The 44 (Count ’em!) #1 Singles of 1974

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We’ve recently introduced another way of looking at the most popular music for a given year. The topic, as you know by the headline is singles and while we have done stories on the biggest hits of the year, this series slices things a bit differently. Here, we look at the year’s #1 pop hits in the U.S.–in this case, 1974–according to Record World, a competitor of Billboard.

Earning a #1 single is an achievement that goes on an artist’s permanent biography. And in the classic rock era, Top 40 radio programmers were still playing rock music alongside pop and R&B. In ’74, disco was added – significantly – to the mix.

In 1974, only one song stayed at the top for three weeks or more. And just six others were at #1 for two weeks. Thus, 44 singles reached #1 that year. (That’s in contrast to 1968, when only 23 songs topped the chart.) While we’re not going to write about all of them, they’re all listed below. Our recap begins in reverse, and alphabetically by artist, starting with the 37 that grabbed the top spot for a single week. (Note: Many of the chart numbers will differ with those compiled by Billboard.)

1 Week

Bachman-Turner Overdrive – “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”

Randy Bachman told us about how the single came to be. “[It wasn’t even a song—I was stuttering to tease my brother, who had a stuttering problem. I mixed one version of it on a cassette I was going to send to him and when the head of our record label heard our album, Not Fragile, he said, ‘I don’t hear a hit to get on the radio. I’m looking for something to get you into the top 5, maybe even the top spot.’ I said, ‘We have nothing else. We had 10 days to do the album. We just finished a 90-day tour and we’re starting another 90-day tour.’ The engineer said, ‘Play him the outtake.’ [The label person] went crazy and said, ‘Put it on the album the way it is.’ It sold millions of copies and was number one in 22 countries.”

Harry Chapin – “Cat’s in the Cradle”

This was the biggest hit (by far) of the master of the story song, who had just turned 32 when the single topped the chart on Dec. 21.

Jim Croce – “Time in a Bottle”

The song was released posthumously and subsequently became the performer’s second #1 chart hit. (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was his first.)

John Denver – “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Annie’s Song”

The singer-songwriter’s Greatest Hits album soared to the top in March thanks to the success of the former. Yeah, both songs are pretty sappy…

William DeVaughn – “Be Thankful For What You Got”

This ad appeared in the Jan. 5, 1974 issue of Record World

Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods – “Billy Don’t Be a Hero”

Carl Douglas – “Kung Fu Fighting”

The song made the Jamaica-born singer a classic one-hit wonder. But what a hit it was!

Roberta Flack – “Feel Like Makin’ Love”

The third of her three #1 pop hits (following “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and the exquisite “Killing Me Softly With His Song”).

Grand Funk – “The Loco-Motion”

Hues Corporation – “Rock the Boat” and Love Unlimited Orchestra – “Love’s Theme”

Many consider these two songs to be the first disco hits to reach #1. Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” reached #1 on Feb. 16; “Rock the Boat” followed suit on July 13. Incidentally, the latter was the third single released from the album after the first two stiffed.

Jackson 5 – “Dancing Machine”

Elton John – “Bennie and the Jets” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”

The former was one of many hits from his 1973 double LP, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The latter was from ’74’s Caribou.

Eddie Kendricks – “Boogie Down”

One of the Temptations’ lead vocalists had back-to-back chart-toppers as a solo artist. 1973’s “Keep on Truckin’ (Part 1)” was the first.

Carole King – “Jazzman”

Yeah, Billboard had it peaking at #2. But RW took the single with the Tom Scott sax solo to #1.

John Lennon – “What Ever Gets You Thru the Night”

With its success, the legend became the last member of The Beatles to score a #1 solo hit. The musicians credited as the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band includes Elton John. Lennon returned the favor by appearing as a surprise guest at his friend’s Thanksgiving night concert at Madison Square Garden, two weeks after it topped the singles chart.

Related: Behind-the-scenes at that memorable Thanksgiving concert

Gordon Lightfoot – “Sundown”

The marvelous singer-songwriter has earned four Top 10 singles in the U.S. in his career, none bigger than this one when he was 35 years old.

Byron MacGregor – “The Americans”

This spoken word recording was one of the more unlikely hits of this or any other year. The Canadian radio news director, with a booming voice and just 25 at the time, read a patriotic newspaper editorial defending America, while an orchestral version of “America the Beautiful” is performed softly in the background.

Paul McCartney & Wings – “Band on the Run”

The title track of the great 1973 album is made up of three very different sections. It starts with a ballad (“Stuck inside these four walls…”), segues into the funky, middle section (“If I ever get of here…”) and concludes with a more rock-country feel (“Well the rain exploded with a mighty crash…). Brilliant.

George McCrae – “Rock Your Baby”

Steve Miller Band – “The Joker”

The Gangster of Love had already had several successful albums but hadn’t sniffed a hit single when this was released in October 1973. It topped the chart on Jan. 12.

Paper Lace – “The Night Chicago Died”

Brother what a night it really was.

Billy Preston – “Nothing From Nothing”

The so-called Fifth Beatle’s solo career was a case of “all or nothing” with five Top 5 pop singles, while most others barely dented the charts. He enjoyed two other #1 hits, 1972’s “Outa-Space” (Billboard had it at #2) and 1973’s “Will it Go Round in Circles.”

Helen Reddy – “Angie Baby”

Ringo Starr – “You’re Sixteen”

Good news for EC! (See below.) This ad appeared in the Sept. 14, 1974 issue of Record World

The second of two #1 hits (“Photograph” was the other) from his highly successful 1973 album, Ringo.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Starr’s solo breakthrough

Barbra Streisand – “The Way We Were”

The Stylistics – “You Make Me Feel Brand New”

Billy Swan – “I Can Help”

The Three Degrees – “When Will I See You Again”

The trio’s gorgeous vocals and that lush production from a song written and produced by the mighty Philadelphia team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. (More on them below.)

Three Dog Night – “The Show Must Go On”

These guys had so many hits that it’s easy to overlook this Leo Sayer cover. Purists will argue that it only reached #4 in Billboard. Purists be damned, thanks to Chuck Negron’s great vocal.

Bobby Vinton – “My Melody of Love”

The final hit from “the Polish Prince” who scored four #1 singles in the early ’60s.

Dionne Warwicke & the Spinners – “Then Came You”

Yeah, for a while she added an “e” to her last name. This single represented a comeback for her after much chart success in the ’60s. The Spinners? They were in a run of twelve Top 20 pop hits over a ten-year period.

Barry White – “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe”

The maestro was just 29 when he wrote, recorded and produced this song.

Al Wilson – “Show and Tell”

Stevie Wonder – “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”

“Jackson 5, join along with me say
Doo doo wop…”

2 Weeks

Paul Anka – “(You’re) Having My Baby”

The unlikely hit represented a career renaissance for the accomplished songwriter (who earned his first #1 in 1957 with “Diana”) who went on to earn four more Top 15 singles in the next year.

Related: Our interview with Anka

Blue Swede – “Hooked on a Feeling”

Vocalist Björn Skifs sure sounds like he’s singing the lyrics phonetically. We asked B.J. Thomas, whose version reached #1 in 1969 what he thought of the cover. “You know what? You have to admit it’s a great production,” he said. “They really put it together great and it deserved to be a #1 record.”

Eric Clapton – “I Shot the Sheriff”

Slowhand’s surprising cover of the Bob Marley song reached #1 for two weeks in September, helping to lead his terrific 461 Ocean Boulevard to the top of the album chart.

Related: The #1 albums of 1974

MFSB – “TSOP”

The collective, which stood for Mother Father Sister Brother, was the house band for the Gamble-Huff Philadelphia International label. The single, an acronym for “The Sound of Philadelphia,” features the Three Degrees on vocals.

Olivia Newton-John – “I Honestly Love You”

The first of the singer’s five U.S. pop hits.

Ray Stevens – “The Streak”

The country-pop singer enjoyed several chart hits including 1970’s Grammy-winning “Everything is Beautiful” but he also had several novelty hits. One was this smash which captured the fad that was popular at the time on college campuses whereby students would run, usually in large groups, sans clothing. Just a guess, but alcohol was probably partaken.

3 Weeks

Terry Jacks – “Seasons in the Sun”

Hard to believe that this saccharine number about a dying man’s farewell would have more weeks at #1 than any other song. Jacks and his wife Susan started out with the Poppy Family (1970’s “Which Way You Goin’, Billy”).

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Greg Brodsky
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  1. Alfie b
    #1 Alfie b 15 September, 2020, 04:32

    What a year for number 1’s. I live in the UK and know all of these songs, with a few exceptions, but they were part of my youth (especially Stevie Wonder’s song). Thanks for the excellent reminder.

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