5. “The Entertainer” by Marvin Hamlisch
Marvin Hamlisch was an accomplished composer and conductor; one of fifteen people to have won an Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Oscar (EGOT); and one of two people to have done that and won a Pulitzer Prize. He was accomplished. And in May 1974 he had hit on the adult contemporary charts (#1) and the Hot 100 (#3). A cover of a famous ragtime song, “The Entertainer” was the theme song to the movie The Sting. It sold two million copies in the US alone and was part of what people now call a “ragtime revival” that marked the later 70s.
4. “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John
It went to #1 in April and stayed in the top 5 for most of May. It’s one of Elton John’s signature songs, due in no small part to the feeling that you’re part of a live event. The whole thing was a fake, however. Just a group of folks making noise in the studio and then spliced in to make them sound like a big concert. But it worked. It doesn’t hurt that the song is catchy and filled with odd lyrics that when sung can sound like a bunch of crazy things. (Did he say electric boobs?) I got nothing but love for this song. It brings back memories of the 70s, although mine were probably from much later than when it first hit the charts.
3. “Dancing Machine” by the Jackson 5
As Michael aged so too did the Jackson 5, although they became less a guaranteed chart topper than before. This was a big hit for them, #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B charts in May 1974, their first top 10 hit in two years. Michael brought the robot dance to the world as part of his performance and it also signaled the brother’s ability to find success with a disco sound. (Ray Stevens’ “The Streak”——which is not on the list this week——kept it out of the top spot on the Hot 100.)
2. “TSOP” (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB featuring the Three Degrees
It was a #1 hit on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts in April 1974, and remained a top 5 hit on both in May. It was written as the theme song for Soul Train with Don Cornelius, and was used as such for most of the 70s. There’s a long history of TV theme songs making the pop charts but this was the first to ever hit the top spot. It’s arguably the first disco song to hit #1 as well, although this might be before people were thinking of it as disco.
1. “The Payback (Part 1)” by James Brown
This is what I know: it’s one of my favorite James Brown songs from one of his best albums (and that’s saying something). Here’s what I learned: it was the Godfather of Soul’s last #1 record (it sat atop the R&B charts for two weeks, from April to May 1974). Broken up into two singles for release, the extended version of both parts together is my choice. “I don’t know karate but I know karazay!”