One thing I’ve been toying with lately is trying to identify the best #1 song for each year of the classic Casey AT40 era. What do I mean by “best?” Good question. I confess that personal taste can’t help but creep in, but I hope I can focus enough to put on my critic’s hat (though it’s easy to tell I’m no critic) and assess quality of songwriting, interpretation, etc. Staying power and/or a low kitsch factor tend to get rewarded, too.
I’m starting with 73 because I already had a strong sense of my choice. Twenty-seven different songs sat atop the Hot 100 over the course of the year. Plenty were easy to eliminate from consideration, even if I do like some of them: “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” “My Love,” “Delta Dawn,” etc. I’ve winnowed it down to ten of them, but not without some misgivings as to whether I’ve committed a major oversight or two. Here are the honorable mentions, in chronological order:
Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly with His Song”
Stevie Wonder, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
Edgar Winter Group, “Frankenstein”
Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning”
Stories, “Brother Louie”
I’ve tried to rank a top 5:
#5: Ringo Starr, “Photograph.” This and “It Don’t Come Easy” are easily the high points of Ringo’s solo career. From here on out, it’s a little hard to take his stuff too seriously.
#4: Stevie Wonder, “Superstition.” Our introduction to a more mature, funkier Stevie. A master just entering his prime.
#3: O’Jays, “Love Train.” Bonus points for its hopeful message; I’m overlooking its use in Coors Light commercials.
#2: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Was 73 a great year for soul songs crossing over to top the pop charts, or what? Concisely written story, executed to perfection. This might be Knight’s best vocal performance; emotional, without overplaying her hand.
…and, at #1: Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain.” This could be a case where I’m overrating a song I happen to adore, but it’s truly a stunner from start to finish, from the opening bass line, through the rhyming of “yacht/apricot/gavotte,” the phrase “clouds in my coffee,” and Jagger’s background vocals, to Lear jets taking off for Nova Scotia. Standard song structure, yet the way we’re led to the chorus still feels fresh. The mystery surrounding the identity of the vain one has held our interest over the years, and Simon has done just enough to keep us thinking about it. As much as I like “Nobody Does It Better,” she never came close to matching this. Simon turned the personal into a work of art.