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by Chuck Eddy

July 17, 2013

The 50 Best Songs of 1974

by Chuck Eddy  |  July 17, 2013

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.

History mainly remembers 1974 as one big Watergate hangover, which affected the year's music at least some: Stevie Wonder charted with "You Haven't Done Nothin'" on August 3, six days before Richard Nixon -- the president its lyrics targeted -- resigned. Even more of 1974's best pop hits -- by the Raspberries; First Class; vulnerable soul-harmony groups Blue Magic and The Stylistics and The Tymes and The Three Degrees; rockabilly revivalist Billy Swan; Golden Earring digging Brenda Lee over the car radio -- seemed in search of a more innocent past: "Hey shout, summertime blues, jump up and down in your blue suede shoes," British teen idol David Essex pleaded in "Rock On." But there was restlessness afoot, too, in the adolescent daze and gender confusion of David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" and Alice Cooper's "Teenage Lament '74," and further beyond the charts in more desperate glam rock: "Clean the chimneys kids, and it's 1974," Mott the Hoople taunted. "Shake a fist, make Oliver Twist, there's no way you ain't poor."

In New York, Patti Smith ranted even more viciously about slaving in a "Piss Factory." Punk was on its way, and though disco was still new, hip-hop was coming, too. You can hear its concrete jungle stirring in dark 1974 soul tracks from The O'Jays and Gil Scott-Heron and Bobby Bland, in William DeVaughn "diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean." You can even hear it in prog rock nerds Genesis chronicling "aerosol kid" Rael spray-painting graffiti across Manhattan, or Paper Lace's semi-rapped cheese-pop chart-topper about gangsters battling cops on the old Chicago streets.

That's only the start. There were mysteries: Was Elton John really saying he gets high in the evening sniffing Pop Tart glue? And what the heck was ["Jet"] by Wings about? Randy Newman debated Lynyrd Skynyrd over the nature of the New South, while both Alice and Florida psych-metal weirdos White Witch fretted about rooster haircuts, the latter in a futuristic number that predicts long-haired Dad smoking weed in the year 2000. Truth is, Dad might've already been doing that in the '70s -- and, if all the lonely separation weepers in this mix are any clue, he and Mom were probably splitting up too, maybe after a neighborhood key party.

On this playlist, you can hear 1974 life coming apart at the seams and trying to hold itself together, while funky people dance the rock 'n' roll hootchie koo and do it 'til they're satisfied -- whatever it is.

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