It’s been a while since we had one of these, and as ‘Devil Gate Drive’ by Suzi Quatro was the UK’s chart-topper on this day in 1974, I wondered what she had been up against in the charts.
I needn’t have wondered; it was mostly rubbish, as I’d expected and as you can see for yourself.
Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 – with ‘Waterloo’ – and the rest, as they say, is misery. History, sorry, I meant history. Abba would go on to become one of the year’s, indeed decade’s, biggest-selling acts (and I switch between disliking them just a tiny bit more than I dislike The Carpenters and then back again every couple of days, so won’t be including their songs in this post no matter how many of them there were in 1974 out of sheer stubborn spite).
Anyway, a few hours of researching later, I found that there were some half-decent tunes in 1974, much to my surprise, even if most of them were album tracks rather than singles.
Sure, 1974 was the year of Terry Jacks’ depressing ‘Seasons In the Sun’ and several others since played to death on dull, middle-of-the-road radio, such as Steely Dan’s ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ (which forces some of us to cry out for a comma as well as the end to come swiftly) and the far too jolly ‘Rock the Boat’ by Hues Corporation, a favourite at clubs and weddings. Leo Sayer’s ‘Long Tall Glasses’ would be mildly bearable if that chorus, fluctuating between high and low notes, didn’t go on for quite so long. After a while it seems like a form of torture to my fragile brain.
There were some dire covers of brilliant songs (Ringo Starr’s ‘Only You (And You Alone)’, Elton John’s ‘Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds’) and some good ones (Lulu’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, Wayne Gibson’s ‘Under My Thumb’, Prelude’s ‘After the Goldrush’).
There were classics, like Elton’s original ode to a tragic female, ‘Candle In the Wind’, but mostly it was disco or glam-rock and much of it by Gary Glitter, not that we speak of him these days, obviously.
In fact, some of the best songs being played in 1974 were reissues: Jimmy Ruffin’s ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ by Bill Haley and His Comets.
Frank Sinatra’s The Main Event – Live, recorded in October 1974 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, may not be his strongest vocal performance, but still manages to be stronger than pretty much everybody else’s. With trademark swagger, he has the audience that surrounded him on all sides eating out of the palm of his hand in a way that very few could for all their garish outfits and golden medallions.
Ringo Starr – in ‘Oh My My’ – asked, ‘Can you boogie? Can you slide?’ Most people, it seemed, could. Did we really go through the year dancing; to work, to school, to the shops? This is what I hate about the Seventies, everybody was at it (dancing, I mean) and wanted you to know it. Worse, they wanted you to join them. As well as the slightly bossy ‘Put Your Hands Together’ and ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ (that one really needs a comma), 1974 had ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, ‘The Locomotion’, ‘Dancing Machine’, ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ and probably many others I don’t know about or want to know about. Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes were the most demanding of all with their straight-to-the-point ‘Get Dancing’. Whilst I accept that it’s sometimes hard to resist the urge to boogie when you hear the Commodores with ‘Machine Gun’, I doubt there has been a year with more songs about dancing. At least they weren’t twerking, I suppose.
‘Mama’ Cass Elliot died suddenly in 1974, aged just 32. Jefferson Airplane became a Starship, more’s the pity. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac.
The first Knebworth concert was in 1974. Pink Floyd would play there the following year and again in 1990. This summer, to celebrate 40 years of music at Knebworth Park, there is an exhibition of concert memorabilia on display. Details here.
(Which reminds me, there’s a Pink Floyd exhibition coming up in Milan in September and October. Full details at PinkFloydExhibition.com.)
Unfortunately, 1974 wasn’t an artistic high-point for many of my favourite artists. It was a so-so year. My least favourite Eagles album, On the Border, came out in 1974 (but at least they were recording One of These Nights). The Kinks’ Preservation Act 2 is more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’. Bob Dylan’s very personal Planet Waves does feature ‘Forever Young’, but little else of note. Neil Young’s On the Beach was a disappointment after the brilliance of Harvest, although ‘Vampire Blues’, about the oil industry, deserves a mention:
‘I’m a vampire, babe, sucking blood from the earth
Well, I’m a vampire, babe, I’ll sell you twenty barrels worth’
The four Beatles each offered something: Band On the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings, released in December 1973, was 1974’s top-selling album in many regions; John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges included ‘#9 Dream’ and ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’; Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna, already twice mentioned, is arguably his best work; and although, like Sinatra, George Harrison’s voice is not at its best on Dark Horse, that wonderful sense of humour comes shining through, most notably on ‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’.
It’s George’s birthday today. We miss you, George.
David Bowie gave us Diamond Dogs and, as if that wasn’t generous enough, a live album simply titled David Live. Nick Mason produced Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt. Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe would be his highest-charting album in the US. Burn, by Deep Purple, was their first to feature David Coverdale on vocals.
Bad Company’s eponymous debut opened with the great ‘Can’t Get Enough’. Mirage was Camel’s second album, So What Joe Walsh’s third, New Skin for the Old Ceremony Leonard Cohen’s fourth.
Not forgetting Country Life, by Roxy Music, with its controversial and very memorable cover, or the Rolling Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, with artwork courtesy of Belgian artist Guy Peellaert (as was Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, come to think of it).
So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, is their compilation album with ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ on – which was performed by David with Messrs Crosby and Nash on the On an Island tour, of course – (before then it was only available as the ‘Ohio’ single’s B-side), with cover art provided by Joni Mitchell, whose own Court and Spark features another of her many beautiful paintings.
So not such a bad year, really, was it?
I hope I’ve reminded you of a few tunes you’ve not heard in a while. Once you’ve dusted them down and given them a spin, put your platform shoes on and stomp along to these while you think of some of your own. A couple of them have stomping potential, I think.
The chatroom will be open tomorrow, from 1pm (UK), so why not bring them along then? Everybody’s welcome, link’s at the top of the page.
– Bachman-Turner Overdrive, ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet’
– David Bowie, ‘Rebel Rebel’
– Brownsville Station, ‘Smokin’ In the Boys Room’
– Harry Chapin, ‘Cat’s In the Cradle’
– Leonard Cohen, ‘There Is a War’
– Cozy Powell, ‘Na Na Na’
– Steve Miller Band, ‘The Joker’
– Joe Walsh, ‘Falling Down’