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1973 – The A+ List

The O'Jays: Sex Cymbals

The O’Jays: Sex Cymbals

For our 1973 A+ list we celebrate glam rock, funk, protopunk, and a pre-God Bruce Springsteen. People all over the world, join hands. Start a love train. Don’t forget the anti-bacterial hand soap.

1. “Dancing Days,” Led Zeppelin. Where Page and Plant get out of their amplified screech mode, put an Indian hook into their arsenal, and switch from head bangers to bootie shakers. That House of the Holy album cover really creeped me out when I was a kid.

2. “Free Ride,” The Edgar Winter Group. This is either the ultimate ‘70s smoke a joint while careening down the highway with your wild best hormonally driven teenage friends anthem or I’ve just seen Dazed and Confused one too many times.

3. “Hello It’s Me,” Todd Rundren. Todd recorded a beatnik acid version of this number with the Nazz in 1968, but tarted it up smartly for the marketplace when he went solo. I always thought it was generous to both dump the chick and simultaneously volunteer for friends with benefits perks.

4. “Higher Ground,” Stevie Wonder. Wonder broke out of his “Little Stevie” image in the early ‘70s, becoming one of the most financially and critically successful artists of the decade. He reportedly played every instrument on this gospel funk track. Bit of a show off, isn’t he?

5. “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train,” Billy Joe Shaver. Texas gunslinger Shaver may not be the father of the outlaw country movement, but he’s at least the crazy uncle of genre. Waylon Jennings released an album almost entirely comprised of Shaver covers in 1973 (Honky Tonk Heroes), but Shaver’s dry raspy drawl has its own unique charm.

6. “Let’s Get it On,” Marvin Gaye. I hope that whoever wrote the line “We’re all sensitive people” as a way of introducing a sexual proposition won a Grammy. It’s made me laugh for decades. Let’s reflect on a time when Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder ruled the pop charts instead of Lil Wayne and John Legend. Nobody said devolution was pretty.

7. “Love Train,” The O’Jays. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the kings of the Philly soul sound, wrote and produced this #1 hit. The O’Jays formed in the late 1950s, but had no success until 1972, when Gamble and Huff produced “Back Stabbers” for the group. The O’Jays smartly stayed with G&H for the rest of the decade. For the love of money, if nothing else.

8. “Loves Me Like a Rock,” Paul Simon. After hearing “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, Simon decided he wanted to perform with the musicians on that song. When he got to Muscle Shoals, he thought the white boys in the studio were the office staff. After being introduced to the legendary non-African-American Swampers, he asked if he could “meet the band.” He’s a shmuck, wimp, and a song stealer, yet he has his moments.

9. “Meat Man”, Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee and songwriter Mack Vickory went to sexual extremes on this filthy rocker that never had any possibility for country music airplay. Almost as funny as the howling moans on “Big Legged Woman.”

10. “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. Originally titled “Midnight Plane to Houston,” songwriter Jim Weatherly envisioned his composition as a country song. Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mom) cut a country soul version in 1973, but Gladys Knight producer Tony Camillo, who had worked at Motown, reworked the arrangement with horns and a (then) contemporary soul sound. The vocal interplay between Gladys and her Pips was in the call and response tradition and yet also catchily advanced the storyline.

11. “Personality Crisis,” New York Dolls. The Dolls were garage rock and glam, booze, sweat, and heroin all wrapped up in women’s clothes. America just wasn’t ready for that.

12. “Reelin’ in the Years,” Steely Dan. Nobody in the world knows who Elliott Randall is, but it’s his guitar tone and solo that takes an ordinary catchy tune and makes it an exemplary representation of early ‘70s classic rock.

13. “Right Place, Wrong Time,” Dr. John. New Orleans voodoo funk from the master.

14. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” Bruce Springsteen. The heft of Springsteen’s artistic ambitions could sometimes be a burden on the listener, but when he got it right, like on this track, the reward was immeasurable.

15. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” Elton John. Elton had three major hits in 1973 – “Daniel,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and this ode to alcohol and fistfights. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was a double album that sold over eight million copies in the United States. He could afford those silly glasses.

16. “Search and Destroy,” Iggy and the Stooges. The protopunk aggression that the Stooges displayed didn’t always translate to the recording studio in a manner that matched the band’s myth/legend. On “Search and Destroy” they transcended any definable standard. One of rock ‘n’ roll’s truly galvanizing moments.

17. “The Swimming Song,” Loudon Wainwright III. Everyday, everyone in the world gets up and tries to swim through this thing called life. Everyday, we try not to drown.

18. “Tuesday’s Gone,” Lynyrd Skynyrd. Skynyrd is an underrated band (keeping the corporation on the road well beyond the expiration date hasn’t helped) and it was Ronnie Van Zant’s intuitive writing skills that pushed them miles beyond any Southern rock band of their era. Instead of playing the macho stud, Van Zant regrets the loss of his woman on “Tuesday’s Gone” and is worried about what the future holds.

19. “Walk on the Wild Side,” Lou Reed. Friendly Lou was a true rock ‘n’ roll legend, but he only had one hit during his lengthy career – this tale of New York city street sleaze. “Wild Side” highlights characters that Lou had met at Andy Warhol’s Factory, a hipster art studio hangout, which was full of junkies and drag queens and sexual deviancy. Kind of like my living room right now.

20. “You’re So Vain,” Carly Simon. I probably think this song is about me.

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