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1974 “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”

October 17, 2014

1974 was a big change year for rock and popular music generally. Beginning with the instrumental groups Love Unlimited Orchestra (directed by Barry White) doing “Love’s Theme” (#1 in February) and MFSB ( mother, father, sister , brother officially …Mother, F#*#ing Son of a B#%ch unofficially) doing “TSOP” ( The Sound of Philadelphia ) which was # 1 in April, disco exploded onto the pop charts during 1974. Disco music was to boast several other of the biggest hits of the year including “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, “Rock Your Baby” by George McRae and two vocal hits by Barry White “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe” and “You’re The First, My Last, My Everything”. In fact, disco was to dominate the charts for much of the next 5 years, a trend that I didn’t much enjoy as I generally disliked the music. ( nor could I disco dance).

Meanwhile, rock music was in retreat generally and even three of the former Beatles had an off-year. After his excellent solo album in 1973, Ringo produced little new music in 1974, though two of his best songs from his 1973 album went to the top or near the top of the charts, “You’re Sixteen” and “Oh My My”. Meanwhile John and George produced little new material as well, with only Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Thru Night” ( with backing vocals from Elton John) being a good 1974 rock n roll song.

In addition to the three of the Beatles solo acts, many other rock and folk acts had little of note in 1974. The Moody Blues disappeared from the rock scene completely producing no new material for almost five years. The Who released only a remnants album called “Odds and Sods” which paled in comparison to the prior year’s “Quadrophenia” . Yes had only the meandering and loosely constructed “Tales of Topographic Oceans ” , a double album which had relatively little good music over its 80 minute length. ( This album was a particular sore point for me as a big fan, because at my first and only Yes concert they played ALL four sides of the album, ignoring all of the outstanding material on “The Yes Album” and “Fragile”(except for their Roundabout encore )) . Led Zeppelin had no new material taking a year off from touring and recording. After 1973’s superb album, The Captain and Me, the Doobie Brothers had only “What were Once Vices are Now Habits” album, but at least, it did feature one outstanding song “Black Water ” which was released as a single at the end of 1974. Likewise Paul Simon , after two excellent albums in 1972 and 1973 to start his solo career, had nothing new in 1974.

Perhaps the biggest sign of rock’s 1974 slump was that some of the most popular rock hits of the year were covers of older songs from the 60s ranging from the annoying Blue swede rendition ( Ooh – Ga Chucka) of “Hooked on a Feeling” to Grand Funk’s just OK rendition of “The Locomotion” and James Taylor/ Carly Simon’s duet of “Mockingbird” . Ringo’s version of “You’re Sixteen” was good, but his version of the Platters “Only You” was not good at all. The cover of “Another Saturday Night”  by Cat Stevens was more inspired though it still paled in comparison to the Sam Cooke original.

Another bad sign for 1974 was that two no. 1 songs and one top ten hit from the year were bad “novelty” songs headlined by Ray Stevens #1 hit “The Streak” which wasn’t remotely funny, the tiresome though catchy #1 “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas, and Guess Who’s ” Clap for the Wolfman” which represented an all-time low for the group.

But the worst aspect of 1974 was that several of the top-selling hits of the year rank among my worst singles of all time. This included the awful “Seasons in The Sun” a Rod McKuen song made somehow even worse by Terry Jacks and the tinny organ accompaniment, the anti-abortion “You’re Having My Baby” by Paul Anka which actually makes me nauseous upon hearing it; the extremely annoying “The Night Chicago Died” and the musically and lyrically inane “Billy Don’t be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Believe it or not, as bad as these songs were, all four of them made it to #1 on the pop charts.,

Fortunately, there were some bright spots in the rock and pop-rock scene during the year. My favorite album of the year 1974 ( though technically a December 1973 release) was Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” which featured three excellent singles : Helen Wheels, Jet and the title track, which was the best song on the album. In addition, the album was loaded with other great songs notably “Let Me Roll it”, “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” and my favorite “1985” which highlights some mean piano playing by Paul. Paul wasn’t done for 1974 either, releasing the rollicking single “Juniors Farm” later in the year. Steely Dan released its “Pretzel Logic” album which had several excellent songs most notably the wonderful “Rikki Don’t Lose that number” the hit single from the album plus several others such as “Pretzel Logic” “Night by Night” and “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”. The album demonstrated the groups further movement to a unique rock/ jazz fusion sound begun with the prior years “Countdown to Ecstasy ” album.

Other British artists excelled. David Bowie came out with the excellent rocker “Rebel, Rebel”. Eric Clapton released the “461 Ocean Boulevard” album. The album featured the Bob Marley song .”I Shot the Sheriff” which became the first no. 1 reggae hit in the US. The album had several other great Clapton songs such as “Let it Grow” ; “Mainline Florida” and Clapton’s excellent renditions of the traditional rhythm and blues tunes “Motherless Children” and “Willie and the Hand Jive”. Though Elton John’s “Caribou” album was a disappointment particularly after his previous three critically acclaimed albums, it did have two excellent singles from the album first with “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me ” which made #2 ( and had the distinction of going to #1 some 17 years later as a live version) . But my favorite song from the album was the fabulous ” The Bitch is Back” ( featuring backing vocals by Dusty Springfield) . Finally, Elton was not to miss the trend towards covering 60s songs with his outstanding cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” at the end of the year.

Notable new groups for the year included the Canadian group, Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO), featuring Randy Bachman ( the founder of the Guess Who). BTO emerged in late 1973 with the classic “Takin Care of Business” and followed with the two 1974 hits ” Hey You” and the #1 hit and my personal favorite “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”. where Randy famously mimicked his younger brother’s stuttering problem. (Imagine trying to do that today on a popular song!). Another new group, Bad Company, had the spirited rock hit “Can’t Get Enough”. A group that had been around for several years, Lynyrd Skynyrd, had their first commercial success with the classic “Sweet Home Alabama”. And though not a new group by any means, the Steve Miller Band had their first big hit with the very mellow and carefree “The Joker”

On the soul and R&B side, Stevie Wonder released his third original solo album “Fulfillingness First Finale” which though not as good as his first two original albums , did have two excellent songs “You Haven’t Done Nothing” and “Boogie on Reggae Woman”. Kool and the Gang got us in the groove with their  first top ten funk song “Jungle Boogie” while Billy Preston had his best vocal single “Nothing from Nothing” and the Jackson V had one of their best R&B songs with the more mature sounding “Dancing Machine”. Former Temptation lead singer, Eddie Kendricks outshone his former group with his second and last noteworthy R&B hit “Boogie Down”. Meanwhile, Aretha Franklin had the beautiful and soulful “Until You Come Back to Me ( That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” . And Dionne Warwick and the Spinners merged their great singing talents together with the upbeat “Then Came You”.

1974 also featured several excellent softer folk-rock hits such as the haunting “Can’t Get it out of my head” by ELO, Carly Simon’s uplifting ” Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” one of the best songs of her career, Harry Chapin’s musically and lyrically excellent “Cats in the Cradle”, and Gordon Lightfoot’s beautiful “Sundown”. Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, Carole King’s “Jazzman” and America’s “Tin Man” rounded out the list of folk rock classics. The Eagles released their first hit single “Already Gone” from their 1974 album ” On the Border” , which was one of my favorites by the Eagles. The song was a panacea for the bad breakup, impossible not to sing along with. Lastly, the year featured a surf sound throwback with the very catchy and totally enjoyable “Beach Baby” by First Class (  a group from a very “unbeachlike” England of all places).

1974 was in many respects a disappointing year for rock-pop music and it paled in comparison to 1973 and 1972. And perhaps that was fitting for me in the midst of my “sophomore slump” in college. However, there were still many songs worth remembering and it held out the hope that when it would come to 1975 ” You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”!



From → Music 60s70s

  1. Geoff permalink

    Bruce: I have to be honest with you. When I saw the title of this new blog entry in my email, my first thought was “Oh, crap! Bruce has written something about Ebola, and it’s going to be very depressing.” Thankfully, it’s just the title of a great rock-n-roll song. And it got me thinking (even before I read your post) about the all-time best rock-and-roll songs with pronounced stuttering. Off hand, I can only think of “My Sharona” and “Changes” (Bowie) in addition to BTO’s finest moment. But there must be more.

    Anyhow, another great post. Frankly, you are a better read with your occasional, slightly cranky putdowns of songs that you don’t like (even in the rare occasions when I disagree). Thanks!

    – Geoff

  2. Geoff permalink

    Also, “B-B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets”! How could I forget that?

  3. Neil permalink

    Oh no. Now I’ve got ‘King Fu Fighting’ stuck in my head.

  4. Well at least it’s not “Seasons in the Sun” or ” Billy Don’t be a hero”

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