Saturday, May 5, 2012

This Week's Review -- May 5, 1978

Seven new songs appeared in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with three reaching the Top 40 and a single hit making the Top 10. Heatwave and Barry Manilow return to the Top 40, while another act makes its only appearance. Looking farther down the chart, Diana Ross misses the Top 40, and two more acts fail to follow up their biggest hits. And then there's Van Halen, who make the chart for the first time. They may have fallen short of the Top 40, but there would be plenty of chances for them to hit again.

The May 5, 1978 edition of Billboard magazine is missing from the archive at Google Books, so there isn't any extra reading material this week. So, I'll plug my other music-related blog 80s Music Mayhem. Over there, I'm featuring a new single each weekday, so feel free to stop by and check it out.

MP3's at

Heatwave - "The Groove Line" The Groove Line - Heatwave's Greatest Hits

(Debuted #70, Peaked #7, 17 Weeks on chart)

Among Heatwave's hits, "The Groove Line" isn't usually the first one thought of by fans. "Boogie Nights" was a bigger hit and "Always and Forever" has lived on as a wedding reception standard. However, "The Groove Line" was a solid song, featuring a sleek-but-still-funky groove. Written by band member Rod Temperton (who also wrote several of the songs on Michael Jackson's Thriller LP), the song actually sounds more like the 1980s version of Kool & the Gang in its approach.

Considering that Kool & the Gang's metamorphosis occurred in 1979 when they hired J.T. Taylor as their new lead singer, it's possible that Robert "Kool" Bell was paying attention to Heatwave's sound when he decided to pare down the grittier fuank that drove "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging."

Barry Manilow - "Even Now" Even Now - Even Now

(Debuted #76, Peaked #19, 13 Weeks on chart)

Reflection on a past love is a recurring theme in some of Barry Manilow's hits. "Looks Like We Made it" and "Weekend in New England" look back, "Ready to Take a Chance Again" wants to push through the barriers that stopped him in the past, and even "Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again" is wondering what went wrong. "Even Now" is more reflection, after he's moved on and settled down with another.

Manilow didn't always write his own hits despite his reputation as a commercial writer, but he had a hand in "Even Now," composing the melody while Marty Panzer penned the lyrics. It was Manilow's eleventh song to hit the Hot 100 (and all were Top 40 hits), and the ninth to hit #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Love and Kisses - "Thank God It's Friday" Thank God It's Friday (Single Version) - The Casablanca Records Story (Box Set)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #22, 16 Weeks on chart)

Love & Kisses was one of the namy acts of the Disco era that was little more than a studio act under the control of a producer (Alec R. Constandinos). "Thank God it's Friday" was their only hit on the pop chart, but they managed to score two other entries on the Disco chart.

"Thank God it's Friday" was given a boost due to its inclusion in the movie of the same name. While the film itself was a disastrous flop, its soundtrack was a hit and featured many of the era's better acts. The song led off the soundtrack LP and featured a generally upbeat if standard disco arrangement. There's a single male vocalist in the song whose line, "thank God it's..." leads into the female chorus finishing off the title, perfectly matches the tone of the saxophone used in the song as well. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but it's definitely noticeable.

Diana Ross - "You Got It" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #49, 6 Weeks on chart)

While I've mentioned in this blog before that Diana Ross's pop chart history was a series of hit-and-miss recordings -- she either went to #1 or missed the Top 10 entirely -- she also had several hits that missed the Top 40 as well, including "You're the One." In an era where she was recording disco-related singles, Motown still aimed Ross at the adult contemporary market from time to time, which this song appears to be directed towards.

That direction was likely a good one, as the song hit #9 on that survey (and also a #39 R&B hit), but the song straddles the line between the different genres that Ross was courting. The arrangement sounds like it could have been used in a light disco hit (except for a recognizeable dance beat), but Ross vocalizes as if it's a straight AC hit, as do the singers backing her up. Ross showed she was still in fine vocal form, though there was little question at the time about that. When the too-loud guitar break is added into the mix, it's a little bit jarring because it detracts from the single (and seems like a last-minute add-in).

Samantha Sang - "You Keep Me Dancing" You Keep Me Dancing - Emotion

(Debuted #88, Peaked #56, 7 Weeks on chart)

Recently, a couple of the music-related corners of the Internet that I have been known to frequent were rather vocal about Samantha Sang's "Emotion" when it was played on the 1978 repeats of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio show (here's a list of the streaming stations and times if you'd like to hear the show). The criticism of "Emotion" focused on the obvious participation of The Bee Gees. That said, her followup didn't feature the Gibb brothers at all. It also failed to make the Top 40; in fact, Sang never returned to the Top 40 again, which attests to the dominance of The Bee Gees during that year.

"You Keep Me Dancing" is another one of the songs of the era that uses the disco bandwagon to help sell records. It isn't strictly a Disco song, though the arrangement  features several elements of the genre. Instead, Sang performs the lyrics as an adult contemporary song. Okay, if you call it "Disco lite" I won't argue with your assessment, but it just shows that the money that Disco was bringing in at the time was having an effect on what could have been decent AC-leaning songs of the era.

It also makes me wonder how this song would have sounded if the backing singers were the Gibb brothers instead of generic female session singers. See, I wasn't one of the people complaining about "Emotion" since I think it's a great tune.

Odyssey - "Weekend Lover" Weekend Lover - Odyssey

(Debuted #89, Peaked #57, 7 Weeks on chart)

Time has an odd way of altering what people remember. For the group Odyssey, their entire output has generally been discarded by casual listeners outside of their classic "Native New Yorker." The group, which originally consisted of three Connecticut-born sisters and added singer Tony Reynolds when one of the sisters left before that hit, was performing for a decade before and would continue for another decade afterwards as a major-label act. What a lot of people don't realize is that all of the sisters were well into their forties by the time of their hit singles, making them a lot older than their contemporaries.

"Weekend Lover" was the follow-up single to "Native New Yorker" and has an entirely different feel. It kicks off with a Caribbean rhythm and reflects a subtle Calypso influence throughout. The words are about being the third wheel in a relationship, and makes no bones about being the "other woman" if the alternative is to be alone. It's the group's ladies chiming in here, with Reynolds keeping noticeably quiet except for backing vocals late in the song.

Van Halen - "Runnin' With The Devil" Runnin' with the Devil - Van Halen

(Debuted #93, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on chart)

As the first song from the group's self-titled debut LP, "Runnin' With the Devil" set a standard. It wasn't really a heavily-played track during its chart run (hence, a #84 peak); rather, it's become a rock radio staple in the years since, as the band's music became more complicated as their legend grew.

Opening with a simulated siren played through a guitar pedal, "Runnin' With the Devil" introduced Eddie Van Halen's riffs, David Lee Roth's screeching and the basic straight-ahead rhythm section of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen. At the time, they were still basically a bar band and their arrangements were about as stripped-down as their stage act was. The more blatant humor, the complicated guitar work that would define Eddie as an axeman and even the sythesizer riffs would come along later. In the case of the guitar solos, that would come along later on the album...but the basis was laid down with this song.

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