Saturday, July 23, 2011

This Week's Review -- July 21, 1979

Nine new songs debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Five of those made the Top 40, with one getting into the Top 10 as well. A quick glance at the list of songs shows a much stronger rock sound than what had been largely hitting the charts up to that point in 1979. As for the non-rock acts, two of the three seem to adhere more toward R&B sounds than they may have just a few months earlier.Perhaps it was a sign that the musical acts were tired of disco and ready to explore new sounds as a new decade quickly approached. With that, there are several acts here that have names that will be familiar to 80s music fans: last names like DeBarge, Ingram and Bolton. Robert Palmer and Stephanie Mills get some nice early hits this week, while Journey and the Little River Band explore sounds that will get them additional hits in the future. Not to be outdone, Teddy Pendergrass even provides a solid reminder of what R&B legends like Barry White, Marvin Gaye and Al Green were doing before the full-frontal disco assault.

In fact, the subject of disco is addressed in the July 21, 1979 edition of Billboard magazine. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 80. This was just a week and a half after the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" that occurred in Chicago between two games of a baseball doubleheader. It's mentioned on Page 72, and a couple of other disco-related articles portend of rough waters ahead. An article on Page 52 explains that L.A.'s top disco station (KACE) was looking to add some variety to its playlist, while another on Page 47 has Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager answering to charges of skimming off the top of their club's balance sheet. Three deaths are reported, including two tat were early exits due to cancer: longtime Boston Pops maestro Aurthur Fiedler on Page3, "The Hustle" writer/performer/producer Van McCoy on Page 6 and "Lovin' You" songbird (and future SNL star Maya Rudolph's mother) Minnie Riperton on page 72.

Where Rock Art lives

The Little River Band - "Lonesome Loser" Lonesome Loser - Little River Band: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #63, Peaked #6, 18 Weeks on chart)

The Little River Band can be considered to be something of an Australian "supergroup," as it was formed from the remnants of two bands Down Under that had tried to make their career in the U.K. but failed. Instead, they decided to target the U.S. for their international market and ended up doing quite well as a result.

"Lonesome Loser" was one of their biggest and most familiar hits. It would be the third of their six Top 10 American hits and buoyed In Under the Wire, the band's most successful LP here. Personally, I feel the song has probably been overplayed while others from the band have gotten overlooked.

Robert Palmer - "Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) - Secrets

(Debuted #74, Peaked #14, 15 Weeks on chart)

"Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" is probably the best-known Robert Palmer song from the era  before he joined the group Power Station. It contains a driving beat and a very distinctive guitar riff, as well as an easy lyric to sing along with.

The song was written by Moon Martin, who would have some minor hits of his own in 1980. Sadly, his career (and for a while it seemed Palmer's was, too) fell off rather quickly.

Sniff 'n' the Tears - "Driver's Seat" Driver's Seat - Fickle Heart

(Debuted #82, Peaked #15, 14 Weeks on chart)

Sniff 'n' the Tears is generally seen as a One-Hit Wonder due to the fact that few can name any other hits they had. While sometimes, those bands manage to get another single or two into the lower reaches of the charts, Sniff 'n' the Tears never even manged that in the U.S. Ironically, their song -- a hit in several countries around the world -- received little notice in their native U.K. due to issues at EMI's pressing plant there.

The group was led by Paul Roberts, who also wrote and sang the lead vocals. "Driver's Seat" is used as a metaphor for being in control, and that is usually the meaning it takes when it is included in movies. For example, the song plays during a scene in Boogie Nights set in 1979. As the song plays, the new stars of the next era are being introduced to Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds' character) while his own stars are busy living and getting messed up on their own lifestyle.

Sniff 'n' the Tears fractured shortly after the song dropped off the chart. A new lineup reformed later, but Roberts has been the only constant presence in the band.

Teddy Pendergrass - "Turn Off The Lights" Turn Off the Lights - Teddy

(Debuted #83, Peaked #48, 6 Weeks on chart)

Teddy Pendergrass certainly wasn't interested in doing any dancing with this song. Not vertically, at least...

In an era where many acts were using dancing as a form of foreplay, Pendergrass cuts right through the subject. "Turn Out the Lights" is a pure seduction. There is no way to mistake what he's singing about, as he uses his velvet voice to spell it out. If his words weren't delivered with all the subtlety of a hammer blow to the head, the lush orchestral music behind him is there to fill in the blanks. It missed the pop Top 40, but went to #2 on the R&B chart.

Blackjack - "Love Me Tonight" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #62, 6 Weeks on chart)

If you've played the YouTube above, you may have picked up on the somewhat familiar voice of Blackjack's lead singer. And if you didn't recognize the voice or the face, you may not have been paying a lot of attention to music during the late 1980s or early 1990s.

"Love Me Tonight" was the only hit for Blackjack, but its four members went on to bigger and better things. The guitarist was Bruce Kulick, who later spent a decade with the group KISS. The bassist (and the guy who sang the extra "tonight" in the chorus of "Love Me Tonight") was Jimmy Haslip, who has been an in-demand studio musician due to his expressionistic playing. The drummer was Sandy Gennaro, who has also been a steady musician over the years. Then, there's the lead singer, whose name was Mike Bolotin.

After Blackjack split in 1980, Bolotin became a songwriter and a solo artist. He also changed his last name to Bolton. Yes, that's right...the same Michael Bolton that was the adult contemporary crooner and the subject of a very funny part of the movie Office Space is the same guy who once led a hard-edged rock group and even toured in support of Ozzy Osbourne.

And I hate to admit it, but as much as I really didn't care for a lot of Bolton's later material, I find "Love Me Tonight" to be a rather catchy tune. From the opening guitar jangle to the steady rhythm and even the seemingly goofy echo of the word "tonight" in the chorus, it's like candy for the ears. That's not to say it's an essential track; rather, it's like candy because it's good in a moderate dose and you know you'll feel guilty about it later, but you'll still do it.

Journey - "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Evolution

(Debuted #86, Peaked #16, 20 Weeks on chart)

Journey had come a long way, both in style and in substance, since they began with some former members of Santana who decided to take their own musical direction. After switching up some members including lead singers, they finally began to formulate a sound that would take them into the next decade.

"Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" was the group's first Top 40 hit and perhaps the first time many outside the FM album-oriented rock stations or the band's fan base would hear from them. The delivery wasn't exactly the standard verse/chorus arrangement, and the "Na, na, na, na, na" refrain was likely seen as either memorable, or a bit much. Either way, it's safe to say that the group definitely made an impression.

Oak - "This Is Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #58, 7 Weeks on chart)

Oak was a band from Maine led by Rick Pinette, who wrote and sang "This is Love." As a debut chart single, it made a little splash for the band, who would reach inside the lower reaches of the Top 40 a year later with "King of the Hill." By that time, however, the group was billed as Rick Pinette & Oak. Putting a leader in front of a band that wasn't originally set up that way is usually a recipe for disaster, and the band split up in 1981.

"This is Love" sounds a little like Styx, and elements of power pop are definitely there. It sounds more like a 1980s arena rock lighter-raising song, which indicates that Oak was likely a couple of years ahead of its time.

Stephanie Mills - "What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'" What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin' - The Best of Stephanie Mills

(Debuted #96, Peaked #22, 14 Weeks on chart)

While "What Cha Gonna Do With My Loving" was a debut chart single, Stephanie Mills was only branching out into a new phase of her career. She had been recording since she was a teenager, but by 1979 she was best known for her role playing Dorothy in the Broadway production of The Wiz.

The song might get lumped with other disco tunes due to its 1979 street date, but the production was similar to early 80s R&B without the deep synthesized sound. In its own way, it was a bridge between the two eras: it was rhythmic enough for the new sound but still had a beat that could be danced to.

Switch - "Best Beat In Town"

(Debuted #97, Peaked #69, 8 Weeks on chart)

After a week full of rock tunes and more solid R&B tunes, we finally get to the one unabashed disco song of the group. That should have been expected, as it was still 1979, after all. It wasn't even a close call: the word "Beat" is in the title, the lyrics are about dancing (or, as it is in the chorus, "getting down") and the musical accompaniment has the slap bass, the high-hat beat and the whistles you'd expect in a disco song.

Switch was a Motown-based act that included the older brothers of two acts that would get notice in the 1980s: two elder DeBarge brothers were part of the group, as was the older brother of James Ingram. It was their second pop hit, after the Top 40 "There'll Never Be" from 1978.

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