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by Justin Farrar

April 9, 2014

The 50 Best Songs of 1973

by Justin Farrar  |  April 9, 2014

Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.

The year 1973 was a time when platinum giants still walked our planet: Floyd launched us to the Dark Side of the Moon, Marvin cried "Let's Get It On" and Elton declared "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." It also was a pivotal year for debut albums by artists who would go on to influence the course of rock music over the next decade. Between January and December, Bruce Springsteen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and a post-James Gang Joe Walsh all released their very first full-lengths. That's one impressive class.

No doubt about it: 1973 unleashed an abundance of kick-ass music. Yet at the same time, a peculiar form of schizophrenia permeated nearly every genre boasting a presence on the pop charts. With soul and funk gradually giving way to disco, a good portion of black music seemed torn between preaching love and equality and chronicling the cold, hard facts of life in America's rapidly expanding urban ghettos. Case in point: "Love Train," The O'Jays' intoxicating dream of global unity, felt light years removed from Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City," an unflinching look at African America poverty. "He spends his life walking the streets of New York City," howled Wonder. "He's almost dead from breathing on air pollution/ He tried to vote, but to him there's no solution." Not much room for love trains in that nightmare, now is there?

Rock's split personality wasn't nearly as political; rather, it pitched those artists turning the music light against those who believed rock 'n' roll is best served loud, heavy and nasty. "Time in a Bottle," "Kodachrome," "Amie" and the insanely popular "Piano Man" all helped to transform hushed, introspective soft rock into a high-yield commodity. Similarly, Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" and the Eagles' "Tequila Sunrise" both helped spread the California-bred joys of smooth highs, languid comedowns and tossing a Frisbee while sporting cut-off jean shorts. Even The Allman Brothers Band -- forced to reinvent themselves after the tragic death of fire-breathing guitarist Duane Allman less than two years prior -- embraced mellow gold with the Grateful Dead-inspired "Ramblin' Man." But not every rocker went soft; some even openly resisted. Deep Purple and Grand Funk Railroad, both key pioneers in the development of early hard rock and heavy metal, kept the big riffs ablazing with "Smoke on the Water" and "We're an American Band," respectively. Then there were Iggy & the Stooges and Slade. The former's "Search and Destroy" demolished ears in the process of creating blueprints for punk and hardcore; the latter's "Cum On Feel the Noize," meanwhile, helped announce the arrival of glam, a brief but vital pop trend that appealed to those teens, restless and alienated, who thought James Taylor and Carly Simon were for hippie squares.

One could even say that the battle being waged within rock was mirrored in Nashville. Feeling all angst-ridden over honky tonk music's deterioration into sappy countrypolitan, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings kick-started the outlaw movement in order to reintroduce country music to gritty rhythms and rowdy ways. Of course, the outlaws eventually would be subsumed by the very industry they were rebelling against. But hey, from Willie's "Whiskey River" to Waylon's "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean," they made some awfully fantastic records regardless. Now, on to the music …

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