Saturday, January 28, 2012

This Week's Review -- January 28, 1978

There were eight new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, and six of those would eventually work their way into the Top 40. Additionally, two reached the Top 10 and one traveled to #1. That chart-topper was one of the many songs helped by its inclusion in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, a record that was fast becoming one of the best-selling albums in history at that point. The other Top 10 hit is one that is well-identified with its group even though it was different stylistically over what they had done before. Another movie theme appears as well, which was from a Richard Pryor film. Van Halen makes its first appearance, as does Warren Zevon as a songwriter (Linda Ronstadt handled the song). Bob Welch continues his post-Fleetwood Mac comeback. The two songs that missed the Top 40 are both by groups that had already made the Top 10.

Among the archive of past Billboard magazines at Google Books is the January 28, 1978 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 108. An ad on page 7 announces that The Doobie Brothers will be appearing on the TV show What's Happening. An article on page 8 has suggestions for retail store owners that is not only fundamental information, but is still valid advice today. A bit on page 34 explains that the Supreme Court would be hearing the case that was brought up by a lsitener complaint after New York station WBAI (misnamed in the article) aired George Carlin's notorious "Seven Dirty Words" routine. Finally, a front-page article that continues inside explains that the FCC was investigating payola accusations at a Los Angeles-based Latin music station.

Linda Ronstadt - "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" Poor, Poor Pitiful Me - Simple Dreams

(Debuted #78, Peaked #31, 9 Weeks on chart)

The protagonist of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" starts off the song by trying to kill herself, only to realize that the train whose tracks she's laid down on no longer runs. It sets off a series of unfortunate events, the product of the often sardonic style of Warren Zevon, who wrote the song. When Linda Ronstadt's take on his song charted, he hadn't yet made his presence with the Excitable Boy LP or the song "Werewolves of London," so this track was a breakthrough of sorts for him.

In Zevon's original version, the main character still tries to kill himself and gets a little more graphic about S&M in the third verse. In order to make it more radio-friendly, Ronstadt's version was toned down in addition to changing the gender of the main character. For an artist who was becoming regarded as an entrepreneur of song of the 1950s and 60s, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" was a reminder that she could do more contemporary material as well.

Kansas - "Dust In The Wind" Dust In the Wind - Point of Know Return

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Dust in the Wind" was one of those accidental songs that almost wasn't. It was a last-minute addition to the Point of Know Return LP that started out as a finger-picking exercise that group member Kerry Livgren used on his guitar. His wife liked it and encouraged him to write lyrics to the tune. Taking inspiration from philosophy contained in a book of Native American poetry, he came up with the words.

That last-minute addition to the album that Livgren hesitated to play for his bandmates because it didn't follow their normal progressive material became the group's signature hit. It was their only Top 10 pop hit and remains a steady radio presence today.

Bob Welch - "Ebony Eyes" Ebony Eyes - French Kiss

(Debuted #88, Peaked #14, 17 Weeks on chart)

The lyrics of "Ebony Eyes" are pretty basic. Man sees a woman sitting in a corner and is entranced with her eyes. However, instead of going over to talk with her, he gets the feeling that she's holding something back.

"Ebony Eyes" was the second hit from Bob Welch's French Kiss LP, a harder-edged song than the earlier "Sentimental Lady" and tailor-made for radio airplay in 1978. The lyrics suggested the setting was a dance club (a big deal that year), the production was clean and featured the best L.A.-based studio musicians. The album was originally scheduled to be the third for his post-Fleetwood Mac band Paris, but the group fell apart before the project was started.

Yvonne Elliman - "If I Can't Have You" If I Can't Have You - Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Soundtrack) [Remastered]

(Debuted #89, Peaked #1, 22 Weeks on chart)

The backstory behind "If I Can't Have You" was interesting. It seems that when Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were writing the material that would appear on the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, they actually intended to record the song themselves. They had a song for Yvonne Elliman (which was "How Deep is Your Love") that was perfectly suited to her style as a pop balladeer. At some point, their manager Robert Stigwood determined that the two songs would be switched. It was a great move in retrospect, as both would become pop #1 hits.

It would also be the biggest hit of her career and the song she's most identified with today. It's a shame, though, considering that she originated Mary Magdalene's part on Jesus Christ Superstar, was a noted backup singer for Eric Clapton and had a handful of other hits.

Van Halen - "You Really Got Me" You Really Got Me - Van Halen

(Debuted #91, Peaked #36, 11 Weeks on chart)

Van Halen's first hit was quite an introduction. While it helped point toward the future, it was also a remake of a Kinks classic from 1964. It's ingrained itself in Van Halen's legacy enough that many of the group's fans fail to realize it had been done before, a fact that has long bothered Kinks member Dave Davies. Apparently, Davies has been congratulated by the group's fans after Kinks concerts over the years for doing such a great version of "Van Halen's song." Songwriter Ray Davies, however, has gone on record as a fan of Van Halen's version of the song.

Although it was issued separately as a single, on the Van Halen LP it was paired with a song called "Eruption," a minute-and-a-half guitar workout that often precedes it on rock stations today.

Pablo Cruise - "Never Had A Love" Never Had a Love - A Place In the Sun

(Debuted #94, Peaked #87, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Never Had a Love" was the third and final single from Pablo Cruise's breakthrough LP A Place in the Sun. It was a disappointing showing, coming off the Top 10 success of "Whatcha Gonna Do?" (reviewed on this blog a couple of years back), but its style and production were a little cliched even by 1977/'78 standards. From the piano chords that open the song, to the guitar interludes to the vocal harmonies to the way the piano comes back near the end of the song, all of it makes for a sum that really isn't as good as the sum of its parts.

Compared to the earlier hit single, it didn't really have a hook that kept listeners interested. Fortunately for the group, the song died a quick death on the chart and another Top 10 hit -- "Love Will Find a Way" -- appeared on the horizon later that year.

Stargard - "Theme Song From Which Way Is Up"

(Debuted #96, Peaked #21, 14 Weeks on chart)

Stargard was a female R&B trio, but weren't going to be mistaken for the likes of The Supremes or The Three Degrees. Although they had a gospel background, they were influenced by the likes of LaBelle and the Pointer Sisters.

"Which Way is Up" is the theme from a movie of the same name where Richard Pryor played three different roles. It was written and produced by Norman Whitfield and was a #1 R&B hit. The gritty disco-fueled hit should have been a precursor to future hits, but the group only had one more pop single and a handful of songs on the R&B chart before splitting in the early 1980s.

Brick - "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody - The Best of Brick

(Debuted #97, Peaked #92, 4 Weeks on chart)

After two hits by Brick that featured titles that combined the words "dance" with other words ("Dazz," "Dusic"), the Atlanta band's third pop chart single was a more conventionally-named tune. Apparently, they didn't want to find themselves coming up with songs called "Dock," "Dunk" or "Dew Wave." However, "Ain't Gonna Hurt Nobody" failed to get too far up the charts and was their final hit on the Hot 100.

That's too bad, as it is a really good song that should have gotten a better chance to make a splash. It's a straightforward song with an R&B edge (and a Top 10 R&B hit) but is fairly close to rock in its performance and sound. There may be a funky horn section and synthesized keyboards here, but there is also a guitar solo in the instrumental break that would have been welcome in any rock-oriented song of the era.


  1. Two corrections. First, the Pablo Cruise song you mentioned was actually called "Love Will Find A Way." Also, "Dusic" by Brick was actually a combination of "dance" and "music."

  2. And that's what happens when you enter info to a blog entry at 3 in the morning. They've both been corrected, thanks.