(Pictured: Roberta Flack, who undoubtedly felt better about herself in 1973 than I did about myself in 1973.)
Were I to rank each of the years during which I lived with Top 40 radio in my ear by the quality of their music (a project I should undertake one day), I expect that 1973 would rank near the bottom. The best explanation for the strange way I view 1973 from this distance has to do with the full onslaught of adolescence and all the fevered craziness it can provoke in a boy—but while that explains the way I remember 1973, it doesn’t explain why I like so little of that year’s music now. Or maybe it does, because I first heard the music of that year while suffering the fever of that year.
So now then: I have spent the last few days listening to the American Top 40 show dated March 31, 1973, and just as I suspected, it didn’t do much for me. Not until it got to the Top 10, anyhow.
10. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”/Vicki Lawrence. This Southern gothic soap opera has it all: an adulterer with multiple partners, a fat sheriff, a shady judge, and the innocent victim of a horrible injustice, with a shocking twist at the end. Because few can resist the allure of that kind of story, the song would take a mighty leap to #1 the very next week.
9. “Sing”/Carpenters. The single most sap-tastic record they ever made, with a children’s chorus, tasteful low brass, etc., but it’s not without its charms. For example, the first few seconds (featuring Tom Scott on recorder) are quite striking out of a radio jingle.
8. “Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray. I knew this version long before I ever heard the Loggins and Messina original, and I prefer this one.
7. “Last Song”/Edward Bear. That spring, I was suffering, silent and unrequited, for an unattainable girl. The idea of leaving the light on so she’d know I was waiting for her seemed quite romantic to me.
6. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics. In high school a few years hence, I would live this song. “Break Up to Make Up” gets extra coolness points for being in 3/4 time, and for being astoundingly pretty, as Thom Bell’s Stylistics productions inevitably were.
5. “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got”/Four Tops. This is the distilled essence of how it felt to ride the school bus on those spring mornings and listen to Charlie Van Dyke on WLS, knowing that he was who I wanted to be, but also having trouble figuring out what else I should be, adolescent craziness and all. (Soul Train performance here.)
4. “Love Train”/O’Jays. Hot DAMN there are some great songs in the Top 10 this week.
3. “Neither One of Us”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. During this era of AT40, Casey and his staff would try to predict the next week’s #1 song. For the week of March 31, they had predicted that “Love Train” would hold at #1, which it did not. On this show, they predicted that “Neither One of Us” would hit the top the next week, which it did not (although it was already #1 on the soul chart).
2. “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)/Deodato. I did not buy this on a 45, although it was probably my favorite song in the spring of 1973.
1. “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack. Casey answered a couple of listener questions on the 3/31/73 show. (One of them came via telegram.) One was about #1 singles to drop out of the top spot and then get back. Casey noted that it happened frequently during the rock era, most recently the previous year, when Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” was interrupted by the Looking Glass hit “Brandy.” Then, he said with a grin, keep listening because it just might happen again. “Killing Me Softly” had spent four weeks at the top before “Love Train” took it out the previous week. Its five-week run at the top was the longest run of 1973.
So it turns out there are lots of songs from the spring of 1973 that I still enjoy hearing today, so I’m probably wrong about it being a terrible year for music. But it’ll take more than noodling around at this blog for me to figure out all the other mysteries of 1973. That would take deep psychoanalysis. Which is not a bad idea, frankly.