Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Week's Review -- October 27, 1979

There were six new singles debuting in this week's Billboard Hot 100, with three making the Top 40. Also, two of those would peak in 1980, both reaching the same #18 position. Although disco was considered to be dying at the time, it didn't stop two of the songs from charting. Another song is a funk classic that has provided an entire generation of hip hop and rap artists with samples. A former member of Poco shows up, as does a duo who would go on to become one of the biggest acts of the next decade. As for another duo, they would soon split, with one half moving on to country music.

Among the archive of past Billboard  issues over at Google Books is the October 27, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 92. An article on page 20 mentions that a group was fighting against an effort to get rid of the brass-lined doors at the Brill Building (It seems to have worked, as the doors are still there today). A sociologist on page 6 gives his dissertation about how the Disco juggernaut screwed up the music business.

England Dan & John Ford Coley - "What Can I Do With This Broken Heart" What Can I Do With This Broken Heart - Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive

(Debuted #78, Peaked #50, 6 Weeks on chart)

It's a shame that "What Can I Do With This Broken Heart" missed the Top 40. It's too good a song to be forgotten. Yes, it fits the overall format laid down in the duo's previous hits, but doesn't come across as derivative. Instead, it follows the path that the earlier hit "Love is the Answer" pointed out. However, the slight disco sheen in the background accompaniment may have detracted from the overall composition, but it was a solid song.

For all intents and purposes, this was the end of the line for the duo. There was one more low-charting single in the new decade and a movie soundtrack (Just Tell Me You Love Me) but that was quickly forgotten. By then, "England" Dan was recording as a solo artist and added his last name (Seals) to his record before dropping the "England" part altogether.

Isaac Hayes - "Don't Let Go" Don't Let Go - The Best of Isaac Hayes: The Polydor Years

(Debuted #81, Peaked #18, 20 Weeks on chart)

Nobody was going to tell Isaac Hayes that Disco was dead. In a way, it was ironic that an artist who was so influential in the early direction of disco wasn't able to enjoy many hit singles during the genre's heyday. Then, when he finally got the chance to show a wider audience the way he could lay down a dance groove, the sound was dropping from prominence.

Just as Hayes had done a decade earlier, he turned to a song from the past. "Don't Let Go" was a remake of the 1957 Roy Hamilton hit but had been given an extreme makeover. The words were the same, but delivered in a totally different style. Using his trademark smooth, low delivery that sound like he's trying to seduce, he lets his female backing chorus handle the song title in a breathy manner. It was his best shot at a disco hit, and was good enough to break through the barrier many listeners had set up against the genre by late 1979.

Funkadelic - "(Not Just) Knee Deep (Part 1)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube video above contains the 15-minute version of "(Not Just) Knee Deep" from the LP Uncle Jam Wants You but the single version was edited down to fit on two sides of the record. The record's A-side was heavily abridged and clocked in at four and a half minutes. Although its pop chart life was short, it would rise to #1 on the R&B chart.

Featuring the regular P-Funk stars (George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Michael Hampton, et. al.), the song also featured the talents of former Spinners singer Phillippe Wynn and ex-Ohio Players keyboard player "Junie" Morrison.

With its classic funk groove and distinctive vocals, "(Not Just) Knee Deep" has been sampled by several hip hop and rap artists over the years. The most obvious of these is De La Soul's "Me, Myself & I" from 1989, but the sample has found itself into the work of Tone Loc, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, MC Hammer, The Black Eyed Peas and Bobby Brown.

Cory Daye - "Pow Wow" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #76, 3 Weeks on chart)

(Warning: there is a word written in the YouTube video above that can be considered offensive. If you're watching it at work or around kids, it might be a good idea to hide it as it plays.)

"Pow Wow" was the first hit for Cory Daye, but not her first time her voice graced a hit single. She was a former singer in Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, where she was the voice behind "Cherchez La Femme." While "Pow Wow" was a solid and fun disco single that really needs to be heard if you're into the style, the backlash that sent disco underground as the 1970s came to an end also affected the song even more than the American Indian imagery of the tune (complete with war cries).

In the 1980s, Daye would sing backup for Kid Creole & the Cocoanuts, which was headed by former bandmates August Darnell and Coati Mundi.

Richie Furay - "I Still Have Dreams" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #39, 10 Weeks on chart)

Richie Furay was a former member of Buffalo Springfield, Poco and The Souther Hillman Furay Band, and eventually moved toward Christian rock after his religious conversion in the mid 1970s. Despite the religious outlook of his personal life, he assured his label that his music would avoid the preachiness that often follows that new direction. One of those forward-looking and inspirational tunes was "I Still Have Dreams," which briefly returned him to the Top 40 one last time before devoting his time to his family and church.

"I Still Have Dreams" sounds like it could have fit right in on a Poco album. It shows the country-rock influence of the band's earlier records, mixed with a slicker late-70s production quality.

Daryl Hall and John Oates - "Wait For Me" Wait for Me - X-Static

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

After getting some attention in the mid 1970s with tunes such as "Sara Smile," "She's Gone" and "Rich Girl," Daryl Hall and John Oates went through a "down" period that seemed like a waning before their early 1980s resurgence that eclipsed everything they had done before it. In essence, the period was marked by the duo trying to find its sound, rather than simply coming up with more variations of their hits. In the end, it worked; but the years between 1977 and 1980 were rather lean hit-wise.

One other factor that helped their success was two "missing" pieces: guitarist G.E. Smith and bass player Tom "T-Bone" Wolk. I find it to be little coincidence that the duo's biggest hits came with those two musicians supporting them. Smith was already on board beginning with X-Static (the LP that includes "Wait For Me"), and Wolk was still a couple of years away.

"Wait For Me" was written by Daryl Hall, and while it brought them their first Top 40 hit of the new decade, their breakthrough would come much later in the year in the form of their next LP Voices.

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