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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6. “LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER” by The Captain & Tennille (1975)

Speaking of cringeworthy…

“Love Will Keep Us Together” was written and recorded by Neil Sedaka in 1973. Sedaka is an acquired taste, but the man knew how to write a pop song. His version emphasizes the bouncy piano and bass, which is not at all bad. Sedaka’s vocals are atrocious and that submarines the effort.

Well, Toni Tennille could sing. The problem is she just wasn’t anything special. Compare the soft way she hits the word “Stop” as the chorus begins with any of a dozen different Motown singers hitting “Stop!” when they have it in a song. The entire enterprise is equally watered down. Daryl Dragon, who for some unfathomable reason preferred to be known as “the Captain,” seemed to recognize this flaw and loaded up the production with lots of different-sounding keyboards. It doesn’t help.

Dragon played them all himself. He was known as an excellent piano player, and there’s a very brief moment in the middle where you hear an unadorned piano boogie. It’s the one sign of life in the song. It is immediately engulfed by synths and electric pianos and god knows what else.

The Captain & Tennille were trying to cash in on the success of the Carpenters, and in hindsight, it might have been better if Dragon had teamed up with Karen Carpenter. He was probably a better arranger than Richard Carpenter, and Karen was significantly better than Tennille. Maybe she could have convinced him to drop the “Captain” shtick and just play the piano.

5. “ISLAND GIRL” by Elton John (1975)

Elton John didn’t completely lose it in the second half of the 1970s. He still had hit records, and even if they weren’t as good as his sensational run in the early years of the decade, there was some decent music. Some people like his other number-one hit from 1975 – “Philadelphia Freedom.” I’m not one of those people, but I do like a couple of songs from his Rock of the Westies album. “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” is kind of fun. “Billy Bones and the White Bird” is a good tune, and contains a totally inoffensive to Jamaica. (More on that in a minute.)

Unfortunately, the big hit off Westies was this condescending blather about a girl from the islands turning tricks in New York City. He introduces her to us with Bernie Taupin’s lyrics “I see your teeth flash – Jamaican honey so sweet.” The groaning begins immediately.

Then we get to the chorus and it gets worse. “Island girl – Black boy want you in his island world – He want to take you from the racket boss – He want to save you but the cause is lost.” Where to begin? The pejorative reference to Jamaican manhood? The forced faulty grammar? The patriarchal savior myth? I have got to hand it to Bernie and Elton. They cover a lot of ground in just a couple of lines.

In the first verse, the music is passable, but when we reach the chorus and the marimba shows up along with some forgettable background wailing, it gets unbearable. James Newton Howard delivers the dullest of mellotron solos in the middle, but I suppose it’s better than the return to the actual song.

Elton’s singles grew fairly maudlin around this time – with “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” still managing lots of radio play. Those are lesser Elton John, but they are not offensive. He saved that for “Island Girl.”