The Forgotten Hits: 70’s Soul

Every era and genre of music has songs that were popular in their day, but whose footprints have been washed from the sand over time. Our goal in this series of posts is to resurrect their memory; to help in a small way to reverse the process of the “top tenning” of oldies formats, which reduce hit makers from previous decades to their most popular song or two and then overplay them until you almost loathe an artist you used to enjoy (think “Sweet Caroline” or “Don’t Stop Believin'”).

I’ll be citing the Billboard pop charts for reference. Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 60’s and 70’s were a much more accurate reflection of a song’s popularity, before there were so many other ways for a song to enter the public consciousness (reflected by the number of pop charts Billboard now uses). It was an era when radio ruled–before a car commercial, social music sharing site, or Glee were equally likely ways for a song to break through.

Malo

Malo: “Suavecito”

#18 in 1972

Malo were a Latin rock group from San Francisco which featured Jorge Santana (brother of Carlos) on guitar. Their signature hit, “Suavecito”, has been called the “Chicano National Anthem”, but the track was so forgotten that when Sugar Ray sampled it in their 1999 hit “Every Morning” most people didn’t realize it was a sample.

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Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Roberta Flack: “If Ever I See You Again”

#24 in 1978

Roberta Flack’s number one singles are household names: 1972’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won Grammys for Record and Song of the Year and “Killing Me Softly With His Song” repeated both honors the next year and added a third Grammy for Pop Female Vocal. 1974’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” also topped the chart.

But I want to mention a 1978 song that’s criminally overlooked for a couple reasons. First, although it appeared on her 1981 Best of Roberta Flack compilation, it was excluded from the three subsequent Greatest Hits packages issued in the CD era. And the album it’s from, her 1978 record simply titled Roberta Flack, was the lowest-charting of her first eleven albums and remains unissued on CD while most of her 70’s catalog has been issued in remastered editions. In other words, no CD currently in print contains the song (including the soundtrack of the movie that featured the song and shared its name).

And it’s a pity because “If Ever I See You Again” is one of Flack’s most beautiful–and certainly saddest–songs. See if you remember it.

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In Heat (Dig)

Love Unlimited: “I Belong to You”

#27 in 1975

“Walkin’ in the Rain With the One I Love”

#14 in 1972

Love Unlimited was a female trio managed and produced by Barry White, who was married to one of the three singers, Glodean James, from 1974-88. Their smooth, shimmering vocal blend calls to mind the Three Degrees or the Emotions. You can take your pick of two top 30 hits, both of which are lost to time.

One is the classy “I Belong to You”, from 1975. The other is the bigger hit but is also somewhat more dated (and a little silly in places): “Walkin’ In The Rain With the One I Love” from three years earlier.

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Portrait of the Originals

The Originals: “The Bells”

#12 in 1970

The Originals seem so obscure today that their name might be more familiar to you as one of the former names of the band Spinal Tap than that of a hit making 70’s soul act. But hit makers they were, at least for a proverbial 15 minutes.

Their two biggest songs, “Baby I’m For Real” and “The Bells” both had a throwback, pseudo doo-wop ballad sound. They sounded a little out of time even in their time. And both just missed that top ten cutoff point that’s often the bar of performance for an oldies playlist. Anyway, does this ring a bell?

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The Top and Bottom Singles Collection 1969-1971

Brenda & The Tabulations: “Right On the Tip of My Tongue”

#23 in 1971

“Right On The Tip of My Tongue”, which should be familiar to you if the above songs are. And #23 wasn’t good enough to carry it through the ensuing decades’ radio playlists. But it sounds like classic 70’s R&B to me.

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S/T LP (VINYL) US UNITED ARTISTS 1972

Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose: “Treat Her Like a Lady”

#3 in 1971

Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose had two massive hits, only one of which has become a perennial. 1972’s silky, string-laden “Too Late to Turn Back Now” went to #2 and is an oldies staple. The grittier, more rhythmic “Treat Her Like a Lady”, which climbed to #3 one year previous, sounds a little fresher today due to that whole “absence makes the ears grow fonder” thing. See if you agree…

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I'm Doin' Fine Now

New York City: “I’m Doin’ Fine Now”

#17 in 1973

New York City is probably the least familiar name of this bunch. But their only top 40 hit and its smooth proto-disco sound perfectly evoke the summer of ’73. It’s also as good a Spinners impersonation as I’ve heard, which is high praise indeed.

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