The 1970s weren’t all shag carpeting and plaid pants. OK, they were. But not all of it sucked. Really. Your pals over at Something Else! Reviews have done the research. If it meant dusting off the turntable, digging out the flared pants, and fro-ing up their hair again? Well, those are the sacrifices that must be made in the name of science …
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They appeared wearing ersatz space-girl outfits – disco strippers from the future! – while singing a song about the world’s oldest profession. So, yeah, this being the 1970s, the Allen Toussaint-produced “Lady Marmalade” would become the biggest hit in a two-year span of charting songs by Labelle. The song’s familiar refrain of “voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir” – originally sung by Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash; then later, as part of the 2001 “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink – translates into “do you want to sleep with me, this evening?” Meaning, it allowed at least two generations of goofball lotharios-in-the-making an opportunity to impress the ladies with their rudimentary knowledge of dirty French.
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Indelibly associated now with the whole white-suited “Saturday Night Fever” thing, “Jive Talkin’” actually represents the Bee Gees’ big comeback after a long stint of chart inactivity following 1971’s goopy “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” John Travolta’s disco film, with its zeitgeist/paint can-swinging cultural reverberations, was still two years away. Yet, this sleek Arif Mardin-helmed groover outshines all of what followed, starting with its memorable chicka-chicka guitar riff – said to be an approximation of the sound cars make crossing the Biscayne Bay bridge into Miami. Just like that, a washed-up mope-rock ballad band was reborn as gold chain-wearing dance-floor mavens. Roller-skating rinks, not to mention the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, would never be the same again.
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With Smokey Robinson gone, Motown‘s Billy Griffin-led Miracles took a turn for the nasty. It made for a dance sensation – just don’t listen too closely. “To turn me on, just set my dial,” Griffin growls, “and let me love you a little while.” An inflamed beau comparing his stamina to that of, well, an electronic device? This is a priceless curio from a time when the music was as flammably over-the-top as the fabrics. Still, a very long way from “Shop Around.” That it’s only “Part 1” almost boggles the mind, too. Damn. How far are these guys willing to take things? You know what? We definitely do not second that emotion.
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Opening with a chugging, aneurysm-inducing vocal harmony, “Take a Chance on Me” somehow found a way to sound both sadly desperate and deliriously ecstatic. And what, save for a brown Trans Am, is more 1970s than that? This tune didn’t top the charts like Abba’s still-somehow-ubiquitous “Dancing Queen,” though it actually sold more copies. Perhaps inadvertently, it also set the stage for the more sedentary lifestyle that would follow for these now-aging polyester night people: “We could go dancing,” our shimmering, dead-eyed Swedes famously sang, then: “We could go walking.” Oh, what the heck, let’s just stay right here on the couch.
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By brilliantly blending funk and pop, vocalist Gwen Dickey and Co. helped set the stage for later crossover successes like Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. As with that breakthrough recording, Rose Royce shot to No. 1 by working with a producer with some serious street cred. Instead of Quincy Jones, however, it was Norman Whitfield, famous then for modernizing the Temptations’ sound on wow-man classics like “Ball of Confusion.” This tune’s greasy bass-driven beginning (courtesy of unsung funk legend Lequeint “Duke” Jobe) sparked a million rap songs – not to mention Aguilera’s 2004 version with Missy Elliot. Meanwhile, the song’s central theme about the car wash (“always cool, and the boss don’t mind sometimes if you act a fool”) was essentially what every current cube-farm burnout hoped their own job was going to be. Instead, there’s the cold comfort of this timeless truism: “You might not ever get rich but, let me tell ya, it’s better than digging a ditch.”