Wow! 1974. That was the year I discovered American Top 40. It was the year I got to play basketball on my first school team. I also ran track for the first time, though that was a mixed beginning to a decent career. Perhaps the best part of the year was getting to play basketball for my dad, the former high school basketball coach and my hero. We had two separate basketball teams at our school, but they weren’t “A” and “B” teams. Dad coached the other team but had me and a couple other guys from the other team play on his team in the second half. He would turn the three of us loose at the beginning of the third quarter, pressing the other team full court. The three of us would have a blast getting to do that for the only time in our careers. I wish to this day that Dad had never given up being a coach to become a principal because I wanted to play for him. For a guy who only coached varsity basketball for two seasons, he sure cast a long shadow upon my school’s program for a very long time.
As far as music was concerned, I was still pretty much a singles guy though I was getting my feet wet with albums. Yet, there were a plethora of great albums from 1974. So, let’s get going with this list.
Bad Company – Bad Company (1974). Yet another supergroup that was assembled from former members of Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson to create one of the great blues-based rock bands of all-time. Led by vocalist extraordinaire Paul Rodgers, Bad Company set the tone for the sound of mid-Seventies rock with hits such as “Can’t Get Enough,” “Ready for Love” and “Bad Company.”
Barry White – Can’t Get Enough (1974). I feel Barry White has long been overlooked as a musical genius. The man produced some of the most sophisticated and lush soul music of the era, much of it influencing the whole genre of disco. In addition to his production work, his voice is the most distinctive attribute of his sound, with that patented bass pillow talk-slash-singing voice of his that melted many a woman. His greatest song, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” is here, but, for some reason, I have always loved “You’re My First, My Last, My Everything.”
Big Star – Radio City (1974). Criminally, Big Star’s debut album was a commercial failure, so co-leader Chris Bell left the band and along with him went the most heartfelt and achingly beautiful songs from the first album. Now, with Alex Chilton left unchecked, the harder edged side of the band was now dominant. And, once again, Big Star responded that sounds much more like the power pop of the Nineties than that of the Seventies. Of course, much like The Velvet Underground before them, Big Star was a commercial failure but influenced some many huge artists of the Eighties and Nineties.
Bob Marley & the Wailers – Natty Dread (1974). Many critics feel this album represents the pinnacle of Marley’s illustrious career. I don’t know. I feel like it becomes a matter of splitting hairs with this man’s legacy. All I know is that this album contains “No Woman, No Cry,” one of the man’s greatest songs. So, maybe it IS his best album?
Bob Marley & the Wailers – Rasta Revolution (1974). Four albums in two years? And they are all classics? Marley was the man! I still cannot believe he died at such a young age, yet his popularity continues to grow. Oh, this album is outstanding and contains the terrific “Soul Rebel.”
Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974). Clapton is a rock survivor. He’s created some of the greatest blues-based rock music while maintaining his status as a guitar god. How does a man not get screwed up after experiencing creative and commercial highs with his bands Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & the Dominos, in addition to his impeccable guitar work with the likes of The Beatles and George Harrison, to name a few. So, he took a break, got clean, got influenced by the laidback blues music of J.J. Cale and created this beautiful album.
Gil Scott-Heron – Winter in America (1974). Thank you Saturday Night Live episode with Richard Pryor as the host because that was my introduction to the music of Gil Scott-Heron. At the time, I really didn’t know what to make of it, this mixture of R&B, semi-spoken word and jazz mix. But, now, with hindsight being 20/20, I recognize the foundation of hip hop being laid by this brilliant man with an endless fountain of social commentary he set to music with the aid of Brian Jackson.
Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel (1974). One of the godfathers of country rock who is perhaps invented the genre with The International Submarine Band, changed the course of The Byrds in 1968, influenced The Stones with a touch of country by co-writing “Wild Horses,” founded The Flying Burrito Brothers and then recorded this album (and one other) before overdosing on drugs. This album is considered to be something of the Rosetta Stone for the whole Nineties alt-country and today’s Americana movement. Oh, did I mention that he introduced us to Emmylou Harris as his duet partner on this album? The man covered a lot of ground in his short life.
Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (1974). On Court and Spark, Mitchell began to add flourishes of jazz to her folk-based sound that only expanded her musical palette. Now, her songs were becoming more esoteric and wistful. And, no one can forget her hit song “Help Me.”
Kraftwerk – Autobahn (1974). Seriously! Who in their right minds makes a rock album with only synthesizers based upon the “sounds” of the original national highway system? Either these Germans were crazy or geniuses. I tend to go with the latter. Think about it. They were so far ahead of the curve, that the whole rave thing has come and gone and now Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is all the rage, and they all sing the praises of this band. Not to mention their influence on mid-Eighties hip hop, synthpop and just the fascination of all things electronic in music in their aftermath.
Labelle – Nightbirds (1974). These women were like something from the Parliament/Funkadelic wardrobe, you know, a space/funk look. But, man, could they ever sing. The cool part was this trio, made up of Patti Labelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, had their individual looks and styles, but when they came together, they absolutely rocked! “Lady Marmalade” is all I need to say.
Linda Ronstadt – Heart like a Wheel (1974). Linda Ronstadt was my first celebrity crush. And, not just for her looks. That voice of hers still sounds like what angels in heaven will all sound. Her canny choice of material has always what has separated her from the pack. Her voice is soulful and tough yet tender and vulnerable. “You’re No Good” sucked me in, but “When Will I Be Loved” made me stay.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974). Skynyrd did not suffer a sophomore jinx on this album at all. Instead, they upped the ante with classics like “Sweet Home Alabama,” in which the band tears Neil Young a new one for what he sang in his scathing “Southern Man.” And, both parties loved each other’s songs. That would never happen today. Oh, did I mention that this album also has Skynyrd standards “Call Me the Breeze,” “Workin’ for the MCA” and the immortal “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.”
And that’s just the first half! Wait ’til you see what’s coming next time. Peace!