Ranking #1 singles, U.S. edition: 1971

To enjoy “Brown Sugar” as sound-glorious-sound was always easy. Thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime riff composed by Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones’ first #1 of the seventies is all loping, thrusting rhythm.

Jagger, rehearsing the approach and outcome enshrined in the follow-up Exile on Main Street (1972), treats vowels like a mediocre Beaujolais he sloshes between his teeth. But the chorus is plenty legible. I won’t quote the lyrics. You’ve sung them in your car. I’ve sung them in my car. I have no need to sing it in my car again. Not when Sticky Fingers, the excellent if not quite epochal album on which it occupies prime real estate, boasts a similarly relentless (and Jagger-written) riff rocker called “Sway” and another one in the middle called “Bitch,” which, well, uh, has problems too. “The song traffics in repugnant stereotypes of black female sexuality, and it mines the historical atrocity of slavery for white male fantasy, while its rollicking and ebullient backing track implies a galling flippancy toward its own subject matter,” Jack Hamilton wrote in Just Around Midnight, his study of authenticity and white/Black musical cross-pollination. And he also thinks “Brown Sugar” has an irresistible chug. I don’t need to “cancel” “Brown Sugar” — “cancel culture” can’t exist in a capitalist society — because I stopped listening to it years ago.

ANYWAY. This year is about Rod Stewart inventing George Michael’s “One More Try”: the younger man enchanted by yet shirking the older lover who taught him a few things. I can respect but not understand how listeners never cared for Rod Stewart again. Listeners after a subtler and less fraught nexus between Black art and white exploitation should listen to, yeah, the Stones’ cover of The Temptations’ magisterial “Just My Imagination,” in which Jagger regards his own wistfulness as a grand joke.

Carole King’s genius was for songwriting but her gift — what made Tapestry briefly the biggest album in American history — was sounding like a normal person doing her job well. Like Jeff Bridges, her contemporary. Like Vanessa Williams later.

And, yeah, the Osmonds. Sorry. No puedo, as we say down here. A chilling cheerlessness. Listening to them sing is like watching an American Girl doll fry plantains. And “Go Away Little Girl” is repugnant garbage — who is this cross-eyed replicant to tell a friend to stay away? Really?

The Hague

Paul & Linda McCartney – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Donny Osmond – Go Away Little Girl
The Osmonds – One Bad Apple


Three Dog Night – Joy to the World
Melanie – Brand New Key
Dawn – Knock Three Times

Sound, Solid

Honey Cone – Want Ads
Paul Revere & The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)
James Taylor – You’ve Got a Friend

Good to Great

Rod Stewart – Maggie May/Reason to Believe
The Temptations – Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft
Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGhee
Sly and the Family Stone – Family Affair
The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar
Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Carole King – It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move
Cher – Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves

2 thoughts on “Ranking #1 singles, U.S. edition: 1971

  1. I was re-reading “Diálogos” between Ernesto Sabato and Jorge Luis Borges and one of the many subject matters was the anthitesis between an author’s goal and its results in literature. They gave many interesting examples. It’s illustrative of the case of “Brown Sugar” to me, a song that fascinates me as much as repelled me in equal measure, and I’m sorry If I’m going verbatim here because they talked about so many…
    Borges: There is a phrase from Kipling that he wrote at the end of his life: “A writer can
    be allowed to invent a fable but not the moral. “The example he chose for
    sustaining his theory was that Swift, who tried a plea against mankind and now is left with
    Gulliver, a book for kids. That is to say: the book lived, but not with the purpose
    of the author.

    Sábato: It is complex enough to be a hideous plea and at the same time a book of
    adventures for kids. This ambiguity is frequent in the novel.

    Borges: I just thought of something. Suppose that Aesop existed and that he wrote his fables. But possibly he was more amused by the idea of animals speaking like little men than
    morals. Those morals were added later.

    Sábato: It is because no work of art is moralizing in the edifying sense of the word.
    If they serve the man it is in a deeper sense, as dreams serve, which almost
    are always terrible. Or the tragedies. You spoke of Macbeth: it’s awful, but it works. Y
    I do not know if it would not be fair to delete that “but”, and instead putting “and for that very reason.

    Borges: Undoubtedly. One of the books I read is Le Feu, by Barbusse. He wrote it against the
    war and the result is almost an exaltation of war. Only when a work is not worth it is when it fulfills the author’s purposes …

    Sábato: At the time of the French Revolution there were books that were called things like
    Virgin and republican, with a moral from the title. We can already imagine what they would be worth. But all revolutions are moralistic and puritanical. In Russia, works of
    theater with titles like The exemplary tractor driver … Revolutions are conservative in the
    art. The French Revolution did not take Delacroix, the one of passion painting, as a paradigm
    and rebel, but the academic David, the one of the pompiers.

    Borges: When Bernard Shaw was in Russia he advised them to close the museum of the
    Revolution. Of course, it was not necessary to influence with the bad example …

    Sábato: Because the artist is a rebel par excellence. That is why in revolutions they’re never
    doing well.

    Borges: I remember that in Russia they made two films about Ivan the Terrible: one, at the beginning(the good one) against tsarism; the other, when Stalin had become a new tsar, in
    favor of tsarism …

    Sábato: We know that great art can only be made in absolute freedom. The other is
    submission, conventional art and therefore false. And therefore it does not serve man. The
    dreams are useful because they are free.
    I’ve always thought this flurry of “stream of consciousness” in which Jagger apparently wrote it reveals, as great art does, much more than the inarguable sexism and racism of the storytelling. It plunders the musical history of black people from slave rhythms, to spirituals, to blues, to honky tonk. And further is willing to proudly crow about how tempting and good they are.
    In other words: It clears out (as in “whitening”, too) once and for all, that rock’n’roll has reached the masses by rejoicing in cultural appropiation. And I don’t think that was Jagger’s intentions. Its nastiness conceals a bigger truth. One that only the subsconcious mind, or the dreamworld, can conceal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: