I was doing some chart research the other day and pulled up the Billboard Hot 100 from the week of February 24, 1973. Behold, my friends, a distillation of the bone-deep weirdness of 70s top 40, 40 years ago this week:
1. “Killing Me Softly”/Roberta Flack (up from 5)
2. “Dueling Banjos”/Deliverance (up from 4)
3. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John (down from 1)
4. “You’re So Vain”/Carly Simon (down from 2)
5. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners (up from 7)
6. “Do It Again”/Steely Dan (holding at 6)
7. “Last Song”/Edward Bear (up from 13)
8. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”/Lobo (holding at 8)
9. “Love Train”/O’Jays (up from 15)
10. “Rocky Mountain High”/John Denver (holding at 10)
“Dueling Banjos” is one of the oddest novelties of all time, and is now one of only two things most people remember from the movie Deliverance (pretty sure you can name the other), despite the fact that Deliverance was considered a great movie 40 years ago. Contrast it with “Do It Again,” with its weird musical noises and dark, obscure lyric, characteristics that remove it several orders of magnitude on the oddity scale from something like “Rocky Mountain High,” but most of the others, too.
“Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” and “Love Train” are Philadelphia glory, rivaled in their staying power only by “You’re So Vain.” One might include “Crocodile Rock” on the staying-power list too, but for me, it’s crossed the line that separates “beloved and enduring classic” from “Christ, not this again.” But “Killing Me Softly,” which would stay at #1 until the end of March, almost never seems to get on the radio anymore, not as much as “Last Song” and “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend.” Those two are fine examples of the intensely unrequited love song, however, and I oughta know, because I was intensely and unrequitedly in love with somebody in February 1973.
Below the top 10 are several other records that I’ve loved for four decades now. Hurricane Smith’s “Oh Babe What Would You Say,” also bone-deep weird, sits at #11. “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest (#13) and “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas (#14) are solid artifacts of that bygone winter. So is “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” by Deodato (#18), and, for some reason, “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray (#26), which zaps me back to the junior high school bus with remarkable clarity.
You could get anything you wanted from your local Top 40 station back then. Rock? The Moody Blues, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, David Bowie, and Wings were all in the top 40. Funk? Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was on, and some stations were playing “Ants in My Pants” by James Brown. Throwbacks? How about “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina, or “Reelin’ and Rockin'” by Chuck Berry, both of which were on their way down the charts. Sap? The Carpenters’ “Sing” was the highest-debuting new single of the week at #61, and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which would do a month at #1 later in the spring, was up to #68 from #80. Blues-rock? The Derek and the Dominoes recording of “Bell Bottom Blues,” re-released under Eric Clapton’s name, was at #89, a couple of spots above “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” by Albert King. Country? Joe Stampley, Donna Fargo, Ray Price, Barbara Fairchild, they were there, and so was John Fogerty’s twangy remake of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” under the name of the Blue Ridge Rangers.
If you look at the current Billboard Hot 100 chart, you’ll also see a crazed variety of dance numbers, rock songs, country tunes, and rap records, but the difference is that no radio station is playing all of them. In 1973, the AM radio giants would have been on most of the top 40, from Anne Murray to Deodato and Steely Dan to Lobo. And it was glorious.