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American Top 40 Flashback: November 7, 1970

The full chart from November 7, 1970

How’s the chart as a whole?

Shockingly primitive. Perhaps in backlash to hippie excess, this week’s chart (from the earliest days of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40) is loaded with blues-rock growlers and raw soul and funk records. It’s lightyears removed from the lush sounds of the 1974 chart we heard last week. The Beatles (as a group and solo) are conspicuously absent, and this year’s model seems to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. Luckily, Motown is still going strong, and manages to seriously class up this chart with appearances from nearly all of their heavy hitters.

This chart is primitive in another way– it is overwhelmingly, and at times oppressively, male in its point of view. Out of the forty tracks, only eight feature women as performers, none of whom are credited as songwriters on the songs they perform. I count only one full songwriting credit for a woman, and four co-writing credits, one of which is Tammy Wynette’s credit for “Stand By Your Man” (!). The songs themselves highlight some of the more unsavory aspects of performed masculinity: unbridled misogyny, objectification, jealousy, romanticized violence, plus Neil Diamond’s weird personification of a bottle of wine as a “store-bought woman.” At least we get “Lola” this week, right?

I give this week a B-minus.

Forgotten gems

#12 – 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” 

There sure are a lot of one-hit wonders on this chart. 100 Proof (Aged in Soul)–what a terrible name–has the unenviable task of following up “Tears of a Clown” on this chart, but this uptempo funk-soul number pulls it off. The song’s conceit of using the Goldilocks tale to tell the story of a man discovering his partner’s affair threatens to become too cute, but is fleshed out with realistic details that make it work. (My enthusiasm for this song was tempered by the fact that its songwriter also wrote the disturbingly rapey “Pay to the Piper,” but this one doesn’t seem especially problematic)

#27 – The New Seekers, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”

This is the one song on the chart credited to a single female songwriter– Melanie Safka, of “Brand New Key” fame. It’s a simple lyric, but one full of acerbic bite: “Well, it’s the only thing I could do half-right/and it’s turning out all wrong, Ma.” The New Seekers add a hallucinatory music-hall buildup that gives the song a meta layer– just what are you guys doing to Melanie’s song? Miley Cyrus covered this song a few years ago, and eh, she was alright, I guess. This song was also adapted for an Oatmeal Crisp cereal commercial in the late-80s, which is either a 0 or a 10 on the Irony Meter, or proves that the Irony Meter is not linear, but actually an ouroboros.

#28 – Christie, “Yellow River”

These British guys want to be CCR so, so bad. And it doesn’t even matter, because this song about a young soldier returning home from war is incredibly lovely.

Worth a listen

#34 – Mashmakhan, “As the Years Go By”

One of those somewhat inexplicable minor hits from the early 70s, this is a kind of lightly psychedelic garage-rock track from Canada. It starts with a pretty good lyrical hook exploring the meanings people attach to the phrase “I love you” in the various phases of their lives, then squanders it in the last few verses. The snotty lyrics and vocal delivery in the verses actually have a bit of a punk rock flavor to me.

#5 – R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me”

Taylor was a Motown songwriter from Canada whom the label eventually signed as a performer for its not-especially-successful Rare Earth imprint for rock music by white artists. He managed only one hit in the US, this song about a fugitive wanted for murder which ends with a barrage of gunshots (though Casey edited them out on his show). It’s catchy, though cheesy and a little thin-sounding.

#25 – Candi Staton, “Stand By Your Man”

Great voice, great arrangement– but it’s in service of that song.

Justly forgotten

#29 – Blood, Sweat and Tears, “Lucretia Mac Evil” 

1970 finds BS&T already creatively bankrupt– her name literally has “Evil” in it, that means she’s bad! Here’s our “unbridled misogyny” from the opening section.

#39 – The Temptations, “Ungena Za Ulimengu (Unite the World)” 

Opens with a thrilling blast of distorted guitar and harmonica, but then settles into an aimless rewrite of “Ball of Confusion.” This was the first Temptations single since 1964 to miss the top 30.

Is the #1 worthy?

“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5– Yes. It’s so ubiquitous that it makes no emotional impact on me whatsoever (likely because I grew up hearing the Mariah Carey version), but it’s clearly a classic song.

Song I’d like to banish from the radio forever

The banal portrait of domestic bliss that is “Our House.”

Bubbling under

“After Midnight,” “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is”

Top five

#13 – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown”

#10 – The Kinks, “Lola”

#3 – James Taylor, “Fire and Rain”

#21 – Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, “Express Yourself”

#27 – The New Seekers, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma”

Honorable mention: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “All Right Now,” “I’ll Be There,” “Somebody’s Been Sleeping,” “El Condor Pasa,” “Yellow River”