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:

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