As the ‘70s ended and the ‘80s beckoned, this is what America was listening to
Back in the day, Billboard froze all charts for the last week of the year, a week in which the magazine did not publish.
Accordingly, this was not only the chart for the w/e 12/22/79, but also for 12/29/79, truly the final Hot 100 of the 1970s. The accompanying playlist includes 39 songs, save for Richie Furay’s (ironically enough, at #39).
TW LW TITLE Artist (Label)-Weeks on Chart (Peak to Date)
1 4 ESCAPE (The Pina Colada Song) –•– Rupert Holmes (Infinity)-10 (1 week at #1) (1) — It’s not surprising that Holmes went on to become a Tony winner (for Best Book of a Musical and Best Score, both for 1985’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and prolific author of Broadway shows, because as you can hear from this song along, he likes to cram a lot of details into his songs. That’s to the benefit of “Escape,” however, because without the details, the song doesn’t have the same magic. It’s musically buoyant, but it’s the story Holmes tells that makes the song. All of “Escape”’s parent album, Partners in Crime, is worth your time, too. (And no, I’m not being ironic; I’m very much a fan.)
2 3 PLEASE DON’T GO –•– K.C. and the Sunshine Band (T.K.)-18 (2) — Harry Wayne Casey made multiple great albums in the ‘70s, packed with some of the best boogie/disco songs you’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, this soppy ballad was the first Hot 100 #1 of the 1980s; don’t hold that against him.
3 1 BABE –•– Styx (A&M)-12 (1) — Has there even been a cheesier-sounding keyboard than that which opens this ridiculous record?
4 5 SEND ONE YOUR LOVE –•– Stevie Wonder (Tamla)-8 (4) — From Wonder’s fascinating, commercially disappointing, nearly ambient soul record Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants came, amazingly, his second Adult Contemporary #1 (the first was 1973’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”), which also spent a month locked at this #4 pop peak, and hit #5 Soul. It’s light but not weightless, and entirely gorgeous, one of his best ballads ever.
5 2 STILL –•– The Commodores (Motown)-13 (1) — The Commodores’ second Hot 100 #1, after ‘78’s “Three Times A Lady,” and both were warning shots, as it were, for Lionel Richie’s 1980s to come. (Along with this song’s immediate predecessor, the #4 “Sail On.”) I don’t love “Three Times,” but I think “Still” is an incredibly gutting record, and both are remarkable testaments to Richie’s songwriting prowess. (And the country-soul “Sail On” is sheer brilliance.) Listen to “Still” like you’ve never heard it before; it’s quietly devastating.
6 8 DO THAT TO ME ONE MORE TIME –•– Captain and Tennille (Casablanca)-10 (6) — They were dirty! I mean, “Do That To Me One More Time,” “The Way I Want to Touch You,” “You Never Done It Like That” (that last one I totally stan for, mind you) — they really liked their sex songs. This one would be their second and final #1, and final top 40 hit altogether. It’s also microwaved Adult Contemporary porridge.
7 7 YOU’RE ONLY LONELY –•– J.D. Souther (Columbia)-16 (7) — Souther was a great songwriter (and middling singer) aligned alongside Linda Ronstadt (yay) and her former backing band the Eagles (boo). This slight late ‘50s pastiche (those drums, god) is solid-enough pop, but less than great.
8 6 NO MORE TEARS (Enough Is Enough) –•– Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer (Columbia/Casablanca)-10 (1) — Disco ebullience, and as perfect as diva “showdowns” get. Two remarkable singers taking on a killer song — its build is genius — and the payoff is big.
VIDEO: Jon Lovitz performs “Ladies’ Night” in The Wedding Singer
9 11 LADIES’ NIGHT –•– Kool and the Gang (De-Lite)-12 (9) — After a long spell in the commercial wilderness — while they’d still had some R&B hits, they’d not made the pop top 40 since 1975’s “Spirit of the Boogie” — K&tG returned with a much slicker sound on ‘79’s Ladies’ Night, to their commercial benefit and artistic detriment. This #1 R&B/#8 pop smash was the warning bell for the next year’s “Celebration,” which makes me want to pour bleach into my eardrums. This one isn’t quite as bad, but it ain’t good, either.
10 10 TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME –•– Supertramp (A&M)-11 (10) — Why were Supertramp so fucking popular? What an average, prog-inflected pop/rock group. None of their hits have anything special to offer, and that includes this one.
11 12 ROCK WITH YOU –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-8 (11) — The cool production Quincy Jones put on this is so immaculate, and Jackson’s vocal so ebullient and carefree, that this single can’t help but sound like perfection, 40 years later.
12 13 COOL CHANGE –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-10 (12) — The sound of dirty, slushy, it’s-been-cold-but-hasn’t-snowed-in-two-weeks snow.
13 14 WE DON’T TALK ANYMORE –•– Cliff Richard (EMI-America)-10 (13) — Richard’s second US top 10 single (after 1976’s “Devil Woman”) is easy-going midtempo pop-rock of its era, utterly inoffensive and unexceptional.
14 16 HEAD GAMES –•– Foreigner (Atlantic)-7 (14) — Their eighth consecutive top 20 hit from a trio of top five albums? Not a bad way to start your career. This is a crunchy, strong rock record with an urgent vocal from Lou Gramm.
15 22 CRUISIN’ –•– Smokey Robinson (Tamla)-12 (15) — Since leaving the Miracles in 1972, Robinson had seven top 10 R&B singles, but during that span he didn’t even make the pop top 20 once. That changed at the turn of the decade, with both “Cruisin’” (heading for dual #4 R&B and pop peaks) and early ‘81’s even bigger “Being With You” (#1 R&B for 5 weeks, #2 pop for 3). Mr. “Quiet Storm” — seriously, his ‘75 song/album of that title gave the genre its name — kept the rhythm slow and the melody creamy on “Cruisin’,” complete with some gorgeous string charts, and made an all-time classic in the process.
16 18 BETTER LOVE NEXT TIME –•– Dr. Hook (Capitol)-11 (16) — This band became the essence of smarmy late ‘70s “lovers” “rock,” and after listening, I need an alcohol wipe for my ears and brain. Ick.
17 19 THE LONG RUN –•– Eagles (Asylum)-3 (17) — Woefully average Eagles, which is sub-par for most. Following up the #1 “Heartache Tonight” (#20, below), the title track of their latest album (#1 Top LPs and Tape, below) had vaulted to #17 in only three weeks on the chart — but wouldn’t make it past #8, and would be their next-to-last top 10 hit before the band broke up for the glories of solo stardom.
18 20 JANE –•– Jefferson Starship (Grunt)-8 (18) — Mickey Thomas’s debut as the new Jefferson Starship lead singer (after the twin departures of Grace Slick and Marty Balin) was a harder rocking record than they’d made in a while — and a better one, too. Who wants to hear “Miracles”? Nobody, that’s who. This has some heft to it, and proved out of the gate that Thomas could belt.
19 21 I WANT YOU TONIGHT –•– Pablo Cruise (A&M)-11 (19) — Galloping (really!) yacht rock at its peak position, the third of four top 40s from the San Franciscans. Before doing this rundown, I don’t think I’d ever heard it, and I’m not sure I’ll remember it in 10 minutes, but it’s alright for what it is.
20 9 HEARTACHE TONIGHT –•– Eagles (Asylum)-12 (1) — If you enjoy the sound of Glenn Frey yelling at you, you’ll love this.
21 23 THIS IS IT –•– Kenny Loggins (Columbia)-10 (21) — Three of the six top-rated songs on the Yachtski Scale are by Loggins, with this getting a 98.25 — deservedly so. This is state-of-the-art yacht rock, right down to its Michael McDonald backing vocals and its late 1979 release, and if you can’t hear that, I can’t help you. (This would also win Loggins his first Grammy award, for Best Pop Male Vocal.)
22 26 COWARD OF THE COUNTY –•– Kenny Rogers (United Artists)-6 (22) — Between 1978 and 1981, Rogers had an astounding eight albums top the country chart: five studio albums, two compilations of hits, and one collaboration with Dottie West. Suffice it to say he was the king of country as the decade turned. “Coward” would be his fifth consecutive solo #1 on the country singles chart (this week it was at #2), and his biggest pop hit to date, heading for a Hot 100 peak of #3. (Its parent album, Kenny, became his first to crack the pop top 10, too.) Rogers excelled at two kinds of songs: love songs, and story songs. Story songs such as 1977’s “Lucille” (#5 pop/#1 country) and ‘78’s “The Gambler” (#16 pop/#1 country) had helped Rogers make his name, and “Coward” continued in that tradition. It’s surprisingly nasty, too — about a young woman’s rape, and the revenge her boyfriend gets on her three attackers. But the story is achingly well told, and Rogers sings it so amiably, it’s kind of irresistible.
23 27 I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER –•– Prince (Warner Brothers)-5 (23) — As the decade turned, Prince was enjoying his first pop top 10 single (it would peak, cruelly, at #11 in early 1980) and first #1 R&B hit (it had already spent two weeks atop the chart and was starting its descent), about to ascend to his throne: he’d be both the #2 singles and albums artist of the 1980s. This is such a sly, slick record, with that glorious falsetto and in-the-pocket groove, it’s easy to underrate it. Don’t.
24 15 HALF THE WAY –•– Crystal Gayle (Columbia)-13 (15) — I’d ask what the disco strings are doing on this “adult country” record, but feel certain that the answer is crossover, so I guess in that case they worked? Gayle sounds as superb as ever, but this isn’t a great record by any means, in part due to those disco strings. And also the overall drippy production.
VIDEO: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform “Don’t Do Me Like That” in concert
25 31 DON’T DO ME LIKE THAT –•– Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Backstreet)-6 (25) — A perfectly succinct, tight, taut rock single that gets in and out in less than three minutes: AOR made with the guiding principles of new wave. Their “Breakdown” peaked at #40 in 1977; this, their second top 40 single, made it all the way to #10, and feels like one of the rare singles in this countdown that was pointing the way forward as the ‘80s beckoned.
26 30 WAIT FOR ME –•– Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA)-9 (26) — Heading for #18, this would be Hall & Oates’ biggest hit since the #1 “Rich Girl” two-and-a-half years prior, and was well and truly the sound of them lost in the commercial morass of the late ‘70s. It’s a slow rocker with some tasty guitar and a clock/metronome sound effect that I find appealing, though your mileage may vary. Their real breakthrough wasn’t far off, however: the release of Voices (which included the iconic pair of “Kiss on My List” and “You Make My Dreams”) was just eight months away.
27 29 DAMNED IF I DO –•– The Alan Parsons Project (Arista)-13 (27) — The prog-pop-rock group were always bigger album than singles artists, so it’s not surprising that this, at its peak, was the APP’s biggest hit to date. If you’ve ever heard one of their singles besides “Eye in the Sky” and haven’t heard this, well, it sounds pretty much exactly as you’d expect. And if you haven’t, well, you needn’t bother.
28 32 DON’T LET GO –•– Isaac Hayes (Polydor)-9 (28) — Jesse Stone was an old-time rhythm-and-bluesman who, under the pseudonym Charles Calhoun, wrote “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” one of the first really seismic rock’n’roll records. It hit #1 R&B for Big Joe Turner in 1954 and #7 pop for Bill Haley in the same year. A couple of years later, under his own name, he composed “Don’t Let Go,” which Roy Hamilton took to #2 on the R&B chart. Over the years it was covered by everyone from Clyde McPhatter to the Four Seasons to the Jerry Garcia Band to Jerry Lee Lewis, but wasn’t a big hit again until Isaac Hayes disco-fied it and made it the title track of his 1979 album. The song became his first top 40 hit, and biggest R&B hit, since 1973’s “Joy (Pt.1).” That said, he doesn’t exactly improve on the original. At all.
29 17 SHIPS –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-11 (9) — His 15th consecutive top 40 single (the streak would reach 18) was his 10th top 10 (he’d only hit that height once more), but was also fairly formula for the Adult Contemporary king at this point in his career. Unlike its title, “Ships” doesn’t go much of anywhere.
30 33 THIRD TIME LUCKY (First Time I Was a Fool) –•– Foghat (Bearsville)-6 (30) — Bands like Foghat are the reason the term “butt-rock” is a term.
31 35 CHIQUITITA –•– Abba (Atlantic)-7 (31) — Abba were never anywhere nearly as big in the U.S. as they were across the rest of the globe, only notching a trio of top 10s here. This wasn’t one of them, only making it to #29, I suspect owing to its music-hall-ness; this is a very European-sounding single. It’s also oddly sluggish.
32 25 POP MUZIK –•– M (Sire)-20 (1) — Forward-thinking in its use of electronics, sure, but I’ve found this song incredibly grating and annoying. The male vocal, the female vocals, the harmony, all of it; “Pop Muzik” makes me want to rip my ears off.
VIDEO: John Cougar performs “I Need A Lover” on The Don Lane Show
33 28 I NEED A LOVER –•– John Cougar (Riva)-11 (28) — In its album version, the vocal on this doesn’t start until 2:30 in. That’s insane for a new, commercially-driven artist, and it’s also ballsy as hell. You can also hear how ballsy the then-Cougar was in his vocal, which gives exactly zero fucks. He’s just going for it. It didn’t feel like it at the time, I’m sure, but this record is essentially a statement of purpose from someone who we’d hear a lot more from as the new decade got rolling.
34 38 DEJA VU –•– Dionne Warwick (Arista)-7 (34) — Clive Davis brought Warwick back from the commercial wilderness, a five-year period from 1974-79 (after her smash #1 duet with the Spinners, “Then Came You”) in which she barely troubled the charts at all. But Davis had the brilliant idea to pair her with Barry Manilow in the producer’s chair, and the resulting album, Dionne, was her highest-charting pop record since 1969 and her highest-charting R&B record since 1970. In “Deja Vu,” co-written by Isaac Hayes, she’d even notch her first Adult Contemporary #1 in a decade (this week, it was already at #3); it was on its way to a #15 pop peak. This is an all-time favorite of mine, the epitome of a single as a warm bubble bath, complete with glowing candles and ice-cold champagne. The songwriting is top notch (regular Hayes and Manilow collaborator Adrienne Anderson handled the lyrics), the production superb (so soft, so creamy — and those subtle string echoes!), and Warwick sings it with a deft, light touch. Perfection.
35 45 SARA –•– Fleetwood Mac (Warner Brothers)-2 (35) — Yes, the title track from the Mac’s Rumours follow-up, Tusk, made it to #8, but I suspect that’s because it was their first new music post-Rumours. This was what most of their fans really wanted to hear, I’d surmise: a soft, Stevie Nicks-sung ballad, gauzy and ethereal, and it peaked a notch higher than “Tusk.” (Can you imagine hearing this on top 40 radio at the time?!) Anchored by Mick Fleetwood’s sturdy drumming, this is a Nicks showcase, and I will never get enough of it. One of their best singles.
36 43 YES, I’M READY –•– Teri DeSario with K.C. (Casablanca)-6 (36) — You thought “Please Don’t Go” (#2, above) was bad? Oh, then you’ve not heard this cover of Barbara Mason’s top five record from 1965. DeSario’s voice is so thin, it’s basically water, and K.C.’s production isn’t much more substantial — perhaps so as to not overshadow her vocals?
37 24 BROKEN HEARTED ME –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-14 (12) — Murray’s third consecutive country #1 and third consecutive multi-week Adult Contemporary #1 was her second of 1979 to peak at #12 on the Hot 100. Her warm alto — I mean, c’mon, her voice — is perfectly suited for this stately, elegant ballad.
38 41 TRAIN, TRAIN –•– Blackfoot (Atco)-10 (38) — This Floridian Native American hard southern rock band had their greatest success with their third album, Strikes, from which came both this song (at its peak) and the #26 hit “Highway Song,” which quite obviously takes notes from “Free Bird.” (Bandleader Rickey Medlocke played with Lynyrd Skynyrd prior to forming Blackfoot, and has been Skynyrd’s lead guitarist since 1996.) “Train, Train” was written by Medlocke’s grandfather (!) and has been covered by both Warrant (as metal) and Dolly Parton (as bluegrass!). This is definitely harder than most rock records which were making the top 40 at the time.
39 39 I STILL HAVE DREAMS –•– Richie Furay (Asylum)-9 (39) — This former member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco sounded, in 1979, like you’d expect a former member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco in 1979: a country-rocker artistically adrift, yearning for commercial success and failing in both regards.
40 44 ROTATION –•– Herb Alpert (A&M)-6 (40) — In 1979, Alpert could’ve jumped on the disco bandwagon (albeit a wagon that, unbeknownst to most, the wheels were about to come off of), but he didn’t; he instead chose to make instrumental music that was more challenging than much disco. You know this song’s predecessor, the #1 smash “Rise,” but “Rotation” is in some ways more interesting, a smoothly percolating groove with Alpert noodling his trumpet over top of it.
AUDIO: Herb Alpert “Rotation” (original 12″ mix)
And looking at the #1s on Billboard’s other charts:
#1 Soul: “Do You Love What You Feel,” Rufus and Chaka Khan — At #54 and climbing on the Hot 100, this would make it to #30 in early ‘80 for the legendary mixed-race funk band fronted by the irrepressible Khan. They sound tighter than ever here, thanks to their producer on the Masterjam album: Quincy Jones. The groove on this, ohmygod.
#1 Country: “Happy Birthday Darlin’,” Conway Twitty — Fitting that Twitty closed out the ‘70s atop the country chart, as he was the #1 country singles artist of the decade. His astounding 28th #1 country hit (of 40 in all, good for second place behind George Strait) is… kinda weird, and mostly spoken, and he intentionally links it with his classic “Hello Darlin,” and, well, just listen to it.
#1 Disco: “Deputy of Love,” Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band — This delightfully weird record never came within a foot of the Hot 100, not surprising when you learn it was on NYC’s delightfully weird downtown label ZE Records. No less an authority than Chuck Eddy calls this “ridiculously infectious Latin disco,” and he’d know. Also: the great Fonda Rae on vocals!
#1 Adult Contemporary: “Send One Your Love,” Stevie Wonder — See #4, above.
#1 Top LPs and Tapes: The Long Run, the Eagles — Talk about Imperial Phase: this was the Eagles’ fourth consecutive #1 album, and the longest-running of the quartet (9 weeks). Not surprising as during the back half of the decade preceding this album’s release, they’d notched seven top 5 singles, a full five of those #1s (including #20, above). But that doesn’t make them any good. And apart from the lovely ballad “I Can’t Tell You Why,” this album is fairly uniformly late ‘70s too-much-coke garbage.
Special thanks to the website Top 40 Weekly, without whom I never would’ve started this column, and whose Hot 100 charts I cut and paste. And to those of you reading, Happy New Year — and decade!
AUDIO: The Eagles perform “I Can’t Tell You Why” in concert
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