Birthday Retrospective: Top 70s Artists and Songs

As Part 2 of my “Birthday Retrospective,” leading up to my 40th birthday, I’d like to take a look back at the music which shaped my childhood — which of course took place in the 1970s.

Music was a big part of my childhood.  It was ever-present, in the stereo in the living room, with its 8-Track player that we used constantly, and in my room with my own records.  I lived through the singer-songwriter era, and the disco era.  My mom clued me into artists such as Carpenters, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and countless others.  If the 8-Track or the record player weren’t playing, the radio was.  And I was singing along the whole time.

Anyone who has visited my blog over the 5 years I’ve kept it up knows that I have a special love for 70s music.  So here is a list of some of my most favorite artists and the songs I remember best from my growing-up period: the 1970s. (NOTE:  Many of these links, due to copyright restrictions, will take you to YouTube to view the content.)

1. The Carpenters

By far, the Carpenters shaped my life the most, musically.  They were a part of my earliest childhood, singing along with them to the “Singles” 8-Track constantly.  I memorized the words to their songs just as quickly as “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Hickory Dickory Dock.”  They’re ingrained into my fabric.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To pick just one or two significant Carpenters songs is like trying to pick a speck of dust out of a pile of salt.  There are so many that mean so much to me.  But I did narrow it down to two.

Written by Joe Raposo, writer of so many wonderful Sesame Street and Electric Company songs, this song probably means the most to me because it has, over the years, shaped my feeling about music, and has stayed with me ever since:  Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.  Just sing… sing a song. What a profound statement.

Top of the World
Just like “Sing,” this Richard Carpenter/Jon Bettis classic quickly became my favorite, and even at the young age of a 3, I would sing it up and down the halls of my parents’ home.  I called it “I Can Find” at the time, from the line “And the only explanation I can find….” in the chorus.   I guess that one phrase stuck with me the most.  In any case, “Top of the World” still remains a favorite, and every so often I listen to that recording me at 3 years of age, singing along with my Mom.

2. Barry Manilow

Before Serial Mom killed one of her victims while playing “Daybreak” on her car stereo’s tape player (one of my favorite scenes, I must admit), this song reminded me of summers in the 70s, with Barry Manilow playing and my sister and I messing up my mother’s living room with Little People sets all over the place.

Another favorite– again, trying to pick just one or two Barry Manilow songs proved difficult.  All of the classic 70s tunes were part of the soundtrack of my childhood; but this one always stuck with me as a favorite.  Even though he didn’t write it himself.  (It was actually written and recorded by a singer named Scott English in 1971, and it was originally titled “Brandy.”  The song’s name was changed when Manilow recorded it because another song named “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was popular at the time.  These days, that notion seems ridiculous.


Dancing Queen
Oh Dancing Queen, what a long history you and I have.  You’d think it was the whole “gay” subtext that makes this one appropriate for my list, but you’d be wrong.  It actually goes back as far as when the song itself actually first came out.  My mom loved ABBA and had just about as many of their 8-Tracks as the Carpenters, and we played them just about as often.  My most vivid memory of “Dancing Queen,” though, is that it always seemed to play on the radio while my mom was carting my sister and I to the KYF (which was more or less the YMCA in Kenosha) for swimming lessons.  We’d both be miserable, dreading going to our lessons; but then ABBA would come on and we’d sing along with “Dancing Queen,” and everything seemed to be okay from there on out.  So I guess a song can have multiple meanings to a person over the years.

The Name of the Game
I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s always been one of my favorite ABBA tunes.  I like the story behind it, the melody, the bassline, and even the video.

Interestingly, about this video, I remember seeing it on TV in the 1970s, probably on a “Midnight Special” show.  You may remember that show– it was hosted by Wolfman Jack and featured popular acts playing live, and was shown, appropriately enough, at midnight.  By the mid-1970s I was a pretty music-savvy kid, so if I knew one of my favorite artists was scheduled to appear somewhere, I’d make sure I saw it.  ABBA was one of them.  However, ABBA rarely appeared live, because they either couldn’t or weren’t willing to travel such long distances.  So instead, they recorded short videos of themselves performing their songs.  They were truly groundbreaking in the area of the short-form music video.

4. Elton John

Rocket Man
No 1970s list would be complete without my namesake– well, at least my nickname’s namesake– the Rocket Man himself, Elton John.  Elton was certainly present throughout my childhood, but he wasn’t among my parents’ 8-Tracks or LPs.  Elton was someone I came to enjoy a little later on, when I realized just how much his music really had affected me.  But I do distinctly remember Elton’s music being VERY present on the radio.

Rocket Man was always a favorite.  I loved the story of the song and the imagery employed by that awesome guitar effect of the “rocket taking off” as the song leads into the chorus.  It was haunting and, really, groundbreaking– and it’s stayed with me my entire life.  So much so that, when I first got online with the Prodigy service in the early 1990s, I chose Rocket Man as my online “handle.”  And it’s stayed with me ever since.

5. James Taylor

Fire and Rain
As you go through this list, you’ll see that singer/songwriters played as great a role in my musical heritage as rockers and disco artists.  In fact, as I’ve grown older, singer/songwriters have probably had a larger lasting effect on me, both for the style of their music and the simplicity of it.  James Taylor, by far, was one of my favorites.  I heard “Fire and Rain” constantly on the radio growing up, and while I didn’t really understand what all the lyrics meant at time, I knew it was a wonderful song with a special meaning to someone.  It’s still one of my all-time favorites today.

6. Carly Simon

I can’t help it.  Whenever I hear this song, I think of Heinz ketchup.  “Anticipation” was a mega hit for Carly Simon in the early 1970s, but many people my age will distinctly recall the Heinz ketchup commercials where two kids could barely wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle.  Of course now-a-days, you just squeeze the bottle and end of story– but if you are like me and like old-fashioned glass bottles, the “anticipation” is part of the fun.

Nobody Does It Better
This song reminds me of a lot of things– it was on the radio constantly in the late 1970s, so there are many memories associated with it back then.  But I also used this song for a slide show that I created for my DECA state officer team in the early 1990s.  I wish I still had that slide show– might have to re-create it — but ever since then, this song makes me think of them.

7. Paul McCartney & Wings

Two of Paul McCartney’s hits with his second band, “Wings” play very important parts of my childhood, and to this day I still associate them with specific moments from that time.

Listen To What The Man Says
This song reminds me of my mom and our neighbors taking us to the newly-opened city pool at the end of our block.  When it first opened, they used to play music on the loudspeakers, and this song was among those played.  For some reason, ever since then, I have associated it with that memory.  It’s a very good memory, too.

With A Little Luck
Simliarly, and much later in the decade, this classic tune reminds me of playing outdoors in the summer of 1978 or 1979.  I had a little handheld radio then that I took with me everywhere I went, and this song was immensely popular at that time.  Every time I hear it, I can see myself playing in the backyard and laying on our lawn chairs in the middle of the cool green grass.

8. Carole King

So Far Away
This song not only reminds of many wonderful times where I heard the song; but the lyrics of the song also evoke memories of the wonderful people that have come and gone in my lifetime.  Nobody writes songs like this anymore.  It’s a shame.

9. Olivia Newton-John

Please Mr. Please
When I was a kid, I went through a major country phase.  I don’t remember exactly why– but I remember listening to country music on the radio a lot at one point.  One of my favorite songs from that time was this gorgeous tune by the lovely Olivia Newton-John.  This was, of course, pre-“Grease” and “Xanadu,” but I knew I liked what I heard right from the start.

Another great song from her early years… this one always touched me as being so very honest.  If you’ve ever seen her sing in person, you know how much she “lives” the song… she really interprets everything she does beautifully.  Also, you’ll notice that all of these performances are LIVE.  She rarely ever lip synched.  Oh yeah, and autotune didn’t exist back then.  This is called pure singing.

I Honestly Love You
I had to add one more, because Olivia is just so wonderful.  This one is from just last year, in 2009.  Not only is she still lovely, her voice has aged beautifully.  As a singer, this is what I hope for — to grow old gracefully and to be able to sing for many more years to come.

10. Bee Gees

Now, no list of 70s artists from my childhood would be complete without the Bee Gees.  In the mid to late 70s, they were EVERYTHING, and EVERYWHERE.  I had their poster up in my bedroom, and wore their LPs out so badly I had to get new ones.  The Bee Gees were quintissential 70s, and I still love them today.

Stayin’ Alive
Of course, this song was a HUGE favorite of mine.  When I got my “John Travolta Suit” for my birthday, I imagined myself on that lighted dancefloor, dancing to this song.  Yeah… was there any wonder at all?

How Deep Is Your Love
Man, this song was smooth then and it’s smooth now.  It never ages.  One of the most perfect love songs ever written.  And every time I hear it, I’m hurtled back 30 years to that time when I played it constantly on my turntable.  Such great times.  Such great memories.

BONUS: Michael Martin Murphey – Wildfire

As a bonus, I have to include this classic 70s country-rock tune.  This song was undoubtedly my favorite song growing up.  It’s still at the top of my list.  I never get tired of the melody and the story.  And I was just talking to someone about this — when I would hear it back then, I would create my own “video” in my mind from the imagery of the story.  I still think of those “images” today, every time I hear it.  That’s the power of great music– timeless and everlasting.  I love this live version, with an extended intro and solos at the end.  Still makes me wistful today.

Treasure in the Basement!

While getting my laundry tonight, I walked through the basement of my building.

In the back room (which I can only surmise used to be the coal room, because the coal door is still intact on the outside wall and the old coal-burning furnace is still in the adjoining room, even though it isn’t being used anymore. I need to get pictures of it, it’s *really* cool), I found two dusty milk crates full of LPs. I crouched down and took a look, and discovered they were some of my all-time favorite albums.

There were TONS of albums by Elton John: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Caribou,” “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player,” “Madman Across The Water,” “Greatest Hits,” and many others. There were also a lot of Billy Joel albums, including “52nd Street,” “The Stranger,” “An Innocent Man,” and “Piano Man.” Eagles albums included, “Their Greatest Hits,” “Hotel California,” and “The Long Run.”

Then I found the 12″ singles of Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s “Enough is Enough (No More Tears),” The TRIPLE-album soundtrack to “Thank God It’s Friday,” and a double-album called “A Night at Studio 54” with full dance-mixes of CLASSIC disco songs. All originals.

Summary: Whoever owned these has the same musical tastes as me.

And he HAD TO BE GAY!!!!

Today in History: Princess Diana's Death

I can scarcely believe that Princess Diana died 11 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that I heard the news for the first time… only to not believe it at all. It didn’t really sink in until after I heard it from my sister that it was really true.

In my 1997-1998 Online Journal (pre-blogging), I wrote about the moment I first heard about Diana’s death. I had been camping with my friends, and a latecomer to the group first broke the news:

August 31, 1997
… When we got back to the campground, we found out that another friend, Steve, would be arriving in a little while. Steve had gone camping with us in Michigan numerous times. When Steve arrived about an hour later, he said, “So have you guys been living in a vacuum, or have you heard that Princess Diana died?”

We thought he was joking. Steve tends to joke a lot, and a lot of times we don’t know whether to take him seriously or not. We laughed and said “Yeah right,”

“No, I’m serious, she’s dead,” Steve said, and told us about how the paparazzi were chasing her and the car crashed in a tunnel in France. We still didn’t believe him, and he finally gave up trying to convince us.

I, however, was disturbed just enough by what he said that I had to check it out. I snuck out of the campsite and went up to the grocery building and called my parents. My sister answered the phone. The first thing she asked was, “Have you been hearing any news?”

I knew what was next. “No,” I answered. What’s up?

“Princess Diana Died. She was in a car accident.”

I felt my heart sink. I couldn’t believe it was true. “Oh my GOD”….

She told me all about what happened, how the paparazzi were on their tail, how they took pictures after the car crashed and she was still alive; how her boyfriend was dead and so was the driver; how she died a few hours later at the hospital.

I was instantly stunned, and couldn’t think of anything else after that. I ran back to the campground and broke the news. Everyone was shocked, and apologized to Steve for not believing him. I just sat by myself for a while thinking about it.

It’s funny, she wasn’t our princess, and yet she was. They have been calling her the “Princess for the People” and it was true. She was royalty in everyone’s eyes, no matter what the British Parliament said. She was such a humanitarian, and so incredibly beautiful. And now she is gone…. and I will always remember– just as those who were alive when John F. Kennedy was assassinated– where I was when I heard she had died.

The news kind of marred the rest of the day; I couldn’t get it out of my mind… but the day did continue, and we did have a lot of fun. It was so beautiful on Saturday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and at night, the stars were so bright it seemed as if you could pick them right out of the sky. I sat and stared at them, wondering what really happens after we die. Where we go– what we do. Yeah, deep, I know, but I guess I just think of those things when I realize just how insignificant we really are. It’s humbling to think about that once in a while.

One of the most powerful moments of her funeral — and there were many — was Elton John’s performance of “Candle in the Wind,” re-written and dedicated to his friend and fan, Princess Diana, with the subtitle “Goodbye England’s Rose.” It went on to become the best-selling single of all-time; a record that has yet to be broken, and probably never will be broken. And Elton John has stated that, aside from special occasions, he will never perform the song again.

Here, then, in memory of Diana, is his mournful performance of that song at Diana’s funeral. How he made it through without bursting into tears is anyone’s guess. I know I couldn’t have done it. But Elton is a pro, and he handled it masterfully.