recorded August 1972, New York, NY
Produced and performed almost entirely by the newly-liberated Wonder, this masterpiece of funk activism set the stage for Stevie's one-man-band glory years, a flowering of R&B that would change the genre for all time. Originally written for Jeff Beck, it works best here, where the cyclical nature of the groove drives home the point that rational thinking is critical to the advancement of the human race.
recorded March 1973, Los Angeles, CA
Transferring his "What's Going On" brand of jazzy, multitracked soul to the subject of sex, Gaye scored another classic album, one that somehow made the mere act of getting busy seem transcendant. This title track has since become ubiquitous, perhaps even more so than his earlier triumphs; the sheer joy and reassurance in his homemade choir ("We're all sensitive people") makes this come-on truly timeless.
recorded January 1973, Nashville, TN
One of the defining moments in country-soul, this testament to the power of music was by far the best among several similarly-themed hits in the early '70s. Rumors abound about the song -- some say writer Mentor Williams (brother of Paul) was originally inspired by the Beach Boys ("gimme the Beach Boys"?) or that it was written specifically for Elvis. Either way, Gray's version stands as a monument all its own.
recorded August 1972, Chicago, IL
Formerly known as Animals singer Eric Burdon's solo project ("Spill The Wine"), these El Lay natives came into their own in a big way with this ode to the kiddie western series of the same name (1950-56). The vicious Latin-funk groove and subject matter helped make this band -- consisting of six black men and one Danish harmonica player -- a huge favorite among Latinos. Now that's powerful.
recorded October 1972, Philadelphia, PA
The Sound of Philadlphia had already been in full swing by 1973, but the O'Jays gave the sound its first huge smash with this anthem of brotherhood, which stands up much better than other period hits with similar utopian ideals. That's because of the Jays' stellar harmonies and Eddie Levert's signature preaching style, but mainly to that aforementioned sound, a clear progenitor to disco.
recorded June 1972 January 1973, London, England
It is, of course, impossible to discuss this song without at least mentioning its legendary parent album, "Dark Side of the Moon." The full-length version of this track, however, stands up just fine on its own, a scathing commentary on the crassness of greed and perhaps the only Top 40 hit recorded in 21/8 time. (It slips into 12/8 during the solo, which is why it sounds as if it's speeding up.)
recorded August 1972, New York, NY
This song began life (sorry) as "Double Drum Solo," a percussive instrumental Winter'd had for years. One of the first hits to employ the synthesizer as lead, this jazz-rock monster gets its economy from the fact that it was edited down from several half-hour long jams. One band member commented that the splices of tape hanging everywhere looked liked something a mad scientist would do, and... there you go.
recorded May 1973, Château D'Hierouville, France
Ironically, a heartfelt ballad about rejecting fame was the song that helped jump-start Elton from singer-songwriter to arena godhood. Sporting a difficult yet accessible melody and production so subtle it often gets underappreciated, this dreamily sad single strikes the exact right note of wistful regret. One of Elton and Bernie Taupin's more famous "country bumpkin" stories.
recorded October 1972, London, England
No song, with the possible exception of "American Pie," has intrigued so many with its deliberately obscure subject matter. Of Simon's many famous boyfriends, the odds-on fave is Warren Beatty, who must have done something horrible to warrant soft-rock's greatest kiss-off. The track's other celebrity? Mick Jagger, providing backup vocals that shouldn't work (but do, wonderfully).
recorded April 1973, New York, NY
A truly underappreciated icon of soul vocalese, Knight reached one of many high points on this 45, a song with so many different layers of emotion that perhaps only Gladys (and her constant Greek chorus, the Pips) could mine them all. In fact, her treatment is so painfully honest you almost don't realize how palpably she's making you feel someone else's regret. Not to mention her utter devotion. Woo woo!