11 Unexpected Radio Hits from the 1970s
via Estradas Flamejantes / YouTube
In the 1970s, the airwaves were a wild mix of musical genres, where you could hear everything from Chicago to the Carpenters, Stevie Wonder to Steely Dan in one radio session. It was a decade where radio played host to a slew of unexpected hits, ranging from songs with surprising topics to novelty records that defy categorization.
Here are 11 (actually 12) of the most surprising radio hits from the 1970s that might leave you wondering, “What were radio programmers thinking?”
11) “One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer & Shipley
In 1971, Brewer & Shipley scored an unlikely hit with “One Toke Over the Line,” a song that openly celebrated smoking marijuana. It reached #10 on the charts, even prompting then-Vice President Spiro Agnew to comment on its impact. Bonus trivia: The song made its way onto The Lawrence Welk Show in a cover version.
10) “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry, the legendary rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, surprised everyone with “My Ding-A-Ling,” a novelty song filled with double entendres. Released in 1972, it became Berry’s only #1 pop hit, proving that humor and innuendo could conquer the charts.
9) “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones and “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits
Both Rickie Lee Jones and Dire Straits made their mark on the music scene in the late ’70s. Jones, with her beatnik-style hit “Chuck E.’s in Love,” and Dire Straits with the smooth “Sultans of Swing,” proved that not all chart-toppers were traditional pop hits. Bonus trivia: Both songs reached #4 on the charts, and each album sold millions of copies.
8) “Indian Reservation” by Paul Revere & the Raiders
Paul Revere & the Raiders, known for their energetic performances on TV music-variety shows, had a surprise hit in 1971 with their version of “Indian Reservation.” It became their only #1 hit and showcased their lead singer Mark Lindsay, who was a teen heartthrob during the era. Bonus trivia: The band’s leader’s real name was Paul Revere Dick.
7) “Brand New Key” by Melanie
Melanie, a one-named artist, joined the ranks of Madonna and Prince with her #1 pop hit “Brand New Key” in late 1971. Her melody captured the hearts of listeners, making her a chart-topping sensation. Bonus trivia: Melanie performed at the iconic 1969 Woodstock Festival when she was just 22.
6) “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon
Though it reached only #21 on the charts, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon earns its place on this list for its enduring popularity among Best Classic Bands readers. With Jackson Browne producing and a band featuring Waddy Wachtel, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, this song exemplified Zevon’s unique style. Bonus trivia: There really was a Chinese restaurant in London named Lee Ho Fook, mentioned in the song.
5) “The Streak” by Ray Stevens
Ray Stevens, a country-pop singer, capitalized on the streaking fad of the mid-’70s with his #1 smash hit “The Streak.” The song humorously captured the trend of college students running nude, often fueled by alcohol. Bonus trivia: Stevens had 17 songs reach the Top 40 of the Country charts between 1969 and 1982.
4) “Half-Breed” by Cher
Cher’s “Half-Breed” became a #1 hit by telling the story of a half-White, half-Cherokee woman’s struggles with acceptance. Cher’s talent made this unconventional song a chart-topper. Bonus trivia: The music video for “Half-Breed” is a visual spectacle.
3) “Gimme Dat Ding” by The Pipkins
Though you may not have thought about it for a while, “Gimme Dat Ding” by The Pipkins reached #9 on the charts in 1970. Its catchy tune captures the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Bonus trivia: The songwriters, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, penned other hits like “The Air That I Breathe” and “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
2) “You’re Having My Baby” by Paul Anka
Paul Anka, known for classics like “Diana” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” made a surprising return to the top of the pop charts in 1974 with “You’re Having My Baby.” Bonus trivia: A 2006 CNN poll ranked it as the “Worst Song of All Time.”
1) “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede
Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” topped the charts in the ’70s, despite B.J. Thomas’ original version being a beloved classic. The song’s memorable “ooga-chaka ooga-chaka” chorus made it a hit. Bonus trivia: The songwriters, Mark James, also penned Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.”