100. “Strange Way” – Firefall: Kicking off this list is an interesting, dark-sounding radio-friendly rock hit. Truthfully, I can hear Chicago’s influences on this track from a mile away, especially with that uptempo’d salsa breakdown before the final chorus. It’s an alright song and has even got some cool flutes in there, but its lyrics are too cryptically clunky and forgettable for me to say that I truly enjoyed it.
99. “I Do Love You” – G.Q.: I’m not exactly sure if that slow ‘n’ smooth intro was really needed to catch the listener’s attention. The transition to its mid-tempo R&B sound is a tad clumsy and the hook (“I do love you / I love you, I love you”) is catchy enough as it is. Lyrically, this is weak as hell, yet those guitars are seductive enough to keep me listening, at least, as is Emanuel Leblanc’s vocal performance. I have never heard the Billy Stewart original, but I think the group performs this version competently enough to convince anyone that this is their stone cold original.
98. “Sail On” – Commodores: I was so confused when this song started up. Sure, the Commodores’ progression from funk to much smoother R&B fare is understandable, but this is basically a full-on country ballad, which I guess I didn’t really expect. It took me a while to get used to Lionel Richie’s noticeable twang, but once I did I found that I actually like this song. While I’m not so convinced that country was the most effective way to go about this, the lyrics and melody convey some pretty poignant thoughts that would undoubtedly swim through one’s mind as they endure a relationship’s end. A downside to this would be its one-sidedness; it seems that the speaker is so set on stating that his former partner is in the wrong, he has no room for self-evaluation. Still, it’s got a nice groove once it gets more soulful at the end, and is a relatively strong effort from the Commodores altogether.
97. “The Boss” – Diana Ross: In case you’re not following me on Twitter, I’ve recently given myself the challenge of listening through every one of Diana Ross’ studio albums, including all her work with The Supremes. This is a lot of material, and while I’m only about five albums into The Supremes’ discography, comparing their early chamber pop to this single from Ross’ later solo career shows just how effective she is at evolving with the times. In particular, her soaring vocals very effectively complement the billowing strings and horns of its disco production. While it does come off as a lesser Donna Summer single, her euphoric howls during the bridge demand that this track belong to her entirely. It’s nothing amazing, but you can’t deny that it does its job.
96. “Dancin’ Shoes” – Nigel Olsson: This song could reasonably compete with Johnnie Taylor’s “Disco Lady” as the most misleading single title of the late 70s. Unlike titles like “Night Fever”, “Disco Inferno”, and “Boogie Nights”, the mood of this purely AOR song does not give one the urge to put on their dancin’ shoes. Although I guess dancin’ shoes could possibly be involved, if the participant is well-aware that more slow-dancin’ is involved here. Yet even the subject matter is a bit dreary, as the speaker is dancing to escape the confusion and frustration of his daily life. Sure, “Stayin’ Alive” is about exactly this as well, but at least the Gibbs make the alternate option sound more desirable. Here, he seems unfulfilled no matter what, almost like he’s begrudgingly giving a “spin on that wheel of romance”. This is little more than radio filler material and I can’t imagine how this would resonate with anyone.
95. “Dance the Night Away” – Van Halen: And now introducing Van Halen! I have a lot of feelings about Van Halen myself. While I think Eddie Van Halen is a phenomenal guitarist, it’s hard to deny that the band’s image is primarily set forth by its frontman, be it Roth or Hagar. In both cases – especially the former – a sexist culture thrives in a ways that would go on to practically define the glam rock/metal of the conservative 80s. While I do have a soft spot for their debut album as a strong example of late-70s hard rock, “Dance the Night Away” is a decidedly more pop-oriented effort. It’s got a fun, bouncy rhythm to it and David Lee Roth performs it competently. Where it truly differs from its material is its lyrics, with an “Oooh, baby, baby” hook that could’ve easily come from any run-of-the-mill pop song from any era. Its tight sound and whimsical theme make this a delightful summer song, if a far cry from the band’s best work.
94. “We’ve Got Tonite” – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Initially, I assumed that Bob Seger is at his best with mid-tempo numbers. I guess he’s been taking some pointers from Rod Stewart, as his ragged, rocker voice is toned down just enough to work rather well in a slower AOR ballad. Surprisingly, I actually like this one quite a lot. It’s essentially a song about a one-night stand, but with empty desire for sex instead being translated to a need to feel hope and belonging if only for one night. Sure it’s corny, and I’m not sure if the speaker’s wider sensibilities have me very convinced. But at best, it’s an honest contemplation of ones true place in such a crazy world and a desire to live one day, one moment at a time.
93. “Somewhere in the Night” – Barry Manilow: Few artists have so defined the 70s as succinctly as Barry Manilow. Since the monster success of “Mandy” in ’74, his influenced has reached impressively far throughout the scope of popular music of the 70s. It’s not that I’ve liked a whole lot of his songs or anything, but it’s hard to deny how successfully he’s stuck. “Somewhere in the Night” continues this trend of the dreamy, symphonic, melody-driven piano ballad he is so well-known for (most of them composed by the Kerr-Jennings team). Like most of his other hits, this one sounds like a number from a stage musical; in particular, I could particularly hear this being used in a sappy movie montage. Everything about this song, from the production to the lyrics, seems solidly stuck in its era – it’s just so damn generic, which is precisely how it came to popularity to begin with. I’ll leave this as another Manilow flop.
92. “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)” – Robert Palmer: After “Every Kinda People”, Robert Palmer left behind the mid-tempo smooth ‘n’ tropical sound for a more upbeat, rockin’ number. My one major complaint is, while the former single seems right up his alley, one could really notice Palmer trying to strain his voice to hit some of those higher notes. Still, the song’s got a good sound and the breakdown of that chorus is just infectious. Not too shabby for what is essentially a simple song of romantic desire.
91. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson: While “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is far from the first time we’ve seen a solo Michael Jackson on these charts (“Rockin’ Robin” and “Ben” made the year-end chart of 1972), this does mark the first single he had a good amount of creative control over. And it definitely shows through the confidence he displays on this track, essentially a lite disco-funk offering. While it’s a bit difficult to make out the lyrics through Jackson’s ever-persistent falsetto, there’s no denying just how well it puts forth its feeling of good party vibes. From the smooth, spoken intro, to that legendary violin riff, to the legendary vocalization bits that Jackson peppers throughout, this song practically screams superstardom. Led by sharp production from Quincy Jones and Jackson himself, this simple single encapsulates the mood of general bliss and euphoria that practically every big party song since has only tried to recapture. It’s one of those songs that has stood the test of time exceptionally, and it’s not very hard to see why.
90. “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” – Instant Funk: I’m pretty sure the chanted parts of this song – “I got my mind made up / C’mon, you can get it” – is the closest that I’ve come to covering a rap song on these lists so far. Until the gangsta rap takeover of the 90s, this also might be the only time I will. Despite the group’s name, this is only a funk song in the most watered-down sense of the term; it’s actually more of a straight disco song. It’s fine, though quickly forgettable.
89. “Every Time I Think of You” – The Babys: The verses of this one are incredibly weak; like something out of a more-subpar-than-usual Barry Manilow single. Actually, the song as a whole is weak, seemingly stitched together flimsily with pieces from other, better songs, resulting is something that is really quite all over the place. The Babys is a stupid name for a band and the singer is boring, as are all the other bands members… but who is that female singer? The one who belts out the song’s title during the choruses. I can’t find any information on her, but she is easily the best part of the single (if short-lasting) and I want to know more about her.
88. “Double Vision” – Foreigner: So far, “Double Vision” is the least vanilla of Foreigner’s output. They are improving on their power chords, although the arrangement of the verses still feel very clunky. The real power of the song come in the choruses, though, replete with some fine smooth harmonies and smooth synths that give the song an almost haunting quality. As an ode to drinking ’til you can’t feel your face, it’s a bit heavy handed at times, but when Lou Gramm hits those delicious high notes with such confidence, I wonder why they don’t stick with such high-octane rock jams like this more often. Perhaps they will.
87. “How You Gonna See Me Now” – Alice Cooper: Out of all of Alice Cooper’s singles to find success by appealing to the soft rock crowd, this is among his strongest. Many interpret this as yet another betrayal to his shock rock fanbase, but I wouldn’t be so harsh on it. This particular piano ballad was co-written by Bernie Taupin; knowing that, it’s almost impossible to not imagine Elton John taking on this as a single. Now, just because I say it’s among the stronger of Cooper’s ballads doesn’t mean it’s very exceptional. This is the guy that gave us “Only Women Bleed”, after all. I found “I Never Cry” to be kind of sweet in a schmaltzy romance kind of way; this one, however, feels too bland and uninspired to believe that it was inspired by anything as endearing. It’s a lovely melody and Cooper sings it just fine, but it’s very ordinary nonetheless.
86. “You Take My Breath Away” – Rex Smith: And this is exactly what I’m talking about when I describe Manilow’s reach of influence. I’m sure that there were dozens of copycats out there during the 70s; why and how Rex Smith was one of the best selling of them remains a mystery. This song stinks – as if the writers don’t know how to express a certain sentiment besides repeating the song title twenty to thirty times. A whole lot of telling with no showing, with an obnoxious vocalist to top it all off.
85. “Suspicions” – Eddie Rabbitt: I’ve seen this song listed as country, but its sensibilities more lie in its bass-driven, soulful emotional vulnerability of yacht rock. It’s so quiet it almost whispers, but is deceptively well-crafted. Essentially, Eddie Rabbitt is a guy who places his wife/girlfriend on such a high pedestal, he himself is insecure in his own ability to keep her sticking around. Refreshingly, it never rises to an amount of jealousy that puts his lover in an unfair position she probably has no control over. Rather, he “knows that [she] loves [him]”, but is afraid that someone else will step in and condemns himself for thinking that such a thing would occur. The song is so low-key in dramatics, yet feels so real and sensitive through and through. I love these kinds of songs, where men can set aside their egos for a second to profess some real-life anxieties. Rabbitt is terrific in this single and I’m eager to check out some more of his stuff.
84. “How Much I Feel” – Ambrosia: This is yet another quiet recording from the soft rock side of the dial. As opposed to the Eddie Rabbitt song, this song is about a relationship that is genuinely falling apart, as they tend to do. While the verses offer some understanding of how broken their relationship is, the chorus is a plea of desperation for the two to make it through in the name of love. I do dislike songs where we’re meant to sympathize for a couple that are definitely not meant for each other, but the final verse is a bit of a game changer. They eventually break up, only to reunite several years later, as the speaker confesses: “Sometimes when we make love / I still can see your face”. At this point, it’s clear that the speaker is just a pathetic, insecure person who can’t seem to let go of that whom he consistently disappoints yet to whom he remains loyal. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs, but definitely the type of atypical love song I can get behind.
83. “Get Used to It” – Roger Voudouris: I don’t know very much about music theory (I can barely read music to begin with, and not very well), but the key changes in this song are pretty remarkable and one of the first things to come out at me. But I won’t bore y’all with the little, nerdy details this time. Voudouris doesn’t have a particularly outstanding voice, and the tone and composition of this one borders rather close to TV opening theme status. Still, it’s fun and charming and I can’t imagine not liking this one at least a little bit.
82. “Promises” – Eric Clapton: I could do without practically anything Clapton has put out since leaving The Yardbirds (note: I haven’t listened to most of his output, don’t give me any Clapton recs). Continuing on the path he started with “Long Tall Sally”, this is another country effort for the prolific guitarist, although it’s more along the lines of Eagles-style California rock ‘n’ roll. The background vocals from Marcy Levy are just delightful, but it’s pretty much the only noteworthy aspect of this single. Everything else, typical of Clapton, is a bit of a bore.
81. “Don’t Bring Me Down” – Electric Light Orchestra: ELO have probably been the one artist to win over my heart the most number of times while covering this decade. Jeff Lynne and folks have made a whole career trying to tap into the kind of experimental energy that made The Beatles so popular, and in the process have formed a unique, awesome sound all their own. With that being said, I’m sorry to say that “Don’t Bring Me Down” is one of their weak ones. It’s not that it isn’t catchy; it gets stuck in your head just as quickly as “Livin’ Thing” and “Telephone Line”. It’s just a bit too ordinary – I’d just as soon see this song coming from Sweet or even Foreigner(!) than Electric Light Orchestra. Also, the “Orchestra” part of their name is supremely toned down here, making it more of a standard rock number with generic chord progressions and lyrics that, once again, could have come from anyone. Still, a sizable fraction of the classic ELO energy is still ever-present here, which make the song as easily digestible as ever. Just don’t think too hard about this one.
80. “Rise” – Herb Alpert: Now separated from his legendary Tijuana Brass, Herb Alpert has taken on the dangerous task of trying to appeal to the kids of today by putting out a funk record. Surprisingly, this isn’t really too bad. It’s a neat instrumental that evokes some rather pleasant imagery of the summertime on a hot July day by a pier or something. The bass is pleasant and that groove is simply unstoppable. Unfortunately, when researching this song, I found that a huge source of its promotion was its usage during a rape scene in a popular soap opera. I won’t lie, this does dampen the appeal for me in a somewhat significant way, though the pure essence of this track almost redeems itself completely.
79. “Time Passages” – Al Stewart: I feel like Al Stewart is a much more interest musician than “Year of the Cat” and now this single may suggest. Not that either of those are bad at all; in fact, it’s because I enjoy this slightly more than “Year of the Cat”, Stewart’s most popular single, do I feel that there’s a something more prolific hiding under the surface. It’s hard not to connect the two songs, at least for me – the line “buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight” feels very similar to “Cat”‘s final verse, while the final verse of “Time” feels a whole lot like the entirety its predecessor. But I’ll digress – what about “Time Passages” makes it so good? I’ll give it all up to Stewart’s classic folk sensibilities on he remarks on the passing of time and the endurance of memories that creep up unexpectedly. It’s hard not to get lost in nostalgia when the present seems so dreary in comparison – but sometimes you just gotta. It’s a lovely song and one that, once again, suggests a true unique artistry in Al Stewart just hiding beneath the surface.
78. “September” – Earth, Wind, & Fire: I’m so glad to be listening to this song and writing this very sentence during the month of September. September is also the month of my birthday, which always makes this an extra special in my eyes, but let’s move on. In a decade full of fabulous funk and lush instrumental dance tunes, this is a terrific sign off for the 70s. The combination of horns, bass, and guitar is some of the strongest the group has ever uncovered, and the vocals are truly astronomical. Much like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, the falsetto parts are essentially incomprehensible. Yet the mood is all there, and it’s downright impossible not to feel absolutely fulfilled from beginning to the end of this fine single. It’s easily one of the strongest output from the group, and I’m so happy it exists.
77. “Ooo Baby, Baby” – Linda Ronstadt: With essentially every Ronstadt cover I’ve encountered up ’til now, I’ve come to the same basic conclusion: just listen to the original – it’s not much different, but so much better. I’ve reached the same conclusion here. I’d be much happier if I never had to listen to a Linda Ronstadt single ever again.
76. “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” – G.Q.: On the surface, “Disco Nights” feels very much like a culmination of all those other big disco hits of previous years. Essentially, that’s all it really is – although that’s hardly a bad thing. The music is really nice, and although the vocals aren’t phenomenal, that one “feeling’s right, music’s tight” hook is a killer. To me, it sounds like a funky combo of “Boogie Nights”, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”, and “Shame”, although I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting that are obvious influences. This song may be generic, but it’s also just good, harmless fun.
75. “I Just Wanna Stop” – Gino Vannelli: I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed how close the verse melody sounds to Bread’s “Make It With You”, but the similarities are there. This single gives off a nice, airy adult contemporary vibe, complete with a swelling chorus and a gentle saxophone solo. As with many of these songs, though, the lyrics are teasingly common as is the vocal performance of Gino himself. It’s nice to play in the background, but useful for little else.
74. “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” – KISS: It should be noted here that 1979 marked a huge turning point from disco. Partially facilitated by Disco Demolition Night, disco dipped drastically in popularity for the first time since its ascendence. While there are many contributors to this phenomenon, one of the biggest is the simple over-saturation of its presence on the radio and in other media outlets, where numerous non-disco acts presumably “sold out” to the crowd. Much as rock fans felt betrayed by The Rolling Stones’ turn to disco with “Miss You”, so they did when KISS did the same. “Rock & Roll All Nite” is a goddamn classic, that’s for sure; once that 4/4 drum beat and the “doo-doo-doo” hook kicks in with this one, though, it’s only downhill from there. Now, I don’t dislike this song because it’s disco – KISS have always been a bit of a joke, so this only falls naturally with their theatricals. (And as much as people want to deny it, homophobia definitely played a part in disco’s demise – rock ‘n’ roll has long been a masculine tradition with hetero-thinking themes, whereas disco widely appealed to middle-class, gay Black and Latino folks. A switch to a disco sound is akin to a betrayal of masculinity, which the rock crowd so despised.) No, I dislike this song because it’s fucking goofy. Here’s the first line of the first verse: “Tonight, I want to give it all to you / In the darkness, there’s so much I wanna do”. And besides this, they just happen to land on the most obnoxious melody on which to base their entire chorus around – and repeat it again and again until the end of time. It very much sounds like a band with no disco background trying to get in on the joke. And yes, it is a joke, but it’s not a good one and definitely not a pleasant listen.
73. “Shake It” – Ian Matthews: Yet another bit of soft rock fare, this one guided by a pleasant guitar and a bit of a cutesy little melody. Ian Matthews doesn’t have too bad of a voice and the lyrics here are feel-good enough to be uplifting and even empowering. It’s a pretty simple collection of a bunch of nice-sounding stuff that just happens to fit together like a puzzle, resulting in a song that isn’t extraordinary, but not at all bad.
72. “I Just Fall in Love Again” – Anne Murray: Anne Murray is probably one musician that I most wish I enjoyed more than I do. Her voice is exceedingly pleasant, with a certain restrained warmth that stands pretty distinctly on its own. Perhaps I can blame the production on her singles, but it’s just so hard for me to see any of her songs as anything but just “alright”, despite her consistently great performances. Maybe I’ll just need to listen to more of her songs to figure out what the deal is. Like the others, “I Just Fall in Love Again” is a nice bit of AOR fluff, but but by no means unique. I can see it being a nice first dance song at a wedding, though nothing else really stands out.
71. “Shine a Little Love” – Electric Light Orchestra: I will admit that this is a bit of a better single than “Don’t Bring Me Down”, and undoubtedly one that is more definitive of their symphonic rock sound. However, it is also one of their most upbeat and – dare I say – the one that most noticeably rubs elbows with disco. Its bouncy atmosphere and sugary lyrics are probably the closest to “Livin’ Thing” in terms of straight feel-good vibes, but the melody is considerably weaker. Still, those power chords are terrific and the group makes pretty good use of their close harmonies and “wooo”s, as well as those always-cool synths.
70. “Born to Be Alive” – Patrick Hernandez: This is the most disco song to ever exist. The high-tempo; the bass-powered Europop production; that hi-hat cymbals and handclaps combo; the “doot-doot-doot” backup singers; the constant repetition of its title which, along with its lyrics, fits with the “live life by the moment” theme that the genre is built from. Plainly put, it pretty much defines the capitalistic trend that disco had become at this point (and possibly always had been). “It’s good to be alive” doesn’t mean much, but it’s fun to chant and groove along to on the dance floor. It’s an extremely over-produced single that maybe on the surface feels like a good idea, but doesn’t amount to much else beyond these superficial qualities.
69. “Got to Be Real” – Cheryl Lynn: I cannot believe that this song only hit #12 on the Hot 100, because it’s undoubtedly among the greatest pop singles of all time. Most of this, of course, is due to the powerhouse figure that is Cheryl Lynn herself. It’s an absolute crime that her music career wasn’t more successful; her mere presence on the track practically defines diva pop. I guess I can carve her one hit wonderdom to the changing musical climate, which resulted in numerous casualties from the disco age. Besides Lynn herself, though, this has got some fantastic piano and bass riffs that just miss the R&B cataloging. It’s a fantastic love song, if simple (“Your love is my love / And my love is your love”), though Lynn, once again, vocalizes and ad libs this song all the way to the heavens.
68. “Love is the Answer” – England Dan & John Ford Coley: The song title came off as something that would’ve come from a 60s folk rocker, which led me to think that maybe it’s misleading. Turns out, the title is taken more traditionally than I assumed. I thought The Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody” from ’76 was a late resurgence of 1960s sensibilities, but the decade is almost over and here it pops up again. I haven’t heard the Utopia original, but something tells me it’s probably much better than this. The vocal efforts from the two are good enough, but the soft rock production is too flavorless to pay much attention to. Not to mention the “love one another” bridge, which is so heavy-handed it’s embarrassing. I’ll stick with “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight”.
67. “Renegade” – Styx: Here’s yet another example to support my claim that, yes, Styx is cool, guys! The a cappella singing at the start sets up the plot of the song pretty well, even if it is followed by an abrupt downpour of higher tempo arena rock. It’s a real rocker of a song through and through, complete with powerful guitar and drums and a mighty cool synth about halfway in. It’s not quite as fun as “Come Sail Away” and the buildup promises a bit of a more epic song than what we’re given, but goddamn it, it’s good one.
66. “Lonesome Loser” – Little River Band: Hmm… considering that the tender imagery of “Reminiscing” was what initially attracted me to Little River Band, the opening line for this one – “Have you heard about the lonesome loser?” – doesn’t seem promising. The opening a capella and some of the guitar licks also sound dangerously close to “Carry On, Wayward Son”, though that could maybe just be sheer coincidence. No, what irritates me most about this song is how the main hook promises some kind of story of the titular loser who is “beaten by the hearts every time” – only to be followed by some nonspecific verses on a poor sap who is “unlucky in love”, as if we’ve never heard that one before. The writing isn’t very poetic nor does it contain the strong imagery that drove “Reminiscing” so well. It’s innocuous, sure, and not quite bad at all – but it hurts so much more when it’s coming from a band that previously displayed so much more potential than this throwaway single shows.
65. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” – McFadden & Whitehead: There have been a few attempts to merge disco and Philly soul (The O’Jays’ disco singles are great examples), but no one had accomplished this quite as effectively as McFadden & Whitehead. The combination of Philly Soul’s swirling strings and disco’s bumping bass go together like bread and butter in this song (which, surprisingly, was not a Gamble & Huff production). The duo perform the single alright, though there’s no denying that there’s hardly much of a personality that comes from their singing. This might be the biggest reason why they failed to find success after disco’s disintegration. Still, “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now / We’ve got the groove” is one of the most genuinely uplifting phrases to come from disco.
64. “I Love the Nightlife” – Alicia Bridges: Oh… okay. This song again. I guess once the song crossed over from the disco charts to the pop and soul charts, its popularity reemerged and it became bigger than ever. I already wrote some stuff about this song in my 1978 post, where it charted at #88. My opinions haven’t changed much: I still think this is one of the great disco songs and I still love her voice.
63. “Chuck E.’s in Love” – Rickie Lee Jones: This is such a cool song! The main acoustic guitar groove is a really nice one – a little bit of jazz, a little bit of blues, a little bit of Steely Dan-esque art rock. It moves pretty steadily and slinkily, while Jones herself talk-sings her lines in a more syncopated, sometimes scattish rhythm. Her vocalization, in fact, is almost more of a slur – I finally had to look up the lyrics after listening through certain lines to figure out what the hell she’s saying. Still, it’s a really nice, cute song, certainly a breath of fresh air amongst all the disco, hard rock, and uninspired soft rock of mainstream radio.
62. “I Want Your Love” – Chic: I’ve always assumed that Chic was a one-hit wonder with “Le Freak” (or at best, a two-hit wonder with that and “Good Times”). I had no clue that they actually had a solid reputation on the charts with a decent number of hit singles around this time. At the least, “I Want Your Love” is a step-up from “Dance, Dance, Dance”, if only for trading in its mindless dance craze for more saucy themes of love and lust. Like “Dance”, the lyrics are hardly more to marvel at (“I want your lovin’, please don’t make me beg”), but the real prize comes with the sleek, sultry disco production. Those driving bass and guitar licks makes this danceable, but those horns, piano, and bells that pop in every now and then turn this into a real work of art.
61. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits: This sounds like the daddest of dad rock that there has ever been. Seriously though, I always anticipate that this song would, musically, take some more interesting turns than it does, but it remains pretty tonally consistent from beginning to end without much variation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – for one thing, it means that Mark Knopfler’s guitar work is consistently awesome throughout the whole track. The lyrics are strong and I appreciate the basic letter of admiration to the hard-working fellas in the band. But I think the verse about the unappreciative audience who “don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playing band” is a bit of a wrench in the gears – it feels very much like an unneeded commentary on “kids these days”, when a more universal theme is more than enough. Still, I can’t lie and say that I don’t enjoy this track for what it is, through and through.
60. “New York Groove” – Ace Frehley: It’s interesting how the Ace Frehley, guitarist for KISS, put out a solo single that is infinitely better than the band’s most popular record this year. Well, maybe not infinitely – it’s not Record of the Year worthy or anything, but it’s kinda fun. The melody in the verses is neat and soulful, even if it does all fall apart by the chorus, replaced by some tuneless chanting. With a strange minimalism in its guitar and drums, it’s surprisingly pretty subdued, especially compared to KISS’ extravagant output. There’s no way that Ace Frehley is the next rock god or anything, but this song is still alright.
59. “What You Won’t Do For Love” – Bobby Caldwell: Awesome! I’ve heard this song in pass countless times over the year, and I’m so happy that I now know what it’s called and who sings it. Bobby Caldwell has a remarkably soulful voice, especially during the crescendo on the lines before the title (“I came back to let you know…”). I could see it fitting nicely side-to-side with “Strawbrry Letter 23”, but doesn’t quite harbor the amount of complexity in its production that such an association would suggest. Still, it’s pretty groovy.
58. “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” – Andy Gibb: Originally penned and performed by Bee Gees, the fourth Gibb brother Andy borrowed this song and took it all the way to #9. It’s a decidedly slower, softer effort from Gibb, meshing rather well with his vocal talent, which has now matured and become something distinctly of his own accord. It’s a pretty song, especially around the pre-chorus and chorus, and the whole this is supported by a violin that swells and swims along. With the exception of Gibb himself, however, it falls along the line of every other soft rock ballad of the time, rarely proving itself as something particularly exceptional. Regardless, it’s also the single that has convinced me that I should really stop referring to Andy as “the other Bee Gee”.
57. “Boogie Wonderland” – Earth, Wind, & Fire and The Emotions: Earth, Wind, & Fire were on… well, fire this year. “Boogie Wonderland” is the group’s foray into disco – if the word “boogie” in the title didn’t already indicate such. While they have always put out party songs, this one is enclosed in layer after layer of distinctly disco details that cannot be ignored. Not the least of which is the inclusion of The Emotions at the chorus, whose crooning of “Dance! Boogie wonderland! / Ha, ha, dance” is so disco it hurts. Maurice White is great on the verses as well, displaying as much positive personality as ever before. Contrary to many of their other hits singles of the past, this one actually has some super solid lyric under its belt, telling a pretty dark tale of dancing all the hurt away. If “Young Hearts Run Free” and “If I Can’t Have You” have proven anything, it’s that these kinds of songs are the best. Add in EWF’s signature bass, drums, and horns, along with some satisfying minor chords, and you’ve got yourself some bonafide club music magic.
56. “Take Me Home” – Cher: Wow, they weren’t lying when they said that everyone was trying out disco in 1979. The percussion and production are great, and seeing that this peaked at #8 (Cher’s first top ten single since “Dark Lady” in ’74), I’m pretty sure it was excellent dance floor fodder at the time. Lyrically it’s pretty weak, definitely giving off the impression that it was churned out quickly for pure commercial profit. And while Cher doesn’t seem completely comfortable here, I like to see this as testing grounds for the monster hit that would be “Believe” a couple decades later.
55. “Every 1’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate: I’ve seen Hot Chocolate listed as a one-hit wonder band in some places, but let me set the record straight. Yes, “You Sexy Thing” was their most successful single – peaking at #3 – but “Every 1’s a Winner” peaked at #6! (Also, there’s their earlier single “Emma”, which went to #8.) I have already professed my love for “You Sexy Thing” elsewhere, but this one is also totally cool! The combination of the greasy synths and the rockin’ guitar is just magical, and Errol Brown continues to be a force worth beholding. I should mention, though, that this song has always sounded a bit off to me – like, it would sound somewhat better if it were played at a slightly higher tempo. But I think it’s the 4/4 beat on the drums that’s throwing me off; I’ve been listening to so much disco lately that a song with four on the floor and the tempo of an R&B song just sounds weird to me! Regardless, this is one kickass single, and even if it loses some steam by the end, it’s worth cranking up to eleven every time it comes on.
54. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” – Bad Company: I’m really not sure what this song is about. It seems to be as simple as the speaker imagining that he’s in a rock band, surrounded by surrealistic imagery for some odd reason. Paul Rodgers has a good enough voice, especially for the chorus which is sort of cool, but there’s so little to work with here. It does little to extend beyond the standard expectations of arena rock and seems to only exist to fill up space on the album/radio. Nice try, but I’ll have to move on.
53. “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge: This song has been so ingrained in pop culture, both classic and contemporary, that it’s almost impossible to judge it on a more objective basis. Personally, I see it as a very feminist song, the chorus alone (“We are family / I got all my sisters with me”) being a call for solidarity in the face of both joy and distress. The sisters of Sister Sledge sing every line with unmistakable joy and just seem to be having a real fun time. The terrific production on the track comes from Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, both from Chic, which explains why the backing instrumentals sound practically identical to “I Want Your Love”. It’s an overexposed song, sure, but don’t think that it’s for no good reason – the reason being that it stands the test of time as a real fuckin’ fun, empowering, good time.
52. “Goodnight Tonight” – Wings: Ugh… yeah, I’m still tired of Wings. This hasn’t changed. I’ll try with this one, though – mainly because it seems to be the closest thing to a Wings disco song that we might get. The verses are very weak, with the chorus being only slightly better. Though the real cream of this single comes with the percussion, which is consistent sharp and danceable. Besides this, the recording feels like little more than Paul and folks experimenting with different sounds and sound effects to stretch the single out to over seven minutes. It just doesn’t stand its own ground as anything more than an exercise in mindless creativity. God, I’m so sick of Wings.
51. “Gold” – John Stewart: I was a little startled by Stewart’s voice once the song’s intro turned over to the lyrics. Not that he has a bad voice (quite the contrary), but I guess it’s just not very common finding a baritone voice amongst an abundance of falsetto. The groove is nice, giving us some kind of straightforward pop-rock instrumentals with just a touch of country vibes. The lyrics are less straightforward – essentially, though, it’s a collection of some nice lines on how the appeal of making music for a living can take a hold on folks just trying to eke out a living in small towns and such. It fits along smoothly with much of the other popular country rock of the time, but yet stands out just enough so it doesn’t just blend in with the sound. Oh yeah, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks also perform here on backing guitar and vocals respectively, so that’s pretty neat.
50. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – The Charlie Daniels Band: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” has gained a place as the quintessential outlaw country story song, and it’s not hard to see why. The story is simple enough to keep one’s mind from wandering – the devil challenges Johnny to a play-off; Johnny accepts and bests Satan – yet compelling enough to keep listeners at the edge of their seat until the last chords. It helps that the fiddle-playing here is absolutely wild – although I don’t know enough about the fiddle to tell if that’s some complex shit they’re doing or not. The narrative plays out exactly as one would think, and the song itself isn’t quite as epic as it thinks it is. Still, it’s got its cool moments, like when the fiddle emits an “evil hiss” and when Charlie boasts “I done told you once, you son of a bitch” – the first official curse word we’ve found in the Hot 100 thus far.
49. “Music Box Dancer” – Frank Mills: I swear, I used to own a music box with this exact tune and never knew what it was until now. If anything, this instrumental just sounds bizarre to me, with the inclusion of drums, strings, and wordless vocals set to the simple, pretty piano tune. It’s like when bands do metal versions of Pachelbel’s Canon (or a disco version of Beethoven’s Fifth). Like I said, the melody is a real lovely one, though the recording doesn’t do much with it besides repeat itself a couple times over, like an .mp3 file on a loop. It’s not bad; just a bit strange in this era where instrumental hits are no longer fashionable.
48. “In the Navy” -Village People: Late ’78 and all of ’79 belonged to Village People – so much so that they could do little more than fizzle out in subsequent years. “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A.” were their big singles, but since we’re counting up, we’re introduced with a lesser single, which still made the top ten. Having been saturated with “Y.M.C.A.” through my entire upbringing, I can’t see “In the Navy” as anything more than a cheap rehash of its predecessor. Hell, the verse-chorus-verse structure is uncannily similar. Knowing Village People, it’s hard not to catch the double entendre that comes with this song, which on the surface aims to recruit people to the U.S. Navy. Nonetheless, this is less fun than it is just plain campy. The melody and pace of the verses are completely mismatched with the chorus, which sounds almost like it’s in a totally different key. It’s inoffensive, but also nothing more than just typical disco fluff.
47. “She Believes in Me” – Kenny Rogers: Wherein Kenny Rogers plays slightly self-deprecating in attempts to figure out why his significant other wants to stick around with his ass. Then again, he did assume at the start of their relationship that his songs would “change the world”, so it could be he has a problem with too-high expectations as well (hence the self-deprecation at his failures). Yet, though he does admit that “[he] was wrong”, I’m suspicious that his admiration at her devotion is shaded with his own unwillingness to compromise with her dissatisfaction. Though she cries in bed at night, obviously discontent at the state of things, he states that he’s “torn between the things that I should do”, as though his confusion is justification for all this. 80-20 is not an even split, Kenny. Musically, this sounds like practically every soft pop ballad of the 70s/80s, and the utterance of “God, our love is true” is atrociously hokey. This has not aged well.
46. “Sharing the Night Together” – Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show: Listening to songs like these, I wonder if Dr. Hook was ever actually interesting or if that was just something I imagined. The bouncy tempo combined with Dr. Hook’s throaty vocals makes this sound more like a parody of a soul song, rather than a genuine attempt at something cool ‘n’ groovy. Still, it’s a grower – it’s taken me a few listens, but I kinda like it. If anything, this would be an enjoyable song to perform on karaoke. Still, I can’t defend that weak ending.
45. “He’s the Greatest Dancer” – Sister Sledge: I would have never imagined that “We Are Family” was not the most successful Sister Sledge single of its year, but here we are. I couldn’t quite place where I’ve heard the beat until about halfway through the song (it was sampled in “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”), but boy what a beat it is! I haven’t been paying much attention, but this might just be one of the greatest guitar riffs in disco. Whereas “We Are Family” is a better pop-soul song, this is a better disco song. While “he’s the greatest dancer” isn’t the most catchiest of hooks – keeping in line with some of the other clumsy lines – there are still a few lyrics that stand out marvelously (“He had the kind of body that would shame Adonis / And a face that would make any man proud”). I’m adding this one to my Sunday morning playlist.
44. “Hold the Line” – Toto: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, until the moment I typed this sentence, I’ve always thought that this song was called “Love Isn’t Always on Time”. But whatever. It’s more than just a slight accomplishment that this song managed to crack through the top five during all the disco that was going on, as it couldn’t be any more different. The driving piano riff and those monster power chords scream “arena rock”, and while the lyrics are pretty vapid – “It’s not in the way you look / Or the things that you say, that you do / Hold the line / Love isn’t always on time” – it’s somehow slightly more awesome than anything that Foreigner has put out. It’s like Toto tapped into some secret formula of radio-friendly rock to which no one really needs to listen intently in order to have a rockin’ good time.
43. “Heaven Must Have Sent You” – Bonnie Pointer:I don’t know if any of us are worthy enough for a Holland-Dozier-Holland single in 1979, but here we are. On the surface, this song is brimming with cheese. As I dig deeper, though, it seems like this is little more than just a combination of qualities that made a bunch of other disco songs so fun. The chord progression in the verses, in particular, sound suspiciously similar to “Doctor’s Orders”. The production is firmly polished, as expected, and the lyrics are as gleeful a representation of euphoric romance as one could get. There doesn’t really seem to be any sense of a verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure of any kind, but that only gives the impression that this would works exceptionally well on seemingly endless nights on the dance floor. Lastly, Bonnie Pointer is the real centerpiece of this one – especially at the outro, where she gets into some truly bizarre Louis Armstrong-style scatting for no discernible reason. I love this song.
42. “Lady” -Little River Band: I was disappointed to find out that this wasn’t a cover of the Styx song of the same name, but it’s fine. This song is fine, too – just fine. Some of the lines don’t make any sense in or out of context (“Feel for the winter, but don’t have a cold heart”), but I’m sure that whoever this song was written for probably appreciated the sentiment. It’s slow to start, but the smoothly anthemic chorus is definitely where it shines. The harmonizing vocals are also used to much greater effect here than, say, “Lonesome Loser”. There’s a lot of other similar-sounding stuff that succeeds much more than this, but it’s fine for what it is.
41. “Lotta Love” – Nicolette Larson: Admittedly, I haven’t heard very much from Neil Young and am definitely unfamiliar with the original version of “Lotta Love”, of which this is a cover. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine Young’s original being any better than this terrific bit of AOR loveliness. Larson has an amazing voice and pours her heart into every word, every phrase of this recording and she deserves far more recognition. The bouncy tempo and guitars tease along the disco fringe, but the jazz flute and saxophone solos keep it grounded to its adult contemporary roots. Everything about this is just so wonderful, and since the lyrics are relatively simple even for a Neil Young song, I’m tempted to just write his name off completely as to how this song was a success. This is a Nicolette Larson single through and through.
40. “The Gambler” – Kenny Rogers: Much like “Lucille”, this song indicates that Kenny Rogers seems much more comfortable with more country-pop stuff than softer ballads like “She Believes in Me”. His gritty-yet-sumptuous voice is perfect for the Nashville-style production here, which is the best quality of the song. The story is simple enough – a gambler and a regular guy have a smoke, a drink, and a talk on a train – and the selling point is Rogers’ stretch of a gambling metaphor. The chorus is particularly infectious, although the “never count your money” line doesn’t make much sense at all. And yes the metaphor does get milked for all its worth, until every bit of advice tends to just meld into an inane collection of dad-isms that really don’t mean as much as they think they do. But god damn, that chorus is catchy.
39. “Heaven Knows” – Donna Summer & Brooklyn Dreams: If “boogie” is the most popular word in disco music, “heaven” must be the second-most popular. It’s not hard to see why – the kinetic tempo and lush production of disco could easily be interpreted as music from the gods. I love the songs from Donna Summer’s live album Live and More because the production is slightly less polished than a studio recording would indicate, but is not nearly as cheap-sounding as that would indicate. While this single has never been a particular favorite of mine, there’s no denying that, even with Brooklyn Dreams’ guest vocals, Summer owns this track. The melody is hers to bathe in; if disco is music from heaven, she is the supreme goddess. Okay, I’ll back up a bit. This is a solid little disco number with a pulsing beat and a soaring chorus that hits straight to the heart. There’s not much more one could ask for.
38. “After the Love Has Gone” – Earth, Wind, & Fire: EWF tends to put out some truly awesome dance music. It is strange, then, that their most successful single is, not their bonafide funk classic, not their hyperactive disco attempt, but a more soulful heartbreak ballad. That’s not to say that they can’t do slow songs – hell, “That’s the Way of the World” is top-tier 70s R&B. And considering the fact that this is EWF, the lyrics are surprisingly heartfelt and sentimental, giving the song that bit of added weight it needs to set itself apart from the zillions of other pop ballads of the 70s and 80s. (Somehow, the melody of this song sounds a bit 90s-ish, even – like something that could easily flow out of Peabo Bryson’s mouth…) Yet somehow, I can’t quite get in this song’s wistful cloud of creativity. Considering how great their production usually is, it’s relatively dismal here with not even Maurice White shining through. The “Oh, oh, oh”s that introduce the second part of the chorus are weirdly lackluster, and not even an upward key change can give this song the burst of energy I think it needs. It’s no bad by any means; just a tad disappointing.
37. “I Was Made For Dancin'” – Leif Garrett: Geez… this is the kind of shit that gives disco a bad name. The lyrics are so corny, they’re laughable (“You’ve got me rolling, like a wheel on the road”) (oh, and also, “I spend my time moving to dreams and a phase / It’s a crazy love, you can see it in my face”). The chorus is also definitely a nightmare, set to what legitimately sounds like disco production from hell. That subtle bass riff is killer, but everything else is so schlocky it hurts. And that’s not even mentioning Leif’s singing, which… yeah, it’s pretty weak. He even switches to falsetto after the second chorus for some ungodly reason, making this one of the strongest bits of proof of disco as a big mistake.
36. “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” – Elton John: What?! An Elton John single not written by Bernie Taupin?! How could it be!! Seriously though, this isn’t too bad. I guess this is John’s attempt at something a bit more soulful, perhaps in the vein of the Philly Soul crowd (he did do “Philadelphia Freedom”, after all). The lyrics are a bit dodgy, with the speaker suggesting that the object of his affection leave behind all their delights in place of his love and his love alone. Seriously, how is being told “you’re no different from the rest” supposed to be flattering? On top of this, this is one of the weakest showcases of John’s vocal talent, as he stays safely within a bland midtempo range. Still, the production isn’t bad, with its horns, strings, and funky guitars setting a fine backdrop, if nothing else.
35. “The Main Event / Fight” – Barbra Streisand: Time to add Barbra Streisand to the list of unexpected artists to leap into the whole disco thing. Now, this was meant for the film The Main Event of this same year, which… yeah, it doesn’t look very good at all. Even by disco standards, this is goofy as hell. This isn’t helped by the lyrics which paint the game of love in some loose metaphor of boxing (“Love, don’t try to kick me when I’m down / Love, my feet are planted on the ground”). Yeah, this is just silly. And it’s all too evident that Streisand is just skimming along for the ride. As far as what genre best suits Streisand’s immpecable vocal skill… well, this sure ain’t it.
34. “I Want You to Want Me (live)” – Cheap Trick: So, a studio version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” was originally released in 1977, but didn’t really go anywhere. Well, anywhere except Japan, where it topped the charts. Cheap Trick played in Budokan to their adoring fans and released a live album, through which “I Want You to Want Me” found new life in the States. This is why you can hear the thousands of adoring fans chanting along during the chorus. Lyrically, this isn’t anything special; with lines like “I want you to want me / I need you to need me / I’d love you to love me”, you can’t get much simpler. Yet all the power of the song lies in the irresistibly bouncy melody, the likes of which was simply not heard too often in mainstream rock radio, along with the stellar guitar solos. Although I’m rarely a fan of live recordings, I can say with certainty that this is infinitely better than the studio version, definitely helped by the speedier tempo and the inclusion of guitar solos. It’s hard to imagine that the original single, lacking in all the charisma that makes this one so great, was even done by the same band! Anyway, this is just a super cool, super simple little rock song, further kicked into high gear by Letters to Cleo’s cover a couple decades later.
33. “Love You Inside Out” – Bee Gees: It’s hard to find a Bee Gees’ disco song that could be considered underrated, but this might just fit the bill. It follows the kinds of chord progressions that Barry Gibb seemed to be writing a lot for Andy, but it’s got an added injection of funk in there that works very well. The words are a bit weird, basically detailing the struggles of a big sucker of a man who sticks around with his lover, despite their being an admitted liar and cheater. Still, he “loves you inside and out / Backwards and forwards, with my heart hanging out”… Uh, whatever that means. Still, I love that double-timed breakdown after the second chorus, during which I could see the dance floor going absolutely bonkers for. It’s not hard to see how this one gets less replay value than all their others, but it’s a great single nonetheless.
32. “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” – Dionne Warwick: I love reuniting with old flames that I haven’t seen in a few chart years. I haven’t seen Dionne Warwick in these year-end posts since her collaboration single with The Spinners in ’74, “Then Came You”. It’s tricky when these kinds of things happen, though, since – as was the case with Johnny Mathis the previous year – the popularity at the time might be solely due to the hype of so-and-so finally putting out some new music, and not because it’s actually catchy or good. As such, I am really struggling with this single. Warwick herself is wonderful, if a bit tired-sounding. The lyrics themselves are particularly weak, with a weighted, dramatic production that really squeezes out any genuine sentimentality that the recording may have contained. Then again, the single was produced by Barry Manilow, so that may explain some things…
31. “Shake Your Groove Thing” – Peaches & Herb: I totally love the vagueness of the phrase “groove thing”. No, “shake your booty” was last year’s silly term for swaying one’s jiggly posterior – it’s all about the groove thing now. “Shake your groove thing” does roll off the tongue so nicely, though, so perhaps Peaches & Herb were onto something. This is just fun, innocent funk-disco, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than that. The duo’s vocals are rarely out of sync, and the chemistry they emit during their utterances of “shake it, shake it” and other cute expressions is just infectious. While it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it’s still the kind of song you wouldn’t mind dancing along to for lengthy periods of time.
30. “You Can’t Change That” – Raydio: I wasn’t delighted to see that the group that brought us such sordid poetry as “Jack and Jill” had yet another top ten hit the following year. After listening to this one, I’m pretty positive that this is even worse than “Jack and Jill”, which is quite an achievement. I get how this song is supposed to be seen as romantic – plus those synths are pretty badass – but just take a look at these lyrics: “You can change your telephone number / And you can change your address too / But you can’t stop me from loving you / No, you can’t change that”. This is terrible behavior, Ray Parker Jr. If your (former?) partner decides that they don’t want to communicate with you for any reason – going as far as to change their address and number to get away from your ass – you’ve just got to respect that. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a restraining order. These lyrics are just as creepy as “Every Breath You Take”. They give absolutely no agency to the subject of the song – no, it’s only the feelings of the speaker of the song that matter and we’re gonna ride on that sentiment from beginning to end with absolutely no criticism for how he might be out of line. He is the protagonist of this story and the other person is just a defensive bitch for dying their hair and not succumbing to his desires. Fuck this song.
29. “Just When I Needed You Most” – Randy VanWarmer: Now here’s a one-hit wonder that I’ve never heard before now. Judging by this song alone, Randy VanWarmer seems like a poor-man’s hybrid of Billy Joel and Christopher Cross. This song was inspired by an actual breakup that VanWarmer had gone through at the time, which gives the lyrics a certain edge that saves the song from being the whiny mess that it certainly could’ve been. Still, it’s clear that he’s no professional and there’s nothing in this song that would make it deserving of a #4 peak on the Hot 100. Well, I think that strange instrumental solo halfway through definitely helps. I have no idea what instrument that is, but it sounds like something from some foreign planet. Such a weird inclusion, but I’d listen to this song again if only for that solo.
28. “My Life” – Billy Joel: I’ve heard this song dozens of times in my life, but I could never for the life of me remember any of the lyrics. Well, of course, except for “I don’t care what you say anymore / This is myyyy life / Go ahead with your own life / Leave me alone”. That line alone may just be the only selling point – the melody pretty much drives the entire song, save for a couple musical breakdowns. Musically, this also isn’t anything particularly special, with Joel trading his traditional acoustic piano for a more modern keyboard sound. He’s pretty much trying to tap into the peppy sound that made Elton John so successful, and for the most part I think he does alright. I’m still a bit fuzzy on what exactly the song is about, but for the most part I don’t care. That terrific hook in the chorus is all I really need for me to keep returning to this single again and again.
27. “The Logical Song” – Supertramp: I kind of wish I liked Supertramp more than I do. I think I just could never feel alright with Roger Hodgson’s vocals, which are just not very appealing to my ears. I also don’t know why he always insists on adding unneeded r-trills to certain words (such as “liberal”), but I’ll digress. I respect the song’s message, criticizing the education system’s hypocrisy on placing things into respective “correct” categories, instead of teaching young learners to be both critical and welcoming to the world around them as they try to figure out who they are and where they belong. The production on this one is pretty fun to listen to as well, making such of keyboards, saxophone, castanets, and other silly noises. Still, this doesn’t quite reach up to the potential that I think it could’ve aspired toward. I blame the conventional song structure, which ties it down, as well as the length, which maybe didn’t work so well with such intense subject matter. Still, I can’t say I don’t enjoy this one.
26. “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – Melissa Manchester: I’m not too sure how I feel about a song with a chorus that practically encourages emotional suppression which, from which I know by experience, isn’t always the best solution to things. For what it’s worth, this is enormously schmalzy and melodramatic and over-sung… and definitely not my cup of tea.
25. “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” – The Jacksons: It’s a little unfair that this is credited to The Jacksons when it’s clear that it was made for Michael alone to showcase his vocal talents. I don’t think the other Jacksons do much more than whisper “Shout!” during the chorus. Still, this is a much better example of Michael’s vocal talent than “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, though probably not a better track overall. Still, there’s no skipping out on dancing along to this funky jam.
24. “Lead Me On” – Maxine Nightingale: After listening to this single, it’s pretty clear now how Maxine Nightingale never had a more successful career. This is pleasant enough of a soft, sultry ballad, but there’s hardly much that elevates it to the point of recommending to folks about this jazzy talent named Maxine Nightingale. Still, it must have resonated with some kind of crowd, considering that it peaked at #5. I guess this is yet another one of those songs that fits perfectly within all the other AOR fluff, without ever actually being anything that would make listeners want to crank up the volume dial.
23. “Stumblin’ In” – Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman: I don’t know what this says about me, but I’ve only really known of Suzi Quatro through her work in The Pleasure Seekers and previously had no clue that she had a top ten hit. It’s relatively tame, which is entirely expected, but this duet with Chris Norman is surprisingly pretty nice. Some of the lines are a tad cloying (“Our love is a flame / Burning within”), but it more than makes up for it with a swinging rhythm, pleasant keyboards, and an otherwise delightfully polished production. The guitar that comes in every now and then always sounds like it’s about to play “Brown-Eyed Girl”, but that might just be me. Quatro is great, of course, but Norman isn’t too bad either, and the two of them have this really cute mom-and-pop chemistry that is unexpectedly kind of sweet. All in all, it’s an adorable bit of innocuous AC fluff that is honestly pretty hard to hate.
22. “Knock on Wood” – Amii Stewart: Originally a Stax soul record of the mid-60s, Amii Stewart came along eventually, made it all disco, and took it straight to number one. Not too shabby for a debut single. As disco tends to do, this cover takes the basic concept of the original and takes it as over-the-top as it possibly can. The electronic production alone is enough to irritate defenders of the original, but even Stewart’s vocal performance kicks it up to high gear, throwing in some high-register notes just for the hell of it. This is a fun song for certain and I couldn’t ever regret listening to it. But there’s still the nagging sense that it was pieced together in such a short amount of time to make a quick buck (and that it did), which does dampen my enjoyment of the tune ever so slightly. Still, it’s damn catchy!
21. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – Neil Diamond & Barbra Streisand: I really wish this were the version without Neil Diamond, but as it stands that’s not the one that reached number one. As much as I want to like this sad ballad because of Barbra, I just can’t. While I appreciate songs like these, about the human need to reminisce on former promises and tender gestures in the face of inevitable heartbreak, this one is just far too general to leave much of a lasting impression. It’s not like, say, “MacArthur Park”, which leaves very real, specific memories in its path as a eulogy for love lost. No, in this song, we have “I remember all the things you taught me / I learned how to laugh / And I learned how to cry”. It’s just too bland to see eye-to-eye with. And I always love Barbra’s voice, but I often forget that this is a Neil Diamond track as well; once his dull, flat voice appears in recording, I just get taken out of my comfort zone. From my understanding, this was wildly popular in its day. While I don’t exactly hate the song, I think that being subjected to it for multiple times a day two weeks straight could leave a bit of wear on my tolerance level.
20. “Good Times” – Chic: C’est Chic! I somehow didn’t know that this song was as popular as it was in its day, always assuming that “Rapper’s Delight” contributed to its popularity (I know, I’m not very smart). As with any Chic single, the lyrics are far from life-changing (“A rumor has it that it’s getting late / Time marches on, just can’t wait”); no, it’s all about the production here and Rodgers and Edwards delivers once again. The rest of Chic sing about what they do best – dancing and partying all night long. In this one, though, they seem almost demanding in their quest for the most exciting party times around (“Don’t be a drag, participate!”), like that one person at every party who tries to get everyone as intoxicated as humanly possible. It feels a bit like they may be overcompensating for something… though that’s probably just me reading too much into what is just a plainly euphoric disco song.
19. “What a Fool Believes” – Doobie Brothers: It’s really unusual that this song went to number one in 1979, be it only for a week. So far, it seems that if you aren’t putting out high-tempo disco stuff or low-tempo AOR fluff, you have no chance at the top spot here. Yet here the Doobie Brothers come out of nowhere, with a song about actual, real-life adult subject matter! The lyrics are truly fascinating (“She musters a smile for his nostalgic tale / Never coming near what he wanted to say / Only to realize / It never really was”) and super relevant to some stuff that I’m going through right now. Michael McDonald gives his part with such emotional vigor, which is something I never thought I’d say about Michael McDonald. Truly, where the song really shines is the pre-chorus and chorus, where the falsetto shines with such remarkable magic. Yes, I like dad rock now and I refuse to deny this song’s genuine greatness.
18. “Heart of Glass” – Blondie: Yes!! Blondie! I’ve been the biggest Blondie fan for as long as I can remember and was delighted to see that they ranked so highly on the ’79 list – not surprising, of course, considering how much of a monster hit “Heart of Glass” was, reaching number one in several countries. It was the band’s attempt at disco – diverging from their more early new wave sound – and they got a whole lot of flak from so many who felt they were selling out. Now that I’ve listened to a fair bit of disco, I can say with certainty that this is disco in the same way that “Shine a Little Love” is disco (weak comparison, I know). The elements are there – the 4/4 beat, a more electronic sound, a more upbeat rhythm – but it still doesn’t quite make par, mainly due to its tempo, which is just a tad bit slower than most disco pop, and its reliance on traditional rock instruments (drums, guitar, and bass) to keep its sound. If anything, this is just more of a revamped kind of new wave sound that would attain heightened popularity in 80s subculture. But about the song. Debbie Harry’s personality here cannot be underestimated, particularly with her slightly apathetic delivery of a romance that turned out to be just an “adorable illusion”. The production here is absolutely tops, with a keyboard/vocal riff that swims throughout the recording like a lover’s melancholic mournings. This song means so much to me, so I’m not so sure if I can be as subjective about it as I’d like to be – but whatever. It’s excellent.
17. “A Little More Love” – Olivia Newton-John: So this single marks the departure of Newton-John from her signature country song into more pop-friendly material, in an attempt to cross over to greater success. This would prove successful in the 80s, but let’s not get there yet. Here, there are some more hints of electric guitar thrown into the production and a slightly rougher sound to her voice. To me, it sounds like she’s trying something akin to ELO or Bee Gee’s falsetto sound around the chorus. Her vocal performance is perfectly competent, although there isn’t too much about the recording as a whole that would make this stand out above the rest. It seems that they were primarily riding on the Sandy transformation gimmick to sell this song and… well, it worked.
16. “Tragedy” – Bee Gees: The disco era was chock full of some remarkable kitsch, and Bee Gees put out what may be the kitschiest with “Tragedy”. The chord progressions in the intro guitar riff alone are absolutely intense, and once the verses kick in, I could’ve sworn I was witnessing some kind of Andrew Lloyd Webber disco musical. And that’s not even mentioning that absolute earworm of a chorus, easily one of the best that the Brothers Gibb have ever composed. This single also might give me the most difficult challenge of deciphering their lyrics out of any of their recordings; for this, I could blame the recording being shamefully over-produced, atop their already impassioned falsetto vocals. This is just a mighty fun song through and through, and I hope to never meet the poor sap who hates this record.
15. “Fire” – The Pointer Sisters: While Bonnie Pointer was tearing up the charts, her former group The Pointer Sisters found even greater success with their first hit single since 1973’s “Yes We Can Can”. While the first half of the song contains some – shall I say? – questionable lyrics (“You’re pullin’ me close / I just say no / I say I don’t like it / But you know I’m a liar”), it soon affirms its stance as a song about a woman who is at a crossroads in her relationship. This is actually a cover of a Springsteen song, which is given away by the simplicity and general format of the lyrics. Instead, Springsteen’s trademark growl is traded in for Anita Pointer’s soft and honest vocal delivery – which, I think, suits the song’s Ronettes-esque aesthetic exceedingly well. The recording doesn’t throw any surprising punches, but sometimes keeping it sweet and simple is just what works the best.
14. “Makin’ It” – David Naughton: Yes, David Naughton did indeed have a top ten hit – interestingly enough, his only musical release to date. It’s not hard to see why, given that he is as flat as flat can get throughout this track. I was actually disappointed to find out that, judging only by the title, this wasn’t some kind of slow, sexy, Barry White style R&B attempt, but just another throwaway attempt at cashing in at disco. This was created for the sole purpose of Naugton’s TV show of the same name. How a theme song like this (not even a good one!) got so insanely popular is beyond me… but I guess anyone would’ve listened to any kind of disco dreck that was churned out during this time. And this is dreck from start to finish.
13. “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” – Dr. Hook: Dr. Hook does disco now! And I guess the Medicine Show didn’t want to stick around for this one, though who could blame them? Seriously though, this ain’t that bad. I’ve questioned Dr. Hook’s ability to play the romantic type, but his more crooner type of vocal delivery here makes him seem a little more than half credible. The lyrics, though, are something else. It seems like this could be a predecessor to Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy”: “My girlfriend is so pretty, it’s tough not to be suspicious” “Then just get an ugly girl to marry you!” Sure, this connotation makes the song sound way more sexist than it actually is – in reality, it probably has more in common with Eddie Rabbitt’s “Suspicions”. But anyway, this is a fairly catchy, midtempo disco number, paced well enough not to wear out its welcome too quickly.
12. “MacArthur Park” – Donna Summer: Leave it to Donna Summer to do a cover of one of the best songs to ever come out of the 60s. Yes, I am a proud “MacArthur Park” defender, and while a disco cover of the baroque pop hit sounds like a disaster on paper, somehow it works pretty well. I give all due credit to the Donna Summer & Giorgio Moroder combo, which as I’ve discussed before is one of the best collaborations of the 70s. I guess it does make sense that Richard Harris’ supremely melodramatic original would make perfect sense being retranslated into one of the most melodramatic genres around. Though I love Harris’ recording, I always through his “Oh, nooo” isn’t as strong as it could’ve been; thankfully, Summer remedies this with her magical delivery. The arrangement, of course, is pretty fantastic, all aspects combining into a four-minute rush of euphoria from the heavens. And yes, it does come off a bit clumsy in taking such a tragic song and make it into something gleeful and danceable… but it works, somehow.
11. “Too Much Heaven” – Bee Gees: Hey look, another disco song with the word “heaven” in the title! Do I win a prize? But really, it’s a bit weird to me how this was the most successful Bee Gees single of the year, given that it’s probably one of their weakest. It’s pretty blatantly a rehash of “How Deep is Your Love”, which will always be their definitive ballad to me, so I guess that makes this criticism a bit unfair. The Gibbs’ lyrics are pretty enough, but it feels more like their early 70s output which, while decent enough, is a bit of a pain to revisit after the slew of killer disco hits they’ve produced in recent years. This isn’t bad, though, although it’s definitely the start of their purely-AC phase that the 80s would have in store for them.
10. “Sad Eyes” – Robert John: It must have been a little embarrassing for the Gibbs that a song that is unapologetically a rip-off of their style (at least vocally) made a notch higher on the year-end chart than their actual best-selling ballad. Of course, this song made number one around the same time as the anti-disco backlash, making it easier for something like this to do well in sales and radio play. Yet this doesn’t really have much on the table, other than being exactly within the AOR sensibilities at the time. Robert John has an alright falsetto – especially at the outro key change – but the lyrics don’t accomplish much more than being a yet another soft-rock ballad about heartbreak and sadness. Things might have been different in those days, but I know I would find being called “Sad Eyes” just a bit insulting. All in all, this is a largely dated song that both doesn’t belong and fits seamlessly in the top ten.
9. “Ring My Bell” – Anita Ward: I’ve heard this song enough times with delight to not feel bothered by Anita Ward’s relatively lackluster vocals. It’s been ingrained in my system to firmly that, although I know the likes of Cheryl Lynn or Donna Summer could blow this out of the water, Ward’s voice fits the bill pretty satisfactorily. The metaphor of ringing a bell in place of sex is pretty genius and makes this the sexy, blissful dance number that it undoubtedly is. It does get a bit repetitive after the second chorus (“You can ring my bell / You can ring my bell / Ding-dong, ring it”), to the point that the phrase “ring my bell” almost has no meaning except that it sounds catchy. Kind of like when you say a word so many times, it looks and sounds weird. Still, I’ve got relatively few qualms about this one, and will gladly dance and sing along any time it plays.
8. “Y.M.C.A.” – Village People: I’m a little sad that “Macho Man” didn’t chart higher, since that one is far and away my favorite Village People song. Still, I’ll settle with “Y.M.C.A.”, their definitive little song-and-dance single. I honestly can’t remember a time when this song and its corresponding dance wasn’t locked firmly into my social consciousness. I remember there being some elementary school assembly where this song was played over the stereo system in the qua and the whole school did the arm gestures in time. A bit funny in retrospect, considering that this song implicitly lauded the YMCA’s reputation as a hookup spot for gay men. Yet even without that context in mind, this song is just brimming with so much enthusiasm and positivity (“You can make real your dreams / But you got to know this one thing!”), it’s quite an excellent pick-me-up for any occasion. The horns are awesome as is the whole disco beat in general. It’s kitschy as hell – and yes, so very gay. It’s almost amazing that they got away with something like this in the 70s, but that could maybe be blamed on the media and general audience’s total naivety on the subject, instead marketing Village People as fun party music for kids instead of the parodies of masculine stereotypes that they intended on representing. That is pretty awesome.
7. “Hot Stuff” – Donna Summer: And here we are again with more Donna Summer awesomeness. This one is a noticeably more rock ‘n’ roll effort; honestly, if the synths were replaced with more pronounced power chords on guitar, the disco brand might almost disappear. As exemplified in “Love to Love You Baby” a few years earlier, Summer is no stranger when it comes to putting her sexuality on full display, and here she pretty much puts her lustful desires in plain English – “I need some hot stuff, baby, tonight!”. Her voice is, as always, excellent. And even though the guitar solo about halfway through promises something edgier, Moroder’s fingerprints are still all over this track in the form of the thumping bass and cool synth riff. And there’s no denying how fun this is to sing along to – even if I can’t quite hit all those high notes.
6. “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor: Ah, yes. The other disco song of which, like “Y.M.C.A.”, I can’t imagine a day in the past where I didn’t know every word. I like hedonistic disco well and good, but to me the real stealer of my heart is empowerment disco. Stuff like “We Are Family”, “Y.M.C.A.”, and this. Along with Gaynor’s vocal delivery, which is just stupendous, one other thing that stands out to me is the sheer honesty of the heartache pains she professes in her lyrics: “It took all the strength I had not to fall apart / Kept trying to mend the pieces of my broken heart”. And then as the song goes through its delicious buildup, the speaker slowly starts to find the strength to tell her untrue lover: “Go on now, go! / Walk out the door! / Just turn around now / ‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore!”. I mean, we’ve all been through that phase where we thought the world would end because a certain someone isn’t in our lives anymore. This song tries – and succeeds – and as acting as a medicine for the heart, reminding us that no one is worth all that distress. We will survive, indeed.
5. “Reunited” – Peaches & Herb: This is probably another sign of the direction that R&B would take in the 80s – something much lighter, much softer, much more romantic… and, let’s face it, much more boring. I used to think that Peaches & Herb released “Reunited” after a brief hiatus or something, hence the title. But no, it’s just a soulful ballad about an estranged couple falling back in love. I guess I understand how this could have touched the hearts of many… but I just can’t feel for this one. Sorry.
4. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” – Rod Stewart: Ugh. I could almost say I hate this song off the basis of the egregious spelling in the title alone, but that’s not entirely true. No, I hate this song because it’s fucking stupid. I should admit, though, that I do like the production, complete with one of the finest synth riffs of the disco era. Now, I’ve read in places that this was Stewart’s attempt at spoofing guys at disco clubs, hence its ludicrous chorus (“If you want my body / And you think I’m sexy / Come on honey, tell me so”). But I don’t think that’s a fair enough excuse, given that Stewart really doesn’t know how to write songs that make a convincing case that the speaker is not Stewart himself. “Maggie May”, “Tonight’s the Night”, and “You’re in My Heart” are all fairly autobiographical – why would this one not be as well? With this in mind, this song sounds little more than Stewart bragging about taking a girl home for the night – and judging by the song’s enormous success, I’m positive that that’s how listeners interpreted this as well, since Stewart was an established sex symbol by this point. I hate the half-assed rhyme structure (“He’s acting shy, looking for an answer Come on honey, let’s spend the night together”), and I hate the annoyingly whimsical melody in the chorus. I just hate Stewart at this point, really. To ease my bitter heart, I’ll probably just assume that hardly anyone paid any attention to the lyrics and just found this a groovy song to dance to.
3. “Le Freak” – Chic: C’est Chic – again! To be honest, I always get this song and “Good Times” – mainly because, other than their very distinct hooks and arrangements, the lyrics in the verses are pretty much interchangeable. The difference in “Le Freak”, though, is that they name-drop not only themselves, but the popular New York nightclub Studio 54. Of course, that alone is probably a huge contributor to the single’s success, given that “Good Times” is so obviously the better single. Of course, the guitar work by Niles Rodgers is more unstoppable than ever here, with arrangement making the distinct decision to drop out the bass and strings during that legendary chorus. And the subject matter covers what Chic does best: leaving behind all your troubles to have a good time “out on the floor”. Freak out!
2. “Bad Girls” – Donna Summer: Wherein Donna Summer pays an homage to sex workers better than Nick Gilder could ever hope to. With the thumping disco bass, sweet guitar, prominent horns, and that “Toot-toot, beep-beep” hook, the allure of street walkers is transformed into something supremely dance floor friendly. While she does describe these “bad girls” as “sad girls” as well, Summer doesn’t shy away from humanizing these individuals in ways that the public eye would often refuse to acknowledge (“Like everybody else / They want to be a star”). There is no taunting or reprimanding them for their life decisions, and by the end of the song she even puts herself in their own shoes, presumably as a sign of respect and even admiration. Sure, the reality of sex work is often crooked and corrupt, but it’s hardly the fault of the girls themselves and more of the system that leaves these dangerous circumstances as a viable option. It’s actually pretty remarkable that a song like this made it so big; I’m not so certain something similar could be as successful today.
1. “My Sharona” – The Knack: This is a tough one. This song is catchy as all hell, with an excellent guitar and backing surf-beat drums to match. That guitar solo in particular is just so pleasant on the ears, not to mention that “Muh-muh-muh-my Sharona” is just so damn fun to sing. It does lose its appeal, however, once it’s found out that this was inspired by the lead’s singer’s desire for a seventeen-year-old girl, named Sharona. This makes lines like “I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind” far, far more unsettling. Also, this is the second time in three years that a song about sex with a minor has topped the year-end charts, which really gives me very little faith in audience’s abilities to critique songs with dignity and sound mind. This should not be a common thing, regardless of how catchy a song is. Here’s to hoping that the 80s aren’t so fucking disgusting in this regard (though having already aware of lots of music from the 80s, I’ll still set my expectations relatively low…).