Originally posted December 19, 2007
In my first visit to the year of 1973, I wrote about my internal world, about the changes I could catalog in myself from my academic year in Denmark.
This time, I’m going to take a look at the larger world in which those changes took place: What was happening in 1973? Two events that dominated the news come to mind: Watergate and war.
Watergate: In the U.S., Americans were beginning to learn for the first time about the venality and utter rot at the center of the administration of President Richard Nixon. Week after week of testimony before a Senate select committee and day after day of headlines transfixed most Americans. Those hearings were followed in the autumn by the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew – the result of corruption charges dating to his time as governor of Maryland – and the Saturday Night Massacre, during which Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus resigned rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, whose office was investigating the events that stemmed from the original Watergate break-in in 1972.
(Solicitor General Robert Bork, the third in command in the Justice Department, fired Cox at Nixon’s behest; the resignations and the firing were key moments in the trail of events that led to Nixon’s resignation during the summer of 1974.)
War: On October 6, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the armed forces of Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. For the first week, the Arab armies advanced, but by October 26, when a United Nations-sponsored truce went into effect, Israeli forces had regained territory and gained control of the battlefield.
From the distance of thirty-some years, one can see numerous effects of the war, but perhaps the most visible effect comes when we go to the service station to pump gasoline into our vehicles. During and after the war, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC – decided to stop shipment of oil to those nations that were supporting Israel: The U.S., the Netherlands (the source for much of Western Europe’s oil) and several other nations. At the same time, OPEC raised the price for oil going elsewhere in the world. The embargo caused, among other things, long lines at service stations in the U.S. and government-mandated bans on driving on Sundays in Europe. The embargo was the first step among many in the long and steady increase in the cost of oil, resulting in the prices we pay for all petroleum products today.
Enough of the serious stuff (although there were plenty more serious things going on during 1973) – what were we doing for fun that year?
The Top Ten television shows were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, Maude, Kojak, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cannon.
At the movies theaters, we saw, among others, The Sting, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, Sleeper, The Way We Were, The Last Detail and Blume in Love.
In the U.S., the top ten singles of the year, according to Billboard, were:
“Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
“My Love” by Paul McCartney and Wings
“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Touch Me In The Morning” by Diana Ross
Most of those are pretty obvious (and only a few are depressing), when one thinks about 1973. On the other hand, I’ve never heard the Kristofferson, which hit the Top 40 in early July and reached No. 16 in a nineteen-week stay on the chart.
The top five albums of the year, listed at the Billboard web site, were:
The World Is A Ghetto by War
Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts
Talking Book by Stevie Wonder
No Secrets by Carly Simon
Lady Sings the Blues by Diana Ross
Oddly enough, that list is at odds with some other lists I’ve looked at. Even The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums lists a different No. 1 album of the year: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The Carly Simon and War albums listed above are included in the alphabetical list of 1973’s Top Ten albums in Norm N. Nite’s Rock On Almanac. The rest of Nite’s list is:
Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite by Elvis Presley
Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper
Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player by Elton John
Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon by Paul Simon
Nine of the albums on Nite’s list went to No. 1 during 1973. The only one that didn’t was Paul Simon’s, which went to No. 2
As confusing as that may be, however, it gives a pretty good look at what was popular during 1973. But when I crank up my RealPlayer, what does 1973 sound like? Here’s one possibility, random after the first tune:
A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 2
“Hallelujah” by Chi Coltrane from Let It Ride
“So Many Times” by Manassas from Down The Road
“Lay Me Down Easy” by Three Dog Night from Cyan
“Good Vibrations” by Bonnie Bramlett from Sweet Bonnie Bramlett
“The City” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery to Me
“Ship Ahoy” by the O’Jays from Ship Ahoy
“Desperado” by the Eagles from Desperado
“All My Friends” by Gregg Allman from Laid Back
“Mrs. Vanderbilt” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band On The Run
“Call Me (Come Back Home)” by Al Green from Call Me
“Cam Ye O’er Frae France” by Steeleye Span from Parcel of Rogues
“Sunset Woman” by B.W. Stevenson from My Maria
“Qualified” by Dr. John from In The Right Place
A few notes on some of the songs and performers:
The Chi Coltrane track is the opener to the Wisconsin-born singer’s second album, which went nowhere on its release in 1973. The track, many will note, is a cover of the song originally recorded by Sweathog, which went to No. 33 on the Billboard chart in late 1971. (I just got the Coltrane album in the mail yesterday, and ripped this track as an appetizer, as I’ll be posting the entire album within a week or so.)*
“Ship Ahoy” is a remarkable track by the O’Jays. Here’s what the website Pop Matters had to say about it: “The song ‘Ship Ahoy’ examines what scholars and activist have referred to as the ‘middle passage’ – the literal voyage that enslaved Africans made across the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships destined for the Americas and the Caribbean. The song brilliantly personalizes the ‘voyage’ in ways that few black popular artifacts had previously done so – some three years before the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots. The fact that [producers Kenny] Gamble and [Leon] Huff were comfortable enough to use the tragedy of the middle passage and the subsequent enslavement of people of African descent in the West to frame a pop recording speaks to how seriously the duo viewed popular music as a vehicle to ‘teach and preach’ and a sense of the autonomy that they perceived as the heads” of Philadelphia International Records.
“Call Me (Come Back Home)” was the fifth of six straight Top Ten hits for Al Green (based on records entering the Top 40) and is an example of what Willie Mitchell accomplished during his years at Hi Records in Memphis. The sound is immediately identifiable but – to my ears – never seems repetitive, whether the singer is Al Green or any of the other singers who recorded at Hi but didn’t have anything near the success that Green had. The Hi sound is to me a good part of what the early 1970s sounded like; nevertheless, it still sounds fresh to me today.
Steeleye Span was one of the British groups that formed after the early success of Fairport Convention in recording traditional British folk and eventually presenting those early folk songs with modern instruments. Parcel of Rogues, which was Steeleye Span’s fifth album, marked the first time that the group used rock instrumentation prominently. All Music Guide notes: “[T]he ominous and dazzling ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ would not have succeeded half as well without amplification, and every fan of the group should hear this track at least once.”
The lyric to B. W. Stevenson’s “Sunset Woman” are unsettling, at first dismissive and bitter and then – at least a little – gentle and hopeful. But the music – melody and arrangement both – is country-ish and better than pleasant and is indicative of Stevenson’s all too slender output. Better known for his single hit, 1973’s “My Maria” and for writing “Shambala,” which Three Dog Night took to No. 3 the same year, Stevenson released eight albums between 1970 and 1980. He died after heart surgery in 1988 at the age of 38.
*As it happens, Sweathog’s version of “Hallelujah” was not the original. The original version of the tune was done in 1969 by the Clique. Note added May 27, 2011.