Johnny Nash’s death adds to 1972’s No. 1 curse in 2020

(October 6, 2020). In just the past seven days, three artists who reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the second half of 1972 have passed away.  

Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” topped the chart on December 9 of that year.  She passed away on September 28 after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer’s.  

On that same day, country-pop singer/songwriter Mac Davis died from a sudden heart attack.  His “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” topped the Hot 100 on September 23, 1972.

Johnny Nash recording at Whitfield Street Studios, London 01/01/1975 (Photo by Tom Sheehan/Sony Music Archive via Getty Images)

And now, reggae-pop singer Johnny Nash has died.  He passed away today, October 6, at his home in Houston.  Nash was 80 years old.  

His “I Can See Clearly Now” became the first quasi-reggae song to top the pop chart when it occupied the No. 1 spot from November 4 through Nov 25 – just two weeks before Helen Reddy’s anthem did. 

All three of those acts – Reddy, Davis and Nash – achieved their first No. 1 tunes with those songs, helping 1972 become a banner year for artists, both old and new, achieving their first No. 1s…particularly solo singers.  

In all, fifteen solo artists ascended to the No. 1 spot on the pop chart in 1972 – fourteen of those for the first time.

Another such artist was Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bill Withers, whose “Lean On Me” topped the Hot 100 that July for three weeks.  Sadly, he passed away on March 30 of this year.  

That’s four solo artists who achieved their first No. 1 singles between July and December 1972 who’ve lost their lives in 2020.

Read More: Helen Reddy and Mac Davis tribute

Read More: Bill Withers tribute

And they only add to the list of singers who reached No. 1 in 1972 and sadly lost their lives.  

The four artists already named were predeceased by five more, including Harry Nilsson (“Without You”), Sammy Davis, Jr. (“The Candy Man”), Michael Jackson (“Ben”), Chuck Berry (“My Ding-a-Ling”), and Billy Paul (“Me And Mrs. Jones”).

The six still with us include Don McLean (“American Pie”), Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together”), Neil Young (“Heart of Gold”), Roberta Flack (“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”), Gilbert O’Sullivan (“Alone Again (Naturally)”), and Neil Diamond (“Song Sung Blue”).  Diamond is the only solo singer who had reached No. 1 prior to 1972 (his “Cracklin’ Rosie” topped the chart in 1970).

All four of the 1972 artists who passed this year were in their late 70s or early 80s, so one might offer that they lived nice long lives.  But it’s still a sad stat in a year already filled with bad news when you consider that when 2020 started, ten of the fifteen solo acts – or 67% – who achieved No. 1s in 1972 were still with us.  That number has quickly dwindled to six (40%) who are still with us.

The number is even more dire on the soul chart, where only one of the solo acts who moved to No. 1 on the chart that year is still alive, and he accounted for three No. 1 soul hits in 1972.  

The Reverend Al Green had “Let’s Stay Together,” “I’m Still In Love With You” and “You Ought To Be With Me” all reach No. 1 soul in 1972.  He is the only solo artist to top the chart that year who is still alive today.  

Those who’ve moved on include – in chronological order from when they reached No. 1 soul – James Brown, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Bill Withers, Billy Preston, Luther Ingram, Donny Hathaway (who hit in a duet with Roberta Flack), Joe Simon, and Billy Paul. 

For completeness, the story isn’t much better with groups.  

On the pop chart, six different groups reached No. 1 during 1972.  All six of those acts have lost at least one of their members who were with them at the time.  In three of the cases, only one original member remains: the Chi-Lites, the Staple Singers and the Temptations.  

Three of the acts – America, Three Dog Night and Looking Glass – have lost just one member (that we know of).   

The story is similar on the soul chart, where the Dramatics, the Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites, the O’Jays, the Spinners, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes have all lost at least one member, with the Spinners joining the Staples and Chi-Lites as having lost all but one.

Johnny Nash performs “I Can See Clearly Now” on The Midnight Special in 1972.

Interestingly, Johnny Nash never topped the soul chart with “I Can See Clearly Now” – it peaked at a low No. 38 there.  

In fact, Nash was part of a historic year in which six black artists – including four in a row – topped the Hot 100 with songs that did not top the soul chart: Roberta Flack (“The First Time” peaked at No. 4 soul), Sammy Davis, Jr. (“The Candy Man” didn’t even make the soul list), Michael Jackson (“Ben,” No. 5), Chuck Berry (“My Ding-a-Ling,” No. 42), Temptations (“Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” No. 5) and Nash.

The year 1972 was an unusual one indeed.  It’s just sad that we’re having to say goodbye to so many of the artists who made it such a great year.

Rest In Peace Johnny Nash (1940-2020).  Hopefully, you’re looking around to nothing but blue skies.

DJRob 

DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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