The 1970s are something of a mystery to me. I was alive through them, but not in much of any real capacity. Until 1977, when Star Wars came out, I didn’t have much of an awareness of any culture, pop or otherwise, circling around me. I just existed as a kid, not really knowing much of the world I was in.
There’s one area where that’s not completely the case, though. Pop music did make its way to me, though it would be another decade where I’d truly begin to connect with it. As such, the memories I have of pop music when I was growing up are a weird and distorted view of what was actually going on. In this brief series I’m going to take a look at this.
We start in 1973, and I’m five years old. My family lives in Corning, NY, and my memories of this time are few and fuzzy. This is the furthest back I can find any kind of musical memories. Let’s take a look at the Billboard Top 100 Singles for 1973.
Now, there’s a lot of chaff on there, as there will be on this list for any year, but look at the truly great stuff happening there. Stevie Wonder has three amazing songs there. Some classic rock staples, like “Smoke on the Water”, “Ramblin’ Man”, “Money”, and “Free Ride” are making their first trips of many into radio playlists. Soul music is all over the charts, with hits from Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston, War, and tons of others. David Bowie is wandering in at #97. There is a lot of incredible music here.
But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. Because it’s not the incredible music I remember. We weren’t an incredible music family. In my defense, I was five. My sister was 10, so she wasn’t really hip to the happenin’ tunes either. And my parents — well, one was into opera and classical and one was into the softer side of 70s music, when she was into it at all. What was playing in our house wasn’t “Angie”, “Frankenstein”, or even “Crocodile Rock”. The ones I remember are:
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” — yes, the number one single was everywhere, and our house enjoyed us some Tony Orlando and Dawn. I vaguely remember watching their variety show, though I think that was later. I still know all the words to this song and I probably did when I was five as well; we had the 45 and I listened to it a lot. I was also a big fan of #34, “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose”, but the one I really remember is “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch with Sally”, which didn’t make the year-end chart. Listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn again was bizarre. It’s like, ragtime music or something, the spiritual successor to that slide-whistle stuff Lennon made fun of McCartney for doing.
“Little Willy” by Sweet (#15) and “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show (#51) I also remember and I believe we had the singles for. I’m pretty sure these were records my sister had gotten, and I listened to them a lot as well. Donny Osmond barely makes the list at #99, and Carol was way into the Osmonds, but I honestly don’t remember much about them, including defacing her poster of them with mustaches, signing my name, and then denying I did it. I remember the theme song to their cartoon, “One Bad Apple”, but Wikipedia puts that at 1970.
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence (#11) begins a recurring theme we’ll see in this series: songs that creeped me the hell out. I was a “timid” kid and it didn’t take much, so a song about an innocent man being hung and puddles of blood and stuff would do the trick. It was especially pernicious because it was so damn catchy.
“Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy (#14) was also a little spooky to me, but mostly because I had no idea what it was about. More importantly, though, my mom liked this one (we may have had the single for it too — who was buying all these singles?) so I knew it well.
One that isn’t on this list but I wanted to comment on is “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan (it’s #2 on the 1972 list). In time, this song would become known as “The School Song” by my sister and me, since we would always hear it on the easy listening radio station my folks listened to in the car just before school would start for the year. (And just before the school year ended. And probably all throughout the school year and summer, because they played it a lot.)
That’s it for 1973. Now, I know that wasn’t very exciting, but give me a break, I’m only five so far.