead of your traditional rags to riches biopic, a narrative about an established musical acts fighting for their right to play their own music would make for great drama.
After “discovering” “Crazy Horses”. I went to YouTube. One version, shot for German TV, is live; no lip-synch. It starts with a young German woman introducing them. They look so happy.
“Crazy Horses” reminds me of the pandemic.
I’ll return with some (hopefully) cogent thoughts about the songs written about here, but no mention of “Without You” is complete without this:
That’s definitely an organ on “Joy”
Thank goodness for your decision to provide us with ScribeIrish gifts here at tnocs.com, because I’ve been going through withdrawals over at the mothership since you’ve gone quiet. Miss ya over there dude, but I’m selfishly grateful for your presence here. 😉
Hope your birthday was a good one, irish. As I recall, JJ’s my bday twin and we’re fast approaching our day to lament we’re another year older – hooray for March babies!!!!
Happy Birthday week Irish!
I should add that it is NEVER too late to commit to keg stands. When Mrs Thegue and I were dating, we lived in a brownstone next to one filled with college students, and one night they held a party.
I wandered over with my future wife, and there was a keg stand contest taking place.
I won. 15 seconds, and near the end the young’ins were chanting, “POPS! POPS! POPS!”
That sounds like a movie premise, lol. Brilliant.
MrDutch liked doing paintball with his boys back in the day. We went to this place once where they were having a pickup battle round, but everyone in the mix was under the age of 16, except MrDutch. He became “The Dad” the rest of the afternoon and all the kids wanted to be on his team. So I’m sitting there watching and hearing all these kids screaming to “get The Dad”, and “why can’t anybody hit The Dad, he’s a big target”, “The Dad is a paintball monster”…. 😆
P.S. I told a story (somewhere) of an evening where I crashed a Korean-American party, then spent the wee hours drunk in a Tower Records picking out horrible CDs for purchase.
#1 on that list was “The Best of Bread”.
I won “The Best of Bread” off the radio in one of those call-in contests.
BTW, this is a safe space, right? I can declare my hatred for the song ‘American Pie’ and not be stoned for being un-American or some silly nonsense? Because I hate that song. It’s pretentious, long winded, rambling nonsense that society somehow has been made to think it’s an unofficial anthem of some type.
[Hides behind couch just in case]
“American Pie’ is more about the journey than the destination – I love how the song changes and flows – you’re almost exhausted by the time the song is over (I see that as a feature – likely, you see it as a bug). It’s a wild ride, and I appreciate how it hits me differently as an adult than it did as a kid / teenager.
I totally get how someone might find it pretentious and annoying, though. Still love ya, Dutch!
I agree, totally self-important and superfluous song. I can live without it. I don’t mind pretentious, long-winded or even rambling at times, but you have to do it well. And this song is dictionary definition “mid”…
Here’s how to do pretentious, long-winded and rambling properly… (maybe have to hide behind my own couch after posting this one…)
This fixed American Pie for me.
American Pie is the most overrated “classic” number one hit to my mind. Plenty of Baby Boomers probably give it a 10, I can only muster an 8 and that’s grading on a curve. It seems self-important in telling a rather long story in song, something that’s mercifully not in evidence in McLean’s other hit, Castles in the Air. The only good thing about it is that when it comes on, I have time to go to the bathroom or warm something up in a microwave oven while waiting for it to end.
Yes, one of the classic “bathroom break” songs.
It may not have aged well, but one thing that I can confirm is that when it first arrived on Top-40, it was pretty compelling record.
And when we learned that there was a full 7 minute version, it was a big thing.
We studied it to try and figure what it was all about. I remember it being great fun one Friday when the English teacher shelved the usual lesson plan, and let us all analyze and wax philosophical on the lyrics.
So I wonder: what was the similar American Pie-style “epic and important record experience” for the 80s kids? The 90s? The aughts?
There has to be one for each.
I guess I’m a day late to say “Abracadabra” for 80s and “I Wanna Sex You Up” for the 90s.
Realistically though, I’m drawing a blank. I was once (unwillingly) on the receiving end of a long-winded explanation of “Hotel California”, but that’s still 70s.
For the ’80s, a few contenders: Purple Rain, Billie Jean, We Are the World, Rapper’s Delight. For the ’90s, Smells Like Teen Spirit, I imagine (I was far from kid status by then).
I finally could ended this reading and it was very good, Irish. Your birthday song is one of the greatest, I like that song very much, and many of us can relate to it as long as we are getting old.
Happy belated birthday, Irish! Hope you’ve had a great celebration. One question: Do you feel like I do that Beverly Bremers sounds an awfully lot like Donny Osmond? (Or vice versa, if you prefer?)
That’s funny — I thought she sounded like Karen Carpenter (and I’ve never thought she sounded like Donny Osmond).
Beverly sounds slightly more like a twentysomething woman. But only just so.
Belated Happy Birthday, irishbeartx! Thanks for the walk down memory lane. By the way, “Floy Joy” did not peak at #1. I would have remembered that.
Mt, I’m guessing a numeral dropped off the original?
Indeed. I’ll chalk it up to turbulence on the flight during layout!
My error – corrected.