Flashback: Fall/Winter 1973

Another entry from The Lifelong Mixtape.

Marvin Gaye – “Let’s Get it On” (Tamla)
Al Wilson – “Show and Tell” (Rocky Road)
Eddie Kendricks – “Keep on Truckin’” (Tamla)
Gladys Knight & The Pips – “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Buddah)
Millie Jackson – “Hurts So Good” (Spring)
Todd Rundgren – “Hello It’s Me” (Bearsville)
Ringo Starr – “Photograph” (Apple)
Ike & Tina Turner – “Nutbush City Limits” (United Artists)
Elton John – “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (MCA)
Led Zeppelin – “D’yer Mak’er” (Atlantic)
Stevie Wonder – “Living for the City” (Tamla)
John Lennon – “Mind Games” (Apple)
Paul McCartney & Wings – “Helen Wheels” (Apple)
Steve Miller – “The Joker” (Capitol)
Jim Stafford – “Spiders and Snakes” (MGM)
Love Unlimited Orchestra – “Love’s Theme” (20th Century)
Brownsville Station – “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” (Big Tree)
David Bowie – “Sorrow” (RCA)
The Rolling Stones – “Angie” (Rolling Stones)
Jim Croce – “I Got a Name” (ABC)

Maybe it was just that soothing green glow of the dial on my Juliette stereo, but the songs on the list above, as well as many of the songs found on this page, represent for me a time when the pop music landscape seemed to be full of magic and possibility. This probably had as much to do with all of the new music I was discovering as anything else, but it’s worth noting that many of these records were career highlights for the artists who made them.

These records all come from the Fall (and Winter) of 1973, which was the year that I really discovered Top 40 radio—and, of course, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Oh, I had occasionally been exposed to pop hits before then, but mostly through other people. But 1973 was the year I really started listening to the radio and discovering things for myself.

My newfound propensity for listening to the radio whenever and wherever possible was not without its drawbacks, however. In particular, my parents complained that listening to the radio while doing my homework distracted me, causing me to make mistakes. Naturally, I insisted that it was not distracting, that I could do my homework just fine.

Well, Marvin Gaye proved me wrong. “Let’s Get it On” happened to come on the radio while I was doing my 5th grade math homework one evening. Of course, I was confident that everything was going just fine—but, when my dad checked my work, I’d gotten a couple of the problems wrong, so I had to turn off the radio for a bit while I did the problems over.

(I eventually got to a point where I could study while listening to music (in fact, by the time I’d reached college, I found it hard to study without music), but, for the time being, I was unable to pull it off successfully. But I digress…)

I mostly remember listening to these songs in the evening, since that’s usually when American Top 40 would air. Somehow, it seems I always missed the beginning of the program, which occasionally resulted in some confusion. I remember one time when Casey Kasem was describing what Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was about; since I missed the very beginning of that description, I actually believed for a while that Elton John wanted to quit show business and go back home to the farm.

On the other hand, years later, my own memory was sometimes a source of confusion. For the longest time, I mistakenly thought that “Show and Tell” was by Al Green, not Al Wilson. Not to mention that I couldn’t remember the name of the song in the first place. I just vaguely recalled the voice and snippets of the melody, and that was about it. It wasn’t until I found the song on a volume of Rhino’s now-deleted Soul Hits of the ’70s series that I finally realized that the reason why I’d been disappointed whenever I listened to Al Green was that it wasn’t really an Al Green record I’d been remembering so fondly.

Finally, though I didn’t realize it at the time, “Let’s Get it On”, “Hello It’s Me”, and “Living for the City” were my introductions to the 7-inch version. When I eventually heard the album versions of these songs, I was surprised to find that there was stuff I’d never heard before. While I now consider the full-length versions of the latter two songs to be the definitive versions, I still prefer the single version of “Let’s Get it On”, which just seems to flow a bit more smoothly to me. (Then again, that may simply be because it’s a more recent acquisition (I had a birthday recently), and I’m not used to the “real” version quite yet. But I digress again…)

While many of my favorite artists emerged (or first became known to me) in the 1980s, I will always consider this particular part of the 1970s to be one of my favorite musical periods. Sure, it may be idealized nostalgia, but I’m okay with that.

April 11, 2012