Long Live Rock, or Not

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(Pictured: the Village People, 1979.)

It’s said that “data” is not the plural of “anecdote.” Nevertheless, we have already tried to make something out of a bunch of anecdotal information about the hits from the summer of 1979. In this post, about the Bottom 60 from the Billboard Hot 100 dated June 30, 1979, we will keep on keeping on.

42. “Is She Really Going Out With Him”/Joe Jackson
60. “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya”/New England
63. “Heart of Glass”/Blondie
65. “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”/Kinks
68. “Hold On”/Triumph
70. “You Angel You”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
73. “Highway Song”/Blackfoot
76. “My Sharona”/The Knack
80. “Let’s Go”/Cars
81. “Last of the Singing Cowboys”/Marshall Tucker Band
85. “Long Live Rock”/The Who
106. “Dreams I’ll Never See”/Molly Hatchet
“My Sharona” was a very big deal when it hit the radio. (I still remember the first time I heard it.) It scratched some primal teenage itch, and not just in me—it entered the Top 40 at #34 on July 21, then went 18-6-4-2 before hitting #1 for the week of August 25, a position it would hold for six weeks. We were pleased to discover that Get the Knack contained more primal teenage itch-scratchers. The “backlash” against the song and the band was confined largely to the rock press. On the front lines of radio, it was the kind of smash that lights up request lines and makes people stay tuned in hopes of hearing it again. To 19-year-old white guys such as I, “My Sharona” (and the other new records on this part of the chart) represented victory and vindication. My tribe had felt for a year or better that our music was under attack by the forces of disco, a threat to all we held dear.

44. “Married Men”/Bette Midler
46. “Go West”/Village People

47. “The Main Event-Fight”/Barbra Streisand
50. “Good Times”/Chic
53. “Disco Nights”/GQ
56. “Do You Wanna Go Party”/KC and the Sunshine Band
62. “Hot Number”/Foxy
69. “Heaven Must Have Sent You”/Bonnie Pointer
74. “Light My Fire”/Amii Stewart
77. “You’re Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else”/Jones Girls
78. “Born to Be Alive”/Patrick Hernandez
88. “Motown Review”/Philly Cream
91. “In the Navy”/Village People
While there is plenty of stylistic variation among these records, 19-year-old white guys such as I would have lumped them together as disco records and called down a plague on all their houses. That, in our dislike, we did not differentiate between “In the Navy” and the infinitely superior “Good Times,” or between the faceless, monolithic 140 beats per minute of “Motown Review” and the far more interesting disco records at the top of the Hot 100, is further evidence that we cared more about labels than we did the music itself.

48. “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me”/Bellamy Brothers
57. “Suspicions”/Eddie Rabbitt
59. “Amanda”/Waylon Jennings
71. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”/Charlie Daniels Band
82. “You’re the Only One”/Dolly Parton
97. “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right”/Barbara Mandrell
104. “All I Ever Need Is You”/Kenny Rogers and Dottie West
108. “When I Dream”/Crystal Gayle
This is the music I was playing on the radio back then, the first summer of my radio career. Every one of them had been or would be #1 on Billboard‘s country chart, except for “When I Dream.” In addition, current Top 40 hit “She Believes in Me” by Kenny Rogers had already been #1 by the end of June, and Anne Murray’s “Shadows in the Moonlight” would make it in July.

52. “Vengeance”/Carly Simon. Somehow I missed “Vengeance” entirely, both in 1979 and in the 40 years since, even though it got nominated for a Grammy for Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1980.

55. “Kiss in the Dark”/Pink Lady. It is blog law that whether you write about music or television, you are not allowed to skip over Pink Lady if ever they come into your purview.

To say that rock was “under attack” in 1979 was a gross exaggeration. Yes, disco was popular but hardly a destroyer of worlds. “Heart of Glass” had been a #1 single, and the Doobie Brothers had both a #1 single and #1 album. Supertramp’s Breakfast in America was a #1 hit also, and the last three #1 albums of the year would be by the Knack, Led Zeppelin, and the Eagles. Cheap Trick made their commercial breakthrough. But our perception was our reality: 19-year-old white dudes such as I concluded that legitimate rock music was making a welcome, inevitable comeback, even though it didn’t really need to make one.

You can, of course, draw any damn conclusion you want depending on how you cherry-pick the charts. You could do it in 1979, and you can do it today with a chart from 1979.

8 responses

  1. Interesting that you group “Heart of Glass” in with the rockers. My ear always said “disco record by new wave group.”

    And rock was under attack—not just by disco, but by new wave (Joe Jackson, Blondie, The Cars) who viewed bands like the Who as dinosaurs who’d gone back on the promise of dying before they got too old) and by Country, which, for a moment slightly longer than disco, was hot enough to persuade some legendary spots on the radio dial where you used to hear rock (KCBQ, San Diego; KHJ, Los Angeles and KSAN, San Francisco here in California alone—all three in 1980) to change formats and get down home instead of just getting down.

    1. As I’ve said before, I lived in a world where punk and new wave didn’t have much impact. The Joe Jacksons, Blondies, and Cars of the world didn’t seem like a break in continuity to us, but our experience—and by “our,” I’m referring to the young college radio dudes that were my friends and me—wasn’t typical.

  2. Here’s a few more from the summer of 1979 that I was playing on the radio when I first got into the biz: “Cruel To Be Kind” by Nick Lowe, “Fat City” by the Climax Blues Band (we would later play “Children of the Nighttime,” another cut off of their album “Reel To Real”), “Saturday Night” by Herman Brood and his Wild Romance, and “I Got a Line On You” by Blackfoot…yes, an excellent cover of the 1969 hit by Spirit. Does anybody remember any of those songs?

  3. I liked Herman Brood. Sadly, we ALL butchered his last name back then. He was Dutch and his last name was pronounced Broːt, not Brude.

  4. I remember buying “The Main Event-Fight” and loving it (as did over a million other people apparently), but man, it hasn’t held up well at all, especially compared to some of those in that disco grouping like “Disco Nights,” “Born to Be Alive” and of course “Good Times.”

    And. man, I sure hope Jeff Altman isn’t reading this blog, or that Pink Lady comment is going to bring back bad flashbacks for the guy.

  5. we cared more about labels than we did the music itself.
    …Pretty good description of the 70s country charts. Mandrell was closer to R&B than straight country by then, Gayle could phrase as elegantly as a jazz singer, and Jennings rocked harder than most late 70s AOR bands.

  6. Disco Nights was a far better song than its misleadingly generic title would suggest.

    And Suspicions, to my ear, is a lot more of an R&B song than it is a country tune.

  7. John Gallagher | Reply

    From mid-July until early September of 1979, I was between stations and getting the next job took longer than I hoped. I missed playing some of these, though the station I went to was A/C so I played Suspicions, When I Dream and Barbra Streisand instead of the Knack, Chic, Patrick Hernandez Blondie etc. I recall the A/C PD did some dayparting (remember that?) so some of these might have gotten some spikes at night.

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