Radio Hits of December 1970: Look Back

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The President and the King in the Oval Office, Dec. 21, 1970 (Photo: Ollie Atkins / Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum)

Closing out the first year of a new decade… Former world heavyweight boxing champion, Sonny Liston, died at age 40. Hello, Dolly!, the longest-running Broadway musical at the time, had its final performance. And Elvis Presley was welcomed to the Nixon White House.

And on Top 40 radio, as compiled by the music industry trade magazine, Record World, plenty of future classics were dominating the airwaves.

American pop singer Brian Hyland charted 22 singles from 1960 – 1971. He released his first, the #1 smash, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini,” when he was just 16. A decade later, he scored with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman,” produced by Del Shannon.

If you assume that Van Morrison‘s biggest U.S. single was “Brown-Eyed Girl,” well… you know what that say when you assume. Van the Man’s highest-charting U.S. hit was “Domino,” at #9.

Tony Orlando and Dawn were a constant presence on the charts in the early ’70s, with three #1 singles and several others that were near the top. “Knock Three Times,” credited to simply, Dawn, was a worldwide smash. We promise that if you play the clip, you won’t be able to get the song out of your head.

What a magnificent recording! We’re talking about “The Tears of a Clown,” from Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Incredibly, the song was first included on their 1967 album but was never released as a single. Three years later, Motown’s U.K. label issued it and it became a #1 hit there. Motown then released it domestically where it would also top the chart.

After Chicago had scored two hits from their second album, Columbia Records reached back to their debut to issue “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?” Smart move. The single became their third straight Top 10 hit. #6 this week…

The star-crossed band, Badfinger, scored four straight hits in the early ’70s on the Beatles’ Apple label. “No Matter What,” written and sung by Pete Ham, remains a power pop favorite.

The group led by the guitarist Carlos Santana had wowed America in the Woodstock movie. They needed another popular song to break the group through to sustained success. “Black Magic Woman,” with a great lead vocal by keyboard player Gregg Rolie, was the tune that did that from the band’s second album, Abraxas.

The 5th Dimension enjoyed a dozen Top 20 singles. The vocal group scored a big hit this week with the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, “One Less Bell to Answer.”

And at the top of the chart? George Harrison‘s unlikely worldwide hit, “My Sweet Lord.” As we note in our story about 11 surprising radio hits of the ’70s… On the one hand, it’s absolutely stunning and includes fellow Beatle Ringo Starr plus Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, members of Badfinger and others. On the other hand, its lyrics prominently feature Hindu chanting, not the kind of thing one would expect to hear on Top 40 radio. On December 26, 1970, it famously became the first #1 hit by an ex-Beatle.

10. “Gypsy Woman” – Brian Hyland

9. “Domino” – Van Morrison

8. “Knock Three Times” – Tony Orlando & Dawn

7. “The Tears of a Clown” – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

6. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” – Chicago

5. “Stoned Love” – The Supremes

4. “No Matter What” – Badfinger

3. “Black Magic Woman” – Santana

2. “One Less Bell to Answer” – The 5th Dimension

1. “My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison

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