Sunday, March 29, 2020

Superhits 1979, Part 34

By Curt Alliaume

Another week with one huge classic, a couple of other familiar tunes, and a bunch of songs that you’ve probably never heard before.

The Knack, “My Sharona,” #1, 8/25/79
You may have heard this one. The Knack formed in 1978, although lead singer and guitarist Doug Fieger had been in the Detroit-based band Sky (not the R&B band Skyy) before that. Getting a contract with Capitol Records in 1978, they issued Get The Knack in June 1979, with “My Sharona” as the lead single. The song has an amazing power pop/rock hook that put it on stations all over the country, especially rock stations that had gotten sick of disco. Somehow they managed to miss the lyrical content, which included “Always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.” (Fieger was 25 when he wrote the song about his then-girlfriend Sharona Alperin, who was eight years younger. Okay, math majors…) The song stayed at #1 for six weeks. Sharona Alperin, pictured on the sleeve above, is now a realtor in Los Angeles. This would chart again in 1994, after being included in the movie Reality Bites. Oh, and a warning if you’re doing any Googling: the single sleeve was Photoshopped a bit at some point; on the original, her tank top is considerably more transparent.

Elton John, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” #9, 8/25/79
Elton recorded this song in 1977, along with several others, with production by famed soul producer Thom Bell (The Stylistics, The Spinners). However, the project was stopped before an album could be completed (several sources say Bell and Elton didn’t get along, but Elton makes no mention of this in his recent autobiography). A year and a half later, with disco at its peak, three of the six songs were remix by Elton and Clive Franks, and released as an EP (or disco single, depending on your preference), with “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” pulled as a standalone regular single. The end result was Elton’s first top 10 hit in the States in two and a half years. It’s not pure disco, but solid Philadelphia soul, written by Bell’s nephew LeRoy and Casey James, who had hit with “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)” earlier in the year. It also features Elton singing in a lower register for the first time, which he now always does.

Spyro Gyra, “Morning Dance,” #24, 8/25/79
This is the second of Spyro Gyra’s four Hot 100 hits, and their most successful. As I’ve noted before, I have a theory that instrumentals were more prevalent on top 40 stations in the 1960s and 1970s because they could lead into network news at the top of the hour, and cutting an instrumental off a little early didn’t seem to be the worst thing. Anyway, this is a sprightly jazz fusion piece, much like Spyro Gyra’s other work. Released on Infinity Records, which was folded into the parent company MCA later in the year after the label issued an album of speeches and songs by Pope John Paul II that performed way, way below expectations. As far as I can tell, Spyro Gyra, Orleans, and Rupert Holmes were the only three acts that were carried over to MCA. This appearance on Top of the Pops is notable because they’re playing live, rather than miming; the result is it sounds very different than the recorded version.

Dire Straits, “Lady Writer,” #45, 8/25/79
This may have seemed a bit early for a follow up album for the band, which had only hit with “Sultans of Swing” from their first album four and a half months before. Their previous self-titled album had been released in October 1978, but hadn’t started getting airplay in the States until a few months later—and by the time “Sultans of Swing” started climbing the Billboard charts, the second album was already in the can. Anyway, this is a perfectly serviceable song along the lines of their previous hit, it doesn’t break much new ground. Coproduced by legend Jerry Wexler with Barry Beckett, the parent album Communiqué went to #1 in four different countries, and peaked at #11 in the States.

Beckmeier Brothers, “Rock and Roll Dancin’,” #53, 8/25/79
These are the hardest song bios to write—bands that had one minor hit, and some of the information out there is incorrect. This band was formed by Freddie Beckmeier, who was apparently associated with blues singer and guitarist Paul Butterfield at one point, and his brother Stevie; both of them had worked with Gregg Allman. AllMusic says they were a funk band, but that’s not the case from my viewpoint—based on the three songs I’ve heard (all on YouTube, nothing’s available for streaming or download on Spotify or Amazon), this is Southern blues rock all the way. Anyway, this was the lead track on their self-titled debut on Casablanca, which appears to be their only album.

Bad Company, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” #56, 8/25/79
Second single from Bad Company’s Desolation Angels album, this was the first song written by bassist Boz Burrell that the band recorded—which makes me think either his songwriting abilities were just beginning, or the band was desperate for material. It’s typical Bad Company material—you’ve left me, I’m going to console myself with lots of drinking and maybe another woman, you didn’t mean anything to me unless you did. Burrell, who’d previously been with King Crimson, performed with a few other bands after Bad Company collapsed in 1982 (he’s listed on the first reunion album, 1986’s Fame and Fortune, but didn’t actually fully reunited with them until recording a few songs for 1998’s The ‘Original’ Bad Co. Anthology and touring afterward), died of a heart attack in 2006.

Oak, “This Is Love,” #58, 8/25/79
Oak was a five-man band that met at the University of New Hampshire (most of the band members were from New Hampshire or Maine). After they started playing around the Boston area, they gained a following and were signed up to Mercury Records. “This Is Love” was the first single from their eponymous debut LP, recorded at Eastern Sound Studios in Methuen, MA, north of Boston. It was written by lead singer and pianist Rick Pinette. It’s a building ballad, with a string section conducted by Van Hunter and contracted by Bob Schott (I guess there’s a difference between the two); it might have been helped by an extra verse or something (two minutes and twenty-five seconds was pretty short for a single in 1979). This would be the first of three Oak singles to hit the Hot 100.

Ian Hunter, “Just Another Night,” #68, 8/25/79Ian Hunter has been the lead singer of Mott the Hoople and has had an interesting solo career, but hasn’t seen a ton of United States chart success—this is his one solo Hot 100 hit. It’s a rocker from his fourth solo album, You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic, which according to a bio on the albums’ producer, Mick Ronson (who was also in Mott the Hoople), Ronson first saw as a bathroom wall graffito. Hunter loved it so much he gave Ronson a cowrite on this song in order to use the phrase for his album title. Fortunately for Hunter, he didn’t give away so cavalierly songwriting credits for two other cuts on the album: the ballad “Ships” (later a top 10 hit for Barry Manilow) and “Cleveland Rocks” (rerecorded in the 1990s by The Presidents of The United States of America and used as a theme for The Drew Carey Show). Among the musicians on this song: Roy Bittan, Max Weinberg, and Garry Tallent from The E Street Band, and Ellen Foley on backing vocals.

Edwin Starr, “H.A.P.P.Y. Radio,” #79, 8/25/79
Fifteenth and final Hot 100 hit for Starr, who had, of course, reached #1 at the beginning of the decade with “War.” This song has no great angry theme; it’s just about listening to the radio (“This is station H.A.P.P.Y./ We plan to help your day go by”). WKRP in Cincinnati fans will recognize it as the “Gotta Dance” theme from the two-part episode “Dr. Fever and Mr. Hyde.” Written and produced by Starr, this was released on 20th Century Records (yes, 20th Century-Fox had a record label back in the day, although it was distributed by RCA). Starr would continue recording, primarily in England (where he’d moved in 1973). He would die of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 61. Shake it, ladies.

Maynard Ferguson, “Rocky II Disco,” #82, 8/25/79
Maynard Ferguson was one of four acts to hit the pop charts in 1977 with a version of the theme from the movie Rocky (the Bill Conti Orchestra hit #1, while Current and Rhythm Heritage both were on the low end of the charts), so why not try again? This song wasn’t on the official Rocky II soundtrack, but it was on Ferguson’s 1979 LP Hot (although the 45s listed the album as “Blow Your Own Horn”; I guess there was a late title change). Ferguson was renowned for playing in a much higher register than most trumpet players. He released dozens of albums during his lifetime. Ferguson died at age 78 in 2006 of kidney and liver failure. This clip from The Mike Douglas Show (that’s Melissa Manchester with Mike) has several different Ferguson performances, of which “Rocky II Disco” is the first (you may want to catch the end credits, where he plays out the Star Trek theme).

Long John Baldry and Kathi MacDonald, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” #89, 8/25/79
Standard-issue remake of the classic song, which no one is playing instead of The Righteous Brothers’ version nowadays (or even Hall & Oates’ version, for that matter). Baldry (whose nickname stemmed from his 6’7” height) was a blues and rock singer primarily based in England who had a few major hits there, and led his own band, Bluesology (his piano player Reg Dwight later changed his name to Elton John, using Baldry’s first name as his surname). Although this wasn’t much of a hit here, it did make #2 in Australia. MacDonald was a former Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner revue, who collaborated on and off with Baldry. Baldry died in 2005 at age 64 of a chest infection; MacDonald died in 2012. Trivia note: Baldry did the voice of Dr. Robotnik in the early years of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy:

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Superhits 1980, Part 4

By Curt Alliaume

A few songs you’ll surely be familiar with, in several genres.

Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County,” #3, 1/26/80
Story song from Rogers, about a young man who walked away from all opportunities to fight, based on his dying father’s request (his father was imprisoned, and thus knew of what he spoke)—until bullies roughed up his girlfriend. This would one of Rogers’ biggest hits, bested only by “Lady” and his duet with Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream.” #1 on Billboard’s country chart, this would also hit #1 in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Cowritten by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler, all parties denied that “The Gatlin boys” (the villains of the song) were in any way related to country stars Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers—although Larry Gatlin noted in a 2016 podcast Bowling apparently had a vendetta against him.

Prince, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” #11, 1/26/80
First major pop hit for Prince (who had edged onto the Hot 100 in 1978 at #92 with “Soft and Wet”), this has a great groove, and although Prince’s falsetto vocal annoyed me like crazy at the time, I learned (as did many others) it wasn’t going to be a regular feature in his music (we’d had enough of The Bee Gees the previous year). Prince did everything on this recording (singing, all instruments, production, and engineering). It’s thought Prince wrote this song for singer Patrice Rushen (either to perform or to indicate he had a little crush on her).

Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Wait for Me,” #18, 1/26/80
This was awkward: when Hall and Oates were recording this song’s parent album, X-Static, in the summer of 1979, disco was still hot—but not when the album was released. Accordingly, the first single became “Wait for Me,” which isn’t quite a ballad, but has a slower beat (which sounds oddly like horse’s hooves) keeping the song moving. It really isn’t much (their previous top 20 hit, 1978’s “It’s a Laugh,” was much better), but it still works. Written by Hall, produced by David Foster, with Jerry Marotta (who was with Orleans and Peter Gabriel’s band around that time) on drums. Hall and Oates made a ton of videos for X-Static, and since it was very early in the video era, they’re a little rough.

Foghat, “Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool),” #23, 1/26/80
Not one of Foghat’s better hit songs, in my opinion (I’d take “Slow Ride” or “Fool for the City” first), but it found an audience with disaffected rock and boogie fans to become the band’s second-biggest hit in the States. I’m not that familiar with the band’s albums (I only have two greatest hits sets), but (publisher of All Music Guides, or as Wilson & Alroy call them, All Mushy Gibberish) thinks the album from which this was derived, Boogie Motel, was their worst. Boogie Motel was their first album since 1973’s Foghat (as opposed to 1972’s Foghat—the second one can be distinguished by the literal “rock and roll” cover art) not to be certified gold or platinum, which may reflect more on Bearsville Records’ state during that time period than the band itself. 

Pleasure, “Glide,” #55, 1/26/80
Welcome to a medley of Pleasure’s hit. This was a six-man R&B/funk band out of Portland, OR, which started recording for Fantasy Records in 1975, “Slide” came from their fifth album for the label, Future Now. I get some Parliament/Funkadelic vibes from this song, but that may be an exception to the rule. They released six studio albums on Fantasy Records, only a greatest hits set, The Greatest of Pleasure, is available on Spotify, along with their 1982 release on RCA Records, Give It Up (one of their Fantasy albums is available for download). After a 37-year gap, two of the band’s members recruited new mates for the recent self-released album Now Is the Time, but I don’t see a current band website.

Leif Garrett, “Memorize Your Number,” #60, 1/26/80
To me, picking out a favorite Leif Garrett song is like picking out my favorite ipecac, but I guess this is probably the closest. It’s not a drippy ballad, it’s not gentle disco, and it’s not a remake of a ‘60s song—I’m not sure I’d call it power pop, but it’s somewhere in the vicinity. This was the first single release from his 1979 album Same Goes for You, his second for Scotti Bros. (his first self-titled album was on Atlantic Records, but he went to Scotti Bros. thereafter).

Journey, “Too Late,” #70, 1/26/80
Third single from Journey’s breakthrough album Evolution. Jonathan Cain hadn’t come on board to write or cowrite big, radio-ready, nauseating power ballads (“Open Arms,” “Faithfully”) just yet, so this one didn’t quite make the grade. The song was by Neal Schon and Steve Perry—the liner notes to Journey’s box set Time3 indicate Perry wrote it for a friend with a worsening drug problem. Evolution was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who’s better known for producing some of Queen’s biggest hits (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and The Cars’ first four albums.

Lobo, “Holdin’ on for Dear Love,” #75, 1/26/80
Second and final chart hit from Lobo’s self-titled “comeback” album, released in 1979. This was the follow up to “Where Were You When I Was Falling in Love,” and like many of Lobo’s songs, it was tailor-made for the adult contemporary charts, peaking there at #13. (He racked up four #1 AC hits in all: the aforementioned “Where Were You,” “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” “I’d Love You to Want Me,” and “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend.”). Lobo (real name Kent LaVoie) started his own label in 1981 and placed a few songs on the country chart, but this was his last pop or adult contemporary hit. He still records occasionally.

Switch, “I Call Your Name,” #83, 1/26/80
Third and final Hot 100 hit for the six-man group from Grand Rapids, MI. Lead vocals on this ballad are by Bobby DeBarge, who also cowrote the song; he coproduced it as well with Jermaine Jackson. Switch would have further R&B hits (the biggest being the top 10 “Love Me Over and Over Again”), but would slowly come to a halt after Bobby and Tommy DeBarge left the band to mentor their family group, DeBarge. Switch still performs together occasionally with original members Gregory Williams, Eddie Fluellen, and Phillip Ingram (James Ingram’s younger brother) participating. Bobby DeBarge would serve five years in prison on drug trafficking charges from 1988 to 1993, and died two years later, having previously contracted HIV.

Cindy Bullens, “Trust Me,” #90, 1/26/80
This is Bullens’ second and final chart hit, from the album Steal the Night. It’s more or less a power ballad, which Bullens wrote. Unfortunately, Bullens was having bad luck with record companies, with her debut album coming out on United Artists Records, which was usurped by Capitol, and her second on Casablanca, which was not handling the postdisco days very well (and never got much of a handle on rock music other than Kiss). Bullens has released several albums since then, and came out as transgender in 2012. He’s now using the name Cidny Bullens. 

Other Superhits 1980 entries you may or may not enjoy:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Superhits 1979, Part 33

By Curt Alliaume

Pretty interesting assortment, and one stone cold classic.

Chic, “Good Times,” #1, 8/18/79
And this is it. It was only at the top for one week (in between Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and [SPOILER ALERT] The Knack’s “My Sharona”), but it’s such a great song. Appropriate for the times—things are screwed up (it was the summer of 1979, when the second oil/gas crisis was at its peak and inflation was out of control), so we might as well have fun while we can. Written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the song became a cottage industry, with several other songs imitating it either directly (“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, where Rodgers and Edwards got a cowrite credit) or indirectly (“Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” by Vaughan Mason & Crew, “This Is Radio Clash,” by The Clash, even “Need You Tonight” by INXS). It’s almost a standard nowadays. And while I’m usually not happy to run the long version of songs on these posts, I’m happy to here, because the middle break demonstrates, piece by piece, how each instrument is layered onto the main melody line.

Raydio, “You Can’t Change That,” #9, 8/18/79
Another great song, this one hit #3 on the R&B chart (behind, not surprisingly, “Good Times”), as well as making the top 20 in five other countries. This isn’t typical disco (with its rhythm track, it’s not even particularly danceable), and unlike most Ray Parker Jr. songs (Parker was the leader of Raydio initially before striking out on his own), there’s no double entendres or annoyance at being let down by a woman—he’s hers, no matter what. Still sounds good on the radio (no pun intended) today.

Joe Jackson, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, #21, 8/18/79
This was probably the second major British New Wave hit in the United States, behind The Police’s “Roxanne” (hard to believe, but Elvis Costello didn’t chart on the Billboard Hot 100 until 1983’s “Everyday I Write the Book”). Jackson (whose real first name is David, not Joe) started out with the British pub rock band Arms and Legs in the mid-1970s, but after that group broke up, he developed his own style, and signed with A&M Records for a solo deal in 1978. Look Sharp!, his debut album, released in January 1979, eventually getting certified gold in the United States. “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, of course, is a lament about the singer’s ex (or exes, or women he knows) dating guys who look, to him, ugly. Too bad this was released before the video era; it would have been interesting to see Jackson’s interpretation of his own song, which he says has been misinterpreted more than one would think.

The Jones Girls, “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” #38, 8/18/79
I guess The Jones Girls were intended to be Gamble & Huff’s answer to Sister Sledge, or something like that, but it didn’t quite happen. Brenda, Shirley, and Valorie Jones (all sisters) had been doing backup work for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for Philadelphia International artists like Lou Rawls and Teddy Pendergrass, as well as other R&B artists. In 1978 Gamble and Huff signed them to their label and produced their first three albums. And this is their hit—it’s definitely catchy, but not a standout, and probably got some backlash from the “disco sucks” crowd. They’d release six albums in all and charted nine R&B hits between 1979 and 1983, but this is the only one that would cross over. Shirley is the only one of the three sisters still living, and she performs as “The Jones Girls” with members of her family.

Teddy Pendergrass, “Turn Off the Lights,” #48, 8/18/79
Speaking of Teddy Pendergrass, “Turn Off the Lights” was the first single release off his third solo album, Teddy (he’d previously recorded four albums as lead singer for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes). “Turn Off the Lights,” as you might guess, is a solo, sinuous invitation to his partner to get bizzay. It came as a surprise to me that Pendergrass only had one top 40 pop hit in his solo career (1978’s “Close the Door” hit #25), but he racked up 14 top 10 R&B hits between 1977 and 1991. Teddy went platinum, as did all of his first four solo studio albums.

Olivia Newton-John, “Totally Hot,” #52, 8/18/79
This was the title track and third single from Newton-John’s 1978 album, and it showed that, while she had proven on the Grease soundtrack she could do up tempo tunes, she’s not a belter. (At one point late in the song she starts shrieking, which simply isn’t her forte.) Belgium did make this a top 20 hit (those crazy Belgians must have known something America didn’t). Not her best song in my opinion, but I guess she gets some points for trying something different.

Hotel, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” #54, 8/18/79
This was the second of three chart hits for Hotel, a six-man pop/rock group with a few country overtones out of Birmingham, Alabama. Not to be confused with Judas Priest’s similarly titled metal hit of the same name, this is an up tempo song that shows off the group’s harmony vocals. This comes from the band’s first album for MCA Records, Hotel, also released in 1979 (their previous chart hit, “You’ll Love Again,” was released as a standalone single in 1978 on Mercury).

Five Special, “Why Leave Us Alone,” #55, 8/18/79
This is the five-man band’s one and one chart hit, and I will say it’s pretty awesome. Not necessarily because of the vocals (lead singer Bryan Banks was the younger brother of The Dramatics’ Ron Banks, and his tenor is pleasant but a little thin), but the groove and arrangements are fine. Ron Banks cowrote the song with Tony Green and Raymond Johnson (they did the string arrangements too), and produced it as well, with Wayne Henderson (best known as trombonist for The Crusaders during their early years) as executive producer. A good thumper for the dance floors, but Five Special didn’t find the handle outside this early hit, and broke up two years later after three unsuccessful albums on Elektra—which are all available for download.

Blackjack, “Love Me Tonight,” #62, 8/18/79
This marked the first chart appearance of Michael Bolton (for better or for worse. Bolton had released two solo albums previously under his given name of Michael Bolotin, and after he was (apparently) dropped by RCA Records, he joined forces with Bruce Kulick, who had been on the road backing Meat Loaf during his Bat Out of Hell tour (and would later become lead guitarist for Kiss between 1984 and 1996). They formed Blackjack with bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Sandy Gennaro, and got a record deal from Polydor Records. Despite having veteran producer Tom Dowd (Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart) helming their first record, this was their only chart single, and the band called it quits after their second album release in 1980 went nowhere.

Flash & The Pan, “Hey, St. Peter,” #76, 8/18/79
Not to be confused with the concurrent Sniff ‘n’ The Tears, Flash & The Pan was the songwriting/production duo of Harry Vanda and George Young, who had been working together for years (they notched 15 top 40 pop hits in their native Australia as part of The Easybeats in the 1960s, including the brilliant worldwide hit “Friday on My Mind”), as well as producing AC/DC’s first five albums (featuring Young’s younger brothers Malcolm and Angus), and producing and writing “Love Is in the Air” in 1978 for the (unrelated) John Paul Young. Anyway, “Hey, St. Peter” was their first hit as the self-contained new wave group Flash & The Pan (which meant they couldn’t tour much, since it was just the two of them), which made the top 10 in Australia, as did the follow up, “Down Among the Dead Men.” “Waiting for a Train” would make the UK top 10 in 1982, so Flash & The Pan wasn’t just… well, you know. George Young died in 2017 at the age of 70, three weeks before his brother Angus.

Patti Smith Group, “Frederick,” #90, 8/18/79
Second and final chart hit for Patti Smith (the one Gilda Radner parodied as Candy Slice of on Saturday Night Live, not the one in the video for “The Warrior”), and this is a love song to her then-boyfriend, Fred (Sonic) Smith, who had been the guitarist for MC5. This comes from the album Wave, and was produced by Todd Rundgren. Smith and Smith married (and yes, there were jokes about her not having to change her name) in 1980 and had two children. Fred died of a heart attack in 1980. Patti still records (her most recent album, Banga, hit #57 in 2012), and won a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids.

Other Superhits 1979 entries you may or may not enjoy: