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.