Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

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…

(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

April 30, 1977: Even at my young age – a mere 11 years and 10 months – I knew enough to note the momentous event of the date in my rarely used desk diary: legendary Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF championship to the colorful and flamboyant Superstar Billy Graham! 

Over the prior two years – less, actually – I’d become a big fan of the “sport.” When we returned from Saudi Arabia in the summer of ’75, after a near 5-year spell, I was a few months shy of 10. I was totally out of the loop on current American everything. I didn’t know anything about baseball, basketball, football or hockey, color TV, TV shows, popular music, or anything else. Oh, I knew about Mighty Mouse – the only Saudi TV station played those cartoons, along with a variety of other American and British shows, most of which were older than I was. Returning to the States was a bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the culture pool – all I could do was flail around and pray not to drown. One thing that I grabbed hold of: pro wrestling. The colorful characters, the drama and violence grabbed hold of my young imagination. I watched the syndicated shows that aired every weekend, bought and read the wrestling magazines, and slowly, ever-so-slowly, came to realize that “sport” wasn’t totally on the up-and-up.

I thought of that earlier this month when it was announced that Bruno had passed away at the age of 82. He was a good man, a great champion – but not my favorite wrestler. That was…yep, you guessed it: the Superstar! The excitement of learning he had won the coveted championship belt is evident in my scrawl, I think.

Beyond pro ‘rassling, as I now call it, I was often glued to the TV…though pop music was gradually infiltrating my world. The previous week, I picked up the Monkees’ Greatest Hits; and, by year’s end, I’d also own The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, and a few Elvis Presley LPs. But, back to TV: I watched almost everything ABC, including the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries on Sunday, The Captain & Tennille Show every Monday night, and the Brady Bunch Variety Hour when it aired in the same slot; Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Eight Is Enough on Tuesdays; Welcome Back, Kotter on Thursdays; and Donny & Marie every Friday.

I’ve written a fair bit about this year before, so won’t dredge up the same stats here. (And now that I’ve looked them over, there is some overlap in the chart hits…but rest assured that the renditions featured here are different than the ones there, wherever there may be.) To revisit those past entries, along with everything else 1977-related I’ve written, go here. 

And, with that out of the way, onward to today’s Top 5: April 30th, 1977 (via Weekly Top 40).

1) Glen Campbell – “Southern Nights.” The No. 1 single in the land this week was this joyous tune from the Rhinestone Cowboy. Written by the legendary Allen Toussaint, it conjures the magic of childhood memories, star-lit nights and family. 

2) Eagles – “Hotel California.” From Glen’s moony optimism to the Eagles’ bitter cynicism in one slot…how’s that for summing up the ‘70s? “You can check out anytime you like/but you can never leave.”

3) Thelma Houston – “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Say what you will about disco, but know this: There were plenty of great – and I do mean great – singles that came out of the genre. This is one of them. Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Cary Gilbert, the song was originally recorded by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in 1975, and hit No. 3 on the disco charts. This version? It went to No. 1 on the disco and pop charts – though, this week, it dropped from that top spot to No. 3.

4) Leo Sayer – “When I Need You.” Rising to No. 4 from No. 9 is this song from bushy-haired Leo Sayer, of whom I know little. In fact, I’ve never knowingly heard any Sayer recording until this very moment, while writing this sentence. (And now that I have, I don’t feel compelled to seek out his other hits.) Anyway, this song was written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, and was first released by Hammond in 1976; and was later covered by Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross, among others. 

5) Natalie Cole – “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.” Rising to No. 5 from No. 6 is this treatise on love (or should I say L-O-V-E?), which was written and produced by Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. True story: in 1990 or early ’91, prior to her Unforgettable comeback, Diane and I, and some friends, bought tickets to see Ray Charles with Natalie Cole at the now-defunct Valley Forge Music Fair. Ray was supposed to be the headliner, but due to a hiccup in her travel plans, he went on first…which meant the friends, who purposely arrived late to miss Ms. Cole’s set, wound up missing Ray! (Worse: She screeched most of the night, and the venue slowly emptied out as she sang. It was sad.)

And two bonuses…

6) Yvonne Elliman – “Hello Stranger.” Rising to No. 24 from 33 is Yvonne’s smoky rendition of the classic Barbara Lewis hit.

7) Henry Mancini & His Orchestra – “(Theme From) Charlie’s Angels.” Jumping from No. 51 to 45 is this, one of the week’s “power plays,” as kitsch a hit as I’ve ever heard – without the opening montage of Angels, it just doesn’t pack much of a punch. (And, no, I didn’t miss Charlie’s Angels on the list of ABC shows I watched above – I didn’t start watching until Season 2.)