Saturday, January 5, 2019

Superhits 1978, Part 5

Dave Mason, “Let It Go, Let It Flow,” #45, 3/5/78

If there’s a rock star with a stranger career than Dave Mason, I’d sure like to hear about it. A fine guitarist and pretty good songwriter (his “Feelin’ Alright,” originally written when he was part of Traffic, has almost become a standard), he played with Jimi Hendrix (guitar on Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” backing vocals on “Crosstown Traffic”), The Rolling Stones (shehnai on “Street Fighting Man”), and Eric Clapton (toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, an early member of Derek & The Dominos) – but by the late 1970s, he’d become more of a pop crooner, with the ballad “We Just Disagree” his biggest solo hit. In between, he came and went from Traffic several times, and recorded a duet album with Diana Ross – and made his acting debut in the roller disco movie Skatetown, U.S.A., which featured Scott Baio, Maureen McCormick, Flip Wilson, and Patrick Swayze. I don’t get it either. Anyway, this was a midtempo pop tune that was sort of the title track from Let It Flow, which also includes “We Just Disagree.”

Hot, “You Brought Out the Woman in Me,” #71, 3/5/78
Flop follow-up to their one big hit, “Angel in Your Arms,” which hit #6 in the summer of 1977. The group went through several members (Gwen Owens, who started out singing with several Motown acts a few years before, was the only constant), and subsequent follow-up albums on Big Tree Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic; England Dan and John Ford Coley was their biggest act) failed to chart before the label was shut down. Owens later did more session work and sang with her church choir in California.

Karla Bonoff, “I Can’t Hold On,” #72, 3/5/78
Bonoff is a singer/songwriter who’s had a number of successful songs chart by different artists, most notably Linda Ronstadt (“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “All My Life” with Aaron Neville). Her own solo career started with this midtempo song from her Columbia Records debut, which went gold despite this being the only chart single. The album was produced by Kenny Edwards (who was in The Stone Poneys with Ronstadt) and featured such musicians as Ronstadt, Andrew Gold, Glenn Frey, and J.D. Souther.

Steely Dan, “Peg,” #11, 3/12/78
First single from the group’s finest album (why mince words?), Aja. This was also the highest-charting single from the album, and their biggest hit since “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” hit #5 in the summer of 1974. Jay Graydon does the guitar solo here, with Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers on backing vocals (McDonald contributed backing vocals to all of the band’s albums of the era from Katy Lied through 1980’s Gaucho). It’s a pretty great song, and definitely different than most of the music on Top 40 at the time.

ABBA, “The Name of the Game,” #12, 3/12/78
Like this one. First single from ABBA: The Album, this one was reportedly influenced by Stevie Wonder (I’m not hearing it myself, but I’ll have to take their word for it). The album itself included a few songs from a “mini-musical” the group had performed on tour in 1977, The Girl With the Golden Hair, the most well known of which was “Thank You for the Music.” The album was released at the same time as the documentary ABBA: The Movie (directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who later was nominated for Academy Awards for My Life As a Dog and The Cider House Rules), and was followed in 1979 by ABBA: The Tour.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, “What’s Your Name,” #13, 3/12/78
I’m not sure if a song about fucking nameless groupies was the best song to go with as the first single after the crash that killed three band members and brought Lynyrd Skynyrd to a halt for nearly a decade was the best was to go, but since it became their second-biggest chart success behind “Sweet Home Alabama,” it’s hard to argue. (It’s possible “That Smell” – e.g. the smell of death – seemed a little too on point.) Cowritten by Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington, it was based on a real-life incident that did happen with one of their roadies at a hotel bar (but not in Boise, Idaho).

Little River Band, “Happy Anniversary,” #16, 3/12/78Listen carefully – it’s actually a pretty bitter song about a guy and his ex-girlfriend. Second single from the band’s American breakthrough album Diamantina Cocktail (although two different songs were released in Australia, and the album released there has a different track listing). Two things of note: first, a Diamantina cocktail is a drink from Australia made from Bundaberg Rum, condensed milk, and an emu egg (I think I’ll pass), and second, the “Little River Band” today not only doesn’t have any original members of the band (or any who appeared on this song), it also has no Australians. (Of the key original members, lead singer Glenn Shorrock appears to be the only one who still tours, and the tour dates on his web site are entirely in Australia.)

Rita Coolidge, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” #20, 3/12/78It looks like A&M Records was trying to set up Coolidge as their answer to Linda Ronstadt – attractive female singer, but not songwriter, who primarily did covers. The difference, alas, is Ronstadt had the better voice. It did work well for about a year – Anytime…Anywhere yielded three top 20 hits with remakes of Jackie Wilson “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone,” and this Temptations hit. Produced by David Anderle, who worked for several years with The Beach Boys.

Linda Ronstadt, “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” #31, 3/12/78Speaking of Linda, this was her third chart hit off Simple Dreams, after “Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy.” In a nice bit of corporate synergy, this song was written by Warren Zevon, whose second major-label album had just been released by Ronstadt’s label, Asylum. (Zevon’s version was quite a bit darker, with a reference to sadomasochism; Ronstadt changed the protagonist’s gender and took out the more controversial material.) Ronstadt did a lot of remakes of classics, but she also felt strongly about supporting up-and-coming songwriters – Zevon, Elvis Costello, Karla Bonoff and others were among the artists she covered.

Boz Scaggs, “Hollywood,” #49, 3/12/78Scaggs’ follow-up to his classic album Silk Degrees was a bomb. Okay, it wasn’t a bomb (Down Two, Then Left did go platinum), but it just wasn’t anywhere near as good. (He rebounded with Middle Man, then took an eight-year hiatus.) And this song is an example – not particularly interesting midtempo tune. I know, so was “Lowdown,” but that had a great melody and horn hook. If Columbia was going to release anything as a single, it should have been “1993,” which sounded a bit more like “Lido Shuffle.” This was the second and last single from Down Two, Then Left, after which Boz took a couple years off.

Debby Boone, “California,” #50, 3/12/78
Contrary to popular belief, Debby Boone wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but “You Light Up My Life” would be her only top 40 pop hit. This song was also written and produced by Joe Brooks – which may be one of the oddest producer-performer combinations in pop music. (Boone is deeply religious and moved primarily to releasing Christian music in the 1980s; Brooks killed himself in 2011 after being indicted on 91 counts of rape and sexual assault.) This song is from Boone’s second studio album, Midstream.

The Babys, “Silver Dreams,” #53, 3/12/78
Second single release from the band’s second album, Broken Heart. While the first single, “Isn’t It Time,” was a dramatic rocker (I’m not sure how else to describe it), this was a pure ballad, and just didn’t get the AOR play it would have needed. Charming 1970s note: the female backup singers on this album, Lisa Freeman Roberts, Myrna Matthews, and Pat Henderson, were billed as “The Babettes.” I’m sure gospel singer Andrae Crouch, with whom the trio recorded previously, must have been thrilled by that.

Bette Midler, “Daybreak (Storybook Children),” #57, 3/12/78For a few years after her remake of The Andrews Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” hit the top 10, Bette Midler tried every genre to get a hit. This pretty ballad was the only chart single from her album Broken Blossom, which featured everything from Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” to a song cowritten by Sammy Hagar, and included Cinderella’s “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” to “La Vie en Rose.” But this song peaked at the same spot on the singles chart as Broken Blossom did on the album chart – and #57 ain’t a big hit on either one. It took a couple more albums and a few more stylistic shifts for Midler to hit her stride.

Denise LaSalle, “Love Me Right,” #80, 3/12/78Fourth and final Hot 100 entry for blues singer LaSalle, who recorded for several labels from the late 1960s through 2010 (Westbound, ABC, MCA, Malaco, and others. Although primarily a blues singer, her material is all over the place (witnessed by the consecutive album releases of Smokin’ In Bed and God’s Got My Back in the late 1990s). Born Ora Denise Allen, LaSalle’s biggest hit, “Trapped by a Thing Called Love,” hit #13 in 1971. She died at the age of 78 on January 8, 2018, after having a leg amputated a few months before following a fall. Much of LaSalle’s material is on Spotify (there are probably several rerecordings among them, however), so she’s well worth listening to.

Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer,” #92, 3/12/78
Well, this wasn’t the sort of thing you normally heard on Top 40 stations. The Talking Heads started in New York City in 1975, with David Byrne (guitar, lead vocals), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar) – although Byrne and Frantz had played together at the Rhode Island School of Design a few years before. Weymouth, Frantz’s girlfriend at the time (they’ve been married since 1977), took up bass at his suggestion, and Harrison joined up after a brief stint with The Modern Lovers. This is from their first album, Talking Heads ’77.

The Bee Gees, “Night Fever,” #1, 3/19/78Third and final #1 single from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack for the band. For the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Robert Stigwood (who produced the film and managed the band at the time) requested a song called “Saturday Night,” as that was the film’s title at the time. The band demurred, suggesting this song instead – which had been written some time before, after Barry Gibb heard keyboardist Blue Weaver play Percy Faith’s “Theme From a Summer Place.” (Listen to the two songs back to back – there are some similarities.) The song replaced brother Andy Gibb at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and would remain at the top for eight weeks.

Samantha Sang, “Emotion,” #3, 3/19/78
If you’re wondering why America started getting sick of The Bee Gees, here’s another reason why. Barry and Robin Gibb wrote this song for Sang, who was (like The Bee Gees) a native of Australia, but hadn’t broken through to the American market. Although the song wasn’t part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Sang wasn’t on RSO Records like The Bee Gees and Andy Gibb, the band’s magic touch worked and the song became an international hit. Sang was determined not to become another Bee Gees satellite act, however – which might have been a mistake here (she had one minor chart hit after that, and her label Private Stock Records collapsed late in the year). Terrible video (the Bee Gees’ backing vocals are so prominent that the performance video without them looks faintly ridiculous); maybe Sang’s management wasn't aware of modern technology.

Paul Davis, “I Go Crazy,” #7, 3/19/78This song became famous on Casey Kasem’s radio show American Top 40 for a time – not because it’s especially memorable (it’s a fairly standard I-wish-we-hadn’t-broken-up song), but because of how long it took to reach its peak on the charts. At that point, songs usually took between four to seven weeks from their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 to reach the top 40, and would peak another few weeks later – a song peaking at #7 would probably take between eight and ten weeks from hitting the top 40 to get there.  So that’s 12 to 17 weeks, and then probably another three to six weeks to drop back out. This song took nearly seven months to peak at #7 (so that’s roughly 30 weeks) and spent 40 weeks on the chart overall, then a record. Which is all more interesting to chart geeks like me than the song itself, which is a standard why-did-you-leave-me heartbreak ballad.

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