It’s safe to say that, when it comes to popular music, 1978 was no better or worse than most years. Disco was hot, but so was pop, rock, country and soul/R&B. I was 13, and listened to WIFI-92, a Top 40 station in the Philly market, and an oldies show that WPEN-AM featured every Saturday night. (I used to send in requests for Jan & Dean songs via postcards.) And, when flush with cash, I usually frequented the Hatboro Music Shop, which was run by the town’s future mayor, Joe Celano.

But although I knew pop music present and past, I was ignorant of much – AOR rock is one example. I remember tuning in a station recommended by a classmate – either WMMR or ‘YSP – and thinking I’d turned the dial to a country station when the deejay announced Jethro Tull was up after the commercial. The only Jethro I knew was Bodine (aka Max Baer Jr. on The Beverly Hillbillies), so I tuned away.

I’ve written about the year before, of course, although not this month, so I’d like to give a shoutout to The Hideaway’s rundown of the WLS chart for 11/4/78, which led me to deep dive into this week. (As I tweeted Herc, “that fall has stuck with me through the decades.” It may not have been the greatest year, but it was a great time to be a kid.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: November 11, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Donna Summer – “MacArthur Park.” Okay, so some folks absolutely, positively hate this song in any form, and absolutely, positively hate Donna’s disco-fied rendition, which topped the charts this week and would remain there for the remainder of the month. Me? I hear my first months as a teen. 

2) Anne Murray – “You Needed Me.” The No. 2 song in the land came courtesy of the Canadian snowbird, who was gliding down from the chart’s peak, which she’d perched on the previous week. 

3) Foreigner – “Double Vision.” A song inspired by a vicious hockey check? That’s what Lou Gramm claims led him and Mick Jones to craft this million-selling single, the title tune to the band’s second LP. 

4) Ambrosia – “How Much I Feel.” According the Wikipedia, this SoCal band scored five Top 40 singles with their soft-rock sound from 1975 to 1980.

5) Nick Gilder – “Hot Child in the City.” The platinum-selling smash topped the charts in October, but remains a heatseeker this week at No. 5. The inspiration for it? Gilder’s shock at seeing underage girls being trafficked on the streets of Hollywood. He wrote the song from the perspective of a lecher.

And two bonuses…

6) Al Stewart – “Time Passages.” In its seventh week on the charts, Stewart’s classic musings on the passing of time – which was produced by Alan Parsons – rises two notches to No. 17. This video, by the way, was recorded on Nov. 12, 1978…

7) Linda Ronstadt – “Ooo Baby Baby.” Debuting on the charts at No. 59 is this wondrous remake of the 1965 Miracles’ hit, the second single released from her Living in the USA album. It would peak at No. 7 on the Billboard charts.

Not long after graduating high school, Tony Joe White (1943-2018) moved from rural Louisiana, where he’d been raised on a cotton farm, to Marietta, Ga., where a sister lived, in pursuit of a better life. He played guitar and, from what I gather, had been in and out of bands back home, but it didn’t pay the bills – as it often doesn’t. He found employment as a dump-truck driver with the highway department, and it featured an odd perk: work was always called on account of rain.

Fast-forward a few years, by which point he’s kicking around the music circuit in Texas: He hears Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio, and it seems lifted from his own life, just about, inspiring him to try his hand at writing songs. Among the first out of the gate: “Polk Salad Annie,” which harkens back to his childhood, and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” which conjures the rainy nights he experienced in Marietta.

If he’d never written anything else, he would have contributed more to this world than most. “Polk Salad Annie” was covered by Elvis Presley. And “Rainy Night in Georgia”… it’s one of the greatest songs of all time. But no version – not even White’s, which sounds tentative to my ears – equals that of Brook Benton’s masterful single, which went to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1970. The texture of the veteran R&B singer’s voice was made for White’s melancholic lyrics. 

That said, Shelby Lynne included a spellbinding rendition of it (as “Track 12”) on her 2005 Suit Yourself album. The grain of her voice echoes the rain, and I’d place it almost on a par with Benton’s rendition. (White plays on the track with her; they were neighbors for a spell, and friends – he appears in her recent film, Here I Am.)

The great Chuck Jackson released a version not long after Benton on what would be his final Motown album, Teardrops Keep Fallin’ on My Heart: 

B.J. Thomas also released a version of it in late 1970 on his Most of All album:

Johnny Rivers also recorded it that year:

Ray Charles covered it on his 1972 album The Genius Hits the Road:

Two years after Ray, Van McCoy (yes, of the “Hustle” fame) and his Soul City Symphony recorded an instrumental version of it for the Love Is the Answer LP. (It’s far more kitsch than cool.)

Otis Rush released his rendition of it in 1976, on his Right Place, Wrong Time album.

In 1981, Randy Crawford included a nice version of it on her Secret Combination album. Although released  as a single, it didn’t chart in the U.S.; it did make it to No. 18 in the U.K., however. 

Conway Twitty and Sam Moore recorded the classic tune for the 1993 Rhythm, Country and Blues compilation CD. 

In 2004, David Ruffin’s rendition – which was recorded in 1970 – was released on the David CD. 

And, finally, Aaron Neville – with an ample assist from Chris Botti – covered the song on his Bring It On Home collection of soul classics.

Those are but some of the many versions of the classic tune, of course, and I’m sure I missed some that others think of as must-listens. (About the only person who never recorded it, but should have: Gladys Knight.)

How I never heard of singer-songwriter Becky Warren before Sunday, well, I can only wonder. But, thanks to a tweet from No Depression promoting a review of her second album, Undesirable, here I am.

It’s a little too soon for me weigh in on the album itself, as I mull over music, contemplating, cogitating and ruminating about it before committing my thoughts to print. That said, don’t wait for my take: Buy the CD, download the files, add the tracks to your Apple Music or Spotify libraries, or play it via YouTube – which is a review in and of itself, I suppose.  

I will say that the only disagreement I have with that No Depression critique is when writer David McPherson describes Warren by saying “[p]icture the love child of Neil Young and Lucinda Williams.” I’d have referenced Bruce Springsteen and Shelby Lynne instead, and left out the love child reference, as – for me, at least – the phrase conjures Diana Ross and the Supremes. (And, too, it seems a tad unfair to her actual parents.)

So, instead of delving into the notes and words of Undesirable, I thought I’d share a few videos alongside what I’ve learned of Warren’s story, primarily from summaries in No Depression (2012) and the Bluegrass Situation (2017): The Atlanta native’s musical journey began in 1991 when, likely as a tween or young teen, she acquired a guitar; the first songs she learned were by her musical heroes, the Indigo Girls; and, 13 years later, no less than the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray liked the debut album by the Great Unknowns, her band, enough to release it on her Daemon Records label. 

By that point, unfortunately, the band members were drifting apart (while remaining friends) due to life’s demands. Also, in 2005, Warren married her boyfriend, a soldier who deployed to Iraq not long after their wedding. Like too many of that generation, he returned home with PTSD; every war injury impacts more than the soldier him- or herself, of course, and such was the case in this instance. The marriage didn’t last, but did inform the songs she wrote for the Great Unknowns’ second album, Homefront, which was released in early 2012.

Fast-forward a few years and, inspired by a 2012 stint with a Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriting Project workshop, she turned her and her ex-husband’s story (and the stories of others in similar situations) into the subject of her 2016 solo debut, War Surplus.

Undesirable, which was released earlier this month, is another thematic effort, this time tackling the stories of those on the fringes of society. After a few listens, I can say this with authority: It is as well-written as anything I’ve heard all year. In some ways, it’s a collection of short stories set to song.

And, finally, here’s Becky’s appearance on “Dust of Daylight’s Nashville Front Porch Sessions,” which features her singing three songs:

I spent Saturday afternoon listening to Holocaust survivor Daniel Goldsmith share his story. His family lived in Antwerp, Belgium, which was invaded by Nazi Germany in May 1940, when he was 8 years old. As in all their other occupied territories, the Nazis instituted a series of anti-Jewish laws. Then, in August 1942, they sent his father and other men to a forced labor camp in northern France. (As he learned many years after the war, several months later his father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.) 

After he, his mother and 1-year-old sister narrowly averted capture by the Nazis during a roundup of the remaining Jews, his mother placed him and his sister in a Catholic convent and joined the underground as a courier. For safety’s sake, after several months he was shuttled to a series of orphanages, but one was eventually raided. He was sent to a prison, then another, and then another, and then was placed in a box car with other boys for transport to what likely would have been a death camp. They managed to escape, however. A 16-year-old boy pried the wood planks from the car, and they jumped from the moving train when it slowed for turns. They hid in the woods for several days before a priest in Perwez arranged for local families to take them in; and, this time, they remained safe until the Allies liberated the area in September 1944.

The story is representative of an era in human history that too few have educated themselves about. It’s not that history is being forgotten, per se. It’s that it’s being ignored. Most folks know the broad-brush outline of the past, but in the mad rush of modern life it’s easy to miss the similarities between then and now, and to look the other way when and if those similarities come into view. In Europe and the U.K., for example, anti-refugee sentiments and rising antisemitism are worrisome. In the U.S., at present, the latest example is the way some talk about the migrants seeking to escape the dire poverty and violence in Central America. Rather than seek a solution to stop them from fleeing in the first place, we’re told that they’re “bad people” and “criminals.”

It’s not that dissimilar to when we turned away the MS St. Louis in 1939.

In Trump’s America, people of good conscience are not allowed to disagree on how to address the problem without being vilified. Democrats, we’re told, are in league with the “bad people” – and always have been. On the flip side, some Democrats are equally as asinine in their assertions about Republicans.

In other words, for many, the political arena is no longer a venue where political philosophies compete. Instead, it’s become a battle of “us vs. them,” with the “them” forever cast as villains. But, as I wrote here, that’s a false construct. It’s actually, always, us vs. us.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: What the World Needs Now…

1) U2 & Mary J. Blige – “One.”

2) Paul Weller – “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)

3) Stone Foundation – “Heavenly Father”

4) Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On” & “What’s Happening, Brother”

5) Rumer – “What the World Needs Now Is Love”