Dance the Night Away, or Not

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I have never felt all that warmly about the music of 1979 in general, and of the summer of ’79 in particular, but the American Top 40 show from June 30, 1979, was a lot better than I expected, and now I’m reconsidering my long-held opinion.

LW1. “Hot Stuff”/Donna Summer
40. “Weekend”/Wet Willie
Earlier this spring, I wrote about my college radio station 40 years ago, and how some of us thought our music mix was a little too black for a campus that was more than 95 percent white and maybe 80 percent small-town white. It’s painful to think we were straight-up racist, though we probably were. A kinder way to put it is that we were obsessed with arbitrary labels. Take “Hot Stuff,” which we considered a disco song, because Donna Summer was A) black and B) a known singer of disco songs. Never mind that “Hot Stuff” features a screaming guitar solo and a bad-ass thump that leaves the rock bands on this show in the dust. Given that we were mostly small-town white guys between the ages of 19 and 22 who hated disco, we hated “Hot Stuff.”

Wet Willie, on the other hand, was not in our minds a disco group. Never mind that “Weekend” humps along on a limp disco beat that generates no fire at all. They were, in our minds, a Southern boogie band, cousins to the Allman Brothers Band and Lynryd Skynyrd and other bands we respected. And because that’s the label Wet Willie bore, we could ignore what was in the grooves of their record, just as we ignored what was in the grooves of Donna Summer’s.

39. “Renegade”/Styx
37. “Getting Closer”/Wings
35. “One Way or Another”/Blondie
Styx, Wings, and Blondie have the first hour rockin’. Wings and Blondie were new entries in the Top 40 in this week; three of the songs that fell out were disco records, as the fad seemed to wane momentarily.

33. “People of the South Wind”/Kansas
Even though Kansas had started moving off those overwrought eight-to-12-minute prog-rock epics of mystico-religious mumbo-jumbo by 1979 to focus on shorter, more conventional songs, they never stopped taking themselves so seriously.

32. “Shadows in the Moonlight”/Anne Murray. What’s this doing here? Making bank, that’s what, because Anne Murray was at the peak of her country-to-pop crossover stardom in 1979.

31. “Shakedown Cruise”/Jay Ferguson. “Shakedown Cruise,” which is about sailors under command of a mad captain, starts off great, but I can’t get past one of the worst lyric lines I have ever come across: the captain tells the crew, “You boys want some sex? / You can squeeze the sails / You can lick the decks.”

29. “Get Used to It”/Roger Voudouris
28. “Do It or Die”/Atlanta Rhythm Section
Honk if you remember either of these.

27. “Rock and Roll Fantasy”/Bad Company
26. “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”/KISS
The second hour is rockin’ too, although Donna Summer’s beat makes the one on “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” sound like Wet Willie all over again.

24. “You Can’t Change That”/Raydio. Is this the best record on the show? Possibly.

23. “Heart of the Night”/Poco
22. “Days Gone Down”/Gerry Rafferty
21. “I Can’t Stand It No More”/Peter Frampton
18. “Dance the Night Away”/Van Halen
16. “Gold”/John Stewart
15. “Shine a Little Love”/Electric Light Orchestra
14. “Minute by Minute”/Doobie Brothers
12. “I Want You to Want Me”/Cheap Trick
Although there’s still a number of disco records on the chart, the familiar “disco-drenched summer of ’79” narrative seems pretty shaky, at least until this show reaches the very end.

11. “Love You Inside Out”/Bee Gees
10. “You Take My Breath Away”/Rex Smith
9. “Just When I Needed You Most”/Randy Vanwarmer
8. “Boogie Wonderland”/Earth Wind and Fire with the Emotions
7. “She Believes in Me”/Kenny Rogers
6. “The Logical Song”/Supertramp
This is the grimmest part of the show. “Love You Inside Out” had been the Bee Gees’ eighth #1 single in four years but was the weakest of them all. “Boogie Wonderland” and “The Logical Song” are fine, but Vanwarmer, Rogers, and Smith are bland, blander, and blandest.

5. “Chuck E’s in Love”/Rickie Lee Jones
4. “We Are Family”/Sister Sledge
3. “Bad Girls”/Donna Summer
2. “Hot Stuff”/Donna Summer
1. “Ring My Bell”/Anita Ward
This was the first time in chart history that the top five positions were occupied by women, and only the fourth time to date that one act had two of the top three. (Elvis, the Beatles, and the Bee Gees were the others). And while I did not like any of the top four in 1979, here in my dotage I’ve come around on all of them—and on the summer of ’79 in general.

16 responses

  1. Two honks, especially for “Get Used To It”. I was in the hive-minded habit of writing down the week’s chart positions when it debuted at #40, and it anguished me that I’d no way to know how to spell “Voudouris” at the time. I’d see the single or the album weeks later (possibly at Gibson’s) and solve the crisis.

    I await the Bottom 60 companion to this post and nominate “Lickin’ the Decks” as another potential podcast name.

    1. I had the same issues trying to envision the spelling of “Voudouris” on my chart, too–wound up going with “Viduris.” Must have been to the mall record store before long, though, as it’s correct two weeks later.

  2. Two honks here as well—programmed ’em both at KOLO, Reno.

    I might—depending on the day—argue that “Heart of the Night” is better than “You Can’t Change That.” Or not.

  3. Huh, I didn’t remember “People of the South Wind” charting that high (almost made the top 20). I saw Kansas on that Monolith tour (with openers Sniff ‘n’ the Tears). Still have the t-shirt. I guess I saw the latter part of the tour, as they had stopped playing the full album.

  4. This chart is just about to experience Knackmania.

  5. Two more honks, but that’s only because I was 14 and addicted to the new FM station in our area playing top 40 hits (they didn’t even start with a “W” for their name, wow!), and they specialized in both mid-range pop like “Get Used to It” and Southern rock (or rock-tinged pop) like ARS. And I like “One Way or Another” plus half the songs from 23-12 as much as “You Can’t Change That.” But the Anne Murray express did tend to overwhelm the good stuff you’d hear on the radio in 1979, I will agree.

  6. What surprises me is that “Shadows In The Moonlight”, in which Anne sounds like she’s having fun (or is about to), has some semblance of tempo and a sax solo—did the least well of her three chart singles in ’79.

    All three were #1 Adult Contemporary, but I think we’ve discussed before the relative uselessness of that chart (and I was an AC programmer for most of the 70s), but on the Hot 100, both “I Just Fall In Love Again” and “Broken Hearted Me” peaked at #12 (the outside edge of “hit” in my book) while “Shadows” only made #25 (which ain’t a hit).

    1. What were the issues you and others had about the AC chart?

      1. Alvaro: Those charts were pretty close to meaningless. Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” made #6 on the Easy Listening chart back in 1965, and was on that chart for seven weeks. At the time, Billboard (in print, on the chart) said the songs on the chart were:

        “Not too far out in either direction, the following singles, selected from the current Hot 100, are the most popular middle of the road records. Rank here is based on relative standing in the Hot 100.”

        Trouble was, I can’t recall or even picture an MOR station in 1965 playing “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which was #39 on the Hot 100 the week it peaked at #6 on the Easy Listening (then called Pop-Standard) chart.

        But songs they did play weren’t on that chart and were higher up the Hot 100…like the Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You” at #4, Petula Clark’s “I Know A Place” at #7, The Righteous Brothers’ “Just Once In My Life” at #9 and Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” at #17. So even Billboard’s stated methodology didn’t really stand up.

        And it didn’t get much better as the years went on. Let’s take the week that JB’s focusing on here—June 30, 1979.

        First of all, Billboard’s stated methodology has changed several times since 1965. On that particular week, it read:

        “These are best-selling middle-of-the-road singles compiled from radio station air play listed in rank order”.

        Well, wait. Are they best-selling or is it based on airplay?

        And airplay is and always has been a horrendous way to gauge popularity. Jukebox play, where someone actually puts some money in a slot to hear a record—that’s like Nissan counting every time someone rents an Altima as another sale. Airplay is like Nissan counting every time you see an Altima driving down the street as another sale.

        So an airplay chart tells you next to nothing about what happens when that record gets played. If it’s a tune-out the radio station’s not going to know until it’s too late—when the ratings come out.

        What helps is that, from 1976-ish onward, most AC stations were really just taking the Top 30 from Billboard, dumping the seven hardest songs and making up the empty space by going earlier than top 40 did on ballads by big-name artists (Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, Neil Diamond). Or, in some cases, like KFMB, San Diego, just playing 22 or 23 records instead of 30.

        By the summer of 1979, there was just enough rock and just enough disco in the upper reaches of the Hot 100 to make that a little tougher than it was in ’76, ’77 and ’78.

        From memory, I passed on “Ring My Bell”, “Hot Stuff”, “Bad Girls”, “I Want You To Want Me,” “Makin’ It”, “Dance The Night Away”, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, “I Can’t Stand It No More”, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, and “Rock and Roll Fantasy”. So that’s ten.

        I probably filled those slots with “Shadows in the Moonlight”, “Up on the Roof” by James Taylor, “Sad Eyes” by Robert John, “Lead Me On” by Maxine Nightingale, “The Main Event” by Barbra Streisand, “Good Times” by Chic, “Suspicions” by Eddie Rabbitt”, “Since I Don’t Have You” by Art Garfunkel, “Morning Dance” by Spyro Gyra and “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by Bonnie Pointer.

    2. That summer-of-79 AC playlist looks familiar. Thanks for sharing your insights on this, Mike.

  7. “Heart of the Night” is a beautiful record, it was programmed on the automated MOR station I worked at then, as were a few of the others on this list, of course.

    Funny, I heard “Hot Stuff” last night on the 70’s music channel on cable and was struck by the “rock-ness” of it. Oh, and I believe that Jeff “Skunk” Baxter laid down the awesome guitar solo on it.

  8. Hot takes:
    – This is a solid show.
    – I’m not totally sure I dislike the Rex Smith tune.
    – I daydream about finding a used-vinyl store where someone has turned in their entire Jay Ferguson collection, and doing a deep dive.

    1. Legendary WABC DJ Dan Ingram, upon playing “You Take My Breath Away”: “I wish somebody would.”

  9. The summer of 1979 was when I got my first paid radio job. Some of the songs I remember that aren’t on this list include, “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff n’ the Tears (one of the best “drive fast with the windows rolled down on your car songs), “Hold On” by Ian Gomn, “The Girl of My Dreams” by Bram Tchiakovsky, “Hey St. Peter” by Flash & the Pan, “Boom Boom Out Go The Lights” by Pat Travers and “Hey Hey My My” (Into The Black) by Neil Young (a tongue-in-cheek foray into heavy metal by Neil). Anybody remember any of those songs? I guess I remember them even though a very nervous 20 year old “me” played them on the radio on my very first airshift between midnight and 6am on July 21, 1979 on WXXQ/Freeport, Illinois.

  10. John Gallagher | Reply

    That Summer of 79 A/C list pretty much echoes what I was playing on the radio heading into the fall.

  11. John Gallagher | Reply

    Driver’s Seat is one of those roll down windows, crank up the radio songs. Sad that so many good songs from 1979 alone are long forgotten.

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