How do 35-year-old hits by the Osmonds, John Lennon, and Cher hold up today? Whitney Pastorek gives 'em another listen

By Whitney Pastorek
Updated January 02, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
The Osmonds: Camera Press/Heilemann/Retna

This week in ’71: Rating the top 10 singles

Billboard‘s Top 10 for the week ending Nov. 20, 1971

10. ”Yo-Yo,” Osmonds
Holy Hanson, Batman! Dare I call this the singing, dancing ”MmmBop” for the ’70s? Aw yeah: Sing it, boys! Can’t you feel those horns in your tiny little feet? I can’t tell which Osmond I like better here; I also can’t be bothered to figure out which Osmond is which. Let’s just call them Raspy and Squeaky. Okay, so Raspy is on the brink of figuring out that puberty wasn’t kind to him, but dammit, he’s gonna push through it if it takes every ounce of strength in his sphincter; meanwhile, Squeaky is doing his best to disprove any rumors that he is a sissyboy, because he is so soulful… soulfully adorable! (What now!) And he’s gonna belt his way right into your heart, ladies!! Get ready! Aw, I kid because I love. The only thing better than a boy band is a boy band made up of all brothers with matching shag haircuts. The Osmonds set the bar way high — I think they played all their own instruments — and they did it while wearing spangly jumpsuits. Bonus points! B+

9. ”Got To Be There,” Michael Jackson
Ooh, it’s Jacko, back in his glass-breaking heyday! Everyone loves the sounds of the young Jackson 5 star, so there’s no sense in my trying to explain that the high-pitched squeal of his underdeveloped lungs in the context of a ballad is the stuff of my nightmares. (”I Want You Back”? Fine. That’s peppy and great. Long, sustained, piercing notes? I’ll pass.) Instead, I shall fight this battle: Did no one have a problem with a 13-year-old boy singing a song about waking up in bed next to his girlfriend? Does no one see how this sort of thing might have inevitably led to his fascination with lying in bed next to 13-year-olds? B-

8. ”Family Affair,” Sly & the Family Stone
Ugh. I used to work at the Gap, Flashbackers, and lemme tell you: There is no quicker way to ruin a song for me forevermore than to put it on a retail mix that I must endure day in, day out as I stand there just begging that my passive-aggressive manager won’t make me refold the entire wall of jeans for the third time in seven hours, while counting the seconds until I can take my 15. It’s a classic, sure, and Sly’s impact on music should never be discounted… but I’m not sure it’s just my horrible stint at the Gap that makes this track depressing. Check out this incredibly slow live performance: Rose looks like she’d rather be any place else, like her dog died and she was asked to take the SATs, simultaneously. Meanwhile, Sly looks like he may have just eaten Rose’s dog. All personal bias aside, I think the whole thing might just be really dull if you’re not on something. B

7. ”Peace Train,” Cat Stevens
The late, great Cat Stevens was a master of the jangly acoustic sound so popular during the — what? He’s not dead? He changed his name to what?? OK, I’m kidding. I know that Yusuf Islam is alive and well and on a variety of no-fly lists. He’s also slightly less of a happy-go-lucky guy now, but you know what, if it works, then good for him. I love him, you see. I love his cracked little voice, and his cheesy lyrics, and the fact that even though I am generally predisposed to a dark, bitter worldview, he makes me believe that we really can all climb aboard the Peace Train, with our handclaps and our hippie choir friends, and ride in bliss. And if there’s one good thing this whole stupid ”War on Terror” has achieved, it’s his return to performing secular-yet-spiritual hits such as this one in hopes of showing everyone that the Islamic people are not all out to bomb us, and in fact some of them just want us to enjoy the pleasures of folk music. To which I say, Yusuf, if you wanna sing out, sing out, dammit! A-

6. ”Maggie May,” Rod Stewart
Click here.

Sorry. A-

5. ”Have You Seen Her,” Chi-Lites
OK, so I listen to a lot of these old-timey songs on a magical website where for a reasonable subscription fee I can stream the greatest hits of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s (and beyond!); they’ve got an almost unimaginable number of tracks both popular and obscure, just waiting to make your RealAudio Player sing. And sometimes I get distracted, because with one click I can stop squeaking along with the Osmonds and start barking at the moon with Ozzy Osbourne, or listening to the Outfield’s ”Since You’ve Been Gone” which is damn near as good as Kelly Clarkson’s song of a similar title. (Honestly, it really is the greatest website of all time, but I’m not going to link to it because I’m confused about how it’s legal and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.) Anyway. So today I clicked on the Chi-Lites, listened to the first couple bars of ”Have You Seen Her,” then switched over to ”Oh Girl” real quick, which made me want to go listen to Paul Young’s version of ”Oh Girl,” which put me in sort of a sad mood, and so when I came back to ”Have You Seen Her” I was a bit droopy and kind of unfocused and I think I must have lapsed into a coma or something because all of a sudden the dude who did the creepy talking thing about going on walks with larks and watching the children play was talking again, and the men in the background were just bum-bum-bumping along behind him and not paying attention to anything at all… Creepy guy! I know your girlfriend just broke up with you but still! That is no reason to stalk children at play! No, we have not seen her! Everyone stop asking! Why is this song the longest song of all time! Is it still Friday?? C

[P.S. Whatever you do, do not click this link. You have been warned.]

4. ”Baby I’m-A Want You,” Bread
Baby, I’m-a kill myself. And yet… objectively, it’s probably a pretty good song. The worst part is, I can’t even bring myself to hate it. Let’s call it the ”Groovy Kind of Love” of the ’70s, move on, and pretend this never happened. B

3. ”Imagine,” John Lennon
God. What’s to say? Lennon’s utopian vision of the world will go down as the 20th century’s greatest song, and I think we can all get on board with that. Right? It is the simplest of melodies, the simplest of ideas, any monkey with fingers can play it on the piano (and many do). It doesn’t overstay its welcome. It even holds up when being weirdly shredded by a goth-metal band, which takes some doing. I think in honor of this song’s appearance on the countdown, we should all spend the rest of the day lying around in bed, naked. Which is, clearly, the only way to accomplish the sort of thing John is talking about here. A+

2. ”Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” Cher
Is it bad that I cannot hear this song without thinking of Sean Hayes on Will & Grace and his hyperactive Cher impersonation? (There’s also something here that makes me think of the great Bobbie Gentry song, ”Fancy,” but I can’t find a decent link to anything but a shaky copy of Reba McEntire’s version of that, so you’ll just have to trust me.) Cher gives her all in belting out this story of a young girl living the carnival life, traveling from fair to fair and — if my interpretation is correct — getting knocked up. Boy oh boy is it ever inspirational. Also, it is loud. Cher likes to yell, my friends. Woman’s got some pipes! And I guess if you’re going to try and sell this song, you best at least BELT IT. Because it is, inherently, completely ridiculous. B

1. ”Theme From Shaft,” Isaac Hayes
Why, hello, the ’70s and your bizarre obsession with novelty songs from movies! Once again, I must look back at our American tastes and smile. This track has what’s gotta be the longest build-up of any song ever written: It’s 1:45 before the riff changes, and a full TWO MINUTES AND FORTY-TWO SECONDS before Isaac Hayes has to open his mouth. And he won an Oscar for that. Absolutely unbelievable. Think about it — when this was played on the radio, people willingly listened to almost two minutes of nothing but bass and high hat and a little bit of wocka-wocka guitar, and they didn’t change the station. They didn’t look up from the shag carpet they were installing, or the polyester they were folding, or the afro they were picking and say, ”Damn, this s— is boring! I’m gonna turn it off!” No… they waited. Why? Because Shaft is a baaad mutha… shut yo mouth! B+