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Top 10 Oldies of 1974

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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 1974 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, "Living For The City"

Tamla 54242 (October 1973) b/w "Visions"
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.

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2. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama"

MCA 40258 (April 1974) b/w "Take Your Time"
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.)

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3. Paul McCartney and Wings, "Band On The Run"

Apple 1873 (8 April 1974) b/w "1985"
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.

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4. The O'Jays, "For The Love Of Money"

Philadelphia International 3544 (April 1974) b/w "People Keep Tellin' Me"
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!

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5. Elton John, "Bennie And The Jets"

MCA 40198 (4 February 1974) b/w "Harmony"
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.

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6. Bad Company, "Can't Get Enough"

Swan Song 70015 (June 1974) b/w "Little Miss Fortune "
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.

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7. Steely Dan, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"

ABC 11439 (26 April 1974) b/w "Any Major Dude"
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.)

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8. Carl Carlton, "Everlasting Love"

Back Beat 27001 (August 1974) b/w "I Wanna Be Your Main Squeeze"
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.

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9. George McCrae, "Rock Your Baby"

T.K. 1004 (May 1974) b/w "Rock Your Baby Pt. 2"
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?

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10. The Hues Corporation, "Rock the Boat"

RCA Victor 0232 (25 May 1974) b/w "All Goin' Down Together"
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.

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What do you think?

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