American Top 40 Flashback: December 9, 1972

The full chart:

How’s the chart as a whole?

Arriving just after Nixon’s reelection, this is by far the most politically conscious pop chart I’ve reviewed, covering a wide range of social concerns. Even when the political content is not delivered overtly, there’s a thoughtful seriousness to the more personal material. We’re clearly in the midst of a singer-songwriter boom; some of the material is a little overearnest and snoozy, but I like more of it than not. And stop me if you’ve heard this before regarding the early 70s charts, but this week is overflowing with classic soul and funk. This is definitely my favorite of the 1970s charts I’ve covered so far– it gets an A-minus.

Forgotten gems

#27 – Cat Stevens, “Sitting”

For me, Cat Stevens is one of those artists whose careers are justified by a single song. This is that song– an impassioned cry of existential frustration with a bitter sarcasm that breaks through all the hippie bullshit.

#14 – The Osmonds, “Crazy Horses”

I’m probably overrating this– I’m not sure it will have much replay value– but I’m kind of impressed. It’s the freaking Osmonds, playing a funk-metal song about gas-guzzling cars, with a sound effect that sounds like Pac-Man dying his final death. And it actually works for me. It seems slightly more ridiculous when I watch the video, but it’s a sublime sort of ridiculousness.

Worth a listen

#23 – Neil Diamond, “Walk On Water”

File under “problematic fave”: I kind of love this song until Neil slips into some culturally suspect vocal mannerisms, with “the” pronounced as “de” and a “Lordy” thrown into the chorus for good measure.

#31 – Grand Funk Railroad, “Rock ‘n Roll Soul”

Grand Funk’s huge mid-70s hits have largely overshadowed everything that came before, so I actually enjoyed checking in them this week just before they started topping the pop charts with songs I can’t stand. This is nothing mind-blowing, but it’s solid.

Justly forgotten

#28 – The Delegates, “Convention ’72”

Finally, after eight weeks, we get to a truly weird novelty hit from the 1970s. This track belongs to the genre of novelty records known as “break-in” records, which take the form of mock news interviews with the answers to the questions provided by samples of popular contemporary songs. The genre dates back to 1950s DJ Dickie Goodman, but this track sparked a resurgence in the form’s popularity that would lead to several more charting break-in hits in the mid-70s. Unfortunately, “Convention ’72” is painfully unfunny. The samples aren’t clever at all, the news anchor puns are atrocious (“David Stinkley” and “Walter Klondike”), and one of the characters is a cringe-inducing gay stereotype. The break-in record sounds extremely quaint in the current era of the freeform multimedia pop cultural remix, but even for its time, this wasn’t a good example of the form. “Convention ’72” would help spur some new charting singles for Dickie Goodman, which were much better, though still rather primitive and disposable.

#25 – The Four Tops, “Keeper of the Castle”

The music is fine, with some post-Motown funky flair, but the lyrics haven’t aged well, urging its subjects to pull back from advocating for social change to take care of their families in the domestic sphere (“Oh, can’t you see while you’re pickin’ on society/ That the leaves on your family tree are callin’ you to come home”).  To my modern ears, this sounds a bit like Promise Keepers-style Christian rhetoric about masculinity and too conservative for my taste.

#9 – Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Clair”

A sickly sweet, plodding, and yes, creepy song about Gilbert’s relationship with his manager’s three-year-old daughter. This is the kind of theme I don’t care to hear anyone playing with, even if it’s ultimately innocent.

Is the #1 worthy?

Helen Reddy – “I Am Woman” – The title phrase has survived in our culture, while the rest of the song has not. That seems fair, because the song handles a worthy sentiment with all the grace and artistic merit of a commercial jingle.

Song I would banish from the radio forever

Actually, the group of songs that have endured from this week’s chart are a strong lot, and I don’t feel any particular animus towards any of them.

Bubbling under

Oddly, there weren’t many debuts or songs just outside the top 40 that would make much of a chart impact. There’s “Crocodile Rock,” and the “Love Jones” song that would be spoofed by Cheech and Chong.

Across the pond

#1 was Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling,” which had fallen off the US charts two weeks before.  Slots #2, #6 and #9 are held down by the Osmond family; slots #7 and #10 are held by the Jacksons.

Top five

#2 – The Temptations, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”

#32 – Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”

#22 – Curtis Mayfield, “Superfly”

#27 – Cat Stevens, “Sitting”

#3 – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”

Honorable mention: “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “I’ll Be Around,” “It Never Rains in Southern California,” “Crazy Horses,” “Operator,” “Alive,” “I Wanna Be With You”