Sunday, June 23, 2019

Superhits 1979, Part 19

by Curt Alliaume

Short week, but a pretty good one – no outright stinkers.

Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In,” #4, 5/12/79

Suzi Quatro is known through most of the world as a pioneering female rock star, including several #1 hits in the UK and Australia with “Can the Can,” “48 Crash,” and “Devil Gate Drive.”  Here in the United States, she’s known for this MOR duet (and for playing Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days).  Quatro started playing bass at a young age (she’s self taught), and after playing with the all-female band The Pleasure Seekers in Detroit as a teenager, she moved to England and worked with producer Mickie Most, who produced most of her early hits.  “Stumblin” In” was recorded with Smokie member Chris Norman (they’d had a 1977 hit with “Living Next Door to Alice”), and was cowritten and produced by Mike Chapman, who was also producing Blondie’s records.

Cher, “Take Me Home,” #8, 5/12/79
Cher’s biggest hit in her second of four comebacks, this one after a long chart dry spell.  In 1975 Cher was on top of the world – after her divorce from Sonny Bono, she launched a successful self-titled variety show and signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records.  But the variety show eventually ended (a reunion with Sonny was awkward and unsuccessful), and Cher’s three albums with Warner Brothers yielded only a #93 single, “Pirate” (which is surprising given she’d had three #1 singles from 1972 through 1974).  So she signed with Casablanca and moved (somewhat reluctantly) into the disco market.  Produced and cowritten by Bob Esty, this would be her first top 40 hit in five years… and last for another eight.

Sister Sledge, “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” #9, 5/12/79
Despite their youth (all four Sledge sisters were in their early- to mid-20s in May 1979), Sister Sledge had been around awhile. They hit the Hot 100 in 1974 with "Love Don't You Go Through No Changes on Me,” and made some television appearances, including the 1975 game show Musical Chairs, which is available on YouTube.  By early 1979, however, they’d been moved to the Atlantic subsidiary label Cotillion, and it may have been their last opportunity to have a hit.  Fortunately, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic were looking for a soul act to work with, and preferred to start with a smaller act rather than superstars (this would change the following year, when they produced several hits for Diana Ross).  Atlantic brought them together, and despite a little controversy about the lyrics (the sisters objected to “My crème de la crème, please take me home,” thinking it made them seem like “loose women,” per Rodgers), they created a major hit.

Instant Funk, “I Got My Mind Made Up,” #20, 5/12/79
One-hit wonder, but what a hit.  “I Got My Mind Made Up” was an irresistible blast of disco and funk at just the right time, with a great horn hook and enough production gimmicks for listeners to take notice.  Instant Funk started as The Music Machine in Trenton, NJ, but eventually became Philadelphia International Records’ second house band (they would play on sessions MFSB couldn’t make).  Their first album, Get Down With the Philly Jump, was released on Philadelphia International’s TSOP subsidiary, and they moved to Salsoul after that.  Both the album Instant Funk and the single went gold (a rare feat for a song that didn’t crack the pop top 15), and while they never landed another song on the pop charts, they charted eight times on Billboard’s R&B chart.

McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman, “Don’t You Write Her Off,” #33, 5/12/79
Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman were three-fifths of the original Byrds, a seminal folk-rock act that either influenced or produced members of several other bands (Byrds members eventually migrated to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Firefall).  By 1978, these three, who had previously been recording as solo acts, decided to come together again (they also tried to entice David Crosby to join, to no avail).  Their first album, also called McGuinn, Clark & Hillman, yielded this pleasant pop hit, and the band started to slowly erode after that (Gene Clark suffered from both a fear of flying and addiction problems), so their next album was McGuinn and Hillman featuring Clark, and the last just McGuinn and Hillman.  Clark and Byrds drummer Michael Clarke are now deceased; McGuinn, Hillman, and Crosby have had the occasional one-off performance, and McGuinn and Hillman toured together last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary release of the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

The Cars, “Good Times Roll,” #41, 5/12/79
The band’s self-titled first album had been out for nearly a year by this point (and their second album, Candy-O, was already in the can, releasing a month later), but The Cars were hot enough that a third single was deemed necessary.  It’s a great song – actually, most of the songs on The Cars were great; it’s rather surprising none of them even made top 25.  This, like all the songs on their first album, was written by Ric Ocasek, who also sang lead.  Make sure you let them brush your rock & roll hair.

Nicolette Larson, “Rhumba Girl,” #47, 5/12/79
This follow-up to her top 10 hit “Lotta Love” was also written by a singer/songwriter; in this case it was Jesse Winchester.  The title and lyrics were changed slightly for Larson, and this made a fine choice for a single – except radio didn’t jump on it.  (Jesse Winchester had moved from the United States to Canada in 1967 to avoid military service; I’m not sure if that was the reason this song failed, but it’s hard to predict what some program directors might have thought.)  This video isn’t the best quality visually, but what a sound – Linda Ronstadt does backing vocals, and the band is pretty much Little Feat (the performance is for a benefit for the late Lowell George).

Melissa Manchester, “Theme From Ice Castles (Through the Eyes of Love),” #76, 5/12/79
Ice Castles
is the second-best figure skating movie of the past 50 years (behind The Cutting Edge), if you can stomach a movie about an ice skater making a comeback after she’s been blinded in an accident.  Anyway, this theme was written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, and was sung by their friend Manchester, with production by Arif Mardin (although it sounds more like something Barry Manilow might have produced, which is probably how Arista Records wanted it).  Not a big chart hit, but the song was nominated for an Oscar (losing out to “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae).  Nowadays, if you’re a Will and Grace fan you’ll recognize this as the song Grace Adler bursts into from time to time (mercifully, most of those renditions are brief).

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy:

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