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The Seven Best of ‘74: What to Spin 50 Years Later

By Joseph D’Andrea

1974 was the year of hit singles like ABBA’s “Waterloo,” Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and Lynyrd Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” And although 1974 was a dip in classic albums during the decade, that doesn’t mean it's completely absent of great releases. Here are seven LPs to revisit as their 50th anniversaries approach throughout the year.

#7 “If You Love Me, Let Me Know” by Olivia Newton-John The fourth album by Olivia Newton-John is as loveable as a comfort album can be. Her soft, passionate voice brings a warmth to every track she sings on. Besides a dud or two, the sincerity of the album stays consistent throughout and even has a cover of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” that throws in an electric guitar into the mix. My favorite track: “If You Love Me (Let Me Know).”

#6 “Eldorado” by Electric Light Orchestra The first concept album of several more that were to come from ELO, the theatrical sound of “Eldorado” and the songs’ orchestral elements that sometimes switch up mid-song make for an album that is always surprising you. In classic ELO fashion, the blending of all kinds of instruments keeps the album interesting from start to end, and the story being told is an added bonus to the already sonically great songs. My favorite track: “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.”

#5 “Sheer Heart Attack” by Queen With the killer opening track “Brighton Rock” starting the album off with a bang, this album is one of two released by Queen in 1974 (the other being Queen II). It’s got classic cuts like “Killer Queen” and “Now I’m Here” but also a few head-bopping acoustic-led tracks like the short-and-sweet “Misfire.” It’s another example of Queen’s versatility and is solid from beginning to end. My favorite track:“Killer Queen.”

#4 “Streetlife Serenade” by Billy Joel From the beautiful melody heard on the suburban anthem aptly titled “The Great Suburban Showdown,” to displays of Joel’s signature honesty on “Souvenir,” this lesser-known album is still an enjoyable listen. Though not the cream of the crop when compared to the rest of his songwriting catalog, this album still offers a handful of songs that are hard not to enjoy, including the vamp-heavy “Los Angelenos” and the extremely fun instrumental “Root Beer Rag” (which, as Joel jokes about in a live album before propelling into the song, Rolling Stone called “merely filler”). The only single off the album, the autobiographical “The Entertainer,” is still regularly played live by Joel. My favorite track: “Los Angelenos.”

Looking back on the varied sounds of the 1970s may open your ears to artists who are new to you or underlooked works from musicians you already love. A good way to start your journey is with those turning 50 this year. Photo by rawpixel.com

#3 “461 Ocean Boulevard” by Eric Clapton Not many artists tap into blues rock as well as guitarist extraordinaire Eric Clapton. His vocals are often overlooked, and although he’s not the greatest singer in the world, the suave desperation in his voice on some songs here (and on other albums) adds a lot to the feeling of certain tracks, like his cover of “Give Me Strength.” This isn’t the album you should jump at if you’re looking to hear some of his famed guitar solos, but it’s nevertheless full of great, bluesy guitar work, with “Get Ready” — which has backing vocals from Yvonne Elliman of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fame — being a standout in that department. My favorite track: “I Shot the Sheriff.”

#2 “Diamond Dogs” by David Bowie A dark, mysterious album from an artist who was never afraid to go to those depths, “Diamond Dogs” has rocking songs like its title track, slow and introspective tracks like “Sweet Thing,” pop-rock perfection in “Rebel Rebel” and even a funky, early disco-esque song in “1984.” The histories behind some songs on the album are interesting in and of themselves, too, particularly “1984” and “Big Brother,” as they were spawned from Bowie’s desire to make a stage musical based on George Orwell’s book. An extremely creative album from one of the greatest creative minds. My favorite track: “Diamond Dogs.”

#1 “Pretzel Logic” by Steely Dan Though this is likely the group’s second weakest album released during their original run, it still tops this list — that’s how great they are. The biggest hit off this album, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was written about a professor who band co-founder and lead vocalist Donald Fagen tried to pursue in college, and that’s not even close to as despicable Steely Dan characters can get. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” is the most optimistic tune from a band known for their cynicism and the Dan’s abstract storytelling can be heard in spades on the title track whose guitar work is one of the many great solos heard on the album (this song featuring co-founder Walter Becker on lead but others showcasing the incredible Jeff “Skunk” Baxter). My favorite track: “Any Major Dude Will Tell You.”

Take a few hours this year to lend an ear to these albums and seek out more that might be able to bring you back in time and feel nostalgia for a period you may not have even lived through.


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