Category Archives: Michael Jackson

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.

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Today’s Top 5: March 1983 (via Weekly Top 40)

fullsizeoutput_13a4I’m tripping the memory fantastic to the magical month of March 1983 this morning. On this exact day that year, a Saturday, I hopped on my 10-speed bicycle and pedaled my way to one of the record stores that I often haunted – Memory Lane Records in Horsham, as it was a great day for a bike ride: 52 degrees (Farenheit) and relatively sunny.

The biggest story in the news was M*A*S*H, which aired its final, 2 1/2-hour final episode the previous Sunday. On the sports front, the Flyers were in the midst of a winning streak – 21 wins, 3 losses and 3 ties since the New Year – while on their way to an early playoffs exit. The night before, the 76ers had suffered their first loss (to the hated Boston Celtics) since February 4th; they were 26-3 since the New Year, and headed for the NBA Finals, where they’d sweep the Lakers.

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All things considered, life was good; and it was only made better by that day’s purchase: Linda Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind, which features “That’ll Be the Day” and three Karla Bonoff-penned songs, including the wondrous “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me.” It instantly became one of my favorite Ronstadt songs.

As I mentioned in my Top 5 for April 1983, I was in the midst of something of a Ronstadt deep-dive this month: I purchased Simple Dreams on the 1st, and followed it with a succession of her other albums, including Get Closer on vinyl. I’d bought it on cassette the previous fall, but felt the need to observe the platter spinning ’round and ’round. Linda, I should mention, had just appeared on The Tonight Show on March 3rd. Among the songs she sang was the wondrous, Jimmy Webb-penned “Easy for You to Say.” (And, yes, I’ve featured this clip before.)

I also picked up Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on vinyl, and four Lou Reed albums, including the classic (and oft-overlooked) Coney Island Baby.

Anyway, enough about me. Onward to today’s Top 5, as drawn from Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending the 5th.

1) Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean.” The No. 1 song this week was this propulsive piece of pop music. Say what you will about his latter life and music, but at this stage MJ was sheer brilliance on vinyl – and, as importantly, video.

2) The Pretenders – “Back on the Chain Gang.” Cracking the Top 10 is this classic single from Chrissie Hyde and Company, which would eventually land – along with its brilliant b-side, “My City Is Gone” – on the 1984 album Learning to Crawl.

3) Golden Earring – “Twilight Zone.” The Dutch band that gave the world one of the greatest driving songs of all time, “Radar Love,” also hit the charts with this 1983 single, which inched up from 18 to 16 this week.

4) Don Henley – “I Can’t Stand Still.” Former (and future) Eagle Don Henley’s first solo flight was with the solid I Can’t Stand Still album, which was released the previous August. It’s probably best known as the original home of “Dirty Laundry,” but this power-play track (at No. 48), the title song, is quite good, too.

5) Robert Hazard – “Escalator of Life.” Nowadays, Hazard is probably best remembered for writing the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” But he was also a big deal in the Philly rock scene, where he and his band, the Heroes, headlined area clubs and had songs played (and played and played) on Philly’s radio stations. In fact, though he had a few videos (including this one) featured on MTV, I’d wager 90 percent of the sales for “Escalator of Life,” a new entry at No. 83, came from his Philly-area fans.

And, as a bonus: Harzard & the Heroes on American Bandstand performing the same song…