1974’s strangest hits

Dave X Robb Far OutI’VE NOT GOTTEN too far into the playing of my records from 1974, but the K-Tel collections alone remind me what a strange year it was. There’s a real value to going through the years in reverse as I’m doing: I think it’s easier to see the year-to-year differences that way; otherwise, they just blend one into the other.

So, here we are in 1974. Suddenly, disco has not caught on yet. And my record collection, not unlike the culture, showed few signs of rebellion. That’s more to do with me than with 1974, maybe, since I had not yet reached the age of working, dating, driving, and drinking on the sly.

But I think it was also the state of American popular culture. Watergate was all over the news. Richard Nixon resigned. The oil crisis and the end of the Vietnam War were still fresh. Streaking replaced protesting. People magazine and ABBA and Rubik’s cube were launched. Music didn’t know what to do.

The stuff that had carried over from the late ’60s into the early ’70s was getting stale. Pop music needed a new big thing, and so everything was tried: In 1974, we got our first a cappella Top-40 hit, “After the Gold Rush” by Prelude; we got a flood of nostalgia from current bands, as I’ve talked about before — things like “The Loco-Motion” by Grand Funk — and bad new songs from old pop icons, perhaps the most notorious being “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka.

We got Kraftwerk. We got “Eres Tú” by Mocedades and “The Lord’s Prayer” by Sister Janet Mead (which is really awesome, actually). We got the spoken-word rant “The Americans,” “Tubular Bells,” “I Love” by Tom T. Hall, and “The Streak.” Oh, and that was the year Jim Stafford made it big. Enough said.

Most of those oddities didn’t have a lot of staying power. The nostalgia craze tried to fill the void, but that was over in a couple of years. It was disco that stuck. What started as an underground phenomenon in the clubs of New York made some mainstream ripples in the pop music culture throughout 1974. By ’75, there was no stopping the wave: Music had shifted. But the boundary becomes obvious only when traveling backward through the years.

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