Back to ’75

(Pictured: Elton John, whose Greatest Hits was among the top albums in the winter of 1975, even though it didn’t contain his current hit single.)

So not long after I posted my cri de coeur about the winter of 1975, how it was an awful time in America despite my pleasant memories, I listened to the American Top 40 show from January 25, 1975.

The show started with Joni Mitchell’s great live version of “Big Yellow Taxi,” far better than the studio version from years before. The first hour also included Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer,” in which he gripes about being a star even though at the time the song was recorded he wasn’t, really. As it sometimes does, the first hour contained some hot garbage: “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” by Paul Davis, a record so wimpy it makes Neil Sedaka sound like Ted Nugent, and “Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne” by Jim Stafford, which I don’t know what the hell to think. Also in the first hour was the rarest of rarities, a 70s Top 40 hit I can’t remember hearing before, “I Belong to You” by Love Unlimited.

Casey also read a letter from Alan O’Day, writer of Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” the former #1 single that was still hanging on at the bottom of the 40. The letter was a belated Christmas card telling the AT40 staff that he had often dreamed of hearing Casey talking about one of his songs on the show. Casey said that he was looking forward to talking about Alan O’Day’s next hit—which would be under his own name a couple of years hence, “Undercover Angel.”

The show featured another one of those fabulously pleasurable hot streaks:

18. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”/Barry White
17. “Junior’s Farm”/Paul McCartney and Wings
16. “Rock and Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)”/Mac Davis
15. “Best of My Love”/Eagles
14. “Get Dancin'”/Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes
13. “Doctor’s Orders”/Carol Douglas
12. “Some Kind of Wonderful”/Grand Funk
11. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”/Elton John
10. “Pick Up the Pieces”/Average White Band
9. “Never Can Say Goodbye”/Gloria Gaynor

On “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” the Love Unlimited Orchestra glides like a finely-tuned limousine on the Interstate. “Junior’s Farm” is the hardest-rockin’ record on the show by a mile. (Probably woulda killed Paul Davis.) “Rock and Roll,” about the life of a struggling musician, is impossible to resist singing along with (or at least it is for me). “Best of My Love” was heard in its rare 45 configuration, which nobody plays anymore. Some powerful pharmaceuticals were involved in the creation of “Get Dancin’,” or my name isn’t whatever my name is. Next to the Tavares song “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” my favorite disco song is “Doctor’s Orders,” which positively jumps out of the radio. Grand Funk, Elton, and AWB have had 40 years of continuous exposure, but hearing and remembering them in the context of early 1975 was a reminder of how solid they were, and are. “Never Can Say Goodbye” barrels down the track like a runaway train.

The remainder of the Top 10 is all over the place: Donny and Marie (“Morning Side of the Mountain” at #8), Paul Anka and Odia Coates (“One Man Woman, One Woman Man” at #7), Barry Manilow (“Mandy,” #3), and Neil Sedaka (“Laughter in the Rain,” #2) sit sap-tastically alongside the Ohio Players’ “Fire” (#4) and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (#5). Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” holds its own with those two a little better, and is the hottest record on the chart (up to #6 from #21).

At #1 is what Casey says is only the third song in history to reach #1 by two different performers. “Please Mr. Postman” by the Carpenters, originally recorded by the Marvelettes in 1961, joins “Go Away Little Girl” and “The Locomotion” with that distinction. (Earlier in the show, when Casey played Carole King’s “Nightingale,” he told us that King had co-written the only two songs to reach #1 by two different artists. At that time, he chose not to tease the coming third one, which strikes me as an opportunity missed.) There’s a video for “Please Mr. Postman,” which I posted here years ago. Back then, I said that it looks like the trailer for a movie called Virgins in Disneyland. It still does.

The winter of 1975 sounds a lot better in memory than it reads in history. Perhaps now, 40 years later, that’s what really matters.

3 responses

  1. I’ve got to give props to a couple original versions here. It’s been largely forgotten that Kevin Johnson’s “Rock ‘N Roll” was reissued in November ’74 (just ahead of the Mac Davis cover), this time on London’s UK label (First Class, 10cc), with both a shorter (3:53) and longer (5:26) side on the promo 45 than Mainstream’s ’73 charted release (4:20). Not that there’s anything wrong with Mac’s take; at least the song itself became a hit.

    “Doctor’s Orders” was more fun before it underwent its disco facelift; I loved Sunny’s perkier tempo with its authentic Northern Soul sound, and her U.K. #7 was a hit at our college station in the Spring of ’74. Did Epic decide not to promote the 45 here because the spoken interlude sounded “too British?”

    Although it was a cover, “Laughter In The Rain” got a head start at my college station via British singer Peter Gordeno on London’s MAM subsidiary. Gordeno didn’t stray far from Sedaka’s arrangement (which had been released in the U.K. in ’73) and even though consigned to the B-side of the MAM 45, there was never any doubt about which side of the record was going to get the “X” markings on the label. I seriously doubt whether MAM’s move had any bearing on Neil’s original finally getting out the door in the states a month or two later, but you never know.

  2. If any of the songs mentioned in this post came on the radio, I’d probably listen to it and sing along. Even “Mandy”, which is probably for me Barry Manilow’s career high point. Even the stuff I hated back then, I like now.

    I distinctly remember my older sister telling me about the song “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” and singing the chorus to me, but I never heard it on the radio. I don’t even remember hearing it on AT40. At any rate, it’s a masterpiece compared to “Superstar”, which would be the next Paul Davis foray into the top 40 the following year.

    The Jim Stafford, Mac Davis and Donny & Marie records I’m sure I only know from AT40, not a whiff of radio play in San Diego. That might also be true of the Paul Anka/Odia Coates tune, but I’m less sure. If it did get played, it wasn’t very popular. “I Belong to You” is ubiquitous in the southwest, an essential classic in the “lowrider oldies” canon. Seems so weird to me that somebody’s never heard it.

    Some great stuff here, but my favorite of all of these is probably “Get Dancin'”, probably because it disappeared from the airwaves after its run, so I never got burned out on it. Even as a kid, I was tickled by the name “Disco Tex and the Sex-o-lettes”, for that alone it deserved its top 10 placing.

    1. I actually don’t hate “One Man Woman,” “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” and whatever else Paul Anka did with Odia Coates in 74 and 75. Well, except maybe “You’re Having My Baby,” but even that has the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on it, and it’s got some nice musical touches as a result.

      Somewhere I have the whole Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes album, and it’s demented.

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