What a Fool Believed

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(Pictured: the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Loggins celebrate their Record of the Year and Song of the Year Grammys for “What a Fool Believes” in 1980.)

For a brief time in college, I was a music columnist for The Exponent, the campus paper at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. And for the last edition of the fall semester in 1979, I ranked the top singles and albums of the year. I wrote about those rankings at this website in 2005 and 2016. After the last time, our friend HERC wondered how and if my perspective has changed so many years down the line. Given that the stuff first appeared 40 years ago this week, it’s a good time to respond to HERC’s query.

My 1979 album list was as follows:

1.  Candy-O/Cars
2.  The Long Run/Eagles
3.  Minute by Minute/Doobie Brothers
4.  In Through the Out Door/Led Zeppelin
5.  52nd Street/Billy Joel
6.  Breakfast in America/Supertramp
7.  Rickie Lee Jones
8.  Get the Knack
9.  Time Passages/Al Stewart
10.  Spirits Having Flown/Bee Gees

That’s a pretty reasonable list even now. I wouldn’t mess with the very top at all. 52nd Street and Time Passages were released in the fall of 1978 and should probably be disqualified, and I put the Bee Gees on just to troll my readers. I’d keep the rest. Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes should be on here, although in December 1979, we’d just started playing it on the college station and I didn’t recognize its impact yet. Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out the week before I wrote. The biggest omission is probably Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.

You will notice that the album many critics name today as the best one of 1979 is not here: London Calling by the Clash. First, it was released in mid-December, after I made this list. And second, as I’ve said several times over the life of this website, I grew up in a world where punk rock didn’t happen. The vast majority of the people I knew weren’t interested in the Clash or the other bands that had come out of the UK in the late 70s—or the Ramones either, for that matter. Given our choice, my friends and I were far more likely to put on Tusk or The Wall or Foreigner or Bruce Springsteen.

The singles list as originally compiled went like this:

1.  “What a Fool Believes”/Doobie Brothers
2.  “Cruel to Be Kind”/Nick Lowe
3.  “Heart of Glass”/Blondie
4.  “Goodbye Stranger”/Supertramp
5.  “Rise”/Herb Alpert
6.  “Bad Case of Loving You”/Robert Palmer
7.  “Let’s Go”/Cars
8.  “Tragedy”/Bee Gees
9.  “Goodnight Tonight”/Wings
10.  “Sail On”/Commodores

Were I to formally re-rank these today, I would no longer include “Rise” and “Goodnight Tonight” on the list. (“Tragedy” stays, though.) Also, I am not sure that “What a Fool Believes” would stay at #1—I’d be inclined to bump Nick Lowe up there now, or maybe even the Commodores—and “Heart of Glass” wouldn’t be so high, either. Today, I would have to consider the two Gerry Rafferty singles, “Days Gone Down” and “Get it Right Next Time,” “Gold” by John Stewart, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” by Elton John, and “Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson. Other possibilities might be “Life During Wartime” by Talking Heads or J. D. Souther’s “You’re Only Lonely,” and how I missed including “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ‘n’ the Tears I cannot imagine. In 1979, I shared with many other young white guys a severe anti-disco prejudice, and so I would not have been caught dead endorsing what I would have considered a disco record. (Never mind that there were disco remixes of “What a Fool Believes” and “Goodnight Tonight,” and that “Tragedy” got some dancefloor action too.) I would not have considered “Good Times” by Chic or “September” by Earth Wind and Fire for my list, but they’d both make the semifinals today.

However interesting it might be to revisit more of these columns (and I have clips), we aren’t going there. They are almost without exception miserably bad, badly written and badly argued, and I come off utterly foolish in many of them. These 1979 lists were the best of the lot.

7 responses

  1. This is great.

    Re: singles, I say yes as well to Joe Jackson and Sniff ‘n’ the Tears, with zero doubt. For my own list, I would give “Sultans of Swing” and “My Sharona” strong consideration. In the non-rock/non-disco division, I’d include “I Know a Heartache When I See One.”

    1. “I Know a Heartache When I See One” (by Jennifer Warnes, IIRC) is a deep cut. I am pretty sure I haven’t heard it since 1979.

      1. Huh. It’s popped up on my iTunes nine times this year.

      2. Not so much a deep cut as a mid-chart stiff—peaked at #19 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and only made #14 on the much more lenient Adult Contemporary chart. Weirdly enough, it was Top 10 Country—peaking at #10. Her biggest hit until the Joe Cocker/ Bill Medley duets, “Right Time of the Night”, peaked at #17 Country, #6 Pop and #1 AC.

  2. Not long ago at work one line of “I know a Heartache” popped into my head. It took two hours of brain-wracking, but I finally dredged up the entire chorus. Great song!

  3. Being more of a disco fan than you, JB, besides your Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, Blondie and Commodores picks, I would be inclined to include “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” Michael Jackson; “Bad Girls,” Donna Summer; “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground,” The Jacksons; “We Are Family, Sister Sledge; and “Ring My Bell,” Anita Ward. I also would favor “The Logical Song” over “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp, but I wouldn’t argue the fact. Believe it or not, these picks came from a list of my favorite top 10 pop hits of 1979 I posted on Facebook in 2013, so for me to match you twice (or 4 times, if you want to count Chic and Earth Wind & Fire) under criteria that was more restrictive than yours is pretty impressive to me.

  4. I completely understand your reticence to revisit some of your stuff from 1979. A while back, I was looking at some of my clips from the Eau Claire paper from that time. I had no recollection of reporting or writing some of it. Almost as if I was creeping on someone else’s life.

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