American Top 40 PastBlast, 5/25/74: Ray Stevens, “The Streak”

Back in early March I took a shot at ranking the “best” #1 songs of 74. I didn’t include “The Streak” in the discussion then, but I’m going to put myself out there now and try to make a case for it to be considered a very good record.

First, there’s a lot of clever writing. The two bits the female backups get are pretty strong: the goes/clothes “rhyme” is good, and the whole rude/crude/mood/nude thing is just about perfect. While Stevens is fortunate that so many words rhyme with streak, he makes most of them count. “Unique” is pedestrian, and “peek” and “physique” are fairly obvious choices (though their implementation is solid), but “critique” and especially the double entrendre “cheek” are next-level good. I’d definitely yank the “shameless hussy” line out from the end but one could argue it’s within character for Ethel’s husband. (I suppose that brings up what exactly Stevens is getting at with his hick-on-the-street-that-gets-interviewed repeatedly character—how much is he being ridiculed? My impression is that Stevens mined that terrain with some regularity, like it or not.)

I’d also argue that it’s well-constructed. The on-the-scene Action News Reporter-talking-to-a witness construct is creative, and it is humorous that he gets the same guy each time. And I love the way Stevens moves into the basketball playoff piece directly from only a single run-through of the chorus (after doing it twice the first time). It also taught this ten-year-old about mooning and being incensed.

Novelty songs tend to flame out pretty quickly, but “The Streak” had staying power compared to most songs of its ilk: eight weeks in the top 10, including three at #1 (this show is the middle of those three). It took an element from the zeitgeist and made an iconic cultural moment out of it.

Interested to hear differing opinions on the matter.

It was this show, first re-broadcast six years ago, that allowed me to introduce “The Streak” to my then twelve-year-old son. We were visiting my sister-in-law in the Atlanta area for the holiday weekend, and I was about a year into listening to AT40 religiously again. By this time I’d discovered the marvel of the Tune In app and knew about the broadcast times of several stations. We listened to parts of it at various times over Saturday and Sunday, and I explained what streaking was after he heard the song. Not surprisingly, he found it pretty amusing.

The timing was good. Just a couple of weeks later, Ben was attending a bridge camp for youth offered at the Lexington club. One night, one of the instructors dropped a card on the floor in the middle of a hand. In response, she cried out, “Don’t look, Ethel!”  Pretty sure my son was about the only kid there who caught the reference.

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