Posts Tagged ‘1979’

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

Humans have lived, longed, loved, lost and loved again, forged wars and fought peace, and argued about politics familial, social and cultural, since the dawn of time. Such is the grist of poetry and song, of course, and while many lyrical laments litter the byways of history, forgotten, much has stuck around – thanks to the advent of, first, paper; second, recordings; and, last, the resonance of the works themselves. Whether they come from the pen of Wallace Stevens or piano of Carole King, or the hills of Appalachia, expressions of the heart, soul and psyche have remained constant through the ages. It’s why music, like all art, doesn’t come with an expiration date. We, as a people, live, long, love, lose and love again, and argue amongst ourselves, forever and ever. Amen.

I mentioned in my last post that I sent my niece CDs for her 21st birthday. (A few more than I intended, actually, but the prices on two were obscenely low.) Three harken back to the 1970s and the others hail from the past few years. The lines that lead from those of yore to the present are right there, to be heard.

One thing that I did, and I have no idea if it worked as intended, was to turn Amazon’s free gift cards into short notes about each album. So, for today’s Top 5: Classics, Old & New, here are the picks with my notes (and a bit extra) included.

1) Carole King – “So Far Away” from Tapestry, 1971. King, of course, is one of the all-time greats; and this album is, too. I wrote in the note, “Blue, Rickie Lee’s debut and Tapestry are stone-cold classics that have influenced many, including Diane Birch, FAK & the Staves.“ In retrospect, I should have singled out Tapestry specifically, as it was the top-selling album for 15 weeks in a row during the winter and spring of ’71. Rolling Stone rates it the No. 35 Album of All Time.

2) Joni Mitchell – “River” from Blue, 1971. I wrote: “This is rightfully considered one of the greatest singer-songwriter albums of all time, and has influenced generations of artists. ‘River’ is amazing.” Rolling Stone rates it the No. 30 Album of All Time.

3) Rickie Lee Jones – “Chuck E.’s in Love” from Rickie Lee Jones, 1979. I wrote: “Rickie Lee’s debut was and remains a stunner, building upon the blueprints laid down by Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Patti Smith, among others.” I’d add: Rickie Lee radiates utter coolness on everything she does, which is why she’s the Duchess of Coolsville. (Her most recent album was one of my favorites from last year, too, for what that’s worth.)

4) Diane Birch – “Nothing but a Miracle” from Bible Belt, 2009. I wrote, borrowing an observation from my Diane: “This album, in many ways, is a modern-day Tapestry.” That’s a tad over-the-top, granted, but there’s no denying the charm of this modern-day wonder. I remember reading the review of it in Rolling Stone a month or so before its street date; it sounded like something I’d like, so I looked her up on Facebook, where she’d posted four of the songs from the album. Within a few minutes, Diane called in: “Who is that? I really like her!” We’ve been fans ever since.

5) First Aid Kit – “Cedar Lane” from Stay Gold, 2014. I wrote: “This was my favorite album of 2014 – FAK are two sisters from Sweden who mine an Americana sound.” Notes, of course, can’t include hyperlinks, so I’ll include one here instead: my Albums of the Year, 2014 post.

6) The Staves – “Make It Holy” from If I Was. 2015. I wrote: “This album is a gem – my favorite from last year.” (Here’s that post.)

IMG_5448June 1979: I was a month shy of my 14th birthday and living a suburban life not that different from what was depicted in The Wonder Years or Freaks & Geeks – that is to say, I woke up, ate breakfast and left for the (school) bus stop; and, after school, hung out with friends. We played variations of baseball, football, basketball and hockey in the street, at the park and in a friend’s driveway, depending on what the sport called for.

A radio was almost always blaring.

Although a decade removed from the hurly-burly upheavals of the ‘60s, the aftereffects of that era hung in the air and on rock radio, where the same-old, same-old acts held a tight grip on the playlists. (In retrospect, it’s not a surprise that the music industry entered a sales slump right about then.) I’d begun tuning into Philly’s rock-oriented WMMR and WYSP, but listened primarily to WIFI-92, a Top 40 FM station that played anything that was a hit. If it made the charts, it played a part in my life that spring and summer simply because WIFI – like every Top 40 station known to man – had a tight playlist. Donna Summer, for instance, was hot stuff, an omnipresent force. Here she is on The Dinah Shore Show

I also bought 45s and the occasional LP, and liked just about every act I heard, though none more so than Paul McCartney & Wings, whose “With a Little Luck” the year before kickstarted my music obsessiveness – as I wrote about here.

The hits of the year can be found on “The Top 25 of 1979” playlist I created on 8Tracks/Handcrafted Internet Radio a few years back. Among the featured acts: Donna Summer, Chic, the Knack, Anita Ward, Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart and Blondie. It is, in its way, a good representation of what WIFI-92 was like, minus the deejay patter. They’re all songs I heard there first.

Hit TV shows that year included Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Eight Is Enough, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. I watched them all, and more – I was, am and will always be something of a TV junkie. Among the movies released in the year’s first half: Norma Rae, Hair, The China Syndrome, Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, The In-Laws and Rocky II. I only saw The In-Laws. (“Serpentine, Sal! Serpentine!”) in the theaters, though.

In the wider world: Foreshadowing events in the States, the Conservatives swept to power in England the previous month and installed Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. In April, the presidency of Jimmy Carter – unfair though it may have been – met its caricature when he was attacked by a “killer” rabbit. For the year, unemployment was relatively low, at 5.8 percent, but the wage-killer known as inflation was outrageously high: 11.3 percent.

IMG_5427This issue of Creem is, in its way, a solid reflection of the era. There’s the cover story on Blondie, whose “Heart of Glass” mega-hit broke them through to the big time even as some derided its disco flavoring; and includes articles on Bad Company, Dire Straits, the Police, and punk music. There’s funny advice in “A Rock Star’s Guide to Rock Criticism” for how rockers should field questions from critics; and a funny article about how doomsday is nigh – Name That Tune had gone disco! (Click on the image to the left to read the whole piece.)

Well, enough of the introduction. Here’s today’s Top 5: June 1979 (via Creem).

IMG_54261) Blondie – “Heart of Glass.” As I mentioned a few weeks back, I – like many folks – initially thought Debbie Harry was Blondie. This article is a good reason why: Blondie was a band, but the focus was on the bottle-blonde lead singer, right down to the headline that claims “Blondie Plucks Her Legs!”. The slant is, at the start, somewhat…silly. Here’s one question/comment to Harry from Nick Tosches, who penned the piece: “Your legs. They’re great. Do you shave them or wax them?”

Harry says neither, explaining that instead she plucks them “one hair at a time.…It takes about a week for each leg.” Later, regarding drugs, she offers this insight: “I know it sounds crazy coming from somebody like me, but the most satisfying feeling I have is when I’m completely straight and accomplishing something. The feeling of accomplishment is what I really like, what I really get off on. I think that love is better when you’re straight, no matter what anybody says. Everything is better when you’re straight, except fucking up.”

She also dispels the notion that Blondie is a new wave group. “We’re a pop group. We feel that we’re part of the new wave, but when it comes down to musical definitions, we’re definitely a pop group. We always tried to be a pop group.”

IMG_54462) Bad Company – “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” There’s both an article on the band and a review of their latest album, Desolation Angels. In the article, Paul Rodgers lays out his vision of rock ’n’ roll: “I don’t think you should ever, like, bring politics and stuff that surrounds you every day—all that depressing stuff—into music. People want to go and see groups to get away from all that. I know I do. The lights, the atmosphere…they can forget everything else.”

The review by Kevin Doyle is, in a word, forgettable. It takes Rogers & Co. to task, in a roundabout way, for what he hears as their generic sound without singling out any song from the new album to use an example. True, their sound was somewhat cookie-cutter; I’m not arguing that. But snideness without context serves no one but the author. Not that I care, that much, in this instance; I’ve never been a Bad Company fan, though I admit to enjoying some of their songs on the radio. One of those songs is “Rock & Roll Fantasy.” Every time I hear it, I’m thrust back to the morning when I walked into my middle school’s pre-homeroom holding pen, i.e. the cafeteria, and heard it blasting from someone’s boombox.

IMG_54333) Rickie Lee Jones – “Danny’s All-Star Joint.” I love early Rickie – and latter-day Rickie, too. Her 2015 Other Side of Desire album is among the year’s best. “Chuck E.’s in Love” was her first hit, of course, and I remember hearing it on the radio, where it was deliriously out of place no matter the station, but I didn’t buy her debut album until after hearing “Danny’s All-Star Joint” on a double-LP Warners compilation called Monsters, which sold via mail-order for an obscenely low price – two bucks, I think. This short-take review of her debut by one Michael Davis notes that “she’s nyro to Laura when she goes for them high aches and she’s closer to bratty Patti when she goes for them gutter giggles.”

IMG_54304) Joe Jackson – “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” Michael Davis also pens this take on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp LP: “1979 started out drenched in disco but as the months bumble by, it’s looking better and better. True, there’s lotsa new groups styxing to proven formulas but there’ve also been plenty of major record company by artists intent on being themselves.” (Styxing instead of sticking?! Good pun, sir!)

Next paragraph: “Like this guy, Joe Jackson. You could put him next to the Police, the Jam and early Elvis the Caustic and he’d feel right at home—in other words, he doesn’t. You could tag him as English, out front and, yeah, sharp—but after a couple of listens, the labels come off and not because of shoddy workmanship.”

Third paragraph: “Mainly, you’ll just listen to his songs—sparse farces about real life hassles, half of which stem from those thorny opposite sexers. His voice is always way up in the mix, pretty risky unless you’ve got the tunes and the ability to put ‘em across. Joe does.”

IMG_54215) The Boomtown Rats – “Rat Trap.” Before “I Don’t Like Mondays” broke them in the States, the Rats tried to make a go of it with the release of A Tonic for the Troops, their second U.K. album but first in the U.S. The record label swapped out a handful of songs for select numbers from their first U.K. LP, which met the same fate as the Jam‘s maiden efforts, though for different reasons. If the Jam were too English, the Rats were too eclectic. “Rat Trap” sounds like a Dublin spin on classic Springsteen; and other songs, such as “She’s So Modern,” echoed Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and other new-wave acts. I was one of a few folks – and the only person amongst my friends – to buy the LP, which hit the record stores in February of that year. Until “Monday,” I never heard them on the radio; my memory says I learned of them from the Kenny Everett Video Show, which was syndicated in the U.S., but my timeline may be confused. It could well have been from a record review.

Anyway, the tongue-in-cheek Creem profile says: “After scurrying out of Dublin’s crumbling pubs to play their first gigs as the Nightlife Thugs, these rodents decided to show their true bubonic colors: much to their surprise, their furry brand of rabid rock crept across the continent like vermin on a sailor’s scalp, leaving thousands breathless and itching for more.”