Top 5: Retro and Rockin’

Because no good idea can ever go unrepeated, let’s examine another year of the British charts and compare the Number-One hits to those in the States, like we did with 1976. This time: 1974.

Five songs that topped the American charts in 1974 also reached Number One in Britain: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, “The Streak” by Ray Stevens, George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, and “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas. Several other British Number Ones were substantial hits over here without reaching the top: ABBA’s “Waterloo,” “When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees, “Love Me for a Reason” by the Osmonds, “Sad Sweet Dreamer” by Sweet Sensation, and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” by Barry White. What leaves us with 11 other records to consider, not counting “Lonely This Christmas”“Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade, which wrapped up a five-week run at the top during the week of January 12, 1974. And away we go.

“You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me”/New Seekers (week of January 19). I’ve told the story of the New Seekers elsewherethis song came in the wake of yet another personnel shakeup in the group, and it became one of the biggest hits of their career despite sounding like it could have been the theme to a sitcom. Which wasn’t a handicap in 1974, either in the UK or over here.

“Tiger Feet”/Mud (weeks of January 26, February 2, February 19, and February 16). Mud came out of the bubblegum factory of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, under the auspices of mogul Mickie Most. Chinn and Chapman wrote and produced hits for the Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Smokie, and others, plus such records as “Kiss You All Over” by Exile and “Mickey” by Toni Basil. “Tiger Feet” has lyrics that are more chanted than sung but also a relentless beat, which explains everything.

“Devil Gate Drive”/Suzi Quatro (weeks of  February 23 and March 2). Although Quatro hailed from Detroit, she was never as big in the States as she was in Europe. She had bagged a Number-One song in the UK already in 1973 with “Can the Can” (which wouldn’t run the American charts until 1976). “Devil Gate Drive” is another Chinn/Chapman production, and was both too retro and too rockin’ for the American top 40 circa 1974, although it sounds mighty damn hooky to me now.  Quatro’s big American break had to wait until she took the role of Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, but when she finally charted high in the States, it wasn’t with a rocker. Instead, she hit the Top 10 in 1979 with the tepid “Stumblin’ In,” a collaboration with Chris Norman of Smokie.

“Jealous Mind”/Alvin Stardust (week of March 9). If ever there were a performer in whom appearance and style don’t match, it’s Alvin Stardust, at least on “Jealous Mind.” It’s like you took a Bay City Roller, gave him a Billy Idol sneer, injected him with DNA from both Elvis and David Bowie, and had him sing to an outtake of Billy Swan’s “I Can Help.” His complete failure to make the remotest dent in the States . . . is not really surprising.

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero”/Paper Lace (weeks of March 16, March 23, and March 30). Read that again, carefully. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” was a Number-One hit in the States during 1974, yes, but in a version by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. And Paper Lace hit Number One in the States during 1974, but with “The Night Chicago Died.” What we are talking about here is the original “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” although in the States, the versions were released close enough in time to render the distinction largely moot. The pallid Paper Lace version first charted in the States a week after the Bo Donaldson version, but peaked at Number 96 and lasted only three weeks, while the Bo Donaldson version—which is far better— hung around all summer.

Next time: a French crooner, more Mud, more glam, and a reggae version of familiar American hit.

One Other Thing: You’ve seen by now that guitar innovator Les Paul died yesterday. I wrote about him a year ago at WNEW.com.

“Devil Gate Drive”/Suzi Quatro (buy it here, on a 1990 compilation which lacks “Stumblin’ In,” if that’s something you think you need)

One thought on “Top 5: Retro and Rockin’

  1. Phil

    Ah yes, Suzi Quatro and Devil Gate Drive. My 15-year-old self was a big fan… a poster of her looking good in leather adorned my bedroom wall, I bought all the singles up to Devil Gate Drive (the B sides were good too) and I even have a Suzi Q LP. It’s strange to hear an American viewpoint on this American export – how would the singles preceding this one have been received over there when they had titles like “48 Crash” and “Daytona Demon”. It was a while later that I found out what and where Daytona was!

    Alvin Stardust was another that went for the leather look, it was in the slipstream of glam rock but miles away from Bowie and Roxy Music. Looking back you can see how Alvin and Suzi along with Mud (Elvis sounding), Wizzard (Ball Park Incident, See my Baby Jive) et al seemed to be obsessed with a glammed up version of 1950s Americana. Suzi couldn’t have found a better place than Happy Days could she.

    Did you know that Alvin Stardust was previously Shane Fenton, who, along with The Fentones had a few UK hits in the pre-Beatles early 60s?

    Phil

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.