Every #1 Hit Song From 1973 Ranked From Worst to Best

Featuring songs from Helen Reddy, Paul McCartney & Wings, Stevie Wonder and more

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Every #1 Hit Song From 1973 Ranked From Worst to Best

For the next five weeks, we’re going to be ranking every Billboard #1 hit from 1973, 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013 from worst to best in each respective year. Beginning today with 1973, it’ll be our largest list, clocking in at an unfathomable 27 songs. For reference, next week’s 1983 list only contains a dozen tracks. Very few hits from 1973 ruled the charts for more than a week, giving a dynamic cast of characters for our first installment. As is the case with the era these songs came from, there are a few underwhelming entries. But, there are just as many all-time great tracks that have transcended the limitations of any box that the mainstream charts might have once put them in.

None of these songs are bad, though. That must be said. To score a #1 hit is an achievement that makes your career immortal in some capacity. Even one-hit-wonders have transcended musical greatness—they put in the work and got to the promised land. 1973 offered up a great mix of one-time chart-toppers and rock ‘n’ roll legends. From songs by Grand Funk Railroad to Paul McCartney & Wings to Stevie Wonder, here is every #1 hit from 1973 ranked. —Matt Mitchell, Assistant Music Editor

27. Dawn: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (ft. Tony Orlando)”
My apologies to anyone whose favorite song is “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn and Tony Orlando, but this song is just not a chart-topping heavyweight. In a year where there was almost a new #1 hit every week of the year, Dawn’s jubilant tune did command the top spot for 28 days—a true feat among this crew of songs. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” however, is a novelty pop song best fit for a Disney musical or a happily-ever-after montage, and there are 26 better songs from 1973. —Matt Mitchell

26. Charlie Rich: “The Most Beautiful Girl”
Who let this country-soul ballad hold court at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in late-December for two weeks? What a peculiar way to finish the year, and thank goodness that Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” saved the day just before 1974 rang in. Charlie Rich is a legend, no doubt, but when you place “The Most Beautiful Girl” in conversation with something like “Superstition,” it just looks comical. This is the crux of the chart’s legacy, however, as 1973—like many years from that era—let some real clunkers take a piece of musical immortality. For every great, century-defining song, there’s a song like “The Most Beautiful Girl” to balance it out—and that’s the equilibrium of pop music, baby. —Matt Mitchell

25. Maureen McGovern: “The Morning After”
Maureen McGovern should thank the Academy every day for her lone #1 single in the U.S. The future Broadway star recorded this hot slab of schmaltz in 1972 for the blockbuster disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, helping earn it an Oscar for Best Original Song the following March. 20th Century Fox knew an opportunity when they had one and quickly rushed a single to market. Heavy radio airplay followed and this creaking love theme soared up the charts and pushed aside the #13 song on this list. The song’s hopeful lyrics and syrupy production likely felt good amid the malaise of the Vietnam era, but heard 50 years later, it plays like an awkward fireside singalong at a church summer camp. —Robert Ham

24. Helen Reddy: “Delta Dawn”
Helen Reddy’s cover of Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” has the unfortunate legacy of being the intermission between two separate #1 reigns for Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” This is likely the most malleable track on the list, as nearly every iteration of it finds a home on the charts someplace. Bette Midler’s version defined her 1971 debut album, while Tucker’s became a Top-10 country hit in 1972. It makes sense that Reddy’s cover is what found the most success, as it achieved the greatest crossover appeal. Her lending pop sensibilities to a steadfast country ballad was a million-dollar combination—and it helped make Reddy and “Delta Dawn” household names. “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on?” is a recognizable line for anyone who lived through the era—though fans of Friends may recogize its inclusion in a later season of the show. —MM

23. Grand Funk Railroad: “We’re an American Band”
I used to love Grand Funk Railroad so much, especially “Some Kind of Wonderful.” My mom gifted me one of their CDs when I was young, and I ate it up. But, I do think “We’re an American Band” is one of the worst rock ‘n’ roll anthems ever written. I mean, it’s fine, and, these days, that is how you can describe 90% of the songs that top the charts. But I look at this slate of #1 hits, and it’s hard to consider a world where “We’re an American Band” ranks near the top. My apologies to any Grand Funk Railroad devotees out there who disagree, but a loud, patriotic message (“We’re coming to your town, we’ll help you party it down”) about being a domestic, ragtag group of rock practitioners hasn’t aged all that well. There are worse #1 hits, though. —MM

22. Vicki Lawrence: “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”
This track would likely be higher if it wasn’t so overshadowed by Reba McEntire’s superior 1991 version. Vicki Lawrence does shine here, though, as the chorus is beautiful, orchestral and iconic. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” is a legendary song for good reason, though it was not the best Georgia-centric song of 1973. This was a decade where country and pop merged often, and the charts reconfigured themselves to reflect that fusion. The only problem with Lawrence’s version of this Bobby Russell-penned hit is that the instrumentation during the verses is often bland and unmoving. For a chorus so singular, it’s underwhelming to see a song turn this uneven. —MM

21. The Edgar Winter Group: “Frankenstein”
At the end of May 1973, the Edgar Winter Group’s prog-rock classic “Frankenstein” became the most popular song in America. What might be the greatest surprise, however, is that the seminal track is an instrumental—and it’s not often that a composition like that finds chart-topping immortality. But bandleader and namesake Edgar Winter is in the echelons of rock ‘n’ roll’s songwriting greatness for a reason; “Frankenstein” is disgustingly groovy and unforgettable. That opening riff from Ronnie Montrose paired with Winter’s ARP 2600 synth? Stop playing, there are few opening chord progressions as deft. To boot, hoochie-koo kingpin Rick Derringer helmed the production on “Frankenstein”—and it was a match made in Heaven. —MM

20. Billy Preston: “Will It Go Round in Circles”
This is the point in the list where every entry is a winner. In 1973, there was no keyboardist in the world more famous than Billy Preston—who had become the (unofficial) fifth member of the Beatles on Let It Be and worked extensively with the Rolling Stones. His chart-topping funk masterpiece “Will It Go Round in Circles” was deserved and earned, as it took the #1 spot for two weeks in July. With a horn section led by master saxophonist Tom Scott, the melody of Preston’s track is incomparable. It oozes blues and soul with the magnitude of a rock ‘n’ roll anthem, which, in retrospect, very much became Preston’s bread-and-butter. His solo work often doesn’t get the same credit that his session parts do, but “Will It Go Round in Circles” is the caliber of song that defines careers. In the case of Preston’s artistry, he was simply just too talented to stop at the top. —MM

19. Cher: “Half-Breed”
Cher’s “Half-Breed” is the epitome of what a 1973 pop hit is meant to sound like. The string movements, her commanding vocal grandeur, it’s all perfect. And, look, Cher can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. It’s hard to imagine a world where her existence wasn’t royalty, but, much like when Dolly Parton separated from her writing partner Porter Wagoner that same year, Cher going solo was not initially revered by her fanbase. While “Half-Breed” might not be the song everyone considers as Cher’s best, it’s the one that solidified the most important truth: She never needed Sonny Bono to strike gold. For that, we are forever grateful. —MM

18. The Carpenters: “Top of the World”
For two weeks in December 1973, the Carpenters held court at #1 with “Top of the World.” A perfect folk-country track, “Top of the World” is one of those compositions that can define a superstar—and this is where Karen Carpenter truly turned into a one-of-a-kind, era-defining singer. The song was initially going to be an album-only inclusion, but when Lynn Anderson’s cover peaked at #2 on the country charts, Karen and Richard Carpenter opted to give it the single treatment. There are quite a few songs on this list that are not the definitive tracks by the artists who made them, but “Top of the World” is, without a doubt, the Carpenters’ greatest offering. —MM

17. Stories: “Brother Louie”
I consider myself a musical savant in some respects, but even I had to go back and re-familiarize myself with Stories’ cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie.” While the OG funk track written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson is great and worthy of praise all on its own, this is one of the rare instances where a cover song is, truly, the greater effort—and was rightfully rewarded with #1 hit status for 14 days. Sandwiched in-between cuts from Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, much of “Brother Louie’s” legacy has been lost among the sands of time. But those layered harmonies and that string melody and that delicious guitar solo make for a musical fusion of Nixon-era rock ‘n’ roll and early-disco that endures. We here at Paste humbly pay our respects to a forgotten masterpiece. —MM

16. Ringo Starr: “Photograph”
I occasionally wonder how John Lennon must have felt in 1973 watching his three Beatle bandmates all score #1 hits in the U.S. He may have been too drunk to notice. But, if he was paying attention, I imagine he would have cheered on the success of ol’ Ringo who, with some crucial assists from his buddies (George Harrison co-wrote this tune and provides both guitar and backing vocals), was emerging nicely from the shadow of his former group. “Photograph” is equal parts bitter and sweet; a jangly, instantly catchy pop song that catches Mr. Starkey softly lamenting the end of a relationship through the snapshot in his hand. —RH

15. Diana Ross: “Touch Me in the Morning”
Now, this is a ballad. And, of course, it was made by Diana Ross, one of the greatest vocalists to ever pick up a microphone. “Touch Me in the Morning,” the title track from Ross’ fourth solo record, is palpable, charming and energetic even in its delicacy. Ross’ vocals defy gravity here; the song is one of many notches in her belt of musical immortality. “Touch Me in the Morning” is Motown’s most underrated hit, and the sensuality that Ross exudes here is of her sweetest. She spun this ordinary ballad into solid, anthemic, rapturous gold—as Diana Ross was known to do. —MM

14. George Harrison: “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”
I have hardened a bit towards George Harrison’s solo work in recent years. When I was younger, I thought his immediate post-Beatles songs were breathtaking and masterful. I still think that, don’t get me wrong, but I do think Harrison positioned himself to be the first Beatle with the best career after the band’s breakup—and that outcome greatly shaped what became, otherwise, a lackluster catalog after 1971. Many of the songs on All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World were conceived while the Beatles were still together, and you can even catch a few tracks from the former in the Get Back sessions. By the time “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” came out, the Vietnam War was still gruesome and raging, and Harrison’s calls for peace and harmony and healing attempted to cut through the brutality and unrest 50 years ago; but, now, the track doesn’t stand the test of time like “My Sweet Lord” or “Wah-Wah” have. But, even Harrison’s most novel work is better than others’ best. —MM

13. Jim Croce: “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”
I am a noted devotee of Jim Croce. His gospel is unparalleled in folk-pop, and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is an unforgettable jangle of boogie-woogie perfection. Of course it was a #1 hit for two weeks; it’s one of the funnest songs of the entire decade. Croce was thinking, writing and singing a lot about the fear of losing a fight (“You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” covered similar ground a year prior), and I’m thankful he felt inspired enough to pen “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” The imagery of a face looking like “a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone” is still one of the slickest lines in all of rock ‘n’ roll. Croce was a master lyricist, and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” is his joyous, sing-along masterpiece. —MM

12. Paul McCartney & Wings: “My Love”
Legend has it that “My Love,” the first #1 hit for Paul McCartney’s band Wings, dates back to the end of the singer-songwriter’s tenure in the Beatles. True or not, what is clear about the song is that it was one of many that Macca wrote about his wife Linda during their time together. It’s hardly the best of that category of material, but it does what it sets out to do so very well. The vocal melody instantly hooks in one’s brain. The drizzle of syrup on the lyrics is perfectly sticky for instant singalongs. And the shimmery music proves to be ideal for first dances at a wedding, awkward slow dances at junior high mixers or heavy petting in the backseat of a car. —RH

11. Eddie Kendricks: “Keep on Truckin’”
While he was often overshadowed by David Ruffin when he was in the Temptations, vocalist Eddie Kendricks found his own stardom two years after leaving the beloved Motown group. “Keep On Truckin’” put his falsetto pipes into the limelight just as the Temptation track “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” had in 1971 when it topped the charts. Kendricks never found success like “Keep On Truckin’,” but the song is psychedelic funk at its very best. The OG, unedited version runs over seven minutes long and cascades into a rapturous concerto of prismatic sonics. Leonard Caston’s clavinet and Jerry Peters’ organ are shining stars, while Wrecking Crew percussionist Gary Coleman provides the backbeat skeleton that pushes the track into a boogie oasis. —MM

10. The O’Jays: “Love Train”
Ohio legends the O’Jays have so many heaters in their catalog that “Love Train” isn’t even their best work. But, it’s such a talismanic piece of the proto-disco movement that its importance cannot be overshadowed by the band’s full body of work. “Love Train” is a perfect amalgam of Philly soul and bubblegum pop; a formula that was well-loved and rewarded by the mainstream charts—so much so that even Elton John was trying to get in on the action with “Philadelphia Freedom.” “People all over the world, join hands, start a love train,” the crew harmonize. It’s an epic opening sequence that is still largely unparalleled in 1970s contemporary pop lore, and it cemented the O’Jays as R&B greats. —MM

9. Elton John: “Crocodile Rock”
Open your heart to the delicious, corny odyssey of “Crocodile Rock”; you deserve to fall in love with Elton John’s Farfisa organ, which embalmed the song with a theme park-style youthfulness that oozes nostalgia. I used to spend hours playing on Poptropica listening to this song on repeat—and this was long before I had access to a streaming service, so I would have to manually change tabs and restart the song on YouTube. That’s how serious I am about this. Is “Crocodile Rock” Elton’s greatest sonic achievement? No, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who will argue that it is. Is it Elton’s funnest song? Absolutely, no question about it. The lyrics make zero sense, and I have no idea who Suzie is, but I can’t help but get all giddy and bubbly when Elton careens into that nasally “la-la-la-la-la” at the end of the track. Not everything has to be a ballad about suicide, drug addiction or heartache! Taupin was onto something here, and I wish we’d gotten more playfulness like this over the years. Hey, it was Elton’s first-ever US number-one hit for a reason. —MM

8. Stevie Wonder: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
Stevie Wonder had a great 1973. Before Innervisions became his greatest album achievement, he found success on the charts with some cuts from 1972’s Talking Book. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is one of Wonder’s sweetest ballads. His Fender Rhodes comes to life here, punctuated by backing (and, momentarily, lead) vocals from Jim Gilstrap, Gloria Barley and Lani Groves. He’d win a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the song, which makes sense. It’s a soft, collective benchmark. To be the biggest pop star on the planet and welcome three other singers onto your song and give them the space to brighten their own spotlights, only Wonder could pull that type of generosity off with such color and finesse. The fact that “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is not the greatest single from Talking Book only solidifies the greatness we have already long known to be true about Wonder’s career. —MM

7. Marvin Gaye: “Let’s Get It On”
Prior to 1973, Marvin Gaye had explored nearly all sides of the romantic equation from first crush to hurtful breakup. But, as the new decade got further underway and he tried his songwriting hand at both social consciousness and Blaxploitation, he opted to move his lyrics from the brain and heart to the hips. His album that year, Let’s Get It On, was a journey of sex and desire set in motion by the title track that kicks off that masterpiece. It wastes no time getting to the meat of the matter, with Gaye jumping just behind the opening guitar lick to let his lover know that they’ve waited long enough to hop in the sack together. Every last detail of the recording oozes sensuality and burns with the heat of Gaye’s smoldering vocal delivery. I don’t care who you are or what kind of person you want to hook up with, this song will leave you weak in the knees and ready to ball. —RH

6. The Rolling Stones: “Angie”
Before “Angie,” the Rolling Stones had never had such a bonafide ballad hit the charts. It was their first real distinctive, delicate composition that stood apart from the rest of their catalog. Half-glam-rock and half-country, “Angie” finds Mick Jagger practicing a “ghost vocal,” while Nicky Hopkins’ piano accompaniment is some of the best he ever lent to the Stones. Mick Taylor and Keith Richards’ dueling acoustic guitars crack the song open, as Jagger gives one of his greatest singing performances in his 60-year career. “With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats, you can’t say we’re satisfied,” he laments. “But, Angie, you can’t say we never tried.” Goats Head Soup wasn’t the follow-up to Exile on Main St. that everyone wanted, but, thanks to “Angie,” it kept the Stones’ stardom at an apex. —MM

5. Roberta Flack: “Killing Me Softly with His Song”
Though you might be more familiar with the Fugees cover of Charles Fox, Norman Gimbel and Lori Lieberman’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” it was Roberta Flack who made the track a ballast of emotional soul and jazz. Helen Reddy, a veteran of this list, was supposedly approached by Lieberman about singing the song first, but Reddy didn’t particularly care for the title and missed out on the acclaim. Flack’s version would win a Grammy for Record of the Year and cement her as vocalist royalty. And her singing on “Killing Me Softly with His Song” is, to put it simply, wondrous and masterful. Donny Hathaway lent harmonies to Flack’s lead, and their collaboration helped turn the track into a whole movement of beauty and electricity. It’s one of the greatest vocal performances of the 1970s, and it’s one of the greatest ballad efforts ever laid to tape. —MM

4. Stevie Wonder: “Superstition”
Originally released as a single in October of 1972, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” took its sweet time to get to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, only to hit that vaunted place for a single week in January. What finally pushed it to #1 is anyone’s guess (Wonder’s celebrated appearance on Sesame Street aired in April of that year). Just know that the song was inescapable, dominating R&B radio and the dance clubs of the world for months. Hell, put the song on at a party today and you’ll have the whole room rocking before Wonder utters a single word. Such is the power of that clavinet hook, that struttin’ groove, that foundation shaking horn hook and that gritty vocal turn from Wonder. It’s a combination of musical elements that still feels explosive 50 years later. —RH

3. Jim Croce: “Time in a Bottle”
Jim Croce’s greatest ballad, “Time in a Bottle,” is one of the most undersung folk songs of the last 50 years. After Croce died in a plane crash in September 1973, the tune became not just the songwriter’s final US #1 hit, but the third posthumous Billboard chart-topper in six years (after “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and “Me and Bobby McGee”). With a beautiful harpsichord done by producer Tommy West, “Time in a Bottle” is a lush, career-encapsulating song with one of the sweetest choruses ever penned: “I’ve looked around enough to know that you’re the one I want to go through time with,” Croce sings. Far from the playfulness of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” “Time in a Bottle” is emblematic of Croce’s singularity in the hub of singer/songwriters that populated the pop charts in the 1970s. He was one-in-a-million, and his sudden passing prevented us from seeing him become the best folk balladeer of his era. —MM

2. Gladys Knight & the Pips: “Midnight Train to Georgia”
Released by Buddah Records in August 1973, Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” makes a case for being the single greatest soul song to top the charts in the 1970s. Written by Jim Weatherly, the track would win Best R&B Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus a year later, but not after solidifying itself as a monumental ballad woven from pure silk. Knight’s vocal performance doesn’t just stand alone, it stands the ultimate test of time. “Midnight Train to Georgia” sounds as fresh now as it did 50 years ago, and its story of cross-country devotion is earnest and beautiful—punctuated by the Pips’ harmonies. “I’d rather live in his world than live without him in mine,” Knight sings. The song has gone on to live a dozen more lives through various appearances in film and TV, but what a world it must have been to hop in the car, crank up the radio and hear “Midnight Train to Georgia” tumbling so beautifully from the speakers. —MM

1. Carly Simon: “You’re So Vain”
It’s rare to see one of the greatest songs of all-time hit #1 on the Billboard chart. “Good Vibrations” did it; “Hey Jude,” too. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin found its way to the top in 1967, but Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” only peaked at #2. So, in the case of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” it’s almost unfathomable that the single greatest “fuck you” song ever written climbed into the echelons of rock ‘n’ roll immortality. Simon is one of our greatest songwriters, and “You’re So Vain” is an unstoppable force of musical energy. How many songs in this world have ever been so legendary that their meaning and subject are still being debated about 50 years later? Everyone from Mick Jagger (who provides backing vocals) to Warren Beatty to James Taylor has been linked to the verses, and the cultural obsession has only punctuated the song’s chorus: “I’ll bet you think this song is about you, don’t you?” Diss tracks and petty anthems in the half-century since ought to pay their respects to “You’re So Vain,” a benchmark in not giving a damn about an ex-lover, with an arrangement that’ll have you shouting its spite from every rooftop. —MM

Check out our playlist of these 27 songs below.

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