I turned two years old in 1974, too young to have any actual memories. But it was a big year in terms of the music that would form some of my earliest memories. For that matter, it was a killer year for albums.
Santana’s Lotus, Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance, and Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale all came out. So did Phoebe Snow’s self-titled debut, Tom Wait’s The Heart of Saturday Night, and the critically-acclaimed Pretzel Logic by Steel Dan. ABBA, Queen, Elton John, Billy Preston, and the Grateful Dead all had albums that year, too.
And within each are songs I could have easily picked. Here are 5 of my favorite songs, first released in 1974:
5. “Rock Bottom” (UFO)
My goal here isn’t just to share some of the music that makes up the soundtrack of my life but also draw attention to music that I think is worth listening to and, yet, may not be well-known to a younger generation. I’m not sure how many people who lived through 1974 know about UFO. In a lot of ways, they’re the stereotype of a masculinist, glam, European hard rock (maybe metal) band. This song is proof of that, both lyrically and in its intent. But guitarist Michael Schenker is something more. This is from UFO’s third album and their first with the legendary German guitarist (who is the younger brother of Scorpions’ lead Rudy Schenker). I wouldn’t discover him until later, as the lead of MSG, but my favorites of his would always be with UFO. This live performance (from 1975) isn’t as powerful sounding as the album recording but, damn, it’s UFO live!
4. “Black Water” (Doobie Brothers)
I’ll put it simply–we were a Doobie Brothers household. I don’t know why, other than my dad and mom (and uncles) like their sound. In my mind, all LA Chicanos were, though I know better now to think that’s true. Still, the Doobie Brothers were a big deal in LA for most of the 70s. This song was the most enduring hit from their 1974 release What Were Once Vices Are Now Habit. It remains one of my favorites, even now. My first memories of it are listening to it on a record, thinking about acoustic versus electric guitar and enjoying the stereo melodies. I know its an overplayed song, one that probably annoys some. But there’s something to it. If you can turn off everything else other than the music, there’s something there…
3. “Distant Lover” (Marvin Gaye)
This is a cheat, but it’s my list so what can you do? “Distant Lover” was a song on Gaye’s 1973 album Let’s Get It On. This version, though, was recorded in January 1974 at a concert in Oakland, CA, a place that would be home to me throughout most of my 20s. It’s the best track on a killer live album he released in the summer of 1974. Not only is Marvin vocally captivating, almost oozing sexual prowess through his performance, but the crowd is all over the place under his spell. It’s one of those recordings that feel more like a historical document than a record.
2. “Let It Grow” (Eric Clapton)
It’s a funny thing. Eric Clapton is widely regarded as the greatest (or one of the greatest) guitarists of all time and, yet, he never really has ever put out a solo album that the critics instantly fell in love with. 461 Ocean Boulevard might be the closest he came. It was a huge hit for him–I remember seeing the album regularly in people’s personal collections and in stores well into the 80s–and it features his only chart-topping single, his remake of “I Shot the Sheriff.” It’s this song, though, that I fell in love with. I love the laid back, post heroin Clapton in this album and in this song, a kind of restatement of the summer of love in 1974.
1. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This one is on the list more out of respect than anything else, but I like it (and the album its from) very much. Out of all the songs I picked this week, I suspect this one is the least well-known to folks who came of age after the 70s and 80s. I also suspect it’s the song those generations would be least likely to encounter. And that would be a loss.
Linda Ronstadt has always carried a lot of respect in my family’s house. She’s part Mexican, and that helps. She also made a big splash in the 80s and 90s playing the music of her people, and that’s not for nothing either. But for all those who lived through the 70s, she is best known as the chart-topping artist with the pop sound that just about dominated the airwaves for the decade.
This was a big hit for her, topping the charts by the following year. It’s a great sample of her voice as well as the pop/rock/country sound she came to be associated with. It’s also a great example of well-produced music that sounds best on vinyl. For Ronstadt, its proof she was more than a pretty face. I can remember riding in our family’s Ford Pinto and hearing this song on an FM station, warm LA breeze coming in through the rolled-down windows…