The 'List: 7EEZ Sad Hits
Not every song was a happy hit in the Vietnam/Watergate decade.
Hello, one and all:
So, this is an "all me" 'list. I got to thinking that it's a list that kind of proves that the 1970s had its fair share of gloom, sadness, pain, and heartache. Which is not to say there wasn't happiness to be had in the era of polyester shirts, platforms, "Breck hair," mood rings, and, the saddest loss of all, the 8-track tape.
Just to be clear, the songs in this 'list aren't necessarily tearjerkers. They aren't supposed to make or force you to cry. But, part of what made the 1970s unique is that music wasn't always defined by one particular genre, style, or even, for that matter, emotion. Rock music in the 1970s ran the gamut of many emotions and styles, most particularly in the realm of singer/songwriters who would pour all their emotion onto their music. Here are some of the ten songs that, regardless of genre, evoked sadness legitimately... and gave us, in turn, a lot of joy.
This debut for the NYC singer/songwriter was a somber rumination about the disillusion of marriage. The song seems to be told from the point of view of a woman who is pressured into marriage despite remembering her parents' unhappy marriage and her friends who are struggling through theirs. In the end of the song, she finally caves in... but almost downheartedly. Kudos for a killer debut as she would savor success with many hits, including her signature smash hit "You're So Vain" in 1973.
Social injustice was a big subject of songs from the early 60s onto the 1970s. The Saginaw, MI wunderkind gave us a downturn with this story-song about a Black man who relocates to NYC after struggling for years with racial unrest in his hometown. Midway through the song, he is arrested, and then rendered homeless. At some point through the song, Wonder's usual silky vocal delivery turns into an active growl, delineating the rage and unrest he feels for this sad soul. It was rumored the studio created a coup in order to enrage Wonder... which worked. He would go back to much happier music with his followup single "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing."
The makeup metal gods from NYC went for a more Carpenters vibe this time out for this sweet and somber ballad, which is basically about abandonment from a spouse. Peter Criss sings lead and is forward about abandoning his wife for a game (the game is unclear; a TV football game or poker, perhaps), and he decides to stay much longer, or even overnight. The song is so matter-of-fact that it adds to the melancholy of the situation.
There are many interpretations and even suggestions about Elton's soft hit, written lyrically by Bernie Taupin. It's been stated that it's about a Vietnam veteran who was coming home. But, one of two interpretations I come up with is a eulogy to a deceased lover from another man. Music is always subjective and the lyrical seems to be talking about the person as if he were still alive: "Your eyes have died, but you've seen more than I." But another interpretation is a sadder one, and that is the return of this soul back home in a casket. Either or, still a potent song.
Animal songs were actually a 'thing' in the 70s. A popular hit in 1976 (sadly, not enough room for this ten) was by singer/songwriter Henry Gross called "Shannon," which was a eulogy to a pet dog. The one-time Jackson 5 star turned late King of Pop had his first solo number one hit with, of all things, a sad ballad that was the theme to a horror movie, about (ready for it?) a rat, which was a pet to a lonely boy. The sweetness and earnestness of Jackson's vocal delivery is what sells it. Proof that any subject, including the love for animals, wasn't balked at in the 1970s.
The late folk singer/songwriter co-wrote this song with his then-wife, Sandy. It was during her pregnancy. The song is also very matter-of-fact as a young boy tries to connect with his overworked father who makes little to no time for him. After college, he graduates and the father, having retired and having a lot of time on his hands, now wants to connect with his son, who has just essentially become distant due to work (or perhaps, remembering and resenting the neglect he felt growing up). It was Chapin's own hope that he wouldn't be that way with his own child. He died, sadly, in a car accident in 1981.
The other movie theme on the list; this was the theme to the disaster epic adventure The Poseidon Adventure from 1972. Despite its somber tone, it is still a song about hope. This Ohio native would score her only number one with this song and it would win the Oscar for Best Original Song, despite the song peaking at number one months after. She would have a long, great career on the Broadway stage and still continues to record music today.
Not all songs have to be slow and somber to elicit melancholia. This Canadian singer/songwriter, a one-time member of The Poppy Family, had a very successful number one smash with this jaunty ode to death, told from the POV of the singer (a man bidding farewell to all of his friends as he has only a few short time alive). It's an English version of a 1961 hit entitled "Le Moribond" by Belgian singer Jacques Brei. "Le Moribond" translates to "The Dying Man."
Another Canadian singer/songwriter would score a massive hit in the bicentennial year with a folk/rock, nearly six-minute opus based on 1970s current events and multiple casualties. In November 1975, An ore ship capsized in Lake Michigan, killing its 29-member crew on board. The song is told as a eulogy and a story-song, perhaps speculating the state of the crew and the believed circumstances to what caused the disaster. A rare break from the disco/rock fare played massively on radio in the late 70s. Would peak at number two late in November and would be Lightfoot's biggest hit since his 1974 smash hit "Sundown."
A fun but strange fact about this hit: it's a folksy, upbeat song about suicide. The fact that this smash hit stayed as long atop the pop charts (six consecutive weeks in the late summer of 1972) as it did was a testament to the song's amazing popularity, considering it was a blatant song about ending one's life. It would be this Irish singer's only number one hit, and it was the song that ushered this blogger's entrance into this world. The lyrical content is odd, as it's told from the point of view of a man who is so disenchanted with life in general that he's willing to end his own life; the final straw is when the man's mother dies. Not many songs were this candid about its subject matter, but many songs were this open and honest and it was only the 1970s that was this forward about sadness as a valid emotion to write and sing about.
The next 'list will be a happy one. I promise.
Next List Pending.