January 22, 1979: C’est chic.

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.

You must be a Libra.

One of the drollest things you can read on Wikipedia is Frank Zappa’s singles discography.

See, discography entries on Wikipedia follow a particular format. They show how each single or LP ranked on the pop charts of various nations.

If the song or album missed the charts altogether, a horizontal line appears — shorthand for a stiff, if you will.

Somehow, the listening publics of the U.S. and Europe failed to get behind such classic Zappa singles as “Who Are The Brain Police?” and “Peaches En Regalia.

So, Frank Zappa’s singles discography on Wikipedia consists of a long, barely broken series of horizontal stiff-lines spanning 25 years and six nations.

It’s a nice, understated representation of a lifetime of mutual hostility between Zappa and the average record-buyer.

singles

One of the few actual numbers to be seen on the full chart came from a fluke step into the mainstream 35 years ago around this time of year. And, whaddya know, there’s a minor Lehigh Valley angle to our story.

Zappa, ever alert to cultural fatuousness, parodied disco music as early as 1976 with the single “Disco Boy.” That one didn’t trouble Casey Kasem, peaking at No. 105 in the U.S.

Three years later, Americans were just starting to tire of the disco trend, and Zappa’s similarly themed (but catchier) “Dancin’ Fool” single began catching some unprecedented airplay.

The song’s chart placement might have been boosted by its performance on “Saturday Night Live” in October 1978, and by its inclusion the following year on Sheik Yerbouti, one of Zappa’s most popular LPs. Yerbouti reached No. 21 on the U.S. album charts, Zappa’s best placement on that chart since 1974 and a peak he would not reach again.

According to the Wiki chart, “Dancin’ Fool” topped out just short of the U.S. Top 40, peaking at No. 45.

It’s sort of an open secret that Billboard magazine cooked some of its singles charts in the Seventies.

I wonder if Zappa’s near-miss was legitimate, or whether somebody decided that the music industry’s most notorious iconoclast didn’t deserve to be on the Forty — especially while he was mocking the music industry’s hottest meal ticket.

(Either seems believable to me. Certainly, Zappa was never known for attracting mainstream radio play, so maybe he did fall just short. He eventually made the Forty for the first and only time with 1982’s “Valley Girl.”)

The invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows “Dancin’ Fool” getting spins in a handful of major markets, including San Francisco, New York and Minneapolis.

Oh … and Easton, Pennsylvania, the easternmost outpost of the Lehigh Valley.

For the week ending June 11, 1979, Easton’s WEEX-AM ranked “Dancin’ Fool” No. 23 in its local airplay ratings — riding alongside such uncut slices of disco as “Hot Stuff,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Ring My Bell” and “Love You Inside Out.”

It heartens me to know that a local station that was probably living off disco in 1979 could also find some airtime to take the piss out of it.

WEEX is now one of two local stations simulcasting ESPN radio programming. Wonder if they’d give regular play today to something that openly mocked America’s sports-industrial complex and the people who worship it?

(Shame Zappa’s not around to take a whack at that.)

On Saturday afternoons in 1979.

Inspired, at least in part, by a stubborn recent earworm of “Chuck E.’s In Love.

I sometimes try to divorce myself from the sonics of my favorite records (listen to the wonderful subtlety of that high-hat part!) and chew on the deeper effects the music had on other people’s lives.

Who originally owned the vinyl copy of the first Rickie Lee Jones album that now sits on my shelf? When did they buy it? What did they think of it at first? What did they think of it after a year? Did they play it when their friends came over, and what did they all do while they were listening?

Did the original owner end up going into a shaven-headed Joy Division/New Order phase and dumping all their old albums for pennies on the dollar?

Every song and record has a story involving the people who care (and cared) about it. Any music that matters touches somebody somewhere, and becomes part of their life somehow.

Which brings me to the curious factoid at the heart of this post, courtesy the invaluable ARSA database of local radio play charts:

For a solid month in mid-May to mid-June 1979 — five straight weeks — radio listeners in Hartford, Connecticut, bought more copies of Rickie Lee Jones than any other LP.

Not Bad Girls, not Van Halen II, not Breakfast in America, not Cheap Trick or the Doobie Brothers, but the jazzy, shuffling mumblings of a previously unknown beatnik poetess.

(“Previously unknown” as in no earlier recording experience. Ms. Jones had a hit single at the time, of course, and had performed on “Saturday Night Live” in April.)

Hartford lives in my imagination, based on a limited number of visits, as kind of a boring place.

So I am piqued by the possibilities.

I’m imagining the 15- and 16-year-old sons and daughters of insurance-company middle managers, tearing the plastic off this much-buzzed-about platter and getting their first inklings of bohemianism like the waft of secondhand joint-smoke.

When you live in places like that, and you’re stuck in suburban day-to-day teenage routines, you’re fair game for something unexpected — like, say, a jazzy beatnik poetess — to come along and knock you off your axis.

So, I imagine the youth of Hartford tentatively snapping their fingers behind their bedroom doors … trying to suss out what a Pantages is, and wondering where one would go in their hometown to PLP … and sorting out how this unexpected, liberating new perspective fit into a landscape previously defined by Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees and/or Peter Frampton.

Heck, maybe the most resourceful of ’em even went out and b0ught some secondhand berets. There are incriminating snapshots in shoeboxes, I have to believe.

Or, the absolute opposite could have happened.

The kids of central Connecticut might have given Rickie Lee Jones one or two spins, rejected the whole goofy-ass knock-kneed boho trip outright, and gone back to Bad Company or Peaches & Herb or something similarly digestible.

And maybe one of their copies, bought, rejected and tossed to the four winds, is the one that sits on my shelf.

Yeah, that sounds OK.

Encore Performances: Dec. 15, 1979: Someone’s gonna tell you lies, cut you down to size.

From the old blog, December 2009. People seem to like these.

The Seventies lurched to a close, as all decades do — indeed, as the one we are in is doing as I type.
And this was the stuff on the radio.

(With favourites in bold as always.)

No. 40, debut: “A bit of social commentary,” Casey says, from a wanky group of bespectacled limeys:
“Video Killed The Radio Star,” by the Buggles.

I’ve always hated this song. Too camp, too precious — just listen to the way Trevor Horn pronounces words like “sym-pho-nee.”
These guys ended up merging with that most definitive of ’70s dinosaurs, Yes, less than a year later — proof that they were not the forward-looking savants that their hit record would suggest.

No. 39, debut: “I Still Have Dreams” by Richie Furay.
“Shakey,” Jimmy McDonough’s antic biography of Neil Young, posits Furay (who later became a minister) as one of the few genuinely good guys in rock n’ roll, and apparently one of the very few good guys who ever crossed Neil’s path.
Unfortunately, this is good-guy rock’n’roll, with its polite Fender Rhodes backdrop … and while it didn’t finish last, it doesn’t get many points, either.

No. 38: “Deja Vu,” Dionne Warwick. Definitive quiet-storm fodder, and really, not all bad for what it is. I could listen to this twice.

No. 37: Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk” — “one of the most unusual hits to be created by a major act in quite a while,” Casey declares.
That scrambly drum break in the middle annoys me, and I get a minor whiff of self-conscious hey-aren’t-we-weird? from this song. But by and large, the hooks are just fine.

Essay question: How much differently would the song (or the album) have performed had it been called “Beak”?

No. 36: “Dim All The Lights,” Donna Summer.
Hey, you Seventies veterans can tell me: During Summer-mania, did every magazine in America put Donna Summer on its cover?
When she was clicking with two or three hits in any given Top 40, were there long think pieces about Donna Summer’s tastes, preferences, politics and theories on religion?
Or was she pretty much dismissed as the largest and mightiest of the new universe of disco droids?

No. 35: ABBA, “Chiquitita.” In his intro, Casey fondly recalls ABBA’s “SOS” as the only double-palindrome in chart history.
That was a better song than this one.

No. 34: “Love Pains,” Yvonne Elliman. Nice use of Coral Electric Sitar. And what does the hook in the chorus remind me of?
(You guys could probably tell me better if I could find a YouTube link for the song. But I can’t.)

No. 33: Foghat, “Third Time Lucky.” Hey, I thought these guys were a beery boogie band. What are they doing throwing around sub-Pablo Cruise mellowisms?
Hope the folks on One-Zed-Cee in Rotorua, New Zealand, enjoyed this one.
‘Cause I didn’t.

AT40 Extra: Counting down the Number One hits of the ’70s, we land in September 1976, with Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.”
Their follow-up single, “Baby Don’t You Know” (next line: “the honkies got soul”) shows up on precisely two local records charts in the ARSA archive, which says a lot.
I always dug their album cover, though – I can practically taste the cherry.

No. 32: Isaac Hayes, “Don’t Let Go.” Yeah, OK, sure, fine.

No. 31: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Prefaced by Casey telling a factually incorrect story about how Petty’s band used to be called “Mudcrutches.”
I love the octave bass lines in the bridge of this song — you can’t convince me these guys weren’t making fun of disco.

No. 30: Hall and Oates, bustin’ out for the listeners of Radio Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay, with “Wait For Me.”
I’d pretty much forgotten about this song, but it ain’t bad — it pretty much sounds like all the other Hall and Oates singles between about 1977 and 1981.
A nice video (linked above) in which H&O and band sing from inside a boom-box couldn’t help this one get any higher than Number 18 … video hadn’t yet killed the radio star in December 1979.

Incidentally, this tune sounds a lot like something Todd Rundgren would have written, and I note the presence of former Rundgren sidemen John Siegler and Ralph Shuckett on the “X-Static” album, which birthed this single.
I don’t meant to imply any kind of correlation — just sayin’, is all.

No. 29: “From Christmas, Arizona, to New Year’s, Nevada,” it’s the Alan Parsons Project with “Damned If I Do.”
OK song, snappy enough.
For some reason, I found it amusing to imagine the song played by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (I think the tune would have held up nicely in their hands.)
Will have to remember the cover-by-other-chart-act device to get me through when other AT40 countdowns start to crawl.

No. 28: John Cougar, “I Need A Lover.” Always liked this song — the unnecessarily complex arrangement, the sound of the instruments, the big guitar flourishes, the wordless vocal chorus, the jackboot outro — though some of that stuff is stripped away in the single edit.
And really, aren’t we all looking for a girl who will thrill us and then go away?

No. 27: Prince, presaging the sound of the ’80s with “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” up all the way from No. 40.
I’m not a massive Prince fan, but I’ll give him this — he’s a better drummer than most one-man bands.

No. 26: “Coward of the County,” Kenny Rogers. Schlock.

No. 25: M, “Pop Muzik.” Less annoying than the Buggles, I’ll give it that; and “Munich” and “music” is an acceptably outside-the-norm rhyme.
The American public must have agreed — this was M’s 17th week on the charts.
I guess they were just paying him back for all those episodes of “Sesame Street” he brought to them.

Wonder how often he got stopped on the street by people wanting to know what James Bond was really like.
“Uh, no. No, that’s Q. I’m M. Now, if you’ll excuse me?”

No. 24: Anne Murray, “Broken Hearted Me.” The title reminds me of the Yardbirds’ “Evil Hearted You,” a wellspring for misogynist garage-punk churners everywhere.
The song reminds me that I’ve still gotta plow through 23 more, and I haven’t bolded any in a while.

No. 23: Kenny Loggins with Michael McDonald … really, do I have to tell you any more, or do you already know we’re knee-deep in krap?

I decided, while listening to Kenny sing, that he really wants to be Daryl Hall, or is in some way a poor man’s version of Daryl Hall, one Oates away from genuine quality.
(For want of an Oates, a career was lost.)

No. 22: Smokey Robinson’s 31st hit, counting the Miracles. “Cruisin’.” Big enough hit but it just didn’t move me.

No. 21: Pablo Cruise their ownselves with “I Want You Tonight.”
The verses on this song brought to mind Huey Lewis and the News, who just a few years later would also march out of the woods of Marin County to produce slick, bloodless pop perfectly suited to their times.
I like Pablo Cruise better.

No. 20: Speaking of Marin, it’s Jefferson Starship with the overblown arena-rock flourishes of “Jane.”
I have always loved Mickey Thomas’ thoroughly cheesy, loungey, unnecessary ad-lib of “hey hey” on the bridge.
(You know, right before the line about “only because you didn’t know better.”)
You can take the man out of the Holiday Inn, but you can’t take the Holiday Inn out of the man.

No. 19: Eagles, “The Long Run.” Up 14, and the title track from the Number One album in the U.S.
This is actually one of the Eagles songs I loathe the least, as enervated as it is.

No. 18: Doctor Hook, “Better Love Next Time.” This is safer than Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home against the Yanks. Man, did these guys sell out.

No. 17: Barry Manilow, “Ships.” Of course I heard it as “Shit” when Casey introduced it. Dr. Freud would have no book with me.

No. 16: “When Yankees meet Redcoats,” Casey says, you get music like “Head Games” by Foreigner.
(He was referring, of course, to the fact that the band included both British and American musicians.)
Dude, farmers bled to death in the fields of Concord and Lexington for this?

No. 15: “Half The Way” by Crystal Gayle.

No. 14: Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” Too bad Sir Lord Cliff couldn’t have recorded more songs like this, or the average American might actually know who he was.

No. 13: Casey says, by way of explaining that 11 of this week’s hits are by foreign acts:
“Americans import foreign cars and television sets. We import hit music, too.”
Something about that sentence made me think about hundreds of thousands of Rust Belters being left without work … which didn’t make me very receptive to the next song, “Cool Change” by the Little River Band.

(Every so often I muse about the fact that they used to mass-manufacture television sets in the U.S. It seems so weird to me, like smoking in airports.)

No. 12: “Rock With You,” Michael Jackson. Up 9 for the folks listening to KERN in Bakersfield. Would that everything had stayed as uncomplicated as it seemed in December 1979.

No. 11: Kool and the Gang, “Ladies Night.” This doesn’t offend me as much as some of their later hits would.
(All together now: “Jo-haaaa-naaaaa/ I (pause) love yoooooo….”)
Still not boldworthy, though.

AT40 Extra: Still working our way through the Number Ones of the Seventies, and we get “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees et al.
I’m telling you, everyone who was between the ages of 13 and 30 in America in 1976 deserves a kick up the khyber for making this a Number One.
The line forms on the right.

No. 10, and Lord, does it sting me to use the boldface:
Supertramp, “Take The Long Way Home.”
Normally I loathe all things Supertramp. But this and, OK, “Goodbye Stranger” are pretty good songs; and this is the better of the two because it eliminates the annoying Supertramp Wurlitzer electric piano sound and replaces it with wailing lonesome-train harmonica.
Not to mention they get extra points for the cool album cover of “Breakfast In America.”

No. 9: Eagles, “Heartache Tonight.” Nice fist-into-jaw drum sound on this one.
Lines like “Everybody wants to take a chance, make it come out right” position this song as a shades-wearing, more dangerous!!!!! cousin to Loverboy’s “Working For The Weekend,” which has that same kind of evocatively meaningless drivel about stuff “everybody” is doing.

No. 8: Captain and Tennille, “Do That To Me One More Time.”
No.

No. 7: JD Souther, “You’re Only Lonely.” The thought of a Top Ten tribute to Roy Orbison is kinda sweet, but I can do without the actual song.

No. 6: Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears.” Casey explains that some pressings of the song are credited to Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, just to keep equilibrium between two big stars used to getting top billing.

No. 5: For the folks listening to KQED in Albuquerque,  it’s Stevie Wonder with “Send One Your Love,” very thoughtfully refusing to allow the Seventies to expire without one last taste of jazzy, soulful, idiosyncratic groove.
Stevie deserves a medal for his work to keep schlock from completely taking over America in the ’70s like kudzu — and we’ve got just the President to give him one.

No. 4: Rupert Holmes, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song.)” A good old-fashioned story-song with a great twist at the end and a memorable arrangement. Doesn’t even matter that they use the same chords the whole way through.
I think this tune has a lot to recommend it, in a completely non-campy way.

No. 3: KC and the Sunshine Band, “Please Don’t Go.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Casey and Mr. Finch … but if you look at Covenant 12 of the agreement between America and Messrs. Casey and Finch, you will see clearly indicated the words, “no ballads.”
I’m afraid we’ll have to show you to the doors.
Please don’t complain; it’s been a fine, fine ride.
No?

No. 2: Commodores, “Still.”
Casey mentions that the group has had the same six members for the past 10 years. That lineup wouldn’t last.

No. 1 (and no mention of the Beatles, either singularly or together, as far as I heard):
For the second straight week, “Babe” by Styx.
Yuck — the river of Hell, indeed.

Oh, yeah, not that anyone cares, but on Dec. 15, 1979, I was a first-grader counting the days until Christmas break. (It was still quite publicly “Christmas break” in public schools in those days.)
Don’t remember what I got for Xmas that year … sorry.

Mundane Moments: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

Thanksgiving is probably the most unchanging and constant holiday this country has to offer.

At Halloween, the costumes differ from year to year.

At Easter, the kids outgrow their fancy clothes from year to year, and maybe the Easter basket holds some new or different treat.

And of course Christmas is defined, at least in part, by that year’s gifts. If you have a snapshot with gifts in it, you can extrapolate how old any given member of your family needed to be to receive that particular present.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, can only be judged based on how many members of the family consort are there to take part in the festivities, and how gray they look compared to other years.

Thanksgiving snapshots fall into the realm of  The Eternal. All across America, there is One Turkey, and One Boat of Gravy, and One Tureen of Mashed Potatoes, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

The person who said “you never step into the same river twice” never took part in an American family Thanksgiving. It is the same river of lumpy gravy every year, as long as the background setting (your grandparents’ house) does not significantly change, and as long as cirrhosis or cardiac arrest or diabetes do not carry off any of the principal players.

(Someone once quipped that Thanksgiving is the one holiday at which all thoughts of sex disappear. And so it is — a rejection of the outside world, and an embrace of the family structure you have already built for yourself. Dressing in brown sweater vests and overeating on turkey and pumpkin roll doesn’t make anyone feel sexxay, either.)

Here, then, is an underexposed picture of a family gathering. It is probably Thanksgiving, though the labeling is not crystal clear.

If you are missing a year of Thanksgiving from your family photo scrapbook, feel free to borrow this one. It will do as well as the real photo — the long-lost one with your actual family members in it.

The turkey and gravy tasted the same to our family as your turkey and gravy did to your family. It was doubtless an hour or two late and maybe a little on the dry side, as yours was. There was football on a bulky TV beforehand, and pie and wiped-out conversation afterward, just like at your house in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Idaho.

There is no chandelier in America powerful enough to cast real light on the withdrawn, somnambulent suburban parade that is Thanksgiving.

Pass the cranberry sauce, won’t you?

Stamford, Connecticut, 1979.

Encore Performances: July 14, 1979: Lead me on, tease me all night long.

On my old blog I used to listen to Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns and write them up, with commentary of questionable value appended to each song.

In memory of Donna Summer, then, here’s the countdown from the week ending July 14, 1979, as I heard it two summers ago.

A lot of people like to point to the infamous 1979 Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park as an emblem of America’s dissatisfaction with disco.

But, if the rioters in Chicago truly reflected a changing American mood, it took a long time for the wave to actually break, because the American Top 40 countdown for that very week was top-heavy with disco records.
There might have been a lot of people wishing for disco’s demise; but any reports of its death at that point were very much premature.

How do I know? Well, I just sat through the AT40 for the week ending July 14, 1979.
In the words of James Hetfield, it hella sucked.
But because I went to the length of writing it all down, here it is for your delectation, with the occasional favourite song in bold.

So come with me to disco’s last stand:

No. 40: Things lead off with a “dynamite little redhead,” (Casey’s words), Bette Midler with “Married Men.”
Her first hit in five years, and undistinguished disco.

A short clip of Midler singing this song was included in the long musical-guest medley in the “Saturday Night Live” 15th anniversary special in 1990, which I recorded on VHS tape and watched numerous times.
I could name most of the other tunes, but for years, I had no idea what song she was singing.

No. 39, debut: The Bellamy Brothers with “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?”
Sounds like recycled Jimmy Buffett. I wonder if people at his concerts in 1979 asked him to play it?

No. 38, debut: Eddie Rabbitt, “Suspicions.” In which Mr. Rabbitt applies his weak falsetto to a theme more successfully explored by Dr. Hook in “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.”
Bloodless.

Long Distance Dedication: “Always and Forever” by Heatwave, dedicated to some teenage army-brat girl who sounds like she doesn’t recognize that her best friend has a lesbian crush on her.

No. 37: For the good folks gettin’ down to WMRK in Selma, Alabama, it’s the Doobie Brothers down nine notches with “Minute by Minute.”
I loathe Michael McDonald but I give him points for a spare arrangement — sounds like there isn’t much more on this record but drums, bass, percussion, Rhodes and one other keyboard.

No. 36: Down 21, it’s Rex Smith singing “You Take My Breath Away,” which sounds like secondhand Manilow.

No. 35: Joe Jackson, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” — To my view, this, and not “My Sharona,” was the breath of fresh attitude Top 40 radio needed in the summer of 1979.
Of course, given that I wasn’t actually listening to Top 40 radio in the summer of ’79, my opinions are completely revisionist and likely inaccurate.

(I most likely spent the week of July 14, 1979, enjoying whatever books and toys I received for turning six earlier in the month.)

No. 34 and on its way up: Robert John, “Sad Eyes.” Beats “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” I suppose.
As marshmallowy as the handling of a Ford LTD, plus an incongruously distorted guitar solo and a graceless key change.

Personally, I always liked Ford LTDs because I thought their hubcaps looked cool, kinda wreath-like.
I thought weird things.
Maybe still do.

AT40 Extra: Casey counts down the Number One hits of the ’70s. We’re in September 1974 and Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently” is rocking us gently. THAT’s what this dismal 1979 countdown needs — some BUBBLEGUM, or maybe a TEEN IDOL. Seriously. At least we’d have us some dumb fun.

No. 33: Wet Willie, “Weekend.” Egregious disco sellout by a journeyman Southern-rock outfit.
Like many of these songs, it is encased in a layer of studio gloss that preserves its awfulness forever, like formaldehyde.

No. 32, and laden with soggy-eyed bathos, and down 18 notches, and on its way out, and thank God for that: “Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Van Warmer.

No. 31: Maxine Nightingale up six with “Lead Me On.” So bland, so inoffensive, so thoroughly offensive.

No. 30: James Taylor, “Up On The Roof.”
Casey discusses how James credits Carly Simon with steering him away from hard drugs and saving his life, thus allowing him to record banally pappy versions of old hit songs.
Well, OK, Casey didn’t say that; but I bet he thought it.

If this song genuinely meant anything to JT, you can’t hear it in his vocal.

No. 29: For the listeners of WACO in Waco, Texas, the Bee Gees bring “Love You Inside Out.”
Y’know, I notice that a number of Gibb-penned tunes meander a little bit.
They’re not strictly AABA in structure, nor are they intro-verse-verse-chorus-solo-chorus.
Sometimes they’ll veer off into short sections that only show up once.
But no matter what, they always make their way back to the Great Big Chorus.

No. 28: Kansas, “People of the South Wind.” This actually seems to have a little bit of rock energy — just a little bit — compared to what’s around it.
This one loses points with me, perhaps, because I don’t find the phrase “people of the south wind” particularly evocative. Sometimes a song’s value kinda rises and falls to the listener depending on whether that sort of image connects.
(“Deacon Blues” connects with my heart and imagination; “Year of the Cat” does not. Like that.)

No. 27: Anne Murray, “Shadows in the Moonlight.” (Hey, isn’t there a hyphen in the name? There isn’t on Wikipedia.)

Y’know, the loneliest man in America in the summer of 1979 must have been Joey Ramone.
It must have seemed like there was absolutely no commercial hope for music that valued heart and wit above chops.
(There wasn’t, really.)

No. 26: Barbra Streisand rides the disco train with “Fight.”
Now I’m imagining a young chart buff in 1979, one of those kids who sits by the radio writing down the Top 40 every week.
Was he sorely disappointed?
Did he listen to the radio and think, “Y’know, this is all shite, and it gets worse every month, and I could be spending my time doing something productive?”
Or did the young chart buffs of the day find something to connect to in all this dross?

I don’t.

No. 25: “The phenomenal Wings,” Casey says, with the bonanza of forced rhymes that is “Getting Closer.”
Macca shoulda done like Lennon and taken a year or two off to bake bread and change diapers.

No. 24: “Do It or Die,” Atlanta Rhythm Section.
“Once a week and you know where your favorite songs are,” Casey says.
And I reply, “I know where they are, Casey. They’re nowhere. That’s where they bloody well are.”

No. 23: Elton John, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.” In which Elton drags his coke-addled self to Philadelphia, and Thom Bell props him up long enough to get him into the Top Ten.
A nice Philly strut to the music, but Elton’s kinda sleepwalking here, I’m afraid.

Another AT40 extra from the Number One hits of the Seventies. Olivia Newton-John, “I Honestly Love You.” Honesty is such a lonely word; everyone is so untrue.

No. 22: KISS, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”
My wife: “Finally.”
Me: “Something good!”

I don’t care that these clownfaces were slumming; I don’t care that Anton Fig is playing drums because the Catman is too wasted to contribute.
I like this song.
I even listen to it of my own accord from time to time.

No. 21: Poco with their second AT40 hit in nine years, “Heart of the Night.”
This song has no heart and precious little night.

On the other hand, the title fits perfectly — the heart of the night is when people sleep.

No. 20: ABBA, “Does Your Mother Know?” So rare and delightful to hear the plasticine Swedes trash-talk.

Long Distance Dedication: From a transferred minister’s wife to some teenage parishioner she left behind. One of the rare LDDs to feature a good song: Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life,” a song that stomped most everything around it in 1973, and still did six years later.

Hey, what percentage of Long Distance Dedications do you think were actually heard by the person at whom they were aimed?

No. 19: Raydio, “Can’t Change That.” My wife said she always thought Hall and Oates sang this. OK pop-funk that might have been better in their hands.

No. 18: Gerry Rafferty, “Days Gone Down.” Not too bad. Seems to strike a thoughtful note different from the bubbleheaded tone of most of the rest of the countdown.

No. 17: “I Can’t Stand It No More,” Peter Frampton. OK record. Nothing to write home about or play 10-minute talk-box solos over.

No. 16: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” McFadden and Whitehead. Another shot of Philly. Lyrically empty but nice and propulsive.
(Of course, you could say that about 99 percent of disco records.)

No. 15: Van Halen, “Dance The Night Away.” And people said they sold out when Sammy Hagar joined.
Of course, I’ve had trouble taking VH seriously ever since I saw St. Sanders’ awesome deconstruction of “Jump.”
Seriously — go watch it. If you never come back to this blog post, you won’t have missed anything.

No. 14: Whaddya know, it’s Dr. Hook with “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman.”
This is another of that handful of songs I remember hearing from the AM radio of my folks’ old Plymouth Satellite during long road trips.
That’s probably why I am fonder of it than it really deserves.

No. 13: Up 12, Chic with “Good Times.” Why the bold? I love the riff, and I love the production values, and I love the clams on the half-shell and roller skates!, and I love the whooshing what-the-hell-was-that? introduction.
Which, of course, Casey talked over.

Am mulling the social meaning of the line “Don’t be a drag / Participate.”
Were the ’80s a decade when we stopped listening to the cruise directors, cocooned ourselves in our houses with movies from Blockbuster, and stopped participating?
Discuss.

No. 12: For the listeners of WBGY in Tullahoma, Tennessee, it’s “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, which probably should be bolded because it’s a great production and incredibly catchy, but won’t be because I just don’t enjoy listening to it that much.

One last Number One hit of the ’70s: “Nothing From Nothing” by Billy Preston, October 1974. Not sure why Billy wasn’t bigger in the disco era; he had all the tools to be.

No. 11: Supertramp, “Logical Song.” Stronger truth-in-advertising laws would have compelled them to call it “Horrible Song.”

No. 10: John Stewart, “Gold.” I debated long and hard (there I go bragging again) about whether I liked this enough to bold it.
I did.
Even though Stevie Nicks kinda steals the record.
Wonder if Tim Bass is still working at that filling station?

No. 9: ELO, “Shine A Little Love.” For some reason, all of Jeff Lynne’s pet licks — the galloping guitar, the swizzling falling-star synth sounds, the falsetto backing vox — seem empty and antiseptic to me this time around.
Usually I lap them up like a cat does milk.

No. 8: Cheap Trick, “I Want You To Want Me.”
How does one go about becoming big in Japan, anyway?
What’s the music industry like over there, and how does one get known and break big?
Is payola legal?
Do they even have their own Casey — or perhaps even several Caseys?

No. 7: For the listeners of KBRE in Cedar City, Utah (where?), it’s David Naughton with “Makin’ It.”
Lockstep boogie.
For some reason, the lyrical braggadocio reminds me of the Old Spice guy. Except he’s actually entertaining.

No. 6: The Emotions and EW&F with “Boogie Wonderland.”

No. 5: Kenny Rogers, “She Believes in Me.” Not even effective as an antidote against disco.

No. 4: Rickie Lee Jones, “Chuck E.’s In Love.” Now, slurry self-referential bohemia, that can help reduce the pain of disco. Take a dose and call me in the morning.

Casey also explains the meaning of the phrase “P.L.P. with me;” it means hanging out. Isn’t that pretty much what bohemians do, unless they’re driving cross-country?

Nice groove, anyway.

No. 3: “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer, whose “Bad Girls” album was the nation’s top seller that week.

No. 2: Last week’s Number One, Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.”
This is not a song I’ve ever heard much of anybody praise (including me — it’s repetitive and annoyingly girly.) But somebody who liked it in 1979 isn’t letting on now, because it went to the freakin’ top.

And this week’s new Number One: “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer.
That’s right, two of the nation’s top three records.

Y’know, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard much of anyone celebrate that feat, the way they do the Bee Gees’ big run in 1977-78 or the Beatles’ landslide in ’64.
(Of course, I don’t read every blog out there.)
It just seems like if a white and/or male and/or rock performer had two of the top three singles, they would be regularly revered by mainstream writers and the blogosphere alike.
I’ve never gotten that vibe about Donna Summer … if anything, it seems like people are ashamed of her chart reign.

But again, I’m not the membrane through which all public opinion must pass, so maybe people are giving Donna and Georgio Moroder their due and I’m just not hearing it.

Hey mister — beep beep!