45 years ago, these albums were flying out of America’s record stores
Funk-turning-into-disco, straight-ahead singer-songwriters, rock bands, and even a little soft pop: there was something for everyone on the album chart in early ‘75.
Since this is the albums rather than singles chart, I’m just covering the top 20 as opposed to 40 — but stay tuned at the end for the #1s on Billboard’s other album charts (including discussion of their FM Action and Latin LPs charts of the day).
[this week, last week, weeks on chart, title, artist]
1 2 (23) AVERAGE WHITE BAND — Average White Band — Ultimate peak: #1 (1 week); charting singles: “Pick Up the Pieces” (#1). Incredibly, AWB pulled the unicorn double, topping both the Hot 100 and the Top LPs chart the very same week. Also incredible is that a bunch of Scottish guys, mostly white, pulled off an album this soulful, funky, and sweet, with some touches of fusion, even. These guys had chops — and great songs. (9/10)
2 4 (3) BLOOD ON THE TRACKS — Bob Dylan — Ultimate peak: #1 (2 weeks); charting singles: “Tangled Up in Blue” (#31). Classic Dylan, largely voice and guitar with minimal work from his band. The lyrics are great, but don’t devastate me the way they do many. (7/10)
3 1 (12) HEART LIKE A WHEEL — Linda Ronstadt — Ultimate peak: #1 (1 week); charting singles: “You’re No Good” (#1), “When Will I Be Loved” (#2). An astounding commercial breakthrough, topping not just the pop but country chart (see #1 Country LPs, below), and proving without doubt that Ronstadt was one of the all-time great song interpreters. The pop hits from this album were covers of Dee Dee Warwick and the Everly Brothers, both of which Ronstadt made bigger than the originals — and rightfully so. (10/10)
4 3 (11) MILES OF AISLES — Joni Mitchell — Ultimate peak: #2; charting singles: “Big Yellow Taxi (live)” (#24). Much was made of the fact that Mitchell’s 1974 tour found her backed by jazzman Tom Scott and the L.A. Express, but much of this live double documenting the tour is still, basically, Mitchell’s voice and guitar. And a little boring. That said, side four (for vinyl folks) really showcases the band, who liven up “Carey” and “Love or Money” and help anchor “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” (6/10)
5 6 (18) WAR CHILD — Jethro Tull — Ultimate peak: #2; charting singles: “Bungle in the Jungle” (#12). Their previous pair of albums had both topped the album chart in the U.S., but War Child was the Tull’s first to spin off a top 40 single. (Only the title track from 1975’s Living in the Past would chart higher — by one notch.) If you’ve ever heard Jethro Tull, you have an idea what this able sounds like: unrepentant, unremitting prog rock. (2/10)
6 8 (14) DO IT (‘TIL YOU’RE SATISFIED) — B.T. Express — Ultimate peak: #5; charting singles: “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” (#2), “Express” (#4). I’d always taken B.T. Express for a b-list Kool & the Gang, making some funky disco singles in the mid ‘70s and nothing more, but boy was I wrong. More like a Brooklyn version of AWB (see #1, above), only less smooth or more funky (and with a female singer to complement the guys). This band locked into a groove and rode it hard. No surprise that both singles and the album topped the Soul charts. (8/10)
7 12 (4) EMPTY SKY — Elton John — Ultimate peak: #6; charting singles: none. John’s first album, released in his native UK in 1969, didn’t receive a US release until early ‘75, after he’d become an international superstar. There’s a harpsichord on “Val-Hala,” and a twerpy flute on “Hymn 2000,” because 1969. This is very much a chamber pop (and occasionally, rock, cf. “Sails”) album of its era. The songs are okay though. (4/10)
8 9 (8) RUFUSIZED — Rufus featuring Chaka Khan — Ultimate peak: #7; charting singles: “Once You Get Started” (#10), “Please Pardon Me” (#48). Rufus’s first album with a “featuring Chaka Khan” credit was their second consecutive top ten and is a sublime showcase for the mixed-race funk band from Chicago. “Pack’d My Bags” starts as a jazzy little number before turning into greasy funk on its chorus; “Your Smile” is a ballad that allows Khan to really stretch her vocal chops. In the midst of the ERA era, “I’m A Woman (I’m A Backbone)” is a strong statement of feminist intent. And lead single “Once You Get Started” is a fast-dancin’, sunshine-rockin’ groove. Rufusized is the album where it all comes together for Khan and her band of merry funkateers. (10/10)
AUDIO: Rufus “Once You Get Started”
9 10 (14) II — Barry Manilow — Ultimate peak: #9; charting singles: “Mandy” (#1), “It’s A Miracle” (#12). Now, this is a surprise. I’m not a fan of “Mandy” at all (too schlocky), and generally find Manilow to be a talented artist who makes incredibly uninteresting records. But Barry Manilow II really puts his talent on display. This is a very strong set of songs, eight of the ten of which he co-wrote. Opener “I Want to Be Somebody’s Baby” veers close to being rock (!), while the Martha Reeves cover “My Baby Loves Me” rides a very James Taylor-esque groove. There’s a lot of poignancy in these songs, too, such as “Early Morning Strangers,” “Home Again,” and especially “Sandra,” about a married mother who wishes she’d had a little more time to live her life before entering into the one she’s now living (the third verse will catch you unawares, trust me). Manilow’s piano playing, of course, is superb throughout, and the production, by Manilow with Ron Dante, is excellent. (7/10)
10 11 (10) ALL THE GIRLS IN THE WORLD BEWARE!!! — Grand Funk — Ultimate peak: #10; charting singles: “Some Kind of Wonderful” (#3), “Bad Time” (#4). Their seventh (and final) consecutive top 10 studio album, a stretch that lasted four-and-a-half years, and also encompassed a top 10 live album. By this point, Mark Farner’s band of merry men had pretty much patented their straight-down-the-middle brand of rock, but were still able to surprise: “Runnin’” almost sounds Chicago, with its raucous horn charts! Unfortunately, on the opposite side is “Good & Evil,” with a vocal which I think is supposed to sound like… Satan? Meanwhile, “Some Kind of Wonderful” is the most basic butt-rock imaginable. (4/10)
11 5 (9) DARK HORSE — George Harrison — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Dark Horse” (#15), “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” (#36). Harrison opened the ‘70s with two #1 solo albums, bracketing the Concert for Bangladesh double live record (#2), prior to the release of Dark Horse. But oh my God this, sometimes referred to as his “divorce album,” just plods. “So Sad,” which Harrison wrote, was better the previous year by Alvin Lee and Mylon LeFevre; “Bye Bye, Love,” which he altered, was much better in 1957 by the Everly Brothers. And nobody really needed — or wanted — to hear Harrison moaning about losing his wife to Eric Clapton. (2/10)
12 17 (25) PHOEBE SNOW — Phoebe Snow — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Poetry Man” (#5). A white soul singer who rooted much of her music around acoustic guitar, Snow was a classic case of the music industry not knowing what to do with a talented artist. That said, her debut (on Leon Russell’s Shelter label) is a little too coffeehouse-folky for its own good, and I wish she’d leaned more on the jazz side of her abilities. “I Don’t Want the Night to End” simmers, but much of the rest bores. (5/10)
13 22 (41) WHAT ONCE WERE VICES ARE NOW HABITS — Doobie Brothers — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Another Park, Another Sunday” (#32), “Eyes of Silver” (#52), “Black Water” (#1). Down-the-middle mid ‘70s boogie rock (a surprise to me, as pre-Michael McDonald I only knew their hit singles), not so far from Lynyrd Skynyrd, only without the confederate flags and hot Allman/Betts lixx. “Another Park” is rather lovely. (5/10)
14 7 (14) FIRE — Ohio Players — Ultimate peak: #1; charting singles: “Fire” (#1), “I Want to Be Free” (#44). Solid, yet unexceptional funk/soul. They were lucky more often than they were great, and their songwriting (the band wrote as a group) was highly uneven. Ballad “I Want to Be Free” (#6 Soul) >>> “Fire.” (6/10)
15 16 (10) JOY TO THE WORLD/THEIR GREATEST HITS — Three Dog Night — Ultimate peak: #15; charting singles: none. What a load of shit. This L.A. band was red hot through the first half of the ‘70s, making hits out of songs by the disparate likes of John Hiatt, Allen Toussaint, Paul Williams, and Harry Nilsson — and they bulldozed all of ‘em into scrap-heap material. Seriously, there is not a single good single on this, their second hits comp. 3DN managed to combine music-hall sensibilities with overly loud horns and corn-pone vocal performances (across no less than three lead singers) and ended up with something less than the sum of its already dubious parts, every single time. 18 consecutive top 20 singles, and the only decent one, 1969’s “Easy to Be Hard” (from the musical Hair), isn’t here (to be fair, it was on their ‘71 hits record). (0/10)
16 18 (12) PRIME TIME — Tony Orlando & Dawn — Ultimate peak: #16; charting singles: “Look in My Eyes Pretty Woman” (#11). Pre-digested pablum for music listeners who don’t actually like music. Orlando seems like a real sleaze, too. Added “bonus”: “Gimme a Good Old Mammy Song.” I wish I was making that up. (0/10)
17 21 (8) SO WHAT — Joe Walsh — Ultimate peak: #11; charting singles: “Turn to Stone” (#93). After the folkier plaint of the two albums he made as part of Barnstorm, So What was a return to the harder rock of the James Gang, for the most part. It’s full of Walsh’s guitar, both his slashing hard licks and the soupier stuff, but for the most part the material plods. Walsh has never made a good end-to-end solo album, and this is no exception. (4/10)
18 19 (12) SOUVENIRS — Dan Fogelberg — Ultimate peak: #17; charting singles: “Part of the Plan” (#31). Not nearly as soft pop as what he’d later do, this is more folk-rock than anything, with both folk and rock in equal measure. Producer Joe Walsh — yes, the Walsh one notch above him on the chart, really! — gives Fogelberg a solid underpinning, and perhaps nudges his songwriting a smidgen towards the pop charts. (Walsh also plays guitar on all 11 songs, all written solely by Fogelberg.) But as the Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, et.al. era was ending, the public still had a taste for this stuff. The songs are strong. (6/10)
AUDIO/VIDEO: Minnie Ripperton Perfect Angel (full album)
19 27 (28) PERFECT ANGEL — Minnie Riperton — Ultimate peak: #4; charting singles: “Lovin’ You” (#1). Her voice is a marvel, even though I don’t care for it when she hits those “dog whistle” notes, but much of the material here (co-written by Riperton and her husband) lets her down. The two highlights are the pair written by co-producer Stevie Wonder, “Take A Little Trip” and the title track. I never, ever need to hear “Lovin’ You” again, though I’m glad it topped the Hot 100 (#3 Soul) and got her a gold album in the process. But this rock/soul/pop mélange is a little too all over the place. (5/10)
20 26 (11) IT’LL SHINE WHEN IT SHINES — Ozark Mountain Daredevils — Ultimate peak: #19; charting singles: “Jackie Blue” (#3). — Signed by A&M in the hopes that they’d be a new Eagles, the Daredevils, from Missouri, were more Southern rock than country rock, though without the harder-rocking chops of, say, a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet. “Jackie Blue” shows ‘em for the softies they were, not that there’s anything wrong with that. A highly middling record. (5/10)
Billboard’s other #1 albums:
Jazz LPs: Bad Benson, George Benson — Benson’s pop breakthrough, 1976’s Warner Bros. debut Breezin’, was still some 18 months off, so this is another in a fine line of Creed Taylor-produced records he cut for legendary label CTI in the mid-’70s, a staple of R&B stations’ late-night jazz shows in the ‘70s. You can hear his sound creeping from standard jazz to fusion here; “No Sooner Said Than Done” especially sounds like what was to come from Benson. (7/10)
FM Action (tie): Cross-Collateral, Passport / Silk Torpedo, Pretty Things — Before AOR (Album Oriented Rock) was really a thing, early FM stations mostly played a progressive rock-plus format. I say “rock-plus” because most of these stations would also play soul (especially Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers) and jazz, along with folk on some occasions. As the numbers of these stations grew, Billboard started keeping tabs via their FM Action report, in which they compiled the number of stations playing a particular album, and then ranked the albums based on that info.
Twenty-four stations each were spinning these two records. Passport were a German jazz-rock group who cooked like nobody’s business — by their fifth studio album Cross-Collateral, there was a little prog in their sound, and some funk as well, but mostly red hot jazz/fusion, which I can’t recommend enough. (9/10) Pretty Things started their life as a blues-rock band in mid-’60s Britain; by 1974, they’d signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label and were dipping their toes into glam rock. Silk Torpedo (subtle, guys) was their first (mild) U.S. hit (peaking at #104), and is a mix of glam and hard(er) rock that’s undeniably British and a more than a bit dull. (3/10)
Soul LPs: Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied, B.T. Express — See #6, above.
Latin LPs (New York): Quimbara, Celia & Johnny / (Texas): Minus One, Latin Breed — In December 1972, Billboard began charting sales of Spanish-language (aka Latin) albums, via five separate charts, top 20 listings of the best-selling Latin LPs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Texas, and New York, which initially alternated, one running each week. The charts weren’t combined into genre charts (for Pop, Regional Mexican, and Tropical music) until 1985. By early 1975, the charts were running a little more frequently, as most weeks two of them were published in tandem. The New York market had evolved into one ruled by salsa — Fania Records was rapidly becoming unstoppable — while Texas was still chiefly a tejano stronghold. Quimbara, a collaboration between salsa queen Celia Cruz and Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco, is marvelous dance music, larded with piano, timbales, trumpet, and tricky time signatures — and those perfect Cruz vocals. A great salsa record, both for fans of the genre and those who want to learn. (9/10) Latin Breed were a tejano monster, mixing traditional Tex-Mex with horns that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Tower of Power record. Their soul influence shines through on Minus One. (7/10)
Country LPs: Heart Like A Wheel, Linda Ronstadt — Not only did Ronstadt top the country chart with her Everlys cover (see #3, above), she also hit #2 with her version of Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You),” which won her the Grammy for Female Country Vocal. And the majority of this album sounds firmly like mid ‘70s country (today we’d likely call it Americana), from her take on Lowell George’s “Willin’” to having the Eagles (her original backing band, essentially) back her on a James Taylor song. During the mid ‘70s, Ronstadt was just about as big a country star as she was a pop star.
Classical LPs: Rite of Spring (Stravinsky) — Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti — In its first week atop the chart, with Billboard reporting that this was the first time in almost one year when a Scott Joplin-related record wasn’t #1. (Blame 1974’s film The Sting.) This is a strident, urgent recording, conducted by one of the greatest to ever wave a baton, Solti. (7/10)
AUDIO: Rite of Spring (Stravinsky) — Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti
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