Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Superhits 1978, Part 1

I've never made it through a whole year on these things, but hey, maybe 2018 will be different.  Here are some of the hits from 40 years ago, and some information about them.

Bob Welch, “Sentimental Lady,” #8, 1/8/78
Welch made a smart move by recycling one of his best Fleetwood Mac songs for his first solo album (after two flop LPs with a power trio, Paris, which no doubt confused his fans). He made an even better one by bringing in Mac mates Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham (who, along with Stevie Nicks, replaced Welch when he left the band in late 1974) to work on the song. Welch later had very little communication with his ex-bandmates (he was excluded from the membership list for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, apparently on the behest of the McVies and Fleetwood, even though other former band members such as Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, and Jeremy Spencer were included), but back then anything any member of Fleetwood Mac appeared on pretty much guaranteed a Top 20 hit. The resulting publicity (plus a paucity of other rock albums at the time) made Welch’s album French Kiss a surprise smash.

Bay City Rollers, “The Way I Feel Tonight,” #24, 1/8/78
The Rollers’ last American chart entry – actually, it was just about their last song to hit any music charts in the world, only “Where Will I Be Now” managed to make #48 in West Germany the following year – is a drippy ballad that could have been recorded by half the artists in the Arista stable (no surprise; the album was produced by Harry Maslin, who later produced many of Air Supply’s hits). They recorded a few more studio albums after 1977’s It’s a Game, but none of them had much impact in the States (by the early 1980s, they weren’t even released here); they’ve had some brief reunions since then, the latest in 2014.

Diana Ross, “Gettin’ Ready for Love,” #27, 1/8/78
Given that “Love Hangover” had been a huge #1 hit nine months before, the first single from Ross’ new album peaking below the top 20 was a big disappointment. One of the problems Ross has always had is she almost never sticks with the same producers from one album to the next, so she didn’t have a consistent sound. (For example, her biggest solo hit album was 1980’s Diana, produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, but years later, we found out that Nile and Bernard thought she wasn’t giving a good effort and Motown’s A&R people hated the Chic sound and wound up remixing the album without consulting them. As a result, the follow up to “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” was the completely unrelated movie theme “It’s My Turn.”) This came from the 1978 album Baby It’s Me, and was produced by Richard Perry after he worked with Carly Simon and Ringo Starr, but before The Pointer Sisters, so he probably didn’t have a handle on how to handle middle-of-the-road R&B just yet. It’s also a little too “girly,” given Ross was nearly 34 years old at the time.

Cheech & Chong, “Bloat On (Featuring The Bloaters),” #41, 1/8/78 
Parody of The Floaters’ “Float On” and a salute/warning to overeating, which probably would have benefited by appearing on an album quickly after its release (Cheech and Chong had some label issues, so the single came out on Ode Records, but didn’t appear on an album until two years later, on Warner Brothers). Comedy records were having a tough time making Top 40, and the belching at the beginning and end of the record probably put off some radio stations. Shame, since it’s pretty funny on the whole, and is a good reminder that Tommy Chong can also be a serious musician – he’d been in the Motown band Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers (“Does Your Mother Know About Me,” which Chong also cowrote) since its beginnings in the early 1960s.  This included the time when that band when by a completely different, now unacceptable name, which I won’t repeat here. Every embedded video link through Blogger sent me to The Floaters’ “Float On.” so try this link instead.

KC & The Sunshine Band, “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” #48, 1/8/78
Strange that this would be released well over a year after its parent album, Part 3, came out – but the previous two singles from the album, “I’m Your Boogie Man” and “Keep It Comin’ Love” hit #1 and #2, respectively, so I guess I understand the logic. (The first single from Part 3, “I Like to Do It,” on the other hand, peaked at #37.) Anyway, this marked the start of a dry spell for the band – after notching four #1s and a #2 over two and a half years, KC & The Sunshine Band went nearly two years before hitting the top 30 again. The melody line is very similar to that of “Dance Across the Floor,” which KC and Richard Finch cowrote and Jimmy “Bo” Horne recorded later in 1978.

Eric Carmen, “Boats Against the Current,” #88, 1/8/78
The second single from the album of the same name, this was a pretty but inconsequential mopey ballad that suffered in comparison with Carmen’s big hit in a similar vein, “All by Myself.” I’m sure a few people were wondering, “Is this the same guy from The Raspberries?” Their hits, for the most part, were rockers (“Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” etc.), and I’m guessing AOR stations were starting to give up on him.

David Castle, “The Loneliest Man on the Moon,” #89, 1/8/78
Singer-songwriter who sounds a little like an Elton John-Leo Sayer cross, except with lousier metaphorical rhymes (“Spending my nights with the meteorites”). This was Castle’s one and only Billboard Hot 100 hit (his website claims a second song from this album, “All I Ever Wanna Be Is Yours,” hit the Easy Listening charts, but I can’t confirm this), but he’s been in the music business his whole life, and his songs have been in scores and soundtracks ranging from Midnight Express to Breaking Bad. He’s got several albums in print, but this isn’t one of them.

The Alan Parsons Project, “Don’t Let It Show,” #92, 1/8/78
Second single from the band’s I Robot album; “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You” cracked the top 40 in 1977. Not sure what Arista was thinking here; this probably didn’t get a lot of AOR airplay (the arrangement sounds more like Barry Manilow than a rock band, which given they both recorded for the same label, may explain the choice of single). Pat Benatar did a memorable cover version of this song on her platinum debut album In the Heat of the Night.

Player, “Baby Come Back,” #1, 1/15/78
Standard pop-rock single notable because a lot of people thought it was Hall & Oates. It has a little similarity to “She’s Gone,” I suppose, but while lead singer Peter Beckett has a similar range to Daryl Hall, he has none of the latter’s vocal characteristics. Huge hit from RSO Records in between huge hits from their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. By the way, don’t think of this band as a one-hit wonder – the group placed six singles on the Billboard chart during their recording career, three of which came out in 1978 alone. (That said, this is the one you’re likely to hear on oldies stations.)

Dolly Parton, “Here You Come Again,” #3, 1/15/78 
Parton’s first big Top 40 pop hit, but the singer-songwriter went elsewhere for this one; it’s written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, who had been around since the Brill Building in the early 1960s (and may hold the record for longest rock & roll marriage; they will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary in August 2018). Parton’s voice was certainly unique for top 40 radio at the time; a lot of listeners (like myself) undoubtedly thought she was a new artist, and didn’t realize she’d been hitting the country charts for 10 years, including six #1 hits there. Parton did make Hot 100 with “Jolene” in 1974 and “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” in 1977. The video is from The Midnight Special; note Parton is singing live rather than lip syncing. (A couple of other videos in this entry may also be from The Midnight Special, but I can’t verify that for sure.)

Rod Stewart, “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim),” #4, 1/15/78 
Stewart’s big hit off Foot Loose and Fancy Free, near the peak of his popularity, and back when he actually wrote most of his own songs. I hated this song when it first came out, and I’m still put off by the lyrics today (yes, “lyrical” and “physical” rhyme, but man, is that an awkward lyric). Not even sure who’s it’s written to – the disparaged “big-bosomed lady with the Dutch accent” is clearly his ex Britt Eklund, but I don’t think it was Alana Hamilton, whom he would marry in 1979, that was in his heart at the time.

Shaun Cassidy, “Hey Deanie,” #7, 1/15/78 
Oh good, Eric Carmen again. Except he only wrote this one, and it’s a lot better than “Boats Against the Current.” Cassidy’s third and last Top 10 hit, as the momentum from The Hardy Boys Mysteries was starting to wear down. I would vote this the best of his hits (I haven’t heard anything from the Todd Rundgren-produced 1980 album Wasp, but no songs charted from that LP anyway), and it would probably still get some airplay today on oldies stations if it weren’t for Cassidy’s status as a former teenybopper idol. Ooh, the video is from a Hardy Boys episode!

Wings, “Girls School,” #33, 1/15/78 
Here’s one most of us in the good ol’ USA missed altogether. This was released as the B-side of “Mull of Kintyre,” McCartney’s tribute to his Scottish home, which was a gigantic hit all over the world, hitting #1 in five countries (and it’s still the fourth-biggest selling single in the UK ever). But here in America, it held no interest – so DJs flipped the single over and started playing the rocking trifle “Girls School” instead. That broke Top 40 (barely), but considering how hot the band had been over the previous few years, it was considered a flop. It was left off the subsequent album London Town (as was “Mull of Kintyre”), and has only been released since (to my knowledge) on a 1993 London Town rerelease. Wikipedia also notes Capitol Records’ lack of promotional enthusiasm for Paul that year helped lead to his temporary exit for Columbia Records in 1979.

Peter Frampton, “Tried to Love,” #41, 1/15/78 
Last and least of the three singles from I’m in You, following the title track and a remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).” 1978 wasn’t a particularly good year for Frampton, who had this “hit” and his acting debut in the wretched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie (well, I’ve heard it’s wretched; I’ve never actually seen it) to his credit. Mick Jagger’s listed as having done backup vocals (he also sang on “I’m in You”), but he was buried pretty deep in the album version mix; the 45 appears to boost his voice a bit. That's where this version comes from; I can't embed it here.

Millie Jackson, “If You’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” #43, 1/15/78 
Odd that an R&B star with a taste for raunchy lyrics would have a big hit with a Merle Haggard ballad, but 1970s music was nothing if not unpredictable. Jackson’s career has been long and varied, but this song was one of her bigger hits, and also her last on the pop charts (although she’d notch 20 more Billboard R&B hits through 1988). Now 73 years old, it looks like she’s retired (her web site has her last tour dates from 2012), she was inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. Her performance here dates from 1990 at the Apollo Theater.

John Denver, “How Can I Leave You Again,” #44, 1/15/78 
One in a string of flop singles for Denver after 1975. Before that, he’d had four #1s (“Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “I’m Sorry”), a #2, and a #5 out of seven singles (the only lesser hit was the #13 “Sweet Surrender”). After the #13 “Fly Away” in early 1976, however, the world seemed to tire of Denver simultaneously, and he never again registered a Top 20 hit – the album from which this song came, I Want to Live, generated three hits that made the Billboard Adult Contemporary top 10, but all missed the pop top 40. This is a pretty confessional, but nothing that would make anyone jump out of their chair and run to the local record store. This is from a concert in Australia, circa 1977.

Al Martino, “The Next Hundred Years,” #49, 1/15/78 
Yikes – Al Martino started his chart career in 1952 (with the #1 “Here in My Heart”), so it’s kind of surprising he was still hitting the charts 26 years later. On the other hand, he’d actually hit the pop top 20 three years before with “To the Door of the Sun (Alle Porte del Sole),” so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, even though this is a little gimmicky. Martino is probably best known now for playing Johnny Fontaine in the first two Godfather movies, but he made the Billboard Hot 100 charts 38 times in his career, so even though this was his last hit, he’d done very, very well. Martino, born Jasper Cini, died in Philadelphia, his home town, in 2009. This video isn't great, but it is rare: it’s from the syndicated variety show Dinah! That’s Dick Clark and Cloris Leachman sitting in with Dinah Shore during the introduction.

Cat Stevens, “Was Dog a Doughnut,” #70, 1/5/78 
For Cat Stevens, a genuinely weird one – almost no vocals, all synthesizer, with a sequencer used as well to create the rhythm track. Chick Corea played electric piano on this track as well. This is from the album Izitso, the second-to-last album he recorded before retiring from music and changing his name to Yusef Islam. 1977 had a lot of left field releases, but this one probably ties with The Carpenters’ version of “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” for the weirdest. (Lucky A&M Records got to release both – Herb Alpert may have been the most patient and understanding person in the music industry.)

Ronnie Milsap, “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life,” #80, 1/15/78 
Bleurgh. One of those songs that would have made me reach for the next push button on the car radio the second it started to play (not that WABC or WNBC were playing this song anyway); it’s just too sappy for me to take. One in a tremendous string of Top 10 country hits that ran unbroken between 1974 and 1991, but as far as the pop charts were concerned, an unsuccessful follow up to 1977’s “It Was Almost Like a Song.” The video shows Milsap performing the song at the Grand Ole Opry; it looks like it was taped around the same time the song was released.