Chart 5: I Am What I Am, Even If I Can’t Remember What

A couple of Facebook friends of mine both mentioned the record charts from this week in 1974 recently, so that naturally got me thinking about the spring of 1974 too.

It was the spring of eighth grade. I don’t remember many specifics about that year. I think I went on my first actual date with a girl around that time, and I know I watched baseball every chance I got. I had my own official scorebook, which I used mostly to score games on TV. In that book is the game in which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record, which happened 40 years ago this week. (I’d like to look at the book now, but I don’t know where it is. Last time I saw it was back in the 90s, in a box that was either just out of storage or on its way there.)

I’m not entirely sure what radio station I was listening to regularly. Probably WCFL in Chicago, where Larry Lujack was doing afternoons. The WCFL survey dated April 6, 1974, reveals a week as purely 70s as any you’d like to pick, with a Top 10 containing at least four half-novelties: “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Spiders and Snakes,” “Eres Tu,” and “The Lord’s Prayer”. One of the most reviled records of the 70s, “Seasons in the Sun,” sits at #11. (Do not revile “Hooked on a Feeling” or we’ll have to throw down.) The same Top 10 also contains a couple of songs that remained on the radio for years thereafter: “Bennie and the Jets” and “Jet.” Others fondly remembered, at least by me: “Rock On,” “T.S.O.P.,” “The Locomotion,” “Let It Ride,” and the Guess Who’s “Star Baby,” the world’s greatest fake CCR record.

It’s not an original observation of mine, but there was a Canadian invasion in 1974, with stars big and small scoring hits in the states. The Guess Who, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Andy Kim would count among the big ones. Several among the small were on ‘CFL 40 years ago this week.

15. “Virginia”/Bill Amesbury (up from 20).  A rowdy hootenanny thing, “Virginia” was Amesbury’s only American hit amidst several he had in his native Canada. In the early 80s, Amesbury came out as a transsexual and goes by Barbara now.

25. “Last Kiss”/Wednesday (down from 16)More Canadians. “Last Kiss” was their version of the teenage death record written by Wayne Cochran and most famously recorded by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.

27. “Simone”/Henry Gross (up from 32). Gross (who is not from Canada) was once a member of Sha-Na-Na, and he would become a household word (at least in my household) with “Shannon” in 1976. “Simone,” which didn’t make the Hot 100, is your garden variety 70s pop ballad, although every time Gross jumps into his high register, it’s like somebody’s being stabbed—maybe not him, but definitely the listener.

28. “I Am What I Am”/Lois Fletcher (up from 33). Yet another Canadian (who is not Academy Award-winning actress Louise Fletcher, as some Internet sites insist), she did time during the 60s in the folk group Back Porch Majority, which was intended as a farm team for the New Christy Minstrels to develop new talent. She doesn’t seem to have made it with the Minstrels, but she got her own record deal anyhow. “I Am What I Am” is likable enough, but at the same time it’s easy to hear why it didn’t become a smash.

39. “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman”/Lamont Dozier (down from 31). One-third of the great Holland-Dozier-Holland production and songwriting team at Motown and later Hot Wax, Lamont Dozier managed a couple of Top 40 hits as a singer. “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman” is a fine soul ballad that had risen to #15 on the Hot 100.

It is both surprising and not how much of the spring of 1974 I am unable to remember anymore. I suspect that without the music, Hank Aaron and streaking might be it.

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6 responses

  1. Huh. I didn’t know that “Star Baby” charted (or was even on the radio). That’s from one of my favorite Guess Who albums (which i bought as a cutout circa 1981).

  2. “It’s not an original observation of mine, but there was a Canadian invasion in 1974, with stars big and small scoring hits in the states.”
    None bigger than Gordon Sinclair, my friend.

  3. “I think I went on my first actual date with a girl around that time, and I know I watched baseball every chance I got.”

    Presumably looking for second base.

    You’ve been a great crowd. I’ll be here all week.

    /shows himself out

  4. No, the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman” is the best fake CCR record.

    “Star Baby” is great, WLS played the crap out of it but it barely made the top 40. I remember it and “Let it Ride” being more late summer/early fall hits. Like you, by fall ’74 I was a freshman and our HS had a cafeteria jukebox. Someone played “Let it Ride” and “Woman From Tokyo” every day at lunch. Every day.

  5. I was always surprised that “I Am What I Am” was written by the same duo that wrote “Mandy” (first recorded as “Brandy”). It’s clear why “Mandy” was a smash, and Fletcher’s song wasn’t.

  6. I was in 10th grade, and I had just gotten my driver’s license, which opened up new worlds for me both literally and figuratively. The first time I heard Blue Swede’s take on “Hooked on a Feeling,” I thought it was the goofiest thing. “Hooka Chaka, Hooka, Hooka”? And yet … I got a kick out of it, and once they get into the song itself, it’s really a fine arrangement of the song. Still makes me smile. I remember where I was when Aaron hit No. 715 off Al Downing of my beloved Dodgers: My friends and I were sitting in the audience waiting for the taping of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” to begin, and they showed it on the monitors. We started seeing TV shows in person like crazy that year, a direct result of A) living in Southern California and B) me getting said driver’s license and my mom letting me use her car after school. Soon we were seeing other shows in person: “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Odd Couple,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “Rhoda” and lots and lots of Carson shows. At the time we had no idea how great it was to see TV shows of this high in quality in person. Oh, and I was obsessed with Nixon and Watergate, too, as the circle kept closing in on the president, week by week. All of which is my way of saying that spring 1974 was a great time for me, and all of those goofy and great songs you’ve mentioned remind me of it.

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