1971 Top Ten Pop Countdown Podcast

The Beatles have split and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are dead, but Singer-Songwriters soothe frayed nerves as militant activism and protest go mainstream.

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Welcome to the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, I’m your host, Christopher Verdesi. Every week on Chartcrush, we do a deep dive into a year in Pop music and culture, and count down the top ten songs according to our exclusive recap of the weekly Pop charts published at the time in the music industry’s top trade publication and chart authority, Billboard magazine. This week on Chartcrush, we’re turning the clock back to 1971, an inflection point in music and pop culture after the deaths of two of Rock’s biggest counterculture icons less than three weeks apart in the Fall of 1970, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. And fans still mourning the breakup of The Beatles earlier in the year. And then The Doors’ Jim Morrison died in July of ’71.

How would music have been different in the ’70s with The Beatles still together and those three towering figures living on? Would the spirit of the ’60s have persisted? Perhaps, but it was already on life support after major body blows like the MLK and RFK assassinations in ’68, The Manson Murders and the Altamont festival-gone-bad in ’69… Nixon being president. And the protest movements of the ’60s, Black Civil Rights and the antiwar Movement, going full radical revolutionary: far-left splinter groups like The Weather Underground and The Black Liberation Army careening off into a revolutionary crazyland of bombings, murder, kidnappings.

But not just that: with billions in new federal anti-poverty funds flooding the zone, protest escalated and expanded. In his New York magazine essay “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers,” culture-critic Tom Wolfe detailed how in San Francisco alone, there were 87 different militant niche identity groups all devising ever-more creative, colorful, frightening and newsworthy ways to confront the system (or “mau-mau,” after Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion against the British), all to secure grants, or lucrative community organizing gigs or what have you, from the mostly clueless, almost exclusively White middle-class career bureaucrats (the “flak catchers”) whose agencies and committees were in charge of deciding who got the funds. How did they decide? “When somebody rises up in the ghetto and confronts you,” Wolfe explained, “then you know he’s a leader of the people. So the poverty program not only encouraged mau-mauing, it practically demanded it.”

Wolfe was writing about San Francisco in ’68; by ’71, the explosion of aggressive, militant, even theatrical activism, courtesy of taxpayers, was everywhere. And protest fashion went mainstream. At school, letter sweaters and McGregor back-to-school slacks and skirts, out. Guerilla berets, field jackets, combat boots and proletarian Can’t Bust ‘Em jeans or Army khakis, in. Radical Chic: the title of another Tom Wolfe essay about the same time as “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.”

All in the Family premiered on CBS in January of ’71: Norman Lear’s sitcom about a high-school educated, blue-collar loudmouth, Archie Bunker, under constant ideological assault in his own house over race, feminism, poverty, the war, Nixon, et cetera, by his obnoxious, freeloading student activist son-in-law Mike Stivic (a.k.a. Meathead), and it resonated because everything in ’71 was political. Every American was either confronting or being confronted. The show was #1 five years in a row, and Lear and CBS spun off Maude, Good Times and The Jeffersons from All in the Family later in the ’70s. Archie Bunker’s chair is in the Smithsonian.

Now where would Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and a still-intact Beatles have fallen on the spectrum between activism and escapism that developed in music in response to all that?

#10 The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)

Who can say? But our first song as we kick things off is the most conspicuous example of activism in our countdown: a song about the plight of Native Americans written in 1959, and a #20 hit in 1968 for Don Fardon, formerly of the British Mod band The Sorrows. But that was before Indian activists claimed Alcatraz, the island in the San Francisco Bay abandoned since 1963 when the federal prison there closed. Their physical occupation of the island for over a year-and-a-half got as much attention as any action by a militant group in the era, and just as the feds were clearing out the last of the occupiers in June of ’71, this new version of the song shot into the top ten. Ironically, the band had gotten famous in the ’60s wearing colonial costumes and tricorner hats, but Singer Mark Lindsay was part Cherokee, and he sings the song like he means it. It’s The Raiders’ “Indian Reservation.”

That 19-month Alcatraz occupation put the plight of Native Americans front-and-center. A who’s who of celebs got involved: Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Jonathan Winters and many others. Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rock band, pitched in $15 grand for a supply boat. Pre-Rock ‘n Roll Pop Singer Kay Starr, who was half-Iroquois, carried the message to the over-40 set. Keep America Beautiful’s iconic “Crying Indian” anti-littering ad was the right PSA at the right time when it hit TV screens on Earth Day in April. And The Raiders’ “Indian Reservation” was the right song at the right time when it topped the charts in the Summer, #10 here on our 1971 edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show.

The song, subtitled “The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian.” It was really a Mark Lindsay solo record recorded in L.A. with Wrecking Crew studio aces, but the namesake of Lindsay’s ’60s band The Raiders, Paul Revere, jumped on his custom bike and rode coast-to-coast plugging it to every radio station he passed along the way, and it was the band’s first top 10 since 1967, and their only career chart-topper.

#9 Sly & The Family StoneFamily Affair

Another guy who got political in ’71, Marvin Gaye. And he scored his biggest hit since 1969’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” with the title track to his concept album What’s Goin’ On. No punctuation after that title but our artist at #9 heard a question, so last minute he retitled his group’s first album in two years to his answer: There’s a Riot Going On. On the cover, a reimagined American flag with black instead of blue and bursts instead of stars, and pessimistic, disillusioned and sometimes incoherent songs: a far cry from their ultra-catchy starry-eyed utopian hits from just a couple years before. The album got mixed reviews, but it still shot to #1, and its lead single was #1 for three weeks in December. It’s Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair.”

Sly & The Family Stone were at the pinnacle of fame after their 1969 hits “Dance to the Music,” “Everyday People,” “Stand” and “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” but the racial colorblindness the group not only celebrated but embodied, having both Black and White members, put Sly at odds with the Black Panthers, who leaned hard on him to fire the White Drummer and Sax Player and embrace Black Power and revolution. So, squeezed from both ends, Sly holed himself up in his mansion in L.A. surrounded by hangers-on, drug dealers, petty gangsters, “bodyguards” and his Pitbull “Gun,” a “terminal zone of drugs, guns, chaos and paranoia,” as Guardian writer Sean O’Hagan put it in 2007. That’s where he recorded There’s a Riot Going On.

“Family Affair” replaced Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” at #1 in December, marking five straight weeks with a Black artist at #1. But that was just a preview for ’72, when Black artists scored a record-setting 11 of the year’s 22 #1 hits, and had a majority of the records in the top ten for 14 straight weeks. Sly coulda-shoulda been part of that, but showing up late or not at all to shows, and his rambling, incoherent interviews in print and on TV were just too weird, even for 1971, and after “Family Affair,” the Riot album yielded no further hits.

#8 Donny OsmondGo Away Little Girl

OK, so that concludes the blatantly political segment of our 1971 Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show, but as Isaac Newton taught us, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction, so maybe not! Because what could be more reactionary in an era of in-your-face political activism and racial consciousness than a group of five White brothers that sound just like the group of five Black brothers they’ve replaced at the top of the charts?

The Jackson 5 were 1970’s big Pop story: four consecutive #1s, lead vocals by 11-year-old Michael Jackson: “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There.” But then, on literally the first Billboard chart in 1971, January 2, out of Ogden, Utah, here came The Osmonds, with their pre-Teen, voice-hasn’t-changed-yet Donny singing lead. One thing The Osmonds thought of first, though (maybe the only thing): issuing solo singles by the squeaky-voiced little guy getting all the attention. By Spring, Donny was a full-blown Tiger Beat heartthrob and his first solo record, “Sweet and Innocent” got to #7 just after the group’s first hit got bumped out of the #1 spot. The second group single only made it to #14, so the label, MGM, issued a second Donny single, and when it hit #1, it became the first song ever to top the Hot100 twice in two different versions. More on that in a minute, but first #8, Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl.”

“Go Away Little Girl,” written in 1962 for Teen Idol Bobby Vee by Brill Building power songwriting couple Carole King and Gerry Goffin. But only an album cut, so Pop Crooner Steve Lawrence put his version out as a single and it was his first #1 hit in 1963. Vocal group The Happenings took it to #12 in ’66, but in ’71 as a ’50s and early ’60s nostalgia wave was building, 13-year-old Donny Osmond got it to #1 again: maybe the only version of “Go Away Little Girl” that’s not cringeworthy since the ’80s. That’s when the topic of pedophilia first trended.

A side note: at the tail end of Tin Pan Alley in the ’40s and early ’50s it was common for multiple versions of a song to chart, usually at the same time, and several songs had more than one version that got a turn at #1: a double jackpot for the songwriters. But “Go Away Little Girl” was the first in the Hot100 era, eight and a half years apart. Before long, two other covers of early ’60s #1s topped the chart: Grand Funk’s “The Loco-Motion” in ’74 (another Carole King song), and then The Carpenters’ “Please Mr. Postman” in ’75. The originals of those by Little Eva and The Marvelettes, respectively. I did mention escapism and that nostalgia wave about to break, right?

#7 The OsmondsOne Bad Apple

And at #7 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1971, the hit that started it all for our White Jackson 5 copycats from Utah, and get this: it’s a song that was written for the Jackson 5, but rejected by Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jr. in favor of The Jackson 5’s second #1 hit, “ABC.” Here again, Donny Osmond, but this time with his brothers in the Osmonds group, their first hit, “One Bad Apple.”

Osmonds, “One Bad Apple,” #7 as we count down the top ten hits of 1971 here on this week’s Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, by studio owner Rick Hall, who’d also produced ’60s Soul stars like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett… and, hired the longhaired, mutton-chopped session guitarist who’d pitched a tent in the parking lot to get noticed. Sadly, that guitarist, Duane Allman, the inventor of Southern Rock and founder and leader of The Allman Brothers, was another Rocker who didn’t live to see 1972.

#6 Bee GeesHow Can You Mend a Broken Heart

Up next, we have another brother act, but this time a trio, from Britain, who’d charted their first top 20 hits in 1967 and their first top tens in ’68. But the ground shifted under their feet in ’68 and they found themselves stuck, along with dozens of other popular mid-’60s acts, in the vast limbo between Hippie-approved Album Rock on the one hand, and Bubblegum, as adjudicated by the new arbiters of cool in the counterculture press. And when their Proggy 1969 double LP concept album failed to earn the Rolling Stone seal of approval, they disintegrated, but were back before too long with a renewed focus, tighter material, and a #1 hit, their first, for four weeks in August or ’71. It’s the Brothers Gibb, that’s right, The Bee Gees. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”

Robin on the verses, Barry on the chorus and both along with the third Gibb brother Maurice on harmonies, The Bee Gees, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” #6 as we count down the top ten from 1971 here on this week’s Chartcrush.

April of 1970 was when Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles were splitting, and by Summer the Bee Gees were back together cutting a record that many mistook for a lost latter-day Fab Four masterpiece. “Lonely Days” became their first top five hit, and then “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” their first #1.

They slumped badly again after ’71, but of course came back bigger than ever in the Disco years, with seven more #1s starting with “Jive Talkin'” in ’75.

#5 George HarrisonMy Sweet Lord

And speaking of The Beatles, here’s a trivia question: which Beatle was the first to get to #1 after the breakup? Well John Lennon was the first to chart a solo single: “Instant Karma.” That hit #3 behind The Beatles’ own “Let It Be” in April of ’70 as Paul McCartney was announcing the split and releasing his first solo album. “Maybe I’m Amazed” off that album might’ve topped the chart, but it was never issued as a single, and the charts were Beatle-free all Summer until Thanksgiving. That’s when our #5 song hit the airwaves, rocketed to #1 the last week of 1970 and stayed on top four weeks into ’71. His songwriting, voice and guitar on songs like “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “I Me Mine” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” had as much to do with The Fab Four’s sound in their last couple years as anything John, Paul or Ringo contributed, so for fans mourning the breakup all year, it was a delight. At #5, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.”

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord,” #5 on our 1971 edition of the Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. Don’t look for it anywhere near the top of Billboard’s year-end chart for 1971 though; it’s only #36. ’71 was the last year that Billboard’s “chart year” (the timeframe they count for their year-end rankings) didn’t include the last several weeks of the previous year after the press deadline for the issue with the year-end charts. They changed that for ’72, but for “My Sweet Lord,” not counting its weeks in December 1970 makes it one of the many year-straddling hits over the years that’ve fallen through the cracks on Billboard’s “official” year-end charts. Here at Chartcrush we avoid that by factoring every song’s full chart run in the year it earned the most points, so George’s ode to Krishna takes its rightful place as the #5 song of 1971.

Overtly religious Pop hits were a thing in the early ’70s. “My Sweet Lord,” preceded in the top ten by Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” in the Spring of 1970, and two weeks after it finished its run, Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand (Of the Man from Galilee)” debuted on its way to #2. And over on the album chart, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar: at or near the top ten pretty much all year: Billboard’s #1 album of 1971.

#4 Dawn featuring Tony OrlandoKnock Three Times

Religious songs on the charts, definitely a barometer of worldly stresses and anxieties. Nostalgia is another. But you know times are really tough when songs about literally escaping are topping the charts. There were a lot of those in the early ’70s. Two examples from ’71: John Denver’s first hit “Take Me Home Country Roads” and Janis Joplin’s last, “Me and Bobby McGee.”

But what if you live in the inner-city, right in the thick of it, and can’t just escape to the country, or hit the open road with nothing left to lose? Well you can still beat a tactical retreat back to the basics of home, family and neighbors, and that’s especially tempting when there’s a cute girl downstairs who blasts her music every night, and getting to know her would make life so much sweeter. Inspired by another “how to” song about finding sanctuary amid the hustle and bustle of the city, the 1962 Drifters hit “Up on the Roof,” at #4, it’s Dawn featuring Tony Orlando, “Knock Three Times.”

The narrative story song, with a beginning, middle and end: as old as the hills in Country and Folk, but in the early ’70s, Pop records that weren’t crossovers from those genres started topping the charts, and “Knock Three Times” was one of the first.

According to co-songwriter L. Russell Brown, it sold 100,000 copies a day for 10 days straight over the holidays heading in to 1971, and that was just in New York. Once it made the charts, it’s narrative depiction of the simple joys and dramas of urban life warmed the hearts even of folks who’d never even been in an apartment building, and it caught on nationally: three weeks at #1 and the #4 song on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown for 1971.

Now, we never find out whether the girl downstairs knocks three times or bangs twice, or even if she sees the note on the string, but two years later Tony Orlando & Dawn were back at #1 with another story song that does have an ending: a happy one, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the ‘Ol Oak Tree.”

#3 Carole KingIt’s Too Late

At #3 we have the first hit by the woman that Billboard honored with a Trendsetter Award in ’71 for proving that Singer-Songwriters doing “personal statement songs” could sell boatloads of records. Well she had nothing to prove as a Songwriter: over 70 charted recordings of her songs on the Hot100 (including over a dozen top tens), most from the early ’60s co-written with her lyricist hubby Gerry Goffin in the Brill Building. But it wasn’t until she divorced Goffin, moved to L.A.’s Laurel Canyon and took a stripped-down, confessional approach for her ’71 album with producer Lou Adler that things gelled for her as a Singer.

The album Tapestry took a few months of word-of-mouth to crack the top ten on the album chart, but once it did, it became a big part of the soundtrack for the burgeoning Women’s movement: #1 for 15 straight weeks, and then Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. Adler picked our #3 song for the single and put another winner from the album on the flip, “I Feel the Earth Move.” And it was #1 on the Hot100 the first five weeks Tapestry was the top album, mid-June to mid-July. At #3 it’s Carole King’s “It’s Too Late”

One of the great breakup songs, Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” at #3 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1971’s biggest hits. A very mature song for the Pop charts; it doesn’t wallow or cry or point fingers; it just observes kind of matter-of-factly that, for whatever reasons, things aren’t like they were and it’s time to move on. Critics have highlighted the implicit feminism of that, and besides opening the door for Singer-Songwriters in general, Tapestry‘ssales alerted the biz to the purchasing power of Women as a distinct demographic.

One reason it took Carole King so long to find success as a Singer: extreme stage fright. It wasn’t ’til the summer of ’71 when Tapestry and “It’s Too Late” were already #1, that she finally pushed through the jitters, for a sell-out crowd at New York’s Carnegie Hall. You go, girl!

#2 Rod StewartMaggie May

Now on the Male side of so-called “personal statement songs” in the first years of the ’70s, guys like Neil Young, Cat Stevens and James Taylor come to mind. Taylor, by the way, a close friend of Carole King after she moved to L.A. His #3 hit “Fire and Rain” in late ’70 credited with kicking off the Singer-Songwriter era. But one guy who usually isn’t thought of in that category scored the biggest hit in the genre in 1971. And he didn’t even mean to. It first appeared as an album cut, and then as the B side of his debut 45 as a solo artist. But radio started playing it instead of the A-side. Recorded essentially live in the studio, at #2, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.”

A biographical song about his first intimate relationship, with an older woman: Rod Stewart’s first solo hit, “Maggie May,” #2 on our Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown of 1971’s top hits. Stewart was also the lead singer in the band Faces in the early ’70s, along with future Rolling Stones Guitarist Ron Wood, group founder and Bassist Ronnie Lane and Drummer Kenney Jones, who later replaced Keith Moon in The Who. None of those guys wanted to be thought of as Rod Stewart’s backing band though, which caused friction as Rod’s solo career took off, and they called it quits by ’75. Even most Classic Rock fans, to this day, think Faces biggest hit is a Rod Stewart song. The Rocker “Stay with Me” hit the chart less than a month after “Maggie May” exited and while Rod’s solo follow-up, “I’m Losing You,” another Rocker, was still on it.

#1 Three Dog NightJoy to the World

And speaking of Rockers, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and Yes all had quintessential albums out and in the top ten on the album chart in ’71. So how did Classic Rock perennials from those albums like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Aqualung,” “Iron Man” and “Roundabout” fare on the Hot100? Well, in a word: poorly.

Album Rock, a massive blind spot on the Hot100 for the simple reason that the Hot100 was a singles chart in the ’70s, and who needs a single of a song you have on an album? We can’t even guess at those songs’ popularity relative to others because Billboard didn’t start publishing Airplay charts until the ’80s.

Still, even with those dynamics in play, some Rock songs did manage to become #1 Hot100 hits. The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” in ’68 which was only out on a single; ditto Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” in ’70. The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” also in ’70, a band previously known for more easy-on-the-ears Jazzy Pop. And the band with the #1 song in our Chartcrush Top Ten for 1971, also more Top40 than FM before this hit, but it was an FM jock in Seattle who first played it, and based on the response, the big AM Top40 station in the same building started spinning it, and the rest is history. At #1 it’s Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.”

Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World,” another totally unexpected hit added last-minute to the end of their album just to fill out the time. The single version we just heard is a punchier mix, shorter, with some guitar overdubs in the break that aren’t on the album.

Veteran Country Singer-Songwriter Hoyt Axton had started “Joy to the World” for a kids’ cartoon that never got made, so the lyrics were still incomplete when he pitched it to the band. Jeremiah was only a bullfrog because those were the nonsense words he came up with there on the spot, planning to go back and polish things up if they wanted the song. But before he could, they recorded it and the album was out.

Three Dog Night charted 21 singles from ’69 to ’75 with 11 top tens, but ’71 was their high watermark: “Joy,” #1 for six weeks, plus two other top tens, “Liar” and “An Old-Fashioned Love Song.”

And there ya have ’em, the top ten songs of 1971 according to our Chartcrush ranking that based on Billboard’s weekly charts, but factoring songs’ full chart runs. None of that chart year stuff where things fall through the cracks, so there are some differences between our ranking and the top ten on Billboard’s published Hot100 for ’71. I mentioned that “My Sweet Lord” moves up from #36 to #5. Also absent from Billboard’s official top ten, our #9 song “Family Affair,” Sly & The Family Stone. But that one was so late in the year that Billboard has it in their 1972 chart year, but only at #79 because they didn’t factor its first weeks in ’71. So two songs coming in to our top ten means two songs from Billboard‘s that we didn’t get to hear this hour. So let’s take a look at those.

Billboard’s #9 song was Eddie Kendricks’ last lead vocal in The Temptations before going solo.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” notches in at #13 on our Chartcrush ranking for ’71. The Temptations continued scoring hits without Kendricks: “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” in ’72 and “Masterpiece” in ’73. But Eddie did very well too with his top tens “Keep on Truckin'” in ’73, and “Boogie Down” in ’74.

And Billboard’s #8 year-end hit of 1971 I mentioned earlier talking about songs literally about escaping.

“Take Me Home Country Roads,” one of West Virginia’s official state anthems since 2014, and West Virginia University’s theme song since 1972, just after it was a hit: performed at every Mountaineers home football game to this day.

And that’s gonna have to wrap things up for our 1971 edition of The Chartcrush Top Ten Countdown Show. I’ve been your host, Christopher Verdesi. Hey, if you like what you heard and want more, head over to our website, chartcrush.com for a full transcript of today’s show and a link to stream the podcast version on Spotify, plus outta sight extras like our full top 100 chart and interactive line graph of the actual Billboard chart runs of every song we heard this hour. We do that for every year, 1940s up to now, and it’s all on the website, again, chartcrush.com. Thanks for listening and tune in again next week, same station, same time, for another edition of Chartcrush.

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