Category Archives: 1979

Today’s Top 5: July 7th, 1979

Thursday night found us at what sometimes seems like our home away from home, the World Cafe Live in West Philly, to see Rickie Lee Jones. If I’ve done my math right, it was the seventh time that I’ve seen the jazzy singer-songwriter, who’s long been a favorite. Though she had a cold, she delivered a solid set that was accented by spellbinding moments – especially on “We Belong Together.”

That’s not my video, I hasten to add. We were in the front row, where experience has taught me that the upward angle guarantees the overhead stage lights will appear like glowing orbs on my Phone videos. But here’s a photo I took:

“We Belong Together” hails from her classic 1981 album Pirates, of course, and really should’ve been released as a single, as it’s one of her best songs.

Another highlight came earlier in the night with the second single released from her 1979 eponymous debut, “Chuck E.’s in Love,” which is the first thing I – and most folks, I’m sure – heard by her. According to Weekly Top 40, it made its chart debut – at No. 65 – on April 28th, the same week that Blondie’s “disco song,” “Heart of Glass,” topped the charts. Over the course of the next two months, it slowly weaved its way through the disco and pop dross cluttering Top 40 until, on June 9th, it hit entered the Top 10 at No. 8.

Four weeks later, on July 7th, it peaked at No. 4 (a spot it would hold for an additional week).

That July wasn’t much different from what I described in Today’s Top 5: June 1979 or Today’s Top 5: September 29, 1979 other than, for me, school being out. There was also this: I was 13 when the month began, and 14 when it ended. Beyond that, according to Wikipedia, the month’s notable events included, on the 2nd, the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin being introduced; on the 8th, L.A. passing a gay and lesbian rights bill; and, on the 16th, Steve Dahl’s “Disco Demolition” stunt at Chicago’s Comiskey Park going kaboom.

Among the albums released this month were Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Rust Never Sleeps, the B-52’s debut and the Kinks’ Low Budget, but I wouldn’t discover them for quite some time. I was a kid on a budget, after all, and albums were often a luxury. And, too, there’s this: I was (likely) still grooving to a release from the month before: Wings’ Back to the Egg.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 7th, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Anita Ward – “Ring My Bell.” Some people hate this pure shot of disco fluff, which was enjoying its second week at No. 1, and it’s understandable why they might. But it has a certain charm…

2) Donna Summer – “Bad Girls.” As I noted after her untimely death, Donna Summer wasn’t just the “queen of disco” in the late ‘70s, but the queen of the Top 40. This week, she holds the No. 2 spot with the propulsive second single from the Bad Girls album; it was No. 3 the previous week, and would hit No. 1 the next. According to the Wikipedia entry, she was inspired to write the song after she was stopped one night by a police officer who mistook her for a prostitute. Who knew?

3) Donna Summer – “Hot Stuff.” And here’s additional proof of Summer’s chart dominance: “Hot Stuff,” the lead single from Bad Girls, dropped to No. 3 this week from No. 2, and before that had enjoyed a three-week run as No. 1. It would remain in the Top 10 for several more weeks, too. One of the interesting things about the song, to me at least, is the way it effortlessly blends rock and disco. (Check out the guitar solo at the end.)

4) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love.” Rickie Lee’s biggest hit is also one of her greatest songs, a true effervescent shot of upbeat joy. This week, it reached No. 4 on the charts – a spot it would hold for one more week before falling out of the Top 10.

Here’s a cool video of her singing it on stage back in the day…

5) Kenny Rogers – “She Believes in Me.” Disco may have ruled the charts in the late ‘70s, but as evidenced by “Chuck E.’s in Love,” there was more to the era’s music that fast beats. And just as hip sounds could find their way in the charts. So could country – especially when sung by Mr. Rogers.

And a few bonuses…

6) Supertramp – “The Logical Song.” Mr. Spock’s theme song, from Supertramp’s smash Breakfast in America LP, peaks at No. 6 this week.

7) Wings – “Getting Closer.” Back to the Egg sported a cool cover, and some good-to-great tunes. Not Paul McCartney’s best, but far from his worse – New Wave in theory, at least in spots, but Old Wave in practice, through and through. This, the lead single, clocks in at No. 31, and would stall a few weeks later at No. 20.

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Today’s Top 5: September 29, 1979

The fall of 1979 can best be summed up in one word: “eh.” Disco ruled the charts, but a New Wave was breaking. I was a newly minted ninth-grader and having a blast – primarily in cartooning, a fun elective where we made silly Super 8 movies – but also in most everything else. I got good grades, had good friends, and had good times.

In the wider world, however, things weren’t quite as upbeat. Unemployment averaged 5.8 percent, the lowest it had been since 1974, but as the year wore on that number inched higher. The bigger concern: inflation, which rose from 9.3 percent in January to 13.3 percent in December.

As recounted in “The Great Inflation,” a Federal Reserve historical overview, the reasons for the spiraling inflation were plenty, including the Fed’s own policies, President Nixon’s decision to opt out of the Bretton Woods system (aka the gold standard), and the oil shocks of 1973 and 1978-79. This March 1979 news report from WEWS in Cleveland does a great job of explaining the ripple effect that OPEC’s recent decision to raise the price of oil would have:

Now, factor in oil-related events beyond OPEC – like the Iranian revolution, which decreased overall oil production by about seven percent, and old-fashioned hoarding, which was also in play, and the result was scenes like the ones captured by the MacNeil-Lehrer Report in June 1979:

Beyond the economy, this year in American history is notable for the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident that March; President Carter being attacked by a “killer” rabbit in April; McDonald’s introducing the Happy Meal in June; Steve Dahl’s “Disco Demolition Night” at Chicago’s Comiskey Park that July; Michael Jackson releasing Off the Wall in August; and, on Sept. 23rd, an anti-nuclear protest in New York City drawing an estimated 200,000 people.

Of course, as a 14-year-old boy in suburban Philly this September day, a fine Saturday with highs in the mid-70s, I was at once aware and unaware of much of that. My family watched ABC’s World News Tonight most nights, and read the newspapers – granted, in my case, that meant scanning the headlines before diving into the Sports and Entertainment sections, but I knew what was what. Kind of.

I likely spent part of the day playing ball in the street with friends, or at the park doing the same. A radio may or may not have been blaring, and if one was that meant WIFI-92, the Top 40 station I wrote about in this remembrance of Donna Summer, was providing the soundtrack to the fun.

Movies in the theaters that month included Amityville Horror, More American Graffiti and Monty Python’s Life of Brian; and, over the next few months, included 10, The Rose, 1941 and The Jerk. Of those, I only saw More American Graffiti and 1941 in the theaters, though I read the Amityville Horror book. But here’s one memory tied to one of the films I didn’t see, 10: Not long after its release, a girl came to school with her hair braided in cornrows exactly like Bo Derek’s. Now, cornrow braids work for some folks – Alicia Keys springs to mind. Others? Not so much – and this girl definitely fell into that camp. Everyone looked. Everyone laughed (though hopefully not to her face). And she arrived at school the next day with her locks returned to their natural curls.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 10: September 29, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40)…

1) The Knack – “My Sharona.” The debut single from the new-wave Knack knocked just about everyone for a loop – most of all, I’m sure, the band itself – when it landed atop the Billboard charts for six weeks in a row, with this week being its last; and it went on to be the the year’s best-selling 45. It’s an undeniably catchy tune, and one that won over many young music fans such as myself – small surprise since the Knack’s Doug Fieger later said it was written from a 14-year-old boy’s POV. But Capitol’s accompanying promotional campaign, which conjured the Beatles, ultimately caused a mean-spirited backlash (“Knuke the Knack,” anyone?) that soon doomed the band to joke status. Which is a shame because, as I said, this song is a delight – and the followup single, “Good Girls Don’t,” was pretty darn good, too. Here they are on Top of the Pops promoting it…

2) Robert John – “Sad Eyes.” The No. 2 song, which would inch up a notch to rule the Billboard charts the following week, is this easy-listening favorite.

3) Herb Alpert – “Rise.” No. 3 this week is this light disco instrumental from legendary trumpeter Herb Albert. It would take the top spot in four weeks’ time.

4) Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” What needs to be said about this, this week’s No. 4 single? That it’s disco? Yes? That it’s undeniably catchy? To quote my wife, “it’s a great song.”

5) Earth, Wind & Fire – “After the Love Is Gone.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this EW&F classic, the group’s sixth Top 10 hit in six years.

Also making their chart debuts this week…

6) Blondie – “Dreaming.” Clocking in at No. 79 is this, my all-time favorite Blondie song. I could play it on a loop – and, in fact, I’ve done just that. Here’s a factoid about it that I never knew: According to Blondie’s Chris Stein, the song’s a direct cop of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” (though I and American Songwriter don’t hear it).

7) The Records – “Starry Eyes.” And at No. 89 is this under-appreciated classic from the Records, a British power-pop band. It hails from their debut album, which was named Shades in Bed in the U.K. but morphed into a self-titled delight in the U.S., where the album also featured a much cooler cover. That’s the reason I bought it, actually.

Today’s Top 5: June 1979 (via Creem)

IMG_5448June 1979: I was a month shy of my 14th birthday and living a suburban life not that different from what was depicted in The Wonder Years or Freaks & Geeks – that is to say, I woke up, ate breakfast and left for the (school) bus stop; and, after school, hung out with friends. We played variations of baseball, football, basketball and hockey in the street, at the park and in a friend’s driveway, depending on what the sport called for.

A radio was almost always blaring.

Although a decade removed from the hurly-burly upheavals of the ‘60s, the aftereffects of that era hung in the air and on rock radio, where the same-old, same-old acts held a tight grip on the playlists. (In retrospect, it’s not a surprise that the music industry entered a sales slump right about then.) I’d begun tuning into Philly’s rock-oriented WMMR and WYSP, but listened primarily to WIFI-92, a Top 40 FM station that played anything that was a hit. If it made the charts, it played a part in my life that spring and summer simply because WIFI – like every Top 40 station known to man – had a tight playlist. Donna Summer, for instance, was hot stuff, an omnipresent force. Here she is on The Dinah Shore Show

I also bought 45s and the occasional LP, and liked just about every act I heard, though none more so than Paul McCartney & Wings, whose “With a Little Luck” the year before kickstarted my music obsessiveness – as I wrote about here.

The hits of the year can be found on “The Top 25 of 1979” playlist I created on 8Tracks/Handcrafted Internet Radio a few years back. Among the featured acts: Donna Summer, Chic, the Knack, Anita Ward, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Blondie. It is, in its way, a good representation of what WIFI-92 was like, minus the deejay patter. They’re all songs I heard there first.

Hit TV shows that year included Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Eight Is Enough, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. I watched them all, and more – I was, am and will always be something of a TV junkie. Among the movies released in the year’s first half: Norma Rae, Hair, The China Syndrome, Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, The In-Laws and Rocky II. I only saw The In-Laws. (“Serpentine, Sal! Serpentine!”) in the theaters, though.

In the wider world: Foreshadowing events in the States, the Conservatives swept to power in England the previous month and installed Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. In April, the presidency of Jimmy Carter – unfair though it may have been – met its caricature when he was attacked by a “killer” rabbit. For the year, unemployment was relatively low, at 5.8 percent, but the wage-killer known as inflation was outrageously high: 11.3 percent.

IMG_5427This issue of Creem is, in its way, a solid reflection of the era. There’s the cover story on Blondie, whose “Heart of Glass” mega-hit broke them through to the big time even as some derided its disco flavoring; and includes articles on Bad Company, Dire Straits, the Police, and punk music. There’s funny advice in “A Rock Star’s Guide to Rock Criticism” for how rockers should field questions from critics; and a funny article about how doomsday is nigh – Name That Tune had gone disco! (Click on the image to the left to read the whole piece.)

Well, enough of the introduction. Here’s today’s Top 5: June 1979 (via Creem).

IMG_54261) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” As I mentioned a few weeks back, I – like many folks – initially thought Debbie Harry was Blondie. This article is a good reason why: Blondie was a band, but the focus was on the bottle-blonde lead singer, right down to the headline that claims “Blondie Plucks Her Legs!”. The slant is, at the start, somewhat…silly. Here’s one question/comment to Harry from Nick Tosches, who penned the piece: “Your legs. They’re great. Do you shave them or wax them?”

Harry says neither, explaining that instead she plucks them “one hair at a time.…It takes about a week for each leg.” Later, regarding drugs, she offers this insight: “I know it sounds crazy coming from somebody like me, but the most satisfying feeling I have is when I’m completely straight and accomplishing something. The feeling of accomplishment is what I really like, what I really get off on. I think that love is better when you’re straight, no matter what anybody says. Everything is better when you’re straight, except fucking up.”

She also dispels the notion that Blondie is a new wave group. “We’re a pop group. We feel that we’re part of the new wave, but when it comes down to musical definitions, we’re definitely a pop group. We always tried to be a pop group.”

IMG_54462) Bad Company – “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” There’s both an article on the band and a review of their latest album, Desolation Angels. In the article, Paul Rodgers lays out his vision of rock ’n’ roll: “I don’t think you should ever, like, bring politics and stuff that surrounds you every day—all that depressing stuff—into music. People want to go and see groups to get away from all that. I know I do. The lights, the atmosphere…they can forget everything else.”

The review by Kevin Doyle is, in a word, forgettable. It takes Rogers & Co. to task, in a roundabout way, for what he hears as their generic sound without singling out any song from the new album to use an example. True, their sound was somewhat cookie-cutter; I’m not arguing that. But snideness without context serves no one but the author. Not that I care, that much, in this instance; I’ve never been a Bad Company fan, though I admit to enjoying some of their songs on the radio. One of those songs is “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” Every time I hear it, I’m thrust back to the morning when I walked into my middle school’s pre-homeroom holding pen, i.e. the cafeteria, and heard it blasting from someone’s boombox.

IMG_54333) Rickie Lee Jones – “Danny’s All-Star Joint.” I love early Rickie – and latter-day Rickie, too. Her 2015 Other Side of Desire album is among the year’s best. “Chuck E.’s in Love” was her first hit, of course, and I remember hearing it on the radio, where it was deliriously out of place no matter the station, but I didn’t buy her debut album until after hearing “Danny’s All-Star Joint” on a double-LP Warners compilation called Monsters, which sold via mail-order for an obscenely low price – two bucks, I think. This short-take review of her debut by one Michael Davis notes that “she’s nyro to Laura when she goes for them high aches and she’s closer to bratty Patti when she goes for them gutter giggles.”

IMG_54304) Joe Jackson – “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Michael Davis also pens this take on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp LP: “1979 started out drenched in disco but as the months bumble by, it’s looking better and better. True, there’s lotsa new groups styxing to proven formulas but there’ve also been plenty of major record company by artists intent on being themselves.” (Styxing instead of sticking?! Good pun, sir!)

Next paragraph: “Like this guy, Joe Jackson. You could put him next to the Police, the Jam and early Elvis the Caustic and he’d feel right at home—in other words, he doesn’t. You could tag him as English, out front and, yeah, sharp—but after a couple of listens, the labels come off and not because of shoddy workmanship.”

Third paragraph: “Mainly, you’ll just listen to his songs—sparse farces about real life hassles, half of which stem from those thorny opposite sexers. His voice is always way up in the mix, pretty risky unless you’ve got the tunes and the ability to put ‘em across. Joe does.”

IMG_54215) The Boomtown Rats – “Rat Trap.” Before “I Don’t Like Mondays” broke them in the States, the Rats tried to make a go of it with the release of A Tonic for the Troops, their second U.K. album but first in the U.S. The record label swapped out a handful of songs for select numbers from their first U.K. LP, which met the same fate as the Jam‘s maiden efforts, though for different reasons. If the Jam were too English, the Rats were too eclectic. “Rat Trap” sounds like a Dublin spin on classic Springsteen; and other songs, such as “She’s So Modern,” echoed Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and other new-wave acts. I was one of a few folks – and the only person amongst my friends – to buy the LP, which hit the record stores in February of that year. Until “Monday,” I never heard them on the radio; my memory says I learned of them from the Kenny Everett Video Show, which was syndicated in the U.S., but my timeline may be confused. It could well have been from a record review.

Anyway, the tongue-in-cheek Creem profile says: “After scurrying out of Dublin’s crumbling pubs to play their first gigs as the Nightlife Thugs, these rodents decided to show their true bubonic colors: much to their surprise, their furry brand of rabid rock crept across the continent like vermin on a sailor’s scalp, leaving thousands breathless and itching for more.”