(Pictured: Rose Royce, fronted by lead singer Gwen Dickey.)
“I am entirely irrational about the songs on the radio during the winter of 1977,” I wrote three years ago. “Most of them sound great to me, and you can’t persuade me otherwise.” So I enjoyed the recent repeat of the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1977. In this post, I hope to say some new things about the hits of that season.
37. “It Keeps You Runnin'”/Doobie Brothers
35. “You Got Me Runnin'”/Gene Cotton
“It Keeps You Runnin'” wasn’t the first big hit by Doobies Mark II—that was “Takin’ It to the Streets” the previous summer. We still didn’t quite know what to make of the new sound, however; this is as high as “It Keeps You Runnin'” would get. Cotton recorded steadily for years before breaking onto Top 40 radio with hits in 1977 and 1978, none of which get much airplay anymore: “You’ve Got Me Runnin,'” “Before My Heart Finds Out,” and a duet with Kim Carnes called “You’re a Part of Me.” Cotton’s 1978 single “Like a Sunday in Salem,” which was less successful than the other three, is obliquely about the McCarthy/blacklist era of the 1950s, and is pretty dang good.
In the first hour of the show, Casey welcomes some new stations to the AT40 family including WLSD in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and the fact that they weren’t running an underground rock format was a great lost opportunity. (I can hear the jocks now: “You’re trippin’ on WLSD, Big Stoned Gap.”) The call letters have nothing to do with the drug: according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), they stand for the four counties served by the station, which went on the air in 1953 and still exists today, with the same set of calls, playing Southern gospel.
31. “Save It for a Rainy Day”/Stephen Bishop. Like “You Got Me Runnin'” and several others on this chart, “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a light-and-easy feel-good pop song. This kind of thing would grow in popularity as the boomers hit their mid-30s.
26. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
25. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
24. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
These three songs ran the chart in a clump for several weeks, as you’ll see if you look at the 2016 post linked above. Hearing them in the context of their time once again was strangely moving. While I’m sometimes sorry to have missed the musical 60s, I feel lucky to have grown up with the music of the 70s.
20. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
19. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
There are no words for how much I love this train wreck.
10. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
9. “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”/Barbra Streisand
Or this one. “Evergreen” was up 11 spots this week.
(Digression: I have heard the Oscar-nominated song from last year’s remake of A Star Is Born, “Shallow,” only a couple of times, but I have opinions. One, the crowd noise on it is pretty obviously fake, as if the producers were trying to subliminally suggest to us, “This song is really good! Just listen to people liking it!”) And two, you can hear how hard Bradley Cooper is working to be an adequate singer. When Lady Gaga comes in, her virtuosity reveals how limited he is. The fact that non-singing actors aren’t dubbed anymore isn’t a victory for artistic integrity, it’s the triumph of ego.)
11. “Enjoy Yourself”/The Jacksons. After the Jacksons left Motown, their first album for CBS/Epic was recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Gamble says they taught Michael and his brothers a lot about songwriting and production. While “Enjoy Yourself” has a spiky beat that falls in line with the sound the Jacksons had established during the Motown years, a better indication of what might have been, had Gamble and Huff continued to produce them, is the followup single “Show You the Way to Go.”
2. “I Wish”/Stevie Wonder
1. “Car Wash”/Rose Royce
This is a pretty solid ending to the show. One of these three songs was on the radio literally every hour between December 1976 and March 1977. Brick had been in the Top 10 for five weeks at this point; Stevie was coming off a week at #1. As for “Car Wash,” if you haven’t seen the movie, go find it. It captures the look and attitude of a particular moment of the 1970s, and it features a lot of actors whose faces you’ll recognize (Franklin Ajaye, Ivan Dixon from Hogan’s Heroes, Professor Irwin Corey, and Melanie Mayron, who would be in the cast of thirtysomething), plus Richard Pryor and George Carlin too. (See a clip of the title song here.)