As I’m currently reading a real chunkster with some way to go, I thought I’d post about music today.
I was born in 1960 (I don’t feel that old mind!), so my teenage years spanned the whole of the ’70s. I can’t help but look back on the decade through rose-tinted glasses, and will forever remember the 1973 Christmas Top of the Pops. Once glam went out of fashion, pop was never so much fun again. Luckily we do get nostalgia trips on the box now and then; and the TV series Life on Mars was pure joy with its soundtrack from my youth. Glam and disco were brilliant, but punk largely passed me by – I veered off down a folksy, soft and prog rock route, but please don’t hold that against me!
So today, pop-pickers, we have my top ten 70s singles, chosen as my 1970s teenaged self. I compiled a list of songs I adore; ultimately all these songs still have their hooks in me. They’re songs I can still remember most of, if not all, the lyrics to; songs whose guitar riffs, sax and keyboard solos, even drum breaks, I still have a tendency to mime to; and they are all songs that make me feel happy or send a little shiver down my spine. Some good criteria for picking great pop singles, and I hope you’ll agree that not everything about the ’70s was bad!
1. Dec ’71 – Horse with no name by America. At 11yrs old when this came out, I was almost a teenybopper; David Cassidy was to become my idol of choice! However later at about 16, I and my classmates at my all-girls school discovered US folk/soft rock together in a big way with Bread, John Denver, and of course America. Several of us had guitars and we used to sing and strum every lunchtime, broadening our previously Beatles dominated repertoire with songs such as Horse with no name – which has an irresistible strum-along riff and la-la chorus. It’s B-side Sandman had an even better guitar part. Unfortunately America weren’t to go on and repeat this chart success but did produce a string of well-received albums that I still enjoy.
2. Jan ’72 – American Pie by Don McLean. This is a rare thing – a narrative semi-acoustic pop song with literate lyrics crammed full of cultural references and it’s 8.5 minutes long. It shouldn’t have worked perhaps, but the almost throwaway last line of the first verse is the killer – “the day the music died”. It was another of those lunchtime singing session songs for us schoolgirls. McLean has always refused to explain the song, however it is generally accepted that it is a tribute to Buddy Holly and commentary on the lack of good time music since that fatal air-crash fifty years ago. (Apparently it starts in mono and ends in stereo, but I’ve not checked that out). You can find a fascinating analysis of the lyrics on don-mclean.com, his official fansite.
3. May ’75 – I’m Not In Love by 10CC. Best known for uptempo numbers full of ironic humour, this superb bittersweet love song marked a change for 10CC. It couldn’t have been a hit without Eric Stewart’s breathy, plaintive voice, enveloped by synthesizer swirls. It’s a beautiful sad song and just thinking about it now brings a small lump to the throat – one of the best-ever love songs without a doubt, and for me the greatest song that 10CC ever crafted.
4. Nov ’75 – Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Arguably one of the greatest singles ever with that groundbreaking video, BR is pure opera. My brother got me the sheet music for Christmas – it might be worth a fortune now if I hadn’t written in transposed chords to play it in an easier guitar key (it was written in E-flat). However, I digress; imagine the scene with me at the piano being Freddie Mercury playing with all the flourishes, and singing at the top of my voice. This is the ultimate singalong magnum opus whether you’re alone at the piano or with your mates and their air guitars in the car – Party on dude!
5. Feb ’76 –Rain by Status Quo. Quo were massive in the 70s and we frugged along to all the hits. Three chord wonders or not, they rocked, and being a local (South London) band we were all fans; I was drawn to Francis Rossi’s sideburns and waistcoats rather than the blonde locks of Rick Parfitt. This hit is more bluesy than its predecessors, slightly slower, and with a fourth chord or more it’s my favourite from the Blue for You album. We, like the band, were all denim clad by then; trying to find the widest flares – I had some superb brushed denim Brutus bags I seem to remember, aah – those were the days.
6. Apr ’77 – Hotel California by The Eagles. The Eagles blend of country rock with pop sensibilities was never better than in Hotel California. Though I loved this song in the seventies, I love it even more now as it has taken on mythic status for us. My other half was on a job in Norway which kept getting extended, and the little guest house where he stayed took on the mantle of being where “you can check out any time you want but you can never leave”. What a killer lyric – Nuff said!
7. Dec ’76 – Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan. The Dan’s only top twenty UK hit struck a particular chord with me; not least because I’d just found out that the guy I fancied from afar for ages was into them. This was a possible way in? Needless to say that romance never worked out, but I did fall in love with Steely Dan. I adored their cleverness, the tightness of the groove, and the nasal tones of Donald Fagen’s voice, although I can remember being shocked when I first found out where their name came from (if you don’t know, don’t ask, ditto 10CC!). Haitian Divorce was very different from the rest of the chart fodder at the time, so this stood out from the crowd for me.
8. Oct ’77 – She’s Not There by Santana. This version of The Zombies’ 60s hit is one of those rare covers that is better than the original. Giving it the Santana Latino treatment with a great organ accompaniment provides a backdrop for some blistering guitar & keyboard work towards the song’s climax. I later bought the 2CD Santana Ultimate Collection only to discover that this song is on CD2, along with all the duds rather than on the brilliant CD1.
9. Aug ’78 – Three Times A Lady by The Commodores. I turned eighteen in May ’78 and as there were loads of 18th birthday parties around then, I decided to make mine an end of summer celebration before we all went off to university or back to school instead, and held it the first weekend of September. This track was number one and was just the classic smoochy single I needed to make the party a success. It took me a while to track it down though – all the usual shops in Croydon had sold out.
I splashed out and also bought Jilted John (left) and Quo’s Again & Again. All three singles went down a treat, and I think I got my slow dance to The Commodores (but with whom I can’t remember). I’m told the party was a hit and it must have been OK as we only had a couple of part bottles of Cinzano left at the end.
10. Dec ’78 – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick by Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Dury and Chas Jankel took punk and funked it up. Sheer brilliance. Witty lyrics full of double entendre delivered in Dury’s half-singing, half-talking style helped to take this to the top spot. Ian Dury provided some musical relief from the excesses of punk that I really enjoyed. He is sorely missed.
And that makes ten. What didn’t make it? Well there were a few hard choices and in the end I left out: Got to get you into my life – Earth, Wind and Fire (fab Beatles cover); Metal Guru – T.Rex – My dad hated this!!! Follow you follow me – Genesis, just a little too soppy; Bridge over troubled water by Simon and Garfunkel; and sadly somehow neither of the Davids – Bowie nor Cassidy made it either – I wasn’t a Bowie fan in the 70s, not getting into him till later on.
What are/were your favourite singles of the 1970s?