(Pictured: the Trammps, lookin’ 70s sharp.)
In more than one Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff. He makes a long, drawn-out plummet toward the bottom, and he’s fully aware of what’s happening all the way down. Sometimes he even holds up a little sign that says “Help!” In 1978, the month of May was like that. At the end of that month, my friends and I would graduate from high school. So throughout May, everything we did was with that consciousness of falling. Last paper, last test, last game, last concert, last study-hall hangout, and finally that last gathering as a group, in caps and gowns. Often during that month, we were more than a little tempted to hold up that “Help” sign, as the magnitude of what was happening struck home.
Fooling around at ARSA the other day, I came across a radio survey from WISM, Madison’s legendary Top 40 station, dated May 18, 1978. Taken together, it’s soundtrack for that feeling of falling. I have written before about how several of the songs seemed to be speaking to those of us in the Class of ’78, depending on who you were. Those looking forward to a new beginning might hear “Feels So Good” or “Movin’ Out” or “With a Little Luck.” Those preferring to hold tight to the familiar might hear “Baby Hold On” or “You Belong to Me.” Someone sad about it might hear “It’s a Heartache.” And those who were looking for meaning as the day approached might hear “Dust in the Wind.”
There was a song for everyone.
Here are five songs from the WISM survey dated May 18, 1978, not otherwise mentioned here:
9. “Disco Inferno”/Trammps. One of the few songs with the word “disco” in the title that doesn’t seem vaguely embarrassing now. And the word “inferno” is appropriate, as this thing burns from first note to fade, even in its 10-minute Saturday Night Fever soundtrack version.
10. “Imaginary Lover”/Atlanta Rhythm Section. Somewhere up here in the office I have a copy of the ARS album Champagne Jam, which includes this song and “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight,” both of which are crazy good and not on the radio often enough anymore.
22. “Jack and Jill”/Raydio. The synthesizer that makes “Jack and Jill” sound dated is also what makes it sound awesome. From a radio standpoint, it’s got one of the great introductions, too. The full-length version runs something like 36 seconds, but the edit trims it to :17, which is actually better.
23. “This Time I’m in It for Love”/Player. After hitting #1 early in 1978 with “Baby Come Back,” Player returned to the Billboard Top 10 with this. In this case, the long version is better than the single edit, but either way, you’re gonna sing along with it. Or at least I am.
30. “You’re the Love”/Seals and Crofts. There are four singles from Saturday Night Fever on this chart, but nothing else you’d call a disco record except for Peter Brown’s “Dance With Me.” It wouldn’t be long, however, before every other current radio hit would be a disco record, and every Holiday Inn lounge from Oshkosh to Orlando was turning into a disco club. “You’re the Love” is a harbinger of all this, with a far bigger beat than anything else Seals and Crofts had ever done. If those extremely white dudes were ready to get their dance on, it’s no wonder so many other people were.
Last weekend, American Top 40 repeated the show dated May 20, 1978, essentially the same week. I have a big collection of AT40 shows, but I passed on making a copy of that one—and in deciding to skip it, I learned something about myself that I had not expected.
I loved a lot of my classmates, and a few remain cherished friends today. The years we spent together as kids are precious to me. But while I wouldn’t mind hearing any one of the hits of May 1978 in isolation, listening to them all at once is more than I’m willing to do. Even after 40 years, I don’t want to fall off the cliff again any more than Wile E. Coyote does.