1 YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND – James Taylor
2 MAGGIE MAY – Rod Stewart
3 IMAGINE – John Lennon
4 RAINY DAYS AND MONDAYS – Carpenters
5 TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS – John Denver
6 ROSE GARDEN – Lynn Anderson
7 JUST MY IMAGINATION (Running Away With Me) – The Temptations
8 MY SWEET LORD – George Harrison
9 IT’S TOO LATE – Carole King
10 JOY TO THE WORLD – Three Dog Night
11 THE SUMMER KNOWS – Michel Legrand
12 KNOCK THREE TIMES – Dawn
13 LOVE STORY (WHERE DO I BEGIN) – Andy Williams
14 MR. BOJANGLES – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
15 INDIAN RESERVATION (The Lament Of The Cherokee) – The Raiders
16 ME AND BOBBY McGEE – Janis Joplin
17 NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE – The Jackson 5
18 SUPERSTAR – Carpenters
19 HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART – The Bee Gees
20 I DON’T KNOW HOW TO LOVE HIM – Helen Reddy
21 THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN – Joan Baez
22 WHAT’S GOING ON – Marvin Gaye
23 KISS AN ANGEL GOOD MORNING – Charlie Pride
24 AIN’T NO SUNSHINE – Bill Withers
25 WILD NIGHT – Van Morrison
26 I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING – Hilltop Singers
27 BABY I’M A WANT-YOU – Bread
28 TEMPTATION EYES – The Grass Roots
29 SHE’S A LADY – Tom Jones
30 UNCLE ALBERT/ADMIRAL HALSEY – Paul & Linda McCartney
31 WATCHING SCOTTY GROW – Bobby Goldsboro
32 FOR ALL WE KNOW – Carpenters
33 PUT YOUR HAND IN THE HAND – Ocean
34 ME AND YOU AND A DOG NAMED BOO – Lobo
35 STONEY END – Barbra Streisand
36 WHEN YOU’RE HOT, YOU’RE HOT – Jerry Reed
37 PROUD MARY – Ike & Tina Turner
38 IT DON’T COME EASY – Ringo Starr
39 DON’T PULL YOUR LOVE – Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
40 PURE IMAGINATION – Gene Wilder
41 COLOR MY WORLD – Chicago
42 SIGNS – The Five Man Electrical Band
43 DRAGGIN’ THE LINE – Tommy James
44 ONE BAD APPLE – The Osmonds
45 BEGINNINGS – Chicago
46 CHICK-A-BOOM (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It) – Daddy Dewdrop
47 ONE TOKE OVER THE LINE – Brewer & Shipley
48 HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT – Sammi Smith
49 AMAZING GRACE – Judy Collins
50 THAT’S THE WAY I’VE ALWAYS HEARD IT SHOULD BE – Carly Simon
51 I AM…I SAID – Neil Diamond
52 SOONER OR LATER – The Grass Roots
53 IF NOT FOR YOU – Olivia Newton-John
54 ALL I EVER NEED IS YOU – Sonny & Cher
If this is your first look at a PopularSong.org top hits list, be advised that this is not a list based on sales, radio play, or original popularity. It is a list of the songs from 1971 that have shown staying power, and are most familiar to today’s fans of American Pop. Songs that are considered purely “rock and roll” or “country” are not included on this list, although some of each will appear. The songs must be considered “pop” and potentially “pop standards.” The order and ranking change from time to time as songs become revitalized in movie soundtracks, cover versions, etc.
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1971 is an important milestone in the history of American Popular Song. Most notable is the absence of The Beatles, although all four are represented as solo artists on this list. Elvis doesn’t appear at all. It also marks the first time that only one traditional male “crooner” appears, that being Andy Williams. Frank Sinatra was “retired” until 1973.
A couple of interesting notes from the silver screen, perhaps the oddest being “Pure Imagination” as performed by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This song was not a hit, not considered noteworthy, and in fact made some critics cringe. The film has had incredible staying power, and the song has become unexpectedly popular over time. It is in fact better known today than a song from the small screen, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” which debuted in a commercial for Coca-Cola.
The song that actually was the best-selling and most-played in the USA in 1971 was a Three Dog Night recording of Hoyt Axton’s “Joy To The World.” Three Dog Night was enormously popular in the early 1970s but faded from the public eye just a few years later; it’s hard to believe that such a monster group fell so far so quickly. Part of the reason was infighting among the three key members, Cory Wells, Danny Hutton, and Check Negron. Another big factor was Negron’s headlong spiral into addiction. Interesting to note that “Joy to the World” was nearly dismissed by the group, but something about Axton’s demo intrigued Negron. He then recorded the lead with a vocal approach best described as “over-the-top,” which put the record into orbit. The tune makes a comeback from time to time, but has been eclipsed by those listed ahead of it. Negron eventually recovered from his demons, much to the (thankful) amazement of those who knew him.
Back to the list. It’s also interesting to note that a number of songs that were definitely “rock” at the time have evolved into standards. Perhaps the most notable of these is “Maggie May,” in which case both the song and the singer have become “standards” over the passage of time. A couple that have yet to enjoy this type of acceptance, and as yet are not listed, include “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones, and “Oya Como Va” by Carlos Santana. If you aren’t familiar with our litmus test, it is to try and imagine Perry Como performing the song. “Maggie May” yes; “Brown Sugar” not quite.
Fans of Willy Wonka might be wondering why Sammy Davis Jr’s take on “Candy Man” is not listed; fact is the song came out almost a year after the film. Sammy charted it in June, 1972. Speaking of sugar-coated, one of the top selling songs of the year was “Go Away Little Girl,” as covered by Donny Osmond. Donny could really do no wrong in 1971, but the PopularSong.org Society believes that the tune belongs in a 1963 list, as recorded by Steve Lawrence.
While Donny dominated with the teenybopper set, adult listeners voted overwhelmingly with their checkbooks for the sounds of The Carpenters. Their songs simply dominated the charts, and in December 1971 would release “Hurting Each Other,” which rocketed to the top in February 1972.
A few more comments…
John Lennon’s “Imagine” is obviously one of the most significant songs of the year, but it interesting to note that it actually fared better around the world than it did in the US. It was out-sold, out-charted and out-played by songs like The Raiders’ “Indian Reservation” and virtually anything by the Osmonds, however it has shown substantially more staying power.
A song that should probably drop a few pegs is Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” but it carries enough recognition that it will stay put for now.
One curious song to note is “Chick A Boom”, languishing along in the lower tiers. It’s tough to include this one, considering how it has dropped from the public ear. The song was overplayed in 1971, defined the mood of the summer, and stays because a few of our editors say so. Feel free to ignore it, until it gets picked up in a movie soundtrack. Then you’ll know why it lingers.
Two singers we need to point out. The first is Helen Reddy, making her debut in the Great American Songbook with a cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from the smash show Jesus Christ Superstar. This would be followed by a string of eight consecutive massive hits, beginning with “I Am Woman” in 1972 and ending with “Emotion” in early 1975. She then released the forgettable “Free and Easy,” but picked right up where she left off and certainly was one of the top female artists of the decade.
The second noteworthy debut came from another hugely popular Australian female vocalist, Olivia Newton-John. The simplistic “If Not For You” is not nearly as powerful as Reddy’s debut, but Olivia would re-invent herself numerous times and find her way repeatedly to the top of the charts. Her run of massive hits culminated ten years later with the unlikely “Physical.”
Since we’re on the topic of female vocalists, it’s important to note the presence of Carole King on this list. She’s not only in the top ten with “It’s Too Late,” Carole also penned “You’ve Got A Friend,” the song we feel is the most “standard-like” of all the numbers we reviewed.