Summer of Schlock

An e-mail came in one day last week from a reader who found this site while searching for the Gerry Rafferty song “Days Gone Down,” heard on a recent American Top 40 repeat from the summer of 1979. “I couldn’t help noticing what a surprisingly mellow time that was, music-wise.” A look at a mid-summer record chart confirms that observation. Perhaps 1979 didn’t go down quite as we remember it. It was our disco summer, wasn’t it?

Disco was still riding high in that season, but apart from that, the radio was not rockin’ very hard. Take a look at the Cash Box chart for the week of July 21, 1979. There are but three rock records in the Top Ten—if you choose to count ELO’s beat-heavy “Shine a Little Love,” otherwise it’s just two, “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick and John Stewart’s “Gold.” The latter is rockin’ gently, as are most of the rock bands in the upper reaches of the chart this week: Peter Frampton, Poco, Rafferty, Supertramp, even Van Halen. KISS is at Number 17, but “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” is as wimpy as anything that bad-ass band ever recorded.

“I Want You to Want Me” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another” represent the extent of the rock ‘n’ roll bite among the week’s biggest hits, although several records that would return big riffage to the radio by summer’s end are on the way up: “My Sharona,” “Let’s Go,” “Goodbye Stranger,” “Bad Case of Lovin’ You.” As listeners, we perceived the coming of these records as an anti-disco backlash, and from 32 years away, it’s easy to connect them to Disco Demolition Night, which occurred in mid-July, although all of these tunes had already charted by then. But it’s just as easy to call them the sentinels of an anti-mellow backlash, because the first half of 1979 was the heyday of pallid, inoffensive pop songs, and the evidence is clear during this week: “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman,” “Do It or Die,” “She Believes in Me,” “Shadows in the Moonlight,” “Lead Me On,” “Up on the Roof,” “‘Suspicions,” “You Take My Breath Away,” and the list goes on. (If there are three longer minutes in this life than the time it takes Rex Smith to croon “You Take My Breath Away,” I have yet to experience them.)

History may remember 1979 as our Summer of Disco, but it would be just as accurate to call it our Summer of Schlock.

I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth another look and listen. I wouldn’t hear it until the fall, but it was on the chart in late July, and where it was getting airplay, “Saturdaynight” by Herman Brood was the most kick-ass thing on the radio that summer.

7 responses

  1. Has there ever been a more effective ennui inducer than “Sad Eyes”? My old college radio pals were having a blast playing Bram Tchaikovsky’s “Girl Of My Dreams,” the Headboys and the like on a suburban Twin Cities AM station while I found myself cranking out Robert John’s spectacular yawnfest day after day in St. Cloud. Any format envy on my part proved to be very short-lived, as their Bram and company playlist didn’t translate into sustainable ratings, while back in the Granite City, Robert John and company continued to pay the bills.

    Still, that was the beginning of the end of my worship of all things top 40.

  2. That was wicked. The bits of his bio I perused made me picture a Dutch Jim Morrison.

  3. It felt like by the summer of 1979, you had disco pop on the left, new wave rock on the right and everything else was soft and mellow in the middle, no matter if was rock (Do It or Die, Heart of the Night), country (Suspicions, She Believes In Me), r&b (You Can’t Change That, Lead Me On) or jazz (Morning Dance). 1979-1981 is a very neglected part of Top 40 history.

    The only thing I can figure is that the baby boomers needed to take a breather before they started rolling up their jacket sleeves to buy junk bonds.

    1. I think Adrian’s on to something about the way the scene seemed to split three ways—and also about the 1979-81 period itself. The 80s with a capital E don’t really begin until ’82 or ’83—the radio music of 1980 and ’81 has little in common with the stuff later in the decade. Similarly, the music of 1978 and 1979 seems qualitatively different from the stuff heard just a year or two earlier. So there’s a three- or four-year period in there that’s neither wholly 70s nor actually 80s. I gotta go think about this some more.

  4. In totality, it was a pretty shabby summer, but ‘Chuck E’s In love’ and Poco’s ‘Heart Of The Night’ were nice ear candy.

  5. Just YouTubed ‘Heart Of The Night’; hadn’t heard it in years. That’s a seriously beautiful song; song-crafting at it’s finest.

  6. […] repeated the show from July 21, 1979, the very same week that inspired a 2011 post I wrote called “Summer of Schlock”, but I am finding it not quite so schlocky another time […]

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