Sunday, December 20, 2020

Superhits 1979, Week 41


By Curt Alliaume
Busy week—twenty songs peaked this week, which appears to be the most for one week in 1979.
Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” #1, 10/13/1979
First big solo hit as an adult for Jackson (his last top 20 solo hit was 1972’s “Ben,” released when he was 13), and this set the template for his future hits: Quincy Jones as producer, a unique post-disco sound, and Jackson’s vocals (and on videos, dancing ability). The difference here was Jackson’s falsetto throughout, which he’d only use occasionally on subsequent hits. There some oblique references to Star Wars, including a tough-to-decipher bridge (Keep on with the force, don't stop,” which I misheard for years as having to do with an academic’s post doc). This was the first single from his album Off the Wall, which would yield four top 10 singles in all.

The Commodores, “Sail On,” #4, 10/13/1979
The band was in the middle of a run on Lionel Richie-written-and-sung ballads, and this is one of the better ones. Written from the perspective of a man who’s tired of working out his relationship with a woman (and so he leaves her), the song has more country influences than most of the band’s material. (Keep in mind The Commodores first started when they were students at Tuskegee University in Alabama, so that’s not a surprise.) Although this is another example of a Commodores ballad where the AM edit may be better than the full-length version (which runs nearly two minutes longer), in either case it’s one of my favorite Richie slow songs.

Bonnie Pointer, “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” #11, 10/13/1979
This was Pointer’s one and only major solo hit, from her first solo album Bonnie Pointer (it’s the one with the red cover), and the second single after “Free Me From My Freedom.” Oddly, there were two completely different mixes of the song: one that sounded similar to the arrangement of the original version (by The Elgins, which hit #9 R&B and #50 pop for Motown in 1966), and one with a far more discofied arrangement—it’s possible that one was created as a way to boost sales of the album. I never knew the disco version existed until I heard it on American Top 40; New York stations were playing the pop version. It appears the Elgins-like arrangement was on the original album based on the credits on the single, which seems to have both versions; that one is credited as “LP Version” and has string arrangements by Paul Riser (not the guy from Mad About You; he’s a long-time Motown arranger that worked on dozens of hits for the label) while the other has strings credited to McKinley Jackson and no “LP Version” note. Anyway, they’re both hard to find nowadays (the pop one may be out of print altogether), but I found videos of both.

Pop version

Disco version
Atlanta Rhythm Section, “Spooky,” #17, 10/13/1979
Second single from the band’s 1979 album Underdog, the song was originally a #3 hit for The Classics IV in 1968. But ARS’s genesis comes from The Classics IV—guitarist J.R. Cobb and keyboardist Dean Daughtry were members of both bands, and ARS producer Buddy Buie was one of The Classics IV’s managers. In fact, Buie and Cobb cowrote the lyrics; the very original version of the song was as a jazz instrumental by Mike Sharpe (whose real name was Mike Shapiro), who also cowrote it with Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Nice version of the song with a few additional rock touches, but it also probably didn’t help ARS get much more footing on album rock radio, having released two ballads in a row.

Gerry Rafferty, “Get It Right Next Time,” #21, 10/13/1979
Second single from Rafferty’s album Night Owl, and Rafferty’s first single since “Baker Street” to include Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax work. Ravenscroft, who died in 2014 at age 60 of a heart attack, worked with everybody on both sides of the Atlantic: Pink Floyd, Chris Rea, Kim Carnes, Daft Punk, and more. Anyway, the song is about shrugging off when something goes wrong and learning from your mistakes—good advice. This is actually Rafferty’s biggest hit in Ireland, peaking at #2 (one position above “Baker Street”).

Lobo, “Where Were You When I Was Falling in Love,” #23, 10/13/1979
Comeback hit for Lobo (whose real name is Roland Kent LaVoie). After notching three top 10 hits in 1971 and 1972 (“Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” “I’d Love You to Want Me,” “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”) in the soft rock genre, and another four top 40 hits over the next four years, Lobo completely fell out of sight. (This might partially be blamed on his faltering label, Big Tree Records, but they were getting hits out of England Dan & John Ford Coley, who worked the same genre.) Anyway, like the three aforementioned top 10 pop hits, “Where Were You When I Was Falling in Love” also hit #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart.

The Doobie Brothers, “Dependin’ on You,” #25, 10/13/1979
Okay, I won’t pick on Michael McDonald this week. “Dependin’ on You” was written and sung by Patrick Simmons, who by 1979 was the last original Doobie Brother still with the band. Simmons’ work had originally been rock-based with a touch of New Orleans delta blues (he wrote and sang “Black Water,” the band’s first #1 hit), but when McDonald joined the band and pointed them in more of an R&B direction, Simmons was fine with going along. Nicolette Larson, who was working with McDonald on “Let Me Go, Love” around this time, is one of the backing vocalists.

Wings, “Arrow Through Me,” #29, 10/13/1979
Second United States single from Wings’ Back to the Egg in the United States and Canada (the UK and Ireland got “Old Siam, Sir” instead, which had a similar chart performance). Actually, the only Wing on this song aside from McCartney himself was Steve Holley, who was the band’s fourth and final drummer (not counting McCartney himself, who played drums on Back to the Egg and London Town); there’s also a horn section led by sax player Howie Casey, who played on several Wings records. It’s a spare record, charming but apparently not exciting enough to get people to pick up the album.

Moon Martin, “Rolene, #30, 10/13/1979
Two weeks after Robert Palmer’s version of Martin’s “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” peaked at #14, Martin had a top 40 hit all his own. John David Martin (he was called “Moon” allegedly because many of his songs had the word “moon” in the lyrics; I think it’s because he wanted to avoid being confused with J.D., a.k.a. John David, Souther) released his first album, Shots From a Cold Nightmare, in 1978 on Capitol Records, which is where “Bad Case of Loving You” came from. “Rolene”—a song about a woman that relieves his problems (and I don’t want to speculate further on that) had the same urgent kind of arrangement.

Ashford & Simpson, “Found a Cure,” #36, 10/13/1979
A second case of singer-songwriters having chart success with others—Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson had charted dozens of songs with Motown, including Diana Ross’ “The Boss” the previous week—but this was their first top 40 hit performing on their own. (I’m not counting their participation on Quincy Jones’ “Stuff Like That” in 1978, which was issued under his name.) The married duo had lots of R&B hits—“Found a Cure” was their 17th Billboard R&B chart hit, peaking at #2—it just took awhile for the pop charts to come around. And then awhile after that; they didn’t hit the pop top 40 again until 1984 with “Solid.”

Mary MacGregor, “Good Friend,” #39, 10/13/1979
It took almost three years, but MacGregor finally got a follow-up top 40 hit to her first (admittedly, “Good Friend” wasn’t quite as important as the #1 “Torn Between Two Lovers”). The song was the second single from the Meatballs soundtrack—it’s from the scene where Chris Makepeace’s misfit camper Rudy goes running with Bill Murray’s counselor Tripper, and finally makes a friend at camp. (Rudy becomes the hero when he wins the four-mile run at the end of that year’s Olympiad against the despised Camp Mohawk. Trivia note: there are a couple of scenes that were shot later than the rest of the movie where Makepeace’s voice had dropped and he’d grown significantly; they were shot sitting down to avoid the obvious disparity.) It’s a sweet moment from a movie that got lumped into the Animal House pile (both movies were cowritten by Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman coproduced Animal House and directed Meatballs) but really has a lot more heart. The song was included on MacGregor’s eponymous album, released in 1980.

Kansas, “Reason to Be,” #52, 10/13/1979
Second single from their Monolith album; it’s a ballad along the lines of 1978’s “Dust in the Wind,” without the popularity. Written by guitarist Kerry Livgren (most of Kansas’ music was written by either Livgren or Steve Walsh), who was influenced at the time by The Urantia Book, which allegedly was written by supernatural beings. During the Monolith tour, Livgren started his journey which eventually resulted in his becoming a born-again Christian, which was arguably a contributing factor in Kansas’ shifting lineup in the 1980s (Livgren himself eventually left the band in 1984, although he’s returned for brief periods since).

Steve Dahl, “Do You Think I’m Disco?,” #58, 10/13/1979
Dahl was a Chicago radio personality who had been fired by WDAI (now WLS-FM, an oldies station) in late 1978 when the station went all disco. Dahl moved to rock station WLUP (now contemporary Christian WCKL), and started bashing disco on the air. This gained popularity during the summer of 1979, which led to this one-off comedy single, a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” that (like most parody songs) was funny the first couple of times. Dahl was also mostly responsible for Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park, where disco albums were to be destroyed between games of a doubleheader, but the end result was a riot that led to the forfeit of the second game. Dahl’s been a radio mainstay in Chicago since then (he now hosts a podcast), and claims his antidisco tirade was just in good fun and wasn’t racist or homophobic (if you’ve read this blog regularly, many of disco music’s major artists were either women, Blacks, or gays, and appealed to the same groups as well). But in reading several histories from WBUR, the Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian, Dahl’s take is somewhere between ingenuous and deceiving.

Cher, “Hell on Wheels,” #59, 10/13/1979
First single from Cher’s second “disco” album from Casablanca, Prisoner (disco is in quotes because Cher herself was starting to realize the trend was ending and managed to stuff a few rock and AC tracks on it). The song salutes roller disco (which was a very brief subcraze), and appeared in the film Roller Boogie (starring Linda Blair in an attempt to shed her image as a horror queen). This would be the last American chart single from Cher for over eight years, during which time she would completely remake her image as an actress, winning a Golden Globe and earning an Academy Award nomination for Silkwood and appearing in such acclaimed films as Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Mask.

Abba, “Angeleyes,” #64, 10/13/1979
Third single from the band’s Voulez-Vous album—well, sort of. As noted here, “Angeleyes” (sometimes written as “Angel Eyes,” although there was a concurrent song with that phrasing/spelling by Roxy Music) was released as a double-A side in most territories with “Voulez-Vous,” including the United States. When “Voulez-Vous” flopped as the A side, Atlantic Records started pushing “Angeleyes,” which would do very slightly better. Abba would release Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 a few weeks after this song peaked, with “Angeleyes” among the 14 tracks (nice value for a vinyl album in those days), but not “Voulez-Vous.”

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, “I’m So Anxious,” #71, 10/13/1979
This is actually the first Billboard Hot 100 hit ever by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes—not a single one of the band’s great songs on their first three albums for Epic Records ever made the grade. (“Dear Epic/CBS Records, Regarding Southside Johnny: what the damn hell? No love, me.”) By this time the band had moved to Mercury Records, and were no longer working with Steve Van Zandt (a.k.a. Miami Steve) with occasional songs from Bruce Springsteen, so this one was written by band guitarist Billy Rush, who wrote most of the material on their 1979 album The Jukes. Southside Johnny, whose real name is John Lyon, also had a few cowrites. The album was produced by Barry Beckett and recorded in the famed Muscle Shoals studio—but it didn’t do much better than any of their other work chartwise (in fact, “I’m So Anxious,” which is a perfectly good rocker, is only available now on a single Mercury-only greatest hits set).

Dolly Parton, “Sweet Summer Lovin’, “ #77, 10/13/1979
Second single from Parton’s 1979 album Great Balls of Fire, and one of her rare A-side singles during this era not to hit #1 on the country charts; this one peaked at #7. (Another one was “Baby I’m Burning,” which stalled on the country charts at #48, but that was clearly released with the pop and disco charts in mind.) At this point, Parton was trying to increase her presence on the pop charts, shown by her recording the album in Los Angeles with coproduction from Dean Parks (America, Michael Bublé, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan and more) and studio contributions from veteran pop/rock musicians like Michael Omartian, David Foster, and Jim Keltner.

Dan Peek, “All Things Are Possible,” #78, 10/13/1979
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the very first contemporary Christian single to cross over to the pop charts. Dan Peek had been one-third of the band America, but left the band and became a born-again Christian in 1977. Released on Lamb & Lion Records (which was owned by Pat Boone), the album of the same name and single became major hits, with “All Things Are Possible” hitting #1 on the contemporary Christian chart (not published by Billboard) and #6 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Peek would continue to record for most of the next 30 years, occasionally working with America’s Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell without any full-scale America reunions. He died of fibrinous pericarditis in 2011.

Barbara Mandrell, “Fooled by a Feeling,” #89, 10/13/1979
Third and final Billboard pop hit for Mandrell, this uptempo song of regret would also hit #4 on the American country chart and #5 on the Canadian country chart. The late 1970s and early 1980s would be a busy time for Mandrell, who starred with her sisters Louise and Irlene on Barbara Mandrell & The Mandrell Sisters from 1980 to 1982. A 1984 car crash that resulted in multiple leg fractures and a concussion slowed her down after that, although she did continue to record and occasionally act until 1997, at which point she pretty much retired from performing. She lives with her husband of over 50 years, Ken Dudney, and has three children.

Wayne Newton, “You Stepped Into My Life,” #90, 10/13/1979
This was the second version of this disco song to hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979 (the first, by Melba Moore, hit #47 in February). The song came from Newton’s album Night Eagle 1 on Aries II Records, which appears to be a minor-label release (with nothing after a Christmas album in 1980)—Newton had been recording on smaller labels after leaving MGM Records in the early 1970s. This was his first Billboard Hot 100 hit since “Anthem” in 1972.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Superhits 1979, Week 40


By Curt Alliaume

One huge hit, and a bunch of songs you probably haven’t heard much.
Robert John, “Sad Eyes,” #1, 10/6/1979
I’m pretty sure that when EMI-America released this song as a single in April or May of 1979, no one there thought John—who hadn’t charted a single in seven years, and was pretty much the antithesis of what promoters looked for in singers—would wind up knocking The Knack out of the #1 single spot. And it only took him five months to do it. “Sad Eyes,” a ballad about the end of a relationship (apparently because the guy’s other lover is coming back to him) that John wrote himself, took a long time just to reach the top 40, but lasted on the Hot 100 for 27 weeks, tying Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” for the longest chart run of 1979. It also ranked #10 among the most popular songs of the year, and might have come in higher had it not straddled the two “years” (Billboard at that point counted a year from roughly November 1 to October 31). This turned John from a one-hit wonder (1972’s remake of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) to a two-hit wonder, but this is the one everybody remembers.

Diana Ross, “The Boss,” #19, 10/6/1979
Moderate hit for Ross from the album of the same name. It’s definitely a step toward disco, but it had its appeal to pop fans as well (although the album hit #1 on the Disco charts as well; most of the club play went to either this song or “No One Gets the Prize,” which appears not to have been released as a single in the United States). Produced and written by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it was the first time Ross had worked with them since they had left Motown and becoming recording artists on their own. They’d previously produced two of her first three solo albums (Diana Ross and Surrender), after seeing initial success writing songs for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, starting with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”—which of course Ross made a #1 hit herself.

Louise Goffin, “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” #43, 10/6/1979
I know this is out of order, but I mentioned in this post Aerosmith had charted a remake of this Shangri-Las song four months later. Well, here’s the original, uh, remake. Louise Goffin is the oldest daughter of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and was just 20 years old when this song emerged from her first album, Kid Blue. She’s a good singer, but the time for dramatic songs like this one may have passed by the time this came out. This would be Goffin’s one and only chart hit, but she’s released nine albums. Unfortunately, this song and Kid Blue are pretty much unavailable anywhere (it’s not even on Spotify), so this YouTube video and the used record stores may be all you’ll find of this.

Suzi Quatro, “I’ve Never Been in Love,” #44, 10/6/1979
First single from Quatro’s 1979 LP Suzi… and Other Four Letter Words (where’s the hyphen, Suzi?). This was part of an attempt on RSO Records to make Quatro as big a name here in the United States as she had been in Europe and Australia, where she’d had a run of top 10 hits. So she did a few more guest appearances on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero (including one appearance where she was Ralph Malph’s fraternity formal date and wore a dress, something neither Leather nor Suzi would normally ever do). Anyway, this is a solid rocker that deserved a higher chart placement; American rock radio wasn’t doing anything with female solo rockers at that point (not that they do much now).

Eddie Money, “Get a Move On,” #46, 10/6/1979
Another rocker, which was another indication disco influences were no longer in vogue (Money’s single from earlier in the year, “Maybe I’m a Fool,” definitely had some). It appears this single wasn’t issued directly from a Money album (it’s included on his third LP, Playing for Keeps, which wasn’t issued until August 1980), but from the soundtrack for the movie Americathon, a flop film comedy that managed to combine a ton of talented people (produced by Joe Roth, written by Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman of Firesign Theatre, starring John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard, Jay Leno, Howard Hesseman and others) into an apparently very unfunny movie. Which is probably why the song didn’t do much.

Charlie, “Killer Cut,” #60, 10/6/1979
Third of four chart hits for this British band, following 1978’s “She Loves to Be in Love.” It’s pretty much generic rock, most notable for its lyrical similarities to The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” (to the point where Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman really should have gotten a partial cowrite credit, but whatever). Interesting note: the band’s drummer for much of its recording career was Steve Gadd, who is not the same Steve Gadd who’s drummed with Steely Dan, Chick Corea, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, and his own bands. Completely different British guy.

Rita Coolidge, “One Fine Day,” #66, 10/6/1979
First single from Coolidge’s 1979 A&M album Satisfied (which followed 1977’s Anytime…Anywhere and 1978’s Love Me Again—subtle, huh?), and this went back to the strategy of remakes of classic oldies, in an attempt to duplicate Linda Ronstadt’s success in the genre. I’m not sure why this was unsuccessful other than a crowded singles market at the time—my original instinct was to say “One Fine Day” was pretty ancient at that point, but Carole King (who wrote the song) hit #12 with it the following year. Coproduced by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and The MG’s (who was married to Coolidge’s sister Priscilla at the time). And yes, that’s Michael McDonald on backing vocals.

Hotel, “Hold On to the Night,” #80, 10/6/1979
Follow-up to the band’s biggest hit, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” which hit #54 in August. I guess the natural inclination was to follow up a rocker with a slow dance ballad. Like their previous hit, this isn’t to be confused with a more famous song with a (nearly) identical title—in this case, Richard Marx’s “Hold On to the Nights” from 1988. The song was cowritten by lead singer/guitarist Mark Phillips and Barry Mann, whose songs range all the way from 1961’s “I Love How You Love Me” for Bobby Vinton to 1978’s “Here You Come Again” for Dolly Parton (both cowritten with his wife, Cynthia Weil). Mann and Weil appeared on the Hot 100 earlier in 1979, writing “Heart to Heart” for Errol Sober.

Van Halen, “Beautiful Girls,” #84, 10/6/1979
You might think this was a bigger hit—it’s still played on classic rock radio, and got a boost years later when Saturday Night Live lifted it for a parody of beer ads (Google “Schmidt’s Gay SNL” for details, although some video versions have exchanged “Beautiful Girls” for generic rock riffs). This is a typical Van Halen song, but a great one—solid riffs from Eddie Van Halen (RIP), and a great vocal from David Lee Roth. The only reason I can think this wasn’t a bigger hit was it might have been a little too raunchy for AM radio.

Gene Chandler, “When You’re #1,” #99, 10/6/1979
This wins the award for Mistitled Song of the Year. Which is not a knock on Chandler, who had been hitting the pop and R&B charts since 1961 with his signature tune, “The Duke of Earl.” This song was cowritten by Chandler (under his given name Eugene Dixon) and James Thompson, and produced by Carl Davis, who produced “Duke of Earl” back in the day, and has a similar structure to his song “Get Down,” which hit #53 earlier in the year. “When You’re #1” was his last pop hit, but he continued to hit the R&B chart (and score the occasional hit in the United Kingdom) until 1986. A member of both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, continued to tour for years in his Duke of Earl persona (with top hat, cape, and monocle). He still lives in his hometown of Chicago.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Superhits 1980, Week 8


By Curt Alliaume

Only one huge hit this week, but a few memorable songs.

Queen, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” #1, 2/23/1980

First single from the band’s 1980 LP The Game, this came out well in advance of that album (in fact, Queen was still making the album in February 1980). This was also the start of the band trying to break out of the progressive/glam rock niche they’d occupied since their debut. This song was a 1950s throwback, written by Freddie Mercury, who told Melody Maker, “’Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can't play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It's a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework.” Released in September 1979 in Europe, Elektra Records wisely held the single until December in the United States to avoid battling the superstar acts dominating the charts at the time.

Steve Forbert, “Romeo’s Tune,” #11, 2/23/1980

Columbia Records’ attempt to build another singer/songwriter superstar along the lines of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, this remains Forbert’s best-known song. Written about a woman Forbert knew in Meridian, MI (where Forbert grew up), the song was dedicated to the memory of Florence Ballard on its parent album Jackrabbit Slim (Ballard, one of the original Supremes, died at the age of 32 after struggling for years follow her ejection from the group). Jackrabbit Slim was Forbert’s second album on Columbia sublabel Nemperor Records, and was produced by John Simon, who worked with The Band, Janis Joplin, and Blood Sweat & Tears.

Anne Murray, “Daydream Believer,” #12, 2/23/1980

John Stewart’s last chart hit as a performer peaked two weeks previously, but this song still added to his bank account. Stewart had written the song in the waning years of The Kingston Trio, and when The Monkees recorded it (with a slight lyric change; the original had “now you know how funky I can be”), it hit #1 in late 1967. The song has had lots of remakes, but Murray’s is the only one that made a major splash on the charts, hitting #1 adult contemporary and #3 country in addition to its pop placing. This would be Murray’s last top 30 pop hit, ending a string that began with 1978’s “You Needed Me.”

The Commodores, “Wonderland,” #25, 2/23/1980

Third and final single from the band’s 1979 album Midnight Magic, and guess what—it’s a slow song sung by Lionel Richie. If it doesn’t sound much like a Richie ballad, that’s probably because it was written by keyboardist Milan Williams (who isn’t a singer, which is why Richie was on vocals). Honestly, by this time longtime fans of the band probably wished somebody else at Motown was picking the single releases—“You’re Special” and “Sexy Lady” were far better songs, and more uptempo. Midnight Magic was the band’s third consecutive album to peak at #3 on The Billboard 200 LP chart and #1 on its R&B album charts, so I guess Motown figured they were doing just fine. (Note: not to be confused with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland.”)


Nicolette Larson & Michael McDonald, “Let Me Go, Love,” #35, 2/23/1980

Back around 1961, New York Yankees manager Ralph Houk told Howard Cosell, who was covering the Yankees for WABC radio long before he became a nationally-known name, “You’re like shit—you’re everywhere.” It probably wasn’t meant as a compliment (although Cosell took it as such). Between 1979 and early 1981, Michael McDonald was everywhere. His band, The Doobie Brothers, charted seven singles, most of which featured McDonald as lead singer. In addition, he sang backup, harmony, or duet vocals on at least seven top 40 singles by my count: “Please Don’t Leave” by Lauren Wood, “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins, “Ride Like the Wind” by Christopher Cross, “Steal Away” by Robbie Dupree, “How Do I Survive” by Amy Holland, “Time Out of Mind” by Steely Dan, and this duet, which would be the only charting single from Larson’s second album In the Nick of Time. And frankly, McDonald might have been better off saying no a few times—all those appearances on the top 40 and AC charts probably didn’t help his rock cred, and when he launched his solo career, his overfamiliar vocals may have led a few radio stations to say “Enough.”

Turley Richards, “You Might Need Somebody,” #54, 2/23/1980

Third and final chart hit for Richards, who was blinded in one eye in an archery accident at age four, and lost the sight in his other eye a quarter-century later as a result of poor medical treatment to the original injury. Still, he hung in and started his recording career in 1959 with two singles on independent Fraternity Records, and recorded on several labels in the 1960s and 1970s. “You Might Need Somebody” was from the 1979 Atlantic album Therfu, and was cowritten by Tom Snow, who wrote “Deeper Than the Night” for Olivia Newton-John the previous year. “You Might Need Somebody” became a top 15 hit twice in the United Kingdom: #11 for Randy Crawford in 1981, and #4 for Shola Ama in 1997.

Jim Kirk and The TM Singers, “Voice of Freedom,” #71, 2/23/1980
This one’s a little creepy. Kirk (also known as James R. Kirk) was known for making jingles and commercials for radio and television, but “Voice of Freedom,” with its kid-led vocals, sounds like something out of “Up With People.” I’m not sure if it was recorded in response to the Iran hostage crisis, but it sure sounds like an advertisement for the U.S. of A. It did get some radio airplay, and since the proceeds for the song went to the American Red Cross, I guess I shouldn’t complain. Kirk still runs Corporate Magic, which creates corporate events. The video is taken from Dinah Shore’s syndicated variety show

The Boomtown Rats, “I Don’t Like Mondays,” #73, 2/23/1980

Also creepy, but for a completely different reason. Boomtown Rats leader Bob Geldof and keyboardist Johnnie Fingers wrote the song after hearing about a school killing in San Diego; the student who killed two and wounded nine told reporters “I don’t like Mondays.” Geldof incorporated some of her statements into the lyrics, which he later regretted: “[She] wrote to me saying ‘she was glad she'd done it because I'd made her famous,’ which is not a good thing to live with.” The song was a major hit through most of the world (including #1 in Ireland, Australia, and the United Kingdom), but here in the United States, it understandably didn’t get much traction. The band’s only hit in the United States, The Boomtown Rats charted 16 times in the United Kingdom between 1977 and their breakup in 1985; they’ve since reunited. Geldof, of course, was a driving force in Band Aid (cowriting “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and Live Aid.

John Cougar, “Small Paradise,” #87 2/23/1980
He didn’t start charting highly for a few years, but John Mellencamp (then known by his much-loathed stage name of John Cougar) had been recording for a long time before “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.” “Small Paradise” came from his third album (the first one had a small release in the United States; the second had none at all), John Cougar, which also included his first major hit, “I Need a Lover” (which had been picked up from the second album, A Biography). “I Need a Lover” stands head and shoulders above everything else on the rest of the album; although “Small Paradise” isn’t bad, it’s just a little too slick compared to his later work. (I guess I should probably listen to the album again one of these days.) This is from American Bandstand, of course; I actually remember watching this episode when I was a teenager.

Other Superhits 1980 entries:
Weeks 1 and 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6 
Week 7



Thursday, November 26, 2020

Superhits 1979, Week 39


By Curt Alliaume

Six top 20 songs this week, most of which you probably remember well, plus a bunch of near misses. It’s a great week.


Little River Band, “Lonesome Loser,” #6, 9/29/1979

Huge hit for the band, their fifth top 20 hit in a row in the United States. (I’m going to bring up the point now that Little River Band was always considerably more popular here than in their native Australia; the only three top 10 hits they had there were the #1 “Help Is on Its Way,” 1982’s “Down on the Border,” which had very specific Australia-centric lyrics, and 1988’s “Love Is a Bridge,” which was a couple of years after they stopped charting here in the States.) Anyway, this one was written by guitarist David Briggs, and emphasized guitars as if to say this was a rock band, not an AC band (as one might have thought from some of their previous songs). And even though no bands are touring right now, I’ll put in my usual warning that the current version of Little River Band contains nobody that was on this record, so save your money.

Nick Lowe, “Cruel to Be Kind,” #12, 9/29/1979

First US chart hit for Lowe, who had been around in the UK for a while, first with the pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz and then solo (he’d hit #7 in the UK in 1978 with “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” from his solo debut Jesus of Cool, which was retitled Pure Pop for Now People in the US with a slightly altered track listing, presumably to avoiding offending people in the Bible belt). Even though Lowe was considered part of the British new wave, this is more power pop, with Lowe later noting he took inspiration for the song from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost.” Lowe is backed here by Rockpile (Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams), an ad-hoc band that had worked together on and off for a few years. This video includes scenes from Lowe’s actual wedding to singer Carlene Carter (June Carter Cash’s daughter, Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter); Lowe was late to his own wedding due to the shoot running long.

Robert Palmer, “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor,” #14, 9/29/1979

Was rock and roll back this week or what? Palmer eschewed some of his blue-eyed soul affectations on this one, going for a power pop sound. Moon Martin wrote the song and released it first as a single in 1978, but it didn’t hit. Palmer’s name and performance made it work, however, and even though it was post-disco, it made for a great, short dance floor song. Warning: Palmer inexplicably remixed the song for his 1989 greatest hits set Addictions: Volume 1—I read somewhere the remix was more like what he originally had in mind, which either means he was way ahead of his time or he was full of crap, because it sounds exactly like “Addicted to Love” and “Simply Irresistible.” The original is on most other greatest hits sets, however, and I recommend sticking with that.

Sniff ‘n’ the Tears, “Driver’s Seat,” #15, 9/29/1979

One of the great genuine one-hit wonder songs—other than a #38 song in the Netherlands, this band never charted anywhere before or after this “let’s go out tonight and drive around” song. Sniff ‘n’ the Tears was a six-man band from London that had performed in various configurations over the years. (The original suggested band name was simply “The Tears,” but the band’s manager noticed leader Paul Roberts sniffed a lot due to hay fever, and added that on.) A top 20 hit in several territories, the song only peaked at #38 in the UK due to a record plant pressing issue after their Top of the Pops appearance made the vinyl version unavailable. Further releases were ineffectual, and the band broke up in 1983.

Patrick Hernandez, “Born to Be Alive,” #16, 9/29/1979

If you were going to make disco at this point, you made it pure, unapologetic disco. Despite his last name, Hernandez is French, and recorded this song in 1978 in Belgium. “Born to Be Alive,” a fun, brainless celebration of good times, hit #1 in seven countries over the first half of 1979. The United States was a little late to the party, but it did hit #1 on the Billboard dance chart, and Hernandez toured here (his backup dancers included a very young Madonna). He did have a few minor hits in other countries after this one, but remains a one-hit wonder in the States. Note: almost every video of this song shows Hernandez trying to make like Fred Astaire dancing (to make a long story short, he ain’t Astaire), and I didn’t recognize Madonna in any of them. So I’m using this “flash mob” video from a couple of years ago (I suspect it was actually for a sneaker commercial, and may not have even been to this song), which is at least more fun to watch.

Maureen McGovern, “Different Worlds,” #18, 9/29/1979

Hey, it’s another hit theme song from a failed TV series! This one was from Angie, a 1979-1980 sitcom where a poor young coffee shop waitress (Donna Pescow) meets and marries a pediatrician who’s secretly rich (Robert Hays). A few changes in arrangement and a couple of extra lyrics turned it into a single for McGovern—it would actually be her last chart hit (she’s toured singing primarily standards since). The show might have lasted longer had ABC not shuffled around its time slot a few times and the producers changed the backgrounds (Angie’s a coffee shop waitress and her mother’s runs a newsstand! No, now Brad bought Angie the coffee shop! Wait, let’s have them both sell the coffee shop and newsstand and run a beauty parlor instead!) and supporting cast (Angie’s best friend DiDi and her niece Hillary were both cut loose after the first season, with young Tammy Lauren going to the short-lived Out of the Blue). Pity, because the leads were charming enough to carry the show on their own—there are a few episodes on YouTube if you’re curious. Side note: Pescow and Hays are godparents to each other’s kids in real life. This is from the Season 1 credits; the actual record release had far fewer synthesizers.


Stephanie Mills, “What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’,” #22, 9/29/1979

Best known before this release for playing Dorothy in the Broadway musical The Wiz, Mills had been around for a while—she’d appeared in the flop musical Maggie Flynn in 1968 (alongside Irene Cara), and opened at one point for The Isley Brothers. But one album on ABC Records and a second on Motown (written entirely by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which seems an odd grouping, but I’d love to hear it) hadn’t hit, and a second Motown album went unreleased. So when this 20th Century Fox release occurred, she was looking for a hit. (And remember 20th Century Fox wasn’t a big name in records at the time; the label would be sold to PolyGram a few years later.) But she got sympathetic production from James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, and this became the first of her 30 hits on the R&B charts.

Cheap Trick, “Ain’t That a Shame,” #35, 9/29/1979

I’m of the opinion that if the band and Epic Records had their way, “Surrender” would have been the second single release from Cheap Trick at Budokan—it was getting tons of radio airplay, and it’s a great song. But the studio version had been released off Heaven Tonight the year before (and peaked at #62), so they went to this remake of a Fats Domino classic instead. It’s definitely different than the original—Domino’s barrelhouse piano is traded for Rick Nielsen’s pyrotechnics—but it’s still pretty great. (Unfortunately, the single version itself comes in at 3:08, cutting over two minutes from the album version.) It’s not the highest-charting version—Pat Boone took his version (which he originally wanted to retitle “Isn’t That a Shame”) to #1 in 1955—but it was reputed to be Domino’s favorite.

Fern Kinney, “Groove Me,” #54, 9/29/1979

Kinney actually sang backing vocals on King Floyd’s original version of “Groove Me,” which became a #1 R&B hit and #6 pop hit in 1971. By 1979, Kinney was a housewife and was itching to get back in the game, so she picked up some of the reggae feel of the original (well, I guess that can be credited to producers Carson Whitsett, Wolf Stephenson, and Tommy Couch), and had a dance hit with some pop crossover success. Album releases in 1981 and 1982 failed to gain much of an audience, and that was it for Fern, who went back to backing vocals. Coincidentally, The Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues album from 1978 also contained a “Groove Me” remake, with a lot more Jamaican reggae and some drug references.

Pat Travers, “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights),” #56, 9/29/1979

First of two chart hits for Travers, a Canadian guitarist who’d been releasing music since 1976. Weirdly, Polygram couldn’t decide how to bill him—the parent album Live! Go for What You Know is credited to The Pat Travers Band, but this single just says “Pat Travers” on the label. Anyway, it’s a great blues/boogie workout taken from concerts the band had made earlier in 1979, marred only by some lyrics that sound threatening to women. (Note Travers didn’t write the song himself.) That might be the reason it isn’t heard much on the radio today.

Toby Beau, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” #57, 9/29/1979

Second chart single for this band, and it was a remake of the 1967 Casinos song (which itself was a throwback to the doo-wop era). The song itself has been remade by everyone from Eddy Arnold to James Brown, but this is the second-highest charting version as a standalone song (Glen Campbell brought it to #27 as a medley with Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds’ “Don’t Pull Your Love”). However, all was not well in Toby Beauville: this was one of several songs recorded with studio musicians after RCA Records was unhappy with the direction their album More Than a Love Song was taking; guitarist Danny McKenna, who had cowritten their big hit “My Angel Baby” from 1988, would bail out on the band because of this change before the completion of the album.

Dave Edmunds, “Girls Talk,” #65, 9/29/1979

Look, it’s two Rockpile songs in the same week! This was released under Edmunds’ name, but as with Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind,” Rockpile is the band playing here. Edmunds was given the song by Elvis Costello, who said in the liner notes to his Get Happy!! album, "Perhaps I was careless to give this song away to Dave Edmunds as it became a top five hit for him in Britain.” Costello’s version became the B-side of “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down,” and was released on the now-out-of-print Taking Liberties album; it was added to expanded versions of Get Happy!! in 1994. (Linda Ronstadt also recorded the song for her 1980 album Mad Love.) It also became a top 20 hit in Australia, Canada, and Ireland. It’s a great rocker (although a little misogynistic) about gossiping women, although there a lots of double meanings throughout.

New England, “Hello, Hello, Hello,” #69, 9/29/1979

How did this band not hit the big time? Between this and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” they obviously had a way with a pop hook. Anyway, second and final chart hit from their self-titled debut album, which sank into the sunset when Infinity Records went out of business not long after. New England signed with Elektra Records and released Explorer Suite in 1980 and Walking Wild (produced by Todd Rundgren) in 1981, but neither went anywhere, and the band broke up afterward. They’ve done some occasional one-shot reunions since then, and all their albums are on Spotify.

Carolyne Mas, “Stillsane,” #71, 9/29/1979

Rocker that was christened “the female Bruce Springsteen” by some rock critics, and while she never made those heights, this is still a pretty solid rocker. Born in Bronxville, New York, she came up at the much-missed Cornelia Street Café in Manhattan (I used to live across the street, although not when she played there), and eventually got a contract with Mercury Records. This was her only American chart hit; her 1981 song “Quote Goodbye Quote” charted in Canada and the UK. Mas is now semiretired from the music business, but her web site says she’s working toward her master’s degree in medical nutrition at Arizona State University, due in 2021. And many of her albums are on Spotify.

Blue Oyster Cult, “In Thee,” #74, 9/29/1979

I guess I don’t know this band very well, because “In Thee” sounds nothing like their two best-known songs, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burning for You.” That’s probably because this album was intended to reach beyond their standard audience; toward that end Cheap Trick producer Tom Werman took the reins on this one. And “In Thee” sounds more like a Crosby, Stills & Nash outtake—harmonies galore (and no cowbell). The move backfired; Mirrors didn’t sell any better than their previous albums (in fact, it charted lower than their previous two studio albums), and Blue Oyster Cult went back to the darker music that made them famous.

Olivia Newton-John, “Dancin’ ‘Round and ‘Round,” #82, 9/29/1979

This gets my vote for Most Unnecessary Apostrophes in a Song Title for 1979. “Dancin’ ‘Round and ‘Round” is the B-side of “Totally Hot,” which peaked at #52 the month before. MCA hadn’t forgotten Newton-John’s country audience, seemingly left behind after Grease, but she had chalked up six country top 10 hits early in her career. This song made #29 there, and that seemed to make sense—it’s a ballad that’s well suited for Newton-John’s voice, about a woman forgetting about her troubles (mostly romantic) by going dancing at the local honky tonk (although the video doesn’t use this angle at all). This would be her last country hit; future releases aimed squarely at the pop market.