[…”Number One Singles of 1974″ continued from Part 3]
• Country singer John Denver ‘s first marriage was to Annie Martell from Minnesota.
In 1974 he purloined the main theme from the 2nd Movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5“, and wrote a set of words to go with it, the sum expressing his love for his wife.
The subsequent “Annie’s Song” became a Number One hit single on both sides of the Atlantic. It is now regarded as a classic love song, and doubtless the scourge of many a wedding DJ.
John Denver’s popularity in the 70’s should never be underestimated, certainly in America where he is a considered more than just a pop culture icon. His song “Rocky Mountain High” is now one of the two official state songs of Colorado, whilst there are moves afoot to try to bestow “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with a similar honour for the state of West Virginia.
I’m not sure I was really ever aware of this song back in 1974. I think my first proper exposure to John Denver would have been his appearances on “The Muppet Show” which used to air on British TV at Sunday tea-time. Much later I was one of few who critically praised his performance as the ‘chosen one’ in Director Carl Reiner’s religious comedy “Oh God!“, even if he was acted off the screen by the superb George Burns!
Denver died in 1997, crashing his self-piloted (home-built, and experimentally-designed) plane on the Californian coast. In a rare tribute to a singer, the then Colorado governor ordered all state flags be half-staffed in Denver’s honour.
Trivia fans may wish to hang onto the notion that Denver was a fully trained astronaut. In 1986 he was lined up to become “the first civilian in space” on the Space Shuttle Challenger, a twist of fate keeping him out of the eventual crew of that tragic flight.
• Sweet Sensation were an 8-piece British soul group from Manchester who first caught the public’s eye on the ITV talent show “New Faces“.
Their first single flopped but the follow-up, “Sad Sweet Dreamer“, reached Number 1 in the UK and Number 14 in the USA.
The band enjoyed one more minor hit single – “Purely by Coincidence” – in 1975 before disappearing into obscurity.
Somewhat bizarrely, lead singer Marcel King attempted a belated solo career – in 1985 – with the help of New Order‘s Bernie Sumner and A Certain Ratio‘s Donald Johnson. The resultant “Reach for Love” was a failure.
• Ken Boothe ‘s “Everything I Own” was British reggae label Trojan‘s second Number One hit single. (The first was the superb “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansel Collins)
Boothe had already enjoyed success in his home country of Jamaica, working with such reggae luminaries as Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, the Wailers, Keith Hudson and Alton Ellis, as well as releasing songs on the legendary Studio One label.
“Everything I Own” was a shift away from his regular sound, and far more poppier and mainstream than he was known for. The song itself had already been a minor hit in the UK – in 1972 – for its writer David Gates who released it with his band, Bread.
Trivia fans may care to note that
a) Boothe sings the lyrics incorrectly throughout, crooning “Anything I Own” instead of “Everything I Own“, and
b) he is namechecked in the Clash song “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”
• Given his popularity in the 70’s its a little surprising to realise that this is only the first mention of David Essex in this diary blog.
“Gonna Make You a Star” was his first Number One, but he had already enjoyed chart success with “America“, “Lamplight” and the (yes, it’s another secret guilty pleasure) surreal but stunning “Rock On”
With his boyish good looks, Essex was also enjoying stardom as a film actor, “That’ll be the Day” proving to have been a cinema hit in 1973, with “Stardust” – reprising his role as troubled rock star Jim Maclain – also becoming box office gold in 1974.
His apparent laid back and affable nature has continued to serve him well and, unlike many of his seventies peers, he has remained successful to the present day, still acting and recording albums for an appreciative and demographically diverse fan base.
• Barry White (aka “The Sultan of Soul”, or rather less generously “The Walrus of Love”) was born in Texas but grew up in crime-ridden South L.A.
After a brief flirtation with crime, he got into songwriting, penning tunes for acts as diverse as Bobby Fuller and TV’s comedy act The Banana Splits
In 1963, he helped arranged Bob & Earl’s classic R&B hit “Harlem Shuffle” then worked as an A&R manager for Mustang/Bronco Records, to whom he signed (eventual) disco act Viola Wills.
1972 saw his first big commercial success, writing and producing the sexy soul classic “Walking in the Rain (With the One I Love)” for a girl group he had discovered called Love Unlimited. It would prove to be the first of many hits for the band and really kickstarted White’s career.
Whilst working on some demos White was persuaded to sing some vocals himself. The rest, as they say, is history. “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” was a debut smash hit, quickly followed by many others, establishing him as a crossover soul artist and ‘housewives favourite’ for years after. He would go on to sell over 100 million records worldwide. He died from complications following a stroke in 2003.
“You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” was his pre-Christmas 1974 Number 1 hit. Somewhat astonishingly it was written some 21 years earlier as a country tune before Barry White souled it up with his distinctive deep voice and orchestral arrangement.
• Back in Part 1 of this 4-piece diatribe I mentioned that although Mud had the biggest-selling UK single of 1974, they would have a much “bigger” single.
“Lonely this Christmas” would end up being their primary long-term contribution to British culture… mainly because it is trotted out every December for a whole new set of unwilling fans to enjoy. It has become, like a handful of other songs, an “annual fixture” of the pop firmament.
It’s OK, but I’ve never really cared for it that much if truth be told. It’s a terrible Elvis pastiche and WAY too maudlin for my liking.
All in all I think 1974 was a good year for songwriters Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman. Three Number 1 hit singles (bringing their total to five) plus seven other high charting songs probably made them FAR from lonely at Christmas. If I sound jealous, it’s because I am.