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.

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