I don’t live-blog American Top 40 countdowns any more, but I’m still interested in record charts.
And whaddya know but the marvelous ARSA database has a hit-record chart for Allentown’s old WKAP-AM for this very week in 1979 (the week ending Jan. 22, to be specific.)
That looks like a marvelous target to waste a few hundred words on. So let’s turn on WKAP and see what we think of it, shall we? I guess I’ll put my favourites in bold, like old times:
1: The Village People, “Y.M.C.A.” This has become such a cultural touchstone that I can scarcely imagine hearing it for the first time, or the tenth time.
(I have even more trouble imagining hearing it without knowing about the homosexual subtext, though I’m led to believe quite a few Americans didn’t really know what was going on at the time.)
My dad told me once that he spent a few days at a YMCA when he first moved to Rochester in 1966. I imagine he got himself clean and had a good meal; I do not think he went so far as to do whatever he felt.
2. “Le Freak,” Chic. Cool and crisp as gin; maybe half a notch below “Good Times” but still one of those records disco doesn’t have to apologize for. This was Number One in the country that week, and had topped WKAP’s list the week before.
3. Nicolette Larson, “Lotta Love.” I much prefer this in the hands of its creator (and his ragged-but-right BFFs). Strings, horns, and a precious flute solo don’t compare to the joys of hearing Billy, Ralph and Poncho oooooooh-ing like choirboys.
4. “September,” Earth Wind & Fire. The first of several hits on this chart from performers who appeared in the “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie the previous year. The movie, however dreadful, was maybe not the career-killer some have made it out to be; it certainly didn’t stop EW&F from dropping tight funk here.
5. “A Little More Love,” Olivia Newton-John. I remember rather more of this song than I would have thought, which means I must have some fondness for it. Listening back on YouTube, though, it feels a little too turgid and bloodless to get a bold. (It gets me nowhere to tell it no.)
6. Bee Gees, “Too Much Heaven.” I can’t help it; I like them more when they strut than when they croon.
7. “My Life,” Billy Joel. I think this is the turning point when things start going to crap on the countdown. Few artists asking to be left alone have made more convincing cases.
8. “Fire,” Pointer Sisters. Another song that is probably better in the hands of its creator (and his BFFs.)
9. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Rod Stewart. I find this to be one big parodic goof, and pleasant enough, though I would have burned out on it double-quick if I’d heard it every hour on WKAP in 1979.
10. “We’ve Got Tonight,” Bob Seger. I like Seger well enough, and I wouldn’t turn the radio away from this, I suppose.
11. “New York Groove,” Ace Frehley. Awwwwwww yeah! Big dumb glam-style stomp, and probably my favorite song on the countdown. It’s a tradition in my family to play this in the car on road trips, any time we cross a state line (or, on one occasion, an international border) into New York state.
12. “Hold The Line,” Toto. Well-turned propulsive arena-rock, and probably the Toto song I’d want to hear if I had to hear one. That’s slim gruel as far as endorsements go, though.
13. “Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race,” Queen. OK, this might rival the Space Ace for my affections. One side of filthy, sweaty hard-rock stomp; the other of loopy, only vaguely less filthy glam-pop eccentricity.
I’m not sure how I never got more into these guys: Any band with the charisma and imagination (and pipes) of Freddie Mercury and the guitar inventiveness of Brian May seems worth checking out at length.
Most of the players on the local minor-league baseball team choose country or crunch-metal for their at-bat music. But last season, infielder Tyler Henson used “Fat Bottomed Girls.” He was a naughty, naughty boy, and I wished he’d come to bat every inning so I could hear it again.
One more note: Unless I’m missing it, this song was not even on the American Top 40 that week. On the other hand, two songs from the National Top Ten — Eric Clapton’s “Promises” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Ooh Baby Baby” — are missing from WKAP’s Top 25. One of those is a shame.
14. “How You Gonna See Me Now,” by Alice Cooper. The last of a handful of ballad hits Coop had in the latter half of the Seventies. I don’t have great use for any of ’em, I don’t think, and the others at least are catchier than this.
15. “Somewhere In The Night,” Barry Manilow. Not for me, thanks.
16. “Shake It,” Ian Matthews. Watching this on YouTube brings back absolutely no memory of it. It sounds like a hundred other records from 1978-80, and while I have a mild fondness for those production values, they’re still pretty bland.
17. “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” Foreigner. Never liked these guys either.
18. “I Will Be In Love With You,” Livingston Taylor. This is totally an impulse bold, and one I’ll regret tomorrow. This one’s also kissed with that same choking 1979 lushness, which, in this case, works in its favor. I also give it credit because I cannot read the title without phrasing it into music, which is one sign of a catchy chorus.
(One negative: Livingston, through no fault of his own, sounds like his brother slowed down a quarter-step, and I can’t help wondering why the record’s playing slow.)
19. “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away),” Andy Gibb. My previously stated equation regarding the Brothers Gibb (funky>>>slow) holds true for their little brother too. (Was Andy ever really funky? Maybe he should have tried it.)
20. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. I should actually tear myself away from Livingston Taylor and go listen to this, because I don’t remember it. It sounds like it might be brainless disco, and sometimes that’s fun. Let’s see …
… oh, damn, this is pretty good. That opening sounds like the Brothers Johnson. I’m gonna bold this. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. No parking on the dancefloor!
21. “Crazy Love,” Poco. How many damn songs have there been called “Crazy Love”? I was kinda hoping this was an earlier, rowdier version of the Allman Bros’ hit of the same name. But once I played it, I recognized it for one of those moody finger-picking country-pop hits I’ve heard a million times but didn’t know the name of. Nice acoustic-guitar sound, anyway.
22. “No Tell Lover,” Chicago. My dad had a bunch of Chicago records when I was a kid, and I could always tell Hot Streets was different from the rest. It wasn’t just the absence of Terry Kath, or the absence of a Roman numeral on the (flamingly dopey) front cover. The sound of the record was different than it had been under James William Guercio; wetter and more echoey and wet-noodley. This undistinguished Cetera ballad is pretty much the musical exemplar of that sound; listening to it is like unfolding a rain-soaked newspaper.
23. “Soul Man,” Blues Brothers. I heard a fair amount of BBs as a kid, too — enough for me to grudgingly grant them status as a legit musical band, and not a coke-fueled ego trip. This cover version doesn’t go anywhere the original didn’t, though.
24. “Lady,” Little River Band. As ballads go, I find this more memorable than many of the others on this countdowns. Still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t switch channels on it.
25. “Goodbye, I Love You,” Firefall. Not gonna go listen but I bet my comments would be substantially the same as No. 22.
So, yeah — 1979 countdowns are hard roads to travel, more often than not, and Allentown was no better or worse than the country as a whole in that regard.