Archive for the ‘1979’ Category

Days become weeks, months and then years, and soon enough the communal memories are relived on the Decades TV channel via its flagship “Through the Decades” program. For those who’ve never seen the show, it’s a magazine-styled documentary series that delves deep into what happened on a particular date across the decades. Sometimes, though, I wish it dove deeper into specific days or timeframes. 

Which leads to this date in 1979: September 8th. It was a Saturday and, in the Delaware Valley, a wondrous pre-fall day. As predicted by Jim O’Brien, the weather forecaster on Action News, temperatures remained in the low 70s through the afternoon, thanks in part to the sun hiding behind billowy clouds, and then dipped into the 60s that evening.

The main issue on everyone’s mind: the economy. The unemployment rate jumped from 5.7 percent in July to 6 in August, due in large part to layoffs in the manufacturing sector, and inflation was – yet again – on the move, clocking in at 15.4 percent.

Two months earlier, on July 15th, President Jimmy Carter had delivered his infamous “malaise” speech about the palpable unease in the land: “It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” Carter, it should be noted, was half-right: There was a crisis in confidence – but it wasn’t directed inward. Rather, the American people had lost confidence in him.

The median income of households in the U.S. was $16,530 (click here for a full report), which comes out to $58,418 in today’s money. (The average cost of a car, for those curious, was $6,848.)  

Anyway, Saturday being Saturday meant me heading up the street to play make-shift baseball, basketball, football or street hockey with friends, all to a soundtrack provided by the Top 40-oriented WIFI-92. That night, along with the mom of two of the friends, we took in one of the funniest movies I’d yet seen, The In-Laws.

I know the date not due to a photographic memory, but old-fashioned deduction: It’s the only Saturday in September that the movie was booked at the one-screen Hatboro Theater, which is where we saw it.

If I’d stayed home, my TV options would have been severely limited…

…so, odds are, I’d have hightailed it to my room and listened to music. And speaking of music, here’s today’s Top 5: September 8, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) The Knack – “My Sharona.” Topping the charts for the third week in a row is this tasty track, which I owned – and still own. In time, an anti-Knack backlash took hold, as the band was seen as calculating and somewhat crass. Whatever. 

2) Chic – “Good Times.” Within a year, Chic would find themselves cast aside due to the anti-disco backlash deejay Steve Dahl’s Disco Demolition Night ignited on July 12th at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. But that doesn’t diminish their work. (Nile Rogers’ memoir, by the way, is well worth the read.)

3) Earth, Wind & Fire – “After the Love Has Gone.” The classic soul group channels their inner-Christopher Cross in this adult-contemporary classic.

4) Electric Light Orchestra – “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The final single from ELO’s 1978 Discovery album reached No. 3, their highest-charting 45 yet. (It would take an assist from Olivia Newton-John for them to hit No. 1, which they did the following year with the title tune to Xanadu.)

5) The Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Folks who heard this on country radio back in the day may not know, but the line that goes, “’Cause I told you once, you son of a gun, I’m the best that’s ever been” was dubbed in after the fact to accommodate radio airplay. As heard in the clip below, it originally went, “I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been.” 

It’s been a few months since I blasted into the past, and the long break makes it all the more mind-blowing to think that I wasn’t just alive 40 years ago this day, but was fully cognizant of the world around me – well, as fully cognizant as a 13-going-on-14-year-old can be. 

To better set the mood for this particular post: It was a Saturday, and the weather in my Delaware Valley neighborhood was, in a word, wondrous: The temperature peaked at 84 Fahrenheit degrees in the afternoon, and the blue sky was mostly free of clouds.

The biggest news of the day, as indicated by the above screenshot from the Philadelphia Inquirer, was the decision of Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, to back a 3-cent-per-gallon gas tax to fund PennDOT (aka the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation). Then, as now, potholes needed to be filled! Another, even more steep increase in fuel costs was hidden further down the front page, however: Coffee prices were expected to rise by 40 cents due to a recent frost in Brazil.

Desmond Ryan, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s movie critic, reviews the new film “Walk Proud” on Page 5A; it’s a movie I’ve never heard of but, apparently, earned some notoriety for casting white-bread Robby Benson as a Chicano gang leader. That’s not why I’m highlighting the movie section, however. This tidbit, from Ryan’s “On Movies” column, is:

Allan Carr’s “Discoland,” for those willfully ignorant of yesteryear kitsch culture, found its way into the movie theaters the following June as “Can’t Stop the Music,” and the new title proved oxymoronic given that the disco beats on the soundtrack had plummeted from popularity by then. Not that this week’s charts hint at the downfall.

Closer to home: I’ve revisited this stretch of months before, so won’t delve too deep into the intricacies of my life. (If you’re interested in an in-depth flashback, click here.) My days in eighth grade had just wrapped, and – aside from an upcoming visit to an uncle’s farm – was looking forward to sleeping late, hanging with friends, enjoying matinee movies, and listening to lots of music – either selections from my growing LP/45 collection, Michael St. John’s weekend oldie show on WPEN-AM, or my favorite station, WIFI-92, which was a Top 40-oriented station that played pretty much anything that was a hit. Disco, rock, pop, country, R&B – so long as it was hot, it made the playlist. 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: June 16th, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40): 

1) Donna Summer – “Hot Stuff.” Holding tight to the No. 1 slot for the second week in the row is this taut pop-rock track, which was the lead single from Donna’s Bad Girls album. Former Steely Dan and Doobie Brother guitarist – and future Defense Department consultant – Jeff “Skunk” Baxter handles the incendiary guitar break.

2) Sister Sledge – “We Are Family.” Nipping at the heels of “Hot Stuff” is the soon-to-be Pittsburgh Pirates anthem, which was and remains a catchy tune that only a Music Grinch could dislike. Here’s some trivia: It’s the first song written and produced by Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards for a non-Chic act.

3) Anita Ward – “Ring My Bell.” Written by former Stax artist Frederick Knight (“I’ve Been Lonely for So Long”) for 11-year-old Stacy Lattisaw to sing, this tune wound up being reworked for Memphis-born Anita Ward, a former schoolteacher who held a degree in psychology. She initially rejected it, but Knight – whose label she was recording for – insisted; and, thus, a future No. 1 hit was born.

4) Randy VanWarmer – “Just When I Needed You Most.” The No. 4 song of the week is this sensitive, soft-rock classic, which was inspired not by a girl, but – a la Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” – a beloved car. In the years since, it’s been covered by a wide range of artists, including Tim McGraw, Skeeter Davis and Bob Dylan. 

5) Donna Summer – “Bad Girls.” Jumping into the Top 5 is this propulsive number, the second single from Summer’s double-LP of the same name.

And two bonuses…

6) Supertramp – “The Logical Song.” Odd, I just discussed this song with a coworker last week and here it is, at the pinnacle of its popularity. For whatever reason, it just takes me back to many a late-spring/early summer/late-summer day, when friends and I played in the middle of the never-busy street in front of someone’s house. On a less personal front, no less than Paul McCartney cited it as his favorite song of 1979…

7) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love.” Yeah, I’ve featured this exact clip in another 1979 Top 5. Maybe two. It’s such a blast of effervescent fun, however, how could I not feature it again? (For the record, it clocks in at No. 7 this week.)

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

It’s easy to dismiss Hank Williams Jr. as a reactionary clown due to the conservative canards he long ago embraced, and a wide swath of America has done just that. At best, in their eyes, he’s the cartoonish buffoon who sings the Monday Night Football theme. At worst, they don’t think of him at all. Hank Who?

Which is a shame. From the landmark Hank Williams Jr. & Friends LP in 1975, when he embraced the outlaw ethos, through his last truly great album, Lone Wolf in 1990, he released a string of solid-to-stellar studio albums along with a truly stupendous live set, 1987’s Hank Live, and not one, not two, but three best-of collections. He was, as he brags in the live version of “My Name Is Bocephus,” the “platinum boy that does the rock ’n’ roll-country-blues.”

Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, released in November 1979, rates among his greatest works. Remember that the Iranian Revolution early in the year caused the price of oil to soar, which upended the economy as a whole. Auto sales plummeted, and inflation – which had been a scourge on working people for most of the decade – ratcheted past 10 percent. It was, for many, a bleak time.

As a result, as a whole, the album’s mostly downbeat. The title tune, for instance, tells of a life on the road, and the guilt that comes from a booze-fueled attempt to remedy loneliness. Like many a country song, in other words, it’s about cheating. The woozy rhythm accentuates the lyrics, which find the narrator begging for certain jukebox standards – including one by Hank Sr. – not to be played, lest he be reminded of his failing.

“Tired of Being Johnny B. Good,” the second track, reflects the era’s anger to a T. (In some ways, to share an observation from my wife, it’s a Tea Party anthem from a pre-Tea Party time. I’d only say that the lyrics are actually democratic – note the lower-case “d.”)

“Outlaw Women”…well, what can be said about this other than it’s a classic? Here’s a great version from 2004, with Hank joined by Gretchen Wilson.

Another high point: Hank’s bluesy take on the Allman Brothers’ “Come and Go Blues.”

The album ends with Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings joining forces for “The Conversation,” in which they trade stories about Hank’s famous dad. Here’s the two of them from sometimes in the early ‘80s…

Say what you will about Hank’s politics (which are pretty much diametrically opposite of mine), but don’t let his outspoken stances get in the way of what is a damn good set of songs. Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound is one of the touchstone albums in my life, in fact. It’s outlaw country at its best.

Side One:

  1. Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound
  2. Tired of Being Johnny B. Good
  3. Outlaw Women
  4. (I Don’t Have) Anymore Love Songs
  5. White Lightnin’

Side Two:

  1. Women I’ve Never Had
  2. O.D.’d in Denver
  3. Come and Go Blues
  4. Old Nashville Cowboy
  5. The Conversation

Thursday night found us at what sometimes seems like our home away from home, the World Cafe Live in West Philly, to see Rickie Lee Jones. If I’ve done my math right, it was the seventh time that I’ve seen the jazzy singer-songwriter, who’s long been a favorite. Though she had a cold, she delivered a solid set that was accented by spellbinding moments – especially on “We Belong Together.”

That’s not my video, I hasten to add. We were in the front row, where experience has taught me that the upward angle guarantees the overhead stage lights will appear like glowing orbs on my iPhone videos. But here’s a photo I took:

“We Belong Together” hails from her classic 1981 album Pirates, of course, and really should’ve been released as a single, as it’s one of her best songs.

Another highlight came earlier in the night with the second single released from her 1979 eponymous debut, “Chuck E.’s in Love,” which is the first thing I – and most folks, I’m sure – heard by her. According to Weekly Top 40, it made its chart debut – at No. 65 – on April 28th, the same week that Blondie’s “disco song,” “Heart of Glass,” topped the charts. Over the course of the next two months, it slowly weaved its way through the disco and pop dross cluttering Top 40 until, on June 9th, it hit entered the Top 10 at No. 8.

Four weeks later, on July 7th, it peaked at No. 4 (a spot it would hold for an additional week).

That July wasn’t much different from what I described in Today’s Top 5: June 1979 or Today’s Top 5: September 29, 1979 other than, for me, school being out. There was also this: I was 13 when the month began, and 14 when it ended. Beyond that, according to Wikipedia, the month’s notable events included, on the 2nd, the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin being introduced; on the 8th, L.A. passing a gay and lesbian rights bill; and, on the 16th, Steve Dahl’s “Disco Demolition” stunt at Chicago’s Comiskey Park going kaboom.

Among the albums released this month were Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Rust Never Sleeps, the B-52’s debut and the Kinks’ Low Budget, but I wouldn’t discover them for quite some time. I was a kid on a budget, after all, and albums were often a luxury. And, too, there’s this: I was (likely) still grooving to a release from the month before: Wings’ Back to the Egg.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 7th, 1979 (via Weekly Top 40):

1) Anita Ward – “Ring My Bell.” Some people hate this pure shot of disco fluff, which was enjoying its second week at No. 1, and it’s understandable why they might. But it has a certain charm…

2) Donna Summer – “Bad Girls.” As I noted after her untimely death, Donna Summer wasn’t just the “queen of disco” in the late ‘70s, but the queen of the Top 40. This week, she holds the No. 2 spot with the propulsive second single from the Bad Girls album; it was No. 3 the previous week, and would hit No. 1 the next. According to the Wikipedia entry, she was inspired to write the song after she was stopped one night by a police officer who mistook her for a prostitute. Who knew?

3) Donna Summer – “Hot Stuff.” And here’s additional proof of Summer’s chart dominance: “Hot Stuff,” the lead single from Bad Girls, dropped to No. 3 this week from No. 2, and before that had enjoyed a three-week run as No. 1. It would remain in the Top 10 for several more weeks, too. One of the interesting things about the song, to me at least, is the way it effortlessly blends rock and disco. (Check out the guitar solo at the end.)

4) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love.” Rickie Lee’s biggest hit is also one of her greatest songs, a true effervescent shot of upbeat joy. This week, it reached No. 4 on the charts – a spot it would hold for one more week before falling out of the Top 10.

Here’s a cool video of her singing it on stage back in the day…

5) Kenny Rogers – “She Believes in Me.” Disco may have ruled the charts in the late ‘70s, but as evidenced by “Chuck E.’s in Love,” there was more to the era’s music than fast beats. And just as hip sounds could find their way in the charts. So could country – especially when sung by Mr. Rogers.

And a few bonuses…

6) Supertramp – “The Logical Song.” Mr. Spock’s theme song, from Supertramp’s smash Breakfast in America LP, peaks at No. 6 this week.

7) Wings – “Getting Closer.” Back to the Egg sported a cool cover, and some good-to-great tunes. Not Paul McCartney’s best, but far from his worse – New Wave in theory, at least in spots, but Old Wave in practice, through and through. This, the lead single, clocks in at No. 31, and would stall a few weeks later at No. 20.