Twelve new singles make their debut this week, with only three managing to reach the Top 40. Despite the seemingly sluggish performance, some artists would go on to reach bigger heights in the 1980s -- Kim Carnes, The Police and especially Michael Jackson -- while some were making their final chart appearance.
Past issues of Billboard are available to read for free online at Google Books. The February 24, 1979 edition can be found here. The full Hot 100 list can be seen on page 88. Beginning on page 3 and continuing on page 78 is an article about Casablanca Records, which was on top of the music world thanks to its association with the white-hot disco fad. It's interesting to read articles like that with 20/20 hindsight, knowing disco would soon fall out of favor and how the resulting backlash essentially doomed the label. Another interesting fact is how label head Neil Bogart mentions his love for New York, which seems odd because the label was famous for its place on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. However, Bogart himself was a native New Yorker and his roster included NYC-bred acts Kiss, Brooklyn Dreams and The Village People.
Speaking of Casablanca Records, two singles from this week's review were from the label. One of those songs is the first on the list.
Parliament - "Aqua Boogie"
(Debuted #89, Peaked #89, 2 weeks on chart)
Fans of George Clinton and his P-Funk universe probably don't mind his forays into the realm of the bizarre, but it can be something of an acquired taste even if it's as funky as on old pair of sneakers. While Billboard simply listed the song as "Aqua Boogie," on vinyl the song was followed by a parenthetical "A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop." That's quite a mouthful. Parliament would often take the idea of a concept album and stretch in to the point of melding it. For 1978's Motor Booty Affair, there was an underwater concept, which brings us to "Aqua Boogie."
Written by three of Parliament's huge talents, leader George Clinton, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, it features what fans expect from the three: Clinton's unique and bizarre humor, Bootsy's bass lines and Worrell's handiwork. In the song, Clinton channels an alter ego named Sir Nose D'Void of Funk, who is not only lacking in rhythm but afraid of water. I'm not going to even try to make sense of the words...the music is a tasty slice of funk from many of the genre's best practitioners. However, the song loses some of its luster when taken away from the entire LP, which is a small part of why the song was so short-lived on the pop chart.
Zwol - "Call Out My Name"
(Debuted #85, Peaked #75, 3 weeks on chart)
As I continue this blog project, I occasionally come across something I've never heard before that ends up being surprisingly good. Sometimes, I find those tunes running through my head later on after I've listened to them a couple of times. This was one of those songs.
Zwol sounds like a group name, but the name was a pseudonym for singer Walter Zwolinsky. For most of the 1970s, he was the singer for the Canadian rock band Brutus, a group that also introduced guitarists Jerry Doucette (who himself had a minor Hot 100 hit in 1978) and Paul Dean of the 1980s band Loverboy. Going solo in 1978, Zwol enjoyed two minor hits from his first LP and "Call Out My Name" was the second of those. The song is about a breakup; his lady has walked away and isn't answering the phone anymore but he still holds out hope she'll come back to him. As Zwol sings out the words, a keyboard and two guitars hide his pain well.
Despite the relatively poor chart showing and no followup hits in the U.S., Walter Zwol still performs around Toronto today. There's a fan-made video for "Call Out My Name" on YouTube that will let you hear the song for yourself. One of the responses on the page is purportedly from Zwol himself, with contact info (a MySpace page) for anybody who'd like to get a CD of his music, which isn't available through iTunes or Amazon right now.
Maureen McGovern - "Can You Read My Mind"
(Debuted #92, Peaked #52, 9 weeks on chart)
Released to theaters late in 1978, Superman: The Movie was a tremendous hit. During one scene from the film, Superman (played by Christopher Reeve) takes Lois Lane (played by Margot Kidder) for an evening flight around Metropolis. As they fly around -- aided by CGI special effects that were cutting-edge then but pretty basic today -- there is a theme playing as Kidder's voice recites a poem called "Can You Read My Mind." Soon after the film became a hit, a version of Lois Lane's theme sung by Maureen McGovern was released. While her interpretation of John Williams' score was lovely and well-suited for cinema (even though that version didn't appear in the film), it failed to make the Top 40.
McGovern was no stranger to movie themes. Her recording of "The Morning After" (from The Poseidon Adventure) was a #1 pop hit and "We May Never Love Like This Again" (from The Towering Inferno) was a minor hit. However, both songs would win the Oscar award for Best Original Song. McGovern also performed "Wherever Love Takes Me" for a 1974 British disaster film called Gold. These songs gave McGovern a reputation as a disaster movie "queen." After "Can You Read My Mind," she would go on to TV (with the title song for the series Angie) and appear in a movie spoofing some of those disaster flicks, as a singing nun in Airplane!
B.T.O. - "Heartaches"
(Debuted #94, Peaked #60, 7 weeks on chart)
The sound was similar, but the group was different. This single featured the group name B.T.O. as opposed to the full Bachman-Turner Overdrive because founder Randy Bachman had left the band and retained the rights to use the name. In fact, Bachman's new band Ironhorse would chart three weeks later with "Sweet Lui Louise" while "Heartaches" was still on the chart. Written and sung by C.F. Turner, it was the first charting B.T.O. tune since 1976. Two LPs were released in the meantime that failed to chart any singles, but the minor success of "Heartaches" didn't change the band' fortunes. The rise of disco likely killed the group's mid-70s success.
Kim Carnes - "It Hurts So Bad"
(Debuted #78, Peaked #56, 5 weeks on chart)
After enjoying a Top 40 duet with Gene Cotton called "You're a Part of Me," Kim Carnes would get her first solo chart single with "It Hurts So Bad." Despite the fact it was her first hit, Carnes had spent more than a decade in the business. From a stint with The New Christy Minstrels in 1966-'67 (along with future duet partner Kenny Rogers), she would go on to release several independent LPs throughout the 1970s and wrote for other artists. Two of her compositions would end up being recorded by another future duet partner, Barbra Streisand, and those would help to get her more exposure.
"It Hurts So Bad" was taken from Carnes's first EMI LP St. Vincent's Court. Sounding somewhat like a female Rod Stewart and backed by a mandolin, piano and organ in addition to the more standard rock instruments, the song was written by Carnes. As somebody who started out as a songwriter, it's interesting to note that her two biggest hits would be other people's songs: 1980s "More Love" was a Smokey Robinson tune and the next year's "Bette Davis Eyes" was written by Jackie DeShannon.
George Benson - "Love Ballad"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #18, 15 weeks on chart)
George Benson didn't see a lot of success on the Hot 100 until the mid 1970s (beginning with his LP Breezin' and "This Masquerade") but he'd spent more than a decade before that as an accomplished jazz guitarist, working with greats like Miles Davis. Ironically, he reached a new level of success by adding his voice to the recordings when he was already notable for his guitar work.
This was the second appearance of "Love Ballad" on the pop chart. The first time was in 1976, as the first chart single for L.T.D. That version was handled by Jeffrey Osbourne, whose voice was far more powerful than Benson's. However, by adding in Benson's guitar prowess -- even doing a duet with himself, scatting along with his own guitar solo, in the middle -- this version would eventually edge out the #20 peak of the original.
Brooklyn Dreams - "Make it Last"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #69, 4 weeks on chart)
Brooklyn Dreams was probably best-known for its association with Donna Summer (they sang backup on many of her hits and were the credited with "dueting" with her on "Heaven Knows") but were a group in their own right. Aside from that #2 smash Summer duet, the group had three Hot 100 entries on their own during the late 1970s and the ironically titled "Make it Last" would be their final hit. Bruce Sudano, a former member of Alive & Kicking (1970's "Tighter, Tighter") and Summer's future husband, handled the lead though all three members showcase their vocal talents.
Brooklyn Dreams was influenced by doo-wop and even appeared in the film American Hot Wax as a street corner group. However, they were under the umbrella of Casablanca records, which was the premier disco label in the U.S. so their harmonies were shifted to a more disco-influenced sound. As a result, the standard string-heavy Casablanca instrumentation detracts from the excellent three-part harmony the group exhibits in "Make it Last." A combination of the forced disco sound and the fact that "Heaven Knows" was already rising up the charts at the same time would doom the single.
Click here for a YouTube video of Brooklyn Dreams performing "Make it Last." I'm happy to say it's a truly live version, as opposed to a lip-synced TV appearance.
The Police - "Roxanne"
(Debuted #82, Peaked #32, 13 weeks on chart)
It all started with a song about being in love with a prostitute. With lyrics about turning on the red light and selling her body to the night, there's little doubt about Roxanne's profession to anybody who pays attention to the lyrics. It wouldn't be the only song about a woman of the night to hit the Top 40 ("Lady Marmalade," "Bad Girls" and "Killer Queen" were 70s hits...even the time-honored song "Sweet Georgia Brown" originally had lyrics about a working girl), but the funny thing is that some casual fans don't realize that fact even when they sing along to it on the radio.
It was also the first chart hit for The Police in the U.S. With a different sound than what usually drifted from Top 40 radio stations in 1979, the group was too smooth and instrumentally proficient to be punk, too reggae-influenced to be rock and had a guitarist who was a veteran of the British Invasion (something the punks were rebelling against). Since there is a need to categorize musical acts into some type of ready-made all-encompassing "label" The Police would be lumped in with the New Wave acts for the coming decade. They would become one of the biggest groups of the early 1980s until internal strife split them up at the peak of their popularity.
The Faragher Brothers - "Stay the Night"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #50, 7 weeks on chart)
Beginning in their native California as a group of four brothers, the Faragher Brothers had expanded to include a fifth brother and one sister by the time their third LP Open Your Eyes, which included "Stay the Night." Before making a family band, brothers Danny and Jimmy Faragher had been members of the group Bones, which had a low-charting 1972 single called "Roberta." While "Stay the Night" was a good example of blue-eyed soul and the California "sound" that permeated the airwaves in the late 1970s, the song stalled halfway up the charts.
No followup single made the charts and the band would split in 1980. After that, some of the Faraghers stayed in the music business. Tommy would become a writer (Taylor Dayne's "Every Beat of My Heart") and producer. Davey became a highly-sought session bassist. Danny would also do session work as well as performing music for TV shows like The Facts of Life and Who's the Boss?
Dan Hartman - "This is it"
(Debuted #93, Peaked #91, 3 weeks on chart)
Following "Instant Replay" (reviewed here last October) both on the LP and as a 45 release, Dan Hartman's second single wasn't nearly as successful as his first. It rose only as high as #91 and died pretty quickly. Not much to write about...the song is about as heartfelt as a soda commercial and the band sounds like they drank their share of sweet stuff before rolling the tape.
There is a promo video for this song on YouTube. While it shows just how silly the song is, it also shows future Kiss member Vinnie Vincent on guitar. Notice the bass player is placed behind the drummer and doesn't seem to be playing at all (Hartman did his own bass for the record). The absence of future Hall & Oates sideman/Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith (who played guitar for the LP) in the clip seems to indicate that he had the sense to stay away. That, or he was already paid for the studio gig and was happy without having to make a fool of himself too.
Eric Clapton - "Watch Out for Lucy"
(Debuted #77, Peaked #40, 7 weeks on chart)
After slowing down for "Wonderful Tonight" and flirting with country for "Lay Down Sally," E.C. returned to blues-based rock for "Watch Out for Lucy." Originally the B-side of his Top 10 hit "Promises," the song made the lower reaches of the Top 40 on its own merit. Taken from his LP Backless, the song sounds like it was recorded in a smoke-filled roadhouse. While it sounds so much differently than Clapton's other late 70s singles, it sounds like an old friend at the same time.
At first, it sounds that Lucy might be jailbait ("Excuse me, Lucy, Darling don't you use me, I don't want to land in jail.") but the song tells the story about a good-timer named Bill who fell for Lucy despite his friend's warnings that she was no good. Once that happens, she demands expensive presents. The story doesn't end well...Bill ends up lying in a gutter with a gun and a ring he tried to steal for her. Among Clapton's lesser-remembered hits, it's worth searching out.
Michael Jackson - "You Can't Win (Part 1)"
(Debuted #83, Peaked #81, 3 weeks on chart)
In a purely historical sense, this may be the calm before the storm. When this song was released, Michael Jackson was still seen as a member of The Jackson 5 (even after they had changed their name to The Jacksons) and occasional solo singer. He was still only 20 years old and was just getting ready to finish up his next LP Off the Wall. Of course, his life and career changed tremendously once that hit the shelves.
"You Can't Win" was taken from the soundtrack of The Wiz, a more "urban" take on The Wizard of Oz. Jackson played the Scarecrow in the film, joined by Diana Ross as Dorothy, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion and Richard Pryor as the man behind the curtain. The film's music was scored by Quincy Jones, which helped lead to his involvement with Jackson's hugely successful LPs Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. Interestingly, "You Can't Win" may not have been a single at all; it was written for the original stage play but discarded and later revived for the film. Listening to the song, some of Jackson's later hit formula is evident but it's unlikely the record-buying public recognized that at the time.