Monday, October 26, 2020

Superhits 1980, Week 5


By Curt Alliaume


This is arguably one of the best weeks in 1980. If you’re going to read any of my nonsense blog posts, read this one.


Smokey Robinson, “Cruisin’,” #4, 2/2/80 

This was Smokey’s first top 10 pop hit in a decade, with the last one being 1970’s “The Tears of a Clown” with The Miracles (and that song itself was a leftover from 1967). Smokey had taken seven songs into the top 10 of the R&B charts (or “Soul,” as Billboard called it back then), but nothing was crossing over. The song came from his 1979 LP Where There’s Smoke…, and took awhile to chart. Motown had pushed a quasi-disco remake of Robinson’s song “Get Ready” (which had been a top 30 hit for The Temptations in 1966 and hit #7 for Rare Earth in 1970), but that bombed, peaking at #82 on the R&B chart and missing the pop chart altogether. R&B radio stations started picking up on “Cruisin’,” though, and Motown wound up releasing the song as a single in the fall of 1979, and watched it become a standard. The song has had two significant remakes: D’Angelo took it to #10 on the R&B charts in 1995, and five years later Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis saw their version, recorded for the movie Duets, become a #1 Adult Contemporary hit.


Fleetwood Mac, “Sara,” #7, 2/2/80

Gorgeous Stevie Nicks ballad, released as the second song from Tusk—possibly partially to bring fans of the band back to earth after being monumentally confused by the title track’s release as the first single. (“What’s a marching band doing on a Fleetwood Mac song?”) I’ve seen different stories of who “Sara” is—Don Henley, Nicks’ lover around that time, claimed it was the name of the child they conceived (Nicks had an abortion, convinced being a mother and a rock star were incompatible). Mick Fleetwood has said it was written about a friend of Nicks’ named Sara, who had an affair with Fleetwood when he and Nicks were an item. Nicks has been quoted as saying both are “accurate, but it’s not the entirety of it”—so we may never know. The original CD release of Tusk includes the edited single version of the song (at that point CDs could only be 72 minutes long); virtually every other release of the song keeps the full original album version intact.


 The Eagles, “The Long Run,” #8, 2/2/80

Speaking of Don Henley, he sang lead and cowrote this song with Glenn Frey. It’s kind of a “screw you” song for music critics, who were critical of the band (as they still are) during the period where punk was emerging. Obviously most of the band’s music is still more popular than punk, but… ah, I’m not going to pick up that argument. Dave Marsh, in his The Heart of Rock and Soul, noted the song’s similarity to that of Otis Clay’s 1972 top 30 R&B hit “Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You,” which may or may not have been the reason Eagles buddy Bob Seger included a remake of the song on his 1981 live double album Nine Tonight (the remake itself wound up charting higher than “The Long Run” did on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #5). Note this video doesn’t have the greatest sound quality

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” #10, 2/2/80

This was the band’s first major hit (“Breakdown,” their previous biggest song, peaked at #40 in 1977, with “I Need to Know” making it to #41 the following year). Petty had written it years before, even recording a demo version with his first band, Mudcrutch (Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, and keyboard player Benmont Tench were in both bands), in 1974. That version can be found on the band’s 1995 box set Playback, which I’m pretty sure is both out of print and unavailable for download. It’s a great rock & roll anthem that remains a part of classic rock playlists today—and kicked the band into the first tier of American groups.

Dionne Warwick, “Déjà Vu,” #15, 2/2/80

Arguably Warwick’s finest post-Burt Bacharach & Hal David performance, this charming song was the second single release from her 1979 comeback album Dionne. The melody was written by Isaac Hayes, who had been working on it during their 1977 concert tour, which was released as A Man and A Woman later that year. (I haven’t heard good things about the album, which is out of print.) Anyway, Warwick remembered the song and got a tape from Hayes when working on Dionne to have lyrics added, giving it to producer Barry Manilow. Little-known fact: Manilow ain’t a lyricist, so he sent it on to one of his regular collaborators, Adrienne Anderson (who’s also worked with Peter Allen and Melissa Manchester). The resulting song was a great fit for Warwick’s smoky voice, without the excess orchestration prevalent in Manilow productions. Perhaps that’s why it still sounds good today.

Isaac Hayes, “Don’t Let Go,” #18, 2/2/80
And speaking of Isaac Hayes… this was his last Billboard Hot 100 hit, and for late-period disco, it’s not bad. Wilson and Alroy’s Record Reviews, which is usually both accurate when it comes to facts and prescient in their opinions, misses the mark altogether here, calling the song “soulless formula disco”; the song was written in 1958 by Jesse Stone, well before disco was a thing. Originally a #2 R&B hit and top 15 pop hit by Roy Hamilton, the song has lived a long life, recorded by such acts as Clyde McPhatter, The 4 Seasons, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mel Tillis, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, The Manhattan Transfer, Jerry Garcia, Carl Perkins, and Jeff Lynne. (I’ve got a version by blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon that I enjoy very much.) Hayes would continue to hit the R&B charts until 1988, but his biggest claim to fame later on was voicing “Chef” on South Park. He quit the show (or somebody in his management group quit for him) in 2006 over an episode of the show that made fun of Scientology. Hayes suffered a stroke at around the same time, and passed away two years later.

The O’Jays, “Forever Mine,” #28, 2/2/80

It’s unfortunate the last top 40 hit for this classic soul act is such a minor (albeit pleasant) song, but that’s the way it goes. “Forever Mine” came from the group’s 1979 album Identify Yourself, recorded during the height of the disco boom but released just as the genre was starting to feel backlash; this ballad kept the group’s name out there for audiences not listening exclusively to R&B stations. (I should point out The O’Jays’ last top 20 R&B hit came nearly 20 years later; they didn’t just fade away.) Worth a spin for slow dancing on retro dance nights.

Rufus & Chaka Khan, “Do You Love What You Feel,” #30, 2/2/80

Was this a good week or what? This may not have been Rufus’ very best song (“Tell Me Something Good”? “Sweet Thing”? “Once You Get Started”?), but it’s right up there in the next tier. Written by keyboardist David “Hawk” Wolinski, it comes from the album Masterjam, produced by Quincy Jones (whom Khan recommended after working with him on his album Sounds… And Stuff Like That! in 1978). At that point, Khan was trying to maintain a presence with the band and a burgeoning solo career (she’d made #21 with “I’m Every Woman”), and the juggling act might have been a little much. (The band released a few albums during this time without Khan, which went nowhere.)


Cheap Trick, “Voices,” #32, 2/2/80

Second single from the band’s 1979 LP Dream Police, and it was a successful departure for the band; more of a midtempo song than their usual edgier hard rock. Critical reaction was divided on this (Dave Marsh called it “disastrous” upon release, but most current critics have the opposite reaction. It’s about lovers pining for one another (at least I think it is), with a solid vocal performance from Robin Zander (actually, bass player Tom Petersson originally recorded the lead vocals). Most famously, it was used on How I Met Your Mother in its first season, in which Ted Mosby drunkenly calls Robin from the bar (while she’s on a date) and sings the song to her over the phone before passing out. (Don’t feel bad for him; he winds up bringing home Danica McKellar—a.k.a. Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years—later in that episode.)


Oh, heck, I'll throw in the How I Met Your Mother version, too. It’s short. 


Santana, “You Know That I Love You,” #35, 2/2/80

Okay, they can’t all be gems. Santana (the band) had done a pile of remakes for its previous album Inner Secrets, which was not unnoticed by rock critics; for their Marathon album they went with all originals, only to discover the band wasn’t loaded with great songwriters (Gregg Rolie, who had cowritten such Santana songs as “Soul Sacrifice,” “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” and “No One to Depend On,” had long since left the band to form Journey). Cowritten by Carlos Santana, lead singer Alex T. Ligertwood, and keyboard player Alan Pasqua, “You Know That I Love You” is pleasant but hardly a necessary addition to anyone’s Santana collection, which is probably why it’s not on many of their greatest hits sets.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Last Train to London,” #39, 2/2/80

Fourth and final top 40 single from the band’s 1979 album Discovery, this one sounds more like the danceable “Shine a Little Love” than the rocker “Don’t Bring Me Down.” In the UK it was released as a double A-side with “Confusion” (which had scraped into the US Top 40 a few months before); the combined single made the UK and Irish Top 10 (maybe because of the obvious British references). It’s catchy and has a pretty good Jeff Lynne vocal, but by the fourth single, the song has to be really outstanding to chart as high as the first few, and this didn’t hit that mark.

Robert John, “Lonely Eyes,” #41, 2/2/80

Third and final single from John’s self-titled 1979 album that also yielded his #1 single “Sad Eyes.” Oddly, this came after the second single, “Only Time,” could do no better than Billboard’s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart at #102—which is a pretty poor showing for a follow up to a #1 hit. Anyway, those first two songs were both ballads, but this one is a dance number, albeit a sad one (woman gives in and says she loves the guy, but she’s really just settling). John only breaks out the falsetto on the background vocals on the chorus and the fade; the rest of the song is sung in his normal tenor voice.

Joyce Cobb, “Dig the Gold,” #42, 2/2/80

This is a weird one. Cobb had been on the fringes of the music industry for years, working in country music for the first few years of the 1970s, then signing with Stax Records just before that company went out of business. “Dig the Gold” was on independent Cream Records, and has an almost African/reggae feel to it, although it has a bit of a novelty song feel if one doesn’t listen very carefully. Her Wikipedia entry claims this made it to #10 on Cash Box, although I suspect that was on their soul or dance chart; I looked at a few issues and it never made it above the 70s on the pop charts. Anyway, Cobb has had a long history of singing blues and jazz in Memphis—check out her album Beale Street Saturday Night on Spotify sometime.

Rod Stewart, “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” #46, 2/2/80

Surprising flop single from Stewart’s greatest hits album Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits, although the song itself was originally recorded for Stewart’s 1975 debut with Warner Brothers, Atlantic Crossing. It was the best-known song for songwriter and guitarist Danny Whitten, best known for his work with the band Crazy Horse, which has worked with Neil Young on and off for the last 50 years (their first album together was 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the most recent was 2019’s Colorado). Whitten died of a drug overdose in 1972 after being dismissed by Young from rehearsals for his upcoming tour because of his drug addiction. Crazy Horse’s version appears on their debut 1971 album, and Stewart’s version carries all the pain of a lost relationship with it. Do note he rerecorded the song for 1989’s box set Storyteller.

Robert Palmer, “Can We Still Be Friends,” #52, 2/2/80

Great song that probably didn’t need a remake quite this early—Todd Rundgren’s original version had peaked at #29 in August 1978. Palmer’s version is perfectly okay, but it doesn’t seem to have quite the sense of having been in the situation the protagonist sings about—a couple hitting the end of a relationship after many efforts to keep it together, but saying they could still be friends. (The general assumption is that Rundgren wrote it about it about his breakup with longtime girlfriend Bebe Buell.) I’ve never heard it, but I’d avoid the version on Palmer’s greatest hits set Addictions, Volume 2 (which appears to be out of print anyway); Palmer remixed all the uptempo songs to give them the same echoey, thudding sound as “Addicted to Love” and “Simply Irresistible,” so I’d hate to think what he did with a slow one like this.

Gamma, “I’m Alive,” #60, 2/2/80

The first chart hit from Ronnie Montrose’s follow up band after the first one, Montrose, broke up in 1977 (that’s the one that had Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist). Montrose (the guy) was a guitar wizard (he recorded an all-instrumental album, Open Fire, after his first band broke up), but was not a singer; Davey Pattison was lead vocalist here. It was really almost a Montrose band reunion; of the five band members, only Pattison and drummer Skip Gillette hadn’t played with the original band.



Other Superhits 1980 entries you may or may not enjoy:

Weeks 1 and 2

Week 3

Week 4

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