45 years ago these were the hottest songs in the land…of any genre
AUDIO: Stevie Wonder “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”
Here’s your accompanying Spotify playlist, with songs not included given YouTube links in their titles, below. I chose this chart to discuss because, well, it fairly kills, starting with but by no means limited to the single at #1.
[this week, last week, title, artist, weeks on chart]
1 2 YOU HAVEN’T DONE NOTHIN’ — Stevie Wonder (8) — Stevie at his toughest and most political is also Stevie at his best. His clavinet on this kills, and there’s an intensity to his vocal that does the same.
2 3 SKIN TIGHT — Ohio Players (8) — At its peak, though it deserved to go that extra notch. Not only is this my single favorite Ohio Players record, not only is this my favorite record on this chart, it’s one of my favorite records of the ‘70s, period. This is so effortlessly, slyly funky, without ever getting heated up about it. I don’t know how they kept their cool so expertly, but goddamn if they didn’t.
3 1 CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF YOUR LOVE, BABE — Barry White (10) — White wasn’t only a fine singer, great songwriter, expert producer: listen to the way this classic is arranged. He really was a maestro, capable of putting together and making the most sweeping, swoon-worthy soul records.
4 6 DO IT BABY — Miracles (12) — Smokey Robinson left the Miracles and was replaced by Billy Griffin approximately 18 months prior. It took them that long to have a hit this big, their first R&B top 10 since Smokey’s “goodbye” single, ‘72’s “We’ve Come Too Far to End It Now.” (This week it ascended to its Soul peak. It also became the Miracles’ first pop top 40 in 3+ years.) It’s got a slinkier feel than their previous catalog, smooth where the Temps were concurrently rougher. There’s also a pronounced disco flavor here, especially thanks to Griffin’s high falsetto.
5 4 LIVE IT UP PART 1 — Isley Brothers (11) — As mid-’70s uptempo Isleys goes, definitely middle of the pack. Nothing about this is particularly exceptional.
6 13 PAPA DON’T TAKE NO MESS PART 1 — James Brown (6) — Gutbucket soul at its finest.
7 11 DO IT (‘TIL YOU’RE SATISFIED) — B.T. Express (9) — This is less disco than super-danceable funk: that beat, my god. Famously sampled by Dr. Dre for Truth Hurts’s “Addictive” in 2002.
8 5 MIDNIGHT FLOWER — Four Tops (10) — A couple years post-Motown, the Tops were still notching hits, though their pop appeal had faltered some; this was their fourth consecutive single to peak south of the pop top 40. But no mind — this ode to a hooker (really!) was one of a pair of top fives from their ‘74 album Meeting of the Minds. This midtempo record does its job, but not a lot more.
9 10 AIN’T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY — Bobby “Blue” Bland (9) — Reaching its Soul chart peak (it scraped to a mere #91 pop), this Bland classic has been covered and sampled by a myriad of artists, most notably Whitesnake (?!) and Jay-Z (as “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love),” which has also been used in a number of movie trailers and commercials). But the best version is this, original version. I love the records Bland was making in this era, pairing his blues background with a current vibe; this is one of his best.
10 14 IN THE BOTTLE — Brother to Brother (10) — This cover of a Gil Scott-Heron song, about alcoholism and its impact on the Black community, is gorgeous and funky, complete with a prominent flute and some great vocals from Michael Burton.
AUDIO: “In The Bottle” by Brother to Brother
11 21 HIGHER PLANE — Kool & the Gang (5) — The Gang’s second Soul #1 of the year (following “Hollywood Swinging”) and fourth top 5 in a row is more of their same (of the time): funky-as-fuck jazz-soul fusion. At this moment, they were fairly unstoppable, and for good reason.
12 16 THE PLAYER PART 1 — First Choice (14) — Akin to their ‘73 debut hit “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” this a) tells a tale of a man who’ll do you wrong, and b) is R&B fast enough to be proto- [or just plain early] disco. First Choice were a female trio from Philly who deserved better — this was their only Soul top 10, making it to #7. Someone at Salsoul should’ve signed ‘em a couple years later.
13 8 TELL HER LOVE HAS FELT THE NEED — Eddie Kendricks (10) — From autumn ‘73 through spring ‘76, former Temptations lead singer Kendricks scored nine consecutive top 10 Soul hits — and then never hit the top 10 again. This is the final one of a trio of such singles from the fine Boogie Down album, with the tempo taken down a couple notches. It’s got an odd almost bossa nova feel to it, but it works, and Kendricks even makes the oddly-worded title phrase work.
14 24 AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING — Aretha Franklin (5) — Now, this is an interesting re-arrangement from the Queen (#understatement): she takes the classic Ashford/Simpson composition and slows it down, way down. The oh-so-elegant keyboards are from Donny Hathaway and Bob James, the bass by Stanley Clarke, and taking the lead on the backing vocals, Cissy Houston, among other personnel. Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler, and Aretha herself produced this, and you can hear it. Franklin’s version made it to #6 Soul but didn’t even make the pop top 40, which is patently absurd yet not at all shocking. (‘74 wasn’t exactly a moment for deep soul on the pop charts.) I can happily listen to this on a loop. And its parent album, Let Me in Your Life, which also featured her #1 Soul hits “I’m in Love” and “Until You Come Back to Me,” is a real gem.
15 7 THEN CAME YOU — Dionne Warwick and The Spinners (11) — I’ve never cared for this slice of schlocky Philly soul, with Warwick doing not much and the Spinners not doing much more. Producer Thom Bell doesn’t even add his usually distinctive touch to this: “Then” just sounds like paper-thin pop-soul. Made it to #1 pop, then, predictably (and #2 Soul).
16 9 FEEL LIKE MAKIN’ LOVE — Roberta Flack (15) — This magical, warm-yet-cool, sexy-as-hell ballad about sex — which is more rare than you might think — spent five weeks topping the Soul chart, and could make just about anyone “[moan] sweet and low.”
17 12 HANG ON IN THERE BABY — Johnny Bristol (13) — The former Motown producer scored with his first single, making it to #2 with this sexy proto-disco plea to his lady (a virgin, I believe, based on the lyrics — ‘74 was a peak year for racy lyrics). He’d never reach such heights again in any sense.
18 22 VIRGIN MAN — Smokey Robinson (8) — Speaking of virgins, this frankly weird single asks why society thinks it’s odd when men are virgins. Musically it’s fine, but lyrically it’s rather off-putting. Made it to #12 Soul.
19 23 YOU GOT TO BE THE ONE — Chi-Lites (6) — Uptempo/midtempo Chi-Lites >>> ballad Chi-Lites. Fight me. This is in the former category, and I don’t understand why it couldn’t make it higher than #15 Soul; I’ll take this over the likes of “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl” all day/week/month/year long. Great use of strings.
20 15 LET’S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER — Stylistics (10) — More of those preternaturally high falsettos; your enjoyment of this song (and most Stylistics hits) depends on your enjoyment of those falsettos. A little goes a long way for me, and this ballad just kinda limps to nowhere.
21 27 CAREFUL MAN — John Edwards (7) — The production (blues meets R&B, see #9 and #31) is about five years behind, the lyrics are regressive at best, and Edwards ain’t much of a singer.
22 30 BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER — William DeVaughn (5) — His follow-up to the #1 “Be Thankful For What You Got” is, musically, its sibling; lyrically, this reminds the listener that “nothing’s thicker than love” — so it’s kind of its predecessor’s sibling in that sense, too.
AUDIO: William DeVaughn “Blood Is Thicker Than Water”
23 17 UP FOR THE DOWN STROKE — Parliament (13) — This only made it to #10 Soul! How in the world is that even possible? Maybe audiences just weren’t ready yet? Two years later, “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” would get to #5, and across ‘78-’79, Parliament and Funkadelic would each top the Soul chart twice. So maybe see this as the warning salvo. Obviously (at least, I think it’s obvious), this is one of the motherfucking funkiest records ever made, and George Clinton is an unqualified genius, and I won’t hear otherwise. Period.
24 18 YOU — Bill Withers (11) — Speaking of funky… I’m not a big fan of “Lean on Me,” never have been. But Mr. Withers was funky as hell when he wanted to be, and “You” is a prime example. This is some gritty mid-’70s funk of the Stevie Wonder school — with some funky, funky clavinet underpinning it, too (see #1). The lyrics are basically a one-way conversation, and you peel back more layers the more you listen.
25 28 DOOR TO YOUR HEART — Dramatics (10) — I hate to do it, but have to: this ballad certainly is dramatic. The song and, frankly, artist don’t deserve this great production.
26 34 DO IT, FLUID — Blackbyrds (9) — The first single from the first album for these jazz proteges of jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, written and produced by him, and very much fusion of its moment — which I hear as a very good thing.
27 20 HAPPINESS IS — New York City (11) — This group from Harlem had a trio of top 20 Soul hits across ‘73-’74 (of which this was the last), but never made the top 10. “Happiness Is” is sweet enough — its chorus is its highlight — but doesn’t do much to make itself stand out from its [chart] surroundings.
AUDIO: New York City’s “Happiness Is”
28 19 NOTHING FROM NOTHING — Billy Preston (12) — Preston was a much better sideman than solo artist. I’ve never particularly cottoned to much of his solo career, save perhaps for the warm bath of his 1979 Syreeta duet “With You I’m Born Again” (#4 pop/#86 Soul — no typo). Most of his hits were bigger on the Soul chart, except for “With You,” and his two pop #1s — this one (#8 Soul) and the previous year’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” (#10 Soul). Figure that equation out. Anyway, this is essentially MOR soul, so maybe that’s the answer.
29 36 DON’T SEND NOBODY ELSE — Ace Spectrum (7) — On its way to #20, the sole charter from this Harlem vocal quartet. Lush disco strings, solid horn charts, and no personality.
30 33 HOOKED, HOGTIED AND COLLARED — Paul Kelly (10) — It’s not often that you hear a song hit the charts in which the singer compares how “hooked” he is on a partner to S&M. Unfortunately, that’s about the only interesting thing about this average piece of ‘74 soul.
31 37 PARTY DOWN — Little Beaver (7) — As sampled on Jay-Z’s “Party Life,” but better than that, a serious early-mid-’70s southern soul record with deliciously soupy guitar. I’d group this in with the hits that the likes of B.B. King and Bobby “Blue” Bland were having during the first half of the ‘70s, bluesy material with contemporary R&B production.
32 25 TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD — Rufus (18) — It’s easy to take this classic (down from dual #3 pop and Soul peaks) for granted, but resist the impulse, no matter how many times you’ve heard the song. Listen again, preferably with headphones, and revel in that nasty, greasy guitar, and Chaka Khan’s too sexy vocal. Sure, songwriter Stevie Wonder could’ve made a perfectly great record on this, but he was wise to give it to Rufus, because what Chaka’s got… well, you know.
33 41 HELL OF A FIX — Marion Jarvis (8) — The only hit for a female singer from L.A., bemoaning that she’s the other woman. The epitome of a “sound, solid” (thanks Alfred) soul single.
AUDIO: Marion Jarvis “Hell of a Fix”
34 26 DON’T CHANGE HORSES (IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREAM) — Tower of Power (11) — Solid, funky, and earnest, as most of this interracial funk band’s material was through the ‘70s.
35 45 YOU LITTLE TRUSTMAKER — The Tymes (7) — What the fuck is a “trustmaker”?! I hate this song so much and always have; something about it annoys me to no end. This is just an empty, perky little upbeat soul record. Back in ‘63 they hit #4 Soul/#1 pop with the original of “So Much in Love.”
36 51 LET THIS BE A LESSON TO YOU — Independents (4) — “You cheated on me but I’m codependent and can’t live without you so it’s okay,” basically. I loathe this kind of bullshit, especially when the woman is painted as the codependent party. Appallingly on its way to #7, their fourth (and final) Soul top 10. Group members Chuck Jackson (Rev. Jesse’s brother!) and Marvin Yancey, Jr. would later win a pair of Grammys writing and producing for Natalie Cole, to whom Yancey was married 1976-1980.
37 32 ALL STRUNG OUT ON YOU — Persuaders (11) — The Persuaders had a surprisingly short chart career: nine Soul hits, all of which made the top 40, but only three of which were top 10 (including their debut, ‘71’s “Thin Line Between Love and Hate”), and by ‘77, they were done. That said, I’ll argue at least part of the reason is because they made unexceptional soul ballads. Nothing wrong with them, but nothing exciting, either — this one included.
AUDIO: The Persuaders “All Strung Out On You”
38 29 STANDING ON THE VERGE OF GETTING IT ON — Funkadelic (14) — I’ve always heard Funkadelic as the more “rock” side of George Clinton’s musical personality, especially in the first half of the ‘70s. (I know they more or less merged during the back half, especially as the ‘80s approached.) Funkadelic were also definitely, defiantly, weirder. The phrase “Standing on the Verge of Getting It On” can be read at least two or three different ways, and I suspect that’s the point. This was Funkadelic’s first trip into the Soul top 30 in four years, which kind of amazes me — because while this is definitely soulful, I wouldn’t call this soul by any means. But goddamn it’s good.
39 43 I’M A FOOL FOR YOU — Undisputed Truth (10) — At its chart peak, as the “Smiling Faces Sometimes” crew had run out of chart mojo just three years later. This is a funky co-ed jam.
40 50 HAPPINESS IS BEING WITH YOU — Tyrone Davis (5) — A gritty, grand soul ballad from a man who knew how to do ‘em.
Also of note:
-Plenty of other classics on this chart outside of the top 40. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Kalimba Story” fell out of the top 40 this week, as “Devotion” rose 83-71 in its second chart week. Latimore’s future #1 “Let’s Straighten It Out” climbed 60-43. Quincy Jones’s “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (with Minnie Riperton on featured vocals), from his #1 Jazz and Soul album Body Heat, moved 96-87 — but would only peak at #71. Another future #1 Soul single, “Woman to Woman” by Shirley Brown,” debuted at #97.
-Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sherff” was, inexplicably, up 66-50 on the Soul chart, heading for a #33 peak. It would hit #1 on the Hot 100.
-The week’s #1 on the Soul LPs chart didn’t spin off any hit singles, as it was a comedy album: Richard Pryor’s That Nigger’s Crazy, which topped the chart for four weeks. Amazingly, the album wasn’t even on the 200-position Top LPs and Tape chart (as the all-encompassing “pop” album chart was then named).