The 1970s are not reagrded as pop music’s best years. Something bad must have found its way into the water supply. I never heard so many dumb songs on the radio at one time. Through the cracks, however, in between the undercover angels and dogs named Boo, slipped some truly memorable music. Here’s ten of the best, from the boxes of 45 in my music room.
“Supernatural Thing” – Ben E. King (1975)
Think of Ben E. King, and the Drifters, and “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me” come to mind. He calls this his “surprise” song. It’s easy to forget that he made a comeback during the disco era. What a great record! “Inter-PLAN-etary . . . extra-OR-dinary!”
“Daytime – Nighttime” — Keith Hampshire (1972)
A great sing-along song, if you must. There’s also the horn breaks required in every pop song from the post-Blood, Sweat and Tears era. Add Keith Hampshire, former Radio Caroline and CKFH-Toronto deejay, to the lists of jocks who’ve also had hit records.
“Poetry Man” – Phoebe Snow (1975)
Ooooh yeah! Only a handful of songs mention writers or writing. I’m not afraid to get in touch with my feminine side and put on Phoebe Snow’s first album. Dr. Tom, the Love Doc, says: chicks dig this kind of stuff. That’s tenorman Zoot Sims, one of Woody Herman’s Four Brothers, playing the melt-your-girlfriend’s-heart sax break.
“Inner City Blues” – Marvin Gaye (1971)
You’d think Marvin Gaye and his co-writer James Nyx time-traveled into the future. “Bills pile up sky high . . . send that boy off to die . . . ” Put hip-hop behind these lyrics, and you’d have a hit all over again.
“Afternoon Delight” – The Starland Vocal Band (1976)
Eeeeew! Not skyrockets in flight! Now wait. Meet The Starland Vocal Band. Bill and Taffy Danoff sang radio and advertising jingles, and the SVB was good enough to have its own TV variety show. The clue: VOCAL. Harmonies. Singing, not yowling. And “Delight” certainly isn’t any more provocative than The Raspberries’ “Go All The Way,” four years older, or “Teach Me Tonight” that Gram and Gramps danced to.
“Main Street” – Bob Seger (1977)
We grew up with Bob Seger, the kid from Ann Arbor Pioneer High, buying his first singles on the local Hideout label. Rocker then turned introspective with his “Night Moves” album. “Main Street” places a new on driving home late at night, through quiet small-town streets, after a night of fun at the local gentleman’s club.
“Poor Man’s Throne” – Copper Penny (1973)
The best soul band ever from Kitchener, Ontario. Some songs sound as if they were created with one radio station in mind. This one helped Windsor’s CKLW meet its Canadian content requirements while holding onto its listeners across the border in Detroit.
“Seasons In The Sun” – Terry Jacks (1974)
Released in the springtime. Admittedly not the best time to be heraing a song about death and dying. More amazing is that Terry Jacks, the guy who helped out on some dreadful Poppy Family songs, took on a Jacques Brel poem, “Le moribund” (“the dying man”) and made it a hit song in English. He introduced M. Brel to people who would have never known about him, or his nothing-off-limits, occasionally graphic, lyrics.
“Do It Baby” – The Miracles (1974)
The post-Smokey lineup, with Bill Griffin singing lead. Among the limp ballads, overproduced hippie music, Watergate updates, and other dirty dishwater on the radio that summer, up popped this bit of smokin’ hot soul.
“Chuck E’s In Love” – Rickie Lee Jones (1979)
One of the all-time best debut singles. When Ms. Jones wrote it, she and Tom Waits were romantically linked. Their friend Chuck E. Weiss was in love with someone else. Still, any song that rhymes “Pantages” with “contagious” is automatically cool.