Joel Goldenberg: The 1970s top-10 hits review part 1

Paul Carrack of Ace singing How Long on a 1970s TV appearance.

Retro Roundup will now embark on a new long-term project — evaluating the top-10 hits of the Billboard U.S. charts, and since I began becoming aware of music in the very late 1960s and mostly the 1970s, we'll start with the 1970s charts.

But before we start, a technological note:

As longtime Retro Roundup readers will know, I have a near obsession with surround sound music, having not had the opportunity — in the 1970s — to actually listen to quadraphonic four-channel records, eight-tracks or reel-to-reel tapes. That's why when DVD-Audio discs became available, I snapped up as many as I could within economic reason — they were rather pricey. I didn't buy Sony's Super Audio CDs because I didn't have a player that could play both formats.

Since then, I acquired a Smartphone with Dolby Atmos audio, which widens and broadens the sound on many songs; and a car with DTS Neural sound, which directs out-of-phase parts of a stereo recording to the back speakers.

But now I have either discovered something new or little known, or my ears have gone haywire.

Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic began, we at The Suburban newspaper were asked to work from home, and since I no longer have a well-functioning computer, I transported the office Apple computer to my home.

On my free time, I listen to music, but I soon noticed something strange. Some sounds appeared to emanate a fair distance away from the computer speakers _ namely, about three feet behind me and to my right; or sometimes in the back directly behind me. For instance, on the stereo mix of the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, which has out-of-phase elements and a unique mix, Ray Davies' lead vocal and the background singing appear to be behind me. On the Beatles' It's All Too Much, from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album, George Harrison's vocal appears to be directly behind me.

Am I hearing things, does my bedroom have unique acoustics in which sound bounces off the walls, or do Apple computers have a little heralded feature?

And now to the 1970s top-10 list:

•••

ABBA- In many locales outside of the U.S., especially Australia, the Swedish group's chart successes rivaled that of the Beatles. But they only had three top-10 hits in the 1970s, and four overall (The Winner Takes It All in 1980). The giddy Waterloo (1974), the first of these, is a 1960s-sounding hit, given a Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound in which the mix is bunched together in the stereo mix for propulsive effect. Dancing Queen (1976), which hit #1, is a timeless hit single in which the vocals and music are climactic throughout, and it transcends the disco genre. The backing track alone was so good that group member Frida cried upon hearing it. Take A Chance On Me (1978) is my least favourite of Abba's three 1970s top-10 hits—  both the song (especially the vocal arrangements) and the video have an overly cutesy quality.

Ace: How Long, from 1975, was this group's only major hit. A prime example of pleasant, slick yacht rock, sung by Paul Carrack, whose vocal talents were utilized in several groups, including Squeeze for their hit Tempted and Mike and the Mechanics. It's been said, and I can attest to this, that none of Ace's other songs sound as accomplished as this one.

Aerosmith: Considering this Boston band's long history, legacy and ongoing popularity, it's kind of surprising they only they had two top-10 hits in the 1970s. Even stranger, Dream On was a hit in 1976, three years after it was first released on the band's first album and as a (badly edited) single, then only hitting #59. Still, whenever it was released, it's prime classic rock in which Steven Tyler sings in a smoother tone than usual. Walk This Way, also strangely, became a hit in late 1976, around the time of the Rocks album, but it came from the preceding Toys in the Attic album from 1975. Still, the song is Aerosmith at its swaggering, rocking best.

Alive And Kicking: Tighter, Tighter (1970) is a great, tightly wound piece of pop with alternating male and female vocals. But it always bothers me how much the chorus sounds like the earlier hit Piece of My Heart, made most famous by Janis Joplin when she was part of Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Allman Brothers: Ramblin' Man is one of my top-10 songs to do walking exercises to, especially during the relentless, propulsive guitar sequence in the last part of the song. When it comes to critics, they prefer the songs and albums that preceded this single, especially Live At Fillmore East, and pretty much everything the group did when guitarist Duane Allman was still alive.

Herb Alpert: Alpert is primarily known for his 1960s Mexican-flavoured instrumental hits with the Tijuana Brass, and for his humble vocal on the more romantic This Guy's In Love With You, but Alpert went full yacht rock/disco on the lengthy instrumental Rise, which is very cool background music.

Next time: Ambrosia and more.

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