[… “Number One Singles of 1974” continued from Part 2]
The third quarter of chart-toppers in 1974 was as varied as the previous two….
• OK, let’s do a quick quiz…… In 1998 CNN & Time Magazine ran an online poll to determine the “Entertainer of the Century”. Who do you think won? Elvis Presley maybe? Madonna? Ray Charles? Frank Sinatra? Bowie?
Nope, none of them. The grand title – with an astonishing 18% of the vote – went to……. Charles Aznavour.
Which does tend to make you wonder if Katherine Harris, the State of Florida and the American Supreme Court were somehow involved in the voting process.
Known by cynics like me as “Charlie Hasn’tavoice”, this popular French crooner had one UK hit, the mournful “She“, which sat atop the charts for an astonishing four weeks during what must have been a depressing summer for music fans like me.
• Things got MUCH better for a while when George McCrae‘s “Rock Your Baby” hit the airwaves and made Number 1 fun again.
This high-voiced R&B star had sung in groups or as a solo performer for eleven years when, in 1974, he and his wife Gwen were asked by Miami-based KC & the Sunshine Band to provide the vocals for a new song they had started to record. His wife never made it to the session, meaning George ended up singing it by himself. The result turned out to be a sensation.
“Rock Your Baby” was one of the first HUGE hits of the so-called “disco era” of the mid-seventies, going on to sell an almost unbelievable ELEVEN MILLION copies worldwide and topping the singles charts in over 50 countries.
Despite my Prog and Rock leanings, I always had a bit of a soft spot for Disco ‘back in the day’, a soft spot which I continue to nourish in my Fifties somewhat to the chagrin of my wife who pretty much HATES the genre.
I think my introduction to Disco was probably The O’Jays’ “Love Train” which had been a hit in 1973, after which I became aware of bands like Sly & the Family Stone and Manu Dibango, and realised that songs like Isaac Hayes “Shaft” were ‘danceable’ .
I hasten to add that, at this point in my life, I had never been to a club, nightclub or ‘discotheque’, nor had I ever found the prerequisite ‘bottle’ to dance anywhere else than in the privacy of my bedroom. “Saturday Night Fever” was still 3 years away.
• Soul/Disco followed Soul/Disco as George McCrae got kicked off the top spot by The Three Degrees with their oh-so-sugary “When Will I See You Again”
This song certainly had a good pedigree. Like the O’Jays hit mentioned earlier, it came out of the Gamble & Huff studios in Philadelphia, which was rapidly becoming a major taste maker, spreading the concept of “Philly Soul” across the world.
Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff were a songwriting, studio and record production powerhouse, who set up Philadelphia International Records in 1971, later changing its name to TSOP Records (“The Sound of Philadelphia”) in 1974.
The Three Degrees themselves had enjoyed minor success since 1963 but it was their contribution to Gamble & Huff’s (massive 30 person plus) ‘studio group’, MFSB, (“Mother, Father, Sister, Brother”) on the March 1974 hit single “TSOP” that propelled them out of relative obscurity.
Their subsequent debut album for TSOP Records spawned a trio of singles. “Dirty Ol’ Man” and “Year of Decision” were minor hits in a handful of territories before “When Will I See You Again” went mental and catapulted them into the international mainstream.
I hated – and still hate – the song. In my opinion it was/is as bad as George McCrae was/is good.
• Then it was time again for The Osmonds’ omnipotent toothy white smiles to desecrate the Number One slot.
There is, however, a reason to love “Love Me for a Reason“. This sickly-sweet slab of pop plop would prove to be…. break out the booze everybody…. their last major hit in both the UK and the USA! (We need never speak of them again… except to one final time acknowledge the magnificence of “Crazy Horses“)
• Carl Douglas is on record as saying that his inspiration for writing (the MIGHTY) “Kung Fu Fighting” was based on three elements…. that he had just listened to a jazz concert by Oscar Peterson, that he was suffering side-effects from a dose of heavy painkillers and…. he was watching a Kung Fu movie!
Whatever the inspiration was – and two out of those three sound dubious – there’s no doubting he created a classic disco/pop song which – and maybe I’m biaised here – sounds as fresh now as it did in 1974.
Jamaican-born Douglas is often derided as being THE ultimate One-Hit Wonder, but this is far from the truth. He actually enjoyed two more Top 30 hits in the UK – “Dance the Kung Fu” and “Run Back” – but I think its fair to say that “Kung Fu Fighting” pretty much overshadows anything else he has ever done.
For me “Kung Fu Fighting” will always represent and remind me of the annual funfair in Eastleigh from my teenage youth. It seemed EVERY stall and ride at the fair would play it on constant repeat. I’d be on the dodgems and there would be “Kung Fu Fighting”. I’d move over to the wurlitzer and there was “Kung Fu Fighting”. The coconut shy? “Kung Fu Fighting”. The hamburger stand? “Kung Fu Fighting”. It also seemed to provide the background soundtrack to every punch-up I stood back from and witnessed between Fair Oak and Totton youths.
All together now….
Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they did it with expert timing
[“Number One Singles of 1974” concludes in Part 4…]