Archive for the ‘1978’ Category

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.

1978 was a monumental year in my life, so much so that I’ve littered this blog with posts about it. (Click here for those.) For the uninitiated: I was 12 when the year dawned, and 13 when it faded to black; and graduated from listening to the oldies to the era’s new music during those 12 months.

This day was a Saturday, the first of the traditional start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend. Which meant I slept later than usual, watched Saturday morning TV while reading the morning newspaper, and…who knows? We likely visited the grandparents, or great-aunts and -uncles. Temperatures were in the 60s for the day. 

In the wider world: As with most of the decade, life could have been better: The unemployment rate was a notch below 6 percent, and inflation clocked in at 7 percent. Even if you had a job, in other words, it was difficult to get ahead. Beyond those pocketbook issues, at the end of the prior month, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was discontinued, with the units being integrated into the Army proper. And, though we didn’t know it at the time, the first Unabomber attack took place just two days earlier.

Here’s an entire newscast, complete with commercials, for this day from WJKW in Cleveland:

When it came to popular films and music, America had been gripped by a “Night Fever” for much of the winter and spring thanks to Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. But “Disco Inferno” was slowly subsiding. Among the movies in the theaters this weekend: FM; I Wanna Hold Your Hand; The End; The Buddy Holly Story; and Thank God It’s Friday. And among the songs on the radio…

Yep, you guessed it. Here’s today’s Top 5: May 27, 1978 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” The single concludes its two-week run at the top of the charts. I featured the music video for it a few weeks back, so here’s something a tad different: the 1978 UK DJ promo 45. I know some folks hear the song as lightweight, but I hear it as great: A commercial for the London Town album that featured the song spurred me to begin investigating new music, after all.

2) Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” The oeuvres of these artists are blind spots for me, and unlike the other songs in this week’s chart, I have no memory of this specific song, which clocks in at No. 2. According to Wikipedia, Mathis is the third best-selling artist of the 20th century, behind only the Beatles and Frank Sinatra; and Williams, who has a four-octave range, would go on to win a Grammy in 1987.

3) John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – “You’re the One That I Want.” The week’s No. 3 single is another song that I never grow tired of. Grease wouldn’t open for a few weeks, so it’s success, thus far, was due to its own charms.

4) Andy Gibb – “Shadow Dancing.” To my ears, the No. 4 sounds a lot like Andy’s older brothers, the Bee Gees. But that’s a conclusion I’ve come to after only a few cursory listens.

5) Roberta Flack & Donnie Hathaway – “The Closer I Get to You.” Rounding out the Top 5 is this sweet love song.

And two bonuses…

6) The O’Jays – “Used Ta Be My Girl.” One of the week’s power plays is this propulsive ode about a lost love, which jumps from No. 54 to 44.

7) Steve Martin – “King Tut.” Debuting on the charts is this catchy novelty tune, which still makes me laugh. Here he is on Saturday Night Live performing it…

On April 14, 1978, a Friday, I woke, got ready for school and was out the door at what seemed like an ungodly hour, but not before eating breakfast and downing some orange juice. I was a 7th grader, i.e. 12 years old, and finishing the last of two years at Loller Middle School in Hatboro. (Unlike many other school districts, the Hatboro-Horsham School District had two middle schools: one for 6th- and 7th-graders, and one for 8th- and 9th-graders.) Anyway, given that the temps were chilly that morn – the day’s low was 44 degrees Fahrenheit – and I had a near mile trek, I likely wore my winter coat, as well as a button-down shirt. I was also bedecked in corduroy pants (denim jeans were banned by the school principal).

The biggest concern in my life: making the Honor Roll, which I’d done in all the previous marking periods at Loller. The second concern, as I charted here: A little thing called rock ’n’ roll. I’d just caught the bug, though my idea of “rock ’n’ roll” was more pop-oriented.

But my concerns were not the concerns of the nation. Inflation and the ever-increasing cost of living dominated the news. Here’s the ABC Evening News from eight days prior:

I’ve written about 1978, and many of the issues that dominated the headlines before, so won’t go in-depth here. Suffice it to say, however, that times were tough, and getting tougher. (Not much had changed since January, in other words.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 40 Years Ago Today… (courtesy of Weekly Top 40; the chart is for the 15th).

1) The Bee Gees – “Night Fever.” The Brothers Gibb ruled the singles charts this week – as they had for much of the year, just as Saturday Night Fever ruled the albums chart. “Stayin’ Alive” had hit No. 1 on February 4th, and remained there for four weeks, when it was displaced by younger brother Andy’s “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.” That tune was bumped out two weeks later by “Night Fever,” which held onto No. 1 for eight weeks. (And, as with most of the previous weeks, “Stayin’ Alive” was No. 2.)

2) Yvonne Elliman – “If I Can’t Have You.” Entering the Top 5 is this addictive pop gem, which was written by the elder Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb. (It and “How Deep Is Your Love” are my favorites of the Fever songs, for what that’s worth.)

3) Jackson Browne – “Running on Empty.” Rising to No. 15 (from 18) is this classic tune, which I never tire of.

4) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” Jumping from No. 57 to 17 is this ode to optimism and love. As I’ve noted before, this is the song that fast-tracked my music fandom. I still love it.

5) Dolly Parton – “Two Doors Down.” The country legend wasn’t a legend at this point in her career. The previous year, however, she’d finally found success on the pop charts with the title track to her Here You Come Again album. This song, the follow-up single (which ranks at No. 36), is actually a re-working of the original album version, and eventually replaced the original on the album itself, as well. (It has more of a pop sheen.)

The original:

The remake:

And one bonus…

6) The Patti Smith Group – “Because the Night.” Entering the charts at No. 82 is this timeless tune written by Bruce Springsteen and recast by Patti Smith.

Ah, 1978. I remember it well. But I have no memory of ever having seen or read this magazine, a bi-monthly that, due to the lack of advertisements within its pages, looks like it attempted to subsist on subscriptions and newsstand sales. There’s a full-page ad for Carole King’s Welcome Home album on the inside front cover; another full-page ad on the inside back cover for YSL Records, which specializes in Japanese imports; and there’s an ad on the back for Intensive Care, an album by jazz musicians Louie Bellson, Ray Brown and Paul Smith that’s billed as “the first audiophile release from Discwasher Records.”

Beyond that? There’s a half-page “classified” section that charges 50 cents a word; and this Akai-infused subscription pitch:

The magazine itself, as the subhead promises, offers “in-depth coverage of rock, jazz and classical music.” Here’s the contents page:

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: October 1978 (via Record Review Magazine).

1) The Rolling Stones – “Miss You.” Jon Sutherland thinks much of the Stones’ Some Girls album, which he says is “the most sweeping and powerful Stones production since Sticky Fingers” and “their finest album in nearly a decade.” He also takes a shot at the punk scene: “The Stones created the spirit the punks are now borrowing, but the punks don’t have the touch of the masters.” Ouch!

Sutherland concludes his love-fest with “[t]he Stones started the trend toward hard rock and the tenacious comment that goes with it. No one does it any better. Probably, no one ever will. The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock and roll band in the world and Some Girls is a reconfirmation of that fact.”

2) Cheap Trick – “Surrender.” Page 11 features Record Review Interview: Cheap Trick, by Boni Johnson, which mixes critical insights with quotes from Rick Nielsen. Of this song, Johnson writes that it’s “as definitive of the Cheap Trick sound as anything they’ve recorded. The melodic guitar lead, strong hooking chorus line, the dash of pop sensibility, and the simple instrumentation are all evident.”

The band had yet to break big in the States, though they had overseas. “In Japan, we’ve done very well. ‘Clock Strikes Ten’ and ‘I Want You to Want Me’ (both from In Color) were hits and we’ve scored gold albums, but it’s just a matter of time before it happens in America too,” according to Nielsen.

That time came the following year, of course, after their at Budokan live album was released.

3) Bob Dylan – “Where Are You Tonight?” Michael Davis weighs in on Bob Dylan’s legacy as well as the bard’s latest album, Street Legal. “There are those who consider Dylan close to a god, and others who regard him as a has-been with the majority somewhere in between. That he should inspire such a wide disparity of views should come as no surprise since the man has followed his changeable muse throughout the last two decades…”

Of the album itself, Davis concludes “I’m a little disappointed, but there are rewarding tracks here. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening to the ones that puzzle me; I know Dylan’s music well enough by now to know that the pieces don’t necessarily fall together at the beginning.”

4) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “The Promised Land.” Davis also tackles Springsteen’s third album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, his first since 1975 due to a legal fight with his former manager, Mike Appel. “It appears that he was determined not to lose touch with the streets that inspired most of his songs,” writes Davis. “But of course that environment changed for him. The people that he draws his material from in Darkness on the Edge of Town are no longer street urchins, hanging out on the boardwalks and endlessly cruising and fighting their time away. They are working men who put in 40-hour weeks at jobs that slowly eat away at them, and though they try to ease their frustrations through love relationships with women and competitive relationships with other men, they are only partially successful.”

This song, says Davis, exemplifies “Bruce’s vision of working life existence.”

5) Buffalo Springfield – “Rock & Roll Woman.” Richard Nisley delves into the short but storied catalog of one of greatest rock bands of the 1960s, Buffalo Springfield. The band “had  a string of hits in the second half of the last decade, among them ‘For What It’s Worth,’ ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Uno Mundo,’” explains Nisley. “But they are better remembered for having Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and for their last album, Jimmy Messina, as members. Each went on to become a superstar in his own right, a status the band never achieved. Not that it didn’t have the chance; what it needed was time. The band was together about two years and had another year passed it likely would have emerged from the pack that included the Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds as the country’s top rock group.” Perhaps. Perhaps not.

And in the end…there’s this preview of a surefire box-office hit…

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