Saturday, October 9, 2010

This Week's Review -- October 7, 1978

Nine new singles debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with five that eventually reached the Top 40 and one that go on to the Top 10. The biggest hit comes from a band that was making their debut...but not really new. Also, a lady who'd scored several hits as part of a group was trying out as a solo act. Three other acts are making their first appearance on the chart, with two of those not getting a chance to return. A member of The Moody Blues is here with a solo project, as does a man who'd been hitting the chart since the 1950s and a brother/sister act. Interestingly enough, the lineup includes four totally different variations of the disco sound as it was in 1978.

Normally, there is a link in this paragraph to the Billboard issue at Google Books, but October 7, 1978 is missing from the archive. So I'll share some recent additions to my 1970s music website instead. While most of the information (and attention) has been focused on the songs that hit the Hot 100 between 1970 and '79, Last year I added some new sections. Recently, I finished adding all the Country singles from the decade. I also have Top 40 LP info on the site, but have been able to fill in more albums and have quietly been adding all the albums from the Billboard 200. At present, only some of the pages have been updated but if you click here and visit the site, you'll notice that many of the LP pages have been expanded. The LP pages are linked at the top of the site.

While going through this project, I've been able to find albums that peaked in 1970 that had been missing before (like the "Easy Rider" soundtrack and "Tommy" by the Who) and also 1980 LPs that were listed (ZZ Top's "Deguello," ELO's "Greatest Hits" and Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall"). After I've finished adding all album info, I'll be working towards having R&B chart info, adult contemporary and perhaps the disco chart info available on the site as well. It's a work in progress, but it's steadily progressing.

The Beatles Box of Vision

Gabriel - "Martha (Your Lovers Come and Go)" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #73, 4 Weeks on chart)

Despite the name, Gabriel wasn't a person using his first name. Instead, Gabriel was a Seattle-based group that only managed this one national chart hit. It was off their fourth album (also called Gabriel).

This was a standard 1978 pop song aspiring to "power pop" with clean production. It's a shame the song couldn't get some better breaks in other cities, as "Martha" isn't any worse than many of the Top 40 songs from similar one-hit bands that were essentially confined to geographic regions. It wasn't in the cards for the band, however; they would break up before recording another album.

Justin Hayward - "Forever Autumn" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #47, 13 Weeks on chart)



"Forever Autumn" was the only 1970s hit for Justin Hayward that wasn't also credited to his fellow Moody Blues bandmate John Lodge. It does, however, share a lot of common qualities with the music the group was recording at the time with its orchestral underscore and dramatic flourishes. That said, the song wasn't exactly a Hayward project between Moody Blues LPs but had a story that might seem odd given its final version laid down on vinyl.

"Forever Autumn" actually began life in 1969 as a jingle for Lego building blocks. An instrumental piece written by Jeff Wayne, it would have lyrics added to it in 1972 by Paul Vigrass and Gary Osborne, who gave the tune a more dramatic element and recorded it as the B-Side of their only Hot 100 single "Men of Learning" (reviewed in this blog last June). In 1977, Wayne included "Forever Autumn" as part of a concept LP telling the story of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds -- likely inspired by the success of Star Wars that year -- and asked Hayward to record it for the album.

Thus, a song that was first intended to sell building blocks for children became part of a science fiction story and part of Moody Blues lore in just under a decade.

Paul Anka - "This Is Love" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #83, Peaked #35, 11 Weeks on chart)




A very adult tune from the former teen star who hit with "Diana" and "Lonely Boy" in the 1950s, "This is Love" may not have been a surprise to those who had already heard Anka sing "I Don't Like to Sleep Alone" or "Anytime (I'll Be There)" or even "Having My Baby." As the title suggests, Anka sings about love. However, rather than the euphoric feeling expressed in Anka's earlier hits, this song focuses more on that all-encompassing effect that people get when they realize what's happened: lack of focus at work, loss of appetite, a desire to yell it out, yet still understanding that what they're feeling is great.

Paul Anka's career enjoyed a resurrection during the 1970s, but "This is Love" would be his final hit single of the decade. His 1979 single "As long as We Keep Believing" would be an adult contemporary hit and a couple 1980s singles reached the Hot 100, but he never again reached as high on the chart as the #35 peak "This is Love" managed.


Toto - "Hold The Line"

(Debuted #84, Peaked #5, 21 Weeks on chart)



While officially the first hit for the group Toto, "Hold the Line" wasn't exactly the first time many music fans heard the band's music. Before forming Toto, its members were heavily in-demand L.A. studio musicians. Playing on half of the albums recorded in that city during the mid 1970s, several members had a big hand in writing and performing the songs on Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees LP. As a result, this song wasn't exactly a "debut" record since the members had been playing together in various incarnations for much of the decade. In a way, by forming Toto, the members made official what they'd been doing for years.

Once that formality was out of the way, the band promptly made its name with a big hit called "Hold the Line" that essentially served notice that Toto was now playing with the big acts rather than backing them up. As one might expect from the liner note credits that appeared on the members' resumes, their sound on the single was well-crafted pop, from the opening piano riff to the guitar solo and the impeccably-timed instrumental breaks. That's good for fans who like studio perfection, but not so good for lovers of raw rock. Predictably, the critics blasted the group's power pop but fans bought an awful lot of their albums.

In short, liking or disliking the song is often going to come down to what the listener feels about Toto, or at least their opinion of studio precision.



Switch - "There'll Never Be"

(Debuted #85, Peaked #36, 13 Weeks on chart)



Switch was a band from Grand Rapids, Michigan and "There'll Never Be" was their first major hit. They were signed to Motown after being suggested to the label by Jermaine Jackson. Their sound was more in line with 1980s R&B than with the material most associated with Motown. While part of the reason for that sits with the fact that Motown had moved its corporate offices to Los Angeles and wandered from its Detroit roots, Switch members included older brothers of notable 1980s acts. Phillip Ingram's younger brother was James Ingram, while Tommy and Bobby DeBarge mentored their younger siblings in a group that used the family name.

Speaking of the DeBarge family, "There'll Never Be" actually has a similar feel to some of their hits, from the vocal harmonies to the light R&B/light funk rhythm backing track. Its romantic nature and boy/girl vibe, mixed with Bobby DeBarge's soaring falsetto, meant this was a song that was likely found on many mix tapes over the years and very well served as a wedding song many times over.


Chaka Khan - "I'm Every Woman"

(Debuted #86, Peaked #21, 16 Weeks on chart)



Before "I'm Every Woman," Chaka Khan was best known as the very distinctive lead singer of Rufus. By 1978 she had been singing on other projects (including Quincy Jones's hit "Stuff Like That") and emerged with her own solo LP Chaka. Even though she was still very much a part of the group (by then billing itself as Rufus featuring Chaka Khan), it was obvious her big voice was breaking out from the confines of the band.

Despite being a dance-oriented single that was released during the disco era, "I'm Every Woman" was produced to emphasize Chaka's voice ahead of the music track. This wasn't necessarily an oddity, but the disco craze led to many singles that pumped up the music as it maxed the number of beats per minute. Since many disco hits featured anonymous studio singers, the music took center stage. With Chaka, the voice was given the treatment and respect it deserved on the record. As a result, the song would be much more listenable years later than many other 1978 disco singles.

"I'm Every Woman" features Cissy Houston and her teenage daughter on background vocals. In 1992, the daughter -- Whitney Houston -- would record the song herself and take it to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In a reversal of sorts, Chaka Khan handled backup vocals on that '92 single.



Judy Cheeks - "Mellow Lovin'" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #65, 5 Weeks on chart)



No sooner do I finish explaining how "I'm Every Woman" was made more timeless by giving more weight to Chaka Khan's vocal talents...here's a song that gives an example of the other side of that equation.

"Mellow Lovin'" was a tune from the Salsoul record company. Salsoul was a label that was big in the disco scene, with their house band playing for a series of studio vocalists. While disco was notorious for its conveyor belt-like production process that went through countless studio singers, some were better vocalists than they received credit for. Judy Cheeks was a Miami native whose father was a preacher and gospel singer. She may have possessed some great musical chops, but she was merely a cog in the Salsoul machine. "Mellow Lovin'" is more about the orchestra and the rhythm section than it is about the singer whose name appeared on the label. In a way, that's a big negative effect of the disco era.

"Mellow Lovin'" was did manage to become a Top 10 disco hit, which was an extended-length version than the commercial single release. Fortunately, Cheeks wasn't relegated to oblivion like many singers identified with disco after the sound died; however, her success was largely in the U.K. and on the American dance charts. She never again had a Hot 100 single.

Donny and Marie Osmond - "On The Shelf" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #38, 10 Weeks on chart)



Here's yet another disco single, which further illustrates the era: the disco song from an act that was trying to get in on the sound while it was hot.

Donny and Marie Osmond's television variety show was in its final season, their hits were drying up and they were becoming adults. Somebody must have figured, why not try recording a disco single? Looking at what happened after the single fell off the charts, it damn near killed their careers. It wasn't a terrible song when compared with the duo's other material (unless you're not a fan of theirs, in which case it still isn't worse than their other hits), but it was obvious the brother and sister weren't disco artists. It would be their last Top 40 hit together.

Marie went to score some country hits during the 1980s and Donny needed more than a decade to return to the Top 40. To be fair, there were probably several reasons for the Osmonds' disappearance from the pop charts: maturing of former child stars, overexposure on their TV variety show, other interests such as acting and family, even the coming backlash against 1970s culture. That said, an act seemingly cashing in on the disco craze to get one more hit single (produced by Mike Curb, no less) may not have helped them.

K.C. and the Sunshine Band - "Do You Feel Alright" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart)



And now we're at Disco Oblivion '78, Part IV. I swear, I didn't plan these songs to line up this way.

After being one of the hottest acts of the mid-1970s, KC and the Sunshine Band hit something of a roadbump in 1978. Ironically, as disco music -- a sound Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch helped develop -- was at its zenith, KC and the Sunshine Band was seeing less chart success than they had when they were pioneering the format. It seems that as the sound expanded, the sound that scored them four #1 hits and one #2 between 1975-'77 became stale. "Do You Feel Alright" might have been a bigger hit during those years, but listeners seemed turned off hearing the same guitar breaks, rhythms and brass flourishes from "Get Down Tonight" and "Shake Your Booty" in 1978. As a result, the song died a quick death on the charts.

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