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:

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