This week in 1979, disco was everywhere. Check the WLS chart dated June 9, 1979: Depending on how you count Blondie and the Bee Gees, upwards of 25 of the WLS top 45 are disco tunes, and that’s not including “What a Fool Believes” and “Goodnight Tonight,” which were available in 12-inch disco remixes. But read between the disco records—or look at the album section of the chart—and you’ll see that the summer of 1979 was at the same time one of classic rock’s greatest seasons. Several landmark albums, some that haven’t been off the radio to this day, were riding the charts that summer. (Notice how many were debut albums.)
1. Breakfast in America/Supertramp. “The Logical Song” was probably the non-disco signature song of the summer, inescapable on Top 40 and album rock stations, although “Goodbye Stranger” has worn better. Best song you never hear anymore: “Gone Hollywood.”
3. Van Halen II/Van Halen. A critic for Rolling Stone said of this album that it’s as imaginative as its title, and that sounds about right. I wasn’t a fan of Van Halen in 1979 (and I’m still not), but “Dance the Night Away” is one of the band’s least offensive singles. Best song you never hear anymore: probably “Bottoms Up,” but I don’t care.
5. Minute by Minute/Doobie Brothers. Of the 10 tunes on this album, at least eight of them got airplay on Top 40, album-rock, or adult contemporary radio. I bought this pretty early on after it was released and went to see the Doobies in concert that summer, but it’s been years since I felt like putting this album on. Best song you never hear anymore: “Here to Love You.”
8. Evolution/Journey. It would be another year, and the Departure album, before Journey became superstars of Top 40 and album-rock radio. Everything that made them superstars is in the test tube on Evolution, though. Best song you never hear anymore: the “medley” of “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” and “City of the Angels,” which were so close together on the record that most album-rock stations played them as a single track. Here they are, with Steve Perry looking like a bit of a dweeb, lip-synching the whole thing on The Midnight Special.
9. The Cars/The Cars. I am pretty sure nobody imagined the staying power this album would have when it came out in late 1978, not merely to last into the summer of 1979, but into the next millennium. It would be falling off the WLS chart pretty soon, though, because during this same week in 1979, the Cars’ second album, Candy-O, was released. Best song you never hear anymore: “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight.”
10. Rickie Lee Jones/Rickie Lee Jones. I remember a general sense of befuddlement when this record arrived at our college radio station. We weren’t exactly sure what this girl was trying to do. In my campus newspaper music column, I described it as “dirty jazz with sleaze to please,” which I’d still stand on today. Best song you never hear anymore: “Danny’s All-Star Joint.”
15. Pieces of Eight/Styx. The Chicago-area roots of Styx assured that their albums would be monstrous on WLS; the station must have played nearly every track on The Grand Illusion at one time or another. Pieces of Eight wasn’t quite as big, or as good. Best song you never hear anymore: “Sing for the Day,” even though the lyrics (“As your surrogate leader I’m bound in your search for the truth”) are pretty dumb.
24. Toto/Toto. It may be that the term “corporate rock” was coined to describe Toto, a largely faceless but extremely proficient corps of session musicians who for a few years seemed incapable of making stuff that wouldn’t sound good on the radio. Best song you never hear anymore: “I’ll Supply the Love,” which is, at least until the tempo change in the last minute or so, “Hold the Line” turned sideways.
25. 52nd Street/Billy Joel. In the spring of ’79, a bunch of us saw Billy Joel perform live here in Madison, a concert that’s in my all-time top-five shows, with Joel playing everything but the title track from this album—and that started playing over the sound system as people were filing out of the Coliseum. Best songs you never hear anymore: “Stiletto” and “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” which are extremely fine.
26. Molly Hatchet/Molly Hatchet. Molly Hatchet had a swampy sound that made Lynyrd Skynyrd sound like urban sophisticates, and they were poised to become superstars after their second album, Flirtin’ With Disaster, which would come out later in 1979. But after that lead singer Danny Joe Brown left, and things were never the same. Best song you never hear anymore: “Dreams I’ll Never See,” which out-Allmans the Allman Brothers. Here’s a live version that looks like it was taped with a video camera off of somebody’s TV, but the strength of the performance comes through regardless.