100. “Deacon Blues” – Steely Dan: Kicking things off with a real bang is jazz-rock experts Steely Dan. While I’ve yet to listen to more from this group than just their Hot 100 singles, every song I hear from them is at least a little enjoyable. “Deacon Blues” may not be as instantly hooky as “Do It Again” or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, but it’s still got its charms. Namely, the clean guitar work, typical of a Steely Dan track, is a real highlight, along with the oh-so-smooth saxophone. There’s no denying, however, that this is a tad weaker than the stuff they’d released earlier in the decade, the lyrics being especially vague. Still, it’s hard to complain too much when dealing with Steely Dan.
99. “Hollywood Nights” – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band: Unlike “Night Moves”, which is admittedly pretty interesting, “Hollywood Nights has considerably less going for it. The guitar and drums chug along pretty nicely, but it’s nothing more than another “small town boy loses his mind in the big city” kinda song. Not so sure if Bob Seger is for me.
98. “We’re All Alone” – Rita Coolidge: The synths in the background of this track are pretty nice and the string-driven crescendo of the chorus complement Coolidge’s sumptuous vocals rather nicely. Moreover, while the saccharine sweet lyrics and gradual rise in intensity immediately bring my mind to Manilow, I somehow don’t find this nearly as insufferable as much of his stuff. It neatly rides the line between melodrama and simple piano ballad, taking along all the positive elements that come with both.
97. “The Name of the Game” – ABBA: This has never been one of my favorite ABBA singles, to be honest. While they tend to do both high-tempo pop fluff and low-tempo ballads rather well, the mid-tempo pace and convoluted structure they’ve got here feels slightly awkward from the get-go. It doesn’t help that the equally-as-clumsy lyrics – with phrases like “I’m getting more open-hearted” and “I’m a bashful child beginning to grow“ – make it very evident that English isn’t their first language. What does “name of the game” mean anyway? In the context of the rest of the lyrics (regarding the speaker’s coming onto a love interest), it makes no sense. Still, this has some of the jazziest bass of any of their songs and their harmonies are dreamy as always.
96. “Ebony Eyes” – Bob Welch: Welch was a former member of Fleetwood Mac, but the distinctly pop sound exemplified through “Ebony Eyes” couldn’t be further from what the band was putting out around this time (or even before). I can’t say I’m really a fan of this. The repetition of “your eyes…” in the chorus really feels like it wants to be catchier than it actually is. The lyrics are just so flimsy in general that – coupled with Welch’s mousey voice – one really does get the impression that the speaker wants to get with this lady simply ’cause he likes her eyes. That recurring guitar riff is a mighty good one, though; I just wish it were in a better song.
95. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Eruption: Sure, with cover songs that are this detached from its source material, it’s tempting to judge it harshly in relation to the original, especially if there’s a special sentimental value toward the latter. To a certain extent, this is inevitable since some covers are just pointless or don’t get it. (see: Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and Pat Boone’s whole catalogue of rock ‘n’ roll and gospel covers). With others, though, the change works out better than expected or even intended. I love The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and always have, but Gloria Gaynor’s disco cover is too magnificent to pass up. In this case, the star of the show is Precious Wilson, the nearly anonymous voice behind the high energy belts and growls that punctuate this thumping dance track. It sounds cheap, yes, and there’s no touching the Ann Peebles recording. Yet somehow the heartbreak and loneliness behind those lyrics translate strangely well as a catalyst for a night of blissful, carefree partying. These are the kinds of covers I like to hear.
94. “Turn to Stone” – Electric Light Orchestra: It’s true that this is yet another anthemic, dramatic strings-laden performance from ELO, and that’s what makes it so well-composed and pleasing to the ears. Still, it sounds like practically every element I loved from the near-perfect “Livin’ Thing”, only turned down to a lesser degree. This includes the lyrics, which seem relatively half-assed even by Jeff Lynne standards. Still, this is, once again, delightfully well-crafted. That one a capella bit in particular gives me the giggles.
93. “Don’t Look Back” – Boston: Listening to this song is always a bit of a weird experience. The verses are blissful and melodic, but the parts immediately afterward (“I can see it took so long to realize…”) are a bit weaker and don’t stick as well. And then those guitars come roaring in, with a chorus(?) that kicks it back into hyperdrive… yet is over much too soon. And then it’s the same thing all over again. In other words, this is more just a collection of great and kinda-good parts that falls just below the band’s capabilities. Comparing it to “More Than a Feeling” from just a year earlier truly magnifies its wasted potential. Those are still some mighty fine vocals and guitar work, though.
92. “Flash Light” – Parliament: This is it – this is the most danceable song ever. There’s got to be some science behind this as irrefutable proof of the fact. In all seriousness, though, this is a great song in spite of how silly Parliament undoubtedly were at times. The closest song I could think to compare this too is Brick’s “Dazz” from the previous year – but this could also just be their similarly repetitive choruses (“Jazz dazz, disco jazz” vs. “Flash light, red light, neon light, stop light”). In its essence, though, this song is absolutely bonkers and this is mostly due to the active personality of George Clinton on lead vocals, from whom I could understand maybe half of what he’s babbling on about. Yet even beyond this, the Moog and bass in the back give this a wonderfully spacey feel laid atop the explicitly fun party atmosphere. A cosmic, inter-dimensional kickback with George Clinton and Bootsy Collins – sounds like a good time to me!
91. “Native New Yorker” – Odyssey: This is sleek sophisticated disco from start to finish. Those strings, horns, and piano are upbeat and epic, further dressed up by some beautiful chord changes in the melody and a lovely sounding vocalist. Despite this, however, it doesn’t seem to anything very distinctly “Odyssey” to offer. It so perfectly defines and exemplifies disco the same way that Paul Anka defines his era of teen pop – devoid of all personality whatsoever. It sets the mood just right, but admittedly isn’t anything spectacular.
90. “It’s So Easy” – Linda Ronstadt: Linda Ronstadt seems to be great at taking sub-par songs and recording her own cover that is… well, just as sub-par. I’m not really a fan of The Crickets’ original (or The Crickets in general, to be honest), and while Ronstadt demonstrates above average vocal ability here, the verse-chorus-verse structure and limp melody just kind of sit there. Even the guitar solo – if it could even be called that – is little more than sonic filler. I just really don’t get the appeal of Ronstadt, I guess.
89. “You Can’t Turn Me Off (in the Middle of Turning Me On)” – High Inergy: The title sounds like a bad pickup line, and the odd whispering at the start doesn’t make it even better. The way in which it starts minimalistic and low-tempo really reminds me of last year’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, though the buildup to its disco vibes are a tad slower, treading in soul/R&B territory for a while initially. This isn’t even a disco song per se, but its fingerprints are all over the track. It’s just a decent track overall, but I’ve got no true complaints about the material.
88. “I Love the Nightlife” – Alicia Bridges: I’m pretty sure this was one of the main songs that got me enamored with disco at a young age. It was featured on one of those “Top 100” specials that VH1 loved to air in the 2000’s; I think it was “Top 100 One-Hit Wonders” or something. But I always thought this song was so fun, capturing in my young imagination a vivid sense of what a night of dancing would entail. These days, I just see it as just another pop song very of its era, but I still enjoy it quite a bit. Bridges has such a unique voice that I would imagine many would be turned off by – sort of like the exact opposite from Minnie Riperton on the vocal harshness-tenderness scale. I just like the little nuances she brings to her performance, like how she pronounces “ac-TION” and the “oh-oh-oh-ahh” right before the chorus. The chorus itself, of course, has such a sweeping infectious melody that practically sells the track on its own. That’s not even mentioning the sax solo, which is so epic and definitely one of the most underrated aspects of the track. I just love this song so much.
87. “Life’s Been Good” – Joe Walsh: Right when those opening lines kick in – “I have a mansion, forget the price / Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice” – you know exactly what kind of song this is going to be. Indeed, this is Walsh’s biting, parodic homage to the typically lavish rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Honestly, the best part for me is that goddamn intro. The country-rock guitar riff at the start is cool enough, but the abrupt switch to a more acoustic sound reminds me of something Led Zeppelin would have come out with. The rest of the song is fine enough, even if the satire does wear itself thin (as does Walsh’s nasally vocals). I really don’t care for that synth solo at all.
86. “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” – Electric Light Orchestra: This is probably just me being totally out of touch, but I had no clue that Electric Light Orchestra were this big before working on the posts from these past few years. This is now the sixth single from ELO I’ve covered from just the past four years, proving them to be one of the most commercially successful acts of the 70s. The reasoning why is all too apparent – even their most average-sounding songs tend to be relentlessly catchy. This is one of their more stronger melodies – especially the “don’t know what I’m gonna do / I gotta get back to you” part and the bouncy chorus – though they still have yet to prove that they aren’t just riding off the same gimmicky formula. You know the one: the strings + synths formula, symphony background vocals, pop melodies, Jeff Lynne’s spacey vocals. It’s not so much a complaint as it is an anticipation for something new and different from this norm.
85. “Get Off” – Foxy: This song is the equivalent of being the only sober one at a party while everyone else is shit-faced. It sure sounds like Foxy are having a real funky time themselves, but I just can’t be anything but annoyed at the sloppy production. The parts with the female vocalists are really great, though (“Call me up at your place, I can love you crazy”); I just wish there were more of that and less of the wah-wah guitar. But if getting through this song means we get to keep Cameo, I’m more than happy to endure this mess.
84. “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” – Chris Rea: The drum machines were off-putting from the start, yet it never got better from there. It should probably be mentioned that Rea wrote this song for his seventeen-year-old sister in an effort to console her after her first heartbreak. It’s important to mention this in case anyone listens to lines like “Miss Teenage Dream, such a tragic scene” and “I’ll buy your first good wine / We’ll have a real good time” and gets the wrong idea. It would be perfectly understandable, though. After all, there is a trend. As a song though, this song is blander than bland, as if other pieces of other soft-rock songs were just copied and pasted together. Let’s move on.
83. “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend'” – Kenny Loggins & Stevie Nicks: Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” is pretty fun and catchy; thus, it’s interesting that Kenny Loggins’ first tryst apart from Messina is a bit of a lower tempo affair. The opening is quite beautiful, Loggins and Nicks harmonizing for just a few seconds before delving into the material. The writing is a little clumsy (“You and I have always been ever and ever”, “Everything I do always takes me home to you”), and while the subject matter and sing-song chorus make this almost overwhelmingly cheesy, the vocal abilities of the duo save the track from total obliteration. It’s ridiculously innocuous, but that’s okay.
82. “Running on Empty” – Jackson Browne: This is the first time we’ve seen Jackson Browne here since 1972’s “Doctor My Eyes”, which is an infectious, hooky guitar-driven piece of work. “Running on Empty” is less bouncy and runs at a similar mid-tempo pace as much commercial rock of the time. It also deals with much more mature themes, the speaker of this song looking back on years of years of hardship and contemplating whether or not he’s truly learned anything. I’m still trying to detect a “Jackson Browne sound” (if there even is one), but this single’s not half bad.
81. “Bluer Than Blue” – Michael Johnson: When someone whines to you that they’re “bluer than blue, sadder than sad”, you know things are gonna be bad. This is supposed to be a sensitive, delicate song about heartache and loneliness, but with lines like “After you go I can catch up on my readin'”, “I’ll have a lot more room in my closet”, “I don’t have to miss no TV shows”… one has to wonder if Johnson wrote this as a lovestruck teenager and recorded it fifteen years later without thinking to rewrite it. I’m not convinced that this speaker is in shambles if his main concern is “run(ning) through the house screaming”. The guitar is okay, but the mixing is clumsy and Johnson doesn’t bring much heart to the single in general. Just a bad song.
80. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Santa Esmeralda: I mean… technically, this song is disco. But the salsa and flamenco aspects are just as pronounced as the disco bits, so it’s really hard to decided on which side it falls harder. In any case, this song has really gone a long way, from Nina Simone’s melancholy original, to The Animals’ 60s garage rock cover, to… well, this. But if “I Can’t Stand the Rain” and Beethoven’s 5th can have successful disco renditions, I’m open to this idea. Yet it honestly does a lot more than those previous two in terms of production and instrumental arrangement. The middle instrumental part in general is incredibly awesome, though, once again, its reliance on Latin instruments and lesser electronic influence could only make this stick out like a sore thumb on the dance floor. I kind of love this, though, especially with all the soul and vigor that the lead singer brings to the tune that has been done to death. While it’s definitely not one of the best covers out there, I’ve gotta admit that it’s among my favorite disco covers and possibly my favorite rendition of this song in general.
79. “Falling” – LeBlanc & Carr: This song has some of the most face-palmingly bad rhymes I’ve come across lately. “I think about winter / When I was with her” – that doesn’t rhyme! “Warmed by the fire / I loved being by her” – so lazy! “The fall and the spring time / Were like between times” – boooooo! Moreover, this all just hangs upon this flimsy, listless melody that never picks up or becomes interesting. In opposition to my love for breakup songs that sound happy, I could never really get ballads that just sound so sad and pathetic. You have someone you can walk in the sand with – what more do you want? Just a whiny, whiny mess.
78. “Sentimental Lady” – Bob Welch: The tone of this song doesn’t at all match the single cover. With that being said, I do like this one more than “Ebony Eyes”. The lyrics are certainly a step up in creativity and honesty, even if they can be elusive at times (“Fourteen joys and a will to be merry”… ?). It’s not a spectacular ballad and Welch still sounds like a Muppet, but it’s definitely a step up!
77. “Serpentine Fire” – Earth, Wind, & Fire: Latin rhythms must have been trendy in ’78, as this is the second song so far to utilize this sound. It’s especially unusual for Earth, Wind, & Fire, known generally for both their danceable, funk-R&B jams and smoother jazz-R&B fare. This one hangs somewhere in the middle and has got such a killer groove that doesn’t let up. The falsettos and harmonies are still here and strong as ever, as are the horns. This one, however, is diminished by the lyrics, which are awkwardly wordy especially for the group’s standards. Much of the mood seems steeped in metaphysics and deep philosophical thinking, which isn’t really what the recording calls for and is certainly outside of the wave of the times. Still, it’s hard to complain with Earth, Wind, & Fire.
76. “You and I” – Rick James: Interesting seeing Rick James pop up here, since I had no idea he had a successful single this early on. I guess this is the first sign of the 80s popping up and showing its skin. This bass line is terrific and the general production of this track is pretty killer. The verses are just okay, but the key changes during the bridge/chorus are easily my favorite aspects of this track. Besides all of this, it’s just a pretty decent funk track that tends to drag on a bit too long. And despite a few screeches here and there, James doesn’t really show off much on this recording, but I’m pretty certain there’ll be more of him to come soon.
75. “Always and Forever” – Heatwave: I’ve been to a few weddings in my life and in at least two of them, this was the couple’s song for their first dance. All I can say is that I can’t believe this snoozefest came from the same guys that gave us “Boogie Nights”. (Seriously though, I don’t hate it, it’s a perfectly fine lovey-dovey love song, and Johnnie Wilder gives a hell of a vocal performance – it’s just slightly too “late 50s/early 60s school dance” for my tastes.)
74. “Copacabana” – Barry Manilow: God damn it. I’ve been bested. Since every lulling ballad that Manilow puts out sounds like cheap musical writing, it would only make sense that his disco effort be just as corny. The story at the core really isn’t all that interesting, but Manilow’s peppy delivery of it is so darn infectious, I can’t help but dance along to every beat of it. Songs like this instantly give me the image of the singer giving a sparkly performance of the song at some Vegas club. And here’s another single with Latin flair, I’m telling ya! Yes, it’s still Manilow, faults and all. But this is just so fucking fun, I don’t even care if I let anyone down by defending this little ditty.
73. “Every Kinda People” – Robert Palmer: The introduction of Robert Palmer to the Hot 100 must be yet another sign that the 80s are nigh. This song is actually pretty cool, the lyrics covering themes of tolerance and acceptance that, while perhaps would be more fitting in the mid- to late-60s, is very relevant nonetheless. I like the jazz-funk feel of the song, with the Carribean-esque keyboards being a real staple of its sound. It’s dangerously smooth, in the sense that it could almost be easily swept under the rug in place of something more interesting. I do like this quirky little number, though.
72. “Because the Night” – Patti Smith Group: Patti Smith may be one of my most shameful blind spots; despite my appreciation and love for proto-punk, I’ve never gotten around to exploring her work. This song was co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and this definitely shines through with its anthemic, marching quality alone. I also love Smith’s unpolished, mildly incoherent vocal performance. The lyrics themselves aren’t anything amazing, which only draws more attention to the strongest aspects of the recording – namely, the production and Smith herself. Given that this is probably not Smith’s most definitive work (the most popular songs of prolific underground musicians rarely are), this only makes me more excited to see what else she’s got up her sleeve.
71. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” – Crystal Gale: This song is impossibly smooth and sultry, with Gale herself giving a truly fine performance. However, it doesn’t leave much time for itself to give much of a lasting impression and tends to just fade amongst the plethora of similar-sounding country songs of this time. “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue” is a great line, but everything else is relatively bland. Still, Gale herself is divine.
70. “What’s Your Name?” – Lynyrd Skynyrd: Tragically, shortly after the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s album Street Survivors this year, the band was involved in a plane crash that killed three of the seven band members. As devastating as the event undoubtedly was, it also helped the album and its singles commercially, hence why they’re ranked so highly here. This particular song, I must confess, isn’t very good. It’s in the vein of “The Boys Are Back in Town” in its telling of rock star antics like getting into fistfights in bars. It’s all wrapped up in the speaker’s addressing this woman he’s trying to hook up with, frequently addressing her as “little girl”, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That’s the thing about Lynyrd Skynyrd, though – if you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard them all. I’m probably just biased against this kind of honky-tonk country-rock, but I can’t see any value in this outside of its superficial qualities.
69. “Summer Nights” – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John: Oh… right. This was the year of Grease. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the movie, but I do remember loving it as a kid to the point where I’ve retained most of the songs by memory. Listening to it now, though, I can finally see just how cheap it is. On the surface, the concept is fun – two former lovers reminiscing on a summer of love, each with their own romanticized exaggerations. Yet it’s now clear that the humor of this song comes from both Danny’s horniness and Sandy’s naivety, both parts working in unison. This is ridden with gender stereotypes with no sense of self-reflection, making it eye-rollingly sexist. Not to mention some of those lines – “Did she put up a fight?” – Really?? At least there’s a hint of redemption with the final verse, when the two of them share a moment of genuine, bittersweet nostalgia. Yet I’m still not convinced that this makes it successful at being self-aware of the vapidity of its high schooler characters.
Also, I’m still trying to find out where that piano riff originally comes from. You know the one. I first noticed it in “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” (after the second chorus, during the bridge), but the high tempo of its usage here gives the sense that it was used elsewhere and perhaps earlier. If anyone has any information that could help, please share!
68. “Hey Deanie” – Shaun Cassidy: Just so you know, I just let off an audible sigh after seeing Shaun Cassidy pop up once again. At least The Partridge Family and David Cassidy were marginally interesting to a point; Shaun Cassidy is just the whitest white-bread pop musician possible. Thankfully, this song isn’t nearly as insufferable as is other output, its cutesy, over-the-top love lyrics (“I stand accused; I’m in league with the forces of darkness / An incurable believer in the magic of the midnight sky”) actually being somewhat charming. It’s not a good song – but it is passable.
67. “Baby Hold On” – Eddie Money: Eddie Money, to me, seems to be the final product of a mission to create a superstar entertainer with empty lyrics but catchy rhythms and melodies. It’s true that the verses are just a mish-mash of typical phrases that come together to form only a somewhat coherent theme of keeping a relationship strong. But with those hand-claps and repetitive chorus, it sticks as a radio-friendly single that at least sounds good amongst practically anything else in high circulation. The effect is one of illusion; Money is definitely not a good singer and I’m not convinced that he’s even got a strong personality to hold this up. It’s not a good song, but it’s not a trainwreck either. I refuse to commend any effort of not making a garbage track, but it’s hard to deny that it works.
66. “Count On Me” – Jefferson Starship: Jefferson Starship still sounds more Chicago than anything else and this song is just as bland as their last. Still, I have to admit that this is somewhat nicer sounding than the last, even if the vocals here are still dodgy. Still waiting on the band to really blow my mind, though.
65. “Reminiscing” – Little River Band: This song is sappy as hell, but I love it so. Yes, it is another silly love song and there’s nothing here that hasn’t already been covered by, say, “Strangers in the Night” or something from Barry Manilow. Yet the focus is given more to the terrific instrumentals and the harmonizing in the choruses. I have a soft spot in my heart for that Cole Porter line (“Heart and Sole!”), mainly due to how cheesy it is The guitar, bass, and percussion are particularly strong, accompanying each verse in painting a vivid, lasting image of two lovers walking peacefully in the park and gradually growing old together. It’s just how strong emotions should be expressed in pop music – subtly and through abstract symbols, without hitting the listener over the head with artificial melodrama. Little River Band knows what’s up.
64. “Shame” – Evelyn “Champagne” King: Yet another great dance track in an era where great dance tracks seem to be the utter norm. The guitar and bass riffs are totally cool, as is the saxophone once it kicks in. The star of this recording, however, is King herself, who soars along with the euphoric atmosphere of this song. The chorus itself (“Wrapped in your arms is where I wanna be”) is a definite stand-out, where things are kicked in high gear and the final product feels heavenly. It’s interesting, since the song itself is about two people who probably don’t belong together, and the lyrics are King’s declaration that she’ll stick by regardless. Even more noteworthy is that she was only eighteen when this song was a hit, in effect modernizing the “forbidden teen love” theme that was popular in music of the late 50s to early 60s. It’s romantic love embellished with pain and deceit, a dark edge that makes the single all the more lasting in the end.
63. “You Needed Me” – Anne Murray: After four years without a major hit, Anne Murray is back! I really wish she was more interesting to write about, but her brand of light pop lies just slightly beyond my personal preferences. Still, this is probably one of her strongest songs, and definitely one where her vocal talent shines through the most. It’s sort of like a proto-“Wing Beneath My Wings”, without being nearly as pompous and dramatic as the latter. I’m still not sure if the speaker here is referring to a good friend or a good partner, but I think the vagueness makes it all the more interesting. Songwriter Randy Goodrum described it as an “unconditional, undeserved love”, which brings up complicated notions of love and appreciation. The speaker is consistently loved and nurtured by the subject, but at what point does this turn from platonic to romantic? I also like how no gender is mentioned, making it all the more easy to imagine it being about two queer companions. It’s sentimental AM soft pop, sure, but also probably one of the better additions to the genre.
62. “Peg” – Steely Dan: I’ve listened to the song a few times and looked over the lyrics, but I still don’t have a good grasp on what it’s about. I guess the titular Peg is an aspiring actress/musician/artist/model who is either aware that the life of fame isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, or is being warned of the fact. Either way, there’s no denying that the cynicism shines through in some way or another, certainly not atypical of Steely Dan’s lyricism. Once again, like other Steely Dan singles, this one is exceptionally strong instrumentally, the keyboards and later guitar solo being special standouts.
61. “Blue Bayou” – Linda Ronstadt: As yet another cover from Linda Ronstadt, here she attempts a classic track from Roy Orbison, which almost feels like blasphemy to me. Orbison is arguably the strongest voice of depression and yearning of his era, and while “Blue Bayou” is far from his strongest recording, his trademark voice really emitted a truly blue sense of nostalgia for a purer, dreamier place. At the very least, the arrangement in the Ronstadt cover is more interesting, starting with a lone bass and wonderfully building from there. Her voice is alright here, but with the sense of loneliness diluted, it just feels like she’s pushing a bit. Still, this stays in relatively close competition with the original, making it one of her better singles to come on these charts.
60. “Here You Come Again” – Dolly Parton: After a decade of success in country music, Dolly Parton found her commercial breakthrough in the decidedly poppier effort “Here You Come Again”. It’s delightfully bouncy through and through, strengthened by Parton herself taking full control of her performance. Personally, the introductory piano riff sounds pretty similar to The Moody Blues’ “Go Now”; interesting, since “Go Now” is a lush ballad on intense heartbreak, while this is little more than a friendly homage to a significant other. It’s really hard to hate this one and I can’t see how anyone could.
59. “You Belong to Me” – Carly Simon: I have to admit that it is nice to hear “you belong to me” coming from a woman instead of like phrases from men. It’s a nice subversion of the “male ownership” trope that bombards so many of these songs. Even though this was written by Simon and originally recorded by The Doobie Brothers, the sound, format, and sax solo sound very reminiscent of Steely Dan. In any case, it’s a different approach for Simon, noticeably less poppier than her past singles (in that case, I guess that makes it the opposite of Dolly Parton’s contribution). This is, however, a weaker output from Simon, a good bulk of the song being made up of simple repetitions of the title and little else. I really miss the sly, sardonic wit of her output that made up the early parts of her career.
58. “This Time I’m in It For Love” – Player: The first verse of this song is great because it’s not even that unusual of a situation. Forecasters get the weather reports wrong all the time, so in retrospect it sounds like this guy is making a big deal out of a rainy day he somehow didn’t expect. The production on this song, however, is pretty nice, really reminding me of the yacht rock sound I’ve mentioned sometime before. Still, despite the recording’s collection of nice sounds and a smooth vibe overall, nothing rises above the typical. But I guess the good intentions of the speaker to start taking his relationship seriously is a nice one, especially in contrition for the wrong he’s done before.
57. “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again” – L.T.D.: That beginning groove was already pretty funky from the start, but it’s only once Jeffrey Osborne’s vocals kick in that the full power of the track is evident. It’s not particularly mind-blowing, but he’s bursting with so much personality and charisma, it’s hard not to feel some of it yourself while listening to the track. This song discretely treads on the disco border, but is thankfully more aware of its funk elements, which it then chooses to pronounce with added gusto. This song is just so much fun, even if it is decidedly light on lyrical flow.
56. “Come Sail Away” – Styx: If digging Styx is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I can see how Dennis DeYoung’s vocals can be off-putting for some, but I just can’t separate it from the music. They both work hand-in-hand in creating the nautical-cum-cosmic adventure scenario outlined in the lyrics. No seriously, the moment I realized the story of the song (a sea captain looks back on his life and accomplishments, embarks upon a fleet of angels, then realizes they’re actually aliens), my mind was blown. This song is so damn anthemic and bombastic, while also probably being one of the nerdiest songs in existence. I’d hardly name this as a complaint, though, as those guitars and synths are so ridiculously epic and the song as a whole is completely relevant to my interests. I’m definitely losing a lot of cool points for loving this song as much as I do, and I love it for almost purely superficial reasons too. It just fills me with so much joy that I just can’t deny.
55. “On Broadway” – George Benson: As much as I dug Benson’s “This Masquerade”, this live cover recording of “On Broadway” is a bit too try-hard to be anything really substantial. The guitar (or what I could hear of it, at least) is just fine, but Benson’s vocal performance is noticeably less than stellar. I’d sooner stick with The Drifters’ recording.
54. “Disco Inferno” – The Trammps: It seems that for every sub-par to awful attempt at disco that we got during these times, we also got some real gems, “Disco Inferno” definitely being one of them. The Trammps’ perform the song rather well, the notable standout being the lead vocalist himself. Of course, outside of the “burn, baby, burn” hook, it’s assumed that no one is really listening to the lyrics – and understandably so, given just how powerful and booming the disco production on this track is. It really is just a mass conglomeration of everything that was big and bombastic about the disco scene, though I am suspicious that this track also highlights the dangers of the hedonism that came hand-in-hand with the era as well. This is especially evident to me in the line, “Satisfaction came in a chain reaction / I couldn’t get enough, so I had to self-destruct”. Burn, baby, burn, indeed.
53. “My Angel Baby” – Toby Beau: Why is it that Rosie from Rosie & The Originals can sing “my angel baby” and make it sound sweet and pretty, while Toby Beau’s utterance of the phrase makes me want to tear my ears off? I blame it on the soft-rock curse. This whole song is painful and boring and it’s better off forgotten.
52. “Still the Same” – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band: While it’s doubtful whether I’ll enjoy a Bob Seger song as much as “Night Moves”, this one’s alright. The piano pretty much drives this one home, though the way he’s banging away at those keys is a bit distracting. Describing the speaker’s jaded perspective on a buddy who recklessly gambles his way through life, this song’s got an interesting theme considering the glorifying of debauchery and self-indulgence is rife in much contemporary pop music. Seger and his Silver Bullet Band seem the strongest when they’re dealing with mid-tempo singles like these, which definitely explains why “Hollywood Nights” seems rushed and so much weaker. “Still the Same”, however, is just the right mix of poignancy and tough rocker sensibility.
51. “Imaginary Lover” – Atlanta Rhythm Section: Despite my loving the sleaziness of “So In To You”, as I said before, this is a very risky move to do and it’s especially risky to attempt it twice. The “imaginary lover” being spoken of here is, in fact, a one-night stand or otherwise loveless affair. The speaker here revels in the fact that these flings give no reason to complain, because expectations are already lowered. When “real-life situations lose their thrill / Imagination’s unreal” and, therefore, always titillating. Though it can dangerously come off as hot-headed bragging about his salacious lifestyle, the placing of the word “imaginary” makes it pretty hard to boast about. He knows these feelings are empty and superficial, but perhaps has nothing else to look forward to. In retrospect, this is a pretty pathetic song though lyrics about unsympathetic narrators with a hint of self-reflection are often the kinds of songs I gravitate toward. The instrumentation isn’t as strong here as it is in their first single, but I really truly dig this one altogether.
50. “Thunder Island” – Jay Ferguson: This song is catchier than it has any business of being, especially since I’d never heard of Jay Ferguson until the day I read through this list. (Apparently he does movie and TV soundtracks now!) From the very second its acoustic riff and those damn “doo-doo-doo-doo”s pop in, it’s evident that a real happy song is underway. And happy it is, as the speaker is reminded by a summer’s day with a lover out on the titular Thunder Island. Ferguson has one of those shrill AOR voices that could have only risen from the 70s, but at least he does a fine job here. Though it’s hardly mind-blowing, this is still a nice song about reminiscence of carefree, younger days; good luck getting this one out of your head.
49. “The Groove Line” – Heatwave: Now this is what I’m talking about! Heatwave has got to be one of the strongest, most prolific disco groups ever, this point solely proven by both “Boogie Nights” and this. Like most other disco songs, the lyrics don’t matter – late nights out, endless partying, got to keep on dancing, etc. I also tend to mix up different hooks of this song with hooks from “Boogie Nights” since, honestly, their similarities are all too evident. Still, I like to think of “Boogie Nights” as the beginner’s introduction to “The Groove Line”, with a main hook that just soars and soars. And like their last disco hit, this one is rife with instrumental parts and hooks that, when stacked upon each other, feels almost overwhelming. Yet they all work here – the cosmic synths, the bouncy guitar, that crazy bass riff, those little horn punctuations. This ranks among “Love’s Theme” and “Dancing Queen” as pure disco excellence.
48. “Slip Slidin’ Away” – Paul Simon: The last time we saw Paul Simon, he was giving us a Seussical laundry list of ways to end a broken relationship. Here, he attempts to preach on the ways life is terrible to all types of people because, well, that’s just the way it is. I agree that life has its obstacles and some have it much harder than others and sometimes all we have to do is survive to navigate through situations beyond our control. I just don’t think Paul Simon is the person to pontificate to us on this, and certainly not in such a boring fashion. As it stands, my general interest in post-Garfunkel Paul Simon continues to slip slide away.
47. “The Goodbye Girl” – David Gates: The fact that this song, with the inclusion of electric blues guitar, is a bit harder edged than any of Bread’s singles is hilarious to me. I like to imagine a scenario where Gates, the “rebel” of the group, announces he’ll put out his true “vision” that the rest of the band is working to suppress. In all seriousness, though, this song was composed specifically for the Herbert Ross film of the same name and it certainly sounds like it was. Outside of the cool guitar, there’s nothing at all special or noteworthy about this single and it just blends in with all the other similar-sounding AM rock fluff.
46. “Love is in the Air” – John Paul Young: I can imagine this song getting made fun of a lot in its day, but it’s really not too bad considering how dated it feels. That thumping bass rhythm is so damn cool and that piano buildup to the climax of the chorus is one of its lasting qualities. Still, it is very much a product of its time; despite seeming to have all the ingredients for a tasty disco dish, the end result is disappointingly bland. Still, I could only imagine this being fun to dance to.
45. “An Everlasting Love” – Andy Gibb: It seems that, where the Bee Gees were too old to appeal to the fresh, young pop crowd of the day, younger brother Andy Gibb effectively filled in as an attractive heartthrob substitution. His songs, in effect, were far more dreamier than the mature, seasoned sound the other Gibb brothers had been putting out for years now. The theme is told in the title alone, and the lyrics hardly go much deeper than that. The format, however, is pretty interesting, as the chorus seems to go on for just as long as the verses, which I feel is rare in songs with typical verse-chorus-verse structure. Consequently, the melody got pretty grating really quickly, the chorus in particular sounding like a broken record. I also don’t think Gibb’s falsetto is as strong here as it was on “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”. Still a nice song.
44. “Love Will Find a Way” – Pablo Cruise: I’m tempted to state that this song is an overall weaker single than Cruise’s last hit “Whatcha Gonna Do?”. Yet that jazzy guitar, the on-the-mark vocal performance, and those awesome keyboards have me really enjoying this one far too much than I’d expect. I’d be a fool to deny that this is simply a solid, catchy, very well-composed track. Pablo Cruise are welcome in my world.
43. “Our Love” – Natalie Cole: That opening piano riff is suspiciously similar to “Kiss From a Rose”‘s driving melody, but I’ll digress. Unlike the slinkier “I’ve Got Love on My Mind”, this song is more of a straight jazz-influenced R&B love single, in which Cole once again demonstrates her supreme vocal talent. The parts where Cole really takes over are the most enjoyable listens, but until then we’ve got to endure lyrics like “Our love will stand tall as the trees / Our love will spread wide as the seas”. There’s nothing wrong with declarations of love, but I do have a limit with listening to the same basic metaphors again and again. Still, once again, Cole is wonderful and the song is worth listening to for her charisma alone.
42. “Use ta Be My Girl” – The O’Jays: Although Philly Soul and disco have a lot in common (notably the emphasis on horns and violins), this may be The O’Jay’s first complete foray into disco. A pleasant surprise being that the sound is clearer and cleaner than much of the cluttered production that comprised many disco tracks. And The O’Jays obviously have some great singing chops on them, so that’s nice. The lyrics are simple enough to have belonged on any number of their recordings from back at the start of their careers, with lines like “Not only good lookin’ / The girl was so smart / You can’t beat her cookin'” being especially silly. I do think the speakers of songs like these should have a bit more self-respect with talking about ex-lovers – she’s not your girl anymore, bud, she only “use ta be”. You’ve got to move on!
41. “Short People” – Randy Newman: Ah, this song. So, I get what Randy Newman is trying to do here – when he’s saying “short people got no reason to live”, he doesn’t mean it literally. It’s a dig on prejudice of all kinds and how preposterous it sounds coming from the mouth of someone so willing to stick to these slanted beliefs. However, mouthing off a list of complaints that a hypothetical narrator would have about a marginalized group does not make one automatically exempt from holding troublesome views themselves, especially if they are a part of a privileged group. All Newman is doing here is affirming that these remarks do, in fact, exist… but what’s the overarching point anyway? And yes, I am aware that this is a novelty song, but these issues still hold weight, regardless of whether or not they were made in jest. Also, let’s remember that there were only forty songs more popular than “Short People” this year. Did that many listeners truly understand the joke behind the lyrics, or were that many people willing to accept a song that, to them, explicitly promoted a prejudice toward little people? In situations like these, intention only matters to a slight degree; the effect it has is far more crucial.
40. “Magnet and Steel” – Walter Egan: I’ll have to say that for a song titled “Magnet and Steel”, I didn’t expect it to be so smooth. Aside from the titular metaphor, there isn’t much in the lyrics outside of being a typical love song. Egan himself isn’t even much of a dynamic quality in his own song. Instead, the sumptuous backing vocals from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham steal the show, as does that nice little music box twinkle in the chorus. Outside of these qualities, it’s easy to confuse this amongst all the other soft rock of this decade, but at least this is a nice listen.
39. “Dust in the Wind” – Kansas: This song, like many of these 70s rock standards, has become somewhat of a cliché in recent years, perhaps a joke. It’s definitely overplayed, but I can’t pretend that I’m too good to not appreciate the song. Those acoustic guitars and harmonies alone are so damn poignant, fitting well with its heartfelt lyrics about the passing of time, the triviality of existence, and the importance of living moment by moment. That duel violin solo after the second chorus drives the point home brilliantly. This was also well before the “tough rockers doing a gentle ballad” trope, and it’s definitely one of the better examples of such. It’s impossible not to get behind such honest songwriting and composing.
38. “The Closer I Get to You” – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway: This song is a tender, gentle duet ballad with a sound that sounds very much like a precursor to the electronic R&B sound of the 80s. Flack herself is at her top form here, with Hathaway serving as a worthy counterpart to her strengths. Lyrically, it’s just another one of those smooth, sultry love songs and little else could really be said about it. Still, that melody is so damn stellar, Flack and Hathaway doing mighty fine justice to the recording overall. Still, I much prefer their duet “Where is the Love” from a few years earlier.
37. “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” – Rod Stewart: Rod Stewart continues onward with his transformation into a smooth, sultry ladies’ man. While the creep factor from “Tonight’s the Night” is seldom to be found here, the feelings here do feel at least slightly disingenuous. It’s hard for me to listen to songs with such flowery lyrics (“You’re a rhapsody, a comedy / You’re a symphony and a play / You’re every love song ever written”) and not feel its schoolboy naivety from a mile away. At least he admits at the start that his attraction to the subject was “purely physical”. Structurally, it’s got a pretty melody and Stewart’s gravelly vocals translate surprisingly well with the intimacy of its lyrics. The “Celtic, United” line is eye-rollingly terrible, but I could also imagine it being a weird inside joke between the two. While I still yearn for Stewart’s more upbeat early days, this is a fine compromise.
36. “Hot Blooded” – Foreigner: Out of all the singles from Foreigner we’ve come across so far, “Hot Blooded” feels the most like a complete, mature single. They finally figured out how power chords work, and while the verses are as clumsy as ever, the hook in the chorus – “I got a fever of a hundred and three” – is one-of-a-kind. The band is still vanilla as vanilla rock bands could get, but this is their most successful single thus far and they’re definitely showing improvement.
35. “Hopelessly Devoted to You” – Olivia Newton-John: I always thought that this song was the most unneeded amongst the collection of music numbers in Grease (along with Travolta’s own dreadful solo bit, “Sandy”). Though I suppose there must be at least one opportunity for Newton-John to demonstrate her talents. In the context of the film, this song irks me in how mindlessly “devoted” Sandy is to Danny, who has been nothing but a jerk to her since reuniting – you deserve much better, girl! But as a stand-alone single, it’s not too bad. While the soundtrack generally misses the point with capturing the innocent charm of late-50s pop, this is a relatively fine shot at a classic country ballad of the time… even though it mostly brings to mind Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World”, released in ’62. Still, it’s one of the more single-ready songs from the movie soundtrack (given that it wasn’t originally part of the stage soundtrack) and Olivia gives one of my favorite vocal performances of hers I’ve seen in a while.
34. “Last Dance” – Donna Summer: Though this is only the second single from Donna Summer we’ve come across, let it be known that she was an absolute powerhouse during this time, putting out #1 singles left and right. This song in particular makes a valid argument for the absolute apex of the sea of disco singles throughout the 70s. “Love Hangover” may have been one of the first disco tracks to pick up a slow tempo to a rapid, frenetic pace, but “Last Dance” definitely perfected it to an art form. Giorgio Morodor’s fingerprints are all over this one, once again, and that booming electronic backdrop work exceptionally well with Summer’s phenomenal, soaring vocals. It almost definitely was produced for the sole purpose of using as the final song of the night, but the masterpiece that arose is only due to the melding of supreme talents making a very good song. It successfully captures the purest feelings of euphoric bliss at which most disco songs make only mere attempts. There’s a point near the final climax at the end where the pace is so frenzied and wild, I always feel transported to the single’s home time and place, similarly reckless in its hedonism. Disco may have been at a downfall from this point forward, but at least we can have a last dance.
33. “Sometimes When We Touch” – Dan Hill: I feel like I should make a list of all the love ballads about two people who should never, ever get back together. Because apparently there’s a lot of these out there and I hate them all! This one is definitely taking queues from Barry Manilow in its gradual swelling in tone and melodrama. The lyrics are a little more disturbing – he admits at the start that he would rather be honest with his lover than “mislead [them] with a lie”, later admitting that he desires to “break” them, but then hold them “endlessly”. I don’t mind songs about broken romances; even unsympathetic narrators aren’t always enough to turn me off completely. But the way that Hill goes on and on about how he loves and adores his partner (or ex-partner), despite all of the abusive tendencies he just lays on the table, is just plain sickening. The piano-led sappiness of the production doesn’t make it any better, and I would have turned around and started running right after the second chorus. I usually try to find a redeeming factor in such songs, but this is up there with “All By Myself” in corny distress.
32. “Take a Chance on Me” – ABBA: This is precisely the kind of uptempo pop numbers that ABBA can do so well. While the daring symphonic nuances á la “Dancing Queen” are nowhere to be found here, the group is left with the task of demonstrating clean, sharp melodies, something they’ve consistently done very well. I haven’t looked too much into Europop of this time (just ABBA and Boney M for me), but if tracks like these are the norm, I think I should get around to that immediately. The bass is fantastic and the song itself is pleasant enough to sing along to for ten minutes longer. Agnetha and Anni-Frid are fabulous as always, and although I’m never a fan of Björn and Benny’s vocals, they do fine backup here. ABBA put out a hell of a lot of great dance tracks and this is one of their most replayable.
31. “Jack and Jill” – Raydio: First thing’s first – those background squeals of “Jack!” and “Jill!” during the verses get annoying really quickly and consistently. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to include those, but they were wrong. Secondly, as smooth and alluring this jazz-rock sound is, the core of the story places Jill as an antagonist because she’s “always away from home” and Jack needed “love he couldn’t get from Jill”. Hey Jack, ever think that maybe Jill is the unhappy one here and you’re just too vapid to realize this? It’s not very fair that we’re supposed to feel pity for Jack when we’re only getting one side of the story. Maybe he was asking Jill for too much more than she can physically, mentally, and/or emotionally offer, but that’s not really her fault. But the real issue is… why in the world is this all being told through the metaphor of a children’s rhyme?! I thought we all learned our lesson from The Elegants’ “Little Star” that this is does not good songwriting make… but apparently not.
30. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” – Meat Loaf: A little while back, I finally listened to all of Bat Out of Hell for the first time. As undoubtedly bloated as it is, I enjoyed it overall, its title track and “Two Out of Three” especially catching my ear. This song also exemplifies the fact that, yes, sometimes I do like songs about two people not meant for each other. The difference between this song and, say, “Sometimes When We Touch” is that there is no facade of “true love and happiness” that surrounds Meat Loaf’s declarations. In his own words, “I want you / I need you / But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you”. In a twisted, darkly humorous way, this makes this a bit of a more dignified song. The story behind the couple is left a little vague, but I could imagine the scenario. Perhaps they’ve been married for a while, maybe even have children, but have found the love has faded long ago. In either case, the idea that a couple stays together for mere convenience is… well, pretty realistic. The song loses a little bit of steam once Meat Loaf reveals a former lover who told him these same words, but its still some great downbeat, symphonic cynicism nonetheless.
29. “Dance With Me” – Peter Brown: While it’s perfectly clear to see how this got as big as it did in its year (those strings and that bass scream disco and AOR, respectively), it’s also easy to see how it’s gotten forgotten. It’s easy for disco to get turn rotten, but this one avoids doing anything explicitly terrible. It also, however, avoids being anything of note, its rhythms and hooks silently disappearing into the homogenous disco sea. The bass-led breakdown is worthy of a listen, but generic lyrics and vocals just remind the listener that they could be listening to KC & the Sunshine Band instead.
28. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” – Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams: Holy hell, Johnny Mathis, how you doin’?? This is Mathis’ first chart-topping hit since “Chances Are” from ’57 and the first time he’s been on a year-end list since 1963’s “What Will My Mary Say”. On the contrary, Williams is a rising talent who found only her second chart success with this duet. Something tells me that with the star power of Mathis’ name (and voice… that voice…), this single was bound to top the charts regardless of quality. As the quality of the song itself stands, it’s just okay. The vocal talent on display is obviously top-notch, but the lyrics and production make it just another generic easy listening track. It’s not bad, though; just not anything that a Johnny Mathis track would promise otherwise.
27. “Can’t Smile Without You” – Barry Manilow: Here I was thinking that “Copacabana” was the start of Manilow putting out singles I could actually tolerate. Sandwiched in between some goofy whistling at the start and even hokier hand claps at the end are a series of couplets that are little more that reiterations of the title. The lyrics here are the most insipid I’ve heard from any Manilow song (and that’s saying something): “I feel sad when you’re sad / I feel glad when you’re glad”. The melody is even more kitschy – it’s as if someone listened to a Bacharach and David composition and tried their hand at one to pitiful results. We all deserve better.
26. “Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty: I’ve heard this song numerous times over the years and was shocked one day to discover that there were actually lyrics to the composition. For all I knew, the recording merely consisted of that saxophone hook on a continuous loop for three to four minutes. And in retrospect, it’s not surprising how I could’ve thought that – that sax riff is absolutely killer. It’s as if a studio musician for Muzak decided to go off the radar and rock out for once in their life. At its core, however, the song is pretty haunting, sad even. I especially feel for the first two verses, where one “drinks the night away” to forget about the “city desert” in which they “used to think it was so easy”. Having struggled with finances, mental health, and general life stability for a while after moving out, I know that feeling all too well. In this sense, that saxophone represented the ghosts and vices that follow us around in the constant fight to just stay alive. What used to be a sense of nostalgia I’d get from this song has now transformed into something deeper and scarier – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
25. “We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions” – Queen: On the single release, it’s actually ” Champions” that is issued as the A-side with “Rock” as the B-side. It’s a little confusing, until you realize that radio stations often play the two songs the other way around with no interruption, and that Billboard lists it as such as a duel single. In any case, it’s clear that “We Will Rock You” is the weaker of the two. Freddie Mercury’s chants can get me riled up any day, but it’s clear that this was made for the sole purpose of getting large stadiums excited and appropriated for sporting events (although Brian May has a great guitar solo, as always). “We Are the Champions”, on the other hand, is ridiculously over-the-top… but what Queen song isn’t? I know this song is especially overplayed, but I guess I just don’t go to enough sporting events, because that chorus still gives me a rush of adrenaline every time. Especially May’s slide guitar during the climax of the final chorus – goosebumps, for real. And once again, Freddie Mercury really fucking delivers. I miss him so much.
24. “It’s a Heartache” – Bonnie Taylor: Interestingly enough, I’ve been familiar with this song for a while after listening to a few people cover it at karaoke bars, though it isn’t until now that I’ve finally heard the original. Taylor’s gravelly vocals are absolutely one of my favorite things about this song (unusual female vocals are my bread and butter), even if the rest of the song tends to dwells in average-sounding heartbreak melody. Still, it’s catchy enough to warrant multiple listens without garnering much of a complaint.
23. “Love is Like Oxygen” – Sweet: Sweet, to me, seems to be trying their hardest to ride on the wave that the absolutely fun “Ballroom Blitz” set up for them a few years earlier. They seem to do the glam rock thing pretty well, but that doesn’t always directly calculate to genuinely good music. “Love is Like Oxygen” is probably the closest they’ve gotten to recapturing this music, though, especially in the chorus, they seem to be totally channeling the synth-driven, symphony-choral madness of ELO. Still, although that driving guitar riff is a great one, there isn’t enough meat on the bone to really count this as truly epic, despite the number of instrumental solos they insist on having. Still, not a terrible song.
22. “Hot Child in the City” – Nick Gilder: For the record, I don’t mind Gilder’s voice in this at all. Just like rough, unfeminine female vocals are pleasing to me, so are male singers with voices that are anything but masculine. Despite its slinky groove and playful mood, a close listen to the lyrics reveal its darker subject matter of young girls coerced into sex work. What makes this song truly gross is the fact that this literal child is assumed to have complete agency in what they’ve gotten themselves into, when they’re more than likely being abused to stay in a crooked system. The speaker (a passive onlooker, we’re forced to assume) offers no sense of criticism or even sympathy for the subject – they’re just “runnin’ wild and lookin’ pretty”. The cherry on top of this terrible confection is in the bridge when the speaker literally invites her to his place to “make love”. No longer is he passive – he is an actual pedophile, making this song a truly disgusting mess from beginning to end. I can only imagine that those who fell for this song superficial charms surely weren’t thinking critically about its lyrics, or even listening to them I presume.
21. “Feels So Good” – Chuck Mangione: As much as I enjoy jazz, I’m hardly the person to really talk much in depth about it. Hence why I mostly review pop music – most hard music theory on instrumental pieces just kind of goes over my head. I will say, however, that the tropical mood this song goes into once those drums kick in make this an absolute delight from start to finish. That wah-wah guitar even gives it a little bit of a disco vibe – disco for poolside-dwellers, I suppose. “Feels So Good” is a great name for this composition.
20. “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” – Chic: The rhymes in this song are so cliché and silly (especially “beat/heat/feet” and “baby/crazy/hazy”), as is the inclusion of “yowsah, yowsah, yowsah”. The real beauty of the song, however, lies in that bass/high-hat/strings combination that makes for some of the finest instrumental hooks of the disco era. The song as a whole probably repeats the “dance, dance, dance” hook at least two or three dozen times, but when you’re out on the dance floor, I doubt you’re listening to the lyrics anyway. It’s doesn’t do much new after the first couple of verses, but at least it does its job.
19. “If I Can’t Have You” – Yvonne Elliman: There are just a few songs that come to mind when I think of songs that defined the era of disco – not so much disco masterpieces like “The Groove Line” or “Last Dance”, but rather radio and dance floor favorites that I could imagine being in high circulation during disco’s peak. “Boogie Nights”, “I Love the Nightlife”, “Rock the Boat”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Young Hearts Run Free”… songs like those. “If I Can’t Have You”, however, fits in both categories. The song’s inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever undoubtedly boosted its popularity, especially with its usage on the glitzy dance floor scenes, certainly a glamorized time capsule of a very specific time and place. What no one remembers about the film, however, is just how dark it is. Aside from all the fun party scenes are moments of dead-end jobs, poverty, racism, violence, sexual assault, suicide, and other distresses of living in the inner-city. On that note, at its core, “If I Can’t Have You” is one of the saddest songs on the soundtrack. The verses indicate she’s doing little more than “surviving every lonely day”, crying all the time and dedicating herself to “dreams that never will come true”. The impassioned chorus (“If I can’t have you / I don’t want nobody, baby”) indicate that the person who she adores is her only way out of her endless days of sadness… or is it? Much like the characters at the heart of Saturday Night Fever, her efforts to escape her own personal hell seem hopeless. All she can do is sing and dance her troubles away. All of this is backed by a sumptuous flurry of orchestral strings, horns, and voices straight out of an opera. Elliman herself gives off such a magnificent performance in her classic recording and I think she was absolutely robbed of a successful solo career.
18. “With a Little Luck” – Wings: Just a word of advice: if someone initially refers to your romantic relationship as “this whole damn thing”, they probably care very little about the circumstances as a whole. On another note, if someone were to tell me that the success or failure of my partnership relies on “a little luck”, I wouldn’t feel very confident in the chances that it’ll all work out. In any case – and I apologize for this – but I am very tired with trying to give my objective opinions on Wings songs and I hope I no longer have to any longer. Cool synths, though.
17. “Just the Way You Are” – Billy Joel: I like Billy Joel just fine, in the sense that I could listen to “Piano Man” to this very day, as overplayed as it is, and enjoy it just fine. This song has always bothered me a little bit, though. It’s supposed to be read as Joel’s message of unconditional love to the subject. “There’s no need for deep conversation or trips to Europe – I love you for yourself, baby!” But would you be offended if she did change the color of her hair, try a new fashion, or, I don’t know, try to better herself for her own benefit? Something tells me Billy Joel wouldn’t be very supportive if his partner were to, say, quit smoking or go vegan. In a way, by asking for so little, he’s inadvertently asking for too much. Also, the whole “I love you forever” line is a ridiculously dated concept. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Bill!
16. “Miss You” – The Rolling Stones: Wherein the Rolling freakin’ Stones try their hand at this whole disco thing. I’ve always read The Stones’ venture into the genre alongside KISS’ as a sign that the disco trend has become less of a fun gimmick and more of a capitalist plague. If rock bands are putting out disco songs, what kind of future do we have to look forward to? But if “Miss You” is trying for a mimicry of the disco sound, it sort of misses the mark. The four-on-the-floor beat is there, as are the keyboards and bass. Yet this single was always a bit off-putting to me – the production is just as grimy as their pure rock records which, along with the falsetto “ooh”s, make this sound more like a demo than something prepared for release. Of course, demanding a clean sound from The Stones is probably asking for too much. Essentially, it’s really not too bad of a song, even if it does constantly tread across its sleazy hook a little too enthusiastically. Every member of the band has done better… well, except for Bill Wyman. If anything, this is worth a listen for Wyman’s bass performance.
15. “Lay Down Sally” – Eric Clapton: For an Englishman attempting more of a honky-tonk country-blues with roots firmly set in the American South, this isn’t too bad. It’s got a bouncy driving guitar riff that pretty much drives the whole thing from start to finish. Though in retrospect, that might be the only thing that drives this along. Clapton’s voice isn’t all that impressive, nor are the lyrics that play upon all the necessary country music conventions. It’s a bit baffling how this got to #3, to be honest, though I’d blame it all on that earworm of a guitar hook. I guess there’s a time and place for everything.
14. “Emotion” – Samantha Sang: Admittedly, “Emotion” was always one of my least favorite tracks included in Saturday Night Fever. But if you leave out the fact that it’s competing against “If I Can’t Have You”, “Disco Inferno”, and several Bee Gees singles, you’re still left with a damn good song. This song is credited to Sang herself, who does a nice enough job with her whispery, sultry vocals. Yet it’s always amused me how the song seems to gradually transform into a Bee Gees song, with Barry Gibb himself taking complete reigns during the fiery chorus. In this case, Sang’s presence on the track is all but irrelevant, which I find pretty strange. Still, it’s got a smooth, jazzy production that fits excellently with its lyrics of heartache, and the track itself is as pleasant as disco gets.
13. “You’re the One That I Want” – Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta: God, I would think that “Let Her In” would be an early sign for the music folks that Travolta maybe, just maybe, can’t fucking sing. At the very least, outside of the entire first verse, they make sure that Newton-John – a much better singer, by far – overshadows him throughout this duet. This is the part in Grease where Sandy finally succumbs to Danny’s low standards and transforms into a leather-clad vamp in order to finally get his attention. Thus, I don’t exactly have all the best connotations with this number, but at least it’s easily the catchiest number in the entire musical. It does seem to want to feign creativity by repeating its title as many times as possible, but it’s agreeable enough in its premise and certainly does stick.
12. “I Go Crazy” – Paul Davis: This is a nice little ballad, if a little dull. Though it only peaked at #7, its most important contribution is that it spent forty weeks on the charts altogether, holding the record for the longest run on the Hot 100 (though this has since been surpassed). It just goes to show how firm of a grip that AOR and soft-rock had on the pop culture throughout pretty much the entire decade. As I said, the song is just okay, if a bit schmaltzy, and it does everything that pretty much every similar-sounding song does and nothing else very new. But it’s also got a nice twinkly keyboard riff that predates Styx’s “Babe”, so there’s that.
11. “Grease” – Frankie Valli: This song was used in the animated beginning credits for the film and is probably the single best original song associated with the film as a whole (not counting the Sha-Na-Na covers of early rock ‘n’ roll songs). It is a little weird, though, that the song chosen to introduce an homage to late 50s culture is, in essence, a lite disco song. Even more peculiar is how they got one of the biggest icons of the time – Frankie Valli – to sing this tune, yet he doesn’t for a single moment demonstrate his famous falsetto. Separate from the context, though, this is a damn good pop song. It may be a bit wordy for its own good (“We take the pressure and we throw away / Conventionality belongs to yesterday”), but those guitar licks, triumphant strings, bombastic horns, and fun melody extend beyond the lyrics’ potential. And Valli himself gives one of his best vocal performances in a while, making me forget all about that falsetto that had so defined him. It’s too bad the rest of the movie isn’t quite as excellent. (Sidenote: I don’t hate Grease! I just think it kind of misses the point.)
10. “Three Times a Lady” – Commodores: This is like the “Mandy” of smooth soul. Okay, perhaps it isn’t quite as ridiculous, but it’s still just as schmaltzy. I will say, though, that Lionel Richie gives one of his better performances here; I could practically feel every bit of emotion being squeezed from him as he sings each word and phrase. Besides all of this, it’s relatively forgettable and also seems like it ends to quickly. With its gradual buildup in intensity promising a swelling climax, its sudden, dwindling end just feels weak.
9. “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – A Taste of Honey: Ah, there’s that word again! I thought we lost you there for a second, boogie. Apparently the word can still get you all the way to #1 in 1978. Honestly, though, this just might be the lowest common denominator of disco music, in that it’s got an agreeable beat and would likely bring people to the dance floor. I just can’t get past those lyrics, though: “If you’re thinkin’ you’re too cool to boogie / Boy, oh boy have I got news for you / Everybody here tonight must boogie / You are no exception to the rule”. I know that no one really listens to the lyrics in the middle of a cocaine-fueled party atmosphere, but this is just insulting. Still, that guitar and bass combo is just earth-shattering. I’m at a standstill as to how I really feel about this song, but I think an instrumental-only version would greatly benefit the recording as a whole.
8. “(Love is) Thicker Than Water” – Andy Gibb: I may be the only one who is instantly reminded of Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles’ output when I listen to this song. It’s switching back-and-forth from a peppy uptempo hook to more solemn, downbeat verses, separated by a brief drum fill, is so reminiscent of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, albeit less psychedelic in sound and subject matter. Although, maybe the metaphor isn’t so far-fetched after all, considering lines like “Heaven’s angel, devil’s daughter” and “She’ll drive me crazy in the end”. While on the surface it’s very much a moral tale of a destructive relationship, it’s hard not to view this in a more morbid light with the ugly foreshadow of Andy’s eventual cocaine addiction. I can’t find much note on when his problems first begun, but if we were to assume that the addiction coincided with his ascent to superstardom, lines like “While I need her more than she needs you / That’s what I’m living for” are given a much deeper meaning. Still, I acknowledge that I might be reading too much into what is a relatively simple, cynical love song, but it definitely does make it all the more interesting.
7. “Baby Come Back” – Player: Boy, that bass riff sure is tasty. As is that guitar riff! Instrumentally, this is some of the coolest, suavest yacht rock around. Once the lyrics kick in, however, the 70s cheese gets kicks right into overdrive: “Baby come back, you can blame it all on me / I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you”. Still, the harmonic melding of all those voices, along with the great jazzy feel of those damn guitars and keyboard, make for a truly fun little jam. It also has one of the best uses of the false finish I’ve heard since “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”, the subsequent “Baby come back!” being all the more pleasurable. It’s nothing extraordinary, but if one needed a choice lick from AOR’s peak of popularity, let it be this one.
6. “How Deep is Your Love” – Bee Gees: This song is slightly novelty at this point, evidence of how the soft-rock scene has even bled over to affect disco tyrants such as Bee Gees. But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most beautiful example of such. At this point, Barry Gibb had pretty much established himself as the leader of the group, although Robin sings the melody in the choruses. Although every bit of the melody is invaluable, it’s that bit in the chorus that makes my heart swell. “‘Cause we’re living in a world of fools / Breaking us down / When they all should let us be” – that part. It’s that tender melody, coupled with intimate questioning of a lover’s loyalty, that make this an indispensable staple in both the disco and AOR scenes. It’s may be little more than a collection of beautiful chords set to the tone of a lush electric piano, filtered through the brothers’ signature wispy falsetto – but boy, does it all fit together so nicely.
5. “Kiss You All Over” – Exile: When I first heard this song, I had to make sure I wasn’t actually listening to a lost Bob Seger cut – but it soon became clear that this was something totally different. It’s this odd mixture of soft-rock, country, and funk, with synthesizers that offer a taste of ELO-esque symphonic rock and a four-on-the-floor disco tempo. This is pretty much a complete culmination of everything that achieved high popularity in this decade. All of this, along with arena-ready melodies in the verses and chorus it was almost destined that this would reach #1. Unfortunately, it also means that it’s destined that Exile would fade into obscurity by the end of the decade. Okay, it isn’t that great of a song; in fact some of the lines sound like bad dirty poetry (“Oh, babe, I want to taste your lips / I want to fill your fantasy”). It’s pretty much just about this really horny dude who can’t wait until he gets home to make love to his woman. Although the impassioned performance and the way he addresses her indicates that this is no sleazy request, but an actual profession of love. It’s cheesy, sure, but cheesy might just be his only setting, and she probably digs it! In any case, this may not be a mandatory rock staple, but it’s always a warm welcome to my listening ears.
4. “Stayin’ Alive” – Bee Gees: “Stayin’ Alive” is one of those weird songs that has cemented itself into the fabric of pop culture with few people actually really knowing what the song itself is about. When the Gibb brothers belt out that famous “Ha, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive” hook, it gets people pumped up and feelin’ very much alive. Yet with lines like “Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin'”, it becomes evident just how perfect this was for a film like Saturday Night Fever. It’s a song about the mere impossibility of getting by in the rough city terrain, masked by an infectious beat and fantastic disco hooks. I think the combination of these elements make this one of the all-time greatest disco singles. As I’ve mentioned before, some of my favorite disco songs are the ones that highlight the darkness of human existence; the struggles and traumas one experiences day-by-day that would lead them to the self-indulgence of the nightlife as a method to forget it all for a few hours. Hence why it’s all too notable that there’s a literal cry for help in the midst of this pumping dance track – “Life going nowhere / Somebody help me”. Sometimes all we can do is stay alive, but sometimes it’s all that we need. As the Gibbs say, “It’s alright, it’s okay / I’ll live to see another day”.
3. “You Light Up My Life” – Debby Boone: Sometimes I wonder how a song as pious and bland as this could have been such a monster hit at its time. It is officially the single most successful song of the entire 1970s, having been at #1 for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks. Then I realize, if such explicitly disco tracks as “Stayin’ Alive” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” reached so high up in the year-end list, it should make sense that the most soft-poppiest soft-pop ballad would achieve that feat too. The grasp of AOR should never be underestimated, folks. Since its success, however, this song has also been declared among the worst songs of all time – it’s not hard to see why. Its snail-like pace could put Manilow to shame and the lyrics are so perfectly pious (“Finally, a chance to say hey, I love you / Never again to be all alone”), it’s no wonder how it’s often mistaken for a Christian song. Boone has a perfectly fine voice – really pretty, even – but the languid flow of this hymn give little wiggle room for her to really do anything interesting with it. It’s just a short, flavorless ballad that belongs more at a funeral procession that a wedding. Time has not been kind to this one, that’s for sure.
2. “Night Fever” – Bee Gees: This is a sharp, well-produced disco single for sure, but I’ve always preferred “Stayin’ Alive” more. It almost sounds like this is the song you play right after latter, as a sort of cool-down from the disco blast that is “Stayin’ Alive”. It’s definitely got a much cleaner sound than “You Should Be Dancing”, which a midtempo beat that is perfect for dancing. The introductory strings exemplify disco euphoria, continued forward by that groovy guitar lick, and while the falsetto vocals are damn near incomprehensible, the effect that these famous harmonies give is that of a troupe of angels in some kind of colorful dance floor heaven. Lyrically, it’s more of a direct love for the nightlife, explaining why so many of its lines feel so throwaway and cliché. Even the chorus – “Night fever, night fever / We know how to do it” – feels more like a placeholder than something that would be chanted in the midst of a dance frenzy. Still, once again, lyrics don’t always matter with these types of songs, and as the vivid production takes center stage on this one, all you can do is dance along.
1. “Shadow Dancing” – Andy Gibb: Although it’s clear that Andy, from start, had been riding on the coattails of his brothers’ fame, even going as far as to emulate their signature falsetto sound, I think he’s at his best when he’s singing at a more natural middle range. This is clear in the verses of “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” (still his strongest vocal performance I’ve heard), a well as the verses in “Shadow Dancing”. He’s definitely more of a teen idol than his older brothers, but these moments really demonstrate a real, unique talent not really found elsewhere. The rest of the song, however, give me no indication how this, of all songs, would have been the #1 track of the whole year. It’s not a bad song: the chorus is catchy enough, the strings are fun, and those backing vocals are certainly pleasant. I just can’t bring myself to call it truly great – it’s missing that one extraordinary factor that could work to rise this above average. As it stands, this is painfully middling in sound and production. As for the lyrics… well, I’m not even sure what they’re about. What is “shadow dancing” anyway? I can’t really get much of a definition from a straight listen or read-through on the lyrics. As it stands, this is a really boring way to end this list (and this post). I’d say go ahead and listen to any number of the great disco jams on this list; “Shadow Dancing”, in particular, is just disappointing.