Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Week's Review -- December 23, 1978

There were ten new singles this week in Billboard, with five reaching the Top 40, two making the Top 10 and one that coursed its way to the #1 position. That chart-topper was a song about a one-night stand and -- depending on who's commenting about it -- is either a sign of its era or a reminder of when the artist made a wrong turn. The other Top 10 hit was a surprise single that sounds little like most of the songs of the era. Foreigner shows up with a familiar sound, while Dobie Gray tries on some dancing shoes and Chicago tries to right a course charted by a twist of fate. Further down the chart are a Christmas-themed song, two movie themes, an adult-oriented tune and a song that could have only appeared during the Disco era.

Unfortunately, there is no December 23, 1978 issue in the archive of Billboard issues over at Google Books. So, I will once again shamelessly plug my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. Each weekday, I feature a single song that peaked in the 1980s and last week's focus was 1982. The five songs featured over the week represented five very different styles...if you're not reading that blog, I'll recommend making it a regular stop.

Rod Stewart - "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" Da Ya Think I'm Sexy - Blondes Have More Fun

(Debuted #40, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

We start with one of the more polarizing songs of the decade, one that not only picked up more fans for "Rod the Mod" but also repelled others who'd been following him since the beginning of the decade. To those fans, it was a sign that he had somehow signed a pact with Satan himself to become so talented and finally had to pay the piper. Not only had Stewart crossed over into disco, but the person narrating the tale of picking up a one-night stand is miles away from the person who sang the lyrics of Faces' "Stay With Me."

Adrian over at the 7 Inches of 70s Pop blog did a much better description of this song than any I'll ever write, complete with the songs that were used (some might say "lifted whole") as guidelines for the finished product. So, I'll link over to his blog instead and point out that it should be regular reading for anybody who is interested in this weekly exercise.

Foreigner - "Blue Morning, Blue Day" Blue Morning, Blue Day - Double Vision (Expanded Version)

(Debuted #75, Peaked #15, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Blue Morning, Blue Day" was the sixth hit single Foreigner charted in just two years, and each of those made the Top 40. By this time, the band had pretty much established its template for pleasant arena rock, with hard-edged guitar riffs, flawless production and lyrics that weren't exactly subtle.

However, when compared to the other hits that came off the group's Double Vision LP ("Hot Blooded" and the title track), "Blue Morning, Blue Day" actually comes off as restrained. That wasn't going to change, though; their next LP Head Games featured more of the same sound and attitude...and still sold well.

Chicago - "No Tell Lover" No Tell Lover - Hot Streets

(Debuted #77, Peaked #14, 15 Weeks on chart)

"No Tell Lover" was a song that pointed to the direction of the band Chicago at the time. It was written by group members Peter Cetera, Lee Loughnane and Danny Seraphine, but the vocals were supplied by Cetera and Donnie Dacus, the member who joined the band as Terry Kath's replacement after Kath's accidental suicide. Not only was Kath gone, so was the group's long-time producer James William Guercio. The album containing the song was called Hot Streets -- a break from the band's routine of simply numbering their albums -- and featured a shot of the band members instead of an artistic design.

The changes weren't all well-received by the group's fans. Some were frustrated by their more pop-oriented direction at the expense of the progressive jazz-rock fusion they showcased earlier in the decade. While a certain degree of aimlessness was expected due to Kath's death and a change of producer, the group's records tailed off both artistically and commercially. "No Tell Lover" would be Chicago's final Top 40 single until 1982, after they were dropped by their record company and settled on their future direction. Along the way, they also dropped Dacus from the lineup in quick and unceremonious fashion.

"No Tell Lover" was a ballad about an on-the-sly affair that was done, appropriately enough, in an adult contemporary style. It was one of the album's high points, but marked the end of their staggering run of big hits in the 1970s.

Bobby Caldwell - "What You Won't Do For Love" What You Won't Do for Love - What You Won't Do for Love

(Debuted #83, Peaked #9, 20 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes I enjoy taking a few minutes to read through the comments that accompany some of the videos that get placed on this blog. For another video where Bobby Caldwell performed "What You Won't Do For Love" in the late 1980s, this little note was added in the comments: "Wait a minute...this guy is white?"

That's actually a legitimate question, as the song is performed in a similar style that many R&B artists employed well into the 1980s and uses a light jazz accompaniment that gives it some of the urban sophistication you'd expect from Michael Henderson or Peabo Bryson. Caldwell personified "blue-eye soul" in "What You Won't Do For Love," and the song has a timeless quality that makes it sound fresh in any era.

Engelbert Humperdinck - "This Moment in Time" This Moment In Time - This Moment In Time - Single

(Debuted #85, Peaked #58, 6 Weeks on chart)

A few weeks back, I was listening to a repeat episode of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio show from 1976. It's a weekly habit for me, here's a list of the stations that run the show and links to hear them stream live. Before playing "After the Lovin'," Casey told the story of how a singer named Arnold Dorsey failed to generate much excitement until he changed his stage name to Engelbert Humperdinck.

By the mid 1970s, Humperdinck was more focused on his stage shows than he was on his new records. "After the Lovin'" was a temporary change in that philosophy, but the shows were too profitable to ignore. He targeted an adult crowd, sang his standards at his Vegas shows and only charted sparsely on the pop chart into the early 1980s. "This Moment in Time" did pretty well with the adult contemporary scene -- it was his fourth and final #1 single in that format -- given the way it sounds like a wedding song.

Dobie Gray - "You Can Do It" You Can Do It - Ultimate Collection: Dobie Gray

(Debuted #86, Peaked #37, 11 Weeks on chart)

It is somehow appropriate that this singer's final pop hit as a solo artist finds its way into this blog during the same month he passed away. The sad news about Dobie Gray losing his bout with cancer on December 6 brought out several career highlights, as this type of news tends to do. Long-time fans remembered him for "The In-Crowd" and "Drift Away." Northern Soul fans in the U.K. reflected on his "Out On the Floor." Others remembered the guest turn he took on Uncle Kracker's remake of "Drift Away" in 2003. And yes, over on a music group I follow on Facebook, somebody said, "hey, anybody remember his disco hit"?

That would be "You Can Do it." Recorded in Muscle Shoals with legendary producer Rick Hall, it was a minor hit that just scraped the Top 40 early in 1979. That made it his first pop Top 40 in nearly six years.Although the era was marked by artists who were quick to record a danceable tune to cash in on the Disco craze, "You Can Do it" is a song that shouldn't be lumped in with more generic productions. It's actually a very good song that still can be considered a solid R&B tune (something that many Disco songs fail to do) and isn't trapped up in the conventions of the sound. Hall and the Muscle Shoals players deserve some of the credit for that, but Gray deserved it as well.

Stephen Bishop - "Animal House" Animal House - On and On: The Hits of Stephen Bishop

(Debuted #88, Peaked #73, 5 Weeks on chart)

Animal House has long been one of my favorite films, so this song, which plays over the closing credits of the film, has long been familiar to me. Singer Stephen Bishop was able to secure a cameo in the movie as well, playing the man with the guitar who is serenading a group of ladies on a stairwell during the fraternity's toga party before Bluto (John Belushi) grabs the guitar and smashes it against the wall.

"Animal House" is an original song but is given a wonderfully retro feel that makes it sound like it was from the film's early 1960s setting. The lyrics tell about the various characters in the film, and the soundtrack version -- but not the version played in the film -- interjected dialogue from the movie. It's not really surprising the song didn't get much higher that #73 on the chart, but it really could have stayed around a little longer.

Yvonne Elliman - "Moment By Moment" Moment by Moment - The Best of Yvonne Elliman

(Debuted #89, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)

Earlier in 1978, Yvonne Elliman scored her biggest hit with a track from a monster movie starring John Travolta. At the end of the year, she was contributing a theme to another Travolta film, a May/December romance co-starring Lily Tomlin called Moment By Moment. Neither the film nor Elliman's theme song was able to match the heights Saturday Night Fever did.

"Moment By Moment" sounded like it was made to be a song that played over the closing credits of a film. It's soft, it features a lush orchestral arrangement and features Elliman's lovely and soaring voice. It's exactly what you expect to hear when the story has played itself out and you're walking out of the theater.

Boney M - "Mary's Boy Child"/"Oh My Lord" Mary's Boy Child - Frank Farian - The Hit Man

(Debuted #90, Peaked #85, 5 Weeks on chart)

Just in time for the holiday season, here's a song about the man who gave the name to Christmas. And in the U.K., where there is a special emphasis placed on the #1 song during the Christmas week, the song that held down the top spot was "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord" a medley that mixed a 1956 Harry Belafonte song with a song co-written by Boney M's creator Frank Farian.

Originally, the single was rushed into production in order to have it ready for the holiday season. As a result, it was a single-only release that would never be placed on an album until 1981 (and then, in edited form on a U.K.-only LP). Due to its low peak position on the chart and limited availablity, it was a prized single among collectors for a while. It can still be heard on radio stations during the holiday fact, I actually heard it a few times this year on my own radio.

John Davis and the Monster Orchestra - "Ain't That Enough For You" Ain't That Enough For You - Ain't That Enough for You

(Debuted #92, Peaked #89, 4 Weeks on chart)

During his youth, John Davis was supposedly given the nickname "Monster" because he didn't know that the word could be used as a synonym for "huge" (as in a "monster" hit). Eventually, he used the name for his backing band. Their only single to make the Hot 100 was "Ain't That Enough For You," a catchy disco song that failed to get too far up the chart before falling off.

"Ain't That Enough For You" was definitely a shot of adrenaline and was certain to pick up the pace on the dance floor. It's surprising that it didn't get more exposure at a time when everybody and his brother was rushing to get out a disco song. However, the end of the Disco era soon spelled the end of The Monster Orchestra as well. Davis remained in the music business, composing the theme for Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1992.

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