The Number One Albums of 1973: Each One Has a Story

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This ad for Carly Simon’s album appeared in the Dec. 16, 1972 issue of Record World

In many years of the classic rock era, a handful of albums dominated the top of the U.S. sales charts, remaining at #1 for weeks on end. In 1978, for instance, the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was #1 for an astounding 25 weeks. Things were far different in 1973 when no single album spent more than six weeks at the top. In fact, no fewer than 23 different titles were at #1 for at least one week on the Record World sales chart.

The Beatles as well as three of its members reached the top this year. (John Lennon’s Mind Games was the only one to fall short.) Other classic rock giants of the era, including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, and Led Zeppelin, are all represented. But in 1973, they were eclipsed with the most weeks at #1 by an unlikely artist.

Here’s a recap of that unusual year; listings are in reverse order, saving the longest-running titles for the end. [Chart nerds might note that several of the albums failed to reach #1 on fellow trade magazine, Billboard.]

The Carpenters – The Singles 1969-1973, Now & Then (1 week each)

Now & Then, released May 9, was the last of four straight studio LPs to reach the Top 5. The year-end singles collection, released for the holiday shopping season, became a humongous seller, with U.S. sales exceeding seven million copies. It includes such classics as “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Superstar” and “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies (1)

The band followed up their big 1972 School’s Out effort with an even bigger release. And although it didn’t have the Top 40 success of its predecessor’s title track, it included several radio favorites including “Elected” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

Deliverance (Soundtrack) (1)

The smash movie thriller was released on July 30, 1972 but the surprise hit single, “Dueling Banjos,” wasn’t released until December. The song reached #1 on Record World on Feb. 17; five weeks later, the album also hit the top.

Related: Our feature on “Dueling Banjos,” an unlikely hit

Grand Funk – We’re an American Band (1)

The band’s collaboration with producer Todd Rundgren was released on July 15. It rode the success of the title track, their first #1 pop hit, to earn the only #1 album of their lengthy career, on Sept. 29.

Carole King – Fantasy (1)

There were no big hits on this June release, though momentum of her earlier successes took it to the top on July 21.

“A superb new work.” This ad for Pink Floyd appeared in the March 31, 1973 issue of Record World

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1)

The March release quickly shot to the top, reaching #1 for a single week, on April 21. Though it hung around the upper part of the sales chart for much of the year, often at #2, one of the biggest selling albums of all time never returned to the #1 spot.

The Beatles – 1967-1970 (2)

The so-called “Blue album” was released simultaneously with a collection that spanned their earlier era from 1962-1966, on April 2, reaching #1 for two consecutive weeks on May 26. Hmmm… Beatles compilations and reissues… sounds like a plan! The pair of releases have a combined 32x Platinum in U.S. sales.

Chicago – Chicago VI (2)

The June 25 release was the band’s second straight chart topper, for two weeks, beginning Aug. 4, a string of success that would continue for a while. This one was fueled by a pair of Top 10 hits, “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “Just You ‘n’ Me.”

Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (2)

Thanks to the huge success of the title track, one of his many signature songs, the soul singer earned his first and only #1 album with this Aug. 28 release. (1982’s Midnight Love sold far better, but peaked at #7.)

Jethro Tull – A Passion Play (2)

The concept album, released in the U.S. on July 23, became the group’s second straight to reach #1 Stateside, though it was lambasted by the critics. (What do they know, anyway?)

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (2)

The March 28 release reached the top on May 12. Yet, despite its FM radio-friendly songs like “D’yer Mak’er,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “The Ocean”… heck, pretty much the entire album, it only stayed there for one more week. Go figure.

Paul McCartney and Wings – Red Rose Speedway (2)

The April 30 U.S. release bumped the Beatles’ 1967-1970 from the top spot on June 9. Despite the #1 “My Love,” the album yielded no other singles. Here’s why: the decision was made to omit “Live and Let Die,” which was recorded (with producer George Martin) during the album sessions and itself a #1 single on Aug. 25. The song was better than anything on RRS and became an enormous worldwide hit. Other songs also left off the release were “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” both of which became modest hit singles. An expanded 2018 reissue corrected the mistake.

Elvis Presley – Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite (2)

The King’s studio output had been tanking for a while but this live, two-record set returned him to the top of the sales chart. The album was recorded on Jan. 14 and released on Feb. 4, a remarkable feat. Sales peaked when the TV special aired on Apr. 4. The collection includes recent hits (“Burning Love,” “Suspicious Minds”), Presley classics (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and choice covers (“Steamroller Blues”).

Diana Ross – Lady Sings the Blues (Orig. Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2)

The music from the 1972 Billie Holiday biopic became Miss Ross’ only solo album to top the sales chart, which it did on March 31.

War – The World is a Ghetto (2)

The post-Eric Burdon edition of the funk band earned their only #1 album thanks to two enormous hits, the title track (#7) and “The Cisco Kid” (#2).

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (3)

One of his two albums here, he was one of a handful of stars who dominated the early part of the decade. This was the second of six straight studio efforts to top the U.S. sales chart. This one featured the mighty hits “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel,” as well as great LP cuts like “Elderberry Wine” and “Teacher, I Need You.” The Jan. 26 release began March with three consecutive weeks at #1.

The Rolling Stones – Goat’s Head Soup (3)

As with EJ (above), this Aug. 31 release was during a run of a staggering eight straight #1 LPs in the U.S. This was the final Stones album produced by Jimmy Miller, and it features such excellent sidemen as Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Bobby Keys, and Ian Stewart, on multiple tracks. It hit the top spot on Oct. 20, the same week “Angie” reached #1.

Ringo Starr – Ringo (3)

The star got a lot of help from his friends for this Nov. 2 release with a powerhouse lineup that foreshadowed his All-Starr Band concept. Joining him were John, Paul and George, as well as Band members Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko. Plus Harry Nilsson, Steve Cropper, singers Martha Reeves and Merry Clayton, Marc Bolan, and a dozen more bold faced names. The Richard Perry-produced album included two #1 singles, “Photograph” and “You’re Sixteen.”

Related: Our Album Rewind of Ringo’s 1973 solo breakthrough

Allman Brothers Band – Brothers and Sisters (4)

This musical gift arrived in August and swiftly rose to the top, spending the first four weeks of September at #1, becoming the Brothers’ only album to make it there. Though never known for pop success, Dickey Betts’ “Ramblin’ Man” reached #2 on the singles chart. The album’s seven tracks still play like a greatest hits collection.

George Harrison – Living in a Material World (4)

Two-and-a-half years after his acclaimed All Things Must Pass set, Harrison returned with a new studio collection. The May 30 release was preceded by a few weeks with the LP’s first (and only) single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth),” which further solidified his status as a solo singles artist. It’s surprising that the catchy title track, which name checks all three of his former Beatles mates – John, Paul and “Richie” – wasn’t released to Top 40. Material World, with Harrison cohorts Hopkins, Jim Keltner, Gary Wright, Jim Gordon, Ringo, and others, on board, was #1 for four consecutive weeks, beginning June 23.

Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (4)

The most surprising thing about this remarkable two-record set is that only three singles were released in the U.S.: “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” (#12), the title track (#2) and “Bennie and the Jets” (#1). That’s right… the original “Candle in the Wind” was not issued. The Oct. 5 album was #1 for four non-consecutive weeks in November and December. The musician was so prolific at this point in his career that his next LP arrived just nine months later.

Carly Simon – No Secrets (6)

How’s this for a surprise? For all the superstar LPs in late ’72 and in all of ’73, the one that garnered the most weeks at #1 was this Nov. 28, 1972 release. Simon‘s third album in less than two years closed the final sales chart of ’72 at #39. One week later, it had leapfrogged over all of the competition including strong-selling new titles by fellow singer-songwriters James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, to claim the #1 spot on Jan. 6, where it stayed for five additional weeks. Its lead single, “You’re So Vain,” joined the album at the top on Jan. 13. Son of a gun…

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4 Comments so far

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  1. Kevin
    #1 Kevin 10 January, 2020, 14:56

    Stones reach #1 with Angie on album Goats Head Soup and Mick (uncredited) sings back up on Carly’s biggest hit. All in same year. Those were the days.

    Reply this comment
  2. kmac63
    #2 kmac63 26 June, 2021, 19:31

    McCartney’s Hi Hi Hi reached #10 on Billboard; a bit better than a “minor” hit.

    Reply this comment
    • BMac
      BMac 13 November, 2023, 13:54

      That caught me as odd as well – “Hi Hi Hi”, a minor hit? Well, maybe by McCartney standards.

      Reply this comment
  3. Melf
    #3 Melf 12 November, 2021, 02:15

    Thank you for that 1973 recap. Great artists, not forgotten. Elton John’s YBR
    had to be his defining moment
    Those were the days, and funny how the market works that they are still selling their Tshirts!

    Reply this comment

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