Joel Goldenberg: The 1970s top-10 hits review part 6

David Bowie in a 2015 video.

We now resume with Retro Roundup's evaluation of the top-10 hits of the Billboard U.S. charts from the 1970s, from artists and groups beginning with the letter B.

Blondie: The edgy pop group fronted by striking vocalist Debbie Harry had several big hits, but only one top-10 in the 1970s – Heart of Glass. The song was one of several disco-rock hybrids in the late 1970s, along with the Rolling Stones' superb Miss You and Rod Stewart's trashy (in a good way) and decadent (also in a good way) Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?. Heart of Glass was the most propulsive of these, in no small part thanks to the propulsive drumming of Clem Burke, who a) I had the pleasure of meeting in New York City and b) would have been a great replacement for Keith Moon in The Who — no offence to Kenney Jones.

Bloodstone: Natural High was one of many great "old school" 1970s soul hits, with smooth production, vocalizing and harmonizing. But what makes this song really stand out is a very cool, enveloping echo effect at two points in the song.

Bobby Bloom: His 1970 song Montego Bay was atmospheric sort-of reggae (and indeed was tackled by reggae artists), and was a hit at a time when other reggae songs were starting to cross over onto the U.S. and U.K. charts., most notably Israelites by Desmond Dekker.

Blue Magic: Speaking of soft, harmonic soul and reggae, this near-masterpiece was a prime example of the former and prompted a reggae cover version by Barry Biggs that is nearly as good as the original.

Blue Swede: This Swedish group emerged with their two top-10 hits in 1974, around the same time their fellow countrypeople Abba were exploding on the scene with their Eurovision contest-winning hit Waterloo. A big distinction, though. Abba was a brilliant group which produced many timeless hits that achieved the amazing feat of selling millions 10-20 years after the fact through such compilations as the Abba Gold album. Blue Swede was a guilty pleasure novelty group whose hits were revved-up cover versions of Hooked On A Feeling (B.J. Thomas) and Never My Love (The Association). And part of what propelled the former song to #1 was its distinctive (and irritating but unforgettable) backing vocal "ooga-chucka, ooga-chucka." If that's what it takes to get a chart-topper...

This was a distinct sign of the decline of pop music quality as the 1970s progressed. And the cover of Never My Love substitutes propulsion for heart and soul.

Debby Boone: Her huge song, You Light Up My Life, was not only the biggest selling single Warner Brothers Records had up to September 1977, but is cited by sniffy critics as another example of the decline of rock music in the 1970s. I have to confess that that point of view influenced me to dislike this song for a few years, but I've grown to like it again, thank to Boone's throbbing vocal. Debby Boone, incidentally, is the daughter of pop music veteran Pat Boone. Also, the mix of the song creates a neat surround sound effect with my car's DTS Neural sound system, with the strings isolated to the back speakers.

Boston: This group could have been one of the top rock groups of the 1970s, thanks to Tom Scholz's brilliant construction of the group's two 1970s top-10 hits, More Than A Feeling and Don't Look Back, featuring Brad Delp's wonderful vocals. Unfortunately, a behind-the-scenes mess that rivals what swamped the group Badfinger (in Boston's case, a rushed second album, a lawsuit and a much delayed third album) stopped their momentum. Delp committed suicide in 2007 in very messy circumstances.

David Bowie: The rock legend who changed his persona every couple of years in the 1970s had many memorable songs during that decade, like Changes, the songs on the Ziggy Stardust album, and my own personal favourite, Rebel Rebel (both the original single and the radically different U.S. single mix). His two top-10 hits of the 1970s were more funk-oriented — Fame, written with John Lennon, sounded so close to a James Brown song that Brown himself ripped Fame off for his own song Hot; and Golden Years is more original.

Next time: Bread and others.

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