Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Week's Review -- April 28, 1979

This week, I present the single longest list of songs I've yet attempted on this blog. Seventeen singles make up this list. Of those, eight made the Top 40 and five went into the Top 10. However, unlike some other weeks of 1979 I've written about, this slate actually has a nice variety of styles. Disco is certainly here, but so is a rather wide range of musical styles. It's a rather diverse list in an era that is often unfairly ridiculed for one particular sound.

There is a large archive of Billboard issues stretching back to 1944 at Google Books, including the April 28, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 96. An article beginning on page 1 tells about how WABC-AM in New York -- long the trend-setter as far as Top 40 radio stations went -- was being forced to change its image in the wake of the Disco juggernaut. That's something that was considered impossible just the previous year.


Kenny Rogers - "She Believes In Me" She Believes In Me - Number Ones

(Debuted #61, Peaked #5, 16 Weeks on chart)

The words to "She Believes in Me" are familiar to any singer or songwriter. While the narrator in the song is busy coming home for a gig or getting up in the middle of the night to hone his craft, his lady is patiently waiting for him to get to bed. The wait isn't sexual in nature; it's just that his companionship has been diverted because of his need to ply his craft. Despite all the promises he's made that his ship will be arriving any day now, that the "big break" is sure to arrive soon, they're still in the process of arriving...someday.

As a writer, I've had plenty of those days, too. The sudden thought in the middle of the night that needs to be written down before it's forgotten and the look of my wife as she walked in to the room and sees I'm busy with one of my projects are quite familiar. That said, it's still a compulsion I do and it'll probably never go away. But the song is about the gratitude for her putting up with that madness.

"She Believes in Me" was Kenny Rogers' fifth #1 country song and its #5 peak tied "Lucille" for his best pop showing to date. The ride was just beginning for him, though, as he rode his hot streak into the next decade.

Sister Sledge - "We Are Family" We Are Family (Single Version) - We Are Family

(Debuted #63, Peaked #2, 19 Weeks on chart)

Baseball fans of the era remember "We Are Family" as the theme song for the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Under the leadership of Willie "Pops" Stargell, the team took an unlikely run into the playoffs and won the World Series over a heavily favored Baltimore Orioles team.

It was also one of the songs that Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards crafted when they weren't busy as part of Chic. Although it comes across as a version of a Chic song with four female vocalists, their style was unique, and their success was undeniable. "We Are Family" is one of the songs that has lasted well into the next millenium as one of the few truly genre-defining records of the era. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if it does lend to a degree of overkill.

Rickie Lee Jones - "Chuck E.'s In Love" Chuck E's In Love (LP Version) - Rhino Hi-Five: Rickie Lee Jones

(Debuted #65, Peaked #4, 15 Weeks on chart)

Rickie Lee Jones had a career breakthrough in 1979. She was relatively unknown, but was appearing on "Saturday Night Live," was making the cover of Rolling Stone and winning the Grammy for Best New Artist. There was even some attention given to her unique fashion sense. However, Jones eventually followed her own muse and gravitated more toward the jazz world rather than the safer pop styles. She has continued to follow the beat of her own drum ever since.

Though my young daughter might tell me it's really Chuck E Cheese, the "Chuck E." in the title is fellow singer/songwriter Chuck E. Weiss, who was a friend of Jones and her then-lover Tom Waits. Weiss had been a regular visitor at the place where the two lived in Los Angeles, and then just disappeared one day. When he finally called to tell Waits that he had moved to Denver with a woman. When Waits hung up the phone, he looked at Jones and explained, "Chuck E.'s in love." She loved the phrase and wrote a song around it.

Van Halen - "Dance The Night Away" Dance the Night Away - Van Halen II

(Debuted #68, Peaked #15, 15 Weeks on chart)

Van Halen's debut was a phenomenal success, so the band's record company rushed them into the studio to produce more. As a result, their second LP Van Halen II sounded a lot like their first, since most of the songs had already existed in demo form from their early days or was part of their live set. The exception was "Dance the Night Away," the only cut on the album that was crafted from scratch during the recording sessions.

In concerts, frontman David Lee Roth said that "Dance the Night Away" was written about a woman the group became acquainted with during their days as a bar band. Accoriding to his account, she had gotten caught having sex in the back of a pickup truck while drunk and then ran from the police with her pants on backwards. The song doesn't feature a guitar solo; instead, Eddie Van Halen uses a riff of fret harmonics, showing off yet another tool in his "axe" arsenal.

And it should be noted that -- even though they stuck with their basic style -- any song with the word "dance" in its title was a hot commodity in 1979.

The Beach Boys - "Good Timin'" Good Timin' - M.I.U. Album / L.A. (Light Album)

(Debuted #76, Peaked #40, 10 Weeks on chart)

While The Beach Boys' legacy has established them as a 1960s band and they've often hearkened back to that era in their own music, you'd be forgiven for assuming that "Good Timin'" would be a remake of the 1960 Jimmy Jones hit before giving it a listen. However, it's an original composition by Brian and Carl Wilson.

Though it featured the band's signature vocal harmonies, "Good Timin'" really sounded like it was trying to remind listeners of their past glories. When it was recorded for the band's L.A. (Light Album) LP, Brian Wilson had descended back into his shell and returned to his position or writing music without performing on the records. Unfortunately for the band, 1960s retrospectives were simply being given a disco beat, so this song sounded like they were simply mailing it in.

It did return them to the pop Top 40 for the first time since 1976, but #40 would be as high as they would get. It would be two and a half years before they'd return.

Cheap Trick - "I Want You To Want Me" I Want You to Want Me (Live) - At Budokan (Live)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #7, 19 Weeks on chart)

"I Want You to Want Me" was originally a single from Cheap Trick's second LP In Color. It was released as a single at the time, but never made the national charts in the U.S. However, it was a #1 hit in Japan and their success in that country led to a live concert at Budokan in 1978 that was recorded and released as an album itself. When the band performed "I Want You to Want Me" in front of the Tokyo crowd, they amped it up and gave an electric rendition, which helped the American public realize they were missing out on something the critics could see.

"I Want You to Want Me" was the band's first Top 10 single in the U.S. and broke their career open, though sharper-eared fans clued in on the when they released "Surrender" the year before.

Toto - "Georgy Porgy" Georgy Porgy - Toto

(Debuted #79, Peaked #48, 10 Weeks on chart)

When it was first released, Toto's self-titled debut was enjoyed by their fans and the subject of less-than-complimentary review by critics. Maybe the group's past as a group of studio musicians was an impediment in the critics' eyes, their ability to handle multiple musical styles with ease was seen as an asset to their fans. While the chart performance showed that both sides had some merit ("Hold the Line" was a big hit, but the other two charted singles missed the Top 40), but its safe to say that time has shown that time has proven Toto's value.  

"Georgy Porgy" was the third single from that album and featured a light jazz-inspired improvisational groove. Though written by David Paich, Steve Luthaker handles the lead and Cheryl Lynn inserts the lines from the "Georgy Porgy" nursery rhyme during the chorus. In fact, those lines hit me at the time; I was still young and when I heard the song on the radio (which was only once), I distinctly remember in my six-year old mind wondering what a nursery rhyme was doing playing on an adult radio station.

McFadden and Whitehead - "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now - McFadden & Whitehead

(Debuted #80, Peaked #13, 18 Weeks on chart)

Gene McFadden and John Whitehead are often seen as One-Hit Wonders because they only charted one single on the Hot 100 as performers. However, they had been songwriters before their hit, penning The O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' "Bad Luck." In the case of "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," the lyrics were crafted out of the writers' hopes for a prosperous future as a new decade approached.

As the years have passed, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" has become an anthem of sorts. That's probably natural, given the hopeful, forward-looking nature of the lyrics. Special versions of the song were recorded for the sports teams in the duo's native Philadelphia (the Phillies and Eagles in 1980, the 76ers in the 2000-'01 season), and boxer Larry Holmes used it as his theme song. It was also used in the film Boogie Nights during the New Year's Eve scene; ironically, just before things began to unravel for the people in that movie.

Sadly, neither McFadden or Whitehead are with us any longer. Whitehead was shot to death on a Philadelphia street in 2004 in what was called a case of mistaken identity, and McFadden lost a two-year battle with cancer in 2006.

The Kinks - "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman - Low Budget (Remastered)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #41, 12 Weeks on chart)

Disco was ubiquitous by 1979, and a lot of established artists came to embrace the genre that might not have been likely to do so in...say, 1977. Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart might not have been such a surprise, KISS was signed to a label that was disco-heavy but The Rolling Stones and The Kinks were guitar-based acts whose roots went back too far to be interested, right? Well, if there's anything that can change a perspective, it's money; whether the money is sought by a band, their managers or their record company, it's still the reason they play.

The Kinks' entry into the Disco realm was "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman," which had a definite dance groove and synthesizer sound effects but didn't skimp on the guitars. Written by Ray Davies in response to the rising cost of living (expressed in all of the different types of bills piling up), it was part of the LP Low Budget, which was crafted around the concept. It was the band's highest-charting album of original material in the U.S. It also showed that a Disco tune could also rock.

The LP version of "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" was three and a half minutes long, but was also available as an extended-length Disco mix (which is featured in the video above).

Raydio - "You Can't Change That" You Can't Change That - Rock On

(Debuted #86, Peaked #9, 22 Weeks on chart)

Ray Parker, Jr. was a teenaged guitar whiz, and being from Detroit opened a lot of doors to him. He was playing professionally while still in high school, then part of Stevie Wonder's touring band, and later a sideman in Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, and was eager to get out and start his own unit eventually. When he did, he named the group Raydio and scored Top 10 hits with their first two Hot 100 singles.

"You Can't Change That" was the second of those hits. On the song, Parker swaps lines with Arnell Carmichael, who contributes the higher-pitched vocals. A song of devotion that sounds almost like a stalker's explanation of why he's following his victim around, it's a catchy tune that has its own charm despite the fact that it's disturbing when presented in a different light.

Like the 1978 single "Jack & Jill," it would chart in the pop Top 10 and R&B Top 5. It was also the band's first entry on the Adult Contemporary chart as well.

Hair (Original Soundtrack Recording)/Cheryl Barnes - "Easy To Be Hard" (Not Available on iTunes)

Debuted #87, Peaked #64, 7 Weeks on chart

A little warning here: if you click on the video above, it's a clip from the 1979 film Hair, and includes a word that many consider to be bad. So don't click on it if you have anybody around who'll be easily offended.

The movie adaptation of Hair was a little out of place by 1979. While the original play was a celebration of an emerging counterculture, the "tribe" of the movie was relegated to a band of misfits and outcasts. Given a bigger production budget, the makers decided to tinker with what worked on the stage. And they turned it into a morass that made me wish I could have the two hours back when it was over.

That said, the soundtrack probably holds up better when played as a record than it does on the screen even if it doesn't match the quality of the original stage show. The version of "Easy To Be Hard" is sung by Cheryl Barnes, an actress who was working as a hotel maid at the time she was cast in the role of Hud's ex-"old lady." The soulful take of the song ended up being her only chart single.

Exile - "How Could This Go Wrong" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #88, 2 Weeks on chart)

For their final Hot 100 entry, the group Exile actually gives a heavier disco spin than what they gave to their #1 single "Kiss You All Over." It didn't help them on the chart -- it fell out after peaking at its debut position -- but was a more upbeat tune for them.

In 1979, Jimmy Stokely left the group, forcing the band to look for a new singer. Les Taylor would replace him and shared the lead with fellow member J.P. Pennington. Thanks to Taylor's influences in Southern Rock, Exile continued their evolution and morphed into a country band. Actually, that's not entirely true; they had flirted with country in the past as a Kentucky-based band, and the general movement of country music to embrace a "poppier" sound made the transition easier. A couple of the band's songs would be recorded by the group Alabama ("Take Me Down" and "The Closer You Get") right when they were one of the hottest acts in the genre and the change was complete. The band scored 10 #1 country songs in the next decade.

Roxy Music - "Dance Away" Dance Away - Manifesto

(Debuted #89, Peaked #44, 9 Weeks on chart)

I wish I could remember who it was. Recently, I watched an interview where the guest (an English lady) was talking about her musical influences, and described Roxy Music's sound as "dancing while sad." It was a perfect description for "Dance Away." I wish I had written down the info, because now I'm not sure if it was a recent interview or something off a vintage YouTube clip. This is what happens when you get older, readers...but I suppose that beats the alternative.

That said, "dancing while sad" doesn't mean that the song itself is sad; rather, it explains that dancing can be a release for the realities of life. For some, that was part of the allure of Disco. In fact, it isn't limited to that sound, it's true for anything that encouraged people to get out and cut a rug on the dance floor, from swing to the twist to electronica.

While only the second single by Roxy Music to chart in the U.S., it was a comeback of sorts for the band in the U.K., returning them to the Top10 there for the first time in more than three years.

The Fabulous Poodles - "Mirror Star" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #91, Peaked #81, 4 Weeks on chart)

The Fabulous Poodles started out simply as The Poodles, a British band fronted by Tony DeMeur. They were known for having a sense of humor in their lyrics (DeMeur was a stand-up comedian in the U.K. after the band split up) and were influenced by groups like The Kinks and The Who. That band's bass player John Entwistle produced their debut LP, and Muff Winwood took over for the record that included "Mirror Star."

In the U.S., their sound tended to get lumped in with the "New Wave" of artists then coming from the U.K. despite their undeniable 1960s rock roots. They broke up in 1980.

Witch Queen - "Bang A Gong" Bang a Gong (Get It On) - Bang a Gong

(Debuted #94, Peaked #68, 6 Weeks on chart)

Once Disco became established by 1976, there was a rush of old songs set to the new beat. There were old pre-rock era songs ("Baby Face," "Cherchez Le Femme," "Chattanooga Choo Choo"), TV themes ("Disco Lucy") and even songs updated by the original artist (Frankie Avalon's "Venus," Esther Williams' "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes"). It was probably only a matter of time when the trend would reach early 70s rock as well.

As many music fans would recognize, "Bang a Gong" is a disco remake of the 1971 T-Rex hit. Although the song is given its original British title, Witch Queen was a band whose members included Canadian singer Heather Gauthier and producer Gino Soccio, with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section keeping time.

Liquid Gold - "My Baby's Baby" My Baby's Baby - Liquid Gold

(Debuted #95, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)

Liquid Gold was a studio group put together by British producer Adrian Baker and featured Ray Knott and Ellie Hope in its lineup. They managed two hits in the U.S. (the other one, "What's She Got " charted in 1983), but enjoyed a handful of hits in their home country. Their biggest Stateside success was "My Baby's Baby," a song that is fairly true to its time but is still catchy. 

When disco fell from grace later in 1979, most acts associated with the genre were barely heard from again, especially those that were merely made up of studio musicians working under a producer's direction. "Disco," on the other hand, didn't really die out as much as it went "underground" and evolved into the dance/club music of the 1980s. And while Liquid Gold was part of that evolution in the U.K., they fizzled out about the time "What's She Got" was released.

Space - "My Love Is Music" My Love Is Music - Just Blue

(Debuted #96, Peaked #60, 7 Weeks on chart)

Space's sound might seem like just another dance-based groove in the disco era, but it was more of an electronic sound than much disco was. Though "My Love is Music" is little more than faceless singers in front of a sped-up beat, the backing music is done by synthesizers instead of a string section. This direction would figure more prominently with dance music in the next decade, and Space's leader (Monaco-born Didier Marouani) would go on to become a pioneer in the burgeoning electronica scene. 

The confusion with disco would be understandable. It comes from the right timeframe, features a breakdown in the bridge, has a bass line that is undoubtedly influenced by what Bernard Edwards was laying down on Chic records and was released on Casablanca records. That said, it serves as a bridge between the decades, and points toward future trends.

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