As a young adult, I used to love to listen to the radio on New Year’s Eve. It was the countdown to the best song of the year that tickled my fancy. Looking back fifty years to December 31, 1973, Billboard says these were the songs – five, four, three, two, and one – that blasted us off into 1974. I’m interested in seeing where these five musicians are today and in sharing a takeaway from these hot singles other than a toe tapping good time. Oddly, one of the lessons is potentially lifesaving.
#5: “My Love” by Paul McCartney and Wings
Paul’s date of birth: 6/18/42
Age today: 81 – He is still touring and performing.
About the song: McCartney said he wrote this as a love song to his wife, Linda. The song was not well received by music critics who said it was overly sentimental and that the lyrics were inconsequential. In spite of this, the song was a commercial success. Indeed, it was viewed as the first successful single by Paul and Linda’s new group at the time, Wings. Fitting of its origin, the song was played by a string quartet at Linda’s memorial service in 1998.
A takeaway for today: When critics talk, they are spouting their personal opinions and not God’s truth. It’s ok to challenge what they say. Paul McCartney did exactly that. He wrote a rebuttal: “Silly Love Songs.”
#4: “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin’s date of birth: 4/2/39
Age today: Deceased
Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father, Marvin Gay, Sr., in 1984, a day before his 45th birthday. The two had had a lifelong bitter relationship. MG Sr. was a strict disciplinarian who physically punished his children. Trying to figure out love for an abused child is tricky business as reflected in some of MG Jr.’s music.
About the song: The American Songwriter says, “The song drips with pleasure, but is also tinged in pain, a desperate longing and near plea for intimacy.”
A takeaway for today: I wonder why MG Jr. chose to associate with his abusive father in adulthood? This is a lifesaving lesson for anyone in an abusive relationship. Get out of the relationship, and stay out. I know this is easier said than done, but your life may depend on it. (The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available for help: 800-799-7233.)
#3: “Killing Me Softly with His Song” by Roberta Flack
Roberta’s date of birth: 2/10/37
Age today: 86 – As of 2022, she was diagnosed with ALS, and can no longer sing.
About the song: It was originally written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel for a folk-rock-singer-songwriter, Lori Liebermann. She recorded it in 1972, but it did not make the charts.
In a decades-long dispute, Lieberman says she co-authored the lyrics after hearing Don McLean sing “Empty Chairs” in concert. That song was about a love affair that ended. Striking close to her own experience, it felt as if Don McLean was singing her life with his words. What is indisputable is the fact that Roberta Flack heard Lori’s record, loved it, recorded it, and had great success with it.
A takeaway for today: With an apology to my male readers, I have been in meetings with men where I have suggested an idea only to have it be largely ignored. Immediately after, the guy sitting next to me says the same thing and is hailed for his brilliance. After reading a lot about this dispute, such as an article from the Washington Post in 2020, I think that might have happened to Lori Lieberman. The lesson for women? Speak up and do it in the moment! (Also easier said than done.)
#2: “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce
Jim’s date of birth: 1/10/43
Age today: Deceased
Jim Croce died on September 20, 1973 in a plane crash. He was on tour, flying from one venue to the next, when the single-engine plane in which he was riding hit a tree on takeoff. He died the day before his hit single, “I Got a Name,” was released.
About the song: Jim Croce met a man when he was in the Army who got sick of the Army and simply walked away from Fort Dix. However, he came back at the end of the month for his paycheck, at which time he was immediately handcuffed and jailed for having gone AWOL. Croce knew there was a song in the experience, and this is it!
More of an observation than a takeaway: The top two songs of the year are fast songs. I wonder how tempo impacts popularity statistically? Do people prefer to hang on to their honey and sway or to cut loose and boogie with anyone and everyone on the dance floor? My own answer is age related. A younger me wanted to sway with my fella. The current me wants to stay on the dance floor dancing! (And burning calories!)
#1: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Tony’s date of birth: 4/3/44
Age today: 79 – He operated the Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Music Theater in Branson, MO from 1993 until 2013. Currently he is a headliner in Las Vegas.
About the song: Songwriter, L. Russell Brown, was moved by a story he read in Reader’s Digest about a soldier coming home from Andersonville Prison after the Civil War. He shared the story with his writing partner, Irwin Levine. Both men knew it would make a great song and used all elements of the Readers Digest article, changing only one thing. The soldier told his girlfriend to tie a yellow handkerchief onto the old oak tree. The song writers thought a handkerchief was a bit disgusting and changed it to a yellow ribbon.
A takeaway for today: This is a wonderful example of good communication skills. The soldier succinctly explained his situation and gave his girlfriend two options. The girlfriend was crystal clear in her response. There was no game playing between the sexes. This is a dream come true for many. No wonder the song was such a big hit!
It’s interesting to see how much there is to know (and learn) on any given topic – even Billboard hits from the 70s! And it’s nice to realize that favorite songs from long ago can still have meaning today.
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