Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rewind -- February 3, 1979

(This is part of a series where I return to the posts made in my first year of doing reviews on this blog and re-present them the way the new entries are configured.)

Seven new songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with only two reaching the Top 40. Sadly, neither of those tunes made much of an showing beyond that on the chart even though one was a multi-week #1 R&B hit. Among the songs were offerings from a couple of groups that were doing very different styles from what long-time fans may have expected, a tune written in the 1960s performed by a rock legend who'd been away from the charts for a while and a song by a lady probably best remembered for the Grease soundtrack. In all, it's likely that this week's offering will have a high percentage of "I've never heard that song before" (or "haven't heard that one in years") comments when compared to other weeks. Heck, I hadn't heard some of this stuff either before reviewing them, and I'm a fan of several of these acts.

 Past issues of Billboard magazine are available online at Google Books. The February 3, 1979 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 92. Page 30 features an article on Frankie Crocker, who had just returned to WBLS-New York as program director to try and wrestle the #1 radio station crown from disco juggernaut WKTU (which he did, as disco was dying). He's quoted as saying that disco was replacing rock, equating the form with Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles. In February '79, it may have seemed that way.

Dr. Hook - "All The Time In The World" Dr. Hook - Pleasure & Pain - All the Time In the World

(Debuted #84, Peaked #54, 7 weeks on chart)

Dr. Hook (and The Medicine Show, as they were known before 1975) had several hit singles during the 1970s but never really managed to translate that success into album sales. Despite such hits as "Sylvia's Mother," "The Cover of Rolling Stone" and "Only Sixteen," the New Jersey-rooted band had never earned a gold LP until Pleasure & Pain, a 1978 album that featured a pair of Top 10 singles. "Sharing the Night Together" and "When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman" both went to #6. Another single from that LP was "All the Time in the World." Released between the two hits, it wasn't nearly as memorable.

There's not a lot to the song, with a musical backing track well-suited for dozens of romantic easy-listening hits of the decade. The lyrics can be read a couple of different ways: the male partner of a couple is expressing his desire to spend his life with his female companion...or his desire is a lot more carnal (a very common thread among supposedly "easy" 1970s songs when you get past the laid-back rhythm). I suppose this song may have been a favorite among young couples that certainly found its way onto its fair share of mix tapes, but it's a major departure in style from when Dr. Hook was interpreting Shel Silverstein's lyrics.

Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers - "Bustin' Loose (Part 1)" Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers - Bustin' Loose - Bustin' Loose

(Debuted #88, Peaked #34, 12 weeks on chart)

If you like funk, there's no conceivable reason for "Bustin' Loose" to avoid getting into your bones. Although the song is light on lyrical content, the groove that courses through its instrumental parts, especially the horn arrangement, is more than satisfying. Evey the LP version seems to fade out too soon. Though it only made the lower reaches of the Top 40, the song spent four weeks at #1 on Billboard's R&B chart. Unfortunately, none of Brown's followup singles managed to capture the essence of "Bustin' Loose" even though he's enjoyed a long career.

This was one of the first nationwide hit songs in the funk subgenre known as Go-Go, which was centered in the Washington, DC area and traced mainly to Chuck Brown. Though Go-Go was eventually overshadowed by rap and hip-hop during the 1980s, there were some hits for other acts; most notable was "Da Butt" by E.U. in 1988. In the modern day, "Bustin' Loose" is an anthem for the Washington Nationals baseball club whenever a home run is hit by a team member during one of their home games. In 2002, rapper Nelly sampled the song in his hit "Hot in Herre."

Heart - "Dog And Butterfly" Heart - Dog & Butterfly - Dog & Butterfly

(Debuted #82, Peaked #33, 10 weeks on chart)

I've mentioned before on this blog that I have a young daughter. She's 13 now and over the years has come to understand that her Daddy likes listening to music. She was still an infant when I began using Napster (remember those days?) and sometimes bounced on my knee listening to some of the MP3s I pulled from it. Over the years, she's had CDs made from MP3s she liked, somehow ended up with my MP3 player and even though I've tried to let her develop her own interests and tastes when it comes to music, there's definitely an influence there gained by simply being around while I've played music.

A few years ago I played "Dog and Butterfly" on my computer while writing a newsletter that I was producing at the time, and my little girl (then 7 or 8) said, "I really like this song." When I asked her why, she only said, "It's pretty." Then, when she learned the title, the animal reference made her love it even more. It's still one of her favorites.

"Dog and Butterfly" was from Heart's 1978 LP of the same name. It was slower and much softer than the songs the band had previously unleashed (pun intended) on singles. Ann Wilson still uses her vocal range, sister Nancy handles the harmony well, the electric guitar has been set aside in place of an acoustic six-string and a subtle piano. Rather than rising to a full-throated wail like on "Crazy for You," the vocals stay on the softer, emotional side and the music shows a maturity in the band. What's more, the lyrics -- full of metaphors -- seem to compare the way a dog makes a futile effort to catch a butterfly to the way a person chases a dream.

That brings me back to my daughter. Someday (and it will be sooner than I'm ready to realize) she'll be eager to chase those dreams herself. If she still has the song available, maybe she'll be able to let it help her as she runs off after whatever is calling her. Hopefully, it'll also remind her that she'll still have her old man (like the one mentioned in the song) to offer guidance.

10cc - "For You And I" 10cc - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of 10cc - For You and I

(Debuted #87, Peaked #85, 3 weeks on chart)

After tasting success in the mid-1970s with the #2 hit "I'm Not in Love," the English group 10cc had a sudden split when two of its four members decided to leave. While that would have effectively ended a career for most bands, Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart decided to keep going. They soon had another U.S. Top 10 hit with "The Things We Do For Love" but little else. Their 1978 LP Bloody Tourists contained the group's last two chart singles, both of which deserved better exposure but suffered from the disco phenomenon. "Dreadlock Holiday" was a reggae-tinged hit that was a #1 single at home but missed the U.S. Top 40, but its followup "For You and I" died a quick death on the Hot 100 and failed to chart in the U.K. at all. The group would continue to record new material until 1983; while they managed to score the occasional U.K hit they never made the U.S. Hot 100 again.

In a sense, "For You and I" really doesn't hold its own against better 10cc songs. It lacks the sense of humor that often carries their musical ideas and isn't memorable in the same way that the group's two biggest hits were. However, the single's sound is something that would reappear on the charts again during the next decade. Listen to the song with the 1980 Korgis hit "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" or Paul McCartney's "No More Lonely Nights" and hear the similarities in delivery and production quality.

Neil Young - "Four Strong Winds" Neil Young - Comes a Time - Four Strong Winds

(Debuted #86, Peaked #61, 7 weeks on chart)

"Four Strong Winds" is a song that has been recorded a bunch of times. Written in the early 1960s by Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Tyson, who was inspired by Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." Tyson was one-half of Ian and Sylvia, and they had a huge hit with the song in their home country in 1963/'64. In the U.S., however, their version was beaten to the Billboard charts by The Brothers Four, who "bubbled under" with the song in October '63. Bobby Bare took his own version to #3 on the country chart early in 1965. Another Canadian, Neil Young, used it as the final track of his 1978 LP Comes a Time, which was a return to the country/folk sound of Harvest earlier in the decade.

Young's recording features a supporting vocal in the chorus provided by Nicollette Larson, who would soon be charting with her own material. The lyrics tell a story about a man who's moved on to find his way (in Alberta) but without his beloved. Unlike "Long Time" from last week's blog entry, he wishes she'd come along but all arguments to convince her have been fruitless. This is a song that likely deserved to be a bigger hit, but a 1960s-era song done in a folk vein with acoustic guitars wasn't going to do well in an era where disco was king.

Delegation - "Oh Honey"

(Debuted #89, Peaked #45, 12 weeks on chart)

Delegation was a one-hit wonder on the U.S. pop charts but enjoyed a handful of hits on the R&B chart as well as in the U.K. Although they sound much like a U.S. soul group, they actually hailed from England and fit a similar mold as other British acts like Hot Chocolate and Imagination. The three-member group's lineup changed considerably throughout its existence, with leader and native Jamaican Rick Bailey the only constant. Despite their limited success, they recorded and toured well through the 1980s.

"Oh Honey" fell just short of the Top 40 but was a #6 R&B hit. Recorded in 1977, it was a hit in Europe and took over a year to break in the U.S. The fact that it sounded a little aged might have hurt its chances; had it charted at the same time as "Float On" or "Dazz" it may have had more of a boost. It has lived on in rap and hip-hop recordings through its four-note keyboard hook, which has been sampled often.

Cindy Bullens - "Survivor" Cindy Bullens - Desire Wire - Survivor

(Debuted #90, Peaked #56, 7 weeks on chart)

As 1979 began, New England native Cindy Bullens was perhaps best known as one of the voices used for some of the incidental music from the Grease soundtrack. She sang "Freddy My Love," "Mooning" and "It's Raining on Prom Night" for that project, so it would be logical for someone unaware of her work to expect a similar style in her solo recordings. Instead, "Survivor" is a rock tune. Her other previous work in the business was backing up Elton John in the mid 1970s (and was one of the backers on the hit single "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"), so perhaps the sound of "Survivor" isn't so surprising.

Despite the potential for further success along with harder-edged female 1980s acts like Pat Benatar and The Go-Gos, Bullens left the business to tackle another important job: mother and wife. Despite a second LP late in 1979, fans had to wait until 1989 for another release and well into the 1990s for more. One of her two daughters died from cancer in 1996 at the age of 11, which has made her a crusader for cancer causes. In 2007, she founded a group called The Refugees along with another minor 1970s hitmaker Wendy Waldman. More than 30 years later, she's still performing.

Lastly, Cindy Bullens is pictured on the first page of the Billboard magazine I linked above. It's a small advertisement near the bottom right for her LP Desire Wire.

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