Saturday, September 22, 2012

This Week's Review -- September 23, 1978

There were ten new singles on the Billboard pop chart this week, with three reaching into the Top 40 and one making the Top 10. That Top 10 is still heard on rock stations today, but the other two have unfairly slipped into the radio ether. However, the song that missed the Top 40 have some relatively well-known names -- Peter Brown, Tom Petty, The O'Jays, The Alan Parsons Project -- and at least one song that is fairly well-known even if you don't know that name Don Ray. Then there's two one-hit wonders that should have been bigger -- Snail and Bob McGilpin, who literally performs a backflip on live TV while performing his song.

Over at Google Books, there is a large archive of past Billboard magazines, including the September 23, 1978 edition.  The full Hot 100 list can be found, appropriately enough, on page 100. An article on page 6 tries to explain that the picture disc LP isn't a fad, according to A&M Records. Because we should always pay more attention to record companies trying to sell their own products over common sense. I didn't sound too sarcastic there, was I? I really wish there was a sarcasm would be helpful for me at times.

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Foreigner - "Double Vision" Double Vision - Double Vision (Expanded Version)

(Debuted #67, Peaked #2, 20 Weeks on chart)

"Double Vision" was the biggest hit that Foreigner would have in the 1970s, reaching #2 and giving the band their fourth Top 10 hit in the U.S. However, despite the words and the belief that it's a song about getting drunk or high, it actually had an innocuous beginning. The song was "born" at a New York Rangers hockey game when one of the players was taken out after suffering from double vision. Upon hearing that phrase from the announcer, singer Lou Gramm wrote a song around those words.

In any case, it's a shot of pure guitar-driven adrenaline and a hook-laden pop confection. Still played quite often on classic rock stations, it's among one of the group's best-known hits. Interestingly, depite having Mick Jones laying his guitar lines on the record, the song has no guitar solo at all. That makes it unusual among Arena Rock singles of that era.

Heart - "Straight On" Straight On - Dog & Butterfly

(Debuted #79, Peaked #15, 18 Weeks on chart)

The LP Dog and Butterfly was intended to be Heart's followup to Little Queen (despite the fact that Mushroom records put out Magazine without the band's consent in the meantime) and "Straight On" was the first single from that album. It was a rocking song, the kind the band's fans expected them to do. As expected, Ann Wilson provided a solid vocal, with her sister Nancy backing her up with both vocals and guitar.

In a way, "Straight On" was a very apt title. It's a straight rock song from the late 1970s.

The Commodores - "Flying High" Flying High (Long Version) - The Commodores: Anthology

(Debuted #85, Peaked #38, 10 Weeks on chart)

As The Commodores were charting with more ballad-style material than the funk-styled music that initially brought the group to prominence, they still showed they could funk it up a little, as "Flying High" attests. While the song has elements of disco and pop, it's actually a good R&B side for the band from Tuskegee, Alabama. While the song is more sleek than the rawer funk they did in the past, it's still a song that should have gathered more attention than the scraping of the pop Top 40 it got.

But that was the a time where Disco was king, the songs that were getting attention by listeners were the ballads like "Three Times a Lady" and that's the direction they took for later hits like "Still," "Sail On" and "Oh No." Yes, there was the occasional upbeat song like "Lady," but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Peter Brown with Betty Wright - "You Should Do It" You Should Do It - A Fantasy Love Affair

(Debuted #86, Peaked #54, 8 Weeks on chart)

"You Should Do it" was a bridge to both Peter Brown's past and future successes. It was a hit with Betty Wright, who also sang on his huge hit "Dance With Me," and was co-written with Robert Rains, who also collabrated with Brown on 1984's Madonna hit "Material Girl."

It wasn't as big a hit as "Dance With Me" or even "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me," topping out well short of the pop Top 40, but it was earnest dance music rather than a generic disco song. It was laden with a joyous harmonica that recalled (but didn't necessarily duplicate) the work that Stevie Wonder was doing at the time, and pointed the way to the more electronic sound that permeated dance music in the new decade.

Don Ray - "Got To Have Loving" Got to Have Loving - Disco Gold

(Debuted #87, Peaked #44, 8 Weeks on chart)

There's a lot of stuff out there about "Don Ray" but it doesn't all refer to the artist who recorded "Got To Have Loving." There is a Texas-based artist also called Donray, and there's even an unrelated band called The Don Ray Band. This Don Ray was the stage name of Raymond Donnez, who played keyboards for Cerrone and produced the Santa Esmiralda track "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." 

Those elements can be heard in the song "Got To Have Lovin'." The layered keyboards are something that sounds like they came from a Cerrone song, and the orchestral production mimicked that of the Santa Esmiralda track. This was the classic disco track's first of two appearances on the Hot 100. Neither would make the Top 40, but the song has lived on through the years thanks to samples and it use as a period piece in movies.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "Listen To Her Heart" Listen to Her Heart - You're Gonna Get It

(Debuted #88, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)

You can definitely pick up the influence of The Byrds' 12-string right from the into of "Listen To Her Heart." The scathing words were written after Petty discovered that Ike Turner was making advances at his then-wife, placing 1970s lyrics into the context of a song that sounds like it came out of the 1960s. Not only was Roger McGuinn's jangly 12-string present in the song's sound, but the phrasing is quite similar to the vocals that Gene Clark made on those records.

In order to conform to the radio, the single version of "Listen To Her Heart" was altered. The word "cocaine" in the video above was changed to "champagne" to get airplay in 1978. Hey, sometimes you gotta do what it takes to get heard...and Tom Petty wasn't yet the "name" he would later become.

The Alan Parsons Project - "What Goes Up" What Goes Up - Pyramid

(Debuted #89, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

In its Pyramid LP, The Alan Parsons Project explored the concept of the last remaining Great Wonder, and "What Goes Up" definitely fits the theme, even mentioning the Pyramid in its lyrics. As the first song on the album with vocals, it features the voice of David Paton, one of six singers used on the album.

Featuring progressive guitar lines, classically-inspired horn flourishes and layered vocals, "What Goes Up" was a relative disappointment on the charts. It peaked at #87 and disappeared after only three weeks, a really short stay on the charts at the time.

The O'Jays - "Brandy" Brandy - So Full of Love

(Debuted #90, Peaked #79, 3 Weeks on chart)

The O'Jays were known for their R&B soul and light disco, but they were able to produce tender ballads at will, too. "Brandy" is much more in the tradition of the R&B weeper, a song about missing somebody who's long gone and doesn't seem to be coming back. While the song may sound like it's for a woman, it was reportedly about a dog who's gone off to the Great Meadow in the Sky (the lyrics refer to her as his "best friend"). That certainly gives it a different vibe when you hear that.

This time, Walter Williams sings lead, with his two compatriots simply contributing background vocals. Brandy" was also a rare O'Jays single written outside the Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff partnership. It was written by Joseph Jefferson and Charles Simmons, who had previously penned some hits for The Spinners.

Snail - "The Joker" The Joker - Snail

(Debuted #93, Peaked #93, 2 Weeks on chart)

With a quick look at the label, you might think this was a reworking of the Steve Miller song, but you'd be wrong. This time around, "The Joker" was a rocking tune written by members of the Santa Cruz, California-based Snail. It was the group's only national hit, even though they were a legendary live band in their home region from 1968 until the 1980s.

It's a shame this song topped out at #93. Perhaps the band preferred to remain local; maybe some sad twist of fate intervened to keep them from breaking out. However, "The Joker" sounds like it was about 10 years ahead of its time.

Bob McGilpin - "When You Feel Love" When You Feel Love - Superstar

(Debuted #94, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)

The video above features a lip-synched "live" version of "When You Feel Love" on The Dinah Shore Show that is pretty obvious due to the multi-tracking of his voice in the song, but the backflip he performs during the instrumental bridge and the interview afterwards were too rich for me to pass up.

"When You Feel Love" was the only Hot 100 hit that Bob McGilpin manged to get, despite success on the disco floor. As a military brat, he grew up in a wide array of locations, which helped him to pick up a wider range of styles than he may have gotten in just one place. Unfortunately, the Disco backlash limited further recordings from him after 1979. Today, he's a producer and sound engineer based in Nashville.

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