Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 10, 1979

Six new singles appeared on the Hot 100 this week, but only one managed to get into the Top 40. That one hit did manage to get into the Top 10, however. Many who remember the music of the year will likely recall (or cringe at) the fact that 1979 was probably the year that disco was everywhere...and then suddenly went sour. Not surprisingly, since the backlash hadn't occurred, three songs in this list are straight-up disco. However, there was a song with an undercurrent of gospel, a dose of pop/rock from England and an R&B/soul-influenced rock tune. It's a shame more of these aren't available digitally.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues at Google Books is the March 10, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found of Page 94. An article on Page 3 explains a new concept called the "Disco cassette," which featured a full-length mix (similar to the one found on a 12-inch single) on each side, which allowed users to take their music with them when they were away from the discos. Interesting to see that, when there are still people out there who consider the "cassette single" to be an artifact of the 1980s. Another harbinger of things to come appears on the front page, where a classical album became the first in Britain to be recorded digitally.

Wolfgang's Vault

England Dan and John Ford Coley - "Love is the Answer" Love Is the Answer - Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive

(Debuted #81, Peaked #10, 18 Weeks on chart)

The final Top 40 hit for England Dan and John Ford Coley was a Top 10 pop and #1 adult contemporary hit. Although its lyrics about love and unity were something of a throwback to the 1960s, the tone is more of a humanist one; rather than saying that love is the solution to hate, this song basically says that love is a common currency as we make our way around the world. That is very much a 1970s vibe.

While the song is most identified with England Dan and John Ford Coley, it was written by Todd Rundgren, who originally recorded it with Utopia in 1977. This version's arrangement adds a gospel flavor: the "middle eight" even features a call-and-response with a chorus. It gives some additional context to the original lyrics that a dry read can't give.

Grey and Hanks - "Dancin'" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #83, 2 Weeks on chart)

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a 1979 single called "Dancin.'" And no, it's really not necessary to use up a lot of guesses needed to figure out how it might sound.

Zane Grey and Len Ron Hanks were a duo from Chicago who had previously written the 1977 L.T.D. hit "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again." "Dancin'" was a cut on theier LP You Fooled Me, and used a lot of the usual hooks that would be found in the songs that were geared towrd the dance clubs: booming bass lines, gratuitous sound effects, a Latin percussion breakdown, female backing vocals, long instrumental sections, the repeated use of the word "dance" in the lyrics. It's entirely possible the song was written as a parody of the prevailing sound of the day, but it's hard to get that context within the grooves of the record.

It's great stuff to play in the background but doesn't exactly stand out above similar material. Needless to say, whether you agree with that statement is going to depend on your overall opinion of disco music in general. The song was 7 minutes long on the album and 12-inch single, but cut to 3 minutes for the 45.

The J. Geils Band - "Take it Back" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #67, 6 Weeks on chart)

Listen to it here

The J. Geils Band had quite a cult following during the 1970s. They forged their own sound by incorporating R&B and soul into their own rock style, making it unique. Noted for having former Boston-area DJ Peter Wolf at the microphone and harmonica whiz "Magic Dick" ( have to be quite a performer if you have the cojones to use that as a stage name), they enjoyed tremendous popularity in both Boston and Detroit. Among their bigger hits of the decade were the Bobby Womack tune "Lookin' For a Love," "Give it to Me" and "Must Have Got Lost." The party went on until they decided to go with a more rock/pop sound in the new decade. 

"Take it Back" was the second single from their LP Sanctuary, and sounded much like "Give it to Me" in its style and performance. That similarity may have been part of the reason it wasn't a bigger hit; by the late 1970s, the band's fan base was familiar with their earlier work and really didn't want to revisit the same stuff from earlier albums. The group must have paid attention. It was the last single before they released the Love Stinks LP and started their biggest period of commercial success in the early 1980s.

T-Connection - "At Midnight" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #56, 6 Weeks on chart)

T-Connection was a group that did its own brand of funk/disco synthesis rather well. Like many disco bands of the era, they were based in Miami, but they originally came from Nassau in the Bahamas. After making a splash with "Do What You Wanna Do" in 1977, they struggled to get a second hit until 1979. "At Midnight" gave them their elusive sophomore hit, but would be their last on the Hot 100.

"At Midnight" features the funky clavicle and a breakdown, like many disco songs did, as well as a repetition of the title. It also features some steel drums and timbales as part of its percussion, which is a nod toward the band's Bahamian home. Unfortunately, with every other disco song being rushed to the record presses in 1979 the music came off sounding generic in the end.

Bandit - "One Way Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

As the onslaught of disco music continued, the cacophony drowned out some of the worthwhile releases that came out at the same time. For instance, "One Way Love" is a straight rock tune that is propelled by a guitar lick and carried along by bass and drums. It definitely would not have sounded out of place a few years later as an Arena Rock tune, but in 1979, rock bands were often forced to bow to the Gods of Disco to get their record played (Kiss went disco that year, as did The Kinks and even Bad Company was relegated to try using effects on a synthesizer). As a result, songs like "One Way Love" were sadly overlooked.

Bandit was an English rock band led by Danny McIntosh, the future guitarist/husband of Kate Bush.
Prior to making their LP Partners in Crime (which included "One Way Love"), bassist Cliff Williams was snatched up by AC/DC. McIntosh ended up being the only member of the band involved in both the group's albums and simply let the band fall apart after that. "One Way Love" ended up being their only Hot 100 listing. It's a shame, as they had a sound that could have been lucrative for them in the early 1980s.

Arpeggio - "Love And Desire (Part 1)" Love And Desire: Desire - Love & Desire

(Debuted #90, Peaked #70, 5 Weeks on chart)

Produced by Simon Soussan, a native Moroccan who had moved to England and gotten involved in the Northern Soul scene. However, he didn't make a lot of friends there and eventually moved over to the U.S. and became a producer. He was behind the original Shalamar single "Motown Review" (though not the revamped band that recorded under that name later), produced "After Dark" by Patti Brooks and created Arpeggio.

Just like the other dance-oriented songs in this week's survey, "Love and Desire" is a memorable tune, but not a standout disco song. While it may have been hot at the time, the percussive and whistle effects that serve as hooks in the song just make them sound dated today. Come to think of it, it certainly sounded dated even in 1979, once the anti-disco backlash gained steam.

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