Instead of our weekly survey of the top-10 hits of the 1970s, this week's column will compile Retro Roundup's all-time favourite songs by major artists.
Elvis Presley-So much to choose from the greatest rock/pop singer of all time, but I'm sticking with the standalone 1971 single It's Only Love in its hard to find mono 45 RPM mix. Elvis's vocal performance is far from his most rousing, but the song itself and the instrumentation are what make it my first choice. The mono single mix sounds tougher as the rhythm section is brought more up to the fore than in the stereo mix.
The Beatles- This one's difficult, because the progression of the band was so astonishing in just a few years, and their albums are so well regarded. However, few of their songs hit me in the emotional gut. I'll have to split this one into two favourites — Helter Skelter for the marvelous musical tension and the single version of Let It Be (the album version has too stinging a guitar solo) for emotion.
The Beach Boys-This choice is extremely difficult, because this is my favourite pop group and, as opposed to the Beatles, many of their songs hit me in the emotional gut. My choice is the 1969 stand-alone single Break Away, written and produced by Brian Wilson and his father Murry. The single just pops with dynamism, and if Brian's claim that Murry wrote all the lyrics is true, then his father is the most underrated lyricist of all time. Those lyrics pretty much reflect Brian's state of mind at the time, and if Murry wrote them, his usual submerged empathy for Brian emerged, at least for a brief instant. Brief because later in 1969, Murry sold the publishing for the Beach Boys songs for a mere $700,000, an evil and stupid act.
The Rolling Stones- My favourite song of theirs has changed over the years, but now it's currently the mono single version of Street Fighting Man, different from the mix on even the mono Beggar's Banquet album. Not only is the opening instrumentation wonderfully grungy, but Mick Jagger's buried vocal adds to the song's mystique and musical tension.
The Who- Again, tough to choose just one song from my favourite rock group, but it has to be Won't Get Fooled Again from the classic Who's Next album, eight and a half minutes of expertly crafted musical tension and not a second wasted.
Elton John- The lesser known Are You Ready For Love, from the 1977 sessions with producer Thom Bell of Spinners and Stylistics fame, should have been a massive hit. It's the perfect combination of Elton's sunny singing and Bell's classic, soulful production style. The best version is the single edit, as the Spinners themselves dominate the full version.
Abba- Their hits are perfect pop, but The King Has Lost His Crown from the 1979 Voulez Vous album has both emotional impact and a very interesting musical structure.
Carpenters- Almost all of their songs have an emotional impact, not only because they were written and arranged so well, but in retrospect because of Karen Carpenter's early death from complications related to anorexia nervosa. My favourites have changed over the years, but I always come back to their second big hit, the wistful We've Only Just Begun.
Paul McCartney- My love of his solo career pretty much just goes from 1970 to 1983, and while Maybe I'm Amazed is one of Paul's most impassioned songs in its LP version (the live version from '76 was a big hit), the Band on the Run album track Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five is his most musically interesting song, with a fantastic and creative rhythm. Obviously, he likes it too, as it was part of his set list when I saw him in 2010 and 2018.
John Lennon- #9 Dream from 1974's Walls and Bridges is solo John at his most Beatlesque, although the stark Isolation from the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is a close second for me. Sean Lennon, John's son, did a great version of the song recently as part of the commemoration of John's 80th birthday.
Ringo Starr-It Don't Come Easy is a perfect, punchy single, and has George Harrison on it.
George Harrison- The rousing What Is Life is another perfect pop single, it kind of has the same sunny feeling as Elton's Are You Ready For Love. A close second for me is the wistful sounding I'd Have You Anytime, which in my interpretation sounds like sadness at the breakup of the Beatles — not in terms of the lyrics, but the musical atmosphere.
Kiss: I was at first not a fan of Calling Dr. Love because of the creepy background vocals, but also because I first heard an re-edited version on the band's 1978 Double Platinum compilation. I them heard the single version of the song on a Ronco (a TV label akin to K-Tel) album, in a mix that was dominated by a disco-like hi-hat drum cymbal. It was when I heard the full LP version on the Kiss Gold 2-CD compilation that I realized this song's greatness — the pulverizing opening riff, Peter Criss's great drumming, Gene Simmons' powerful singing and an Ace Frehley solo in which it seems like sparks are going to fly off the CD. Their most fully realized performance.
Next time: The return to the top-10 1970s hits.