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.
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.”
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.
(Pictured: I never need a reason to post a picture of Linda Ronstadt, but I am always glad to legitimately have one.)
The phrase “set and setting” first came into the language thanks to Timothy Leary, who talked about its importance to psychedelic experience. “Set” is the mental state one brings to the experience: mood, feelings, desires, etc. “Setting” is the physical environment where the experience takes place, including the room, the music, the lighting, and so on. (Setting can also involve the social environment—who else is present for one’s experience and how they interact with the person tripping.) Leary believed that the right set and setting could enhance a trip, and that a bad trip could result from the wrong one.
I thought about set and setting while I was listening to the American Top 40 show from June 28, 1975. I heard a large chunk of it in my car on a hot Saturday afternoon, flying down the highway on the way to something I was looking forward to doing. The set and setting definitely enhanced the trip.
38. “Spirit of the Boogie”-“Summer Madness”/Kool and the Gang. “Spirit of the Boogie,” which is what Casey played on the show, is basically another five mintues of “Jungle Boogie.” Simmering, sexy “Summer Madness” is way, way better.
37. “Black Friday”/Steely Dan
36. “Slippery When Wet”/Commodores
35. “The Last Farewell”/Roger Whittaker
34. “Bad Luck”/Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
33. “Jive Talkin'”/Bee Gees
32. “Rockford Files”/Mike Post
31. “Bad Time”/Grand Funk
Set and setting, people—this stretch was an absolute blast, even “The Last Farewell.”
30. “Rhinestone Cowboy”/Glen Campbell. Casey tells a story I can’t remember hearing before: in 1964, Campbell provided the voice for Steve McQueen’s character in Baby the Rain Must Fall, but instead of doing a lip-sync to a recording, McQueen mouthed along with Campbell as Glen sang live, just out of camera range.
29. “I’m on Fire”/Dwight Twilley Band. During which I may have violated the speed limit out on the interstate. If you do not dig “I’m on Fire,” we have to break up.
26. “Baby That’s Backatcha”/Smokey Robinson
25. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”/John Denver
24. “Why Can’t We Be Friends”/War
22. “Hey You”/Bachman-Turner Overdrive
21. “Midnight Blue”/Melissa Manchester
20. “Misty”/Ray Stevens
Lots of radio stations promote themselves with some variation of the phrase “better variety.” But they’ve got nothing on your average Top 40 station in the middle of the 1970s. In order you’ve got a sinuous R&B love song, country twang and yee-haw, an R&B novelty, a Parliament-style funk number incorporating a TV catchphrase, sturdy heartland rock, a beautifully sung and produced love ballad, and a slick country cover of a pop classic. Beat that, if you can.
16. “One of These Nights”/Eagles
15. “Please Mr. Please”/Olivia Newton-John
14. “Swearin’ to God”/Frankie Valli
When Casey started the show he said, “There’s a lot of action,” and there is. The Eagles are up 15 spots this week, ONJ is up 19, and Frankie Valli is up 13. Back at #21, “Midnight Blue” was up 11 from the previous week. But just wait: nine of the week’s Top 12, including the top five, are in the same positions as last week.
13. “Sister Golden Hair”/America
12. “Only Women”/Alice Cooper
11. “Take Me in Your Arms”/Doobie Brothers
10. “Cut the Cake”/AWB
8. “Get Down, Get Down”/Joe Simon
7. “Listen to What the Man Said”/Paul McCartney and Wings
6. “The Hustle”/Van McCoy
By the time I got to this part of the show, my set and setting had changed. I was on my way to work at 4:30 in the morning. Never mind, though. I got high on my own supply, because these songs come with some pleasant associations from the summer of ’75.
5. “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”/Major Harris. The soft female moans on “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” were hard for me to hear when I was 15. Today, the sexier thing is that luscious Philly-soul arrangement.
4. “I’m Not Lisa”/Jessi Colter
3. “Wildfire”/Michael Murphey
2. “When Will I Be Loved”/Linda Ronstadt
Jessi and Linda both made #1 country within the preceding month. So did “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” would get there in August. “Wildfire” didn’t make the country chart, but Murphey would start hitting there in 1976.
1. “Love Will Keep Us Together”/Captain and Tennille. I like this a lot better now than I did then. It’s in its second of what will be four weeks at #1, and four weeks will be the longest run at the top since “My Love” by Wings two years earlier.
I could go on for another 700 words about how the summer of 1975 looked out the windows of the house I grew up in, but I’ll spare you that, I think.
(Pictured: Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm, 1955.)
(It is my usual practice to do date-centric posts like these on or close to their anniversaries. This one I’m not saving til next March.)
Before the rock era, the song was often more important than the performer. During the pre-1920 Pioneer Era, major labels frequently advertised records by title only. Well into the 1950s, it was common for labels to release competing versions of songs at the same time. One hit would spawn several other recordings of the same song, and all of them would duke it out in the marketplace. And on the Billboard Top 100 of March 14, 1956, there was a whole lot of duking going on.
There are a lot of rock ‘n’ roll classics on that chart: “The Great Pretender,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Bill Haley’s “See You Later Alligator,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Heartbreak Hotel” among them. But we’re not interested in those here.
The Billboard Top 100 was one of four influential charts the magazine published at the time. And on 3/14/56, Les Baxter was #1 with “Poor People of Paris.” If Baxter wasn’t your style, there were versions of the same song by big-band star Russ Morgan (#41), by Lawrence Welk (#53), and by country guitarist Chet Atkins (#92). At #2 was the Nelson Riddle Orchestra with “Lisbon Antigua,” which also charted at #31 in a version by Mitch Miller. Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This” (#9) was also available in a version by Gale Storm (#89). Record buyers could also choose among three charted versions of “Mr. Wonderful,” by Peggy Lee, Teddi King, and Sarah Vaughan. Two versions of “It’s Almost Tomorrow,” by the Dream Weavers and Jo Stafford, were on the chart in this week; two more would soon chart. Two versions of “Innamorata” charted, by Jerry Vale and Martin.
The practice of white acts covering black R&B hits also added to number of contestants in the ring. Frankie Lyman’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” was at #7; white cover versions by Gale Storm, the Diamonds, and Gloria Mann were at #15, #23, and #86 respectively. The white folks were having the better of some other songs, however. Teresa Brewer’s cover of “Bo Weevil” sat at #23 while Fats Domino’s was down at #48. R&B duo the Teen Queens had “Eddie My Love” at #26 behind versions by the Fontane Sisters (#20) and the Chordettes (#21).
“Poor People of Paris” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” were not the only songs with four versions during that week in 1956. Main title music from The Man With the Golden Arm appeared on the chart in versions by bandleaders Richard Maltby, Dick Jacobs, Elmer Bernstein, and Billy May. Three more versions of the Golden Arm theme would chart by summer: by Les Elgart, Buddy Morrow, and the McGuire Sisters. The latter, called “Delilah Jones,” was a vocal that set lyrics unrelated to the movie to the Golden Arm theme. The Man With the Golden Arm starred Frank Sinatra as a drug addict fighting to stay clean, and was up for three Oscars to be awarded in the spring of 56.
But neither “Poor People of Paris,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” nor “The Man With the Golden Arm” was the chart champion for the week of March 14, 1956. That was “Moritat (Theme From The Threepenny Opera).” Using various titles, six different versions were on the March 14 chart, by the Dick Hyman Trio (#9), Richard Hayman and Jan August (#16), Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars (#22), Lawrence Welk and His Sparkling Septet (#31), Les Paul (#57) and Billy Vaughn (#63). The Threepenny Opera, which had been written in 1931 and first performed in Germany, had been a hot ticket in New York since 1954 as an off-Broadway production. It would win two Tonys in April.
When the battle was over, Hyman’s version of “Moritat” ended up the biggest chart hit, but the song had even greater popularity ahead. In 1959, “Moritat” would become one of the longest-running #1 hits of the pre-Soundscan era under the title “Mack the Knife,” recorded by Bobby Darin. It would spend nine weeks atop the Hot 100 and win Record of the Year at the Grammys.
There were other weeks like this in the late 50s, and simultaneously charting movie themes would be a thing well into the 70s. But I’ve been down this rabbit hole long enough for now.
(Billboard‘s online archive doesn’t include pre-Hot 100 charts, so if you want to see the whole 3/14/56 chart, find a .doc file here. Many chart positions are shown as ties, which is how Dean Martin and Dick Hyman can both be at #9, and the Diamonds and Teresa Brewer can both be at #23. Don’t @ me.)
(Pictured: Canadian singer Ginette Reno, who has come out of semi-retirement several times in recent years to sing national anthems during the NHL playoffs, seen here in 2017.)
ARSA, frequently mentioned here, is the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. It has over 91,000 radio station music surveys in its collection now, an unmatched resource for the history of popular music and pop radio in last half of the 20th century. The other day, while looking for something else, I found a year-end survey for 1970 from CKLG in Vancouver, British Columbia. CKLG was at 730 on the AM dial, but instead of listing the Top 73 for the year, CKLG listed the Top 173. And it’s actually even bigger than that: CKLG’s Top 173 includes six two-sided hits, so it’s actually 179 songs. Three of the six are by Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Travelin’ Band”/”Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door””/”Long As I Can See the Light,” and “Up Around the Bend”/”Run Through the Jungle.” Three others are by the Guess Who: “American Woman”/”No Sugar Tonight,” “Share the Land”/”Bus Rider,” and “No Time”/”Proper Stranger.”
CKLG’s Top 173 of 1970 includes a number of Canadian acts besides the Guess Who with hits south of the border: Anne Murray, Andy Kim, the Poppy Family, Mashmakhan, Gordon Lightfoot, Edward Bear, the Original Caste, Tom Northcott, and Ronnie Hawkins (who was born in America but has lived most of his life in Canada). The 1970 list also has a couple of acts that would eventually hit in America but hadn’t yet, including the Bells and Terry Jacks (who was part of the Poppy Family). But what interests us more are those Canadian acts who remain unknowns down here. Such as:
71. “I Must Have Been Blind”/The Collectors. A Vancouver act with a handful of late 60s hits in Canada, the Collectors eventually morphed into the better-known and more-successful Chilliwack.
91. “One Way Ticket”/McKenna Mendelson Mainline. A blues band made up of musicians from four prominent Toronto bands whose album bore the rather unfortunate title Stink. By the time 1970 had dawned, the band had already begun to fall apart. Future funk legend Rick James was a member for a while during its later stages.
123. “Life Is a Song”/Gainsborough Gallery. The lone black member of this five-piece group left soon after they recorded their album, allegedly because certain American clubs didn’t want to book a mixed-race band. Their album, described as “experimental melodic and psychedelic garage pop,” was produced by Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, at the same studio where Buddy Holly recorded. “Life Is a Song” is about as substantial as a soap bubble, and you can hear it at the bottom of this page.
124. “We Were Happy”/Jason Hoover. A meandering bit of prog rock that’s credited incorrectly on the CKLG survey. This band was properly known as The Trials of Jayson Hoover, one of several identities assumed by various combinations of Vancouver musicians of the 1960s, always fronted by one Jayson Hoover.
125. “My Home Town”/Seeds of Time. Another Vancouver act, some members of which would move on to the more successful group Prism, best known in America for “Don’t Let Him Know,” as well as the ridiculous and awesome “Armageddon” and “See Forever Eyes.” “My Home Town” is the first song on this list so far that I’d be interested in hearing again.
129. “Beautiful Second-Hand Man”/Ginette Reno. Reno is from Quebec and would become a much-decorated star of music, movies, and TV through the course of her long career, which began in the 60s. Thanks to her anthem performances at National Hockey League playoff games over the last several years, she might be the best-known performer on this list. Celine Dion considers Reno one of her idols.
142. “Ten Pound Note”/Steel River. It’s not correct to say this Toronto band was utterly unknown in the States. We’ve mentioned them at this blog once before, during one of our earlier forays into Canadian content. Two of Steel River’s singles, including “Ten Pound Note,” bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and 1971.
158. “We Will Find Love”/Ann Attenborrow. This record was produced by Tom Northcott, whose fingerprints were on a fair number of Canadian hits of this period. Apart from that, the Internet knows nothing.
172. “As Feelings Go”/Spring. Still another Vancouver band, Spring seems never to have recorded an entire album, only a few singles in 1969 and 1970. “As Feelings Go” sounds like Badfinger, and I like it.
If you are interested in the Vancouver music scene (scoff if you must, but somebody amongst the readership might be), there’s plenty here.