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:

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