Top 5: Halfway Up the Hill

The headline across page 1 of the Wisconsin State Journal dated Saturday, October 12, 1974, says, “Stock Market Closes Its Best Week Ever.”  The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained nearly 74 points, the most ever to that point, and ended trading Friday at 658.17. Economic indicators were good; major banks had cut the prime interest rate to 11.5% and inflation was slowing. First Lady Betty Ford was out of the hospital after breast-cancer surgery. A jury was chosen to try Watergate figures including John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, and vice-presidential nominee Nelson Rockefeller was under fire for giving and receiving cash gifts totaling over $2 million since 1957. Game 1 of the World Series was scheduled for that afternoon, with the Oakland A’s facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. On TV, the great CBS Saturday night comedy lineup was in full flower, with All in the Family, a new show called Friends and Lovers, plus Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. I would have stayed up late that night to watch Channel 15’s locally produced magazine show, Seen on 15. It was a place where cool people hung out, and I hoped it would make me cool by association.

“Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston was #1 on the Cash Box chart dated October 12, although “Earache My Eye” by Cheech and Chong was the record it seemed as though everybody wanted to hear over and over again. I was overdosing on “The Bitch Is Back,” the new single by Elton John, and I am pretty sure I had acquired his new album, Caribou, by this time. Further down the chart were songs I had not discovered yet. Some I wouldn’t hear until years later.

47. “Love Don’t Love Nobody (Part 1)”/Spinners (up from 57). Maybe it was because radio stations were already playing “Then Came You” and didn’t want to give another playlist spot to the Spinners, but the gorgeous “Love Don’t Love Nobody” never had the impact it deserved to.

51. and 59. “Second Avenue”/Art Garfunkel and Tim Moore (up from 54/60). Moore wrote it, Garfunkel had the bigger hit, and the last lines of either version are a killer:

Then all the things that we felt
Must eventually melt and fade,
Like the frost on my window pane
Where I wrote, “I am you,”
On Second Avenue

80. “Pretzel Logic”/Steely Dan (up from 89). Although a fair number of decent rock records were on the radio in this season—“Can’t Get Enough,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “I Shot the Sheriff”—nothing so odd as this had much of a chance alongside the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Andy Kim.

100. “He Did Me Wrong”/Patti Dahlstrom (first week on). And also her last week on, which is better than she ever did on the Hot 100, where she never charted. For all things Patti Dahlstrom, I refer you to whiteray, the world’s preeminent expert in the field.

I first wrote the following paragraph in 2006, and I think I’ve repeated it at least once. But here it is again, because better than anything in the newspaper, any song, or any other cultural artifact, it describes what the fall of 1974 felt like. And if it’s not what it really felt like then, it’s how it feels in memory now, and that’s a distinction without a difference.

I was driving home in the dark after wrestling practice. I crested the hill east of the farm and started the slow climb up the next hill, where our farm was. For a moment, the farmstead in the distance resolved itself like a painting—a little oasis of warm light in an otherwise dark and vast night. I carried the picture in my head for years before I knew what it represented: It was a metaphor for the life we lived in that place, as a family while we were growing up. The world was a big place, not always easy to navigate, not always friendly—but we had our oasis of warmth and safety there, halfway up the hill. There were rocky times, as in every family—we let our parents down in various awful ways, and sometimes they were oblivious to the reality of our lives. But underlying all the temporary crises was the rock-solid assurance that in the long run, everything was going to be OK if we’d just hang on, both to that place and to the people who lived there. So we did, and it was.

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