The fourth installment in this look back to #1 songs from some of my formative years features some all-time greats: a stone cold R&B classic, the fellow who’s been involved in writing more #1 songs than anyone (pre-streaming era, anyway), one of the biggest international sensations of all time, and two tracks from one of the biggest selling soundtracks ever. Let’s start things off with a couple from lots of folks’ favorite left-handed bassist.
Wings, “Silly Love Songs” (May-July 1976, 5 weeks)
WH: A sentimental choice, as I’ll forever associate it with the spring I fell hard for AT40. At the time, you could find me listening to WSAI on my AM transistor radio practically everywhere I went. They played both the 45 and LP versions at the time—I’ve always favored the longer one.
EM: And I associate this one with the Bi-centennial summer. I was hooked on this one cause 1.) It’s Beatle Paul and 2.) and the crazy sound effects during the intro. What was up with all the squinches and galonks? Was it to prove that writing a love song was arduous work? An inside jab at Lennon? Or just another day at the office?
Paul and Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (September 1971, 1 week)
WH: Macca’s the only artist who appears on my list more than once. “Band on the Run” was a legit contender for selection, but McCartney’s most Beatles-sounding hit won out. It’s true, however, that I’d always thought that Admiral Halsey had to have a bath or he couldn’t get to sleep.
EM: My uncle, who was nine years older, was a big McCartney fan. He had a sweet powder blue t-shirt with the Wings logo in silver glitter on the front. I think of him whenever I hear 70s Macca, especially this one, as he would randomly whisper, “the butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie” in my ear.
Personally, I dig just about everything Paul’s created, but I only included one of his on my list. And for the record, if I go by feels, “With A Little Luck” would have been my second choice.
ABBA, “Dancing Queen” (April 1977, 1 week)
WH: Likely not my favorite ABBA song, but I cannot deny that it’s pop music heaven.
As noted above, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for the hits of 1976. However, I’ve come to decide in recent years that I like the scene in 1977 just a little better. I don’t think it’s because I have fonder memories of the time—I was in the middle of puberty and junior high, after all. I’m guessing one big reason is that was the year I played 45s (including “Dancing Queen”) to death on the portable turntable I’d gotten for Christmas at the end of 1976. Those songs, and many that charted alongside them that I didn’t buy, have really stuck.
EM: I love ABBA. I grew up on it. I was down when it wasn’t cool. And their reacceptance heartened me. I also cannot deny this is a beautiful piece of music. The vocals are just frosting on top of this prinsesstårta. And because I listened to so much of the group’s music, this one never stood out for me. I loved it, no more or less than the others. But if you push me, I would want to hear “Mamma Mia,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and “The Winner Takes It All” before I listened to this one.
The Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl” (May 1972, 1 week)
WH: The melancholy harmonica sets the scene perfectly. The guy knows he’s messed up and that he has no defense. The resignation in Eugene Record’s voice when he sings “I guess I better go” is one of the most achingly sad-yet-somehow-beautiful moments in all of 70s music.
EM: Here’s another Soul group that doesn’t get the love they should, especially their deeper cuts. That’s why I was happy when Beyonce lifted that horn sample from “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” and hopefully sent Eugene Record a few dollars his way. My only memory of this as a child was that I would confuse it with the Deputy Dawg bumper music, probably for the similar harmonica bits (kids are dumb). I’ve since come to respect its languid charm.
The Bee Gees, “You Should Be Dancing” (September 1976, 1 week)
WH: The Bee Gees had more #1 songs than anyone during the Me Decade—9—and settling on a favorite of theirs is tough. “You Should Be Dancing” winds up getting the nod. It’s a notable moment in their disco evolution, the first hit on which Barry fully embraces his falsetto. If this had been a “best #1 hits of the ‘70s” list, though, “Stayin’ Alive” would have been chosen instead.
EM: Let’s get this straight. The Bee Gees were always an R&B group disguised a folk-rock outfit. Arif Mardin recognized and encouraged their direction towards soul. It just so happened that Disco was getting added into the mix in the mid-70s, especially down in Miami, where they recorded. Such tracks like this ended up getting created and recorded, if not with intention, then by osmosis. And had they not written “How Deep Is Your Love,” this burner would have been on my list. More than anything newly recorded for Saturday Night Fever, this song was the true musical star of the film.
Yvonne Elliman, “If I Can’t Have You” (May 1978, 1 week)
WH: Barry snags his third songwriting credit here. I love the energy of the intro and the underlying rhythm in the verses. Sometimes I wonder how Elliman’s career might have panned out had she not hitched her wagon to the Gibbs—would she have found a different path to chart success? I can’t argue with results like this, though.
EM: The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a big part of childhood, at least most of it was. Since we had it on 8-track, we would skip the instrumental sections and play the same songs repeatedly until they were memorized. Yvonne’s take, which I prefer over the Gibbs’ version found on the B-side of the “Stayin’ Alive”45, breaks up the machismo with a soft yet confident vocal over lilting Philly-soul styled rhythm. And I was fascinated that her name started with a Y.
So, that’s 21 of the 25 I selected. To see Erik’s next set of choices, click here.
Why six today? Well, we elected to give the four songs we both picked their own post. A hint, if you care to spend any time on speculating what they might be: one is from 1972, two come from 1974, and one hit in 1979. Come back on Monday for those, plus maybe some odds and ends as the series wraps up.