Saturday, September 18, 2010

This Week's Review -- September 24, 1977

Only seven new singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with four making their way into the Top 40. Three of those would travel into the Top 10 and one would spend three weeks at #1. Among the hits are a non-disco song from Saturday Night Fever, a last Top 10 hit for Chicago for the next several years, a two-part progressive rock tune by another Chicago-based group, a bit of bombastic pop, a song that had already been a Top 40 hit and another that would re-enter the survey several years later.

While I often show a link to the accompanying Billboard issue in Google Books' archive, the September 24, 1977 edition is missing.

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Chicago - "Baby, What A Big Surprise"

(Debuted #70, Peaked #4, 17 Weeks on chart)

Chicago was one of the biggest singles acts of the 1970s. Among all acts, only James Brown had more chart singles between 1970 and '79. Furthermore, they were among the Top five acts of the decade in total Top 40 and Top 10 hits. However, the band hit a rough spot beginning in the latter part of the decade that began when Terry Kath, a key member, was killed in an accidental self-inflicted shooting. At the same time, they parted ways with James William Guercio, their producer and manager.

Before those events took place, however, Chicago's eleventh album was another big hit for them. Its first single was "Baby, What a Big Surprise," a song written and sung by bass player Peter Cetera. It was a soft-rock tune that opened with a symphonic intro before Cetera's distinctive vocal began. It's similar to the band's #1 single "If You Leave Me Now" (also written and sung by Cetera) in many aspects, but also features a nearly understated trumpet by Lee Loughnane that lends a regal quality to the song.

"Baby, What a Big Surprise" would be Chicago's final Top Ten single before their 1980s "comeback." The intervening years saw many low-charting singles on the Hot 100 and an unceremonious dumping by the band's longtime record label, Columbia.

The Bee Gees - "How Deep Is Your Love"

(Debuted #83, Peaked #1, 33 Weeks on chart)

"I believe in you, you know the door to my very're the light in my deepest, darkest nights, you're my savior when I fall." These are not the words you'd expect on a disco album, but they're on the one record that -- right or wrong, depending on your view of the genre -- is most often associated with the 1970s disco scene.

Placed among the disco-tinged songs of the Bee Gees' catalog due to its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack LP, "How Deep is Your Love" isn't a disco tune at all. Instead, it's a romantic tune backed by an orchestrated section that wouldn't have been out of place on a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song from the 1960s. It was more in line with the Gibb brothers' 1960s material than with the more R&B-influenced output they began performing with their Main Course LP.  As the song used in the scene where Tony and Stephanie develop a stronger friendship and again at the end of the film, its place in the movie was as a traditional theme and outside the scenes in the 2001 Odyssey Disco.

It was also the beginning of a very busy and lucrative year for the brothers.By the end of 1978, they had rewritten the Billboard record books in a way not seen since the arrival of the Beatles. "How Deep is Your Love" would be the first of three #1 songs they performed on the soundtrack (to join two others they already took to #1 before that). They also helped their brother Andy Gibb score two #1 singles on his own and had two more #1s by other artists (Yvonne Elliman and Frankie Valli). Before dropping off the chart, "How Deep is Your Love" would also spend 17 weeks in the Top 10 (a record) and 33 inside the Hot 100.

Kiss - "Love Gun"

(Debuted #85, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)

In case anybody was wondering, the title "Love Gun" is a thinly-veiled penis reference. That likely wasn't lost on Kiss's largely male teenage audience. It was also one of singer Paul Stanley's favorite songs and has been performed in every tour the band has done since its release. A straight rocker, "Love Gun" features a blitzkreig beat complete with rapid-fire drum fills, crunching guitar and a surprisingly hook-laden lyric. For a band that was perhaps better known for their look than their sound, "Love Gun" is an example of how Kiss didn't always fit the "style over substance" label their critics tried to tag on them.

At a time when many acts were doing a more discofied sound, the straight-ahead rockers may have felt like a breath of fresh air, even if it was a sophomoric joke. That is, it seemed that way until Kiss themselves put disco beats in their music later. After that, they reverted to a harder sound, which makes "Love Gun" sound like many of the group's lesser 1980s MTV video hits to the ears of those who've had more than 30 years to listen.

Though not credited as such, this was the final chart single featuring all four original Kiss members. Peter Criss would be replaced in the studio by drummer Anton Fig when the band recorded their 1979 Dynasty LP, and neither of the chart singles from that album actually featured Criss on the skins.

Judy Collins - "Send In The Clowns"

(Debuted #88, Peaked #19, 15 Weeks on chart)

"Send in the Clowns" had already been a #36 hit for Judy Collins in 1975. It was given another chance two years later and became an even bigger hit. Written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, the song was a character's lament that her life has been disappointing. The "send in the clowns" line was a reference to the old circus act of sending in clowns to keep an audience occupied and distracted in the event of an unforeseen or unfortunate turn in the show.

While "Send in the Clowns" is one of Collins's best-known tunes of the 1970s, some have been turned off by the downbeat music playing behind her as she sings. While the song is supposed to be sad, it can be taken as a case of somebody merely suffering from ennui. In that case, the point can be made that it was a perfect song for a time that many considered boring.

Styx - "Come Sail Away"

(Debuted #89, Peaked #8, 22 Weeks on chart)

After hitting the Top 10 with "Lady" in 1975, Styx was hit with disappointing results with its followup singles. For the next two and a half years, only two of their singles would reach the Top 40 and one ("Crystal Ball") missed the Hot 100 entirely. "Come Sail Away" would be the song that finally served notice that Styx was going to be a force on the charts.

True to the group's progressive leanings, "Come Sail Away" is a song that has two distinct parts. The first is a ballad about sailing away, whether in the literal sense or (more likely) a metaphorical one. A piano sets the tone and Dennis DeYoung wistfully delivers his lines about getting underway. The second part is a rock tune, driven by guitars and keyboards. The instrumental passage combines the two versions: a soft, playful keyboard solo that sounds like seagull chatter and a rollicking guitar attack that breaks the serenity. In a sense, it's a way of showing that calm seas can occasionally be broken by bad weather.

On the album, the song was a six-minute opus, but the song was edited down to three minutes for the single release. The second verse was edited, as was the instrumental part. Today, radio stations are far more likely to play the longer LP version so the single edit may seem to be missing a lot of music.

David Castle - "Ten To Eight" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #68, 7 Weeks on chart)

The video clip contains a spoken intro by a man named Music Mike. He's made similar videos for a host of low-charting singles from the 1970s that are worth checking out. As for information on David Castle, the video gives as much detail as I've been able to find. I do not, however, agree with his assessment that "Ten to Eight" could be one of the best 1970s pop my own ears, it's an okay song that likely deserved a wider audience than it received.

The title "Ten to Eight" refers to the time and the realization that time is getting short while preparing to go to work. The song was originally sung by Helen Reddy (which makes more sense, as the words explicitly describe a female getting ready to go) but never released as a single. Despite its disappointing showing in the U.S., Castle's rendition was also a hit in several European countries and was better remembered there.

Charlene Duncan - "I've Never Been To Me"

(Debuted #98, Peaked #97, 3 Weeks on chart)

"I've Never Been to Me" was a song whose lyrics have one woman telling another that the grass isn't any greener on the other side of the fence, but was actually written by a man. The original words had an older man telling a young buck about the lessons he'd learned in his own youth, but was changed by writer Ron Miller for Duncan. Sung over an orchestrated score, Duncan sings about how life is lonely at the top. A spoken bridge appeared in the original LP version but was cut for the single. One particular line of the song -- "Sometimes I've been crying for unborn children that might have made me complete" -- was mistaken to be about abortion even though it expressed an aging woman's lament about never being a mother.

Although "I've Never Been to Me" faltered on the Hot 100, it would be given a second life in 1982. The renewed interest began when Scott Shannon, then a Tampa DJ, added the song to his station's rotation. By that point, Duncan had left the music business and moved to England. The song (now with the spoken bridge restored to the single) was credited only to "Charlene" and went to #5. It also made a lot of "worst of" lists as a result of its syrupy-sweet delivery. The video shown above was a TV appearance on the show Solid Gold during that 1982 chart run.


  1. Another great entry Chris. Sometimes the billboard charts and the offerings on the radio remind me why I spent so much time listening to other music on LP's instead. How did we survive some of this stuff!

  2. As far as 1970s music, it seems fans tend to prefer the different eras differently. Some prefer the early 1970s bubblegum/AM radio pop over the disco of the late 1970s, while others like the Motown/Philly soul sound. Others may prefer the hard rock of bands like Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy over the singer/songwriter stuff. While much of that can be traced to where they were at a particular time, there are other factors at play as well.

    In my case, I tend to gravitate more toward the latter part of the 1970s. That doesn't mean I don't also like what came out early on, but I was born in 1972 and have little recollection of much music before about 1977 or so. I began paying attention to music about the time I entered Kindergarten (in my case, 1977) so my memory seems to point me toward stull like "Baby Come Back" and "Hot Blooded" and "Stayin' Alive" and "Here You Come Again" and "Hot Stuff" because I have those memories -- vague as they may be -- attached to those tunes.

    A person 10 years older than me might have been getting incredibly sick of pop music by the late 1970s, which meant he or she would be getting pretty sick of having songs like "Undercover Angel" and "Looks Like We Made it" and "I'm in You" and even "You Light Up My Life" playing every time they turned on the radio. Notice, those songs aren't among the ones I remember. However, if you knew me in the late 1980s, I was also getting damned sick of having the same garbage playing all the time on the Top 40 station and was tuning in to other alternatives (like album-oriented radio...and the 1970s stuff I review here).

    In a way, this is part of why I review every single song...there are some great songs and some awesome ones, with most falling somewhere in between. However, if I only focus on the ones I like, I may miss one I'd have never considered or pass over one that somebody else wants to remember. That would be a huge disservice to my readers.

    And to answer your comment, Anthony...there were other ways available to survive some of this stuff. You mentioned albums but there were also other formats (jazz, soul, country, etc.) and progressive FM radio stations that couldn't care less about what Billboard was listing. I also seem to be under the impression that there were evidently chemical solutions that made the stuff a little easier to digest...