There were eight debut singles in this week's Billboard magazine. Three went into the Top 40, but none of them rose any higher than #30. Several artists appear for the first time, but few of them were really new to the chart: Moon Martin was already on the Top 40 as a songwriter, while Fern Kinney and Brenda Russell had been around as backing vocalists. Louise Goffin brought a soild pedigree from her parents. Ashford & Simpson appear with their first Top 40 hit as artists, but weren't new to the chart at all as writers and producers. Deniece Williams and Peter Borwn show up with lesser-remembered hit that really deserved better, while Patti Smith prepared to say good-bye for a while.
Google Books has an archive of Billboard magazines, including the August 18, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 68. There's a large pull-out section focusing on the music of Texas and Oklahoma, which includes all genres. And yes, the fact that John Travolta was then filming a movie called "Urban Cowboy" at Gilley's was mentioned a couple of times. However, it is noted that Waylon Jennings was slated to appear in the movie as well, which didn't end up happening.
Moon Martin - "Rolene"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)
Where the Billboard magazine linked above mentions the music of Texas and Oklahoma in it, it's only fitting to have a native lead off the debuts. Moon Martin was from Oklahoma and was a writer and studio musician before getting any success under his own name. Originally using his real name John Martin, he was nicknamed "Moon" by his friends after it was determined that many of his songs included the word in their lyrics. Just ahead of his own hits, Robert Palmer's adrenaline-blasted version of Martin's "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" established him in the minds of music fans.
Martin's first chart hit on his own was "Rolene," which was a minor Top 40 hit at a time when New Wave was rising and retro stylings were coming back into vogue after a period of Disco. Though Martin's material was well suited for this change, none of his remaining songs after "Rolene" charted in the Top 40 and he left the music business after 1982 for more than a decade.
Louise Goffin - "Remember (Walking In the Sand)" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #82, Peaked #43, 9 Weeks on chart)
Louise Goffin was the daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, so it shouldn't have come as a surprise to any when she showed in interest in music. However, her work was stacked up against her mother's, which may not have been fair to her. After all, she was 16 years old at the time, and when King recorded Tapestry, she was in her late twenties and had been penning hit songs for a decade.
In retrospect, perhaps having a remake of an early 1960s tune wasn't a great idea, since the era was dominated with songs written by Goffin's famous parents. "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" wasn't one of them -- George "Shadow" Morton wrote it -- but the time period may have caused listeners to focus on it. It was a 1970s updating of The Shangri-La's original, without the overly dramatic effect but with a lot more guitar. And the attitude is intact, but that's to be expected from somebody so young.
Aerosmith also did a version of "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" later in 1979 year which is probably a lot better remembered, but Goffin did it first.
Fern Kinney - "Groove Me"
(Debuted #86, Peaked #54, 8 Weeks on chart)
"Groove Me" was the first Hot 100 chart single for Fern Kinney, who had been in The Poppies during the late 1960s with Dorothy Moore before that group split up. As part of that act, she and Moore became associated with King Floyd, who had the original hit version of the song. In fact, Kinney was one of the backing vocalists on that 1971 recording.
For her remake, Kinney went a similar direction that many artists did in 1979: she sang the song in a danceable style. The song was a comeback for her, as she had stepped away from the business for a few years to concentrate on being a wife and mother. She continued to record Disco-oriented songs, but since the timing really didn't work out, she returned to being a backing vocalist by 1983.
Ashford and Simpson - "Found a Cure"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #36, 13 Weeks on chart)
Although "Found a Cure" was the first Top 40 hit for Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson as performers, they had already placed dozens of songs on the Hot 100 as songwriters or producers and even sang as part of Quincy Jones' "Stuff Like That" in 1978. They had also been a presence on Billboard's R&B and Disco charts, so they were "new" to the pop charts in name only. By 1979, anybody who said they weren't aware of the duo's work really weren't paying attention.
Released at the end of the Disco era, "Found a Cure" does have a dance beat but gets credit from the artists' pop and R&B sensibilities. It went to #1 on the Disco chart along with the songs "Stay Free" and "Nobody Knows," supplanting Diana Ross' The Boss LP, which was also an Ashford & Simpson project.
Brenda Russell - "So Good, So Right"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #30, 17 Weeks on chart)
"So Good, So Right" was the first Top 40 hit for Brenda Russell, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. For much of the 1970s, she had been part of an act called Brenda & Brian, along with husband Bryan Russell. When they divorced, she went solo and came out with a self-titled LP in 1979. Despite containing one Top 40 song, her further singles received little attention even though songwriters tended to enjoy Russell's style. It would be another nine years before Russell would return to the pop Top 40 (ironically, in a duet with Joe Esposito, who also hadn't been in the Top 40 since 1979).
What is appealing about "So Good, So Right" is the way it still sounds fresh (at least to these ears) more than 30 years later. It doesn't sound as dated as many songs of the era do. Yes, there's an orchestra backing her up, but it's not a straight disco song; it straddles the line between what was later called adult R&B and pop. Take a listen to the song and see if it couldn't have been from a different era.
Deniece Williams - "I've Got The Next Dance" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #89, Peaked #73, 5 Weeks on chart)
"I've Got the Next Dance" really should have been a bigger hit than its #73 peak would indicate. While Disco was really beginning to suffer from a backlash as the Summer of '79 wore on, it unfairly affected some really good songs simply because they had a dance beat, and this was one of those. Deniece Williams wasn't an unknown at all in 1979; she had stepped out from backing Stevie Wonder a couple years before with a great Marice White-helmed LP and scored a #1 duet with Johnny Mathis called "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" (reviewed here last year) in 1978.
The song was part of her LP When Love Comes Calling, which was produced by both David Foster and Ray Parker, Jr. The album was infused with slick L.A. session musicians and given a different vibe from the earlier material Williams had released, which may have hurt this song on the pop charts as well as the R&B survey, where it went to #26. On the Disco chart, it realized its full potential and went to #1.
The Patti Smith Group - "Frederick"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #90, 3 Weeks on chart)
After being regarded as the "Godmother of Punk," Patti Smith made the decision to walk away from the music business as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, and even named her 1979 LP Wave to signify her imminent departure. Although it was given a pop-flavored sheen by producer Todd Rundgren, the record was littered with hints that Smith was ready for a new direction. "Frederick" was the track that led off the set, and was also Smith's last Hot 100 hit before she set sail.
"Frederick" was Fred "Sonic" Smith, a member of the group MC5 and the man she would soon marry. Interestingly, a woman who was lauded as a catalyst for change made the interesting decision to give up the trappings of the rock & roll lifestyle for the seemingly tame job of mother and housewife. Oddly, her decision seems like an easier one to me now than it did when I was younger. Of course, that probably is because I am now called "Daddy" by a daughter myself.
"Frederick" didn't do so well on the chart. That may be due to its musical similarity to Smith's 1978 hit "Because the Night" even though this one was penned by Smith herself (Bruce Springsteen wrote the other). It was different enough that it should have fared better as the Disco backlash was building...maybe Smith's reputation as a punk poet was also a factor. In any case, the song deserves another listen.
Peter Brown - "Crank It Up (Funk Town) (Part 1)"
(Debuted #93, Peaked #86, 6 Weeks on chart)
For a song subtitled "Funk Town," the music of "Crank It Up" really comes off as harder than you might expect it to, especially if you're only familiar with Peter Brown from "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me" and "Dance With Me." The song anticipates the move of funk/disco to a more synthesized, electronic sound of the future, even as Brown himself didn't capitalize on the shift himself. When disco fell out of favor, his own records after the turn of the decade failed to chart on the Hot 100. However, he continued writing and performing into the new decade, scoring a #1 dance hit in 1984 called "They Only Come Out at Night" and writing Madonna's "Material Girl."
The version in the video above and in the MP3s here is the extended version. Those 12" versions proliferated during the era (and really never went away due to the rap, hip-hop and club genres in the 1980s), and while many were merely mixed to let the song be longer, "Crank it Up (Funk Town)" lets the groove stick around and really get into your ear.