150 Best Albums of 1974

Punk Rock Proper’s still a year or two away, which means music’s supposedly trapped at the absolute pinnacle of Needing Punk To Happen, and yet…damn, there were a lot of punks making good albums in 1974. Or at least people who, had they emerged only a couple years later, would almost certainly have been called punks whether they exhibited a foolproof appetite for searching and destruction of passersby or not. Even with Iggy and Alice taking the year off (studio-wise at least), you can start with some obvious household-name (by now if not then) glamsters from chart-topping New York Dolls on down: Bowie, Reed, Slade, Sweet, plus two albums each from Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music (sans Eno), Brian Eno (sans Roxy), Sparks, Suzi Quatro. Might as well toss in Kraftwerk and Funkadelic too — if not proto-punks (does anybody even use that term anymore?) per sé, they’re clearly proto-post-punks. Heck, even Miles Davis (also scoring twice) presaged no wavers like the Contortions with his collisions of noise and funk.

Which is to say even the multi-directionally shape-shifting weirdness that punk would quickly evolve into was already all through the air before punk even happened. Or at least before the Big Hype happened, probably more my point. And all those crystal-clear names above are only the beginning. In 1974, for instance, budding superduperstars Aerosmith, Kiss and Queen were all at the punkest they’d ever be. Blue Öyster Cult and Thin Lizzy would soon regularly rub shoulders with punk guttersnipes. And at subterranean sewer strata below street level, you’ve got sweathogs like Brownsville Station (sporting a leather-and-longhair look the Ramones may have learned from on the front of an album called School Punks), curmudgeonly John Lydon inspiration Kevin Coyne, pub crawlers Ducks Deluxe, Long Island weirdos the Good Rats, not-always-outer-spaced-out Hawkwind (whose Lemmy-growled “Lost Johnny” might well be Punktune of the Year), Heavy Metal Kids (name via Bill Burroughs), Hustler (name probably not via Larry Flynt since his porno started the same year), junior-varsity Roxy rollers Sailor, new-waver-to-be David Werner, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band from Scotland, Sadistic Mika Band from Japan, Skyhooks and Buster Brown from Australia — the latter, anchored by future Rose Tattoo shouter Angry Anderson and future AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd, a favorite of mod-hating Melbourne gang toughs called Sharpies.

And yet all of these grubby-fingernailed fisticuffs were happening at the exact same time as progressive rock scaling the highest heights of filigreed fantasy and fancy-pants fretwork. And rather than negating each other, mid ’70s glam and prog at their best kick each other into higher gear: Roxy, Eno, Sparks, Queen, SAHB, Sadistic Mika and others arguably even straddle the divide. Prairie proggers Styx covered the Knickerbockers’ 1966 garage nugget “Lies” in 1974. Bebop Deluxe leader Bill Nelson was a half-decade away from his own new wave LP; so was Robert Fripp, whose King Crimson put out maybe their two best albums in ’74. Robert Wyatt was midway between Soft Machine and Wanna Buy a Bridge? All told, I count at least 20 unabashed (if not necessarily concept-bound thank Zeus) prog albums among my personal list of 150 1974 favorites — probably the most ever. And beyond those, there are maybe a couple dozen additional art-rockish sets that at least dabble in part-time pomp and circumstance.

Still, I don’t think any of that stuff is the real story of 1974. Last week, I wrote up my 150 favorite albums of 1998/’99, and was embarrassed to report that the list featured a grand total of one r&b album. Even taking into account how hip-hop supplanted half of Black pop by the millennium’s turn, that’s a far cry from the r&b albums below, which number around 40, counting funky-mostly-whiteboys K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the Average White Band (and sort of Rufus, though not Hall & Oates whose War Babies is not only more rock but also more prog than you’d guess) and New Orleans paraders the Wild Magnolias and Meters (and sort of Labelle.) Several of these (Bohannon, B.T. Express, K.C., growing-up Jacksons, First Choice, George McRae, Ecstasy/Passion/Pain) are direct indications of disco to come. But there’s also hard funk, Philly sound both secular (Spinners x 2) and sacred (Mighty Clouds of Joy), Southern soul blues, high harmony groups, more maturing Motowners, Al Green taking us to the river, Gil Scott -Heron battling the bottle and Watergate, and Minnie Riperton shattering glass.

Who knows how much critics were paying attention. In the first (or second — long story) Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll , Stevie Wonder’s album with an awful title and two stupendous singles placed fourth, with AWB, Blue Magic, the lesser of two ’74 Spinners albums and the lesser of two ’74 Ohio Players albums (both of which I deemed too flabby despite “Fire”) further down the top 30. A more revealing blip is the four live albums in P&J’s top 25, which I doubt has happened since. I’m excluding archival collections on my lists (saving them for a separate category sometime next light year), which discounts the 1969 Velvet Underground, and I rate the other three exactly the same (Lou Reed solo at his most metal), much lower (Van Morrison) or much much lower (Dylan with the Band — basically Bob yells his words like he doesn’t care if they mean anything.) I also rank Mott the Hoople’s live set. But then I’ve never been a big live album fan (or Band fan, for that matter, and my Van fandom rarely exceeds his singles.)

Of course, Before the Flood and It’s Too Late To Stop Now aren’t just any old double live albums. They’re double live albums by genre-establishing ’60s singer-songwriters not to mention icons of traditionally hardy blues-based — which is to say, pre-“progressive” — rock, albeit self-conscious auteurs who (via really long songs for instance) paradoxically set rock on its inexorable path toward progressivism. All relevant attrubutes, given high P&J rankings also afforded artistes like Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons and Ry Cooder (not to mention Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, who actually deserved it.) Solo troubadours galore — though the finish that most astounds me might well be the even more iconically blues-based Rolling Stones’ dumbfoundingly mediocre (in Stones terms at least) It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, way up in fifth place.

Clearly this isn’t the sort of rock that tastemakers thought punk was needed to set straight. Neither were the Raspberries and Big Star, both hailed for supposedly recalling the innocent joy of the pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles (and maybe pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys?), whether they literally sounded like those ’60s Hall of Famers or not. Listening now, I still wish Big Star hooked as much as they twisted (or weren’t so subtle about it) and powered as much as they popped, and I’m surprised how much the Raspberries’ Starting Over sounds not only like the Sweet’s import-only Sweet Fanny Adams, but even like Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack. Eric Carmen was a Rachmaninoff buff, after all. Prog-pop, call it — Sparks and 10cc and Supertramp might reside in the same subdivision.

My list has its own share of traditional blues-based hard rock — the Dolls (covering Cadets/Jayhawks, Archie Bell & the Drells, Coasters, Sonny Boy Williamson) and Aerosmith (covering Tiny Bradshaw/Johnny Burnette) Stonesed way better than the Stones in ’74, and so in their own ways did Brownsville Station (covering Slim Harpo, Gary Glitter, Eddy Grant’s Equals), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, the J. Geils Band, even B.T.O. and Elton John if “The Bitch is Back” counts. A few paragraphs back I suggested Ducks Deluxe were proto-punks, but really they were way more proto-new-wavers in the preservationist Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe sense. The most reactionarily rockabilling new wavers just wanted rock to get back to where it once belonged.

But again, that was already happening — note comebacks below by Brooklyn Brill Building piano prodigy Neil Sedaka and Philly beach-music doo-woppers the Tymes, both celebrating their first substantial pop hits since 1963. Hell, way down at the bottom, note cosplay cornballs Sha Na Na, whose Hot Sox is probably the only album on this list that I actually personally (if only briefly) owned in 1974, apparent fallout from American Graffiti (1973), The Lords of Flatbush (1974), Happy Days (1974 debut), and at least one “’50s Day” at my high school during which I slicked my hair back as a geeky new freshman whose dad had just died in February so good for whatever took my mind off the trauma. That Hot Sox introduced me to “Easier Said Than Done” by the Essex and “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by the Reflections are clear points in its favor. First time I read about the Ramones, I pictured a whole band of Bowzers.

Glam had its rock’n’roll-revival side too, obviously — Mott the Hoople opened 1974’s “Roll Away the Stone” inviting us to “a rockabilly party on Saturday night,” the Sweet remade Joey Dee’s “Peppermint Twist,” and Suzi Quatro was three years away from her role as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. Then again, glam-adjacent Brit schlockers Paper Lace scored huge in “The Night Chicago Died” with nostalgia for an even earlier decade, one with Al Capone in it. And the decidedly non-glam Eagles’ On the Border had songs called both “Ol’ 55” (via Tom Waits) and “James Dean.” I eventually decided I’d rather hang on the beach with Neil Young than on the border with the Eagles, but it was a close call — that is some somnambulant Neil on that sandy shore, even if he does croon about minor league baseball. In a few years though, he’d embrace Johnny Rotten.

  1. New York Dolls In Too Much Too Soon (Mercury)
  2. Miles Davis Get Up With It (Columbia)
  3. Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping (MCA)
  4. Mott the Hoople The Hoople (Columbia)
  5. Joni Mitchell Court and Spark (Asylum) 
  6. Aerosmith Get Your Wings (Columbia)
  7. Randy Newman Good Old Boys (Reprise)
  8. Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Island)
  9. Richard and Linda Thompson I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Island UK)
  10. Henry Cow Unrest (Virgin UK)
  11. Suzi Quatro Suzi Quatro  (Bell)
  12. Funkadelic Standing on the Verge of Getting it On (Westbound)
  13. Sparks Kimono My House (Antilles)
  14. Good Rats Tasty (Warner Bros.)
  15. Man Rhinos, Winos + Lunatics (United Artists)
  16. Pharaoh Sanders Love in Us All (Impulse!/ABC)
  17. Roxy Music Country Life (Atco)
  18. This is Reggae Music (Island)
  19. David Bowie Diamond Dogs (RCA Victor)
  20. King Crimson Red (Atlantic)
  21. Bohannon Keep On Dancin’ (Dakar)
  22. Lou Reed Rock N Roll Animal (RCA Victor)
  23. The Sweet Sweet Fanny Adams (RCA Victor UK)
  24. Bob Seger Seven (Capitol)
  25. B.T. Express Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied) (Scepter/Roadshow)
  26. Brownsville Station School Punks (Big Tree)
  27. K.C. and the Sunshine Band Do It Good (TK)
  28. Kiss Kiss (Chrysalis)
  29. Miles Davis Big Fun (Columbia)
  30. Spinners New and Improved (Atlantic)
  31. Roxy Music Stranded (Atco)
  32. 10cc Sheet Music (UK)
  33. Amon Düül II Hijack (Atco)
  34. Sadistic Mika Band Sadistic Mika Band/ 黒船/Black Ship (Harvest)
  35. Kraftwerk Autobahn (Vertigo)
  36. Brian Eno Here Come the Warm Jets (Island)
  37. Bachman-Turner Overdrive Not Fragile (Mercury)
  38. Nino Rota Amarcord (RCA Red Seal)
  39. Steely Dan Pretzel Logic (ABC)
  40. Skyhooks Living in the ‘70s (Mushroom Australia)
  41. Stevie Wonder Fulfillingness’ First Finale (Tamla/Motown)
  42. Dadawah Peace and Love/Wadadasow (Wild Flower Jamaica)
  43. Parliament Up for the Down Stroke (Casablanca)
  44. UFO Phenomenon (Chrysalis)
  45. The Jimmy Castor Bunch Butt of Course… (Atlantic)
  46. The Fatback Band Keep On Steppin’ (Event)
  47. Hustler High Street (A&M)
  48. Heavy Metal Kids Heavy Metal Kids (Atco)
  49. Budgie In for the Kill (MCA)
  50. Slade Stomp Your Hands, Clap Your Feet/Old New Borrowed and Blue (Atco)
  51. Bobby Bland Dreamer (ABC Dunhill)
  52. Jane III (Brain Germany)
  53. King Crimson Starless and Bible Black (Atlantic)
  54. Marion Brown Sweet Earth Flying (Impulse!/ABC)
  55. Blue Öyster Cult Secret Treaties (Columbia)
  56. Phoebe Snow Phoebe Snow (Shelter)
  57. Queen Sheer Heart Attack (Elektra)
  58. The Wild Magnolias The Wild Magnolias (Polydor)
  59. J. Geils Band Nightmares (Atlantic)
  60. Shirley Brown Woman to Woman (Truth)
  61. The Stylistics Let’s Put It All Together (Avco)
  62. Elton John Caribou (MCA)
  63. Spinners Mighty Love (Atlantic)
  64. Neil Sedaka Sedaka’s Back (The Rocket Record Company) 
  65. Van Morrison It’s Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros.)
  66. The Marshall Tucker Band A New Life (Capricorn)
  67. Hawkwind Hall of the Mountain Grill  (United Artists)
  68. Mutantes Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol (Som Livre Brazil)
  69. Thin Lizzy Nightlife (Mercury)
  70. Bebop Deluxe Axe Victim (Harvest)
  71. Minnie Riperton Perfect Angel (Epic)
  72. Mott the Hoople Live (Columbia)
  73. Suzi Quatro Quatro (Bell)
  74. Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO)
  75. Daryl Hall/John Oates War Babies (Atlantic)
  76. Average White Band Average White Band (Atlantic)
  77. Commodores Machine Gun (Motown)
  78. Betty Wright Danger High Voltage (Alston)
  79. Jackson 5ive Dancing Machine (Motown)
  80. First Choice The Player (Philly Groove)
  81. George McRae Rock Your Baby (TK)
  82. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band The Impossible Dream (Vertigo)
  83. Judas Priest Rocka Rolla (GRT)
  84. Sparks Propaganda (Island)
  85. Styx Man of Miracles (Wooden Nickel)
  86. Bill Neely Blackland Farm Boy (Arhoolie)
  87. Magma Köhntarkösz (A&M)
  88. Mick Ronson Slaughter on 10th Avenue (RCA)
  89. Al Green Explores Your Mind (Hi)
  90. Jorge Ben A Tábua De Esmeralda (Phillips Brazil)
  91. Nazareth Rampant (A&M)
  92. Rush Rush (Mercury)
  93. The Meters Rejuvenation (Reprise)
  94. Labelle Nightbirds (Epic)
  95. David Werner Whizz Kid (RCA)
  96. Blue Magic Blue Magic (Atco)
  97. The Mighty Clouds of Joy It’s Time (ABC/Dunhill)
  98. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan Rufusized (ABC)
  99. Kevin Coyne Blame it on the Night (Virgin UK)
  100. Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson Winter in America (Strata-East) 
  101. Abba Waterloo (Atlantic)
  102. Camel Mirage (Janus)
  103. Raspberries Starting Over (Capitol)
  104. Millie Jackson Caught Up (Spring)
  105. The Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock ’n Roll (Rolling Stones)
  106. Kansas Kansas (Kirshner)
  107. Bob Dylan/The Band Before the Flood (Asylum)
  108. Sailor Sailor (Epic)
  109. Lou Courtney I’m in Need of Love (Rags/Epic)
  110. Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom (Virgin)
  111. Black Heat No Time to Burn (Atlantic)
  112. Yes Relayer (Atlantic)
  113. Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan Rags to Rufus (ABC)
  114. Neil Young On the Beach (Reprise)
  115. Merle Haggard and the Strangers If We Make It Through December (Capitol)
  116. The Pointer Sisters That’s A Plenty  (Blue Thumb)
  117. Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes Call of the Wild (Discreet)
  118. Ry Cooder Paradise and Lunch (Reprise)
  119. Billy Swan I Can Help (Monument)
  120. Bad Company Bad Company (Swan Song)
  121. Fancy Wild Thing (Big Tree)
  122. Nektar Down to Earth (Passport)
  123. Eagles On the Border (Asylum)
  124. Paper Lace Paper Lace (Mercury)
  125. White Witch A Spiritual Greeting (Capricorn) 
  126. Gentle Giant The Power and the Glory (Capitol)
  127. Grady Tate Movin’ Day (Janus)
  128. Earth, Wind & Fire Open Your Eyes (Columbia)
  129. Little Feat Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (Warner Bros.)
  130. Gram Parsons Grevious Angel (Reprise)
  131. Robin Trower Bridge of Sighs (Chrysalis)
  132. Ecstasy, Passion & Pain Ecstasy, Passion & Pain (Roulette)
  133. Merle Haggard and the Strangers Presents His 30th Album (Capitol)
  134. Ducks Deluxe Ducks Deluxe (RCA Victor)
  135. Jethro Tull Warchild (Chrysalis)
  136. The Tymes Trustmaker (MCA)
  137. Big Star Radio City (Ardent)
  138. Gong You (Virgin)
  139. Betty Davis They Say I’m Different (Just Sunshine)
  140. Linda Ronstadt Heart Like a Wheel (Capitol)
  141. Hatfield and the North Hatfield and the North (Virgin)
  142. Aretha Franklin Let Me in Your Life (Atlantic)
  143. Buster Brown Something to Say (Mushroom Australia)
  144. Richard Pryor That N****r’s Crazy (Partee/Reprise) 
  145. Gladys Knight and the Pips Claudine (Buddah)
  146. Dolly Parton Jolene (RCA Victor)
  147. Joe Walsh Welcome to the Club (ABC Dunhill)
  148. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band The Good Earth (Warner Bros.)
  149. Supertramp Crime of the Century (A&M)
  150. Sha Na Na Hot Sox (Kama Sutra)

4 comments

  1. Via facebook:

    Nate Patrin
    See, this is the kind of “””revisionist””” history I can get behind. Considering the prog and Miles nods, all I’d add — and this is just me being me — would be a whole grip of jazz records, everything from the likes of Alphonse Mouzon and his shreddin’ pals (’74-recorded, ’75-released ‘Mind Transplant’), the Guinean greats Bembeya Jazz National (‘Mémoire De Aboubacar Demba Camara’ featuring the absolutely diabolical “Waraba”), some choice Black Jazz-released soul jazz like Calvin Keys (‘Proceed With Caution!’) and Doug Carn (‘Adam’s Apple’) and Henry Franklin (‘The Skipper At Home’), Hugh Masekela’s ‘I Am Not Afraid’ (featuring a DYNAMITE take on “Night in Tunisia”), John Henderson & Alice Coltrane’s ‘The Elements’, Julian Priester’s bitchin’ brew ‘Love, Love’, Marc Moulin’s out-there ‘Sam Suffy’ (the “Tohu Bohu” suite is majestic as hell), Mulatu Astatke’s genre-defining ‘Ethio Jazz’, Perigeo’s Italo-prog-fusion wig-out ‘Genealogia’, and Roy Ayers at his cratedigger-luring peak (‘Change Up the Groove’).
    Wow OK I went on a bit there. Whew. But that’ll happen when I see a list where 90% of it makes me go “yeah this album owns” and then I want to chime in with what else owns.

    Ian Rosen
    I’ve heard that specific year mentioned as especially lame in terms of rock music. Nice to see an appreciation.

    Jaz Jacobi
    I think, of these lists I’ve seen thus far, this is the one I am most sympatico with. We might even agree on the #1 album! 🙂

    Tom Lane
    I really like that Neil Sedaka album.

    Jim Macnie
    best description of Before the Flood i’ve ever read: (Dylan with the Band — basically Bob yells his words like he doesn’t care if they mean anything.) when i heard it upon its release it was like “what is this guy going on about? – take it down a notch… See More

    Rolf B. Bloodstar
    Suzi Quatro! Twice! ❤

    Steve Pick
    Oh, man, there were a lot of great records that year, and if I get time, I’ll try to think of ones I loved that you didn’t. But meanwhile, I already like a lot or love eight of your top nine, and there are days when Lynyrd Skynyrd sounds like something I love, and days when I just can’t connect with them. And I do love the Henry Cow I’ve heard, so maybe I’d like this one, too, but I haven’t heard it. Seven of the next ten are old faves of mine, too, including the This is Reggae Music comp, which helped establish that genre with those of us who liked cut-out bins.

    Edd Hurt
    “Court and Spark” was as good as I remembered it when I listened recently. So was “Pretzel Logic.”

    Chuck Eddy
    I didn’t mention Pretzel Logic in my intro spiel. It’s one of my least favorite ’70s Steely Dan albums — Somehow, it lacks energy compared to most of the others. I still like it fine, obviously, but its A+ reputation has always stumped me.

    Nate Patrin
    It does feel kinda transitional / leftovery to me, but those first three tracks, *whew*.

    Nate Patrin
    it also always bugged me, dating back to my young-teen cratedigging days, how the vendor’s cart misspells it as “PRETZLES”

    Michaelangelo Matos
    They were cleaning out the songwriting closet, as Jody Beth put it.

    Jody Beth LaFosse
    Michaelangelo Matos God, I love the stray-dog stuff on “Pretzel” that fits there because it doesn’t fit on any other Dan record. “With a Gun” sounds like Basement Tapes Bob rearranged as a TV western theme.

    Like

  2. via facebook:

    Kevin Bozelka
    In Too Much Too Soon too low!!!

    Chuck Eddy
    Sorry I couldn’t put it at #0!

    Kevin Bozelka
    Did you do 1975 yet? Kind of obsessed with that year.

    Chuck Eddy
    Kevin Bozelka Nah — I’m trying to jump around chronologically as much as possible, but I’m sure I’ll have fun when I get to it!

    Sang Freud
    i could live forever in 1974. thanks for the tip on that buster brown. right up my alley.

    Chuck Eddy
    If your alley has room for more street-brawling Aussie tough guys, Mighty Kong’s All I Wanna Do Is Rock and Buffalo’s Only Want You For Your Body would probably wind up on a list of my next 25 or so 1974 also-rans.

    Sang Freud
    i’ve heard the buffalo. need to check out mighty kong.

    Patrick Hould
    I think this is my favorite one so far. What a year! I don’t know how far forward and backwards your lists go, but I think the next one should be either 1963 or 2015.

    Chuck Eddy
    Ha! I’ve been procrastinating on digging into the 2010s (even 2000s maybe.) If I do 1963, I’d have to combine it with a couple other years in the general vicinity. But will definitely keep those nominations in mind!

    Zac Harmon
    Thanks Chuck. I will now go download every single album on this list that I don’t yet own.

    Zac Harmon
    Well, maybe not Sha Na Na…

    Graham Ashmore
    My brother was honked off that Queen II, Dancehall Sweethearts, and Wish You Were Here (the better one, Badfinger’s) aren’t on the list, but he’s gotta be happy as a Skyhooks and Budgie man.

    Chuck Eddy
    Queen II just missed! Too rock-operatic for me, or something.

    Edd Hurt
    Two great Moe Bandy albums in 1974, also Jones’ “The Grand Tour.”

    Chuck Eddy
    I figured I might be skimping on country somewhat. At least you didn’t mention Willie’s Phases and Stages, suffocated by its own alleged concept.

    Edd Hurt
    Not my favorite Willie, agree. Overrated.

    Edd Hurt
    Thomas Jefferson Kaye’s “First Grade” is really good. “American Lovers” is one of the best Becker and Fagen songs.

    Chuck Eddy
    I have TJK’s first LP, from 1973. Just barely a keeper, to my ears. Honestly I still get him mixed up with Andy Fairweather Low.

    Edd Hurt
    The second one is way better. Low”s “Spider Jiving” makes my 1974 list for sure.

    Like

  3. Slade – album: Old New Borrowed and Blue #1 (UK) – 15/02/74
    Pg fb@https://www.facebook.com/cozweluvyou

    Like

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