For this week's review, there's a slight change from the regular layout. Usually, artists names link to their section from this blog's parent site. However, since all but two of the songs in this week's list peaked in 1980, they aren't listed in the site. This is the first time this has been a problem; last year, I avoided 1979 late in the year and only one 1980 song -- "Please Don't Go" by KC & the Sunshine Band -- was featured. However, since it was still in the Top 10 as 1979 ended, it wasn't as out of place as some of the ones here this time around. For this week, the songs that peaked in '80 will not point back to the main site.
There were nine debut singles on the Billboard chart this week. Seven of them (in fact, all the ones that peaked after the New Year) went on to reach the Top 40, one of the best ratios this blog has seen so far. Three of the songs topped out in the Top 10 as well. Among the hits are the female voice from Meat Loaf's overamped teen fantasy "Paradise By the Dashboard Light," slowed down ballads by a group known for its guitar sound and also a guy who was one of disco's biggest artists, a new song by a former member of the Doobie Brothers, an instrumental, a number one country song (one that had a triple rape in it) and a breakthrough hit from an artist who has become better renowned than his hits may indicate. Lastly, the last three songs on the list are all remakes of previous hit singles.
Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard, including the November 17, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 80. A story on page 10 quotes an executive as saying disco wasn't dead yet (in hindsight, he was right...it merely went underground for several years). An article on Page 1 mentions that record labels were concerned about what effect radio stations playing full LPs without interruptions had on their sales. This was followed by two editorial comments (one from a radio program director, another from a retail manager) reminding the companies that they really should be focusing on improving the quality of their product instead. Finally, in a sign of changes to come, Page 64 has the first-ever Videocassette Top 40 list. While the VHS/Beta format war was still yet to be decided, Billboard was reporting which items were selling. If you get the chance to look through the magazine, take a quick look at the retail prices on some of those films, as well as the carefully worded advertisement for an adult video.
Kenny Rogers - "Coward Of The County"
(Debuted #63, Peaked #3, 18 Weeks on chart)
Some critics like to ridicule country music because of its sometimes predicable subject matter: songs about the simple life, "God and mama" songs, even songs about getting drunk and committing adultery. Well, here's a song that had a prison death, a triple rape and three guys getting the stuffing beat out of them in a barroom. Somehow, a song with such implicit sex and gratuitous violence in it still managed to hit #3 and become a crossover hit without corrupting the impressionable youth of America, nor was it even brought up a few years later when the PMRC took their crusade about what they deemed "filthy" song lyrics to Capitol Hill.
Perhaps I oversimplify the song. The triple rape is implied (though it's hard to think of much else, given the lyrics), the barroom beatdown is casually mentioned, and Kenny Rogers really doesn't say what made Tommy's father die in prison but it was likely an execution. However, even though he rambles his way through the song, the story has some rather dark elements in it. And none of that could stop it from becoming a huge hit, thanks to Rogers being at his peak of popularity at the time.
In addition to reaching #3, "Coward of the County" was the first new #1 single of 1980 on Billboard's country chart. It also hit #1 in the U.K. in February '80, which makes the last U.S. country single to date to reach the top there.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "Don't Do Me Like That"
(Debuted #71, Peaked #10, 17 Weeks on chart)
After three chart singles during the 1970s that failed to get any higher than #40, Tom Petty's career shifted into high gear with a new decade. His group's third LP Damn the Torpedoes was their first after their label Shelter was absorbed by MCA and would be the band's big breakthrough. At the time, the band's sound was often lumped in with post-punk and New Wave acts because it was somehow "different" from the heavier guitar-based rock of the 1970s; however, Petty's sound was rooted in the Byrds, the Stones and 1960s garage rock that influenced the various band members in their childhoods.
"Don't Do Me Like That" featured the tight instrumental interplay between the band, Byrds-like guitar jangle, Petty's effortless lyric and an organ solo by Benmont Tench. would become Petty's first Top 10 hit; interestingly, despite several radio-friendly hits through the decade that are still FM airplay staples today, he wouldn't get another Top 10 hit until "Free Fallin'" in 1989.
Foghat - "Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool)"
(Debuted #73, Peaked #23, 14 Weeks on chart)
Last week, Savoy Brown's "Tell Mama" was among the 15 songs featured in this blog. That song was recorded after several members of that band split to form their own group, which emerged as Foghat. After some success through the 1970s, they closed out the decade with the LP Boogie Motel, an interesting title given the disco craze that had only fizzled out a few months earlier.
While "Third Time Lucky" didn't turn out to be a disco song, it definitely wasn't the guitar-based sound they established in their hit songs "Slow Ride" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You." Instead, it was a ballad. While it didn't necessarily venture into "pansy" territory, it was markedly slower than what the jocks usually played from Foghat on the radio. However, after the frenetic pace of the disco era wound down, perhaps a lot of artists outside the punk/New Wave scene were just hoping to slow down the pace.
Herb Alpert - "Rotation" Rotation - Rise
(Debuted #82, Peaked #30, 12 Weeks on chart)
Picking up where he left off with his #1 hit single "Rise," Herb Alpert spun another instrumental hit into the Top 40 with "Rotation." Both singles were from the Rise LP, but "Rotation" wouldn't benefit from exposure on the TV soap opera General Hospital like "Rise" did. There are fans who claim that "Rotation" was a better song, but to my ears they both have different grooves and are both good in their own way.
"Rotation" would be one of a handful of instrumentals to make the Top 40 during the 1980s. The instrumental, a staple of pop music for decades, was slowly disappearing. After scoring several hit instrumentals during the 1960s with his Tijuana Brass, Alpert's hits dried up and instrumentals generally followed suit. After about 1976, it became harder to succeed without lyrics. There were exceptions ("Feels So Good," for instance), but the few instrumentals that did manage to make the Top 40 after the onslaught of disco were usually movie or TV themes.
Rita Coolidge - "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love"
(Debuted #83, Peaked #38, 9 Weeks on chart)
Sometimes I listen to a song and wonder what was going on in the singer's mind to make them feel strongly enough about a song and agree to sing it. this is especially true with singers who aren't also songwriters as well. Aside from having certain songs forced by producers or record labels, what motivates them: a good melody, an irresistible rhythm, a worthwhile lyric? Or is there a deeper meaning that just speaks to the artist on a personal level?
I ask this because this song appeared shortly before Rita Coolidge divorced husband Kris Kristofferson. Did she hear this song on a demo tape and think, "Wow, that's what I'm feeling right now"?
"I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" was written by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, who had written Melissa Manchester's 1979 hit "Don't Cry Out Loud." In a way, it sounds a little like her 1977 hit "We're All Alone," with some of its musical backing and some of the ways she delivers her lines, just a little more subdued.
Tom Johnston - "Savannah Nights" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #86, Peaked #34, 11 Weeks on chart)
After being sidelined from The Doobie Brothers due to some medical issues, Tom Johnston was ready to get out and record again. He had become ill in 1975 and was only able to contribute sporadically to teh group's albums before leaving in 1977. He recorded his first solo album Everything You've Heard is True in 1979, and the first single was "Savannah Nights."
While it came out late in 1979, it was shortly after the disco backlash. Yet here was one of the Doobie Brothers -- one who wasn't part of "What a Fool Believes," for Pete's sake -- doing a record that may not have been totally disco but certainly had a dance groove in it. There may have been a guitar solo in the record, but the clavinet laying down a funky groove wasn't fooling anybody.
Rainbow - "Since You Been Gone"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #57, 7 Weeks on chart)
That was the third appearance for this Russ Ballard-penned song in the Hot 100. Head East had charted in 1978 (reviewed here last April), and the sister act Cherie and Marie Curie had a short-lived run with their take earlier in 1979. Of all three charted versions, Rainbow's is probably best known. It charter higher than the others and was a Top 10 hit in the U.K.
Not only was the song returning, some of Rainbow's members also weren't new to hit singles; the group featured Richie Blackmore and Roger Glover, who had been members of Deep Purple. Drummer Cozy Powell had been a member of the Jeff Beck Group and keyboard player Don Airey was a latter-day member of Black Sabbath. Even singer Graham Bonnet (who was replacing Ronnie James Dio) wasn't exactly a newbie either, having been a successful singer on his own in the U.K. and Australia.
Featuring a seemingly easy lyric and guitar riff, "Since You Been Gone" is a dose of power-pop that really should've been given a better chance to be a hit in the U.S. It still gets an occasional spin on album-oriented rock stations.
Teri DeSario with KC - "Yes, I'm Ready"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #2, 22 Weeks on chart)
Last July, I reviewed DeSario's debut single "Ain't Nothing Gonna Keep Me From You" on this blog. This would be her biggest hit, and sadly, is often overshadowed by her duet partner Harry Wayne Casey, the "KC" of the Sunshine Band.
Teri DeSario and KC had attended high school together while growing up in the Miami area. He had been producing Midnight Madness, DeSario's second LP for Casablanca, and was a fan of the original 1965 Barbara Mason hit. Label president Neil Bogart smelled a hit and insisted the two artists cut the song as a duet. Doing a version that was faithful to the original, it was both nostalgic and wistful.
One thing that stands out in "Yes I'm Ready" is that Teri DeSario was a much better singer than KC (who sounds much different without his Sunshine Band backing him up). However, she wasn't all that thrilled with the recording process or the music business and walked away from any additional hits.
Ellen Foley - "What's A Matter Baby"
(Debuted #92, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)
While this single is considered to be Ellen Foley's debut on the Hot 100, her voice was very familiar to listeners of 1970s pop music. After all, she was the female foil on Meat Loaf's classic song "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" who but the brakes on any foolishness from him without a promise.
Karla DeVito was shown in the performance video and in Meat Loaf's stage act, so she usually gets credit for the song. However, Foley lent her voice to the track recorded for the Bat Out of Hell LP. Anybody who hears Foley's spoken part near the end of "What's a Matter Baby" will immediately recognize the same voice that said "What's it gonna be, boy? Yes...or...no?" in "Paradise"
"What's a Matter Bay" is a remake of a Timi Yuro hit from 1962, with an updated spin for a new decade. Presented as a "kiss off" song from a sassy woman to an unfaithful lover, it's a song from the "girl group era" redone for a post-feminist era. It isn't a "New Wave" record but may have been considered to be one at the time due to the convoluted way American record companies labeled their artists.