Friday Five: June 1981

It’s a quick one this week, while I’m away from the interwebs.

5. “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith
It ended the month of June at #2 before beginning it’s four-week stay at the top of the R&B charts. It was funk, rap, and the kind of thing that (we) kids (of color, at least) loved to dance and skate to. It felt modern and hip to me.

4. “Take It on the Run” by REO Speedwagon
The song peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 in June, the follow up to the much larger hit “Keep on Loving You.” They combined to make the album Hi Infidelity</em) the biggest selling rock album of 1981, and the band's biggest selling album in their long history (it was their ninth album overall and they had seven more in them to come). I joined my first record club in 1981. I didn't get this album but I did eventually buy the follow-up Good Trouble. I don’t remember being a big fan; it was just what one was supposed to buy.

3. “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes
This could easily be #1 on my list but Kim Carnes doesn’t need my help. It was the #1 song in the country for nine non-consecutive weeks, from May to July 1981. After its fifth week, its reign at the top was interrupted by the odd mishmash of musical samples called “Medley,” by a Dutch group called Stars on 45. It then returned to the top spot for another four weeks. The smash hit was written by Donna Weiss and the maker of more than a few hits, Jackie DeShannon. I don’t remember being crazy about the song but neither did I dislike it. It was one of those cultural phenoms that everybody knew.

2. “Give It to Me Baby” by Rick James
While Kim Carnes was burning up the pop charts, Rick James was doing the same on the R&B charts, where he sat at #1 for five weeks (from June to July) with this hit. A funky bass line gives way to a killer dance song that makes it hard not to move. It was a favorite at the roller skating rink.

1. “All Those Years Ago” by George Harrison
Peaked at #5 at the end of the month, one of the pleasing tunes by George before he hit his renaissance in the later decade. Lyrically it captures his age and position as a former Beatle, so it’s nostalgic. Musically he’s making a current pop hit with lots of overtures to the past as well. I don’t remember it at all at the time, but I like it a lot now, as I do most of George’s stuff. He’s the fav of the fab four for me and my boy.

Friday Five: June 1980

I was 7 years old when 1980 began. It must have been a big deal——the end of such a distinctive decade and the start of a new one——but I don’t remember it. A few years into the decade, I do remember thinking of myself as a chid of it. It felt like our (my?) decade. And of course, a big part of that was the distinctive sound of pop and rock and dance music.

I’m not sure you would see much of what was to come later in the decade in the top hits of June 1980. But maybe if you listen hard…

5. “Let’s Get Serious” by Jermaine Jackson
Michael Jackson began 1980 at the top of the R&B charts for a six-week stretch with his hit “Rock With You.” He would not be the only Jackson brother to achieve that success. Jermaine did the same for six weeks, from May to June. Whereas brother Michael reached the top spot on the Hot 100 too, Jermaine only made the top 10. Brother Michael would soon rise to be the biggest recording star in history; this was Jermaine’s biggest hit. Everything I’ve just written——talking about Jermaine Jackson entirely in comparison to his brother Michael——is completely unfair to Jermaine Jackson as an artist. It’s also reflective of his entire career. The song was written by Stevie Wonder, who also offers some vocal support.

4. “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The S.O.S. Band
Let me apologize now for what I’m sure is going to be a frequently written statement for the next few weeks, as I write about early 80s music. This song was a big hit, one we loved to hear played at the roller skating venue we frequented. And that’s saying a lot for a kid like me back then. You see, “the disco” was a big part of the 70s. And, for all intents and purposes, roller skating joints were the discos for kids who could not yet go to a proper disco. They were windowless warehouses lit with bright color lights flashing on and off——with a big disco ball hanging in the middle of the rink——where kids went to meet other kids and have a good time dancing/skating together. We even had drinks——sodas and cherry or blue raspberry Slush Puppies (kind of like Icees). To say this about this song, then, is a form of high praise.

3. “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc.
It spent four weeks at the top of the Hot 100, from the last week of May into June. Sometime in summer 1980 my mom took me and my sister to the local record store, a chain called Licorice Pizza (do you get it kids?). She let each of us buy a 45 record (a single for you youngins), which was the first for each of us. My sister bought this. We listened to it a lot. A LOT.

2. “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” by Billy Joel
This was the 45 record I bought. It made it to #4 in June 1980, before climbing to the top of the charts for two weeks the following month. “New Wave” was big stuff and this song——seemingly a reaction to the changing trends——ironically blends some of them in to what is a punchy, swinging rock tune. We played this a little less that “Funkytown,” but not by much.

1. “Call Me” by Blondie
Debbie Harry was asked to write a song for a movie about a male prostitute. This is what she created. The new wave hit was the band’s second #1 single (after 1979’s “Heart of Glass”) and it helped make the movie American Giglo into some kind of hit (one that my 7-year-old eyes would not see for another decade. The song was in the top spot for six weeks from April into May, remaining at the #5 position until the first week of June. It came in at number one for the year end charts, too. Along with Devo’s “Whip It” and the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” this song heralded a new kind of musical sound to my young ears, accentuated by the fact that groups of teenagers I saw (usually at roller skating rinks or water slide parks or other kinds of public places all seemed to like them at almost religious levels.

Friday Five: June 1979

1979 is the high point of disco. There were 26 #1 songs on the Hot 100 that year and only about 10 of those (maybe) were not disco related. The crop of songs that made the year-end charts were heavily disco, too, although rock groups like The Knack (whose “My Sharona” ranked #1 for the year) were also represented.

While I like a lot of disco, especially the funk/soul stuff, it’s not my favorite work for the time.  I’m much more partial to the classic rock of the era—Van Halen, AC/DC,  Foreigner—or the non-disco pop stuff (like the B-52’s, whose debut album dropped in 1979).

That said, the tunes that made the top five in June of that year were some solid examples of the genre.

5. “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
Her album Bad Girls was her biggest selling work, made so by hit singles like the title track (a #1 song in July) and this #1 hit of June 1979. The album——like the song——is filled with things a seven year-old kid and his sister shouldn’t have been singing and dancing to, but what ‘cha gonna do? It was one of our most often played albums of the year, due in no small part to this song, a dance classic with a strong guitar lick that kicks off the entire album. It hit the top spot on the Hot 100 for three non-consecutive weeks in June.

4. “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
It’s an iconic song, one whose message of female solidarity and love allows it to transcend the limits of the genre and the era. Written by Niles Rogers, it’s a party song with an uplifting melody and lyrics with malleable meanings, a combo that carried it to #1 on the R&B charts. Rogers wrote it to describe the group itself (as they describe themselves to him) but it had powerful meanings for gay liberation movements and others as well. One of my favorite songs to hear anytime.

3. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” by McFadden & Whitehead
Gene McFadden and John Whitehead were song writers who wrote hits for the O’Jays, The Jacksons, and others. When they finally released their own album in 1979, this was their biggest hit, topping the R&B charts for the first week of June. A song of optimism and celebration meant to communicate the status of Black America in the post-Civil Rights era, it’s an indelible anthem and a likable dance tune. Here’s the duo lip syncing the hit on Soul Train.

2. “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Ricki Lee Jones
Ricki Lee Jones released her debut album in 1979 and this song——about fellow songwriter and musician Chuck E. Weiss——was her biggest single, topping out at #4 on the Hot 100. Jones’s talent had gained her a set of allies and advocates in the industry. Dr. John, Michael McDonald, and Randy Newman all made guest appearances on her first album. She was also part of a unique, late-70s music scene in LA. She was dating Tom Waits at the time, and they lived in now legendary dump of a place called the Tropicana Motel, along with fellow residents Weiss, as well as members of Black Flag, The Stray Cats, and The Runaways. It’s a unique sounding song, with a catchy riff, and an example of the non-disco stuff that had success at the time.

1. “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind, & Fire
Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” was the biggest disco hit of the month. It spent two weeks atop the Hot 100 and five weeks at #1 on the R&B charts. Her success on the R&B charts kept Earth, Wind & Fire out of the top spot with this song. From the album I Am, “Boogie Wonderland” is a disco classic but also a less of a “timeless” song than their bigger hits of the era (or even “After the Love Has Gone,” from the same album). Still, it holds a special place in my upbringing. I have memories of my folks getting ready to go out on a date night (maybe even to a local disco) and me and my sister would be playing this album (and this song) making our own fun for the night by jumping around the house of pretending to be professional dancers. As impactful as the music to me was the Afro-centric art that graced the cover and inner fold of the album.

Friday Five: May 1978

I turned six years old in 1978, which means I actually remember some of the music. I wasn’t old enough to control much of what I heard——most of what I listened to would have been the music that older folks around me listened to——but I was old enough to like things and start to exercise some choice.

5. “On Broadway” by George Benson
I love George Benson. I have a distinct memory of my uncle Frank playing George Benson and Chuck Mangione around this time and I liked what my uncle like. Benson is an underrated vocalist; he’s one of the greats of his era. Of course, he’s also a skilled jazz guitarist. The combination of the two took him to both critical and popular success in the mid-70s. This track (from his live album Weekend in L.A.) reached #2 on the R&B charts in May 1978.

4. “Use Ta Be My Girl” by the O’Jays
It has a guitar intro that has a Latin flavor and a whole bunch of disco leanings but it’s the vocal stylings of the O’Jays (who by this time were Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, and Sammy Strain, who replaced original member William Powell after his death in 1977) that makes this a classic R&B tune. It spent five weeks at #1 on the R&B charts, their last hit record ever.

3. “The Closer I Get to You” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway are good stuff when they’re on the own. They’re even better together. The two friends (they met at Howard University in the mid-60s) recorded together often. This would be their last duet, although each recorded their parts separately. Hathaway’s mental health struggles kept him from joining Flack in the studio. It would be his final hit record, topping the R&B charts in April and lingering at #5 in early May. It also peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 in May.

2. “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees
No group came to symbolize the era of disco more than the Bee Gees. As a result, no group suffered more when the anti-disco backlash took hold. I think history came back around to respecting and celebrating them a decade or two later, and I’m glad. Their R&B (and even funk) foundations produced a gaggle of hits——songs whose quality shows through even when you strip away the disco elements. Of course, this one is pure disco. The film Saturday Night Fever came out in December 1977 and by January it produced the first of three #1 hits for the Bee Gees. This was the biggest of the three, reaching #1 in March where it stayed for eight weeks, ending its run in early May. I was only 6——too young to see the movie——but I was old enough to know it was the movie everyone was seeing. I remember talking about it with my godparents’ granddaughter, who was a few years older and so saw the film, as we listened to her album of the soundtrack.

1. “You’re the One that I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
I was old enough to see John Travolta’s other hit movie that year, Grease. (Actually, I probably wasn’t old enough but most of the sex stuff went over my head, as it likely did for my Spanish-speaking grandma who took us to see it multiple times.) The Grease soundtrack was undoubtedly the most played album in the Sandoval house for 1978. This song hit the #3 spot on the Hot 100 in May before peaking at #1 in early June——right when the movie was released. That means the song was released before the film! It’s the climax of the movie, when good-girl Sandy finally goes bad.

Friday Five: May 1977

It’s an easy one this week…

5. “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC and the Sunshine Band
It peaked at #3 on the R&B charts in May ’77 and reached the same mark on the Hot 100 before sliding into the #1 spot in June. There’s something about the KC and the Sunshine Band’s version of disco that’s different. I meet more people who still love them today seemingly more than any other disco group. Their songs also seemed to stick around a little more than most. I’ve never been a big fan, but I’ve never not been a fan either. Songs like this are the reason why.

4. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac
The Laurel Canyon sound was everywhere in 1977 and this band had a lot to do with it. “Dreams” made it to the #4 spot in May but that was just a temporary stop on its way to #1 the following month, becoming the band’s only #1 single on the Hot 100. It’s an indelible track——a daily feature of rock (and probably adult contemporary) radio to the present day——and that says more than I could ever say.

3. “Hotel California” by the Eagles
It’s one of the most recognizable and popular rock songs in music history. I’ve gone through periods where I love the song and periods where I hate it, the latter usually dictated by the kind of people who were liking it at the time. The Eagles are skilled and deserve the recognition they have but they can also be a band that doesn’t make it very hard to like them. That can equally lead to hating them. That said, the older I get the more I love the song. It’s mysterious and can be corny, but it’s so rich musically and still stands as one of the greatest rock guitar songs ever. For a deeper appreciation of it, check out this dissection from Christian Hand from the old Mark in Morning Show. It’s got a reggae beat! Topped the Hot 100 at the start of May 1977.

2. “Got to Give it Up (Pt. 1)” by Marvin Gaye
Ain’t no kinda sexy like late 70’s Marvin Gaye sexy. And ain’t no disco like Marvin Gaye’s disco either. This was an intentional attempt to write a disco song for him. But he is also the reason this song can’t be confined by the word “disco.” It’s a party song, a dance song, a funk song, a soul song, a sexy song——and probably even more. It defies categorization, but also invited a bunch of imitators. One of the greatest from the man who has every right to be on the short list of “greatest” period. Cracked the top 5 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts in May before reaching the top spot in both the following month.

1. “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
It’s a tribute to the late Duke Ellington and a stellar testament to the brilliance of Stevie Wonder. It reached #1 on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts in May ’77. One of my favorite Stevie song’s of all-time.

Friday Five: May 1976

I turned fours years old in May 1976. That’s not much, but I have memories that are from those times. Small stuff. Our home. Family. My birthday party. Nothing of consequence to anybody but me.

I wonder what I would have thought about the trends in popular culture had I been old enough to have an opinion? I’d like to think if I were a teenager then that I would have been listening to albums like Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak or High Voltage by AC/DC. I loved both almost two decades later.

It’s far more likely that I would have been listening to the odd mix of sounds coming from top 40 radio. Here’s five from the top 5 from back then.

5. “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale
It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 in early May. It’s a catchy tune that’s both disco and R&B retro at the same time. Sung by Maxine Nightingale——a mixed-race Brit who was a professional stage performer in the European productions of shows like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar——it was a massive international hit. Look at this cutting edge “video” of it.

4. “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton
What can I say? It’s disco in all it’s mid-70s magic but it’s also a solid R&B dance song by a really talented singer. It peaked at #2 on the R&B charts in May 1976 but didn’t make it beyond #20 on the Hot 100. It was her only real hit in the US but her voice carried her to greater success in the UK. (A memorable remake updated with a 90’s techno sound played a part in Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 hit movie Romeo + Juliet.)

3. “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers
From Watts, The Sylvers were a musical group of brothers and sisters who had a collection of hits in the late seventies. This was probably their biggest hit; it was the #1 song in the country on my birthday. If you listen, it’s easy to hear how they’re kind of lifting some of the mojo of The Jacksons. Even today, it’s still a catchy song.

2. “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian
Former Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian wrote this as the theme song to the ABC sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. Starring comedian Gabe Kaplan (he started each episode with a corny joke, which I loved when I finally became a fan of the show in syndication in the 80s), the show premiered in fall 1975 and became a ratings sensation, catapulting the young John Travolta to fame. It also did good by Sebastian’s theme song. When somebody realized they could make some money off the tune, Sebastian wrote it out from a theme to a single, adding a second verse that didn’t exist at first. The single went to #1 the week before “Boogie Fever.”

1. “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop
I’m not sure this song has ever left classic rock radio play. I knew it by the 80s but it wasn’t until the 90s that I came to admire it for the vocal performance. It doesn’t avoid vocal challenges and it hits every one of them that it takes. It makes for a memorable song. I came to own the single when I bought both volumes of the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997). Since then, I’ve known it well and often sing along to it when it comes on the radio. (I don’t ever succeed at those vocal challenges, but I still try.) Well, it wasn’t until right now that I discovered Elvin Bishop was a blues guitarist who didn’t even sing on this, his biggest hit (it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 in May 1976). The vocal brilliance I’ve always loved was none other than a young Mickey Thomas, who would go on to more fame as the lead singer of Starship in the 1980s. I did not like Starship in the 1980s. But I still like this. And so do a lot of younger people. It was rediscovered after its use in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Friday Five: May 1975

Here’s five song from the top five of May 1975:

5. “How Long” by Ace
This “super sounds of the 70s” kind of song remains a standard on rock radio today. If you offered me a hundred bucks I couldn’t have told you the name of the group who made it. And until this moment I didn’t know the lead singer of said band (the British called Ace) was Paul Carrack, who had some hits in the 80s as part of Squeeze and Mike + The Mechanics. It peaked at #3 in May 1975.

4. “Sister Golden Hair” by America
Talk about songs of the 70s! Few songs have more of that iconic 70s soft rock sound than this hit by America. The trio were more following the trend than setting it, but they knew how to work within it as good as any pop group. It reached the #5 spot in late May, before topping the charts the following month.

3. “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” by Freddy Fender
I love this song! I don’t remember it being that big a thing in my childhood. I suspect it would have been different if I grew up in Texas because Freddy Fender is a bigger part of Chicano culture in Texas. Still, it’s a song I knew and when I got into Freddy Fender in the late 90s it was something I could play on repeat. Wistful, romantic, pained, and lovely, it reached the top spot on the country charts in March 1975 and then climbed its way up the Hot 100 in May until it reached #1 at the end of the month. Freddy recorded it in a few minutes on a lark. It became his first and only #1 on the pop charts.

2. “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver
Freddy Fender might have been the only Chicano to top the Country and Pop charts with the same song in 1975, but he was not the only person to do so. John Denver released this song on his 1974 album Back Home (which included his mega-hit “Annie’s Song”). A live version of the song (recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles) made it onto his 1975 album An Evening with John Denver and that version climbed the charts. It entered the top 5 on the Hot 100 in May, the same month it topped the country charts. It did the same on the pop charts in June.

1. “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire
When Earth, Wind & Fire are at their best they’re nothing short of musical magic. This song hit #1 on the R&B charts in March 1975 and topped the Hot 100 in May. The first string of bass notes draws you in and the hot horns keep you grooving.