Sunday, August 30, 2009

Songs debuting August 25, 1979:

Wings - "Arrow Through Me" Paul McCartney & Wings - Back to the Egg - Arrow Through Me

For young fans of music in 1979 who weren't old enough to remember the Beatles, it may have been a surprise to some to know he was a success before he fronted Wings. During the 1970s, McCartney enjoyed 22 Top 40 hits, 13 Top 10 singles and five trips to #1 with the group. Paul McCartney & Wings was so successful, every one of their chart singles hit the Top 40 through the end of the decade. As the saying goes, all things come to an end and "Arrow Through Me" was the last single from Back to the Egg, the final Wings studio album. It wasn't technically the last Wings chart single, however; McCartney's 1980 "solo" single "Coming Up" was flipped over by radio DJs who preferred Wings' live version from a Glasgow concert instead and that version was the one that reached #1.

As a song, "Arrow Through Me" isn't terrible. As a cut from the same LP as McCartney's "disco" hit "Goodnight Tonight" it's a good pop tune, with McCartney doing the bass line on a keyboard instead of his familiar Hofner. However, to fans used to stuff like "Band on the Run," "Live and Let Die" and "Jet" it was a reminder that even ex-Beatles are human. Of course, by the end of 1979, McCartney was the only ex-Beatle still enjoying chart success: George Harrison had a decent LP that year but only one minor hit, Ringo Starr hadn't had a decent radio hit in years and John Lennon was still semi-retired with his family in New York City.

In short, "Arrow Through Me" was formulaic pop but still a great deal better than much of what McCartney would put on record during the 1980s.

Donna Summer - "Dim All the Lights" Donna Summer - Bad Girls - Dim All the Lights

Disco was considered to be in a death spiral in 1979, but disco diva Donna Summer was as hot as ever. Her double album Bad Girls was one of the biggest LPs of the year. It had two monster #1 hits: "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls," and her follow-up "Dim All the Lights" just missed the top, peaking at #2. Among all of Summer's hits, "Dim All the Lights" was the only one she wrote without a collaborator.

Much like Summer's smash from the year before, "Last Dance," "Dim All the Lights" starts off slow and builds up to a danceable pace. It also shows her vocal range, having a single note she held for 18 seconds, a record for chart singles. As "Dim All the Lights" was reaching its peak, another Summer tune ("Enough is Enough," a duet with Barbra Streisand) was competing with it. She continued having hits until well after most "disco" performers had disappeared.

Eddie Money - "Get a Move On" Eddie Money - The Essential Eddie Money - Get a Move On

A cop named Mahoney? That was Steve Guttenberg from the 1980s Police Academy movies, right? In real life, a Brooklyn kid named Eddie Mahoney tried to follow his father's footsteps by joining the police force but didn't stay in uniform for long. After a move to the San Francisco area and a shot at the music business, Mahoney altered his name to Eddie Money and began hitting the chart by 1978.

"Get a Move On" was the lead single from Eddie Money's third major LP Playing For Keeps, which didn't show up in the stores until 1980. The album was a disappointment, having no Top 40 singles. "Get a Move On" stalled at #46 and Money had to wait for another LP and the dawn of MTV before his next hit record. As an uptempo song and a staple of Money's concerts, it wasn't exactly in the same league as "Two Tickets to Paradise."

Chris Thompson & Night - "If You Remember Me" Chris Thompson - If You Remember Me - the Very Best - If You Remember Me

While Chris Thompson was a new name to Top 40 radio, his voice certainly wasn't. He had sung lead with Manfred Mann's Earth Band on their #1 "Blinded By the Light" in 1977. As for the group Night, this was a follow-up to their song "Hot Summer Nights" but that tune featured Stevie Lange on vocals and Thompson sang in the background. Helped by its inclusion in the Jon Voight/Ricky Schroeder film The Champ, "If You Remember Me" edged its way into the Top 20 and peaked at #17.

The song was initially released as a Thompson solo effort, with the "& Night" credit added later. It features an emotional Thompson performance and is well worth a listen. That said, the MP3 links here are for a re-recorded version of the song. It's still a decent recording, but the original is available for collectors willing to look for it.

John Stewart - "Midnight Wind" (Not available as MP3)

John Stewart had been paying his dues for over 20 years when his LP Bombs Away Dream Babies was a runaway success. He was a member of the legendary folk group The Kingston Trio and wrote a #1 tune for the Monkees in 1967 called "Daydream Believer." With a little help from Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on the tracks, Stewart's LP and the songs "Gold" and "Midnight Wind" were among 1979's success stories.

With "Midnight Wind" the unique voice of Stevie Nicks is very noticeable throughout the length of the song, and Lindsay Buckingham's guitar drones out throughout. A dark song, much in the vein of Buckingham and Nicks' contribution to Fleetwood Mac's huge Rumours LP ("Gold Dust Woman" in particular) and that dynamic was sure to be a help in the song's success, as Fleetwood Mac fans were still eagerly awaiting the forthcoming Tusk LP from that group.

Sadly, Stewart's success didn't sustain itself when he recorded his next LP the following year, and he returned to business as he knew it for most of the 1970s. He kept busy with music until passing away in 2008.

KC & the Sunshine Band - "Please Don't Go" KC & The Sunshine Band - Do You Wanna Go Party - Please Don't Go

KC & the Sunshine Band had four #1 singles during the 1970s, and this one should have been the fifth (or the sixth, depending on whether you think he was cheated when "Keep it Comin' Love" stalled at #2 in 1977 because "You Light Up My Life" held a stranglehold on the top spot for 10 weeks) if it had only reached the chart summit a week earlier. However, since "Please Don't Go" reached #1 on January 5, 1980 it went in the record books as the very first #1 single of the 1980s.

Due to its status as a song that peaked in 1980, "Please Don't Go" doesn't appear on the list of KC's hit singles of the 1970s shown on the parent website of this blog. Even despite that technicality, the song isn't out of place among 1970s singles.

The Crusaders - "Street Life" The Crusaders & Randy Crawford - Street Life - Street Life

The Crusaders are another act that -- like John Stewart mentioned above -- weren't exactly a new presence even if pop fans didn't recognize the name when "Street Life" hit the Top 40 in 1979. The group had spent the 1960s making waves in the jazz field under the name The Jazz Crusaders and its core had been playing since high school days in the mid 1950s. The word "Jazz" was dropped from the group name in 1971 as the group expanded into other musical genres, and the group enjoyed several hit LPs and a handful of singles that reached the lower reaches of the Hot 100 during the 1970s.

In 1979, The Crusaders released their Street Life LP. The title track was the album's big hit, featuring lead vocals by Randy Crawford. The LP version of the song was an 11-minute opus, while the single version was edited down to a more suitable-for-airplay length. In an era where disco was considered to be on its deathbed, this dance-worthy tune was quite popular with the club types.

(The Amazon MP3 below is the 11-minute version and only available with the entire Street Life album. That explains the higher price shown in the link. If you click through, the CD is available through Amazon for a lot less).

The Barron Knights - "Topical Song" The Barron Knights - The Barron Knights - 40th Anniversary - The Topical Song

There was an old song called "Everything Old is New Again" and it was one of the many things over the years that tried to explain how things eventually come back around if you wait long enough. This song is further proof of that.

This song showed up on the Billboard chart surveys 30 years ago. It only stuck around for three weeks, rising to #70 before it was quickly forgotten. On the surface, it was little more than a parody of Supertramp's "The Logical Song"(a huge worldwide hit that year) but the "topic" of discussion was the rising cost of gasoline. There were other songs of the era putting a humorous spin on the issue -- most notably Dickie Goodman's "Energy Crisis '79" -- but this song applies today as energy consumption once again becomes newsworthy.

Buckeye - "Where Will Your Heart Take You" (Not available as MP3)

A group calling itself Buckeye is sure to be from Ohio. They were; calling Akron home, they named themselves after the nickname of their home state. Despite their quick exposure to the Hot 100 with this song, their self-titled LP would be the only one to appear in record stores and they never managed to chart a second time.

"Where Will Your Heart Take You" is a fairly straightforward rock tune. It's not bad, but it sounds enough like a lot of the other bands of their era to keep Buckeye from standing out above their competition. Unfortunately, the music business is fickle and bands that don't have something special (or at least a gimmick) don't stay around long.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This Week's Debut Feature

Last week, I introduced a new feature where I take a look at all the new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 during a random week in the 1970s. The only stipulation I'm making is that the week be around the same time of the year as the week I'm writing the reviews. This week, I'll review the new songs that debuted on August 27, 1977.

Stevie Wonder - "Another Star" Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life - Another Star

Last week's review concluded with a tune that featured Stevie Wonder guesting on harmonica, so it's interesting to see this week's list leading off with a tune from the former wunderkind.

This was the third single from Stevie's classic LP Songs in the Key of Life. The first two were #1 smashes ("I Wish" and "Sir Duke"), so this single certainly had expectations. Unfortunately, the song just made the Top 40 before stalling at #32. Its follow-up ("As") didn't do any better on the pop charts; interestingly, one of that LP's best-known tunes -- "Isn't She Lovely" -- was never released as a single and didn't chart even after gaining a great deal of airplay.

While it was edited by more than three minutes for single release, the LP version of "Another Star" runs more than 8 minutes. The song almost sounds like it was recorded "live" in the studio, so its enjoyability might depend on whether the listener is in the mood for an extended jam session. Listening to the LP version, the brass backing band sounds like a nod to Earth, Wind & Fire and the Latin percussion break is an interesting addition. As the final track of the "regular" LP (originally, it was a double LP with an extra 7-inch EP included; the CD version just adds the extra 4 songs from that EP to the end of the LP tracks), it was a great way to finish off what is generally considered to be Wonder's "masterpiece."

Peter Frampton - "Singed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" Peter Frampton - I'm in You - Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours

Speaking of Stevie Wonder, a cover of one of his songs debuted along with one of his originals. Peter Frampton was still riding the crest of his popularity from Frampton Comes Alive! and spent the summer of '77 on the charts with his follow-up LP I'm in You. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" was the second single culled from the album. Stevie Wonder was a guest musician on the LP.

Frampton's cover included a faithful guitar lick and some musical bits recalling another Wonder tune ("For Once in My Life") but listening to this version right after the original shows just how underrated the Funk Brothers (Motown's house band) actually were. Not taking away from Peter Frampton's musicianship, but his version shows exactly how tight the Funk Brothers were in their rhythm as well as how great Wonder's backing singers were in their harmony.

The Commodores - "Brick House" The Commodores - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Commodores - Brick House

The Commodores are better known as the band that unleashed Lionel Richie on the pop audience but began life as a funk/R&B outfit. Before Richie's smoother compositions became the group's forte, many of their early hits were jams that encouraged listeners to get up off their seats and get down on the dance floor. Look no further than "Brick House" for proof of that.

Although "Brick House" is notable as one of the Commodores' big hits that wasn't sung by Lionel Richie (William Orange handled this song), it's also a song that has enjoyed quite a lot of staying power, appearing in movies, TV shows and on dozens of disco compilations. It's familiar to listeners who hadn't yet been born when it made its run through the Billboard charts.

Paul Davis - "I Go Crazy" Paul Davis - Paul Davis: Greatest Hits - I Go Crazy

I've mentioned this song before on this blog, mentioning it as one of my picks for the best singles of the 1970s. Its appearance here is significant; the song set a record in its chart run by staying on the survey for 40 weeks. It would remain on the charts until the Spring of '78, during which time over 100 songs would rise and fall from the Hot 100.

The song's lyrics tell a story. A man is talking with his old lover, explaining that he's happy to see she's found another but inwardly fighting the urge to let go of her memory. It's a well-produced song, one that I don't find tiring even after repeated listenings.

Jigsaw - "If I Have to Go Away" (Not available as MP3)

1970s music fans know Jigsaw from their hit "Sky High" but few knew the group had other hits afterwards. In their native UK, the group had 9 albums and a string of hits. In the U.S., however, their chart success dropped off. With this song, the group went away from the sound of "Sky High" and its follow-up "Love Fire" and used a falsetto. It was a pale imitation of the Stylistics (another group whose chart success had fallen by that time). Aptly named, "If I Have to Go Away" stalled at #93 and the group never returned to the chart.

Boney M - "Ma Baker" (Not available as MP3)

Long before Frank Farian unleashed 1980s pop tarts Milli Vanilli on unsuspecting music fans, he enjoyed considerable international success in the late 1970s with Boney M. Making a disco song using the story of real-life Depression-era criminal Ma Barker seems like an awful idea, but the tune was a hook-laden confection and actually pretty good for a novelty disco song. In fact, the melody can stay in the listener's head for a while after the song ends. The song was a huge hit in the UK but only reached #96 in the U.S.

Eric Carmen - "She Did it" ERIC CARMEN - Boats Against the Current - She Did It

After success with his group the Raspberries, Eric Carmen made his mark with his first solo LP in 1975. In 1977, he came out with his follow-up LP Boats Against the Current and "She Did it was the first single from the album. As the single was hitting music stores, two of Carmen's compositions were also on the charts: "That's Rock 'n' Roll" and "Hey Deanie," both by Shaun Cassidy.

As expected, this song is a hook-heavy, clean studio production. After two massive hits from his first LP ("All By Myself" and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again") that bemoaned lost love, this song is about finding love and sounds brighter than his better-known earlier hits. The chorus has a definite influence from the Beach fact, a few of the Beach Boys sang in the background. Adding a hand to the song was Andrew Gold, who played the guitar solo.

Leif Garrett - Surfin' U.S.A. (Not available as MP3)

Speaking of the Beach Boys, here's a cover of one of their best-known hits. Leif Garrett's first appearance on the Billboard chart was a faithful note-for-note rendition; however, singing the same words doesn't always mean the same result. Let's just say Leif (that's pronounced "Layf", not "Leaf") Garrett was a 1970s teen idol who could sing capably enough to sell a lot of posters and lunchboxes to boy-crazy girls.

Watching VH1's I Love the 70s Volume II, there's a segment on Leif Garrett in the episode for 1977. In it, Loni Love mentioned that she remembered him, but also that "nobody knows any of his hits. How come?"

Sam Neely - "Sail Away" (Not available as MP3)
Hot - "The Right Feeling at the Right Time" (Not available as MP3)

These two songs are listed together because I've never heard them and can't give an accurate review of them. Neely's song was the last of his handful of Hot 100 entries. He was a country-styled Texan whose biggest pop hit "Loving You Just Crossed My Mind" came in 1972. Hot was on the heels of their only big hit "Angel in Your Arms" but couldn't capitalize on the success of that song.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Feature

After taking some time away from the site, I've decided to begin posting a weekly feature as a away of spotlighting 1970s music. I'll choose a few random tunes from the decade and see if this gets some discussion going.

I've decided that rather than mentioning songs I like or have felt to be overlooked as I did before, I'm going to list tunes without any regard for whether I like them. What I'll do is take the song that debuted in a random week from the 1970s and comment on them. If I like it, don't like it or never heard the song before, I'll say so. I'll also try to leave a few links to let readers listen to the tunes as well.

Without further ado...

Songs that debuted the week ending August 19, 1978

Linda Ronstadt - "Back in the U.S.A." Linda Ronstadt - Living In the USA - Back In the U.S.A.

Ronstadt was a huge force on the radio through the mid-to late-1970s. This was the first single off her new LP Living in the U.S.A. and was another of the many cover tunes she put out at the time. Despite her stature among FM radio giants, this tune didn't do so well; it peaked at #16 in September. While nobody could argue that Ronstadt's voice was golden, I never thought her rendition of this tune was better than Chuck Berry's original.

Through 1978, Ronstadt charted four times and all were cover tunes. Earlier in the year, she did Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" and the Stones' "Tumbling Dice;" her follow-up to "Back in the U.S.A." was her rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby" (complete with a tremendous sax solo by David Sanborn). To my ear, Zevon's tune has weathered the past three decades well and "Ooh Baby Baby"still sounds great in its own impeccably-captured in an antiseptic recording studio way...but she could've tackled a different Stones tune ("Out of Time" or maybe even "Ruby Tuesday" would've sounded great) and left Chuck Berry's catalog alone.

My opinion, though. I'd love to hear from a fan of Linda Ronstadt's who's familiar with more than just her singles like I am.

Bruce Springsteen - "Badlands" Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On the Edge of Town - Badlands

Growing up in the 1980s like I did, I didn't really become aware of Bruce Springsteen until Born in the U.S.A. became the chart juggernaut it was. I do remember "Hungry Heart" from the radio but was really too young to appreciate The Boss at the age of 8. As far as his 1970s output, my perspective is skewed; I was born in 1972 and was still in diapers when Greetings From Asbury Park showed up in the record stores and my hometown in Northern New York -- while only one state away -- was a long way from the Jersey streets so omnipresent in his music. Like many other artists I didn't "get" as a kid, I understood and appreciated the music more as I grew up and gained some experience about how life can change ideals.

"Badlands" was the second single from Darkness on the Edge of Town, an LP that disappointed some fans who were expecting the LP to be something of a Born to Run Part II. After a nearly 3-year wait (and at a time when major music acts didn't normally go 2-3 years between LPs), the LP's often muddled production often underscored the fact that disco and punk had altered the landscape of popular music during the time since his previous LP. Despite those negatives, the LP made #5 even if "Badlands" ended up just missing the Top 40. It's a shame the song wasn't a bigger hit, even if it wasn't as radio-friendly or hook-laden as many 1978 tunes, it is better than the record indicates.

Sylvester - "Dance (Disco Heat)" Sylvester - Living Proof - Dance (Disco Heat)

Speaking of disco...Sylvester had two of the genre's biggest hits: "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real" and this one. Both tunes were high-energy concoctions designed to get people on the dance floor. In my humble opinion, "Dance (Disco Heat)" was the better song.

Once disco became passe as the 1980s dawned, Sylvester's career stalled. His backup singers became The Weather Girls, and they released the Disco-under-a-different name 1983 dancefloor classic called "It's Raining Men." Sadly, Sylvester passed away in 1988 from AIDS-related causes.

Carly Simon and James Taylor - "Devoted to You" Carly Simon & James Taylor - Boys In the Trees - Devoted to You

This tune had the misfortune of appearing just as a different tune with a similar title was in the Top 10 (Olivia Newton-John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You"). While both Simon and her husband JT were still enjoying wild popularity, their singles weren't exactly selling at the same levels they enjoyed during the first half of the 1970s. However, their chart appearances would dry up as the 1980s dawned and their marriage fell apart short time later.

"Devoted to You" was a cover of an Everly Brothers tune and spent a few weeks in the Top 40. As a tune, it was no "Mockingbird." By saying that, I'm not saying it was bad (not at all), just different.

Boston - "Don't Look Back" Boston - Don't Look Back - Don't Look Back

Admittedly, I grew up in the 1980s. Despite getting a late start on music, I was very much acquainted with this tune during high school. By the time Boston finally came around to releasing its followup LP Third Stage in 1986, I was in the 9th grade and listening to an FM station that was heavy with Boston material in its programming. Though I was more inpressed with "Feelin' Satisfied" from the same LP, the guitar work on "Don't Look Back" was pure ear candy to me as a kid. It's still good to me today...even if I'm not practicing in front of a mirror in my bedroom, pretending the baseball bat in my hands was a Stratocaster.

L.T.D. - "Holding On (When Love Is Gone)" L.T.D. - Togetherness - Holding On (When Love Is Gone)

Before "On the Wings of Love," Jeffrey Osbourne was the lead singer of L.T.D. (short for Love, Togetherness and Devotion). The group put out some nice grooves, though. Their two biggest hits, "Love Ballad" -- later covered by George Benson -- and "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again" were sublime R&B from an era where funk cut deep into the genre. "Holding On" was another great tune that still gets airplay but missed the Pop Top 40.

Journey - "Lights" Journey - Infinity - Lights

Before Journey made their mark as 1980s arena rock deities, they were a San Francisco-based band started up by a couple of guys who left Santana. Like Santana, the early incarnation of Journey was a progressive band that experimented with different genres and tended toward extended instrumental breaks. Also like Santana, the group had a revolving door of members with the guitarist (Neal Schon) being the only real mainstay. By the end of the 1970s, the group began putting the pieces together that would lead to multi-platinum success in the next decade: lead singer Steve Perry was brought on board in 1977 and immediately lent his skills to the group by co-writing this song with Schon.

"Lights" is something of a love letter to Journey's home city, with its mention of their beloved "City by the bay." At the time, Journey hadn't yet hit the Top 40 and this wouldn't be the tune to get them there (it peaked at #68). However, it indicated that the jazz-fusion days of the band were over and they were aspiring to make their way via the corporate rock that was beginning to burgeon at the time. They were a couple of LPs, another band member (Jonathan Cain in '81) and an MTV launch away from the Big Time.

Wendy Waldman - "Long Hot Summer Nights" Wendy Waldman - Love Is the Only Goal: The Best of Wendy Waldman - Long Hot Summer Nights

Wendy Waldman came out of the L.A. scene in the mid 1970s and had previously been in a group with Andrew Gold and Karla Bonoff. Though I'm somewhat familiar with some of her work, I've never actually heard more than a 30-second snippet of this song, which really isn't enough to give an honest assessment of how I feel about it.

The McCrarys - "You" Listen for free on Songza

The McCrarys were a gospel-based family singing group -- two brothers, two sisters -- from Los Angeles. Though this song was a minor hit (peaked at #45) it's actually a catchy-tune that deserves another listen (even with the vinyl scratches and pops on the Songza link above). In a way, this song sounds like an updating of the Staple Singers' sound. As with many songs by groups who have gospel roots, the lyrics can be taken two different ways; they could be sung in praise of the Almighty or for a lover.

Also, listen to the harmonica that punctuates the recording; that's Stevie Wonder. Anybody who's heard "Boogie On Reggae Woman," "That Girl" or "Isn't She Lovely" can point out his style immediately.