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:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Superhits 1979, Part 24

By Curt Alliaume

A few huge hits this week that you’re still hearing today, in all genres.

Sister Sledge, “We Are Family,” #2, 6/16/79
Title track from their biggest album, and this would be their biggest hit – it probably would have been a #1 if not for Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.” Written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, they wrote the song after just having the four Sledge sisters described to them. It’s since become a solidarity anthem, used first by the 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates (I wonder if that was an irritant to the Sledges, who hail from Philadelphia?), and in a 2007 video featuring characters from various children’s television shows, including Disney’s Lilo and Stitch and Kim Possible, Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Barney, and many more.

Randy Vanwarmer, “Just When I Needed You Most,” #4, 6/16/79
This may be the pinnacle of self-pitying breakup ballads. The guy describes his girl, and says it’s the worst possible time for her to leave. Vanwarmer wrote it after his own breakup (which he obviously survived), and it became an often-played hit on both AOR and AC formats. (Oddly, his label Bearsville Records didn’t let him do press interviews when the album Warmer was released – I guess they wanted him to maintain a mopey image.) Anyway, I’m sure there are still plenty of guys out there who play they song after they’ve been dumped. I don’t love this video (it’s restored from a British television performance; the original has horrible sound), but it’s almost painfully on the nose.

Supertramp, “The Logical Song,” #6 6/16/79
Supertramp, which had formed in 1969 at the behest of a Dutch millionaire, had experienced some success in the United States before (their Even in the Quietest Moments album hit the top 20 in 1977, as did the top 15 single “Give a Little Bit”), but no one really expected the explosion from Breakfast in America. (My theory is the rock market was starving for product – The Doobie Brothers also had their biggest album around this time – but it’s just a theory.) Roger Hodgson (the group’s bass/keyboard player and tenor lead vocalist) wrote the song about his experiences at boarding school (coincidentally, “Another Brick in the Wall” from Pink Floyd, which explored the same subject matter, would be an even bigger hit nine months later). Breakfast in America would be all over AOR radio for the next year.

Bad Company, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,” #13, 6/16/79
On the other hand, Bad Company’s Desolation Angels brought the group back up where they’d been (their 1977 release Burnin’ Sky had been a chart disappointment with no top 40 hits). Written by lead singer Paul Rodgers, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” would be their only gold single release (they’ve had six platinum and three gold albums in the United States). As the title suggests, it’s a rock & roll song, guided along with a guitar synthesizer riff.

Roger Voudouris, “ Get Used to It,” #21, 6/16/79
Pure pop product, but really good pop. Voudouris was a singer/songwriter from Sacramento, CA who signed with Warner Brothers in 1978; his first album didn’t go anywhere, but Radio Dream proved prophetic; this little gem became his first top 40 hit – and only one. Subsequent albums (one more on Warner Brothers and one on indie Boardwalk Records) went nowhere, and his last known gig was writing for the soundtrack for the film The Lonely Lady, starring Pia Zadora. Voudouris died of liver failure in 2003.

New England, “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” #40, 6/16/79
New England was (not surprisingly) a Boston-based band that kicked around for a few years trading lawsuits with another band by the same name – only to claim the name once and for all after signing with Infinity Records. Managed by Bill Aucoin (who was also managing Kiss at the time), their debut was coproduced by Paul Stanley, and walked a fine line between the rock sound of Boston (a natural comparison given the name) and the power pop they’d been working on for years. This was another natural for top 40 radio, and it’s a shame the song got lost in the shuffle somehow.

The Kinks, “Wish I Could Fly Like Superman,” #41, 6/16/79
The third and final 1979 chart hit to mention the Man of Steel; this song wasn’t attached to the film but was inspired by it – Ray Davies had been a fan of Superman comics as a kid and really enjoyed the movie. (Superman, in this case, was something his character in the song aspired to be, rather than the schlub he was; the latter is a recurring theme for many Kinks songs). It was also, according to Davies “kind of a joke, taking the piss out of Clive [Davis] wanting us to do a club-friendly record.” Dave Davies added the guitar work and later noted, “The fact that it's funny, that it was a humorous song, saved it. I don't feel bad about that song at all, but it could have been a big mistake.” From their 1979 LP Low Budget.

Neil Diamond, “Say Maybe,” #55, 6/16/79
Third single from Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers album, this is a contemplative plea to a lover who’s about to leave. Some nice backing vocals by Maxine Willard Waters, Julia Tillman, and Venetta Fields (who did lots of backing vocals throughout the 1970s and 1980s with such acts as Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs) on the studio version, but it’s not much of a surprise this didn’t make the top 40. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers went double platinum – all of Diamond’s studio album releases went at least platinum between 1972 and 1982.

Helen Reddy, “Make Love to Me,” #60, 6/16/79
Helen Reddy goes disco. How much more do you need to know? (How much more do you want to know?) In fairness, Reddy’s not really a songwriter (although she did a cowrite on “I Am Woman”), she was following the same trend everyone else was at the time, and she was dealing with a husband/manager who had a $2,000-a-week cocaine habit and was alienating most of the people around her. This would be Reddy’s last chart hit with Capitol Records.

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy: