By Curt Alliaume
Haven’t written one of these in a long time. I need to make this a regular feature again.
Styx, “Babe,” #1, 12/8/79
favorite song my senior year in high school (I ran a poll for my high school
newspaper), and while I suspect at least a few people would change their vote
today, it’s still a popular prom and first-dance-as-a-married-couple song. Styx
singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung wrote the song as a birthday gift for his
wife Suzanne (the two have now been married 52 years) and made a demo with band
members Chuck and John Panozzo, not intending for it to be a band project. But
eventually, the other band members convinced him to add it to their album Cornerstone,
with Tommy Shaw adding the guitar solo. Previously DeYoung and Shaw, the
group’s primary songwriters, had split the singles fairly evenly, but for the
next three albums until the band took a break in the mid-1980s, every single
was written and sung by DeYoung.
Yvonne Elliman, “Love Pains,” #34, 12/8/79
Seventh and final chart hit for Elliman, who had hit #1 the year before with “If I Can’t Have You” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and charted early in 1979 with the title theme from the flop movie Moment by Moment. “Love Pains” is a straightforward pop rocker and wasn’t bad at all, but by that point almost anything the Bee Gees touched was viewed with suspicion. Elliman’s career came to a halt after this: she and RSO Records executive Bill Oakes divorced in 1980 (not surprisingly, she didn’t release any albums for the label after that), and upon remarrying the following year she put her career on hold to raise a family. In 2017 she served a short prison sentence in Hawaii after being arrested for drug possession in Guam.
AC/DC, “Highway to Hell,” #47, 12/8/79
First American chart hit for the metal band from Australia (they had been charting there for years before). This was also the title track from the parent album, which became their first 20 top album in the states. (Previous albums had stalled in the lower half of the top 200, although Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, which was released in Australia in 1976 but not in the U.S. until five years later, eventually hit #3). The song is a typical example of the band’s crunching hard rock, with lead vocals by Bon Scott, who would die due to acute alcohol poisoning two months after this song peaked on the charts.
Frank Mills, “Peter Piper,” #48, 12/8/79
Second and final American Hot 100 hit for Mills (“Happy Song” would hit #41 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1981). It’s similar to “Music Box Dancer”—the sort of tune that might be played before top-of-the-hour news even if it got cut off partway through. (As I’ve said before, I have a theory that instrumentals were more prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s due to stations being more diligent about fulfilling FCC requirements by having regular newscasts.) Mills is now 80 and has slowed down considerably, but in Canada, he’s had over 20 gold or platinum albums and hosted several television variety specials. The YouTube clip shows Mills on a variety show hosted by The Raes, whose song “A Little Lovin’ (Keeps the Doctor Away)” charted earlier in the year.
Moon Martin, “No Chance,” #50, 12/8/79
The second chart hit performed by Martin and his last in the United States; he had a few songs hit the lower rungs of the Australian charts in the early 1980s. I can see why this didn’t make it; it doesn’t have the urgency of either “Rolene” or “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” the latter of which he wrote but became a hit for Robert Palmer. This sort of meanders along; it could have been aimed at the AC chart. Martin continued recording through the 1980s and 1990s; he would die of natural causes in 2020.
Triumph, “Lay It on the Line,” #86, 12/8/79
Admittedly not as big a deal as “Hold On,” but “Lay It on the Line” was at least a solid follow-up to their one American top 40 hit (and it may be their most popular song overall; it has way more plays on Spotify than any other song they’ve done). It’s kind of a rare rock song—the singer (the guy) is ready to commit to something full-time, but the woman isn’t ready. In an interview with Songfacts, lead singer and songwriter Rik Emmett said, “Whoever's singing that song is saying, ‘Just give me the truth.’ That's really all I want in a relationship is honesty. That's a fairly common theme with me. I come back to that every 15 or 20 songs. There'll be a song about what's true and what's honest and what is it that makes integrity.”
Other Superhits 1979 entries you may enjoy:
Weeks 25 and 26
Weeks 30 and 31
Weeks 37 and 38
Weeks 42 and 43