Friday, March 4, 2016

Billboard Top Ten March 10, 1979

[The newest post in my continuing series of looking at what was in the top ten in times past during the same week.]

So far we've been looking at 80s top tens, let's dip back a little bit into the 70s, shall we?

10. Dire Straits "The Sultans Of Swing"

Before Dire Straits started rocking sweatbands and getting money for nothing and chicks for free, they managed to update blues rock for a post-New Wave world.  This song shows off the beauty of Mark Knopfler's guitar tone, which can cut through the pedestrian lyrics and flat singing.  This is by far the best thing the band did, and they never equaled it, despite having songs that were more popular.

9.  YMCA "The Village People"

The song that launched a million grandmas to hit the dance floor at Midwestern weddings.  This song may be played today than any more on the countdown, primarily at sporting events.  The music itself is B-grade disco, but the fact that it hides a subversive message of cruising for guys at the Y in an ostensibly family fun song deserves to be saluted.

8. The Doobie Brothers "What A Fool Believes"

Ah, the first true Yacht Rock crossover song.  The Doobies had been around for awhile, putting out rootsy rock with some rhythm behind it.  Then came the late 70s and the entrance of Michael McDonald, whose voice practically defined Top 40 in the 1979-1981 period.  That voice is almost indescribable, as powerful as it is uncannily off-putting.  (And not necessarily in a good way.)  The segue into the "wise man has the power" falsetto is pure pop magic, though.  It's also noteworthy that Kenny Loggins, whose smooth sounds were also of the moment, co-wrote the song.  Notice as well the airy synthesizers, a sign of the decade to come.

7. Peaches and Herb "Shake Your Groove Thing"

This song is what I love about late period disco music.  It is silly and frivolous but also fun and funky. All these years later it still gets them out on the floor.

6. Olivia Newton-John "A Little More Love"

People easily forget just how huge Olivia Newton-John was between 1978 and 1981.  Sure, between her twin peaks of Grease and "Physical" she appeared in Xanadu, but it was hardly a career-killer.  She had that wispy blonde look that was so of the moment, and a gentle voice that was both homey and sexy. This song has kind of a gritty vibe to it, the guitars glitzy yet rough.  Unfortunately, it's a bit clunky, which is why it's one of those hits that never made it into the oldies pantheon.

5. Donna Summer (with Brooklyn Dreams) "Heaven Knows"

Donna Summer too was "hot stuff" in the late 70s, but this is not one of her iconic tracks.  Unlike her collaborations with Giorgio Moroder, this is disco by numbers, except for the sparkling synthesizer on the bridge.  This song might as well be Exhibit A in the decline of disco from the perfect dance music to manufactured pablum.  Fun fact, the male singer is Joe "Bean" Esposito, the guy responsible for "You're The Best" from The Karate Kid, one of the all time great 80s hype songs.

4. The Pointer Sisters "Fire"

This song in a lot of ways is a sign of things to come. It isn't disco, and it combines R&B with rock, a formula that would yield a big bonanza in the 80s.  In fact, it even has a little bit of a country feel to it.  The reverby guitars remind me of the decade to come as well, but without the overdone production.  Man this is a great little song.

3. The Bee Gees "Tragedy"

The Bee Gees ruled the late 70s after their contributions to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, managing to weld their unique voices to some great disco tracks laid down by Miami-area R&B vets.  What they did afterward has been lost in the mists of time.  Their follow-up, Spirits Having Flown spawned some hits, but those songs never seemed to having staying power in the pop cultural memory. "Tragedy" is a case in point.  It hit near the top of the charts during Bee Geemania, but has basically been forgotten.  It's an odd song, sounding like minor-key ABBA with a dash of early 80s dance music.  If they hadn't been so popular at the time, I doubt this would've been a hit (and I say that as someone unafraid to profess his love of the Bee Gees.)

2. Rod Stewart "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy"

This song is Exhibit B in disco jumping the shark.  It was a music form song so dominant that rockers like Stewart got into the act, hoping to cash in.  This song also embodies the transformation of the sexual revolution from free love in the 60s into soulless pleasure-seeking in the 70s.  Above all, it shows the sad depths that Rod Stewart had sunk to in the late 70s.  He began the decade with an amazing run in the Faces and a quartet of fantastic solo records.  At some point he decided to sell his soul for fame and fortune, scoring hits with crap like this, which can't hold a candle to the likes of "Stay With Me."

1. Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive"

Now this right here is a number one song, people. I still remember when the alternative rock band Cake put out a cover of this in the mid-90s and people thought it was a joke, and the band quickly shot that accusation down.  They understood the emotional power of this song, perhaps the most iconic song about being jilted ever written.  It's different because it is defiant.  The singer gets over her feelings of loss and demands that her former lover's ghost never haunt her anymore.  The music itself is not remarkable, but Gloria Gaynor sings the everloving shit out of this song and imbues it with much more meaning than it has any right to have.  It will live forever.

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