The 1970s were a great time for albums – acts like David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, and Led Zeppelin released a swathe of great records. Amongst all the great music, however, plenty of abominable songs also made it onto the airwaves.
I only lived through the last few months of the 1970s – the songs I’ve chosen were still in rotation decades later. Reviled songs like ‘Muskrat Love’, ‘Disco Duck!’, ‘Feelings’, ‘You’re Having My Baby’, and everything by The Osmonds were mercifully out of favour by the time I was an avid music listener.
Here are ten 1970s songs that make me shudder whenever they’re played; they’re mostly about alcohol or misguided romance.
10 Worst Songs of the 1970s
#10 Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett
Imagine James Taylor straitjacketed into a talent-sapping Hawaiian shirt, exiled to a Florida beach, and franchising his songs into businesses. That’s my impression of Mississipi-born Jimmy Buffett, also known for other artistically questionable songs like ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ and ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk [and Screw]’. “Living on sponge cake” is a great opening line – but any mystique that ‘Margaritaville’ generates is killed by the line “looking for my lost shaker of salt”.
#9 Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton established himself as a legendary guitarist over the first few years of his career. The Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, and Derek and the Dominoes all recorded great material, featuring Clapton’s searing blues guitar. In 1971 Clapton recorded a searing rocker, ‘Layla’, about his infatuation for George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd. By 1977, Boyd was Clapton’s partner, and all he could muster was an insipid song about watching her dress.
#8 Escape (the Piña Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
‘Escape’ only just sneaked onto this list – it was the final US #1 single of the 1970s. It feels horribly dated – like the song equivalent of fondue sets and key parties. Story songs with a twist lose their impact after their first play. It could have been even worse – Rupert Holmes’ original lyric was “If you like Humphrey Bogart”. Holmes later told Songfacts: “I have a feeling that if I saved an entire orphanage from a fire and carried the last child out on my shoulders, as I stood there charred and smoking, they’d say, “Aren’t you the guy who wrote ‘The Piña Colada Song?'”
#7 Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool
This Australian hit mixes good-timey 1950s rock ‘n’ roll with a bluesy riff, and it’s too joyful to make for convincing blues rock. It constantly refers to doing the ‘Eagle Rock’, but never explains what the ‘Eagle Rock’ actually is. A little research reveals that the 1913 song ‘Ballin’ the Jack’ succeeded in explaining the ‘Eagle Rock’ – “Stretch your lovin’ arms straight out in space/Then you do the Eagle. Walk-a with-a style and grace.”
#6 In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry
The lead singer of Mungo Jerry, Ray Dorset, wrote ‘In The Summertime’ in ten minutes. It’s another 1950s throwback, blending skiffle and Caribbean sounds into a nauseating #1 UK hit. The reference to having a drink then a drive hasn’t aged well, while the line “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal/If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel” is just plain wrong.
#5 Annie’s Song by John Denver
In an oddly specific estimate, John Denver reckons he wrote ‘Annie’s Song’ in about ten-and-a-half minutes on a ski lift. Denver wrote some nice tunes – especially ‘Rocky Mountain High’ and ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’ – but ‘Annie’s Song’ crosses the line into saccharine. The first five notes are lifted from Tchaivkosky’s fifth symphony and it’s a well-written tune, but it drowns under its strings. The misheard version – “you fill out my census” – would have made for a more interesting song.
#4 You Don’t Bring Me Flowers by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand
‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ started as an innocuous ballad on Diamond’s 1977 album I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight. But after Barbra Streisand recorded her own version, an enterprising radio DJ mixed the two songs together. This led the two singers to record an official duet and created an adult-contemporary behemoth. Streisand and Diamond were both of Jewish heritage and grew up in Brooklyn; rough contemporaries from Diamond’s time in Queens College (on a fencing scholarship) included Paul Simon, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Neil Sedaka, all of Jewish heritage.
#3 Afternoon Delight by The Starland Vocal Band
I know that dissing this song risks offending Ron Burgundy, who stated in the movie Anchorman “if you don’t think this is the best song ever…..I will fight you.” But it works in Anchorman because it’s a dated piece of kitsch that’s ripe for parody. Starland Vocal Band never had another substantial hit, but group mastermind Bill Danoff had a hand in a couple of other significant 1970s songs – John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and Emmylou Harris’ ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ (conversely, one of my favourite songs of the decade).
#2 Sharing the Night Together by Dr. Hook
I despise every single song I’ve heard by Dr. Hook – ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’, ‘Walk Right In’, and ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ are all execrable. 1978’s ‘Sharing The Night Together’ is their career nadir, not helped by a gormless vocal performance from Mr Dennis Locorriere. It turns something beautiful into something icky – I’m surprised an abstinence campaign hasn’t employed it.
#1 Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill
This sensitive singer-songwriter record by Canada’s Dan Hill is soft-rock hell. The more high-pitched his voice gets, the more inane his romantic gestures become. “I want to hold you… til we both break down and cry” doesn’t seem like a great #couplesgoal. The song was utilised wisely in a 1996 comedy sketch where Canadian Armed Forces deployed it to defeat terrorists.
Did I miss your least favourite 1970s song?
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