The Least Of The Best: 1974

We’re back with the next-to-last game of The Least Of The Best, playing this time in 1974. We’ll look at the top five records of the year – as offered by Joel Whitburn in his book A Century Of Pop Music – and then check out the record that finished No. 40 for the year.,

And 1974 is one of those years that might bring me a surprise, as I was out of the country and not very clued into Top 40 for the first five-plus months of the year. I heard bits and pieces of what was popular in the States as I visited Danish friends and then backpacked around Western Europe, but even now, almost fifty years later, records from that time sometimes surprise me.

We’ll start with the year’s top five records:

“The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand
“Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks
“The Streak” by Ray Stevens
“(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates
“Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas

Oh, my. When “Kung Fu Fighting” is the second-best of a bunch of records . . .

I was out of the country when the Streisand and Jacks records peaked, but I’d somehow managed to hear “Seasons In The Sun” on – I think – a British radio station in January 1974. I was appalled the first time I heard it, as I have been ever since.

I missed the Streisand single – and the movie it came from – and by the time I got back to the States, it wasn’t getting airplay. I had to catch up with it later. It’s a fine record, by far the best of the five in that list.

And I missed, mostly, “The Streak.” It peaked a few days before I returned to Minnesota. As I’ve noted here over the years, very few novelty records rank very highly with me.

As to the singles by Anka/Coates and Douglas: I’ve always thought that “(You’re) Having My Baby” was clumsy social pandering, and I’m not sure which annoyed me more, the pandering or the clumsiness, and “Kung Fu Fighting” was just silly (though I wonder now, in a different age, how its use of ethnic stereotypes and its cultural appropriations might be viewed).

I’m certain that the only one of those five records that might be in the iPod and thus part of my day-to-day listening is the Streisand. And it’s not even there (though I’ll likely add it today). The only one of the other four that’s even in the 84,000 tracks in the RealPlayer is “Kung Fu Fighting.” Even in a wide-ranging archive, the singles by Anka/Coates, Stevens, and especially Jacks are not welcome.

And now we head to the bottom of 1974’s Top 40, where we find Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” a record that’s – in my mind, anyway – a middling sort in John’s catalog but vastly superior to anything we found in the top five of the year. It peaked at No. 2 in July of 1974.

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