Top 10s – The 1970s

We have finally reached the end of the seventies! And so, to celebrate, here are the ten records that I – in my recaps – named as the very best of the decade. Note that this is not me retrospectively ranking my faves. I am beholden to decisions made several months, if not a year ago, for better or worse, and it has left us with an interesting rundown….

I spent the 1960s respectfully choosing the classics: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’. You can check out my sixties Top 10 here (and while you’re at it why not have a glance at my ’50s Top 10 too.) For the seventies, though, it seems I went a little rogue… Those of you expecting to find ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I’m Not In Love’, or ‘Wuthering Heights’ will have to look elsewhere…

I am limiting myself to one song per artist, regardless of how I ranked them at the time. Interestingly the only act that would have had two songs qualify was… Wizzard! As it is they are left with just one. And I was surprised that one of my favourite bands of the decade, Slade, came nowhere near to placing any songs in this list. Anyway, here we go:

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1970

This first song was runner-up in my late-sixties/early-seventies recap. It is a classic, a sweeping hymn, a modern standard. Every time I think I’m bored of it, that it is a little too proper to be a pop song – it is one of the few songs recorded post-1955 that my gran liked, for example – then I listen to it… The Oh, If you need a friend… line gives me shivers, every time. But I was feeling rebellious, and I awarded first place to…

‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry – #1 for 2 weeks in February/March 1971

One of the grimiest, seediest, downright strangest number ones of the decade, if not of all time. The complete opposite to Mungo Jerry’s huge feel-good hit from the year before. In my original post, I described ‘In the Summertime’ as the soundtrack to a sunny afternoon’s BBQ, while ‘Baby Jump’ was the soundtrack as the party still raged on past 4am. Bodies strewn across the lawn, couples humping in the bushes, someone throwing up under a tree… That kind of thing.

‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1972

‘Best song’ in my 2nd seventies recap. T. Rex’s final UK #1 is everything that made them great condensed and distilled into a perfect pop song: power chords, beefy drums, nonsensical lyrics… From the opening woah-oh-oh-oh it is an extended, non-stop chorus of a tune, and a true classic.

See My Baby Jive’, by Wizzard – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1973

The height of ridiculous, over-indulgent, glam… And all the better for it. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any song beginning with anti-aircraft guns will be great. Roy Wood threw the kitchen sink at this, Wizzard’s first of two #1s, and everything stuck. I named it runner-up to ‘Metal Guru’, and then named the follow-up, the equally OTT and equally wonderful ‘Angel Fingers’ as runner-up to the song below…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1974

Winner in my 3rd seventies recap, you could argue that tracks like this marked the beginning of the end for glam rock. From 1974 onwards the genre was swamped with rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts: Alvin Stardust, The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy, whose hits were catchy but, let’s be honest, dumb. Except, sometimes dumb and catchy is what you need, and when moments like that come along then you can do no better than turn to ‘Tiger Feet.’ Relish the video above… The riff, the repetitive chorus, a man in a dress, backing dancers that look like they’ve just come from the away end at Highbury… Fun fact: There has never been a ‘Best Of the 70s’ compilation that didn’t include ‘Tiger Feet.’

‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, by The Stylistics – #1 for 3 weeks in August 1975

Here’s the outlier… I was genuinely surprised to find that this one qualified. I named it as runner-up in my 4th recap apparently, ahead of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘I’m Not in Love’, which were punished for their ubiquity. But this is a great tune, and it feels right that a slice of soul should feature in this Top 10, as it was one of the sounds of the mid-seventies.

‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1975

One of the seventies’ Top 10 #1 singles is a re-release of a sixties hit? A mere technicality… We needed some Bowie, and this was his only chart-topper of the decade. I named it as best song in my 4th recap. An epic in every sense of the word.

‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA – #1 for 6 weeks between August and October 1976

Friday night and the lights are low… Frida and Agnetha are looking out for a place to go. You know the rest. Everyone on planet earth knows the rest. The ultimate pop song? The famous glissando intro is instantly recognisable, and is referenced in ABBA’s comeback hit ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. But. I only named it as runner-up in my 5th recap, because, well, Donna Summer went and did this:

‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer – #1 for 4 weeks in July/August 1977

The future arrived in the summer of ’77, beamed in on a spaceship piloted by one Donna Summer, with Giorgio Moroder as engineer. I rated it above ‘Dancing Queen’ precisely because it isn’t the ultimate pop song – it’s harsh, uncompromising and aggressively modern. You have to be in the mood for ‘I Feel Love’, which is why it hasn’t been overplayed to death, but when you are in the mood then woah. And it still sounds aggressively modern almost forty-five years on.

‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1979

Winner in my final ’70s recap, just two days ago. Blondie brought us a new-wave classic: a little disco, a little punk, a little classic rock, but beholden to none of what went before. Debbie Harry gave an impossibly cool lesson in how to be a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, too. 1979 – probably the best year of the decade in terms of chart-topping quality – was a-go go go. I know I love the glam years, but line these last three songs up – ABBA, Donna Summer and Blondie – and a better 10 minutes of popular music you’ll struggle to find.

So, there ends the 1970s. Next up, I’ll be cracking on with the eighties…

Cover Versions of #1s – Girlschool & Van Halen

I’ve been writing this blog for… *trumpet fanfare* …three whole years! Plodding along, at a post every two or three days, we’ve made it through the pre-rock years, the rock ‘n’ roll boom, the rock ‘n’ roll slump, the Mersey sound years, the Summer of Love, the late-sixties comedown, the glam era, and the arrival of disco… So, to celebrate, this week I’m taking a break from all the actual chart-topping singles… to bring you more chart-topping singles, in versions you may never have heard before.

Let’s kick it off with a couple of straightforward, balls to the wall rockers…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Girlschool – 1986 album track

(Originally reached #1 in January 1974, by Mud)

(Actually, when I said ‘balls to the wall’, I forgot that this first band are all ladies… Anyhoo…) My one complaint about the original glam rock hits is that they sometimes come out a little light in the mix. So when a ’70s glam classic gets covered with the crunchy bite of ’80s hard rock then I kiss my fingers like a French gourmet tasting the perfect roux. Girlschool were mates with Motorhead, and were the logical result of Suzi Quatro’s pioneering work with a guitar a decade before. They covered plenty of glam classics, including ’20th Century Boy’ (oh, if only that had been a #1) and ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ featuring an actual pre-fall from grace Gary Glitter… Their take on Mud’s signature tune takes an ‘if it ain’t broke then just turn the volume up and rock the eff out’ approach, and it is wonderful.

‘You Really Got Me’, by Van Halen – 1978, reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100

(Originally reached #1 in September 1964, by The Kinks)

A breakthrough single not once but twice. Fourteen years after ‘You Really Got Me’ launched The Kinks to the top of the UK charts, and into the Top 10 in the USA, a glossier, brattier update started getting airplay on the West Coast. While the Kinks were gritty, tough Londoners – Dave Davies resorted to ripping his guitar amp open to get that really scuzzy sounding riff – Van Halen were tanned and gleaming Californians, with confidence and swagger to spare. Just watch David Lee Roth in the video below, acrylic shirt swinging wide, hips swivelling, as he sets the template for every American rock ‘n’ roll frontman for the next decade, while Eddie Van Halen shows off like only Eddie Van Halen could (RIP). I would never go as far as saying that it’s better than The Kink’s original; but it is a brilliant calling card for a band about to become superstars.

More tomorrow!

369. ‘Oh Boy’, by Mud

I gave Mud’s previous #1, the mopey ‘Lonely This Christmas’ a pretty negative write-up, and I’m afraid this ain’t going to be much more positive…

Oh Boy, by Mud (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 27th April – 11th May 1975

Rule number one for writing a post on a cover version: don’t just compare it to the original. (‘Oh Boy’, of course, was a huge 1958 hit for The Crickets, the follow-up to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, one of Buddy Holly’s blueprints in building the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.) It is a fine rule, most of the time.

But when the original is so seminal, so brilliant… Well, it’s impossible. Especially given how Mud suck all the life out of what was a scorching rock song, and reduce it to a funereal plod. You wait for the tempo to raise, for the band to reveal that they’ve been stringing us along and to crack into life, but nope… It just keeps lumbering along, like a buffalo stuck in a swamp.

I do like the hard rock guitars, I suppose, that give this record a bit of a pulse, and there is a new spoken word bit in the middle, by a very seductive sounding lady. All my life, I’ve been waiting, Tonight there’ll be no hesitation… The way she moans her Oh Boys is very Serge and Jane. On the whole, though, I’m left asking ‘why?’ I’m all for trying something different, putting a new spin on an old song. And who knows, maybe if Mud had gone for a straight cover version I’d have called the attempt sacrilege? It’s just… very lifeless.

By the end, the tempo has slowed even further. It is now a certified funeral chant, the instruments having faded and the band going it alone and a capella. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but glam rock is dying a slow death. Time to stub the cigarette out and be done with it. The frustrating thing is… Mud had way better songs than this that didn’t get to number one. ‘The Cat Crept In’, ‘Dyna-mite’… They even did much better covers than what they’ve attempted here: their take on ‘In the Mood’ is silly fun, while their version of Elvis’s ‘One Night’ is what ‘Lonely This Christmas’ should have sounded like.

A frustrating band, then, Mud. Not in the top league of glam, but a solid promotion contender. If you want to know hear more from their back-catalogue, I’d skip ‘Oh Boy’ and crack on with the songs I listed above. And of course their one, true classic: ‘Tiger Feet’. We can forgive everything when we remember ‘Tiger Feet’… Hilariously, on Spotify, Mud’s back-catalogue has been combined with that of Müd (note the umlaut), a hardcore trance act with songs like ‘Fuck It’s Hot’. At least, I assume they’re not the same band… Who knows what directions they went in when the hits dried up…

Follow along with every number one so far…

362. ‘Lonely This Christmas’, by Mud

And so we reach, and pass, the midway point of the 1970s. But not with a song that faces forward, pointing the way into a bright new sonic future. Oh no, this next hit draws heavily, very heavily, a little too heavily, on what went before…

Lonely This Christmas, by Mud (their 2nd of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th December 1974 – 12th January 1975

Bum-bum-bum-bum… Finally, Christmas in the real world and Christmas in my countdown coincide. Bum-bum-bum-bum… Of the four explicitly Christmas-themed #1s so far, this is the first I’ve posted in December. And what an appropriate song for this sad, socially distant festive season: It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Without you to hold, It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Lonely and cold…

This time last year, Slade were giving us pure Xmas escapism. This year, though, Mud are wallowing in misery. There’s no other word: it’s a miserable song. Obviously, you expect a record called ‘Lonely This Christmas’ to be sad, bittersweet, maybe even a little maudlin. But not this bad. I really don’t see the appeal of listening to this over a glass of mulled wine. The only things I see, Are emptiness, And loneliness, And an unlit Christmas tree…

It is possible to write a good-but-sad Christmas song. ‘Last Christmas’ would be the classic example. Then there’s Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’, which admittedly is more sexy than sad. And Elvis is a relevant comparison here, as Mud’s lead singer Les Gray is serving his best impersonation of The King in the vocals (and the famous TOTP performance below). He goes full ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ when we come to the spoken word section: Remember last year, When you and I were here…? Just why someone from Carshalton had to put on such a strong American accent is unclear, though I guess it would have taken away from the Elvis vibes.

I’ve heard it said that this song might have proven more popular than usual in 2020, and would maybe head higher up the streaming charts thanks to the pandemic. But it appears people are simply doubling down on Mariah Carey and Brenda Lee, and who can blame them? If your Christmas actually is miserable, and lonely, then you don’t need reminding through song. As for me, I’ve always included this in my festive playlists out of habit, because it was a huge seventies Christmas #1. I’m deleting it, though, right now. (Or at least replacing it with this pop-punk cover version.)

The big question here is: what happened to the band that recorded ‘Tiger Feet’? Where did they go? Can they come back? ‘Lonely This Christmas’ is everything Mud’s first, glorious chart-topper isn’t. If only they could have recorded a Christmas hit with the energy and enthusiasm of ‘Tiger Feet’… If only. By the end, when we get a ‘Jingle Bells’ coda, and a Merry Christmas darlin’, Wherever you are… I’m done. That’s plenty. After an autumn of disco, glam rock is really starting to show its age…

Still, Mud aren’t done. Not quite yet. I’ll hold off on the bio for now. Coming up next, in my final post before Christmas, we’ll visit a festive classic that really should have been a #1…

343. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud

It’s mid-January, mid-seventies, three day weeks and coal shortages and all that (I wasn’t there, but it sounds pretty grim). So along came Mud, to save the day!

Tiger Feet, by Mud (their 1st of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 20th January – 17th February 1974

‘Tiger Feet’ is a relentlessly happy song. It is a big dumb puppy of a record that bounds in and refuses to get off until you start dancing. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I’m not going to go all snobby on it now. Some records need thinking about, need chin stroking and serious analysis. Others don’t.

All night long, You’ve been lookin’ at me, You know you’re the dance hall cutie that you long to be, You’ve been layin’ it down, You got your hips swingin’ out of bounds, And I like the way you do what you’re doin’ to me… That first verse sums it all up, in roughly ten seconds. A girl dances, a boy likes what he sees. Add in the backing cheers, whoops and hollers that make it sound as if this was recorded in someone’s front room on the New Year’s Eve just past, and you’ve got a classic.

It’s symptomatic of the route that glam rock has taken in the past year or so, through Wizzard and Gary Glitter, and now this ‘at the hop’ spoof from Mud. The genre is becoming little more than a fifties tribute act, characterised by the Elvis stylings of Mud’s lead singer Les Gray. It’s cheap, and tacky, but damn it if it isn’t catchy. It was written by glam rock songwriters du jour Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who have already scored #1s with The Sweet and Suzi Quatro.

One thing’s always troubled me about this song, though, even as a child. If you were to pick a part of the body to compare to a tiger… why the feet? That’s neat, That’s neat, That’s neat… I really love your tiger feet! Tigers have claws and stripes and sharp teeth – tons of cool body parts. Anyway, whatever, I’m getting dangerously close to serious analysis, and I promised not to.

But if you really did want to don your thinking caps, there’s definitely an argument for connecting the grim economic situation of the mid-1970s with the increasing popularity of bubblegum hits like this (and I’m aware that I won’t be the first to spot this.) It’s pure escapism, for people who have bigger things to worry about. In turn, ‘Tiger Feet’ became one of the defining hits of the decade. Any cheap ‘Best of the 70s’ compilation has to feature it, by law, while it’s one of those songs that a drama set in the seventies will always turn to as background scene-setting.

Mud had been around as a band since the mid-sixties and, like most of the genre’s big stars, they jumped on the glam rock bandwagon and rode it hard. They will feature twice more in this rundown but, without giving the game away, I won’t be giving their following chart-toppers as much leeway as I gave this one. Because this is great. Inside everyone, there is an eight-year-old who thinks ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mud is the best song ever written. Go on, indulge them.