Once again, we take a break from the regular reviews to feature a post from our first year and give it a makeover.
Only six new singles appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Half of the songs would reach the Top 40, with two making the Top 10 and one going all the way to #1. With disco still in its heyday, four of the songs had a beat.
As for the oncoming disco backlash, The May 12, 1979 issue of Billboard spells out an uncertain future being seen in the music business. While one article explains that sales at a record chain went up during a disco promotion, a few other pieces mention that radio programmers were beginning to be nervous about falling ratings. While the infamous "Disco Demolition Derby" at Chicago's Comiskey Park was still two months away, the writing was being seen on the walls of several radio stations. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 80.
Earth, Wind and Fire with the Emotions- "Boogie Wonderland"
(Debuted #69, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on chart)
As odd as it seems, "Boogie Wonderland" was a duet, only done by two groups. Instead of two singers, there were twelve musicians. EW&F's guiding light Maurice White had previously worked with the three-sister group The Emotions on their 1977 #1 smash "Best of My Love" and enlisted them to help on this song when the group worked on the I Am LP. The song has gained a life of its own, still played often during the years since it was a hit.
For those who think of "Boogie Wonderland" as a happy song about dancing, a quick look at the lyrics shows a much deeper topic. From a man who isn't satisfied with his life to a woman who is seeing her age when she looks in the mirror, the people in the song are going to a place where they can forget their troubles and lose the pain in their life for just a few hours. That pain isn't reflected in the performance, though: the music is vibrant, The Emotions sing in a jubilant manner and Philip Bailey's vocal sounds inspired, building from a more mellow tone into a full-powered assault. It's a case where hearing the song and reading the words show two very different outcomes.
Eddie Money - "Can't Keep A Good Man Down"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart)
His story is pretty well-known. In the late 1960s, a Long Island kid named Eddie Mahoney followed in his father's footsteps and joined the New York Police Department. Quickly becoming disillusioned with his job, he left for San Francisco and began a new career as a musician. Calling himself Eddie Money, he sang for a band called The Rockets (not the same band that hit in '79 with the Fleetwood Mac cover "Oh Well"), and one of the songs in their repertoire was "Can't Keep a Good Man Down." After going solo, he would revisit that song.
"Can't Keep a Good Man Down" was the second single from his second LP Life for the Taking, an interesting title for a man who was once a police officer. As a disco-tinged album, the record was an attempt to stay current but likely turned off some of the fans from his harder-edged debut. The irony is that "Can't Keep a Good Man Down" was definitely one of that album's more driven songs. Perhaps if it had been the first single instead of "Maybe I'm a Fool" it may have gotten higher than #63.
Poco - "Heart Of The Night"
(Debuted #84, Peaked #20, 14 Weeks on chart)
While Poco is remembered mainly for its country-rock pioneer status and having members like Jim Messina, Rickie Furay and future Eagles Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit, their biggest pop hits came after all those guys had left the band. By 1979, the band on the Legend LP consisted of only one founding member, Rusty Young, and Paul Cotton, who joined in 1970, with a couple of British studio musicians. Initially started as a Young/Cotton project, the group's record company insisted they use the Poco name instead. The result was the group's biggest-selling LP to date and their first two Top 40 hits.
Written and sung by Paul Cotton, "Heart of the Night" was a well-crafted pop song, with added touches of a pedal steel line and a sax solo. The lyrics paint a picture of a New Orleans night, with the moon reflected on Lake Pontchartrain, people still milling around and a nightbird singing. At the end, it's revealed that the scene is merely a dream, but the narrator doesn't want to be awakened from the sweet memories. It's a song that's very underrated by many.
(Here's an interesting tidbit I found out during my research but couldn't fit in the description: The Legend LP cover shown below was designed by future comedian/actor/Saturday Night Live cast member Phil Hartman.)
Carrie Lucas - "Dance With You"
(Debuted #86, Peaked #70, 7 Weeks on chart)
"Dance With You" was the second modest chart hit for Los Angeles-based singer Carrie Lucas. It was culled from her LP Carrie Lucas in Danceland, which featured help from fellow SOLAR Records labelmates Jody Watley, The Whispers and Lakeside. While that may sound like her record company was pulling out the stops for her, it should also be mentioned that her producer Dick Griffey was the owner of the company...and Lucas's boyfriend.
That said, "Dance With You" isn't a bad song. It's a standard disco song, quite enjoyable if you happen to like disco music.
Rick James - "Bustin' Out"
(Debuted #89, Peaked #71, 6 Weeks on chart)
There's a lot of tags that have been given to Rick James. Some are complimentary, while others aren't quite so kind. In a way, his career highs and lows matched the ones his well-documented drug abuse gave him. Despite that, Motown Records was losing its luster in the late 1970s. Many of their hitmakers had moved on to other record companies and the ones who remained (except for Stevie Wonder, who hadn't been releasing new material for a couple of years) weren't living up to their past glory. However, the Wild Man from Buffalo came in and helped make the company edgy again with his own brand of punk-funk.
"Bustin' Out" was an interesting song. An amalgamation of Sly Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire and P-Funk yet a style all his own, he shows his ease in performing different styles in a manner reminiscent of Sly, James Brown or George Clinton. Background ambient vocals makes it sound like the song was recorded at a block party, an appropriate setting for its "let's get out of the constraints of the ordinary" vibe. Of course, it really wouldn't be a Rick James song without some type of reefer reference and there are a few to be found throughout.
Anita Ward - "Ring My Bell"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)
It's a good bet that more people remember this song than they do the singer. While the disco era is marked with dozens of songs by nameless and faceless studio acts, some singers had identities as well. Anita Ward is one of them. While "Ring My Bell" has been included on a bunch of disco compilations over the years, Ward hasn't enjoyed many more hits since riding her first hit single to #1.
Written by Frederick Knight (who had his own hit single "I've Been Lonely for So Long" in 1972), the song was originally a teenage ditty intended for Stacy Lattisaw. When that arrangement fell apart, Knight gave it to another singer he'd heard on a demo tape. Anita Ward was 21 years old and had to be persuaded to record it. The words were changed to be more sexually charged, and a pulsating disco beat was developed in the studio for it.
As a #1 song from the disco era, Anita Ward's only big hit is viewed through that prism. Some consider it a good example of a disco song, much more than mediocre but not exactly up to the standards of Donna Summer and Chic. Others can't stand the constant siren effect or else hold it up as an example of all that was wrong about the music. The ironic thing is that Anita Ward wasn't a disco singer and the looming disco backlash very well may have sunk her singing career.