Tuesday, November 24, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1974

Ah, 1974. The year of Watergate, streaking, and... Symbionese Liberation, I guess. Glam-rock was king, punk and disco were in their nascent stages, jazz fusion and Kraut-rock kept the nerds entertained, and R&B was as silky-smooth as ever. Overall it was a decent year for Top 40 radio, though what actually got airplay that year was eventually overshadowed by career albums from lesser-known artists. It's a somewhat misunderstood and overlooked year, with most of the big dogs (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd) either sitting the year out or working extensively on their next project, yet top-heavy in great music either way you shake the stick.


1. Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell. There's no question that this fair-haired Canadian songstress has earned her legendary status. Most of her albums have been very consistant in that they all seem to contain six or seven brilliant songs, accompanied by some agreeable filler near the end of the disc. Spark is her one album where every track clicks; everything from "Help Me" to "Raised on Robbery" is a luscious swirl of orchestral flair and tight melodies.
2. Rock Bottom, Robert Wyatt. Recorded in the wake of a freak accident that left Wyatt crippled from the waist down, it may shock some people that the former Soft Machine drummer's best solo effort was written before he fell from a third-story balcony. The sound of the album is melancholy, yet it bursts with life; beneath all the bizarre prog-jazz flailings and the disdain for conventional songcraft is a story of a man redeeming himself via music.
3. Radio City, Big Star. Neglected in their time, Big Star became a cult favorite long after the band (or more specifically, frontman Alex Chilton) fell apart, as well as a cautionary tale about the need to nurture a gifted artist. Their second album might be the best of their three "classic" albums. Reduced to a trio after the departure of Chris Bell, Radio City trades their debut's mild skepticism or something a tad more cynical and yearning. In a way, this album is the essence of pop imperfection.
4. Here Come The Warm Jets, Brian Eno
5. Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan
6. Too Much Too Soon, New York Dolls
7. Fulfillingness' First Finale, Stevie Wonder
8. Treasure Island, Keith Jarrett
9. Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Brian Eno
10. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Richard & Linda Thompson. Anyone who thinks The Swell Season's story of finding and expressing love through music is somehow original and unheard-of clearly hasn't done their homework. That's not to say the "Once" soundtrack is terrible or anything, it's just that the Thompsons beat them to the switch 35 years ago.

Honorable Mentions: Diamond Dogs, David Bowie; Autobahn, Kraftwerk; Meet The Residents, The Residents; Kimono My House, Sparks; Crime of the Century, Supertramp; Mysterious Traveler, Weather Report.


"Waterloo," ABBA
"Beach Baby," The First Class
"Hooked on a Feeling," Blue Swede
"Sundown," Gordon Lightfoot
"Spiders and Snakes," Jim Stafford
"Bad Company," Bad Company
"Skating Away," Jethro Tull
"Radar Love," Golden Earring
"Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)," The Raspberries
"The Loco-Motion," Grand Funk Railroad*
"The Payback," James Brown
"Then Came You," Dianne Warwick and The Spinners
"Mockingbird," Carly Simon
"Oh My My," Ringo Starr
"Dancing Machine," The Jacksons

*For the record, that might actually be the only Grand Funk song I like. Music critics hated them in the '70s and I think their vitriol is in the right place. This spirited cover of the old Little Eva tune holds up quite well, though it's a shame that a then 12-year-old dance tune blew anything that Mark Farner and Don Brewer did write out of the water.

So Awful, It's Brilliant: "The Night Chicago Died," Paper Lace. I single out this particular song for its inane first verse: "Daddy was a cop/on the east side of Chicago/back in the U-S-A/back in the bad old days." I was not aware that my city's finest had a cop patrolling the middle of Lake Michigan, unless there's an underwater neighborhood that I'm not aware of.

Your thoughts?


  1. Wow, I haven't heard from a single song on any of those albums listed. Tho I do have 'Bad Company''s 1st album, and heard about 3 of those singles. I like GFR's "We're An American Band" a lot and that sound is worth investigating. I started listening to Blue Oyster Cult's early albums and they're not bad. Been listening to them & James Gang stuff, thanks to the introduction sampling from That '70s Show rock soundtrack. Been on a CCR kick too. I think my favorite era of music is from 1968-73. I think by 1974 rock had just worn itsself out. Tho I don't have the advantage of being near a record shop or any old hippies. Maybe Paper Lace was singing about northwestern Indiana? Oh those Brits!

  2. Really? Not "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," or even "Rebel Rebel?" Then again, those are two songs that garner a lot of airplay but always seem to be in the middle of a set, so that the DJ doesn't have time to presell/backsell them.