The Billboard Top Ten from the last days of October 1974 is mostly very familiar:
“You Haven’t Done Nothin” by Stevie Wonder
“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
“Jazzman” by Carole King
“The Bitch Is Back” by Elton John
“Can’t Get Enough” by Bad Company
“Whatever Gets You Through The Night” by John Lennon with the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band
“Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” by Tony Orlando & Dawn
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Stop And Smell The Roses” by Mac Davis
“Tin Man” by America
That’s a hell of a top six, and even with a little bit of slightness packed around the iconic “Sweet Home Alabama” at No. 8, that’s a surprisingly good Top Ten. I heard almost all of it at the time, mostly from the jukebox in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center, where I hung with the folks at The Table before and after (and sometimes during) classes. As for radio, I listened to KDWB in the car and, I think, WJON in the evenings. Even so, I don’t recall hearing the Wonder record a lot, and, having done a bit of excavating at YouTube, I think I can safely say that I never noticed “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” until this morning.
So what do we find on the other end of that Hot 100, which came out on November 2, 1974? We’ll look for love songs, because that’s what was on my mind during the last week of October 1974.
Well, at the very bottom of the list, bubbling under at No. 110, we find a very sweet piece of soul on the Capricorn label in Percy Sledge’s “I’ll Be Your Everything.” The record, the last of seventeen that Sledge placed in or near the Hot 100 (starting in 1966 with the immortal “When A Man Loves A Woman”), would eventually climb to No. 62 (and to No. 15 on the R&B chart).
A few steps up to No. 107, we find a little bit tougher piece of bluesy soul in “I Keep On Lovin’ You” by Z.Z. Hill. It only got as high as No. 104 (No. 39, R&B). That’s about the way it went for Hill, a Texas-born singer who passed on in 1984. Of ten singles listed by Joel Whitburn in Top Pop Singles, only two actually reached the Hot 100, both in 1971: “Don’t Make Me Pay For His Mistakes” went to No. 62 (No. 17, R&B) and “I Need Someone (To Love Me)” went to No. 86 (No. 30, R&B). The other eight singles listed all bubbled under. I don’t know that I’ve heard all of the ten singles listed, but I’m pretty sure I’d like each one of them.
Three more steps up, we find a sweet piece of jazz, as Bob James’ take on “Feel Like Making Love” sat at No. 104. Roberta Flack’s version of the song had gone to No. 1 in August 1974, but James’ cover made it only to No. 88. That’s not surprising, I guess, but man, that’s a sweet piece of work! James’ only other record in or near the Hot 100 was “I Feel A Song (In My Heart),” a 1975 single with vocals from Patti Austin that bubbled under at No. 105. (The link is to the track from the album One. The single edit, according to its label, ran 3:09.)
Heading upward into the Hot 100 itself, we find ourselves some early disco. Gloria Gaynor’s cover of the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” was sitting at No. 86, heading for its peak at No. 9. It would eventually be, of course, Gaynor’s second-best charting record, as “I Will Survive” topped the chart for three weeks in early 1979. (As with the Bob James’ record, the link here is to the track from Gaynor’s album of the time, also titled Never Can Say Goodbye. The single’s label gave a running time of 2:55.)
Two spots north from Gaynor’s single, at No. 87, we find the Dells’ “Bring Back The Love Of Yesterday” with an introduction that can only be described as Barry White Lite. After that misstep, though, the record settles into a groove that gets the foot tapping and a lyric that goes for the heartstrings (with maybe only middling success). It’s a decent record, but it’s certainly not 1968’s “Stay In My Corner” or 1969’s “Oh, What A Night,” both of which the Dells took to No. 10 (Nos. 4 and 1 on the R&B chart, respectively). “Bring Back The Love Of Yesterday” went no higher in the Hot 100 and didn’t make it into the R&B Top 40.
Finally, Sammy Johns tells us about “Early Morning Love” at No. 69. The record was the third single released from his 1973 self-titled album: “Chevy Van” and “Rag Doll” had missed the charts in 1973. In 1975, of course, a re-release of “Chevy Van” would go to No. 5. So I kind of hear “Early Morning Love,” which peaked one spot higher at No. 68, as Johns telling the tale of how things were in that van when the sun came up the next morning.