Classic Chart Check-In: 5 Great Songs from the Top 40 This Week 50 Years Ago that Have Stood the Test of Time

It was a wild, woolly Top 40 on the Billboard charts on April 20, 1974. In the Top 10 alone, you had some seriously extreme variety, such as Sister Janet Mead’s earnest rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” (No. 9), a pair of wild reimaginings of ’60s songs (“The Loco-Motion” by Grand Funk Railroad at No. 8 and “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede at No. 3) and the soul instrumental “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB ft. The Three Degrees at the tippy-top.

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We’re interested in the songs from that particular Top 40 that still hold up the best even after half a century has passed, regardless of how far up the charts they ascended. Here are our choices:

“Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me” by Gladys Knight and The Pips (No. 4 on the Top 40)

Jim Weatherly, who passed away in 2021, was a singer/songwriter who gained the most notoriety through cover versions of his material. Gladys Knight and The Pips first scored big with Weatherly when they turned “Midnight Train to Georgia” into a No. 1 song. A year later, they went back to the Weatherly well for this lusciously romantic song. The narrator speaks about how her life’s achievements and failures will ultimately pale in comparison to the love she’s found. Knight gives an emotional performance that gets a boost from The Pips at all the right moments.

“Jet” by Paul McCartney and Wings (No. 27)

Paul McCartney made his album Band on the Run with a skeleton crew, as only wife Linda and guitarist Denny Laine remained in the band after a pair of departures right before the album was to be made. Yet, it somehow sounded as cohesive and convincingly rocking as anything in the band’s catalog. “Jet” is one of those soaring rockers, with Linda getting in one of the most memorable musical moments with her brief synth solo. As for the lyrics, they’re mostly just jumbled-up, fascinating phrases, but they’re sung by Macca with the utmost urgency and feeling.

“You Make Me Feel Brand New” by The Stylistics (No. 29)

Philly soul was at its absolute peak circa 1974, and nobody was any better at delivering the goods with the lush ballads that dominated the genre than The Stylistics. They were constantly on the receiving end of some gorgeous songs courtesy of songwriters Thom Bell and Linda Creed. And they also possessed one of the distinctive voices of the Philly sound in Russell Thompkins Jr., whose stunning falsetto could make you melt on both the weepers and the love songs. This one was the latter, with Thompkins getting ample help from Airrion Love in a quasi-duet.

“Help Me” by Joni Mitchell (No. 33)

Joni Mitchell hit the pinnacle of her commercial success with the 1974 album Court and Spark, which is likely why “Help Me,” the first single from that album, turned into her biggest single (and her only Top 10 in the U.S.). It’s not like Mitchell somehow threw a lesser song out there for accessibility’s sake. The song features some sultry, jazzy grooves that helped it go down smooth on a transistor radio, even as it fit seamlessly amidst the knottier songs on Court and Spark. Rumors are the Eagles’ Glenn Frey was the inspiration for the rambler and a gambler at the heart of the lyrics.

“Oh Very Young” by Cat Stevens (No. 37)

As far as we know, Cat Stevens has never explicitly stated his intended meaning for this song. Many people have tied it to the death of Buddy Holly, as there are mentions of words of love (the title of a famous Holly song) throughout the lyrics. In any case, it’s an absolutely beautiful track, with a wistful melody that suited the vibe of the lyrics. The narrator questions someone on how they’ll be departing, but it seems more like a message about taking advantage of the times you have with the people you love.

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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