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It’s all da-da-da-down.

I’ve ranted before about the profusion of blogs and music sites that analyze and re-analyze the recordings of the past, generally in much more intelligent fashion than I can muster.

(One such site — and they’re usually very good — is The Quietus. They’ve done a whole raft of 40th-anniversary retrospective essays this year, including especially good ones about John Cale’s Fear and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It’s possible that 1974 looks infinitely more interesting in their hands than it ever did when it was happening.)

It occurs to me that we are currently passing a 40th musical anniversary that — as far as I’ve seen — no one has written much about.

I don’t know much about it, certainly not enough to be an authority. But, since unexplored musical blog-space seems rarer than rocking-horse shit nowadays, I’m gonna jump in and claim it for my own anyway:

This late autumn and early winter marks 40 years since the peak of Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Our lad’s Goodnight Vienna LP, released in mid-November 1974, would mark the end of his brief run as a superstar-level solo performer.

The LP reached Number 8 on the U.S. charts and spawned three Top 40 singles (“Only You (And You Alone),” “Goodnight Vienna” and the double-sided “No No Song”/”Snookeroo.”)

Local airplay charts from around this time 40 years ago show Goodnight Vienna holding comfortable Top 10 positions at stations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Hartford, while the record’s lead single was at mid-chart levels and on the way up at stations across the country.

In the U.K., Goodnight Vienna would be Ringo’s last Top 40 album for almost a quarter-century — by which time he was no longer an active hitmaker, but more of a nostalgia artist, really.

After Goodnight Vienna, Ringo released the greatest-hits comp Blast From Your Past in time for the Christmas market in ’75.

His next new studio album, September 1976’s Ringo’s Rotogravure, peaked at No. 28 and fell off the U.S. charts quickly. And 1977’s disastrous Ringo the 4th pretty much sounded the death knell for Ringo Starr as a solo headliner, at least on record.

As I’ve said before, the brief flowering of Ringo’s solo career has always been something of a mystery to me.

The guy genuinely could not sing … and, while he was/is an underrated drummer, underrated drumming doesn’t sell singles and albums to the general populace. (Worth mentioning: Studio ace Jim Keltner plays at least some of the drums on the Goodnight Vienna album.)

For that matter, the songs he was singing weren’t always that great either.

His oldies covers are pleasant enough, but they’re not so tremendous as to make us forget the originals. “You’re Sixteen,” with its Paul McCartney kazoo solo, still seems to me like it was crafted as part of some race-to-the-bottom competition to produce the worst possible Number One single.

(1974 was just the year for such a competition, too. Compared to fellow Number One hits “Seasons In The Sun,” “The Streak,” “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” “I Can Help” and “Havin’ My Baby,” Ringo’s nostalgia trip seems downright attractive.)

And songs like “Goodnight Vienna” — which sounds exactly like the sort of thing a dissolute rocker would write for his buddy after too many brandy Alexanders — lack the spark or imagination that makes classic pop:

And yet, in his few years as a true solo star, Ringo racked up enough hits to legitimately fill a best-of album, with two Number One hits and multiple other visits to the Top Ten.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who have ever picked up a guitar (or a set of drumsticks) wish they had a career even half as successful as Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Did Ringo owe his success to pure nostalgic sentiment? Was the pop world so thoroughly out of gas in ’73-’75 that anything Beatles-related was greeted with rapturous cheers?

(Having heard the Number Ones mentioned above, and having listened to a whole bunch of Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from that period, I find this explanation entirely plausible.)

Or, did he owe his success to the Seventies buying public’s fascination with celebrity collaborations?

Ringo’s mid-’70s solo albums featured guest shots by all three of his former Beatles colleagues, as well as the likes of Robbie Robertson, Elton John, Billy Preston, Marc Bolan and Harry Nilsson. That’s as close as the world ever got to a Beatles reunion, plus lots of other celebrity firepower besides.

Were people buying just to see what all those star(r)s would stir up? (Surely millions of people weren’t plunking down their hard-earned dollars to spend 40 minutes in the company of just Ringo.)

Also, now that time has shown that lots of celebs together don’t necessarily make good music, is anyone buying these albums nowadays?

Sure, I know nobody’s buying music any more. But I wonder if there are 60-year-olds replacing their worn-out vinyl copies of Goodnight Vienna with digital versions; whether there are 15-year-olds or 20-year-olds discovering these albums for the first time; or whether they are largely forgotten 40 years later. Do they stand anything resembling a test of time?

Having extensively picked apart his shortcomings, I have to say I kinda like the idea of Ringo as a solo star. He has always seemed like the most grounded and approachable of the Beatles, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome to every gold and platinum record on his den wall.

I don’t really understand the whole phenomenon; but time has proven repeatedly that my comprehension is not necessary for pop success.

It’s all da-da-da-down to … well, I don’t know what, exactly. But it happened, and proof exists.

A lotta nice girls.

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My man Jim Bartlett recently wrote a post about an American Top 40 countdown in which Casey Kasem played fast, loose and/or inaccurate with some of the stories he was so fond of telling.

I’ve learned that these sorts of flubs were not uncommon on ’70s AT40s … like the time Casey brought George Harrison’s mother back from the dead, or the time he shorted Grand Funk three Top 40 singles (out of five) in a recap of their career, or the time(s) he teased a story and then forgot to tell it after the commercial.

It’s kinda droll to think about all the kids (and maybe a few adults) hanging on Casey’s word every week, thinking he was the One True Source for pop music information … only to find out years later that he’d booted an anecdote, a link or a chart placement they’d taken as gospel.

Of course, a few inaccuracies in a radio show are no big deal in the long run. It ain’t brain surgery or world peace. It’s only jukebox music.

And, it’s been rumored that Billboard magazine cooked the charts from time to time anyway — like the week in December 1974 that all four ex-Beatles just happened to have Top 40 hits, thanks to one of them showing remarkable staying power around No. 39.  So it’s not like the Top 40 was a golden and infallible entity to begin with.

Still, Casey was the face of the charts, and it’s his mistakes that got noticed — and still do.

I was listening the other day to the June 29, 1974, AT40, another countdown with a memorable flub.

AT40 historian Pete Battistini says Casey recorded the program early — perhaps as early as June 13 — so he could go to Hawaii and appear in an episode of Hawaii Five-0. The chart placements given for the week ending June 29 were based on estimates made well ahead of time by the program’s staff.

And that was how Casey ended up playing a “debut record” at No. 33 that actually topped out at No. 41 — never quite cracking the real Top 40 as compiled by Billboard.

It’s a shame this particular record never actually made it onto the 40.

Because, while it seems like an overplayed classic-rock warhorse to 2013 ears, it’s actually a cool, distinctive, even kinda weird little tune when you stop to think about it.

For starters, how often do you hear a John Lee Hooker-style boogie on commercial radio? We all know the rhythm, sure, but how often does someone mine it for popular music? That’s cool and unique in and of itself.

Billy Gibbons’ lecherous, mesquite-smoked croak is no one’s idea of a perfect pop-radio vocal, either. It may have been “La Grange” that inspired some long-ago critic to compare Gibbons’ singing to the sound of a zipper being forced open.

But he owns it, and it’s authentic, and it works. Indeed, try to imagine the song without it.

Imagine some hambone like David Coverdale singing it. Imagine Paul McCartney singing it, or Peter Frampton, or Mark Farner, or … you get the idea. No go.

And then there’s the song’s dirt-simple structure.

There’s the loose, conversational sung intro … the one and only verse (no chorus, thanks) … some solos by Gibbons … then a quick boogie breakdown, and then some more solos by Gibbons.

And that’s it. Like the ’55 Fender Strat Gibbons used to record it, “La Grange” doesn’t have any parts it doesn’t need.

The economical, bare-bones streak running through rock n’ roll might be the music’s saving grace — think Creedence, or the Basement Tapes, or Sun Records Elvis. ZZ Top knew how to tap that streak, and on “La Grange” they did it for neither the first nor last time.

(Speaking of Fender Strats, Gibbons’ tone is a wonder. Check out that second solo, chock full of pinch harmonics that sizzle like drops of water on a cast-iron skillet.)

ZZ Top would go on to make considerably more successful music than “La Grange” — much of it in the mid-’80s, when I was old enough to listen to American Top 40.

Some of that music still stands up. I’d argue that none of it, though, has quite the same spark that made the uncommercial, no-frills “La Grange” a long-running radio staple.

Encore Performances: July 27, 1974: Havin’ my baby.

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If the sodding Internet won’t work, I can always trot out one from the archives. From the old blog, August 2009:

For some reason, XM has been hitting the middle of the decade heavily in their recent AT40 rebroadcasts.
I haven’t heard a 1979 since I don’t know when.
(That’s not an entirely negative thing, I suppose, given the kinds of records that were hitting then.)

Anyway, here we have the second-to-last countdown of the Nixon Administration.
Of course my favourites will be in bold — though I gotta warn you, there won’t be that many.

No. 40: The oldest song on the countdown and a former Number One: McCartney and Wings with “Band On The Run.”
Wonder if this was the last hit single on the Apple label?
(No, actually. The invaluable ARSA site reminds me that Apple artists continued to make the charts throughout 1975.)

No. 39: Another ex-Number One playing out the string: “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.
I still don’t get this one.

No. 38, debut: “Rub It In” by Billy “Crash” Craddock.
Somewhere, a hitless Jimmy Buffett was wishing he wrote this OK honky-tonk tune about the lubricious possibilities of suntan lotion; and any number of future good-time country stars were picking up a few tips.

No. 37: Casey comments on the “weird” and “bizarre” phenomenon of artists continuing to score hits after their deaths.
(Apparently Jim Reeves, dead a full decade, was still scoring on the country charts in 1974.)

Anyway, the song at 37 – “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” — gave Jim Croce more posthumous hits (five) than he had while he was alive (four.)
It’s a pretty minor song, really; there must have been a healthy dose of sentiment involved in this one scraping the Forty.
Great line about telling the boss you’re a genius, and the boss saying, “We’ve got all that we can use.”
Did Jim Croce ever work in corporate America?

No. 36: “Hang On In There,” Johnny Bristol. Narrowly avoids the curse of the spoken-word intro — it’s more like sprechgesang.

No. 35: “Come Monday,” Jimmy Buffett.
Whoops. I take back what I said up there about “hitless” — not being a Parrothead, I’d forgotten about this one.
Maudlin, lugubrious country with whining steel guitar and lonesome lyrics about spending “four days in a brown LA haze.”
He’s more likeable when he puts on the Hawaiian shirt.

No. 34: Paul Anka and Odia Coates, “Havin’ My Baby.”
You’re a woman in love and I’m glad it ain’t me carrying the load. Hey, wanna get me a beer on your way through the kitchen?

No. 33: “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool and the Gang. OK funk, and a nice change after three ballads in a row.

No. 32: The first hit by Donny and Marie, ‘I’m Leavin’ It All Up To You.”
Fresh-faced schlock that could have been played on Lawrence Welk.
Casey notes that this is the fifth different act from the Osmond family to chart — the others were Donny, Marie, Jimmy and the Osmonds.

No. 31: Helen Reddy, “You and Me Against The World.”
Were I a single parent, or the child of one, this might resonate with me.
I’m not, and it doesn’t.
I don’t care for the spoken-word intro and ending, either, just as a general rule.
Nice reference to how clowns creep out little kids, though — someone gets it.

No. 30: Andy Kim, “Rock Me Gently.” Soon to be a Number One near you.
I love the way this totally cops Neil Diamond, even down to the phrasings and enunciations like “sweet suh-ren-dah.”
Even better than the real thing.

No. 29: “You Won’t See Me,” Anne Murray. This has a nicer bass line than I have previously admitted. I can still do without it.

No. 28: Grand Funk, “Shinin’ On.” Casey notes that this was produced by Todd Rundgren, who added entirely too much echo to the vox.
I wonder if the relatively low placement of this single was what led GFR to break ranks with Rundgren.

Incidentally, the very first CD I ever bought was Grand Funk’s 1975 live album “Caught In The Act,” and the version of “Shinin’ On” on that record really pops … much more energy than the studio version.
“We are space-age sailors / We all have our failures.”

No. 27: Olivia Newton-John, “If You Love Me Let Me Know.”
For the record, I’m listening to Foster Sylvers’ “Misdemeanor” on YouTube as I type this. That really is a knockout, that one.

Casey welcomes one new station this week — the colorfully named WIOU in Kokomo, Indiana. No riffing off the call-sign from Casey.

No. 26, as lightning flashes outside my window: Lamont Dozier, “Fish Ain’t Bitin’.” OK funk with which I was unfamiliar.
Nice “Tricky Dick” lyrical reference in the second verse.
Unfortunately, in the songs-featuring-Richard-Nixon sweepstakes, this one places out of the money (trailing Bowie’s “Young Americans,” Funkadelic’s “Let’s Take It To The Stage” and Chicago’s “Song for Richard And His Friends.”)

No. 25: Three Dog Night, “Sure As I’m Sitting Here.”
Feels like a forced attempt at folksiness: “You get up, you get down / You get lost and then you get found.”

No. 24: Gene Redding, “Disheartened.”
It’s really funny when Casey starts reading the lyrics to a song, and for a moment, you think he’s just talking and doing regular DJ patter.
It’s even funnier when he says things like, “I’m revealing things I never show / There’s just no way my eager arms can say no.”
For a second I wondered what the hell he was talking about and where he was going with it … then I realized he was just reading the lyrics.

No. 23: Rufus, “Tell Me Something Good.” OK, I’m kinda tired of it, but it’s such a great groove.

No. 22: Commodores, “Machine Gun.”
For what it’s worth, keyboardist Milan Williams — who dominates this instrumental with his clavinet and synth — was not part of the Commodores lineup that performed about 15 miles from my house the other night.

No. 21: Elvis Presley, “If You Talk In Your Sleep (Don’t Mention My Name.)”
I didn’t think Elvis was still scoring many hits during this period, but he was … he just wasn’t taking them as high as he used to.
(His last Top Ten hit came two years before this countdown.)
This is an OK song; if it came on the AM radio in my Rambler Rebel I wouldn’t have turned the dial.
“Love is so much sweeter when it’s borrowed.”

During this time period, Casey would sometimes introduce the AT40 member stations by playing their on-air IDs.
We got two good ones in this countdown.
In the days of energy crises: “There’s no fuel like an old fuel. From the coal fields of southern West Virginia, this is WWNR, Beckley.”
and
“This is WNFL in Green Bay, Wisconsin, serving Packerland on fourteen-four-oh.”

No. 20: Bachman Turner Overdrive, “Takin’ Care of Business.”

No. 19: Wet Willie, “Keep On Smilin’.”

No. 18: Jumping up from No. 35, Jim Stafford with “Wildwood Weed.”
I am loath to admit it … but as country-fried novelty drug songs go, this one ain’t half bad.

No. 17: The Impressions, “Finally Got Myself Together.” Staples Singers-ish loose-limbed funk. Also not half bad.

No. 16: Mac Davis, “One Hell of a Woman.” Last time this showed up on a chart I blogged about its resemblance to Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” so I won’t go over it again.

No. 15: ABBA, “Waterloo.” Up three notches.
Too bad Casey talked over the first “My my.”

Ya know, I wonder what Casey’s fellow DJs thought of his jocking skills — his flow, his anecdotes, etc.
I wonder if they disdained him for working on tape.
“Aw, hell, taping a show is like playing ping-pong with the net down. You haven’t been a DJ until you’ve entertained the Tri-State Region at drive-time with both turntables broken.”

No. 14: Jumping from No. 32, Paper Lace with a future Number One, “The Night Chicago Died.”
According to legend, Richard Daley (the elder) didn’t think much of this song, and I kinda don’t either.

I do find it interesting that the lyrical perspective is explicitly from outside the U.S. (“Back in the USA / Back in the bad old days.”)
Kinda suggests a family that moved to America — say, from Ireland — and then decided to go back to the Auld Sod.
Just as I automatically assume every pop song is being sung to and from someone between the ages of 18 and 28, I just assume as a matter of course they’re being sung by Americans.
Chauvinism, I suppose.

I wonder how many of the teenies who bought this record thought all along it was based on actual events?
(If any of them are reading: It isn’t.)

No. 13: Golden Earring, “Radar Love.” A strong chart success for the Dutch group, in contrast to the shocking loss of Johan Cruyff & Co. in that month’s World Cup final.
I’d rather watch Cruyff than listen to this.

No. 12: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “On and On.”
This one grows on me the more I hear it. A nice funky change of pace from GKatP’s usual slow jams.

No. 11: Blue Magic, “Sideshow.” A spoken-word intro AND a circus theme. No, and no.

No. 10: Chicago, “Call on Me.”
Wait a minute!
I thought they died.

(OK, I know that joke was cliched back in July 1974, and it’s no fresher today. No matter — I had to make it anyway.)

With this song, trumpet player Lee Loughnane became the fifth member of Chicago to write or co-write a Top Forty hit — the others being Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, Danny Seraphine and James Pankow.
(Terry Kath never wrote a Top 40 hit, though he sang a couple.)
That’s pretty good bench strength.
The song, meanwhile, goes from No. 27 to No. 23 to No. 10 in its first three weeks.

No. 9: Dave Loggins, “Please Come to Boston.”
I tell ya, the guy keeps asking the chick to move with him and she keeps saying no.
Self-centered biatch.

And y’know, I’ve lived in Boston (albeit not in 1974) and I wanna know: Where in Bosstown can you sell your paintings on the sidewalk?
Sounds just as fictionalized as Paper Lace’s made-up-from-thin-air “east side of Chicago.”

Wiki tells me that Dave Loggins has become a successful songwriter for other artists, including writing theme music that is played during TV broadcasts of the Masters golf tournament.
Whaddya know.

No. 8: “Rock The Boat,” Hues Corporation. One of the best rhythm tracks of all time. On its way down from Number One.
I’d like to think it relinquished the Number One spot out of politeness and a desire to let others share the glory … b/c this one could have stayed Number One until about July 1977 and it would have deserved it.

No. 7: The Hollies, “The Air That I Breathe.”
All I need is Jennifer Eccles and the air that I breathe.

No. 6: Roberta Flack, “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Languid, mellow, summery sex-funk. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

No. 5: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” Steely Dan.
Becker and Fagen were probably laughing up their sleeves, thinking of their song getting spun at community-center dances.

No. 4: George McCrae, “Rock Your Baby.” Last week’s Number One.
A noble and funky effort, with gurgling drum machine in full effect … but not as completely boss as the record his wife cut the next year.
(Allow me to repeat: Ain’t nothing wrong with languid sex-funk.)

No. 3: Righteous Brothers, “Rock n’ Roll Heaven.”
Knowing that this was a stone’s throw from Number One is kinda like knowing that Spiro Agnew was a stone’s throw from leading our nation.
Of course, he wasn’t in July 1974, but you get my point.

No. 2: Elton John, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.”
I think the title is the best part of this song.
And yet, it topped out at No. 2 in 1974, then came back to hit No. 1 in 1992 (in the duet version with George Michael.)
So I might be in the minority in.re. this song.

Number One on the soul chart this week: “My Thang” by James Brown, who rules OK.
And Number One on the album chart: Elton John’s “Caribou.” Imagine millions of Americans savouring such Elton classics as “Stinker,” “You’re So Static” and the immortal “Solar Prestige a Gammon.”

And Number One on the pop charts for the week ending July 27, 1974:
“Annie’s Song” by John Denver.

I was just thinking about this song last week, when its melody took up residence in my head for three or four days and would not leave.
Much as I hate John Denver, I have to admit he put together a damned good pop ballad.

Incidentally, this song has been variously and hilariously co-opted by English soccer fans. Check it out.
Maybe I can banish it from my head if I think of the lyrics: “Like a night out in Sheffield / Like a greasy chip butty …”

Encore Performances: June 8, 1974: We could stay inside and play games, I don’t know.

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June 2009, old blog.

This week’s AT40 countdown started on a really low note (we’ll explain in a minute) but got better. It has more bold-faced favourites than most countdowns I blog about, even if some of ’em are kinda sentimental picks.

So here we go — the top 40 songs in the land for the week ending June 8, 1974.

No. 40, debut: “Sideshow,” Blue Magic. This circus-themed song begins with the traditional circus fanfare and a voice chanting “STEP RIGHT UP!,” which is a pretty damn weak way to start an AT40 countdown.
As for the rest of the song, can’t listen — clown will eat me.

This was Blue Magic’s first hit.
Just a few months later, the soul vocal group from Philadelphia would be called on by the Rolling Stones to provide vocal backups for a song on the “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll” album.
Dunno what brought Blue Magic to Mick and Keef’s attention … but I sure hope it wasn’t this.

No. 39, debut: “No Charge,” Melba Montgomery. A former country No. 1, which is also a bad, bad sign.
I’m coining a new rule: Any song that begins with a spoken-word voiceover, and is not performed by Barry White, is sucksville.

Wiki says this cornball semi-recitation about all the things mothers do for us peaked at No. 39 on the pop charts, so this might have been its first and only week.
Oh, sure — this song pops up once, and I get to hear it.

No, 38, debut: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” Steely Dan. Donald Fagen has an awesome voice, and if you disagree, go read somebody cooler’s blog.
Casey introduces the record as “Steely Dan, from Los Angeles” — which was true at the time but somewhat laughable, since Becker and Fagen were quintessential New Yorkers who were only press-ganged into living in LA by the need to make it big in the record business.

According to Wiki, this peaked at #4 and was the Dan’s highest-charting record.

It must be said: The first three songs on this AT40 represent the surprising openness of top 40 radio in those days. We have a slow vocal-group soul song, a C&W weeper and the odd jazzy inflections of the Dan, all within 10 minutes of each other.
That ain’t bad for eclecticism. D’ya think today’s hit radio stations play that kind of variety?

Before No. 37, Casey answered a reader’s question that involved the week’s obligatory Beatles name-drop.

No. 37, debut: “If You Wanna Get To Heaven,” Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Stiff boogie. This is a minor-league party song; a grade-B party song; the Hydrox of party songs.
(Something like “We’re An American Band” would be the Oreo of party songs.)

No. 36: “The Payback,” James Brown. He’s got soul; he’s super bad.

No. 35: “The Air That I Breathe,” The Hollies. I blogged a few months ago about really liking some of the Hollies’ Sixties Britpop songs, and I think if I looked deeper into the Hollies I could get to like them.

Casey introduces the record as being by a band that’s been together 10 years and came over in the first wave of the British invasion.
I hoped against hope that the Kinks had scraped out some forgotten hit — though I knew well that in ’74, the Kinks were probably playing the “Preservation” song cycle to half-full college gyms.

No. 34: In its 18th week on the charts, “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone.
I like the way this song struts — it sounds like it could have been the product of the same New Orleans funkmeisters who waxed “Lady Marmalade,” even though it wasn’t.
I could live without the lalalalalaalalalalala’s at the end.
But you can’t really hold what a band does on the fade against it. Otherwise the Beatles would get serious demerits for all those how-the-hell-do-we-finish-this? songs they did, like “Magical Mystery Tour.”

No. 33: This countdown has a weird addition I’ve not heard in other AT40s: Gently funky background music playing under Casey’s voice as he introduces each record.
Not sure I like it — it makes you think you’re hearing the song you’re about to hear, and of course, you aren’t.
Anyway: “Mighty Mighty,” Earth Wind & Fire. Acceptably funky but stays way too long on one chord.

No. 32: “Another Park, Another Sunday,” the Doobie Brothers. Never been a huge fan of Tom Johnston’s voice.
According to Wiki, it was the song on the B side of this single — “Black Water” — that would go on to become the Doobies’ first No. 1 hit.
Why anyone would put “Black Water” on the B-side and this on the A is beyond me.

No. 31: Something by Eddie Kendricks. Missed the title. More acceptable funk.
I think it might have been “Son of Sagittarius,” which I regret not hearing, b/c it sounds like a real time capsule.
Ah well.

No. 30, debut: “I’m Coming Home,” the Spinners. The Spinners were kings of the silky groove-ride.
Philippe Wynne’s voice is da bomb. He shoulda done a debut with Fagen.
(Actually, I’d love to hear Donald Fagen record an entire album of duets, Sinatra-style. Seriously.)
Produced by Thom Bell. Where? Philadelphia.

No. 29: “On and On,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. Pretty much every early-’70s AT40 I’ve heard seems to feature Gladys and the Pips somewhere around No. 29, singing the absolute hell out of some fairly bland slow jam.

My wife: “I can skip ahead if you want.”
Me: “Naw, I’m waiting to see when they’re going to change to another chord.”
My wife: “They go on and on.”

No. 28: “One Hell of a Woman,” Mac Davis. Mac slips into his best Tom Jones voice and elucidates a thorough list of female archetypes — she’s a lady, she’s a kitten, she’s a witch, she’s a baby, she’s warm and tender.
(Presumably Meredith Brooks, or the people who wrote “Bitch” for her, were listening closely.)

No. 27: “T.S.O.P.,” MFSB. Philly International serves up the theme to “Soul Train.”
Any song that makes me think of groovily dressed people dancing in the “Soul Train” line is fine with me.

No. 26: “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton John. I love the pure weirdness of this record, starting with the deliberately fake, tinny-sounding “live” ambience.
(Was any listener ever fooled into thinking this was actually recorded before a live audience?)

This is one of several records on the chart (“Rikki” is another) that make you wonder what the hell they’re about — not in a deliberately provocative way, but just in the matter-of-fact way they go about their business.
I know this song is about some sort of mythical glam-rock band. But whaddya think motivated Elton and Bernie Taupin to produce a weird, tinny record about a mythical glam-rock band?

No. 25: “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely,” the Main Ingredient. Starts with a spoken-word voiceover. See Nos. 40 and 39.

No. 24: “Save the Last Dance for Me,” the DeFranco Family.
When I was a boy and visiting the science museum in Toronto, I found a hockey card on the floor.
It was partially in French, and it was cool and exotic, and I’ve still got it.
Just like Canadian sports cards, Canadian bubblegum pop has its own flavour — it’s familiar but just a little bit different.
This is not a bad bubblegum single at all.

No. 23: “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long,” Chicago. This bold-face is based entirely on my fondness for ’70s Chicago; this is not one of their best songs.

No. 22: “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” Stevie Wonder.
The beginning of this sounds like some guy in East L.A. hassling a meter maid over a parking ticket.
Only Stevie could start from there and create an irresistible, soulful pop single.

No. 21: “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Carly Simon.

Casey loves to introduce Carly Simon records by pointing out how tough it can be for performers who come from affluent backgrounds — that it’s not just the po’ folks who feel the pain.
I am not sure whether:
* Casey told and re-told the same anecdotes week after week.
* These rebroadcast AT40s are cut-and-pasted together, with Casey chatter from other weeks inserted to replace anecdotes deemed unworthy of repeating.
(Theoretically something like, “Clearasil doesn’t have time for acne, and Carly Simon doesn’t have time for the pain! Here she is at No. 21.”)
* I’m actually hearing the same two countdowns over and over and over again.

No. 20: “You Won’t See Me,” Anne Murray. Nice of her to rescue a charming Beatles album track from comparative obscurity.
That being said, I won’t listen to it.

No. 19: Two chicks, two covers. “I’m In Love,” Aretha Franklin, covering an old Wilson Pickett semi-hit.
Mmmmmmm, Aretha.

No. 18: “I Won’t Last A Day Without You,” the Carpenters.
Since we were just talking about Beatles covers, you might enjoy the Carps kickin’ flavor on “Ticket to Ride.”

No. 17: “Hollywood Swinging,” Kool and the Gang. Wonder who had more Top 40 hits in the ’70s — Kool or EW&F?
They both show up a lot in these countdowns.
I’m guessing EW&F was bigger in the ’70s, but Kool and the Gang soared ahead with all those bland songs in the early ’80s (like “Fresh” and “Johanna.”)

No. 16: “The Show Must Go On,” Three Dog Night. Again with the circus sound effects!
I’ve ranted before about the annoyance of having two religious-themed songs in one countdown, but two circus-themed songs in one countdown is a fate worse than being cut in two by a homicidal magician.
I’m just thankful that “Send In The Clowns” wasn’t a hit this week too.

No. 15: “If You Love Me,” Olivia Newton-John.
Somewhere in Graceland, Elvis was stirring himself, turning on the radio and mumbling, “Gotta cover that song.”
The TCB Band played it with so much more of a laid-back snap than the guys on Olivia’s record did.

No. 14: “The Loco-Motion,” Grand Funk.
There’s no mystery as to what this song is about; but it makes up for its lack of lyrical ambiguity with some sonic weirdness.
Seriously — listen to that backing track.
It’s weird and metallic and rubbery all at once, and it doesn’t really sound like the bass, guitar and keyboards you hear on other songs on the 40.
And Mark Farner’s guitar solo is a classic, woefully underrecognized piece of weird sound processing.
What is that effect (or effects — there’s surely more than one being applied)?

All told, a victory not just for Grand Funk, but also for their producer — longtime favourite Todd Rundgren.

No. 13: “Oh Very Young,” Cat Stevens. Oh very shite.

No. 12: “My Girl Bill,” Jim Stafford.
There will be two novelty/joke records in the Top 12. Neither will be very good. This is the first.

No. 11: “Be Thankful for What You Got,” William DeVaughn.
I wondered why I liked this song so much, and then I found out from Wiki:
It was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, using several of the same musicians who made other Philly records so irresistible during the ’70s.
Also learned that DeVaughn later moved in a gospel/religious direction, which explains why I’ve never heard anything else he ever sang.

No. 10: “For the Love of Money,” the O’Jays. Did I mention that Philafreakingdelphia is all up in this countdown?
This is a tight, nasty, funky, knife-edged soul song, and the fact that they later used it to sell Corollas or whatever does not detract from its brilliance.

Wikipedia sez: “Another successful cover of the song was done by Todd Rundgren with his rock band Utopia on their 1982 album ‘Swing To the Right.’ ”
Much as I love Rundgren, I’m gonna have to wait to hear that one for myself before I pronounce it “successful.”

No. 9: “Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur. Yeah, I like this song.
I like Muldaur’s playful warble, and I especially like the snaky, deceptively difficult guitar solo that made guitarist Amos Garrett a cult hero among studio players.

No. 8: “The Entertainer,” Marvin Hamlisch. Do you think the kids today would tolerate a ragtime instrumental in their Top 10?
Just another indication that Top 40 radio was more eclectic than one might think, back in the day.

No. 7: “Help Me,” Joni Mitchell. I’ve mentioned before that I listened to “Court and Spark” almost literally every night while doing homework my senior year of high school.
I prefer “Free Man in Paris” to this one, but this one ain’t bad.

No. 6: “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. No idea why people liked this.
I wonder what the band members are doing now:
D’ya think they go around bragging about having played bass in Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods?
I can’t imagine that boast carries much street cred … indeed, I’m not even sure it did in June of 1974.

Incidentally, I just thought I’d mention that the Grateful Dead played a fabulous concert at Oakland Coliseum on June 8, 1974, including a weird, primal, dissonant jam that has become the stuff of Dead legend. Of course, there was no Dead on this week’s AT40.

No. 5: “Sundown,” Gordon Lightfoot. This bold-face rating is based entirely on the deep, sonorous, tobacco-cured depths of Lightfoot’s voice.

Also of note: If I understood Casey correctly (and a quick recount seems to confirm this), there are as many Canadian acts on this week’s countdown as there are British performers.
How often has that happened?

No. 4: “Dancing Machine,” Jax 5. Has more flash than their early singles but very little of the charm. Guess that comes with growing up.

No. 3: Following another Beatles namedrop, “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” the Stylistics.
Oh, you’ll never guess which American city the Stylistics happened to hail from?
(Hint: Start in Bala Cynwyd and head east.)

No. 2: “The Streak,” Ray Stevens.

And, brand-new at No. 1: “Band on the Run,” Paul McCartney and Wings.
McCartney in those days loved to stick two or three song-fragments together and try to stitch up a linkage between them.
On “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” it really didn’t work.
On this one, it does.

Here’s another song that makes you wonder what it’s about.
Of course, knowing McCartney, it doesn’t have to be about anything — he has the gift of taking an evocative phrase and building something on it that works well enough to pass by the listener without conscious questioning.
(What was “Uncle Albert” about, for that matter? Or “Coming Up”?)

Incidentally, at the same time the song was ascending to No. 1, the “Band on the Run” album rose to No. 1 on the album charts. Nice sweep.

Mundane Moments: The Porch of Secrets and the Pumpkin of Fire.

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My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

# # # # #

All day the little boy had felt something strange coming, a sense in his bones that unusual things were about to happen.

But he hadn’t expected the ragged-looking yet somehow friendly giant to step out from behind the bushes and corner him just as he went outside to play.

“You didn’t know I was coming for you,” the giant said, reading the lad’s confused expression in an instant. “Your parents haven’t been giving you your mail, have they?”

“I… I … mail?”

“Never you mind,” the giant said, emitting a vast, vaguely peaty sigh.

Then he hunched down to the boy’s level and began to explain.

“You have secret powers,” he burred, in an exotic accent quite dissimilar to the nasal tones of the lad’s hometown. “You are a wizard, boy. A special wizard. An agricultural wizard. The soil is your dominion. The worm and the cowflop are your allies … corn rot and drought, your implacable foes.

“People very close to you gave their lives for you to inherit this power. Enemies of the soil do not want you to thrive. Your life is in danger, laddie. Make no mistake. That scar beneath your puddin-bowl haircut? You didn’t really get that falling off a teeter-totter.

I’ll be back in the morning to take you to the academy. Pack your things. There is wizarding to be learned and no time to be lost.

“For now, keep this gourd. Hold it close. It is your destiny.

“I’ll be back.”

And then a puff of smoke … dissipating in the early autumn wind, leaving only a slack-jawed little boy, slowly awakening to his special, life-changing gift and its heavy responsibilities.

“Gourds?”

Punkinhead

Penfield, New York, 1974.

Mundane Moments: They say she dresses all in white…

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

# # # # #

“Sit still for your grandpa, Kurty. He wants to take a picture.”

“Nooooo! Ghost!”

“Don’t be silly, Kurty. Sit still. And smile, would you?”

“Ghost! Coming out of the post!”

“Kurty! Sit still and behave! Smile for the camera!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOO! GHOST WILL EAT ME!”

 

Ghost from the post.

Penfield, New York, 1974.

Encore Performances: Dec. 14, 1974: Way-Out Willie gave ’em all a treat.

From the old blog, December 2009.

This week we return to an America with a president nobody voted for, and no vice president at all.

Historical highlights for the week ending Dec. 14, 1974:

* The Rolling Stones announce the departure of guitarist Mick Taylor after five years in the band.
The remaining Stones travel to Munich to start work on songs that will eventually be released on 1976’s “Black and Blue” album.

* Time magazine is working on a cover story featuring Joni Mitchell, with the headline “Rock Women: Songs of Pride and Passion” — but that won’t be out until Dec. 16.
The Dec. 9 cover features Santa with an empty bag, under the headline “Recession’s Greetings.”
Inside, the magazine notes that ABC’s “Monday Night Football” telecasts, featuring “the logorrheic Howard Cosell,” have slipped 11 percent in the ratings.

Meanwhile, Cloris Leachman is on the cover of People, and Anthony Davis of the USC Trojans is on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

* Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter announces he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1976.
A Gallup poll released this week says President Ford would beat three leading Democrats — Ed Muskie, Scoop Jackson and George Wallace — if the presidential election were held that week.
Carter, apparently, does not figure into the voting.

* Near-riot conditions break out in South Boston after a black student at Southie High stabs a white classmate.

* The least popular shows of the fall television season are starting to feel breath on the backs of their necks.
ABC airs the second-to-last episode of “Paper Moon,” a show based on the successful Ryan O’Neal/Tatum O’Neal movie and starring Jodie Foster in the daughter role.
Meanwhile, NBC cancels “Sierra,” a dramatic series focusing on national park rangers.
(Both shows are up against “The Waltons,” one of TV’s most popular programs.)
NBC also airs the second-to-last episode of another unsuccessful movie spin-off, “Born Free,” starring Gary Collins.

* Charlotte Lange of San Jose, Calif., gives birth three months prematurely to sextuplets whose fight for life becomes front-page news in America’s newspapers.

* It’s a big week for ex-Beatles:
John Lennon makes his famous appearance on “Monday Night Football,” talking pigskin with the logorrheic Cosell during the Redskins-Rams game.
George Harrison, meanwhile, visits President Ford at the White House. (Nearing the end of his U.S. tour, Hari is in the area to do two shows at the Capital Center in suburban Largo, Maryland.)

And here’s what was on the charts, with favourites in bold just like always:

No. 40: Holding on after coming down from Number One, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” by John Lennon, featuring Elton John, John Whorfin and John Bigboote.

I’m sure some people thought this was a lightweight comedown after the genius of “Imagine” and the raw pain of the “Plastic Ono Band” album.
On the other hand, it’s quite possible that this is the best, most infectious groove ever produced by any solo Beatle.
(Stomps “Goodnight Tonight” like a grape, for instance.)

No. 39, debut: Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, “The Heartbreak Kid.”
Certainly, this is the finest Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods song I’ve ever heard.
No, actually, I was impressed with it — it’s damn catchy, clap track and all.
Score one for the Heywoods.

No. 38, debut: Guess Who, “Dancin’ Fool.”
Musically reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s roughly contemporaneous “Mainline Florida.”
“Now I’m a dancin’ fool” is not the most compelling declaration in rock history. But what the hell … for a mostly spent band, this is an OK song, and definitely better than “Clap for the Wolfman.”

No. 37: Andy Kim, once again giving it his best Neil Diamond on “Fire, Baby, I’m On Fire.”
Y’know, at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, they should have an additional wing devoted to minor artists who sound remarkably like inductees.

Points for including a bit of that sassy Hues Corporation beat on the chorus.

No. 36: Carl Carlton, “Everlasting Love.” Good cover; he doesn’t muck things up too badly.
Casey mentions that the guy who sang the original version is now studying to be a chemical engineer.
Wonder what happened to Carl Carlton.
(Wiki says he’s recording gospel material now, which is more spiritually rewarding than chemical engineering, but doesn’t pay nearly as well.)

No. 35: For the folks listening to WSKW in Skowhegan, Maine, it’s the Righteous Brothers with “Dream On.”
(All those lines on their face getting clearer.)
I’m not sure I would have sat through this record too many times in the winter of ’74.
But, like the Guess Who, this is a better record than the (much more successful) hit that preceded it.

No. 34, debut: Donny and Marie, “Morning Side of the Mountain.” Didn’t listen.

No. 33: Shirley Brown, “Woman to Woman.” I’ll ignore my usual rules about opening spoken-word voiceovers to say that I actually kinda liked this.
(Bonus points for the line, “That car he drives? I pay the note on it every month.” All the honeys makin’ money, throw your hands up at me.)

Casey makes a momentous announcement:
This is the first week when all four Beatles have had a solo hit in the countdown, and also the first time four former members of a disbanded group have had solo hits at the same time.
I wonder if he was happy for the lads, or whether he was let down b/c solo success made it less likely that they would reunite?

No. 32: Jerry Ford’s pal George Harrison cantering raspily through “Dark Horse.”
Maybe it’s my ears, or maybe it’s the fault of my aged boom box, but I cannot understand what he’s saying half the time … he’s mixed about one notch lower than he should be, and it drives me nuts.

No. 31: Carpenters, “Please Mr. Postman.”
Ah, the pallid Motown cover — as much a part of the Seventies as inflation and Chuck Barris.

No. 30, up seven: “A 28-year-old Brooklyn singer,” as Casey introduces him — Barry Manilow, “Mandy.”
Good chorus; less offensive or cheesy than a lot of his other stuff.

No. 29: The first white foreign artist signed to Motown Records — Kiki Dee with “I’ve Got The Music In Me.”
Pretty good pop, with a little bit of thunder and lightning (or do I mean “Thunder and Lightning”?) in the arrangement.

So far this seems to be a pretty good countdown … if I were driving somewhere in 1974 and heard this sequence of songs, I wouldn’t have changed the station.

No. 28: Gloria Gaynor, “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Disco on the cusp of full emergence.
After the song is done, Casey says he’s tried to trace where the beat came from, saying Brook Benton’s “Fools Rush In” used a similar “gallop” beat.
He sounds like a doctor trying to diagnose a developing fever.

No. 27: “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” Paul Davis.
OK, if I’d been driving in December ’74, this song would have forced me to change the station.

No. 26: “Willie and the Hand Jive,” Eric Clapton.
Just as “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” must have seemed like a comedown to Lennon fans, this must have seemed pretty weak to “Layla” lovers.
I imagine the “Clapton is God” crowd saying, “Clappers kicked heroin … for this? So that we might hand jive? Man.”
I might like it a little more myself if it wasn’t pitched a little too high — Clapton’s bourbon-and-cigarettes voice seems to be whining on the high notes.

No. 25: “Bungle In The Jungle,” Jethro Tull.
Nice use of strings, and one of Ian Anderson’s clearest, least self-consciously mannered vocal performances.

No. 24: Paul Anka and Odia Coates, “One Man Woman/One Woman Man.” This seems to ride the hell out of its chorus, which is good, since it’s the best part of the record.

No. 23: Casey says Stevie Wonder is “just phenomenal,” and he is, with “Boogie On Reggae Woman.”
I’ve dissed this song before for being lightweight and relatively disposable; and it is.
But I can’t argue with the groove.

No. 22: Neil Diamond, “Longfellow Serenade.”
There he goes, boasting again.
Not among his best, but always a pleasure to hear Neil emoting about a woman “as deep as the RIVAH.”

No. 21: Gladys Knight y los Pips, “I Feel A Song (In My Heart.)”
(What’s Spanish for “Pips”?)
I liked this one, as I like all Gladys, but I didn’t write down anything incisive or witty about it; I just let it be.

No. 20: J. Geils Band, “Must Of Got Lost.”
Getting lost, indeed — this regret-tingled single would touch off a five-year dry spell between AT40 hits for the band, including a making-time (if hot) live album and a weird, short-lived name change.
Always liked this one.

No. 19: Bobby Vinton bringin’ the polka with “My Melody of Love.”

No. 18: Ringo Starr, “Only You.” In its tossed-off way, this isn’t an entirely bad song, except maybe for the spoken-word business in the middle.
Hey, maybe this week isn’t so bad.

No. 17: And at last, a cover with some guts: The newly four-piece Rolling Stones with “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”
I’d like to think that limp guitar solo ain’t Mick Taylor … if it is, I think he left the Stones out of pure embarrassment.

Further proof that Elton John touched just about anything of quality in those days: That’s his percussionist, Ray Cooper, playing bongos.

No. 16: Neil Sedaka’s first hit since 1963, “Laughter In The Rain.”
Who signed Sedaka to the deal that brought him back onto the charts?
Oh, yeah, Elton John.
I like this tune a lot, incidentally, cheesy though it is.

No. 15: For the cats and kitties listening to WKAP in Allentown, Pennsylvania — oh, wait, that’s me, sorta! — it’s Chicago with “Wishing You Were Here.”
No Elton on here, but a couple of Beach Boys (and an uncharacteristically sedate lead vocal from Terry Kath) create a nice melancholy atmosphere that overcomes the cheesiness of the suffering-rock-star-on-the-road concept.

No. 14: Elvis with “Promised Land.”
Snappy enough boogie, but I can’t avoid the notion that the King and the TCB Band threw this together in 15 minutes at soundcheck one day.
Seriously: You’re Elvis in 1974. You cover Chuck Berry … why, exactly?

No. 13: Pointer Sisters go country with “Fairy Tale.” Might have been wonderful but I couldn’t listen.

No. 12: BTO, “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” Have I mentioned that I follow Randy Bachman on Twitter?
Seems like a nice down-to-earth guy.
(Edit: He’s gone mostly silent, alas.)

No. 11: “You Got The Love,” Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. This week’s Soul Number One.
Really hasn’t been enough flat-out funk this week, but this single clears that up nicely.

No. 10: Paul McCartney and Wings, “Junior’s Farm.” OK driving rockinroll, though why America sent it Top Ten I have no idea.

No. 9: A song that entered the chart at No. 36 last week and jumped 27 positions:
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” Elton John.
(“Lucy’s back, Elton’s got her, and Sergeant Pepper couldn’t be happier!,” Casey enthuses. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)

I take back what I said before about Elton John being omnipotent: This song pretty much has no reason to exist, and Elton’s affected Limey accent grates on my ears like Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ iron claw and chalkboard.

But of course it went Number One, so nobody else in America minded.
And Elton’s “Greatest Hits” album, which was already so full of hits it didn’t even have this song on it, was Number One on the LP charts this week, as well.

No. 8: “Memphis Al Green,” Casey calls him, with “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy.)”
The infamous “grits incident” took place roughly two months before this countdown aired.
Sad to think that this was, if not his last hit, pretty much the end of his wonderful three-year peak run.

No. 7: “You’re My First, My Last, My Everything,” Barry White.
Big, hooky, joyous.
And so is the record.

No. 6: For the folks tuned in to WSGA in Savannah, Georgia, it’s the BT Express with “Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied.”

Y’know, I was thinking the other day of compiling a list of 10 Most Definitive Seventies Lyrics — things like “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.”
But I think maybe the title phrase of this song is as perfect a summation of the Seventies zeitgeist as anything written by more celebrated lyricists.
On a certain level, were the Seventies not completely about doing it, doing it, doing it ’til you were satisfied?
(Whatever it was.)

No. 5: Helen Reddy, “Angie Baby.”
Prefaced by explanatory comments from songwriter Alan O’Day. (Funny how that always seemed to be the case when an Alan O’Day song was on the countdown.)

Hey, if Angie’s imaginary lovers came from the radio, did that mean she had Barry White in her room doing the Bump?
Or Al Green?
Or Bo Donaldson?
Now that’s a scene that makes a man regret that “Angie Baby” came along before the age of MTV.

No. 4: “Cat’s In The Cradle,” Harry Chapin.
This is bathetic crap … and the fact that it once reduced me to tears when I was doing 80 on the Massachusetts Turnpike has no bearing at all on that assessment.

No. 3: Billy Swan with an ex-Number One, “I Can Help.”
Another perfectly pleasant, well-executed pop record that leaves me baffled as to why it didn’t top out somewhere around No. 29.
Was it used in a cute commercial for vacuum cleaners or something?

No. 2: Three Degrees, “When Will I See You Again?
I was just thinking it had been too long since I mentioned Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and feeling a little chastened about thinking that some English piano player was the king of popular music.

According to Wiki, the Three Degrees performed this at Prince Charles’ 30th birthday party at Buckingham Palace in 1977.
Boy, that musta been a bash to remember.

And at Number One for the second straight week: Carl Douglas, “Kung Fu Fighting.”
It would have been perfect for Douglas to do a lip-synch TV appearance where his dubbing was visibly off.
Unfortunately, I kinda doubt that sort of in-joke would have resonated with TV producers in 1974.