recorded July 1973, Los Angeles, CA
Stevie's known for his positivity, but this epic, featuring at least four different documentary-sized slices of black urban life tied together by Wonder's narration and a Greek (gospel) chorus, sounded like the revolution was just at the nation's doorstep. Or, even more accurately, like a race coming apart, spiritually starving itself to death. Arguably the high point of Wonder's astonishing early-Seventies output.
recorded January 1974, Doraville, GA
In the end, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd weren't racists or Confederate apologists or even enemies of Neil Young -- just a bunch of Southerners who felt there was plenty to love about the region despite its disturbing past and politically murky present. A subtly funky and elegant Southern-rock hymn that boasted an arrangement which made boogie sound like its own weird chamber music. (Chamber-pot music, perhaps.)
recorded 1-11 September 1973, Lagos, Nigeria
Paul had been teasing Beatles fans with brief snatches of his old glory for years when he released this alternately folky and funky mini-opera, but it took being stranded in darkest Africa and robbed at gunpoint to make it happen. Working without George Martin, he still somehow managed to craft a winking yet passionate ode to rock bands turned into millionaire outlaws by the evil weed. And then... nothing.
recorded October 1973, Philadelphia, PA
Gamble and Huff exceeded even Norman Whitfield at the urban polemics game with this monster, which dared to suggest that money, while not inherently evil, was seductive enough to unleash evil in many different ways. Driven, of course, by neo-psychedelic flourishes, a wicked yet drifting bass line, a lot of testifyin', and that undeniable hook. Moneymoneymoneymoney... MON-EY!
recorded May 1973, New York, NY
Elton's love-hate affair with fame, filtered through Bernie Taupin's broad character sketches, continued on this smash. But what was most intriguing about this fake stadium singalong was its mellow R&B groove... breaking out in Philly, it had reached the Black Top Fifteen before anyone knew what was happening. Strange, considering it was a tribute to glam rock. But then, Elton was a walking billboard for that already.
recorded November 1973, Hampshire, England
Assembled from members of Free, Mott The Hoople, and King Crimson, Bad Company kept its feet firmly planted in the blues-rock thing, creating a meat-and-potatoes approach that was a surprise breakout in a very experimental time. This classic, their first single, is about three times more involving than their later output, but that's because here, they sounded like they were playing for attention.
recorded December 1973, Los Angeles, CA
The Dan's mixture of jazz-inflected pop sophistication and seedy, caustically ironic lyricism had finally come into its own by '74, resulting in a song as quietly intriguing (or shocking) as Brokeback Mountain. "You don't even know your mind," sneers the main character in trying to convince a friend to walk on the wild side. (The spelling "Rikki" was a clever way of making the object of affection seem female.)
recorded June 1974, Nashville, TN
In the world of pop, even a hit re-recorded several times can eventually bear fruit: all it takes is the right moment. And so it was that little Carl Carlton got a chance to go all Stevie on this already-golden oldie (Robert Knight, 1967), revinventing it with an arrangement where soul fire and Broadway snazz met each other halfway. No wonder it still has the power to stun the karaoke bar.
recorded April 1974, Miami, FL
George McCrae was possessed of an unearthly falsetto, made even more ghostly by the dual songwriting and production of one Harry Casey. Actually, this hit broke things wide open for the Casey kid, who went on to be the "KC" behind the Sunshine Band. You can already hear the band's Miami-funk-meets-Caribbean-junkanoo hybrid at work here. So what if the lush arrangement makes some folks mistake the "TK sound" for disco?
recorded November 1972, Los Angeles, CA
Speaking of disco. This sweetly innocent example of latter-day soul languished on an album for a full year and a half before intense exposure in New York discos got it a release as a single. Yes, Virginia, there were discos in '74, though they were mostly black. And this almost childlike expression of a love just about to gone wrong went a long way towards popularizing the sound for everyone.