American Top 40 Flashback: November 15, 1975

The full chart:

How’s the chart as a whole?

Once you get past Paul McCartney at #36, it’s possible to squint at this chart and see an alternate music history where the late 60s faded into the background instead of continuing to cast a long shadow over the pop music for decades to come. Motown is finished as a hit factory, and British Invasion rock has been folded into the musical stew. This is a chart with strong retro leanings, and the diversity of pre-Beatles influences is kind of remarkable– jazz standards, traditional pop, doo-wop, early R&B, country crooning, and early 60s folk all find a place in late 1975. Even disco, the wave of the future, pulls from some relatively ancient sources in “What a Difference a Day Makes” and “Brazil.”

So, do I like this chart? Not really. Most of that retro-flavored music feels inessential at best and hasn’t aged well. Even worse, there’s some truly brain-dead disco music on this chart, the kind that would give the genre a bad name for years to come. That said, the top ten or so songs from this week are a strong group with some stone-cold classics that bring the chart up to a C-minus overall.

Forgotten gems

#18 – The People’s Choice, “Do It Any Way You Wanna”

Disco as performed by a serious funk band, produced by Philly soul mastermind Leon Huff. The musical chops on display help it stand out from this week’s lyrically-challenged disco pack.

#24 – Neil Sedaka, “Bad Blood”

Elton John’s top duet partner this year wasn’t Kiki Dee, or John Lennon, but… early 60s retread Neil Sedaka? This song’s mix of light funk and old-school pop is very 1975. Sedaka is still deeply uncool, but I find this to be a hell of an earworm, with its chunky keyboards and vocal interplay.

Worth a listen

#40 – 5000 Volts, “I’m On Fire”

The backing track is loud and manic and kind of chintzy, but British disco diva Tina Charles absolutely kills the vocal and makes the song worthwhile. Amazingly, she wasn’t even credited on it due to record label conflicts. This would be her only Top 40 success in the USA, though she had some big solo hits in England.

#31 – BT Express, “Peace Pipe”

Another disco single with a strong, earthy funk background, this time borrowed from Sly and the Family Stone.

Justly forgotten

#16 – Silver Convention, “Fly, Robin, Fly”

A staggering achievement in pop emptiness, Silver Convention were a pair of German producers who stripped Philly soul of all its, you know, soul, and presented it with a trio of female singers/terrible dancers who looked like they couldn’t care less. This song would hit #1 just two weeks later.

#33 – The Ritchie Family, “Brazil”

A pioneer in the practice of taking a well-loved piece of non-disco music and turning it into hot trash. You can actually hear all the crummy disco songs on this chart, as well as many songs that deserved much better, on the Ritchie Family’s later hit medley, “The Best Disco in Town.”

Is the #1 worthy?

“Island Girl” is my least favorite Elton John single by far. The lyrics are an embarrassment (“What you wanting with the white man’s world?”), and even the melody leaves no impression. It’s a mess.  I called Elton “the icon of good-1974” a few weeks ago, but he’s showing signs of burnout here.

Song I would banish from the radio forever

If not “Island Girl,” then Jefferson Starship’s druggy, meandering “Miracles.”

Bubbling under

A big list this week: “Fox on the Run,” “Ballroom Blitz,” “I Write the Songs,” “Mexico,” “Love Rollercoaster,” “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Evil Woman,” and the theme from “S.W.A.T.”

Top five

#15 – ABBA, “S.O.S.”

#14 – The Bee Gees, “Nights on Broadway”

#10 – War, “Low Rider”

#35 – Joan Baez, “Diamonds and Rust”

#39 – George Harrison, “You”

Honorable mention: “Who Loves You,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Bad Blood,” “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” “Let’s Do It Again,” “My Little Town”