5. “The Cisco Kid” by War
They are one of the signature Chicano-sound bands of the 70s though they weren’t Chicano. These southern Californians absorbed the sounds of the southland and made their mark with songs like this one, their biggest hit (it peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the R&B charts in April). It’s a unique musical number, playful with its nostalgic reference to an old western show and suggestive of the themes and sounds that made them such Chicano favorites. It’s worthy first track on The World is a Ghetto, the album from which it came.
4. “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” by the Four Tops
How in the world did Berry Gordy ever let the Four Tops leave Motown? While Motown moved West to LA, focus most of their attention on Diana Ross and the Jackson 5, some of the greats of the label got left behind and found other deals with other companies. Such was the case with the Four Tops. This was their biggest post-Motown single, peaking at #2 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Hot 100. It shows the group still had their signature vocal chops as well as the ability to go more soulful than they ever did with Motown.
3. Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye) by Gladys Knight & the Pips
I think Gladys Knight is one of the greatest singers in popular music history. Treated like a second-class act by the Motown label, Knight and her Pips recorded this song on what would be their last Motown album, Neither One of Us. By the time this single started to climb the charts (it spent four weeks atop the R&B charts from March into the first week of April and peaked at #2 on the Hot 100) they were already recording for their new label. Later that summer they’d release “Midnight Train to Georgia,” their greatest song ever.
2. “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players
It peaked at #4 on the R&B charts in April 1973, a few weeks before hitting #1 the following month. It never cracked the top 10 on the Hot 100. This early 70s piece of synthetic soul/funk made a bigger splash than the charts suggest. It’s one of the prominent sample sources for some amazing West Coast hip-hop, bestowing upon it a legendary status forevermore.
1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
A New York Post story about a former convict returning home (reprinted in the Reader’s Digest) led some to think this song was about the same sort of character. The writers (Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown) took their cue from the military tradition stretching back to the Civil War. No matter the source, the optimism of the January 1973 peace accords (which seemed to signal the end to the US war in Vietnam) likely had something to do with the massive success of the song as recorded by Tony Orlando and his background singers “Dawn” (Thelma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson). It ruled the top spot on the Hot 100 for four weeks beginning in late April 1973. I’ll be honest: I don’t really like the song (I do love “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” and I grew up watching Tony Orlando and Dawn on TV) but the song is the undeniable hit for the period. I will say this: it’s kind of funny that two of their biggest hits are about a guy who requires his girl give some sort of symbolic communication to let him know how she feels. Just ask her already!