Bring Me Flowers

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(Pictured: Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand dress down to record “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.”)

The American Top 40 show from December 16, 1978, was, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the most Christmas-heavy regular edition in the show’s history—and it was also the show that ran the weekend after I did my first real radio shows. The college station was running a Top 40 format at the time—which would be dumped when the new management team took over in January—but it was a blast while it lasted. So the 12/16/78 show contains some of the music I played back then.

40. “Don’t Hold Back”/Chanson
36. “There’ll Never Be”/Switch
35. “I Was Made for Dancing”/Leif Garrett
34. “Instant Replay”/Dan Hartman
Saturday Night Fever brought disco to every hotel cocktail lounge in America during 1978, and by the end of the year, a lot of the big dance hits were more product than music. There’s nothing special about any of these records; they’re just there, and you can dance to ’em.

39. “I Will Be in Love With You”/Livingston Taylor
30. “Shake It”/Ian Matthews
When the Sensitive Male of the 70s made music, it sounded like this.

32. “Fire”/Pointer Sisters
31. “September”/Earth Wind and Fire
Both are debut records in this week.

EXTRA: “Step Into Christmas”/Elton John
EXTRA: “Merry Christmas Darling”/Carpenters
EXTRA: “O Holy Night”/Nat King Cole
EXTRA: “Little Saint Nick”/Beach Boys
EXTRA: “White Christmas”/Bing Crosby
EXTRA: “The Christmas Song”/Nat King Cole

(These were sprinkled throughout the show but I’m gonna talk about ’em all at once because of reasons.)

Casey mentions that “Step Into Christmas” is Elton’s only single release of the 70s that didn’t chart, but it became a million-seller anyhow thanks to annual re-releases. Introducing “Merry Christmas Darling,” Casey says it’s the only one of the 10 most popular Christmas hits of all time that doesn’t go back to the 40s or 50s—so even 41 years ago, the Christmas radio canon was frozen in time. Along with “O Holy Night,” Casey tells the story of how the song temporarily stopped the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 when a French soldier poked his head outside of a trench on Christmas Eve to sing it. The story is an unconfirmed legend, but it’s nice enough at Christmastime. “Little Saint Nick” is accompanied by a lengthy Beach Boys origin story that I confess I tuned out of partway through. Before playing “White Christmas,” Casey sketches the record’s remarkable chart history, how it hit almost annually for the next 20 years. “The Christmas Song” was snipped from the recent repeat and offered as an optional extra.

28. “Every 1’s a Winner”/Hot Chocolate
25. “New York Groove”/Ace Frehley

Hot Chocolate’s signature low, buzzy guitar sound wedded to a monstrous stomp kicks every ass in the neighborhood and makes Ace Frehley sound like Livingston Taylor.

14. “How Much I Feel”/Ambrosia
4. “I Just Wanna Stop”/Gino Vannelli

I have written a couple of times recently about the fall of 1978, and about my difficult transition into life as a freshman away from home for the first time. Increasing involvement at the radio station as the semester ended gave me a direction I didn’t have when I first got to school, but there were still some landmines in my path, and I had to step carefully.

12. “YMCA”/Village People
10. “Mac Arthur Park”/Donna Summer
6. “I Love the Nightlife”/Alicia Bridges

Unlike the disco records I mentioned earlier, these have both purpose and personality, and they’re bigger hits as a result.

11. “Strange Way”/Firefall
7. “Time Passages”/Al Stewart
5. “My Life”/Billy Joel
One of these is the best song on the show and I don’t know which. Billy Joel’s 52nd Street is the #1 album in this week.

LDD: “This One’s for You”/Barry Manilow. AT40 had gone to four-hour shows in October, but this one doesn’t need to be. It’s got nearly a full hour of padding: six Christmas songs, three #1 hits of the 70s, and this. It’s introduced with a jingle singing “long distance dedication,” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard before.

2. “Le Freak”/Chic
1. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”/Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond

These two songs traded the #1 spot on the five December charts issued in 1978: Barbra and Neil on 12/2 and 12/16, Chic on 12/9, 12/23, and 12/30 (a frozen chart from the previous week). On this show, Casey plays the original version of the song, spliced together from Barbra and Neil’s solo performances by Louisville radio programmer Gary Guthrie, which inspired the two stars to record it together. Here’s the clip from the show.

The weekend this show aired, I was on my way home for semester break. My radio career had begun. And all of a sudden, it was the year 2020.

25 thoughts on “Bring Me Flowers

  1. Hi jb, happy new year! Love your blog, takes me back to when I religiously followed the charts every week. I’m a little surprised at the shade you threw towards “How Much I Feel”, especially since you have been kind to the Carpenters’ music in previous posts. This song has Karen homage written all over it!

    1. I didn’t intend it to sound like I was throwing shade at “How Much I Feel,” because I like it a lot. I was referring to my rocky adjustment to college, and how certain songs and my associations with them could still represent bumps in the road, even after the road started to smooth out.

  2. Merry new year.

    When I saw the bit about the “long distance dedication” jingle, I immediately heard it in my head. I guess I assumed it was used a lot more often than it was.

  3. Wesley

    A note of defense here for “Instant Replay,” which I enjoyed long after its brief chart run. It’s got a catchy countdown intro and great guitar work to make it stand out among the other disco records of the era. Plus I admit I have an affinity for Dan Hartman, since I also love his vocal for “Free Ride” with the Edgar Winter Group and his own top 10 hit in 1984 “I Can Dream About You.”

    But regarding the rest, particularly “I Was Made for Dancing” that somehow made the top 10 in early 1979 … oh man! Even usually neutral Joel Whitburn called the song horrible when he discussed Leif Garrett in his Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. It definitely did Leif no favors, as his career peaked here (for what happened thereafter, watch the infamous Behind the Music profile of him from the 1990s). Bizarrely, it did have an odd reappearance in 1980 when Carol Burnett of all people sang it on “The Muppet Show” as part of a plot to disperse a dance marathon that prevented her solo spot. I won’t explain the somewhat convoluted reasoning for that, but the episode is online in several places if you want to hear her do a song not associated with her usual show tune styling.

    1. Andy

      I agree re “Instant Replay”. His other big disco hit was “Relight My Fire”, and it’s a monster.

      “I Was Made For Dancing” is pretty much disco at its nadir, at least in terms of the big hits. It’s not a terrible song, but was there a less musically talented teen idol from the 70’s than Leif Garrett? Everything he did touched turned to crap.

  4. mikehagerty

    Barbra looks…approachable.

    True dat about the Christmas Canon being frozen in time. Starting my radio career in 1971, I was thrilled when contemporary artists started doing Christmas singles—just to have something fresh to play. Carpenters and John Lennon (and I think the Jackson 5) did it in ’70, Cheech and Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” was ’71, and Elton was ’73.

    By ’75, I was even sneaking in a play of National Lampoon’s “Kung Fu Christmas”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTvgaVzCkFU

  5. Brian L Rostron

    Say you want about the height of the disco era, but “I Was Made for Dancing,” “Fire,” “September,” “New York Groove,” “YMCA,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “My Life,” and “Le Freak” are classics.

  6. When Neil Diamond was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and crashed a party full of Rolling Stone rock elitists who wished he weren’t there, his acceptance speech was one of profane, defiant glory — and it was partly in response to Paul Simon’s introduction, in which he mocked Diamond’s career choice of doing You Don’t Bring Me Flowers with Streisand. Diamond proudly owned the downside of his perceived uncoolness, which I thought was pretty cool

  7. Thank you for mentioning Strange Way, a tremendous song that most of the world has forgotten: A dark, edgy power ballad with an eerie undertone that in no way resembles the sweet, lilting pop confection of You Are the Woman–a much better-remembered Firefall song.
    Focus-grouped good-time oldies stations may have jettisoned Strange Way decades ago in favor of the criminally cheerful You Are The Woman, but damn, Strange Way is one hell of a song.

  8. Andy

    “There’ll Never Be” by Switch isn’t disco, not even close. It’s a slow, soulful ballad, and very much considered a classic in R&B circles. Lead vocal by the late Bobby DeBarge (he died of AIDS), who sounds almost exactly like his younger brother El. Switch did record some disco (I distinctly remember boogie-ing to their “Best Beat in Town”), but they are best remembered for their ballads.

    1. Regarding “We’ll Never Be,” ballads were part of the disco scene too, and this one left no impression on me. Will listen again.

      I ain’t changing my mind on “Instant Replay” though. :-)>

  9. For once I’m not gonna be that guy who, given a choice of three, chooses a fourth.
    Out of your selection of best records on the list, the best is “Time Passages.”

    I will be the only voice speaking up for Livingston Taylor, also.

      1. mikehagerty

        There’s probably a whole column about artists who hated their biggest records (Van Morrison and “Brown Eyed Girl”, Dionne Warwick and “Heartbreaker”, along with about half of what Bacharach and David put in front of her) as well as artists who outright turned down songs and then watched someone else score big with them. I think Al was nuts.

    1. mikehagerty

      No, you won’t, kblumenau—“I Will Be In Love With You” is one of my all-time favorites—loved it the first time I heard it, and actually arranged to do a phone interview on-air with Livingston when I added it at KOLO, Reno.

      1. mikehagerty

        And yes, “Time Passages” is the best song, not only of the three grouped together by JB, but on the entire list—though I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who argues in favor of “September”.

  10. Hey, kblumenau, you will not be the only Liv defender. I like the single here, and I loved his duet with Leah Kunkel on “Loving Arms” (although it wasn’t as good as Dobie Gray’s version). And I agree that “Time Passages” is the best thing on the list.

  11. Scott Paton

    Hi JB; Happy New Year!

    I have no memories whatsoever of the Long Distance Dedication jingle…ever!…and I was there. As I’ve mentioned before, I was the AT40 staffer most opposed to the addition of the LDD feature to the program in ’78. I found them either cloying, saccharine or bathetic– occasionally all three. But they remain one of the most memorable hallmarks of the Casey years.

    I may not remember that jingle, but I do have strong memories of this show in particular, probably, in part, due to the fact that I was the one who contacted deejay Gary Guthrie at WAKY in Louisville for an interview who then sent me a dub of his manufactured duet of “Flowers” on a five-inch reel. I think that may still be in a box in my basement. I always felt that Guthrie deserved more than just a telegram and flowers from Barbra and Neil as his inspiration sold millions of records for them and their label, Columbia Records. A sizable check might have been nice.

    I also remember all those Christmas extras. As a Brian Wilson friend and fan, I may have been responsible for the too-long Beach Boys origin story, so my apologies.

    Speaking of whom, Leif Garrett’s debut hit –a cover of “Surfin’ USA– was every bit as obnoxious as the snot-nosed kid himself– one of my least favorite interviews ever. As a sidebar, I was dating a girl at the time who was roommates with teen actress Lisa Whelchel and her mother. Lisa was a Mousketeer on Disney’s new “Mickey Mouse Club” at the time, and about a year away from starring on “The Facts of Life.” She had a deathless crush on Leif and begged me to introduce her to him. I brokered a phone introduction and they went out a time or two as I recall. “I Was Made For Dancing” petered out on the chart before we got around to writing an “AT40 staffer as matchmaker” story for the show.

    Just as well!

    1. Wesley

      Nice stories as always, Scott! Oh man, you had to bring up “Surfin’ USA” by Leif Garrett, didn’t you? Another argument for making him the worst singing teen idol of the 1970s. Anyway, care to share any other least favorite AT40 interviewee tales with us?

      1. mackdaddyg

        “Anyway, care to share any other least favorite AT40 interviewee tales with us?”

        I’ll second that. It’s always appreciated hearing stories about AT40 from back in the day.

  12. Scott Paton

    Yeah, Wesley, they didn’t have Autotune back then, making Leif Garrett’s singing especially egregious. And I didn’t know that Carol Burnett had done a rendition of “I Was Made For Dancing”– that bears looking up on YouTube.

    I don’t like hacking JB’s blog –it’s my personal favorite in the blogosphere– so I only chime in if I feel if I have something worth adding to his narrative. But with regard to least favorite interviews, I will say that in the late-’70s, when cocaine was securing a large foothold in the entertainment industry, many subjects would show up for a chat having snorted several lines. Or worse, would interrupt an interview to partake. Although rude and stupid behavior to begin with, ultimately the effects of the drug usually diminished the quality of the conversation. And while we only referenced the content of those interviews on AT40, we often used the actual recordings for other shows. There was nothing more painstaking than editing out hundreds of sniffles and snorts from a tape in an effort to keep the artist at-hand from sounding coked out.

    I will refrain from mentioning any of the offending parties. Back then, cocaine got the best of many good and substandard individuals alike. Just let me add that watching individuals on their knees, snorting microdots of white lint from a shag carpet while mistaking it for a dropped booger of coke is about as demeaning as human behavior gets.

    On a more positive note, there were many people I met and interviewed of whom I was not necessarily a major or informed fan initially, but admired greatly by the end of our visit. Some of them include Barry White, Minnie Riperton (a sweetheart), Jim Capaldi, Stevie Nicks (maybe the best interview I ever got), William Bell (a prince of a guy), Steve Cropper & Booker T. Jones (another real gentleman), Maurice Gibb (liked the whole family, and Andy was a good friend, but Mo was the most outgoing), Thelma Houston, Alice Cooper, Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band (he was gonna have “the wife” cook us some steaks ’til I reminded him that his wife was Faye Dunaway!), the late Maurice White of E,W&F and Chaka Khan (I shared my hangover remedy with her and she sent me a thank you note.) Gosh, I’d have to go through a Whitburn for reminders. The subjects I didn’t particularly care for were, fortunately, few and far between. I was very fortunate to have met so many people I admired.

    Thanks, JB, for sharing memories that stimulate my own and for providing this forum.

      1. Scott Paton

        You and your other followers are very gracious, JB. Aside from your considerable skills as a writer, our similar sensibilities have always made your posts resonate for me. It’s pretty cool to learn that all those totems and icons that impacted us throughout life were having a similar effect others. I do thoroughly enjoy your posts and your followers’ comments.

  13. John Gallagher

    Thanks to SiriusXM, you can relive all the cheese of Leif Garrett since it gets regular spins on 70s on 7. I never really minded it when it came out and it doesn’t today. I’m definitely a loner among the readers here!

    Dan Hartman, Ian Matthews, and Firefall also can be heard on Sirius. All three songs bring back good (and some bad) memories for me.

    The story of how the song became a duet vs. separate solo versions is chronicled on Wiki here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Don%27t_Bring_Me_Flowers

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