Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie
I remember listening to AM radio on my transistor radio and hearing the novelty hit, “Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)” during the summer of 1974.
Some music historians would point to the “one hit wonder” song by Reunion and proclaim that it was indicative of how bad the music was on Top 40 during 1974. Many musical experts completely pan the entire year of 1974 music, claiming it to be the worst year ever for Top 40 radio. Is that hypothesis correct?
I completely understand why some folks may not like a lot of the top songs from 1974, as many of those tunes are horrid. However, I refuse to throw out the baby with the bath water.
During any given year, there are plenty of good songs and also bunches of wretched, insipid tunes. I refuse to categorically describe all music released during 1974 as wretched. I prefer to place the music from 45 years ago into three silos: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
For this edition of my musical musings, I will be investigating the Top 100 songs of 1974, which were compiled by Cash Box and Billboard music publications.
Here are the Top 20 songs from Cash Box:
- Show And Tell – Al Wilson (Rocky Road)
- Come And Get Your Love – Redbone (Epic)
- The Most Beautiful Girl – Charlie Rich (Epic)
- Rock Me Gently – Andy Kim (Capitol)
- The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand (Columbia)
- Sunshine On My Shoulders – John Denver (Rca Victor)
- You Make Me Feel Brand New – The Stylistics (Avco)
- Rock On – David Essex (Columbia)
- Seasons In The Sun – Terry Jacks (Bell)
- The Joker – The Steve Miller Band (Capitol)
- You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder (Tamla)
- Bennie And The Jets – Elton John (Mca)
- The Loco-Motion – Grand Funk (Capitol)
- Love’s Theme – The Love Unlimited Orchestra (20th Century)
- Spiders And Snakes – Jim Stafford (Mgm)
- Nothing From Nothing – Billy Preston (A&M)
- TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) – MFSB (Philadelphia Int’l)
- You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr (Apple)
- The Night Chicago Died – Paper Lace (Mercury)
- Top Of The World – Carpenters (A&M)
Here are the Top 20 songs from Billboard:
- “The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand
- “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks
- “Love’s Theme” – Love Unlimited Orchestra
- “Come and Get Your Love” – Redbone
- “Dancing Machine” – The Jackson 5
- “The Loco-Motion” – Grand Funk Railroad
- “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” – MFSB
- “The Streak” – Ray Stevens
- “Bennie and the Jets” – Elton John
- “One Hell of a Woman” – Mac Davis
- “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” – Aretha Franklin
- “Jungle Boogie” – Kool & the Gang
- “Midnight at the Oasis” – Maria Muldaur
- “You Make Me Feel Brand New” – The Stylistics
- “Show and Tell” – Al Wilson
- “Spiders and Snakes” – Jim Stafford
- “Rock On” – David Essex
- “Sunshine on My Shoulders” – John Denver
- “Sideshow” – Blue Magic
- “Hooked on a Feeling” – Blue Swede
As you can tell from comparing the two 1974 year-end surveys, there are distinct differences with these listings. I will be selecting my choices for Good, Bad and Ugly from these two lists.
The musical landscape of 1974 is dear to my heart, as my first job in radio started in April of that year. At age 18, I was hired to be a remote engineer by Top 40 radio station WROV in Roanoke, Virginia. My responsibilities at the station included setting up equipment for remote broadcasts, running the soundboard and playing records, while a WROV DJ was in charge of announcing duties.
During my first remote broadcast, I worked with the legendary WROV DJ Larry Bly. The first song I played that day was “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, so for sentimental reasons, I am placing that song in the Good category for 1974 singles.
Two other Good 1974 songs associated with WROV are “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band and “Black Water” from the Doobie Brothers. The Roanoke radio station added “The Joker” during the fall of 1973, and was credited with a “gold record” by Capitol Records, as WROV was the first station in America to play the song.
Then during September 1974, WROV music director Chuck Holloway started playing “Black Water” as a Doobie Brothers album cut on his nighttime DJ air-shift. The WROV request line lit up every time “Black Water” was played and it immediately became a hit in Roanoke.
Soon after, Phil Beckman at WQRK Norfolk and Buzz Bennett with KDWB Minneapolis added “Black Water” to their playlists. Finally, Warner Bros Records released the song as a single and it became the first number 1 tune for the Doobie Brothers during March 1975. Later that year, WROV proudly received another “gold record” for breaking “Black Water” in America.
Working for WROV gave me a chance to thoroughly evaluate the music from 1974. From my perspective, there are a whole lot more Good songs than Bad or Ugly tunes from this year.
Since I will be evaluating just the top singles of 1974, according to Cash Box and Billboard, there are many Good songs that I will not be mentioning with this message. The sole parameter that I am using will be if the song made one of the year-end surveys for 1974.
Before I reveal my Top 10 good songs from 45 years ago, I am going to share some other significant songs from 1974. I consider all of these songs to be Good.
- I Shot the Sheriff—Eric Clapton
- Beach Baby—First Class
- Sideshow—Blue Magic
- Nothing From Nothing—Billy Preston
- Rock on—David Essex
- The Air That I Breathe—The Hollies
- Annie’s Song—John Denver
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road—Elton John
- Help Me—Joni Mitchell
- Please Come to Boston—Dave Loggins
- Be Thankful For What You Got—William DeVaughn
- Then Came You—The Spinners & Dionne Warwick
- Whatever Gets You Through the Night—John Lennon & Elton John
- You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet—Bachman Turner Overdrive
- (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long—Chicago
- Hello It’s Me—Todd Rundgren
- The Lord’s Prayer—Sister Janet Meade
- Midnight Train To Georgia—Gladys Knight & the Pips
- I Got A Name—Jim Croce
- You Make Me Feel Brand New—The Stylistics
Now I will be focusing on what I consider to be the top ten Good songs of 1974.
The top ten songs that I have selected fit into the following categories: I deem the 10 songs to still be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. There are no rankings with my listing and the songs are placed in a random order.
Time in a Bottle—Jim Croce
After Jim Croce died in a plane crash during September 1973, “Time in a Bottle” was released as a single and became a posthumous number 1 hit. The haunting lyrics of mortality and the wish to have more time, brings sadness to this melodic tune. The song truly resonated with music listeners and is one of Croce’s greatest musical achievements.
Band on the Run—Paul McCartney & Wings
The musical structure of “Band on the Run,” is absolutely incredible. Continuous switching of tempos, with three distinct music segments, the song flows into a musical masterpiece. Paul and Wings provide excellent three part harmonies throughout the song, which utilizes rock, funk and country influences. I consider “Band on the Run” to be the best song recorded by McCartney after the break up of the Beatles.
Living For the City—Stevie Wonder
Prior to 1974, Stevie Wonder sang mostly love songs and stayed away from controversial issues. This changed with his hit, “Living for the City.” It became one of his first songs to deal with racism and gave Wonder a chance to express concerns facing life in America. The other thing I admire about this song is that Wonder played all the instruments on this wonderful tune.
You Haven’t Done Nothin’—Stevie Wonder
The second good Stevie Wonder song of 1974 is “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” With backup vocals from the Jackson 5, Wonder unleashes fiery lyrics about U.S. President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Ironically, Nixon resigned his presidency in August, the same month that Wonder’s song was released as a single.
Cat’s in the Cradle—Harry Chapin
Listening to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the first time, one may think it is a mellow song. However, the subject matter is any thing but mellow. Chapin’s signature song paints a sorrowful picture with a father neglecting his son, and then when the son becomes a man, he actually neglects his father, the same way he was treated as a boy. This folk rock song gives a baleful warning with brilliant lyrics.
Sweet Home Alabama—Lynyrd Skynyrd
One of the most iconic Southern Rock songs from the 70’s, “Sweet Home Alabama” pans multiple political subjects and stoked controversial topics. The lyrics mention Neil Young and his song, “Southern Man,” the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace and the Watergate scandal. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first hit record has become an anthem for the state of Alabama.
For the Love of Money—The O’Jays
First Timothy 6:10 states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” That message is the basis for the O’Jay’s hit song, “For the Love of Money.” This R&B groove features powerful vocals and has a killer bass line. The group from Philadelphia gives a powerful warning about the misuse of money on the toe-tapping soul song.
Takin’ Care of Business—Bachman Turner Overdrive
During the summer of 1974, Canadian rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive had one of the hottest sounding songs with, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Randy Bachman, formally of the Guess Who, teamed up with Fred Turner to give us straight-up catchy guitar rifts and tongue in cheek lyrics. The band from Canada sure knew how to rock during this year.
Keep on Smilin’—Wet Willie
Making lemonade out of lemons is the main message on Wet Willie’s song, “Keep on Smilin’.” The band was from Alabama, giving Southern Rock more exposure on Top 40 radio. A positive message is heard on the chorus, “Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain, just flowin’ with the changes, till the sun comes out again.”
Wet Willie’s biggest hit happened during the summertime.
Radar Love—Golden Earring
Throughout the history of Rock and Roll, there have been songs dealing with death. The Dutch band, Golden Earring, gave us a perfect “death rock” song in 1974. “Radar Love” is actually a “Rock Suite” and has two distinct musical segments. Lyrics mention Brenda Lee, driving at a high rate of speed in the middle of the night, and reconnecting with his angel “in the sky.” It is an excellent highway road song.
The next 6 songs are in the Bad category.
Spiders and Snakes—Jim Stafford
I don’t like spiders or snakes, and I sure don’t like Jim Stafford’s number 1 song about arachnids and serpents. “Spiders and Snakes’ ” lyrics of sexual innuendo are not clever and are down right trite. Stafford’s follow up hit, “My Girl Bill” was equally insipid and wretched to my ears. I don’t know why this became a hit record.
Midnight At The Oasis—Maria Maldaur
Some may call this song a guilty pleasure. I call the fantasy desert love affair song, “Midnight at the Oasis” lascivious. Maldaur’s stereotypes of Arab “sultans and sheiks” are appalling and her suggestive sexual euphemisms are way over the top. Lyrics like, “But you won’t need no harem, honey, when I’m by your side, and you won’t need no camel, when I take you for a ride” are absolutely insidious.
The Streak—Ray Stevens
When the streaking craze happened in 1974, someone had to record a song on the topic. That someone was Ray Stevens. His novelty song, “The Streak” may have been funny the first time heard. After the second hearing, the song became annoying. These are lyrics I never want to hear again: “Don’t Look Ethel”, “Ethel, you shameless hussy”, “Ethel, you get your clothes on” and “Say it ain’t so, Ethel.” Ray Stevens’ number 1 song is a dud.
You’re Sixteen—Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr should have never covered the song “You’re Sixteen.” The Beatles drummer was 33 years old when he recorded the song, and it was creepy listening to it on the radio in 1974. I attended Ringo’s concert with His All Starr Band last month, and he is STILL performing “You’re Sixteen” during his shows. Hearing a 79 year old man singing this song is beyond disgusting. It is atrocious.
I Can Help—Billy Swan
Country crossover artist Billy Swan hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his dreadful song, “I Can Help.” The singer pleads, begs and promises to do any and every thing possible in order to be her lover. The last line of the song is unbelievable: “If your child needs a daddy, I can help, It would sure do me good to do you good, let me help.” Any woman that is gullible enough to believe that line definitely needs HELP!
Normally, I can tolerate story songs but Cher’s number 1 song from 1974 is rather sordid. “Dark Lady” is a New Orleans fortune-teller, which the narrator of the song (Cher) goes to see. When money is paid for a fortune, the woman proclaims that Cher’s lover has been unfaithful and gives this advice: “Leave this place, never come back and forget you ever saw my face. “ Of course, Cher goes back to the fortune-teller with a gun, catches her lover kissing the woman, and shoots them both dead. Some may claim the song is clever, I maintain the song is just wretched.
Finally, here are 6 songs in the Ugly category:
I’m Leaving It Up To You—Donny and Marie Osmond
Every time that I heard Donny and Marie’s horrid song during 1974, I would sing, “I’m heaving it up on you.” Listening to this song made me want to puke! In deference to Marie Osmond, she should have never recorded any duets with her brother. Every single Donny Osmond song is completely detestable and obnoxious to my ears. Same for the Osmond Brothers. The song is ugly to the max!
Hooked On a Feeling—Blue Swede
Why would Swedish pop band sing, “Ooga-chaka, Ooga-Ooga, Ooga-Chaka” over and over, with their cover version of, “Hooked on a Feeling?” Why ruin a wonderful song, which B.J. Thomas made popular in 1968? I prefer listening to Thomas singing “Hooked on a Feeling.” Listening to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” is worse than torture for me.
The Night Chicago Died—Paper Lace
One may think that “The Night Chicago Died” was based on a true story. However, it is about a fictional shoot-out between the Chicago Police and members of Al Capone’s crime syndicate. Instead of Capone and his men meeting their doom, the lyrics state “about 100 cops are dead” at the hands of the gangsters. Even worse than unbelievable lyrics is the “bubble gum pop music” that Paper Lace performs on this vapid tune. Chicago would have been better off without this song by Paper Lace.
Billy Don’t Be a Hero—Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods
One of the sappiest bubble gum songs of 1974, “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” is the ultimate, miserable death pop music song. With the Vietnam Conflict still going on in 1974, many folks assumed that “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” was associated with the Southeast Asian war. However, the lyrics suggest it is about the American Civil War. A young woman is distraught that her fiancé chooses to enlist with the Army. Eventually, Billy is killed in action during a battle. A dreadfully sad tune, that continues to be irritating to me 45 years later.
(You’re) Having My Baby—Paul Anka
Besides being a duet with Odia Coates, I can’t think of anything positive about this Paul Anka song. “You’re Having My Baby” is overtly sentimental, sappy and the most sexist record of 1974. With Anka declaring, “it is his baby” without acknowledgement of the mother and her part in the pregnancy, is the ultimate in male chauvinism. Furthermore, the song was voted the number 1 “Worst Song of All Time” by CNN in 2006. Needless to say, this is one horrible tune.
Seasons in the Sun—Terry Jacks
The bubble gum, death pop tune, “Seasons in the Sun,” quite possibly is one of the worst songs ever made. The tune is an English-language adaptation of the song “Le Moribond” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel with lyrics rewritten by American singer-poet Rod McKuen. The singer laments that he is dying and says goodbye to his Papa, Michelle and a trusted friend. Terry Jacks’ singing delivery is a schmaltzy, emotional mess. Just hearing the opening chords of this song makes me shiver. Rolling Stone ranks the record as the 7th “Worst Song of the 70’s. I proclaim “Seasons in the Sun” as the ugliest of ugly songs of 1974.
Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the Good, Bad and Ugly singles from 1974, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music of that year.
Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the 100 biggest songs from 1974. The songs that you might feel are the Good, Bad and Ugly, maybe be completely different from my selections.
So I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the Good, Bad and Ugly songs for 1974? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.
If anyone ever suggests that the music from 1974 is all bad and ugly, I hope those folks educate themselves. The majority of the top 100 songs from 1974 are on the good side of the ledger. Long live Top 40 music from 45 years ago!
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me
Life is a rock but the radio rolled me
At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie
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16 thoughts on “1974 Singles: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
Yep. “Seasons in the Sun” was the pits. Totally devoid of the sardonic wit and energy of Jacques Brel’s original. The first three verses address a friend, a priest, and an enemy, all of whom will, he’s sure, “take care of” his wife. And have probably been doing so for quite a while! Verse 4, a few words for this wife — “I close my eyes in death, as I did so often in life.”
Here’s a translation, and a link to the original video:
wow, not much good but a s**t pile of bad and ugly. of all listed, only about 5 are OK for me.
All awful. The only iconic song is Sweet Home Alabama. I was gonna write the top 10 worst but there are just so many…………
Haven’t researched but 1974 is maybe the worst. Not a great year anyway with the gas lines, economic slowdown, Nixon resignation.
Thanks, Dave. I love this piece! -John
John W. Robinson PO Box 8233 Roanoke, VA 24014 USA 540.520.8572
Good write-up! LOL… I didn’t think 1974 had any good songs but your list would agree with me. Seems like a lot of bands started going soft then… Grand Funk is just one example. And soon disco would become king…ugh!
Extensive work, Brother Dave! As a friend of mine says, “Fish and bones”: you eat the fish and spit out the bones!
Our family moved to the Star City in November of ’73. WROV was tops! Certainly brings back memories.
David an exceptional job. I will confess and say that I spit out my drink when I read your reviews of bad songs, especially the Donnie and Marie “I’m Heaving It Up To You”. Lots of bad songs but there were some good ones and I must say sentimentality entered into most of the good ones. Thanks for making me laugh. Excellent review DJ Dave.
Wow! Very comprehensive. Although mostly horrendous, there are several good songs on the list. I always equate what I was doing during the 70s with the music of the time. Some of these shook that memory tree for me. Great piece, David.
1974 was a good year for…Bruce & I got married….but the music sucked!!!! Sweet Home Alabama & Good Bye Yellow Brick Road are classics. But you mentioned sooo many bad ones. Always enjoy your blog.
Ironically, Paper Lace’s cover of “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” was played in the St Louis market instead of the Bo Donaldson version…so we got to be sick of that band TWICE!
As for “You’re Sixteen”, the original version is every bit as creepy, as Johnny Burnette was 10 years older than the target of the song when he recorded it in 1960. The writers, Robert B. Sherman (not to be confused with Bobby Sherman) and Richard M. Sherman, were both in their thirties when the song was written in 1958. Apparently there’s no escaping latent pedophilia, or at the very least, statutory rape with this song.
You hit a homerun with “the ugly” — every song you listed in that category was a true button-pusher for me! (That’s my husband’s code word for when a stinker came on the car radio, you pushed one of the radio’s preset buttons to go to another station).
For an Australian contribution to 1974, check out Stevie Wright’s “Evie – Parts 1, 2 & 3”.
Stevie Wright was the lead singer of the Easybeats and this epic was written and produced by Harry Vanda and George Young (brother of Malcolm and Angus), also of the Easybeats.
I was and still am a child of the 70s. Especially 74 and 75 in HS and college, TV and radio dominated my life. From TV shows like Bandstand, Soul Train, Midnight Special, Wolfman Jack to artists like Chicago, Stevie, George, Gladys, Ray, Spinners, ABBA, Ray S., Elton, Paul….. etc (never ending list) I laughed, cried, rejoiced, loved and lost through it all. I honestly don’t have any Ugly song but only great memories of that era of my life.
As far as Blue Swede and the ooga chakra ooga chakra, they weren’t the first. Someone else had earlier recorded Hooked on a Feeling with that same opening. Also think you might be a little unfair to the Osmonds. Certainly they must have recorded one song that wasn’t detestable and obnoxious, although to be honest I can’t think of one now
Dave, I’m the same age as you and I agree with you on most of these songs, but not all. This list has some songs that bring back some amazing memories! From when I was in basic training (“The Most Beautiful Girl”, “Bennie & the Jets” & “Hello, It’s Me”) & my first visit to a strip club as soon as basic was over (“The Joker”) to Christmas leave & spending time with my high school buddies (“Time in a Bottle”) & flying to Monterey, CA for tech school (“Come & Get Your Love”) where I first met one of the Beach Boys, and enjoying the beautiful view of Monterey Bay, looking out my dorm room window (“You Make Me Feel Brand New”, “Beach Baby” & “Midnight at the Oasis”). Others that make me wistful, for that time, include “Please Come to Boston”, “Be Thankful For What You Got”, “Searchin’ So Long” & “Come Monday”.
For some reason, “Love’s Theme” always makes me think of golf at Pebble Beach. “The Night Chicago Died” always takes me back to my second tech school at Chanute AFB, just 100 miles south of Chicago. “Black Water” makes me think of a side job I had, at the end of the year, at a men’s clothing store right outside Washington, DC. And “The Way We Were” conjures remembrance of the peaks & valleys of my first serious romantic relationship.
And, while I join you in your disdain for tunes like “The Streak”, “Dark Lady” & “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”, I thought Jim Stafford was brilliant and hilarious.
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