Saturday, June 16, 2012

This Week's Review -- June 17, 1978

There were nine new singles in this week's Hot 100. Six of those reached into the Top 40, with two making the Top 10 and one going all the way to #1. That #1 was the only chart-topper for Motown Records for all of 1978. Four songs are from first-timers to the chart, and all would return in the future with varying degrees of success. Other, more established acts are here as well, including Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Tom Petty and Andrew Gold.

Although there is a large archive of Billboard magazines available over at Google Books, the June 17, 1978 edition is missing. Once again, I'll give a plug to my other music-related blog, 80s Music Mayhem. That blog is coursing its way through the decade for the ninth time, having just spent a week in 1987. Up next...'88 and a rather eclectic group of styles. Check it out if you're into the decade.

MP3's at

Barbra Streisand - "Songbird" Songbird - Song Bird

(Debuted #67, Peaked #25, 10 Weeks on chart)

Barbra Streisand was in a rather prolific period of her career in 1978. Not only did she record her LP Songbird, but she also recorded music for the soundtrack of the film The Eyes of Laura Mars and issued her second Greatest Hits compilation. In fact, the Laura Mars soundtrack appeared soon after Songbird, and the lead singles from both projects battled each other on the charts. This has been given as teh reason neither song made the Top 20 in a period when "Babs" was at her commercial peak.

Not the similarly-named Fleetwood Mac song from Rumours, this was a ballad written by Steve Nelson and David Wolpert that was solidly suited for Streisand's style. Though it fell short of the pop Top 20, it was her fifth #1 single on the adult contemporary chart.

The Commodores - "Three Times a Lady" Three Times a Lady - The Commodores: Anthology

(Debuted #73, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

Showing how far Motown had fallen from its place in the 1960s, consider that "Three Times a Lady" was the only Top 10 pop single the label had in all of 1978. The Commodores made the hit count, however: it went to #1 on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts, as well as in the U.K.

According to the backstory, "Three Times a Lady" was supposedly written on the occasion of an anniversary of Lionel Richie's parents. During a reception, Richie's father made a comment that stayed with his son enough to inspire the Commodores' first chart-topper. Here's hoping that he bought them a nice gift with the royalties.

The song was one of The Commodores' biggest and best-known hits, and helped set a standard for their future success. At first, they were primarily a funk-based band but once the ballads began outselling the dance jams, the soundalike material followed. Though "Three Times a Lady" wasn't the first -- the band already hit with "Sweet Love," "Just to Be Close to You" and "Easy" -- it encouraged future hits like "Sail On" and "Still" as well as several of Richie's solo hits during the 1980s. And all of them were huge sellers.

Wings - "I've Had Enough" I've Had Enough - London Town

(Debuted #81, Peaked #25, 11 Weeks on chart)

After the multi-platinum success of Wings at the Speed of Sound and the band's subsequent 1976 tour, some changes were in store for Paul McCartney. First of all, guitarist Jimmy McCullough and drummer Joe English left the band during the recording of their next studio LP. Second, Paul and his wife Linda learned they would be having another baby, an event that required them to change their plans for any touring in the near future. So, stripped back down to the same trio that recorded Band On the Run, Wings made an album that was a solid effort even if it wasn't ranked with their best by fans.

"I've Had Enough" was the second single from London Town and an underrated rocker that may have been unappreciated in an age of Disco. McCartney seemed to pay attention to that lesson, releasing more dance-oriented material as singles for his next album,

Gene Cotton with Kim Carnes - "You're a Part of Me" You're a Part of Me - Save the Dancer

(Debuted #83, Peaked #36, 12 Weeks on chart)

"You're a Part of Me" marks the first appearance of Kim Carnes on the pop chart, but it wasn't exactly "new." Carnes wrote the song and had originally recorded it as a solo performance on her self-titled 1975 LP and had a minor hit with it on the adult contemporary chart that year. In 1978, the song appeared as a duet with Gene Cotton and helped bring her unique voice to a wider audience. 

This time around, the song was recorded for Cotton's album Save the Dancer. At the time, Cotton was the better-known performer and had a small handful of Hot 100 singles. The next decade, however, saw him move to Nashville and became more devoted to his family and charity while Carnes racked up several hit singles that made her a bigger "name" among music fans. That road began with "You're a Part of Me," where Carnes' rasp overpowers Cotton's smooth vocal style in several places.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "I Need to Know" I Need to Know - You're Gonna Get It

(Debuted #85, Peaked #41, 10 Weeks on chart)

By 1978, there was a focus in the music business on dance-length singles and "extended" 12-inch records. However, in the middle of all that, here comes Tom Petty with a focused record that clocked in at less than two and a half minutes yet sounds like it was longer due to its energy.

Taken from the band's second LP You're Gonna Get it!, "I Need to Know" just missed the Top 40. It comes off as a simple riff, but that's part of what made it great. Especially in an era where bands liked to show their complexity and the depth of their instrumental virtuosity.

Andrew Gold - "Never Let Her Slip Away" Never Let Her Slip Away - All This and Heaven Too

(Debuted #86, Peaked #67, 8 Weeks on chart)

When MTV started its programming on August 1, 1981, one of the promotional videos that was played during the first day was Andrew Gold's "Never Let Her Slip Away." In fact, it was one of three songs from Gold played during that day. His inclusion wasn't necessarily because he was influential with the early days of the music video; rather, MTV played anything that was available to it during that start-up period before it developed into the iconic cable channel, even material from the previous decade.

That said, "Never Let Her Slip Away" is a decent pop song about the euphoria that hits when you fall in love. Undercut by a rolling keyboard riff and punctuated by a saxophone solo and background crooning, the song is an example of the classic songwriting style that Gold likely picked up by watching his parents (both were long-time show business veterans) in action. By that, I mean that it doesn't really sound as much like a 1970s artifact as it does a generic well-crafted pop song.

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Shame"

(Debuted #87, Peaked #9, 19 Weeks on chart)

"Shame" was the debut single for Evelyn "Champagne" King, a 17 year-old singer from Philadelphia whose voice sounded much more mature than it was. According to the backstory, King was working with her mother as a cleaning lady in a recording studio and was "discovered" by a producer who heard her singing as she dumped trash out of a can in the building.   

The song was included on King's 1977 debut LP Smooth Talk but wasn't a hit until it was remixed into a 12-inch single for the disco market that laid a heavier emphasis on the beat. Once the transitional bridge kicked in and the catchy chorus made its way into the heads of dancers, the song was undeniable and became a dancefloor classic. It eventually made the Top 10 of Billboard's pop, dance and R&B surveys and started  King on a career that took her from the Disco era to the electronic dance material that replaced it.

The Cars - "Just What I Needed" Just What I Needed - The Cars

(Debuted #90, Peaked #27, 17 Weeks on chart)

The debut single for The Cars was written by group member Ric Ocasek but sung by bassist Ben Orr. In an era where many new (non-disco) bands were deciding whether to take their sound in a rock-oriented or New Wave direction, this Boston band went in both directions. That suited them well as a new decade approached, and made them one of the more exciting and innovative acts of the 1980s. 

"Just What I Needed" was one of several classic songs found on the group's self-titled LP. The mix of synthesizers and rock stylings has given it airplay on several formats (even letting it sneak in as a 1980s hit even though it's from before that decade). One neat effect in the song shows up in the final verse: the drums change, hitting on the first and third beats instead of the second and fourth as used in the rest of the song, before reverting to its original format in the final chorus. The change is noticeable after Orr sings the line "Wasting all my time, time" in that verse.

Spyro Gyra - "Shaker Song" Shaker Song - Spyro Gyra

(Debuted #92, Peaked #90, 5 Weeks on chart)

Spyro Gyra's story begins in Buffalo, New York around 1974. Saxophonist Jay Beckstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall were part of a combo where all the members were active in the local jazz community. A promoter asked for the name of the group, and when Beckstein suggested the biology term "spirogyra," it ended up being misspelled on the marquee. The band kept it, and despite some membership changes grew into a full-time pursuit.

"Shaker Song" was already two years old, the first track off the band's self-titled 1976 debut LP. The record was slow to sell originally but sales remained steady enough to keep the song in the public eye. A smooth jazz instrumental with a slight Caribbean rhythm and Calypso-styled breakdown, It exemplifies the sound the group has cultivated for more than three decades.

No comments:

Post a Comment