The #1 song for 1974 was Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were” and that may be hard for most of us to believe when we look at the musical output from that year, but those were different times and the AM music scene was all one; whatever came out was fed through the same pipe. You could hear Grand Funk Railroad, ABBA, The Guess Who, George Harrison, and Streisand back to back on the radio—so it is hard to judge the list from back then. Second that year was Terry Jacks with “Seasons in the Sun”—a sentimental favourite of many from that time. The thing about those kinds of songs is that they do not always travel well to our current era; they often sound pretty dated...and sentimental.
“The Streak” by Ray Stevens was in the top ten and “Spiders and Snakes,” "Wildwood Weed," and “My Girl Bill”—all by Jim Stafford—were in the top 100 and testify to the era’s love of the novelty song. Much of the rest of the year’s top 100 were pure pop numbers such as “Billie Don’t be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” –none of it with much staying power, unless nostalgia counts for something.
What Survives from 1974?
This Top 5 List will try to pan out the best pieces from that Billboard’s Top 100 list from 1974 and order them as best as possible. And though Dylan, Queen, Bowie, Lennon, Young, and others released albums that year, they did not show up in the top 100. McCartney and Starr were on the list, Starr with the potentially embarrassing “You’re Sixteen” and McCartney with more substantial matter.
There was a Beatle hit in the top 100 though, Anne Murray’s cover of “You Won’t See Me.” That’s the kind of time it was, Carpenters, ABBA, Jackson 5, Olivia Newton John, and others beating out some pretty solid music. Most of the list is pure pop, the music used to commercially accompany commercials for cars and groceries without offending anyone.
So are there five songs that can survive the criteria and still be worth listening to in 2013 and later? Sort of.
#5. (Actual Position=#44) Brownsville Station, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”—a sort of retro rocker for the time with a heavy backbeat and the late Cub Koda’s raunchy guitar:
#4. (Actual Position=#53) Joni Mitchell, “Help Me”—Joni with backup band Tom Scott’s L.A. Express, her only top ten hit:
#3. (Actual Position=#40) Steve Miller Band, “The Joker”—marks a departure from their psychedelic era and the beginning of a bass-heavy era of success for the band:
#2. (Actual Position=#22) McCartney and Wings, “Band on the Run”—is probably the true #1 song of that year in many ways with McCartney and Laine and the others working together brilliantly, creating a top ten album of the 70s and claiming three spots in the top 100:
#1. (Actual Position=#17) David Essex, “Rock On”—a minimalist sound that was never pursued or further fulfilled by Essex or his era; it’s a little jazz bit of anti-dance punctuated by negative space, and it still sounds a little weird now:
And honourable mention in the Top 5 list has to go to Billy Preston and his "Nothing From Nothing":
Check out our list of Top 5 Honourable Mentions and the Bottom 5 from Billboard’s 1974 Year-End Top 100 Chart coming shortly.