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.