Ten worst number-one hits of the 1970s

The 1970s did produce some excellent music, of course, but these songs had no business hitting the top of the charts.
Paul Anka in concert
Paul Anka in concert / United Archives/GettyImages
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8. “BILLY, DON’T BE A HERO” by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods (1974)

I learned from Tom Breihan’s outstanding series on Number One songs (“The Number Ones” on Stereogum) that Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods did not originally record this insult to fighting men and women. It was recorded by the British band Paper Lace shortly before the American group got ahold of it. While Paper Lace was scoring a hit with it across the pond, Donaldson and company released the first American version, and for some reason, it skyrocketed.

If you don’t actually listen to the lyrics of “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” you won’t find anything particularly objectionable. The tune is hummable. The singer (not Bo Donaldson, I also learned from Breihan) is passable. There is nothing especially good about it, but there is nothing all that bad either.

Until you listen to the words. This is one of those tragic death songs where a young person dies and his/her paramour is left to mourn. Vehicular accidents are the culprit in a lot of these pop songs, but war is an acceptable subject as well. Check out Natalie Maines and the Chicks singing “Travelling Soldier” and you will absolutely tear up.

That’s because Maines gives the story the gravitas and poignance it deserves. “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” is a tragic tale sung like the theme to The Brady Bunch. There’s simply nothing in the vocal or the entire production that links to the somber subject matter. That’s what makes it unlistenable.

By the way, don’t feel too bad for Paper Lace. They reached the top of the charts a little while later with “The Night Chicago Died,” an equally silly song, but at least one that is somewhat more fun.

7. “MY LOVE” by Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)

Paul McCartney may be the finest writer of popular songs of the second half of the twentieth century ever produced. His bottomless well of inventive melodies continues to astound. But even the master has an off day. Why that off day resulted in a number one hit simply baffles me.

How could the man who wrote “Here – Making each day of the year – Changing my life with a wave of her hand – Nobody can – Deny that there’s something there” and set it to the loveliest of tunes, sink to this…

“Whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa – Whoa, whoa-whoa, whoa – My love does it good.” And then he repeats it eight more times in the space of four minutes. I get the point. She does it good. At least he doesn’t waste a good melody on these unleavened lyrics. The music is just as redundant and drab as the words.

You know how Paul Simon intended to write actual words in place of the “Lie-la-lies” in “The Boxer," but never got around to it? It worked out pretty well. That’s not what happened here. The other great songwriting Paul should have come up with something in place of the “Whoas.” And maybe something a little more romantically suitable than “does it good.” It makes David Gates wanting to “make it with you” a tad less cringeworthy.