(Pictured: John Lennon, performing live with Elton John in November 1974, an appearance made possible by the success of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”)
I have spent most of the last month riding with Casey Kasem, listening in the car to American Top 40 shows from Octobers gone by. The show dated October 12, 1974, was wildly entertaining, with fine songs from top to bottom.
There were some oddities, though, starting with a great train wreck at #40 and #39: ABBA’s helium-huffing “Honey Honey” followed by James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” which was #1 for the week on the soul chart. The lower reaches of this chart are full of that kind of thing, records that would be off the radio by the time 1975 began, but which stick in the memory of a certain type of geek: like “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” by the Raspberries, “Higher Plane” by Kool and the Gang, and “Kings of the Party” by Brownsville Station. A few slightly more enduring hits are getting a foothold, like Carl Carlton’s “Everlasting Love.” But as we climb, more memorable hits appear, including John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
There would be another brain-rattling collision at #11 and #10: Tony Orlando and Dawn’s vaudeville “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight) followed by Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough.” In itself, that captures that captures the full panoply of 70s radio variety, but the display continues the rest of the way up. At #9 and #8 sit Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye” and Blue Swede’s cover of “Never My Love,” which sounds like Phil Spector on a caffeine high; at #7 through #5 there’s the solid threesome of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back,” “Another Saturday Night” by Cat Stevens, and “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” by Stevie Wonder. (And yes, Casey gave the title of Elton’s hit.) At #4 the great Tony Burrows, recording under the name First Class, gets a final moment in the sun—so to speak—with “Beach Baby.” Then at #3 it’s the slow-cooking “Then Came You” by Dionne Warwick and the Spinners, which would eventually set a record for taking the longest to reach #1, followed by Billy Preston’s “Nothing From Nothing” at #2.
And then, as so often seems to happen with charts of the 1970s, we reach #1 and it’s a bit of a fizzle compared to what preceded it: “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John. Intensely romantic sap always has a certain appeal; in an era when everybody was listening to the same radio stations, its appeal spread further. “I Honestly Love You” is not a terrible record, really—just not as good as those it surmounted to reach #1.
Whenever this blog deals with music from Octobers gone by, I feel like I need to include a disclaimer: my fondness for the stuff has only somewhat to do with the stuff itself, and much more to do with the associations that come with the stuff. In the specific case of October 12, 1974, I’ve written about that before. The fall of 1974 is season that endures in memory as a particularly happy one, even though that’s—well, not a lie, really, but surely a fantasy, or a fabrication. So as I was driving around on recent October afternoons, with the fall colors crowned by that singular autumn light, it’s not a surprise that John Denver’s “Back Home Again” Carole King’s “Jazzman,” and “You Little Trustmaker” by the Tymes scratched a very particular itch that you might not share. But that’s the chance you take when you frequent this place.
(I have one more October show left in my CD bag, so we’re not done here.)