(Pictured: Dick Nixon celebrates at his inaugural ball on January 20, 1973.)
I turned 10 in 1970 and 20 in 1980, so the 70s were quite neatly the decade I grew up in. Each year of the decade has a narrative I can relate to you: 1970, year of discovery; 1971, last year of full-time childhood before other people started putting in a claim on my time; 1972, going to junior high, with all the discoveries that entailed; 1974, freshman year of high school; 1975, first date; 1976, learned to drive and fell good and truly in love for the first time; 1977, got my first paying jobs off the farm and discovered that work is not always an easy thing, nor love either; 1978, graduated from high school and went to college; 1979, started my radio career and met the woman who is now my wife.
But 1973 is more absent than present in my personal history. I know I was there, but my memories of it are jumbled and random. I suspect this is because turning 13, for a boy at least, is accompanied by a form of insanity. Our bodies go haywire and our brains struggle to keep up. Everything we thought we knew is transformed, and we’re forced to deal with shit we never saw coming. Narrative is hard to maintain when every day is reset to something new.
Because it’s been 45 years now since 1973, that’s round number enough to make me think this blog should take a closer look at 1973, to see if all that time permits me to see what I missed. Maybe I’ll find that the music is better than I generally remember it. (It’s always been my least-favorite year for 70s music.) Maybe I’ll find a narrative for the year beyond the complete lack of one.
What follows is the first installment of what will be an intermittent series for as long as it takes, or as long as it lasts, which is not exactly the same thing. Maybe it will drive you around the bend with 180-proof solipsism, but I’ve already taken my best shot at that and you’re still here, so maybe not.
We’ll start with the American Top 40 show dated January 20, 1973. That was a remarkable week in American history. On Saturday the 20th, President Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term. On Tuesday the 22nd, the Supreme Court announced the Roe v. Wade decision, former president Lyndon Johnson died, and George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier (with sportscaster Howard Cosell famously shouting, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”) to win the heavyweight boxing championship. On Wednesday the 23rd, Nixon announced an agreement to end the war in Vietnam, and on Saturday the 27th, the Paris Peace Accords were signed. And among the big radio hits were these:
40. “I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Times of Storm)”/Luther Ingram. Before hearing this show I would have bet my house that Ingram had only one Top 40 hit, the 1972 smash “I Don’t Want to Be Right.” But here he is, spending his first of two weeks at #40 with “I’ll Be Your Shelter,” which is good old 60s Southern soul emotion, even as the backing track looks forward into the 70s.
39. “The Relay”/The Who. A non-album single known in the UK as simply “Relay,” it was originally intended for Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse project. It’s in the second of its two weeks at #39.
38. “You Ought to Be With Me”/Al Green. In which Casey name-checks producer Willie Mitchell and the congregation say “Amen.”
37. “Harry Hippie”/Bobby Womack. The hippie ideal of dropping out of materialistic modern society did not resonate much with African Americans. Their struggle was to become part of the American mainstream the kids were rejecting, and to get their share of the postwar economic bonanza the hippies believed they could live without. In “Harry Hippie,” Bobby Womack is happy to let Harry do his own thing, but not willing to do for Harry what he believes Harry should be doing for himself.
31. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners and 22. “Dancing in the Moonlight”/King Harvest. Just as they have always done, these songs zap me back to the winter of 1973. I was in seventh grade. I was equipment manager of the basketball team. I would have told you then it was because I wanted to be around the games and I knew I couldn’t play. But also, the coach was my favorite teacher—who would turn out to be one of my favorite teachers of them all, one of the people who made me a writer—and that may have been the main reason.
Read more about the 1/20/73 AT40 show on Monday.