The Hits of 1973: Quality Stuff?
Debuts and big ones
In 1973 pandemic inflation and the Arab oil embargo caused economic woes around the world as prices soared in a domino effect. The case of Roe v Wade made abortion legal, and the hearings on Watergate began shortly after President Nixon was inaugurated. By the end of the year he was telling the country that he was not a crook. The war in Vietnam officially came to an end with the peace accords, the Sears Tower in Chicago opened its doors, and Skylab, the first US space station, was launched into orbit. On November 8 in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, the "most significant event in human history" happened, and I was there. Yes, pudgy little Guru Maharaji and his holy family put on quite a show for all his followers and other interested parties. But the significance was apparently lost on most of the world, and within a couple of years the Guru and his family had bigger problems than world peace to deal with.
What happened in 1973's music?
Overall it was a rather lackluster year for popular music, with sophomore slumps setting in for many recording artists who had started the decade strong. The top-selling singles included such blockbusters as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, The Ballroom Blitz, and Killing Me Softly With His Song. But there were many great debut albums from important performers such as Jimmy Buffet, Aerosmith, Tom Waits, Queen, and Gram Parsons. It was also a big year for big albums, with Pink Floyd's single record Dark Side of the Moon leading the pack and selling gazillions. Several classic double albums saw release this year, including Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes (the popular prog-rock band also released a triple-live album later in the year), the Who's Quadrophenia, Traffic Live, and Derek and the Dominoes Live.
Speaking of double albums, the Beatles were all over the charts in 1973 with not one, but two double record sets. The classic greatest hits albums known as the red one and the blue one (each covered different time periods) were bestsellers on the album charts. And it wasn't only the old Beatles that were selling, but the new ones too. Paul McCartney with Wings put out Red Rose Speedway and had a huge hit single from it, George Harrison released Living In the Material World, John Lennon was playing Mind Games, and even Ringo placed with his Ringo album. Last and maybe least, Yoko Ono put out 2 solo albums during the year, a sure sign of an industry slump.
The most exciting debut of the year was Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey by a guy that was destined to be all over the big magazine covers in a couple of years being touted as the new Dylan - Bruce Springsteen. At first merely a critic's darling, Bruce managed to record and release his second acclaimed album that same year. The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle showed that his debut was no fluke, and he would soon be proclaimed the future of rock and roll. For now, he was an interesting wordsmith and energetic performer whose music was a hybrid of rock, soul and R&B, with a gritty, urban sensibility and a poet's heart. As this is written in 2012, Springsteen still plays several songs from his first two albums at his marathon worldwide concerts. No doubt about it, Bruce was on his way to the top.
Bob Burns a Couple
Another artist who released two major recordings in 1973 was the amazing Bob Marley. While he didn't invent reggae, he certainly made it a worldwide phenomenon in a very short time. Catch a Fire and Burnin' were both almost perfect records, with fresh and surprisingly accessible lyrics and a beat that couldn't be beat. It wasn't rock and roll, but it was wildly popular, and would influence rock for generations. He had help from other Jamaican artists of course, notably Jimmy Cliff and Toots Maytal, who also put out two great records during the year. Reggae became a musical and social movement, with UK teens especially sensing a rebel with a cause that they could relate to, all fueled by ganja - what could be better?