Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 26, 1979

Call it a baker's dozen if you like, but there were a lucky 13 new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Seven of those songs would make it into the Top 40, with two Top 10 hits and a #1 single. Since disco was still a big deal in 1979, it's represented here in the form of two bands that were better known as rock acts. At the same time, there's a couple of acts heavily associated with disco -- Donna Summer and The Village People -- releasing songs that point in other musical directions even if they're definitely tailored for the dance floor. It wasn't all danceable stuff, either: two songs here were #1 country hits. Several are from acts that still wanted to get into a rock groove despite the dominant sound of the day. In short, this is another week where you may have been hard pressed to find a radio station that played all of the songs here in their rotation. Such was the fragmented state of the music business at the time.

Google Books features an archive of many past Billboard issues, including the May 26, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 88. An article on page 6 explains that Morris Levy had signed on along with Casablanca to produce a "Studio 54" LP set. With the revelations that confirmed that Levy had been involved with organized crime, anything with his name on it is brought into question. That record, by the way, was a Top 40 album later that year. A feature beginning on page 41 explains how Eddie Rabbitt was poised to become a crossover country/pop star. Finally, page 49 has a brief review of a film and soundtrack about to be released: Rock & Roll High School.

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Donna Summer - "Bad Girls" Bad Girls - Bad Girls

(Debuted #55, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

Hookers. Streetwalkers. Prostitutes. Ladies of the Night. Working Girls. Whatever you want to call them, they're the "Bad Girls" that Donna Summer is singing about. She said so much in the cover of her Bad Girls LP, where she's dressed up provocatively and standing next to a street light. The lyrics don't gloss over the subject, either: "Picking up all kinds of strangers...if the price is right." It's been said that the song was inspired by an observation Summer's secretary made after returning from errands. Summer then worked out the details with the members of Brooklyn Dreams. The rest, as they say, is history.

No, it's not the first #1 song about a working girl ("Lady Marmalade" was from four years earlier, but there's little doubt there were others before it). However, the entire Bad Girls LP was an effort to let the "Queen of Disco" gain a wider audience by adding rock hooks to her music. Ironically, this was going on as Disco was getting ready to crash and burn. The move helped Summer to get additional hits right into the 1980s as other acts associated with Disco weren't as lucky.

"Bad Girls" was followed as a single by "Hot Stuff," the song that preceded it on the LP. By the time the new single was flying into the Top 10, "Bad Girls" was still there. In fact, the two songs would share the Top 5, the first time a female solo act had ever done that, and something few outside of Elvis, The Beatles or The Bee Gees had done before her.

Kiss - "I Was Made For Lovin' You" I Was Made for Lovin' You - Dynasty (Remastered)

(Debuted #70, Peaked #11, 16 Weeks on chart)

Following Donna Summer on the Billboard Hot 100's new hits was another Casablanca artist. At that time, Casablanca was renowned for being the largest major disco label in the country. It should come as no surprise that a group like Kiss would eventually fall in line with the expectations of the corporation that was signing their paychecks. Especially with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and seeing what lengths Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley will go to to earn a dollar in the music business. That wasn't a negative comment; the two have a solid track record of marketing, so it shouldn't be as surprising that they released a blatant disco record in 1979. Especially when the Stones and the Kinks had already done it before them.

As for their fans at the time...let's just say that some of them weren't exactly happy about the new direction of the band. Even though the band stayed on the harder edge of rock after that, they may have lost some goodwill among many of their core audience that wasn't willing to sit through the revolving door of artists accompanying Simmons and Stanley, or when the makeup came off.

Peter Criss shows up in the promotional video above, but didn't actually contribute to the song when it was recorded for the album. Producer Vini Ponca deemed him unfit to play, so session drummer Anton Fig was brought in for the recording. Criss remained an official part of the band through 1980, but he was being pushed out due to his substance abuse issues. Even today, it's disputed what happened; Criss says he quit, while Simmons and  Stanley insist he was fired.

Anne Murray - "Shadows In The Moonlight" Shadows In the Moonlight - New Kind of Feeling

(Debuted #71, Peaked #25, 12 Weeks on chart)

Anne Murray was at the peak of her crossover period in 1979.  The first of her two albums that year, A New Kind of Feeling, had two singles: "I Just Fall in Love Again" (reviewed here last January) and "Shadows in the Moonlight." Both would be #1 hits on Billboard's country and adult comtemporary charts in addition to reaching the pop Top 40.

Of course, Anne Murray translated well among different audiences. The Canadian songstress was able to effortlessly chart different singles among the various formats during the 1970s. Her #1 pop hit "You Needed Me" wasn't as big a hit on the country chart, while her #1 country song "He Thinks I Still Care" didn't even get serviced to Top 40 stations at all. Somehow, it didn't matter. Murray's music was directed where it needed to go, and it fit well. "Shadows in the Moonlight" was one of those songs that could appeal to many listeners; an adult song about falling in love again -- despite the line "the night is young, and Baby, so are we" - under the stars. In a way, the song is similar to Billie Jo Spears' "Blanket On teh Ground," in which a couple rekindles their young love by doing what they did to fall in love in the first place.

Peter Frampton - "I Can't Stand It No More" I Can't Stand It No More - Where I Should Be

(Debuted #72, Peaked #14, 13 Weeks on chart)

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the seminal albums of the 1970s, as well as a catalyst that made Peter Frampton a huge star seemingly overnight. However, the goodwill from that LP was tested by Frampton's next album I'm in You. Its laid-back vibe was a contrast to the live sets that made him famous. Before releasing his next album, though, Frampton had some personal issues. He had been injured in a bad auto wreck in 1978. To make matters worse, he was involved in another "wreck" that only hurt his pride, the ill-received film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

By 1979, he was looking back to the days when he was a touring musician. The title of the first single from Where I Should Be was "I Can't Stand it No More," a return to the more rock-influenced sound which might have seemed like a warning that he'd had enough. Evidently, the listeners did as well. It would be Frampton's final Top 40 hit. That said, he has been touring frequently during the time since and releasing albums when he's felt like doing them, so perhaps the big picture has worked out for Frampton the way he wanted it.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section - "Do it or Die" Do It or Die - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Atlanta Rhythm Section

(Debuted #79, Peaked #19, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Do it or Die" is a song that rarely gets played on radio stations with the frequency of other Atlanta Rhythm Section songs. In fact, it may seem to be a softer tune than one who only knows "Imaginary Lover" and "So Into You" might expect. Those two songs aren't exactly uptempo, but they deal with unrequited love, with "Do it or Die" seems to have an air of resignation in its lyrics. In essence, the song is saying that life goes on no matter what happens. You need to live ("do it") or else you're going to die.

In an era where so many songs on the chart were about dancing, there weren't a lot of songs that had such a philosophical element to them. As a result, "Do it or Die' stands out from those around it, even if it barely reached into the Top 20 during its run.

Wet Willie - "Weekend" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #29, 12 Weeks on chart)

(Edited to add: During the entire Billboard chart run, this song was erroneously listed on the Hot 100 as "Weekends," and was originally listed that way on this blog. Thanks to regular U.K.-based reader Robbie for pointing out the error.)

I really don't understand why this song isn't available in a digital format. It borders on a criminal act.

In 1979, disco was the hot new sound, and several record companies were pushing their artists to seize the day and get a danceable rhythm in their songs. Even Southern rock groups like Wet Willie weren't immune to the temptation, so they complied. Not only did they add a little more funk to the tune, they even tailored the lyrics to be a celebration of the time spent away from the working life.

While there is a line about going dancing, it doesn't necessarily make it a "disco" song per se. Rather, the song is about being free to do whatever you want during your downtime, even if it's nothing at all. It's definitely worth a listen if you've never hear it. 

Suzi Quatro - "If You Can't Give Me Love" If You Can't Give Me Love - Suzi Quatro: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #81, Peaked #45, 8 Weeks on chart)

After getting a big hit with the Chris Norman duet "Stumblin' In" (reviewed here in January), Suzi Quatro stayed in a similar vein for her followup single. Actually, that's not entirely true. "If You Can't Give Me Love" was originally released in 1978 in the U.K. it was a Top 10 hit there but failed to chart on this side of the Atlantic at the time. It would be re-released to capitalize on the success of "Stumblin' In," striking while the iron was hot.

Despite its guitar-based hooks and easy-to-follow chorus, it was unable to reach the Top 40. As it turned out, Quatro was never again able to return to the U.S. Top 40 even after getting exposure here as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. In an interesting twist, "If You Can't Give Me Love" was Quatro's final Top 10 U.K. hit, reaching #4 there -- the same peak position "Stumblin' In" reached here -- and "Stumblin' In" stalled outside that country's Top 40. Even though the hits have dried up, Suzi Quatro has continued touring, recording, acting and hosting a BBC radio show in the years since.

The Village People - "Go West' (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)
I normally place an embedded YouTube video in this space, but the video assigned to this song has been disabled. For those who'd like to check out a vintage performance of the song complete with the familiar costumes, here's the link.

Their previous two hits YMCA" and "In the Navy" could have been seen as novelties, but "Go West" comes across as a positive, forward-looking lyric. Perhaps that outlook is what killed the song before it reached the Top 40; mainstream America was more comfortable with The Village People when they were seen as cartoon-like caricatures and sang lyrics that seemed to include a wink and a nod. Somehow, songs that espoused brotherhood and togetherness seemed to be subversive.

"Go West" definitely deserved to be a bigger hit.

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Music Box" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #75, 6 Weeks on chart)

After scoring a pair of top 40 hits from her debut LP Smooth Talk, the teenaged disco/soul songstress from Philadelphia went once again to a disco sound for her leadoff single from the next album. It didn't make the Top 40; with the coming end of the Disco era, King's music shifted toward electronic funk rhythms and allowed her to continue her career into the new decade.

One thing stands out on the track, though: If king was born in 1960, she was still 18 years old when "Music Box" was recorded. That voice doesn't sound like it came from somebody so young.

Bob Welch - "Church" Church - Three Hearts

(Debuted #86, Peaked #73, 3 Weeks on chart)

Bob Welch is probably best known today for leaving Fleetwood Mac and clearing the way for Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham to come aboard. While some point out that he likely missed out on more fame and riches as a result, it should also be noted that much of the group's late-1970s success came because of the two new members. However, Welch was the first American member of the group, and it was him who began the transition from the late 60s blues/rock combo led by Peter Green to a streamlined hit machine.

After notching several hit singles after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Welch's career began cooling down. "Church" missed the Top 40 and would be his final Hot 100 entry, even though he has continued to make music to the current day. Despite the name, "Church" is not religious in nature.  A plea for an unrequited lover to see that somebody is waiting right there, the song was another fusion of different styles but still infused with the same mellow vibe of his earlier hits. It didn't sound out of place on the radio in 1979 and likely deserved a better chance.

The Babys - "Head First" Head First - Head First

(Debuted #87, Peaked #77, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Head First" is a perfect song title for a group called The Babys, considering that's the way most children are born. However, the song uses the other definition of the term, the one that suggests leaping head first into the action.

And action is what "Head First" offers. During the recording of the Head First LP, Babys founder Mike Corby was sacked from the band due to a disagreement over their musical direction. He favored bubblegum pop, but the rest of the group wanted to do more hard-edged rock. He was replaced by two American members including future Journey member Jonathan Cain and the group reworked the tracks for the upcoming album.

As a single, "Head First" definitely rocks. If anything, it seems to be a couple of years ahead of its time. It works well as an arena rock anthem, but those weren't quite so successful in 1979.

Maxine Nightingale - "Lead Me On" Lead Me On - Lead Me On

(Debuted #89, Peaked #5, 23 Weeks on chart)

After being considered a One-Hit Wonder here in the States for her sassy 1976 song "Right Back Where We Started From," British "songbird" Maxine Nightingale was back with this sultry ballad.

"Lead Me On" is identified with Nightingale, but it was written by Allee Willis, who sang the background vocals in the song. She had also written "Boogie Wonderland" for Earth, Wind & Fire. Both songs charted around the same time. Willis said in an interview that the Samantha Sang song "Emotion" was an inspiration for Lead Me On," and the two songs definitely have a similar sound.

The Bellamy Brothers - "If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me" If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me - The Bellamy Brothers: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

(Debuted #90, Peaked #39, 11 Weeks on chart)

"If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold it Against Me " may seem like a bad pickup line that was perfectly suited to the leisure suit wearing swingers of the Disco era, but the line was around before then. When Groucho Marx was hosting You Bet Your Life, it was one of his favorite phrases to use on female contestants, which he then followed with his characteristic eyebrow raising.

David Bellamy caught the line watching that show and used it for the main idea of a song. The double entendre was well-suited to the country audience, which The Bellamy Brothers were trying to attract. It worked, going to #1 on the country chart for three weeks and becoming the first of their 20 chart-toppers in that genre. It also made the pop Top 40 and reached #3 in the U.K.

Recently, this song was mentioned after Britney Spears released her hit single "Hold it Against Me" earlier this year. David Bellamy suggested (perhaps jokingly) that she send some of her songwriting royalties their way for planting the seed for the line in her head. That set off several rounds of comments all over Websites asking if he'd ever sent anything to the estate of Groucho Marx for the same reason.

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