If Americans believe they can sing their way through a crisis, they tend to look across the ocean for that musical inspiration. In the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963, American teens diverted their attention to the mop-topped boys from England. Ten years later, with the three-month drone of televised Watergate hearings as a background, it happened again.
This year’s annual summer music flashback focuses on 1973, when the British once again invaded, albeit without a slew of bubblegum bands in tow.
The set-up for this second coming was put in place that spring, with the release of the Beatles’ “Red” and “Blue” compilation albums, which refueled the Beatles legacy, along with Paul McCartney’s first American TV special. During that same time frame, Pink Floyd released its iconic “Dark Side of the Moon,” and Led Zeppelin ignited its tour of the states.
From Memorial Day weekend through mid-July, the Billboard singles charts were topped by ex-Beatles (including the fifth Beatle). McCartney logged four weeks at No. 1 with “My Love,” followed by George Harrison’s “Give Me Love” (one week) and Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles?” (two weeks). Then, McCartney ascended the charts again with the theme song from “Live and Let Die.”
At the same time, the British claimed five of the six top albums (Pink Floyd, Wings, Harrison, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin).
While Brits didn’t obliterate American acts as they did the first time around, with the Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Gerry & the Pacemakers, they did make themselves noticed.
Two songs especially rocked the pop charts – and both were oddly out of place in the 1973 music environment. Pink Floyd’s “Money” rang its way up to the No. 13 position, a major accomplishment considering it sounded like nothing on the radio at the time. Likewise, Deep Purple had a top five hit with “Smoke on the Water,” undeniably the most played song of the summer season. While it’s not quite the dashboard ditty that generally defines summer songs, it reopened the door for rock, which had, up to that point in the ’70s, had been overcome by the sleepy folk pop of the Carole King, Carly Simon and James Taylor variety.
“Smoke on the Water” was a particularly huge hit in this area, as was a mid-charting British entry, Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” That was due in part to the emergence of 13Q in Pittsburgh. To reel in listeners, the new Top 40 station purposely would “power play” mid-chart songs such as “Saturday Night” and spin album cuts on AM radio, which it was about to do with “Stairway to Heaven” that fall.
Perhaps because of the huge impact of “Smoke on the Water,” American rock finally gained some minor traction on the charts that summer. Among the few hits were “Long Train Runnin’” by the Doobie Brothers, “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter Group, “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John and, at the tail end of the season, “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad.
Still, although radio didn’t mind spicing its play list with a little rock, country (Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider”) and controversy (the Stories’ “Brother Louie” and the Sweet’s “Little Willy”) mostly reflected the conservative mood of the nation.
One imagines a collection of that summer’s selections could be released as “Songs for the Hammock.” Among them were “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, “Diamond Girl” by Seals and Croft, “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy, “Pillow Talk” by Sylvia, “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross, “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters, “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich and “Playground in My Mind” by Clint Holmes. Those aren’t forgotten classics; they’re just forgotten, and rightfully so.
Today, of course, dance-beat-induced summer radio is the rage, and all of those sleepy releases would have been set aside until the quieter fall.
Despite the blip of “British Invasion II,” there was no discernible trend in music 40 summers ago. One that pundits had expected – a revival of pre-Beatles music pegged to the mammoth summer hit “American Graffiti” – never materialized.
Just one “oldie, but goodie” – “Monster Mash” – was resurrected into a hit that summer. Oddly enough, it wasn’t even on “Graffiti’s” soundtrack.
13Q’s top songs
July 4, 1973
1. “Playground in My Mind,” Clint Holmes
2. “Shambala,” Three Dog Night
3. “My Love,” Paul McCartney & Wings
4. “Will It Go Round in Circles,” Billy Preston
5. “Monster Mash,” Bobby Boris Pickett
6. “Yesterday Once More,” Carpenters
7. “Kodachrome,” Paul Simon
8. “Long Train Runnin’”, Doobie Brothers
9. “Frankenstein,” Edgar Winter Group
10. “Pillow Talk,” Sylvia