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Top 10 Oldies of 1973

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This list was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, from various sources -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that peaked on the pop Top 40 in 1973 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to find the song on CD, hear a clip of the song, and buy it if you like!)

1. Stevie Wonder, "Superstition"

Tamla 54226 (November 1972) b/w "You've Got It Bad Girl"
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.

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2. Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"

Tamla 54234 (June 1973) b/w "I Wish It Would Rain"
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.

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3. Dobie Gray, "Drift Away"

Decca 33057 (March 1973) b/w "City Stars"
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.

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4. War, "The Cisco Kid"

United Artists 163 (November 1972) b/w "Beetles In The Bog"
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.

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5. The O'Jays, "Love Train"

Philadelphia International 3524 (December 1972) b/w "Who Am I"
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.

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6. Pink Floyd, "Money"

Harvest 3609 (March 1973) b/w "Any Colour You Like"
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.)

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7. Edgar Winter Group, "Frankenstein"

Epic 10967 (March 1973) b/w "Undercover Man"
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.

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8. Elton John, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

MCA 40148 15 October 1973) b/w "Young Man's Blues" (a/k/a "Screw You")
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.

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9. Carly Simon, "You're So Vain"

Elektra 45824 (December 1972) b/w "His Friends Are More Than Fond Of Robin"
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).

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10. Gladys Knight and the Pips, "Midnight Train To Georgia"

Buddah 383 (August 1973) b/w "Window Raising Granny"
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!

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What do you think?

Got a song that you think should be on this list? Want to talk about the songs that did make it? Just make a post in our forum!
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