Life has been upended and, even once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, likely won’t right itself for years. My hunch is that most folks will continue to congregate via the internet and that, by and large, many retail establishments will fade away faster than they would have, otherwise. In the U.S., after all, department stores and shopping malls have been on the verge of disappearing for a decade-plus. Why deal with the hustle and bustle (and possible COVID-19 exposure) when one can order what one wants and needs online? Malls, especially, are destined to become relics…
…which saddens me. I spent many hours hanging out at a mall and even more working in one.
Anyway, earlier this week, I pulled out my deluxe edition of Wings Over America and re-watched the Wings Over the World TV special for the first time since the massive set’s 2013 release. For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Paul McCartney’s oeuvre, the 75-minute documentary – which first aired in the spring of 1979 (March 16th on CBS; April 8th on BBC 2) – chronicles his 1975-76 flight around the globe with his post-Beatles band, Wings. Unlike the 1980 Rockshow concert film, which presents a typical concert, it includes offstage footage alongside live clips, plus features a few archival delights, such as Wings Mach I performing “Lucille” at their first rehearsal in 1972.
I first saw it on that March night, a Friday, when it aired in the time slot reserved for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson – 11:30PM. I was 13, an 8th grader and, on Fridays, often stayed up late to watch Carson and, sometimes, the music-centric Midnight Special, which followed at 1:00AM.
Life was different then. In my suburban enclave, our main street was home to many mom-and-pop shops, though the only ones I frequented were the record store, bookstore and newsstand. The movie theater, owned by Budco, got my business, too. Twenty minutes away was a relatively small shopping mall – it housed many wonders, including a video arcade where I spent much time and many quarters, and a movie theater with not one, but two screens.
Back on point: Wings Over the World fueled my Wings fandom, which was already over the top, and the disco-light “Goodnight Tonight” (backed with “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”) – released a few weeks later – further fanned those flames.
But McCartney and his old band, the Beatles, weren’t the only objects of my musical passion. Olivia Newton-John, as I’ve noted before, was Totally Hot; and, honestly, I liked pretty much everything I heard in those days, and most of what I heard came courtesy of WIFI-92, a Top 40 station in Philadelphia that usually provided the soundtrack when my friends and I played baseball, football and basketball in the street. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb was played often that spring, as was “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones.
In the wider world, the economy was – as it always was in the ‘70s – stumbling. As this census report summarizing the year notes, “The median money income of households in the United States was $16,530 in 1979, an increase of 10 percent over the 1978 median of $15,060. However, after adjusting for the 11.3-percent increase in prices between 1978 and 1979, the 1979 median was slightly lower than the 1978 median.” (For comparison’s sake, the median household income in 2019 was $63,688.) The NBC Nightly News on May 6th, 1979, features a report on the driving force behind the year’s rising costs: gasoline. (Or, to be precise, a lack thereof. Some states, including California and Pennsylvania, introduced even-odd rationing.)
If you take the time to watch the Jessica Savitch-anchored broadcast in full, you’ll also see a report on a massive anti-nuclear energy rally in Washington, D.C., that was inspired by the previous month’s Three Mile Island meltdown, plus a profile of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). It’s a good reflection of the year. Another reflection can be found in these films: Manhattan, Love at First Bite, The China Syndrome and Norma Rae.
I didn’t see those films at the time, however. My $5/week allowance only went so far – 45s were a dollar and albums ranged from $4.99 to $7.99; add in the music magazines I bought and… it’s easy to understand why I listened to the radio.
With all that said: April 25th, 1979, was a Wednesday – a school day. The temperature was in the high 50s by the time I reached the bus stop in the morning and rose to 77 by the time I arrived home in the afternoon – perfect weather for outdoor fun. I’m sure we hit the streets to play a game of some kind while WIFI-92 blasted; and that night, after homework, I’m sure I turned on the TV to watch Eight Is Enough and Charlie’s Angels.
I should add that, back then, a large chunk of music – aka disco – was little more than escapism set to a beat. As many of my entries on the 1970s document, the economy was rarely on a sure footing that decade – inflation and unemployment were part and parcel of the era. My hunch, as this pandemic fades, is that a similar silly fad will sweep the land. People need mindless diversion.
And, based on the charts from from Weekly Top 40, here’s today’s Top 5: There Was a Time… (aka April 25th, 1979):
1) Amii Stewart – “Knock on Wood.” Sad to say, this is the first version of “Knock on Wood” I heard – Eddie Floyd’s classic version would come in a few years. Anyway, this week, Amii’s disco-fied remake jumped from No. 3 to No. 1, a perch it would hold for all of one week. It’s disco, obviously, as disco was all the rage, and may well turn some stomaches as a result – but c’est la vie. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.
2) Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive.” Holding steady at No. 2 is the stereotypical disco anthem, which was released on October 23, 1978. Within its first two years, according to its Wikipedia page, it sold 14 million copies.
3) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” Rising from No. 8 to No. 3 is Blondie’s breakthrough hit, which was on its way to No. 1.
4) Frank Mills – “Music Box Dancer.” In retrospect, what I loved about WIFI-92 – and other Top 40 stations – is that they pretty much played everything that made the pop charts. The only genre they cared about, in other words, was “hit.” This tune is a great example: Originally recorded in 1974, and used as the b-side to a newer song, it found its way onto the airwaves due to the program director at an Ottawa pop station who heard and liked it. It gained traction and, over the course of several months, landed on the Easy Listening charts in the U.S. before transitioning onto the pop landscape. This week, it clocks in at No. 4, where it’ll hold steady for another week, then lurch to No. 3 and fall fast to No. 15.
5) The Doobie Brothers – “What a Fool Believes.” Written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the infectious slice of blue-eyed soul lands at No. 5 while on its way to No. 1. Loggins released a version of the song five months before the Doobies on his 1978 Nightwatch album, but his remained an album track.
And two bonuses…
Rising up to No. 6 is this silky-smooth love song by Peaches & Herb, which – as I said above – flashes me back to 1979 with every listen. Here’s some trivia, though, which surprised me when I first learned it a few years ago: There have been seven Peaches through the years, and the one singing here (Linda Greene) is the second.
Debuting this week on the charts (at No. 79): “Deeper Than the Night” by Olivia Newton-John, the second single from her Totally Hot album, which was released in November 1978; it would eventually top out in the charts at No. 11 in early June