Saturday, April 10, 2010

This Week's Review -- April 15, 1978

There was some star power in this week's list of new singles debuting on Billboard's Hot 100. Seven singles made the survey, four of those reached the Top 40, two made the Top 10 and one ended up as the #1 song of the year. Interestingly, the songs that didn't make the Top 40 are in some cases better remembered today than a couple that did. That drives home the point I've made occasionally that peak position doesn't necessarily equate to how good a song might be...this is part of the reason I review all the songs from the Hot 100 rather than just the ones that went Top 10 or even Top 40.

In many blog entries, I link to the tremendous archive of past Billboard magazine issues found online at Google Books. Unfortunately, the April 15, 1978 issue is missing from their archive. However, I've been working on adding more 1970s music info to the Web...I've begin building a hubsite at HubPages. There is a permanent link at the left side of this blog, but you can check it out by clicking here. Among the pages I've built there are "best of" posts from this blog, complete with video clips. Check back for updates as I add them.

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Elton John - "Ego" Elton John - A Single Man - Ego

(Debuted #65, Peaked #34, 8 Weeks on chart)

After several years as one of the biggest stars in the music business, Elton John started flaming out after about 1977. With a nearly uninterrupted string of Top 10 singles and #1 LPs from 1972 to 1976, the hits kept coming but weren't as big. 1977 saw a disco-tinged single -- "(Bite Your Lip) Get Up and Dance" -- miss the Top 20 and a Greatest Hits LP that sold well but wasn't the smash his first "Best of" package had been. For 1978, Elton came out with his new LP A Single Man and a new single that wasn't included on the album called "Ego" that featured a picture sleeve that didn't even name its artist.

The new single would be more like Elton's 1980s work than the music of his 1970s heyday. In a way, he was signaling a new phase in his career. The song starts with a piano intro and what sounds like a train whistle before the guitars kick in and drive the song. There are also synthesizers (which would be much more prevalent in his work during the 1980s) and a couple time changes. The lyrics tell about something Elton knew all too well at the time: his place as a performer. With lines like "I'm not in it for the bread, I'm in it for the gravy" and "I need the press tonight" it certainly seems that way, even if there is a part where he's being nostalgic about his early years at one point. "Ego" would become Elton John's first single to miss the American Top 30 since "Tiny Dancer" in 1971. Fortunately for him, the hits weren't drying up...he had several more years' worth of hits to go.

Andy Gibb - "Shadow Dancing" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #69, Peaked #1, 25 Weeks on chart)

This was the biggest hit of 1978, a year that saw its share of big hits. With the success that year of the Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks, the arrival of Donna Summer and The Village People, a year where even The Rolling Stones put out a disco-sounding song to show they were still "with it," it's not surprising that a song with the word "Dancing" in the title would become the biggest single of the year. It's also not surprising that the singer's last name was Gibb.

Despite any charges of nepotism leveled at the youngest Gibb brother, Andy Gibb had talent despite the fact he was only 20 years old in 1978. Nobody could blame the guy for taking advantage of his family ties and letting The Bee Gees' star power rocket him to the top of the charts. After all, there were a lot of other artists not named Gibb standing in a long line between 1977 and 1983 to have Barry Gibb producing them.

In the case of "Shadow Dancing," the song is ear candy. It has an infectious rhythm, a hard beat to avoid and lyrics that are easy to sing along with. While there are some music fans out there who are still sick of the song from its days in heavy rotation on radio and jukeboxes, it's hard to argue that the song is incredibly catchy even if you're not wanting to catch what it contains.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "You Got That Right" Lynyrd Skynyrd - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Lynyrd Skynyrd - You Got That Right

(Debuted #85, Peaked #69, 4 Weeks on chart)

"You Got That Right" would be the final chart hit of the Lynyrd Skynyrd lineup that was intact until an October 20, 1977 plane crash killed three of its members. Co-written by lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines (who had only joined the group the previous year), both men handle the vocals. The twin lead vocals are backed by Skynyrd's signature three-guitar attack and piano-driven Southern boogie.

The song led off the second side of the band's Street Survivors LP, which itself was affected by the crash. The record had been released just three days before that accident with a cover (shown below) featuring the band members standing in flames. The member most engulfed was Steve Gaines, one of the three members who died (Van Zant and Gaines' sister Cassie were the others). Out of respect for the deceased and the loved ones mourning them, the album was re-released showing a different picture of the band with a black background. The original cover would be restored as part of a CD re-release more than 20 years later.

Head East - "Since You Been Gone" Head East - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Head East - Since You Been Gone

(Debuted #86, Peaked #46, 8 Weeks on chart)

During the 1970s, three different versions of "Since You (or You've) Been Gone" charted on the Hot 100. In 1979, both Rainbow and the twin sister duet of Cherie & Marie Currie hit with the tune, but the first hit was by Head East. The song was written by former Argent singer Russ Ballard and first appeared on his 1976 LP Winning, but has been recorded several times over the years.

It's easy to see why so many artists have covered the song, as it's a great tune with a catchy rhythm and straight-driving guitar sound. The words convey the sense of confusion and second-guessing that comes with dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. The single would be the highest-charting for the Champaign, Illinois-based hard rock band, even though their tune "Never Been Any Reason" (reviewed in this blog last November) may be better remembered, and Rainbow's version of "Since You Been Gone" is considered a more definitive one.

Seals and Crofts - "You're the Love" Seals and Crofts - Takin' It Easy - You're the Love

(Debuted #87, Peaked #18, 16 Weeks on chart)

While it depends on somebody's particular musical tastes whether they like Seals & Crofts or not, this much can be said about the duo: they certainly put out a lot of music with a positive, uplifting message. A lot of that was the influence of their Baha'i faith, which places a heavy emphasis on humanity and unity. Many of the elements of their songs had subtle Baha'i bases (like the mention of jasmine in "Summer Breeze"...the faith's founder was apparently fond of the fragrance). 

The lyrics of "You're the Love" are expressed in such a way that the subject could be either about a woman or a deity, right until the word "girl" shows up in the final line of the chorus; perhaps the word was tossed in to detract from any overt religious message, implied or not. Seals & Crofts certainly tapped from the disco craze for this tune. That said, it's not exactly a disco tune but has a danceable beat and generic string-based instrumentation common for that era. Their chasing of musical trends wouldn't continue. This would be the duo's final Top 40 hit and declining sales led them to be dropped by Warner Brothers in 1980. The duo never officially broke up; they still perform occasionally for Baha'i functions and have toured from time to time since their hits stopped.

Carly Simon - "You Belong To Me" Carly Simon - Boys In the Trees - You Belong to Me

(Debuted #89, Peaked #6, 18 Weeks on chart)

While Carly Simon was one of the writers of "You Belong to Me" and had the biggest hit with the song, she wasn't the first to record it. That honor goes to The Doobie Brothers, whose lead vocals were handled by the song's other co-writer Michael McDonald. Their rendition appeared on their 1977 LP Livin' on the Fault Line, while Simon's version would appear on her Boys in the Trees album the following year. That placed Carly Simon in the unusual position of doing a cover version of her own song.

According to Carly Simon's website, Doobies producer Ted Templeman had given her a demo of Michael McDonald singing the melody with nonsense words: "do be doo be do," and she wrote some lyrics to fit it. Once finished, it went back for the group to record; she says she never actually met with McDonald as the song was being conceived. When she did her own version, the song -- a plea to her lover to avoid straying -- was an excellent fit for her confessional singing style. The production by Arif Mardin was clean and professional, the studio musicians were top-notch and provided sufficient suspense for the song's mood. There's also a great saxophone solo by David Sanborn.

The Ramones - "Do You Wanna Dance"  The Ramones - Rocket to Russia - Do You Wanna Dance

(Debuted #96, Peaked #86, 5 Weeks on chart)

Hopefully, this will take less time to read than it does to listen to the entire song.

Originally appearing as a Bobby Freeman song in 1958, this classic has been covered many times over the years. The Beach Boys took it into the Top 5 in 1965, Bette Midler did a slowed down version in 1973 and The Ramones amped it up -- way up -- in '78. While the group's list of hit singles really doesn't reflect their wide influence, it's worth mentioning that "Do You Wanna Dance" was their last featuring the classic lineup of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy.

At one minute and fifty-two seconds in length, the song is among the shortest-playing chart singles of the decade. One of two covers done on their Rocket to Russia LP, it was also one of the songs they performed on camera in the 1979 film Rock 'n' Roll High School. The song is performed straightforward, in a style that is all too familiar to Ramones fans. Like many of their songs, it's just under two minutes of pure amplified fun.

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