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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2. “EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL” by Ray Stevens (1970)

Even by the most extreme of countrypolitan standards, Ray Stevens’ “Everything is Beautiful” is tough sledding. It was the title track on his fourth album and it is the first song you hear. Actually, the first sounds you hear are a children’s choir singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” It’s kind of sappy. But hey, it’s kids.

Then Stevens starts his oppressively sunny rendition of the song and you kind of miss those kids. It’s not that Stevens is a bad singer. He’s rather good. But the song is so insistently upbeat that you keep expecting that animated bird from the Starsky and Hutch movie to show with a whole flock of his friends. And in fact, that would have been better than what does show up. The kids' choir comes back, bigger and more ethereal than ever. They sing along with Stevens for a while, before he shouts out “Sing it, children!”

If you can get past the soaring strings and the voices of the kids to hear Stevens’ words, you find a message that is actually quite nice. It’s a simple statement, but Stevens deserves credit for saying that hair length and skin color do not matter in a mainstream, religious-themed country song in 1970.

But the intervening years have raised new, troubling questions about the simplicity of the message. “Everything is beautiful in its own way” is a very simplistic concept – lovely if accepted in its entirety. But I can’t listen without wondering how big a hit it would be now if the “everything” included drag queens and hijabs.

Next. Songs from the 1960s that have no business being great but are. Songs from the 1960s that have no business being great but are. dark

1. “(YOU’RE) HAVING MY BABY” by Paul Anka (1974)

Where to begin? How about like this… I’m one of those people who likes The Big Bang Theory. But even I have to turn it off when Howard Wolowitz sings this Paul Anka “love” song to his wife as they celebrate her pregnancy. And Simon Helberg can sing, so it’s not the performance. It’s just out and out cringeworthy.

I won’t attempt to discuss the song’s content. That has been done ad infinitum. The spectacularly tone deafness in the phrase “my baby” instead of “our baby” is textbook patriarchy. (Oops, I think I did just discuss content. I promise I will not discuss it any further – not the “need inside you/seed inside you” rhyme – not the casual reference to abortion – none of it.)

Instead, let’s talk about the performance. The production is a standard cassio-style keyboard. The music is negligible. That’s a problem because Anka’s overwrought vocals are far from his comfort zone. He strives for emotion and it simply feels contrived.

Speaking of contrived, what’s with the parens in the title? Did he really need to add that “You’re?” Did he worry the woman didn’t know she was the subject of the song? (BTW, there actually is a female vocalist in the song – her name is Odia Coates and I sincerely hope she saw some decent money from this.) Maybe he was having babies with several women and those parens were a good way to switch out names as needed.

The bizarre thing is that Paul Anka had the musical taste to help launch John Prine and Steve Goodman when he was turned onto them by Kris Kristofferson. Anka was never a stand-out performer but he was a shrewd businessman and he had a good ear. Maybe the fact that he had a number-one hit with this wretched song is a testament to that very fact. Still, he should have known better.

POSTSCRIPT: The number one song as I write this, in 2024, is Sabrina Carpenter’s “Please, Please, Please,” a song in which the singer asks very politely that her lover not turn into a total a**hole.” Perhaps if she would simply agree to have his baby, all her angst would disappear. Ah, what we can learn from the magical 1970s.

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