By Curt Alliaume
A pile of well-known songs in this entry, up and down the Hot 100. This was a special week for me in 1979 (I spent the week at Presidential Classroom in Washington, DC), so I’m glad so many good songs peaked that week.
David Naughton, “Makin’ It,” #5, 7/21/79
This was the one and only chart hit for Naughton, who had previously been known for television commercials (he was the guy with the bottle of soda in his hand urging everyone to Be a Pepper), and he’d later star in the film An American Werewolf in London. This song was the theme to his TV series Makin’ It, which seemed to have all the pedigrees – Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple, Happy Days) cocreated the concept about working class guys who’d go to the disco every night (sound familiar, Saturday Night Fever fans?). Just to be sure, Ellen Travolta, John’s older sister, was cast as Naughton’s mom. But it wound up being a spectacular flop, getting pulled off the air after nine episodes – right before this single hit the Billboard charts. Did Paramount Pictures (the show’s production company) and RSO Records throw in the towel? Hell no, there’s money to be made! They stuck the song on the soundtrack for an upcoming movie with teen appeal, even though the film had already been shot and it wasn’t necessarily a good fit. Fortunately for everyone involved, that movie was Meatballs, and the song kept climbing the charts. I’ve put in the opening credit sequence from the TV show (which includes most, but not all, of the whole song), because only in the 1970s could the opening credits be nearly two minutes long.
Cheap Trick, “I Want You to Want Me,” #7, 7/21/79
I’d love to assemble the executives who led Epic Records in 1979 to ask, “Okay, how many of you think the live album from a band that’s had three studio LPs that sold poorly, and no top 40 hits will go to number 3 and sell three million copies?” Cheap Trick, a four-man rock band from Rockford, IL, hadn’t sold well in the United States with their first three albums, but fans in Japan loved them – so they recorded two shows there in 1978 with the intent of a Japan-only live release. But copies were imported to the United States, and they went over really well, so an American version came out – and rock fans went nuts. (This may be another example of white male rock fans buying anything that wasn’t disco, given Cheap Trick has never had anything sell this well before or since.) “I Want You to Want Me” originally appeared on their second studio album, In Color, but the live version – with the girls screaming during the choruses – is something else.
Electric Light Orchestra, “Shine a Little Love,” #8, 7/21/79
Insanely catchy first single from ELO’s album Discovery (or, as both rock critics and the band themselves referred to it at times, Disco Very). This is easily the most danceable of the songs on the album, so the derogatory nickname may not be totally earned – but I get where everybody’s coming from. Anyway, Discovery has sold better than any ELO album in the United States and Canada, and became the band’s first #1 album in the UK, so it did okay. Trivia note: the guy pulling out his scimitar on the back of the wraparound LP cover is actually actor/comedian Brad Garrett. His Twitter post on the subject: “Thinner, younger (18 ugh) Got me my first agent. Jews had to play Arabs back then. Ahhhh, simpler times.”
McFadden and Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” #13, 7/21/79
Gene McFadden and John Whitehead were songwriters for the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff stable at Philadelphia International Records (a sublabel of Columbia/Epic), writing a ton of hits for other artists (“Back Stabbers” for The O’Jays, “Bad Luck” and “Wake Up Everybody” for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, and “I’ll Always Love My Mama” for The Intruders). But they wanted to record themselves, and got some pushback from the label heads, who didn’t think they’d be commercial enough. That’s where “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” came from – it’s actually a subtle jab at Gamble & Huff for not letting them record. This became their one and only hit single, but it’s had a long life – plenty of sports teams have used it as a theme song, it’s had several cover versions, and was played at the 2008 Democratic Convention when Barack Obama accepted the presidential nomination. Nice to see the duo in the video, although do note those are absolutely, positively not the backing singers on the record.
Peter Frampton, “I Can’t Stand It No More,” #14, 7/21/79
Another guy whose star went into descent really quick. After the double whammy of his poorly-reviewed album I’m in You and then the disastrous Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, Frampton had to do some work to get back into rock’s good graces. After recovering from an automobile accident in 1978, Frampton reemerged with Where I Should Be, which had both feet set in rock & roll. This single didn’t set the world on fire (and had an odd middle section with the lyrics “My mama told me when she set me free/She said, "Son, you just have got to find/Find a girl who will treat you like I do"), but it was a solid comeback for his, and Where I Should Be (featuring Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Steve Cropper on guitar) went gold. Weird video - sorry for the low quality, but it’s the only version available.
Gerry Rafferty, “Days Gone Down (Still Got That Light in Your Eyes),” #17, 7/21/79
Sweet love song from Rafferty, which may not have been the best choice for a first single from his new album, Night Owl (two and a half minutes had to be shaved off the full-length version to make it suitable for single release). I get the sense that this was intended for his wife, Carla Ventilla, whom he married in 1970 and divorced twenty years later (Rafferty had a long, alcoholic downward spiral, dying of liver failure in 2011). Linda Thompson is among the backup vocalists on this song – she and her then-husband Richard would tour with Rafferty in 1980 and worked with him on an album, which eventually was rerecorded and released as the acclaimed Shoot Out the Lights LP in 1982.
Abba, “Does Your Mother Know,” #19, 7/21/79
Absolutely pure pop, and one of my favorite Abba songs. A rare song with lead vocals by one of the men in the group (in this case Björn Ulvaeus), this song is a not-atypical piece about an underage woman showing interest in a rock star. However, in this case the rock star pushes her away, saying she’s too young (and “Does your mother know that you’re out?”). Ulvaeus admitted in a 2018 podcast interview with The Economist he’d hesitate to write the same song today, and said the song was based on real-life experiences – but he was smart enough to walk away from temptation.
Poco, “Heart of the Night,” #20, 7/21/79
Four months after Poco notched their first top 40 hit in their ten years as a band, they managed to turn the trick again. (Of course, it would be another ten years before the third one came along.) Written and sung by longtime member Paul Cotton, it’s a salute to New Orleans (and note the correct pronunciation of Lake Pontchartrain). Trivia note: the album cover for Legend, which contained both “Crazy Love” and “Heart of the Night,” was designed by Phil Hartman, whose primary career at that point was graphic artist (I don’t know whether he created the horse artwork or just the cover typography work). Another video with lousy sound quality, but there’s nothing really better, and at least it’s the whole song.
Anne Murray, “Shadows in the Moonlight,” #25, 7/21/79
Second single from her New Kind of Feeling album performed fairly similarly on the charts as the first, “I Just Fall in Love Again” – both hit #1 on the Canadian Country and Adult Contemporary charts, and #1 on the US Country and Adult Contemporary. (Her next single, “Broken Hearted Me,” from her subsequent album I’ll Always Love You, would do the same.) Only the pop charts were different – “I Just Fall in Love Again” hit #1 pop in Canada and #12 in the United States, but “Shadows in the Moonlight” only made #10 pop in Canada. All of which is my way of saying this is a pleasant but samey love song from Murray, who had a major run of them during this time frame.
James Taylor, “Up on the Roof,” #28, 7/21/79
First and only chart single from Taylor’s album Flag, which was undoubtedly a disappointment for him and Columbia Records (his previous album, JT, went triple platinum and yielded two top 20 singles). For some people, this may be the definitive version of this song, rather than The Drifters’ version from 1962 (although The Drifters were topped in the UK on their original release by covers by natives Julie Grant and Kenny Lynch). Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Taylor has often performed the song with King on tours, and the song remains a centerpiece of his own shows as well. I’ve come to like both the Taylor and Drifters’ versions equally over the years – the arrangement on the Taylor version (by Arif Mardin) is really quite nice.
The Who, “Long Live Rock,” #54, 7/21/79
This started life during the Who’s Next sessions in 1971, although the band didn’t get around to actually recording it the following year. The studio version was finally released on the band’s Odds and Sods album of rarities and outtakes in 1974, and was added to the band’s concert/documentary film The Kids Are Alright (where it’s played over the credits) in 1979, roughly nine months after the death of drummer Keith Moon. At that point, it was finally released as a single in 1979 and charted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Despite Pete Townshend seeming somewhat dismissive of the song in the past (“Well there are dozens of these self-conscious hymns to the last fifteen years appearing now and here's another one”), it’s a pretty important song for the band. Townshend messes up his lyrics on this one.
Dolly Parton, “You’re the Only One,” #59, 7/21/79
This was Dolly’s 11th #1 hit on the Country charts (this includes one duet with Porter Wagoner, 1974’s “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me”). Cowritten by Carole Bayer Sager and Bruce Roberts, it’s an attractive song that probably was given a country feel by Parton (neither Bayer Sager nor Roberts are particularly known for their work in the country field other than this song). The protagonist promises that, while she may have broken her lover’s heart by leaving, she had to – and this time she promises she won’t do that again. I’d buy it.
Amii Stewart, “Light My Fire/137 Disco Heaven,” #69, 7/21/79
Not much disco on this week’s set of songs, but here’s an example of one of the year’s more odious trends: disco remakes of rock classics. Yes, the A-side of this single (eventually both “Light My Fire” and “137 Disco Heaven” were listed in Billboard; the album track is a mashup of the two songs) is a remake of the old Doors song. I’m not sure how happy Jim Morrison would have been about this version of the song (he once threatened to smash a Buick on television after the other three Doors agreed to $75,000 to use the song in a Buick commercial), but he wasn’t around (presumably) to make that decision. This was Stewart’s second hit after the #1 “Knock On Wood.”
Lazy Racer, “Keep On Running Away,” #81, 7/21/79
Six-member British/American studio band (they apparently never toured), produced by Glyn Johns, who’s worked with most of the best British bands (The Who being the biggest of them; he produced Who’s Next, Quadrophenia, The Who by Numbers, and Who Are You). Not surprisingly, they never broke here. Drummer Henry Spinetti has had a lengthy career as a studio musician and has done many albums with Eric Clapton, while keyboardist Tim Gorman played on several Who albums and guitarist Tim Renwick has worked with Clapton, Elton John, and Al Stewart.
Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy: