As the decade was coming to an end, a sense of nostalgia sometimes can't be helped even as others may have been looking ahead to a hopeful future. Musicians weren't any different, as some of the songs debuting in this week's Billboard Hot 100 can attest. Nine new singles make the survey, with three making the Top 40. Two songs have nostalgic lyrics (which are oddly counterbalanced by then-current rhythms), another is a rock song that mentions a band's early years, while two songs -- one considered "new wave," another funk -- look ahead toward the music that will help shape the sound of the 1980s. Some songs are interesting contrasts: a country star sings pop, a pop singer channels Linda Ronstadt, a band from Canada cuts a song for a label associated with Southern rock, a Philly-based group sings about Motown and a song about a singing cowboy has a light disco beat.
Over at Google Books, the June 30, 1979 edition of Billboard magazine gives the top music industry news of the era. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 80. An article on page 40 explains that efforts to have two different 10th-anniversary "Woodstock" concerts in Upstate New York -- but neither at the original site of the iconic 1969 happening -- had both run aground. One of the shows was scheduled to have Rod Stewart, The Village People, The Beach Boys and Cheap Trick but was struck down when the town of Hurleyville, NY denied the permits out of fear that the crowds would be too much for the tiny hamlet. Another planned event farther upstate in Seneca County seemed to have fallen apart before any bands had been announced.
The Cars - "Let's Go"
(Debuted #80, Peaked #14, 15 Weeks on chart)
Among songs that were hits during the 1970s, some of those hitting near the end of the decade are somehow associated with the 1980s instead. Perhaps the best example would be "Video Killed the Radio Star," a 1979 Top 40 hit for The Buggles but forever linked with the birth of MTV in 1981. Other songs that get confused for later hits -- such as "I Don't Like Mondays," "Is She Really Going Out With Him" or "Rock Lobster" -- are likely due to their association with the New Wave movement that took hold in the U.S. as the 1980s were getting underway. Though I understand that, it still gets me when I see a song like "Let's Go" used as the soundtrack music for a 1980s-themed movie (even one like Not Another Teen Movie that parodies them).
Of course, "Let's Go" has more in common with the 1980s rock sound with its synthesizer-infused backing track, its electronic hand claps and its hook-laden production. Written by guitarist/singer Ric Ocasek but sung by bassist Benjamin Orr, the song is about a free-spirited 17 year-old girl who's determined to enjoy herself while she's still young. While the song's narrator has begged her to go out with him, the lure of the nightlife is stronger than anything he can offer.
Actually, this isn't the only Cars song that's often mistaken for an '80s tune. The other one, though is an honest mistake since it happens to be used in an iconic scene from the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Originally included on the group's 1978 debut LP but not issued as a single, "Moving in Stereo" became part of a generation's collective conscience when it played during the scene where Brad (Judge Reinhold) imagines Linda (Phoebe Cates) coming out of the pool.
The Marshall Tucker Band - "Last Of The Singing Cowboys" (Not Available as MP3)
(Debuted #81, Peaked #42, 8 Weeks on chart)
For those who judge a song by what's written on the label, this song may be something of a surprise. While The Marshall Tucker Band has been known as a Southern Rock outfit with country & western influences, and the song title brings to mind Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, the song has a light dance beat. While fans may have shuddered for a moment when hearing the song, it's worth mentioning that the band often wasn't willing to be cornered into any type of sound and occasionally experimented with different styles. In 1979, that sometimes meant a disco song.
The song tells a story about a man singing in a bar, asking for requests and telling stories about his life. After three hours, he is led away and the bartender explains something about the old man that changes the entire context of the song. It turns out he's blind and doesn't realize the only people were listening were whoever just happened to be at the bar. That makes the song a commentary on somebody hanging on to the old ways even while everything around him changes, which somehow makes the dance music driving the words a little more understandable.
Dolly Parton - "You're The Only One"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)
During the 1990s, I was a radio DJ. One station was in Poughkeepsie, New York and had a country format, with a sister station doing "all-70s, all the time." One day I arrived at work to find fellow jock Russ Anson taking a phone call from a listener who was trying to figure out a song she couldn't get out of her head. All she knew for certain was that it was sung by Dolly Parton. Once she said, "there's a spoken part in the middle," I said to Russ, "I think she means 'You're the Only One'." Immediately, the lady said, "Yes! That's the song!" Russ explained that he'd spent what seemed like five minutes without any success, and here I answered it without hearing more than two sentences. That's a really nice gift, but after that, word spread among my co-workers and I became the de facto DJ the others told our listeners to call when they were stumped. Since I worked both of the stations, I ended up doing double duty when it came to those sometimes impossible calls. Though that little bit of personal history has absolutely nothing to do with the song, it still reminds me of the time I ended up both standing out among my peers and also being tagged "that guy" when a listener called in singing an off-key rendition of a tune he wanted us to name.
Written by Carole Bayer Sager and Bruce Roberts, "You're the Only One" was one of the songs recorded by Parton specifically for pop crossover success. While she sang the song beautifully, there certainly were a lot of pop elements in the song. The song missed the pop Top 40 but was a #1 country hit and #14 on the adult contemporary chart. Even though it was a long way from the self-written, home-spun material she was doing earlier in the decade ("Coat of Many Colors," "Jolene," her original version of "I Will Always Love You"), the song helped further the goal she began pursuing with "Here You Come Again" by helping bring Parton to a wider audience.
Peaches and Herb - "We've Got Love"
(Debuted #83, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)
On the heels of two huge smash hits, a new single was rushed to radio to help sustain Peaches & Herb's hot streak. After a funk-infused dance hit ("Shake Your Groove Thing") followed by a lush ballad ("Reunited"), the new single was the uptempo number called "We've Got Love" but it missed the Top 40.
Though Peaches & Herb had scored some hits during the 1960s, the act was retired after 1970 when Herb Fame became a policeman in Washington, D.C. When he decided to resurrect his musical career, he enlisted Linda Greene as the new "Peaches." Her sensual delivery went well with Fame's upper register, but their hits dried up after 1980. By 1986, Fame was back to his career in law enforcement.
The Who - "Long Live Rock"
(Debuted #84 Peaked #54, 6 Weeks on chart)
For a song held out as a "rock anthem" by some of the group's fans, it doesn't appear "Long Live Rock" was a particular favorite of The Who. Originally written by Pete Townsend as part of the band's "Lifehouse" project, it didn't end up on the Who's Next LP that resulted. Despite planning to make it part of a 1972 Who project celebrating rock & roll, it was shelved again when Townsend began working on Quadrophenia. The song would finally appear on 1974's Odds & Sods, an album of outtakes and discarded songs issued to curb bootlegging. It would finally become a single when it was included in the documentary The Kids Are Alright.
A somewhat autobiographical song, the lyrics are both a celebration and a description of the band's lifestyle. From vomiting at the bar to preparing for a show while others take the chance to make their money, and finally to rocking the house even when the lights get cut off, the lyrics refute the idea that rock is dead. However, the music is what everybody expects from The Who: Roger Daltrey's familiar delivery, Pete Townsend's slashing guitar progression, Keith Moon's take-no-prisoners pounding on the drums and John Entwistle laying down the bass as all hell breaks loose around him. While fans love the song, it can also be seen as a pedestrian effort, which may be the reason it was held back from the group's recordings for so long.
G.Q. - "I Do Love You" Not Available as MP3)
(Debuted #85, Peaked #20, 17 Weeks on chart)
On the heels of an effusive dance hit called "Disco Nights (Rock Freak)," G.Q. followed it up with a ballad more suitable for slow dancing. "I Do Love You" was a remake of a Billy Stewart single that had been a minor hit in 1965. Filled with romantic keyboard lines, light jazz-influenced guitar licks and smooth vocals, the song was a popular wedding song at the time. While the song wasn't quite as big as its predecessor, it made #20 on the pop chart and #5 R&B, which were both better positions that Stewart achieved with his '65 Chess single.
After "I Do Love You" fell off the Hot 100, G.Q.'s further singles would appear largely on the R&B chart, but other than a 1982 hit that stalled at #93, their pop hits dried up even though they were still actively performing into the 1990s.
The Cooper Brothers Band - "I'll Know Her When I See Her" (Not Available as MP3)
(Debuted #86, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)
Here's an extreme case of "North meets South." While Capricorn Records was based in Atlanta and regarded as a "Southern rock" label, The Cooper Brothers Band was from North of the Border: Ottawa, Ontario. The group was led by brothers Brian and Richard (Dick) Cooper, along with friend Terry King. Despite showing great promise, the band had trouble once Capricorn went bankrupt and soon broke apart after the label folded.
"I'll Know Her When I See Her" is a song about seeking the perfect mate and not settling for "almost perfect," despite fiends' assertions that sometimes concessions can be made. With a good guitar lick driving the song and a saxophone aiding the flow, the song probably deserved better than its #79 peak.
Philly Cream - "Motown Review"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #67, 5 Weeks on chart)
Philly Cream was a studio group under the creative control of producer Butch Ingram. They were part of the short-lived Fantasy Records "disco" imprint Fantasy WMOT. As the name implies, they were a Philadelphia-based group and are very much infused with Philly soul. "Motown Review" was their only Hot 100 entry.
The title "Motown Review" may bring to mind a song like Shalamar's "Uptown Festival," which contained a medley of Motown songs in it. However, this song is a nostalgic look at younger days and how things had changed over the past 10-15 years. The lyrics are a list of differences: Motown reviews are gone, The Beatles have broken up, Kennedy's been shot, Dick Clark has gotten older, Coke bottles aren't made of glass anymore, kids would rather dance than sit in the theaters, rock & roll shows have been replaced by discos. The irony about those last two items are the fact that they're sung over a solid disco beat. Nothing says "integrity" quite like complaining about a new form of music...in a song that appeals to fans of that sound.
Jennifer Warnes - "I Know A Heartache When I See One"
(Debuted #89, Peaked #19, 22 Weeks on chart)
"I Know a Heartache When I See One" is often mistaken for a Linda Ronstadt song. It's easy to make the error: among the players on the song was frequent Ronstadt collaborator Andrew Gold, the backup vocals during the chorus sound suspiciously like her and the song ventured into the same Southern California country/pop territory she'd been traveling for years. Also like many of Ronstadt's hits, the song was a crossover hit (Top 40 pop, Top 10 country, Top 20 AC). It almost seems that the only thing that kept it from being a Linda Ronstadt song was the fact that it wasn't a hit previously.
Co-written by former Gary Puckett & the Union Gap bassist Kerry Chater, the song is a statement of independence from somebody who clearly isn't good for her. Another song written by a man that seems to be better handled from the female perspective, the tune is a good example of a "kiss-off" song, late-1970s style.