(Pictured: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, beloved above all other bands by teenage boys of my acquaintance 40 years ago this fall.)
Recently I said this about American Top 40: “Every now and then [the show] hits a streak that captures the full, glorious panoply of 70s music, and even more than that, demonstrates just how much damn fun it was to listen to the radio back then.” It was like that on practically the whole show dated November 30, 1974—one of the most entertaining AT40s ever.
The first hour contains a few clunkers: “Whatever You Got, I Want” by the Jackson Five, in which a really good funk track is undercut by Michael’s pre-pubescent vocal; “Fire Baby, I’m on Fire” by Andy Kim, in which the guy who had asked you to rock him gently only a few months before now wants to burn you down like General Sherman; and “The Need to Be” by Jim Weatherly, in which a man of the Me Decade disappears up his own external orifice. But the show catches fire in the second hour with some quintessentially 70s radio songs and just keeps rolling right to the end. They’re on the flip.
19. “Touch Me”/Fancy. In which the beat and the riff are all, even more so than on Fancy’s earlier hit, “Wild Thing.” I fired it up just now and it scared the cat.
17. “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything”/Barry White. In which the maestro takes the Love Unlimited Orchestra out for its most satisfying spin this side of “Love’s Theme.”
16. “You Got the Love”/Rufus. The most ridiculously funky thing on this show. Dig it or GTFO.
15. “Junior’s Farm”/Paul McCartney and Wings. I’m tempted to say Paul hadn’t rocked this hard since “I Saw Her Standing There.” Too much?
14. “Back Home Again”/John Denver. You were never getting anything deep from John Denver, except sincerity. The best single he ever made.
13. “Sha La La (Make Me Happy)”/Al Green. The greatest introduction in the Al Green catalog (and that laugh, six seconds in). Sweet mama this is fantastic on the radio.
12. “I’ve Got the Music in Me”/Kiki Dee Band. Imagine not-yet-famous Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting by the radio in Seattle in 1974 going “damn, THAT’S the stuff.”
11. “Wishing You Were Here”/Chicago. Maybe this is the transitional record between the rockin’ Chicago and the supper-club Chicago. If so, so what? It’s another fantastic radio song.
10. “Angie Baby”/Helen Reddy. It’s not implausible that a boy could be sucked into the radio. After all, it happened to me.
8. “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Casey notes that this former #1 song is back in the Top 10 after falling to #34 the previous week. He explains only that “the flip side is getting some action.” It would have made sense—and would probably have been quite interesting to the audience—had Casey played that flip side, the instrumental “Free Wheelin’,” after playing “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” the previous 10 weeks.
6. “Everlasting Love”/Carl Carlton. Another record made for the radio. It blazes out of the gate from the first instant, never slows down, and is done in 2:35.
5. “Longfellow Serenade”/Neil Diamond. Forty years later, I am pretty sure you can’t get anywhere with a girl by reading her Longfellow. I am not sure you could get all that far 40 years ago, either.
3. “When Will I See You Again”/Three Degrees. Gamble and Huff, man. In their prime, doin’ work.
2. “Kung Fu Fighting”/Carl Douglas. As a jock, I’ll talk over the intro to “Kung Fu Fighting,” but never on the first “oh-ho-ho-ho.” One of the things you notice on this chart is the way records were so often constructed to grab you from the first instant—something they don’t do anymore. It’s remarkable how many records today just sort of start.
1. “I Can Help”/Billy Swan. Out of time in 1974, with its rockabilly feel, two-fingered organ part, and Swan’s Roy Orbison drawl, there’s never been anything remotely like it in 40 years since.
As always, your mileage may vary with this stuff. The fall of 1974 is one of my favorite seasons, filled in memory with the golden light of the farm I grew up on—days and nights which were almost certainly not as golden as I remember them. But time shapes songs the same way songs shape time, and at this distance, if the mirror is distorted, there’s nothing we can do about it.