Sunday, September 1, 2019

Superhits 1979, Part 27

by Curt Alliaume

Short week, with a few different genres.

Rickie Lee Jones, “Chuck E.’s in Love,” #4, 7/7/79
Hey, remember when Rickie Lee Jones was going to be the next big thing? Good times. Jones brought to mind a number of artists (a female Bob Dylan? Joni Mitchell after a shot of whiskey and a few more cigarettes?), but she was also influenced by Randy Newman and Tom Waits. Signed to Warner Brothers Records, this was the first single from her eponymous debut album and her biggest hit, with the protagonist named after songwriter Chuck E. Weiss (although Jones was never involved with Weiss; in fact, she and Waits were a couple at the time). Jazz influenced, this was a welcome change of pace from most of what was on pop radio in the early part of that summer.

Kenny Rogers, “She Believes in Me,” #5, 7/7/79
This was not. “She Believes in Me” was Rogers’ second top 10 solo hit (he’d also scored two top hits as part of The First Edition), written by Steve Gibb, is about a musician who has not achieved success, but is supported by a good woman – even if she’s obviously frustrated at times by his inattention. (Dude, seriously: it’s time to take a 9 to 5 job.) From the album The Gambler, this song helped make Rogers a steady hitmaker from 1978 to 1984.

Bette Midler, “Married Men,” #40, 7/7/79
This was actually Midler’s highest-charting single in nearly six years (“Friends,” the third single from her debut The Divine Miss M, reached the same peak in November 1973). As you might guess, this is borderline disco, but it has the typical Midler humor (married men may make you promises, but they’re still going to go back to their wives in the end). From the album Thighs and Whispers; I suspect this wasn’t promoted much because Midler was busy filming and preparing her film debut The Rose, which would take her career in a different direction.

The Village People, “Go West,” #45, 7/7/79
Title track from the group’s fourth LP, this varied from their previous hits such as “YMCA” and “In the Navy” in that it was a fairly straightforward song, and not tongue in cheek. Using Horace Greeley’s quote “Go west, young man” as its basis, the song seems to point toward San Francisco as a place where gay men could live without being judged. American Top 40 radio, however, wasn’t ready for that kind of sentiment, so the song stalled out at #45. In 1993, the Pet Shop Boys remade the song, boosting the melody’s resemblance to the Soviet Union national anthem (remember the Soviet Union had split up two years before), and found themselves with a monster hit; hitting the top 10 in 19 different countries (not surprisingly, the United States wasn’t one of them). Sorry the embedded video isn’t very good; there’s a better video that can’t be embedded here.

Cher, “Wasn’t It Good,” #49, 7/7/79
The follow-up hit, both literally and in logical order given the subject matter, to “Take Me Home” – the former referring to, presumably, a sexual encounter, the latter celebrating the aftermath. Produced and cowritten by Bob Esty (as was “Take Me Home”), this may have missed because the disco craze was starting to wind down a little bit. Cher’s interest in the song may have waned as well; I saw Cher at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on July 17, and the song wasn’t in the set list – and hadn’t been since the beginning of the tour the week before.

KC & The Sunshine Band, “Do You Wanna Go Party,” #50, 7/7/79
I’m not exactly sure why, but when disco was at its arguable peak in the summer of 1979, KC and The Sunshine Band hadn’t had a top 30 hit in nearly two years (after having four #1s and a #2 between 1975 and 1977). Maybe there was an issue between stations and TK Records (although they were charting with other acts such as Bobby Caldwell and Anita Ward), maybe people were just bored with the band’s sound, maybe the songs didn’t have that slight double entendre feel the hits did (“Keep It Comin’ Love,” “(That’s The Way) I Like It,” “Get Down Tonight”). In any case, things weren’t happening for the band at that point – but that would change.

The Faith Band, “You’re My Weakness,” #76, 7/7/79
Second and final Hot 100 hit for the band (“Dancin’ Shoes” had peaked at #54 earlier in the year). This was a midtempo song that reflected on their musical abilities a little better but didn’t get traction at radio. For some reason Mercury Records released three albums by the band within a little over a year (Rock ‘n Romance, Vital Signs, and Face to Face, which included “You’re My Weakness”), and perhaps that was too much – the band broke up soon after. Keyboard and sax player John Cascella joined up with fellow Indianan John Cougar Mellencamp’s band and played on most of his 1980s and early 1990s records; he died in 1993. Lead singer Carl Storie still plays gigs with his band in the Indianapolis area.

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy:

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Superhits 1979, Parts 25 and 26

By Curt Alliaume
Both the week of June 23 and June 30 were very short weeks, so I’m combining the two into one entry.

Rex Smith, “You Take My Breath Away,” #10, 6/23/79
Rex Smith was a teen idol in the vein of Leif Garrett and Andy Gibb, and although he had both acting and singing talent without any of the personal problems the other two had (he actually replaced Gibb as host of Solid Gold), he’s not as well remembered today, either. Anyway, this is his one big hit, a slow dance number that almost no one plays today. The song came from his album Sooner or Later, which was also the name of an NBC television movie in which he starred and played the song. Smith (then 23) played a 17-year-old musician who was the object of a crush from a 13-year-old girl (who fibbed about her age to get close to him). I don’t know how I missed that one. I think this video is cobbled together using clips from the movie.

The Doobie Brothers, “Minute by Minute,” #14, 6/23/79
Title track from the Doobies’ #1 album, this one was almost all Michael McDonald – half of the full-time band members (Patrick Simmons, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, John Hartman) didn’t even perform on the track. (Actually, by the time this single peaked on the charts, Baxter and Hartman had left the band, partially because they were unhappy with the direction McDonald was taking them.) It’s a heartbreak song, but the protagonist is consoling himself, saying he’ll get by. The song hit top 20 in both the United States and Canada, and has been covered by Helen Reddy, The Temptations, Peabo Bryson, and Larry Carlton.

Jay Ferguson, “Shakedown Cruise,” #31, 6/23/79
Technically, a shakedown cruise is when a ship and its crew are tested for seaworthiness. Ferguson’s song makes it clear this cruise was more torturous. This was the second and last of Ferguson’s chart hits (“Thunder Island” had hit the top 10 in 1978), from his album Real Life Ain’t This Way. Ferguson had started his career with Spirit (and was back with them from 1982 to 1985) and was also one of the founding members of Jo Jo Gunne, but most recently he’s been writing and performing television and movie themes. Even with all his rock hits, the most well-known piece of music he’s written is undoubtedly the theme from the American version of The Office.

Suzi Quatro, “If You Can’t Give Me Love,” #45, 6/23/79
Not surprisingly, Quatro’s second single from the American version of her album If You Knew Suzi… was much harder rocking (although it’s actually kind of mellow compared to her “Can the Can” or “48 Crash”). Also not surprisingly, it didn’t do anywhere near as well here (American radio stations weren’t fond of female rockers just yet, and RSO Records wasn’t good at promoting hard rockers anyway). Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman wrote the song, with Chapman producing. The song did make top 10 in five other countries.

Evelyn “Champagne” King, “Music Box,” #75, 6/23/79
King’s second album, Music Box, didn’t get as much attention as her debut Smooth Talk – the title track was the only pop chart hit, and it didn’t come near the top 40. Maybe because none of the songs were as unique as “Shame,” or maybe because the novelty of a teenager singing disco had worn off (I’ve got to say that for a teenager, she’s got a great voice). The song was cowritten by Theodore Life and Sam Peake (who also coproduced the album, along with John H. Fitch Jr., who had cowritten “Shame.” This would be end of the “Champagne” part of her chart career – by the time “I’m in Love” hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982, she was billed as simply Evelyn King.

Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell,” #1, 6/30/79
Huge debut single and album from Ward, who had been a schoolteacher after getting a psychology degree from Rust College in Mississippi. Frederick Knight had written “Ring My Bell” for the then 12-year-old Stacy Lattisaw, with the idea the song would be about kids talking on the telephone; when Lattisaw signed with a different label and the song went to Ward, he rewrote the lyrics. Released by Juana Records (that was an interesting name), a subsidiary of TK Records, the song became a top 10 hit in 16 different countries, and was the ninth-biggest hit of 1979 according to Billboard’s year-end charts.

Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, “Feel That You’re Feelin’,” #67, 6/30/79
One of the biggest R&B band most of you never heard. Originally named Raw Soul, the name change was suggested by Marvin Gaye, who toured with the group as his opening act. Maze had eight gold studio albums (and one gold live album) between 1977 and 1993, and charted 21 top 30 hits on the R&B charts – but this was the biggest pop hit for the band, which has had a changing lineup over the years with Beverly the only constant. They’re still touring, and I might give some thought to the Hammond, IN shows.

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy: