Gifts From Far Away: Our Favorite #1s of the 70s, Pt. 3

Welcome back to the list of our favorite number ones from the Me decade, presented in no particular order. Here’s another five of mine and over at The Music of My Life, Dr. Harris has five more too.

Paul Simon – 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover [3 weeks, 1976]

EM: Nothing like that rolling Steve Gadd drum lick to get your day started. I had no clue what Paul was singing about on this one, but boy, did I love the chorus. While the song reverberated in my head, I would come up with other “ways” to split, rhyming couplets like ‘get on your bike, Mike’ or ‘hop on a train, Wayne.’ I know I’m not alone in doing this because my wife said she did the same thing.

WH: My sister and I also tried to imagine what some of the other 50 ways were.

This came out shortly after we got a portable tape recorder for Christmas in 1975. The only pre-recorded cassette that came along with the player was His 12 Greatest Hits, by Neil Diamond (a gift for my mother, actually). Amy and I were given a few cheapie blank cassettes, though. At the family Christmas gathering at my grandparents’ house later that day, one of my cousins joined the two of us to record some silly play-acting.  Over the next couple of weeks, she and I realized we could also set the recorder next to a radio to capture favorites of the day such as  “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Convoy,” in order to listen to them on demand. What I wouldn’t give to have those tapes still.

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) [1 week, 1972]

EM: When people complain about ‘there’s no good music anymore”, I think what they’re saying is that everything sounds the same. Singer Eliot Lurie did not sound like anyone else on the radio at the time. He sounded like a crusty old sailor perched at the end of a dive bar with nothing but this story of a lost love to tell. Also, I know it seems obvious, but I always think of eating at an Arthur Treacher’s seafood restaurant when this comes on, a childhood Friday night tradition, like good quasi-Catholics did back then. If Brandy was here she would’ve traded in her locket for some of these hush puppies. Damn, they were good.

WH: Almost six years before “Shadow Dancing” and “Baker Street” went mano-a-mano for six weeks at the top of the Hot 100 in the summer of 1978, there was a lengthy battle for pop chart supremacy between “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” While Andy Gibb never did officially cede #1 to Gerry Rafferty (there are indications that some behind-the-scenes shenanigans kept it from happening), Gilbert O’Sullivan yielded to Looking Glass after holding them off for a month (after which he returned to #1 for two more weeks). 

I love the way the relative calm of the verses in “Brandy” gives way to the energy in the chorus and bridge. It’s almost like a storm popping up while you’re on the seas.

Chic – Le Freak [5 weeks, 1978, 1979]

EM: Whenever we drove into Manhattan via the Long Island Expressway, we would ride by LeFrak City, a large group of apartment complexes built in the late 60s. And as soon as we passed the Grand Central Parkway exit, it would be…”one, two, aaaaah, Frak out! ” I’ve never heard Nile Rodgers mention this housing development as an inspiration to the song. Maybe it was buried in his subconscious for years, and that Studio 54 anger let it out.

An aside: I once heard Nile Rodgers give a talk, and he cracked himself up talking about this song, saying “here we are writing a song about a specific dance and we never tell you how to do it.”

WH: While I listened to AT40 religiously for several years, there are maybe only a couple dozen specific moments/stories that have stuck in the old noggin all this time. One of them is the monster leap “Le Freak” made on the 11/25/78 show, jumping all the way from #37 to #6, the largest in-show move I encountered.

Somewhere I’ve read/heard (and Wikipedia corroborates, whatever that’s worth) that “Freak out!” was derived from an expletive phrase uttered when some of the members of Chic were denied entrance to Studio 54 one evening.

Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds – Fallin’ In Love [1 week, 1975]

EM: One of the biggest screw jobs in music history. Tommy Reynolds left the band in 1974 before the other two dudes signed with Playboy Records. Part of that deal was that they kept their name, even though it wasn’t accurate. How many bar fights do you think that new member Alan Dennison got in trying to prove that he sang on this song?

I remember hearing this on the radio and coming up with alternative lyrics called Betty’s Fallin’ In Love with Fred about some wife-swapping expose in Bedrock. The words fit perfectly, but I was too young to write them down or understand what the hell I was saying. Did I unwillingly witness a key party?

Did you know this peaked at #24 on the R&B charts?

WH: If we were writing up a list of favorite 70s songs that peaked at #4, “Don’t Pull Your Love,” from the original formulation of this group, would have been an easy choice for me. One thing I really like is that its sound doesn’t tie it down to any one year—it could have been recorded anytime between 1969 and 1973.

When “Fallin’ in Love” got released, I had trouble picking up Dan Hamilton’s pronunciation of the double-l in the title phrase. It sounded much more like “Fawin’ in Love” to me, so that’s what I sang when it came on the radio throughout the last half of 1975.

Sly & the Family Stone – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) [2 weeks, 1970]

EM: More than fifty years after this reached the top, I marvel at Sly’s brilliance in creating one of the funkiest pop songs of all time, and on how he was able to express his politics getting everyone to buy in all while having fun at the same time. By turning his career on its head and creating a verse out of his past hits, he also demonstrated the stress of being a superstar, the pressure he was under to innovate and be all things to everyone constantly. His wit was on display, but so was his growing paranoia.

WH: When AT40 expanded to four hours in October 1978, one of the ways they filled the extra time was by recounting all the #1 songs of the 1970s in order, three each week. Those became must-listen moments in the show for me, an amazing opportunity for education—after all, where else was I going to discover that information? (It would be another five years before the first Top 40 Hits book by Joel Whitburn was published.)

The vast majority of the songs in that retrospective were at least passingly familiar to me (“My Ding-a-Ling” was one exception, I know). But that didn’t mean I’d seen their titles in print. Case in point: on 10/14/78, I perhaps naturally, yet naively, noted the jam that was the fourth #1 of the decade as “Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again.”

The Doc’s got another five today, so hop over to his pad and check ’em out.

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