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Top 10 AM Tragedies of the Seventies


Blame it on Vietnam, Watergate, or the aftermath of Sixties turmoil, but early Seventies pop had a decidedly vicious, morbid streak. Pop-culture watchdogs like to complain about today's rock, but these weird little ditties were all over transistor radios then, and no one seemed to notice. This purely subjective list represents the fave picks of Your Guide (me) and where to find them.

1. "Wildfire," Michael Martin Murphey

Michael Martin Murphey
The quintessential horse song. Teenage (probably) girl loves horse, horse gets lost, girl goes looking for her, dies of exposure. We think. The narrator - whose relationship to the girl is unclear - is about to die, as well, following her and the horse to that great ranch in the sky. Bookended by a heartbreaking piano figure, this is probably the one song here not drowning in sap.

2. "Billy, Don't Be A Hero," Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods

Rhino's "Have A Nice Day"
This monument of Seventies kitsch is one of the best written songs here - it's catchy and precise, even if the arrangement is beyond hokey. Billy wants to fight in the war (any war, really) but his young fiance warns him that it's pointless, and that he'll probably die. Billy does just that, and his fiance throws the death notice away. Stunningly anti-war, even for its time.

3. "Seasons In The Sun," Terry Jacks

This one's vague... we're not sure who's dying here, or why, just that it's irredeemably sad. Our subject is young, was "the black sheep of the family," and so probably died of misadventure. Either way, this mawkish little ballad is one of the finest examples of life-flashing-before-your-eyes lucidity.

4. "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia," Vicki Lawrence

Most of the songs on this list are rather vague, indicating death rather than explaining it. This Grammy-winner, however, boasts a plot so intricate it's still confusing people. Vicki (star of the Carol Burnett Show) kills her philandering sister-in-law, but her brother's the one who takes it in the neck instead. Oops. Don't take the law into your own hands, Vicki - take them to court!

5. "Run Joey Run," David Geddes

A real howler: Joey impregnates his girlfriend, but decides to do the right thing and marry her. However, her father wants Joey dead anyway. In a classic ending, Dad shoots, daughter jumps in front of Joey at the last minute, and end scene. Except that the return of the chorus makes it seem like Dad's REALLY upset now. Run Joey run, indeed.

6. "D.O.A.," Bloodrock

Definitely the most morbid entry here, this hard-rock anthem somehow nudged its way into the Top 40 on shock value alone. It graphically describes a plane crash, the bloody aftermath, the death of the narrator's girlfriend (we think), and the death of the narrator himself. Downright grisly. These guys are even more obscure now than most of the artists here, which is probably a good thing.

7. "Timothy," The Buoys

Certainly the only top 40 (or top 100) record about cannibalism. Three guys go into a mine, it collapses, only two come out. Thing is, they can't find Timothy's body, and while the narrator can't remember exactly what happened, he knows they were really hungry. Where IS Timothy, anyway? Believe it or not, this was written by Rupert Holmes, who would later ask us if we liked pina coladas.

8. "Emma," Hot Chocolate

This band is best known for "You Sexy Thing," but this other hit is decidedly less upbeat. The narrator's known and loved Emma since childhood, but she's dead set on becoming a movie star. When that doesn't pan out, she kills herself. Kinda selfish, don't you think? Talk about tunnel vision. Still, the performance almost makes up for it, especially the return of that classic HC guitar sound.

9. "Rocky," Austin Roberts

A ballad of young love and young disease as tragic as Bobby Goldsboro's infamous "Honey." But no less goofy: dig the line about how "We got it on together / In such a super way." No one seems to know what killed Rocky's wife, not even the doctors, but, in true soap-opera fashion, she's left behind a child that looks just like her. Maudlin.

10. "Shannon," Henry Gross

Believe it or not, "Shannon" is a dog, and the only way we know this - and that she's dead, not just "gone away" - is that the song was actually written about Beach Boy Carl Wilson's Irish Setter. Gross was in Sha Na Na during their Woodstock days, so perhaps they met that way. Besides, what kind of person would be looking for their favorite tree after death?
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