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WYEP Decades Week: 1974 brought a lot of funk, love songs and rock energy


1974 was the year a U.S. president resigned, and the country was led by a president and vice president who had not won a national election. Television debuted “Happy Days” and “Good Times,” perhaps as an antidote to the political miasma. It was the year we all learned how the devil could really make us do it thanks to William Friedkin’s movie “The Exorcist.” Mohammad Ali and George Forman rumbled in the jungle, and the Pittsburgh Steelers began a dynasty. Cass Eliot, Duke Ellington, and Ed Sullivan left this mortal coil, and Leonardo DiCaprio, Alanis Morrissette, and Jimmy Fallon hopped on to it. It was the year a new radio station appeared at 91.5 on the FM dial. Happy 50th birthday to WYEP.

Here’s a brief look at some of the songs from the year:

Mike Oldfield,  “Tubular Bells”

Nineteen-year-old Mike Oldfield released Tubular Bells as his debut album in 1973. Initially it gained little traction on the music charts, but after it was used in the horror film, “The Exorcist,” the song took off, landing on the U.S. charts in March of 1974. It remained there for a year, its sales helping the growth of the fledgling Virgin Group. Virgin heavily promoted the now iconic song. You might say the devil made them do it.

Queen, “Killer Queen”

Freddie Mercury’s paean to a high-class call girl is full of delightful details and elaborate four-part harmonies. As Freddie noted, it proves that even “classy people can be whores.” Guitarist Brian Mays called the song a turning point for the band, capturing their rock energy and showmanship. It became their first number one hit in the U.S.

Steve Miller, “The Joker”

Did you graduate from high school in 1974? Was this your class’s theme song? You couldn’t escape it as it seemed to be pouring out of every tinny radio speaker and played hourly by every FM station. It was the stoner’s anthem, a lovey dovey ode to the “pomitous” of love. Who cares if it wasn’t really a word — we all knew what he meant, didn’t we?

Maria Muldaur, “Midnight at the Oasis”

Send your camel to bed, dismiss the harem, Maria Muldaur will charm the robes of her sheik without any help. This song captures the ultimate desert fantasy, but it isn’t the sheik who’s in charge. Did this have anything to do with the rising tide of feminism? Perhaps. The song was nominated for Record and Song of the Year at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards.

Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown”

Have you ever been madly in love with someone that you know is mad to be in love with? Gordon Lightfoot’s sexy ballad about his girlfriend Cathy Smith (later held responsible for John Belushi’s overdose) is full of wonderfully clever lines warning the singer about the dangers of this woman: “Sometimes I think it’s a shame when I get feeling better when I’m feeling no pain.” A great song about potentially fatal attractions.

Harry Chapin, “Cat's In the Cradle”

It’s possible that Harry Chapin wrote this song for himself as a reminder of what he was missing by touring. It’s a poignant song about lost time and opportunities between a man and his child. The devastating outcome of the song is that the son takes on his father’s worst trait by the end of the story. This clarion call to honor thy children is rightfully in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good”

Linda Ronstadt was hitting her stride in 1974 with the release of her album Heart Like a Wheel. “You’re No Good” was originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963. Ronstadt recorded the song mostly as an afterthought, saying that her rendition wasn’t that impressive. Fans’ opinions differed as the song shot to number one on the U.S. charts, Ronstadt’s only #1 song! And who can forget Andrew Gold’s guitar solo.

Parliament Funkadelic, “Up For the Downstroke”

Mommy, what is that song about? I think we all know what’s going on, and if you have any questions, take a gander at the album artwork. You’ll get the picture. George Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Fuzzy Haskins — man, does it get any funkier?

Phoebe Snow, “Poetry Man”

According to Phoebe Snow, she had a lot of explaining to do when her mother first heard this song. It’s the story of a woman having an affair with a married man, unapologetically from the “other woman’s” point of view. “Home’s that place you go to, to see your wife.” Phoebe was only 23 years old when she released her debut and it’s still one of the best debuts in my mind. Every song is a winner.

Rufus, “Tell Me Something Good”

World, let me introduce you to Chaka Khan. Chaka had recorded a song with Stevie Wonder, “Maybe Your Baby,” and based on that he wrote “Tell Me Something Good” for the singer and her band Rufus. It became the band’s breakthrough hit and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus.

Ringo Starr, “No No Song”

Following the breakup of the Beatles, Ringo Starr initially made quite the splash on the U.S. charts. The “No No Song” was sold to American radio as an anti-drug song — and we bought it! As Ringo later recalled, “We were doing “No No Song” with the biggest spliff and a large bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”

Steely Dan, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”

It’s a love song, right? Well, it is, after all, Steely Dan, the ultimate obscurists, the band that seems to work in drug references in nearly every song. So, if you want, you can believe it’s a song about a college crush, or you can believe Walter Becker who claimed the “number” referenced in the song, is a marijuana cigarette. One thing is for sure, this was the band’s highest charting hit.

Gram Parsons, “Return of the Grievous Angel”

Who created Americana music, or folk/rock, or alt-country? Whatever you call it, it’s likely this man had an indelible influence on it. Gram Parson’s career was short, as was his life, but the impact can be heard in songs like this one. An absolute gem, the opening of his second, and, sadly, last album.

Joni Mitchell , “Help Me”

Hard to believe this is Joni Mitchell’s only top ten hit song. “Help Me” was on the “Court and Spark” album and featured Tom Scott’s L.A. Express jazz band. It’s one of those songs that captures the emotional rollercoaster ride of love.

Rosemary Welsch has been the Afternoon Host, Program Director, and Senior Producer for 91.3 WYEP. Welsch is the longest-tenured employee at WYEP, having just celebrated her 30th anniversary as a full-time employee. She began as a volunteer D.J. during the station’s salad years in 1981.