"Disco music is like a bad cold that won't go away. The best thing to do is ignore it."
--folk singer/songwriter Tom Waits
"We're going through the most dramatic taste shift in popular music history. Disco is the pop music of tomorrow."
– President of POLYDOR records, 1979.
Gleck here again, with another post on his blog, which dares to ask the questions: How many individual mirrors are on a mirror ball? And were it to fall from the ceiling and shatter, would that mean 7 years' bad luck, times the number of little mirror squares?
Guess what? I haven't done a review of an American Top 40 countdown in a long damn time. So how about another one! And boy, do I have a doozy for all of you: it's the countdown program which aired the weekend before Independence Day, 1979.
1979. You know what that means. No, not a Smashing Pumpkins song; would that it were. 1979 means it's right in the middle of top-40's personal hell. Disco was king, and AT40 paid homage with a countdown they called "The Top 40 Songs of The Disco Era."
At the top of the show, Casey defined "The Disco Era" as having begun July 4, 1974, when "Rock The Boat" by The Hues Corporation hit #1. RTB was considered as the first important 'disco' record, at least going by sound and feel ... or however the hell else the Annointed Critics determined it.
Now, on a personal note, while I've long taken swings at the pinata called "disco", deep inside I honestly cannot say I loathe all disco songs. Indeed, there are some which I like - maybe even love. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for classic top-40 pop, even though by early high school, my tastes were certainly skewed heavily toward the rock side of the room.
How do I feel about disco? Simply, it shares a common trait with Native Americans. Us white people came in and royally @#$%ed up a good thing. Disco came out of BLACK MUSIC. Or, as it was popularly known back then, "SOUL." Black people made great disco, but few of us crackas shared that talent. As you shall soon see.
And the countdown starts! [jingle: "NUMBER FOURRRRRRR-TEEEEEEE!!!!"]
40) LOVE TO LOVE YOU BABY / Donna Summer (1975)
Perhaps the first instance of an orgasm occurring in a top-40 record. Unless you count the groaning and such in the 1967 hit "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)." Donna Summer was the undisputed queen of disco music. She appears five (5) times in this countdown, more than any other act. Even those Gibb people.
39) SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THING / Peaches & Herb (1979)
One of several songs which bring back the brown acid of 8th grade. The 1978-79 school year was ground zero for the worst of disco. It was our first year in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and for whatever reason(s), much of that city was immersed in the disco craze -- there were two big discos, one on each side of I-55, and both were always packed. It always puzzled me, 'cuz Cape is the whitest-damn-bread city I've ever lived. To this day there has never been a fulltime 'urban' station in that market.
38) (EVERY TIME I TURN AROUND) BACK IN LOVE AGAIN / L.T.D. (1977)
Dearfolk, this is real disco. The purest form, toward which mainstream R&B/soul/black music had evolved. Brass and a funky beat trumps cheap synthesizers every time.
37) LAST DANCE / Donna Summer (1978)
Meh. It didn't do much for me. Too pretentious, especially that 'ballad' intro.
36) TURN THE BEAT AROUND / Vicki Sue Robinson (1976)
Disco was full of one-hit wonders. To wit. What is Victoria up to these days? I imagine she loves to hear percussion while she does karaoke at a lounge somewhere outside Crestview, Fla.
35) KEEP IT COMIN' LOVE / KC & The Sunshine Band (1977)
Yeah, boy. KC&TSB had in its group the few pigmentally-challenged people who knew how to make great dance music in the 1970s. I like 'em, mainly songs like this one which escaped the B2AC status given their biggest hits (we'll get to a couple shortly).
One all-white group which put out great dance music in the '70s was Average White Band. Unfortunately, they have no entry in here. Not even 1975's "Pick Up the Pieces" -- as fine a disco song ever made.
34) SHAKE YOUR BODY (DOWN TO THE GROUND) / Jacksons (1979)
The timing of this AT40 countdown was a little off. Why couldn't Casey, et al, have waited just one month. ONE MONTH. The forthcoming Michael Jackson album Off The Wall was released before the end of July '79, and one of the best disco songs ever -- his "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" -- would've blazed toward this list's top ten.
But "Shake Your Body" was a worthy contender. Typical late '70s Jacksons.
33) DANCE WITH ME / Peter Brown (1978)
Who is he? Who knows. But this is one fine dance record.
At this point in the countdown, Casey did a mini-countdown of the top three 'slow' songs, chosen by a survey of top DJs at the nation's biggest discos. The first of them was played here, and the other two came up later in the show. But I'll go ahead and give 'em all away. The Belly-Rubbin' Ballads were:
3) HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE / The Bee Gees (1977)
2) THREE TIMES A LADY / The Commodores (1978)
I can not hear this song without dropping in the immortal Eddie Murphy-as-"Buckwheat" parody lyrics .... "unce ... tice ... fee tines a mady ..."
1) REUNITED / Peaches & Herb (1979)
I reattached the "groove thing" I "shook" clean off. My apologies.
32) THAT'S THE WAY (I LIKE IT) / KC & The Sunshine Band (1975)
The sun was out too long on this one. Burnt to a crisp. Just like the bacon at IHOP last night.
31) I FEEL LOVE / Donna Summer (1977)
Ahhhh, the synthesizers of Giorgio Moroder. Quite irresistible, if you wanna know the truth.
30) DAZZ / Brick (1976)
It was a melding of the words "Disco" and "Jazz." A follow-up single would be entitled "Dusic." Personally, I was waiting for "Dlassical." Or even "Dunk." Hey, I got it -- "Dountry"
("Dip Hop" would be too easy)
29) DISCO INFERNO / The Trammps (1976)
One of the most excruciating things about one of the local top-40s in Cape was that it went headlong into disco. KGMO was the station, and they always played the long version of this one, off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But did they play the long version of Joe Walsh's '78 hit "Life's Been Good"? Hell, no.
Side note: in 1979, KGMO's big competitor, KJAS, took advantage of the building anti-disco backlash and, in June '79, eliminated all disco records from its format. By then, Cape was coming back to its senses. Rock & roll, especially 'Midwest arena rock' was reasserting itself. KGMO, however, was still mesmerized by the mirror ball.
Well, KJAS took off .... causing a fulltime FM station to be humiliated by a one-lung 250-watt AM daytimer!
But this presented a quandry for KJAS, which carried AT40 in Cape. They couldn't air this countdown, because they'd just 86'ed the disco!! What to do? They got a one-time clearance to air the countdown on their new sister FM, KJAQ/"Q-99" -- a mixture of album rock and top-40. Amazingly, in late '79 KJAS-AM was rocking harder than its FM!
Anyhoo, I digress. Back to the countdown! [jingle: "Number Twennnnn-teeeeeee Eiiiiiight!!"]
28) KNOCK ON WOOD / Amii Stewart (1979)
Few things get me reaching for the antacid quicker than a disco cover of a classic oldie.
[At this point, Casey took a break to play another 'extra' -- the biggest dance hit of all time, Chubby Checker's 1960 smash "The Twist."]
27) YOU SHOULD BE DANCING / The Bee Gees (1976)
No, thanks. I'm too busy trying to mend a broken heart. If only I can get this thread through the stupid needle.
Are we up to number 26? That's right!!
26) GET UP AND BOOGIE / Silver Convention (1976)
This German act appear twice in this countdown. Lightweight, innocent, decent '70s dance pop.
25) IN THE NAVY / The Village People (1979)
From their bootleg LP Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Not everything about marrying Seraphim was wonderful and sweet. For starters, it was very painful having to integrate her CD The Best of The Village People into my collection. Okay, OUR collection. TVP deserve every bad thing said about them. They properly personify just what went wrong with disco, and why it would go on to be so ridiculed.
24) YOU SEXY THING / Hot Chocolate (1975)
I might be allergic to chocolate, but not this kind. I have their greatest hits CD, chock full of their great songs like "Every 1's a Winner", "Disco Queen", "Emma" and this 'un.
23) GOT TO GIVE IT UP / Marvin Gaye (1977)
Put into the perspective of this countdown, it holds its own. Otherwise, when compared with the rest of Gaye's repertoire, it doesn't do much for me. The late '70s were not kind to the man, as he was going through a very ugly divorce.
MG's death, even today, aches my heart. Just hearing 1982's monster hit "Sexual Healing" -- note for note, as good (if not better) than anything he did in the '60s -- is as painful as listening to Buddy Holly's catalog. Gaye would've gone to incredible heights, were it not for a real asswipe of a father.
"C'mere, son. I got this '45' I want you to hear."
22) FLY ROBIN FLY / Silver Convention (1975)
Another song by Silver Convention? That's right!
21) HOT STUFF / Donna Summer (1979)
For some reason, I have a craving for some pre-made convenience store pizza.
20) STAR WARS THEME-CANTINA BAND / Meco (1977)
It was the biggest instrumental hit song of the 1970s. But today, it's aged worse than The Star Wars Holiday Special.
19) MORE MORE MORE / Andrea True Connection (1976)
I don't like it, I don't like it. How do you like that?
18) MISS YOU / The Rolling Stones (1978)
If I were to rank, by my own taste, all the songs the Stones have recorded over the last 40+ years, this Summer '78 song would rank near the bottom. The second-worst cheap and tasteless disco cash-in by a ROCK artist -- worse even than The Kinks' 1979 "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman." The worst cash-in? Coming up, just you wait.
[Another "AT40 Extra" here. It's Rick Dees' song "Disco Duck." A real success. Fortunately, in this case, you cannot say "success" without saying "suck."]
17) CAR WASH / Rose Royce (1977)
More brown acid. Takes me back to Green Street Elementary School, 6th grade and lots of "Colt 45" beer bottles just waiting to be broken.
16) IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU / Yvonne Elliman (1978)
Put this one in the "meh" column. Take it or leave it.
15) SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE (SHAKE YOUR BOOTY) / KC & The Sunshine Band (1976)
To do so would set off seismographs at Caltech.
14) I'M YOUR BOOGIE MAN / KC & The Sunshine Band (1977)
One of their better classics. I can do without "That's The Way", uh-huh uh-huh, "I Like It."
13) DANCE, DANCE, DANCE / Chic (1977)
Subtitled "Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!", it was the smash that put this (black) act on the map. I have their hits CD, and like to pull it out whenever I need a reminder that not all disco was bad. I like this one. Always have. Even better was the follow-up, "Everybody Dance."
12) MACARTHUR PARK / Donna Summer (1978)
I'll be right back ... gotta head to Sam's Club and buy a gallon-sized jug of "Maalox" and chug it. Jimmy Webb took one listen, and said "What the fu---????" Richard Harris shook his head, sighed, and quietly uttered, "And people throw stones at MY version?"
See my remark above about "disco remakes."
11) DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY / Thelma Houston (1977)
Joins Yvonne Elliman in the "meh" pile, so I will leave it this way.
10) YMCA / The Village People (1978)
The 'dance' beats the song, every time. An insult to the big red triangle.
9) BOOGIE OOGIE OOGIE / A Taste of Honey (1978)
Memories of Summer '78 in Cape, walking my bike uphill to the 7-Eleven on Perryville Road to earn that Coke and hot dog ... then getting to go downhill afterward. A great time before school started and they saw me in P.E.
8) I LOVE THE NIGHTLIFE / Alicia Bridges (1978)
I didn't like to boogie on the disco round, oooh yea. I passed on the aaaaack-SHAWN!!!
[Yet another "extra" here. It was 1975's "The Hustle" by Van McCoy, introducing what Casey called the "best-known disco step." The 6th grade P.E. teacher in Tupelo actually taught us this one. Chalk up one for educational priorities in Mississippi.]
7) DO YA THINK I'M SEXY / Rod Stewart (1979)
The single worst betrayal of honor by a rock act. Rod just had to have another number one single, and would do anything to get it. Hence, this. Ohhh, he got his #1, alright -- but at the cost of his credibility. It took awhile for him to live this one down.
Maggie said, "I did nothing of the sort! YOU made a first-class fool out of YOURSELF."
6) I WILL SURVIVE / Gloria Gaynor (1979)
Do I like it? Oh no, not I.
5) A FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN / Walter Murphy (1976)
Maybe it's a good thing Mr. Ludvig Von went deaf................
[And one more "extra" ....... it was the 1977 song "San Francisco" by The Village People. The biggest disco song never released as a single, and never appeared on the Pop (i.e. "Hot 100") chart. The Village People ... San Francisco .... they, of all people, should know, eh? ;-)]
4) BEST OF MY LOVE / The Emotions (1977)
I'd have ranked this #1 on my own disco list. A fantastic dance hit. The brass section makes the song.
3) STAYIN' ALIVE / The Bee Gees (1978)
2) NIGHT FEVER / The Bee Gees (1978)
The dynamic duo from Saturday Night Fever. Seven (7) songs total on this survey came from the soundtrack.
I like "Night Fever" okay, but "Stayin' Alive" just might be the song, out of all the ones we've 'heard' here, which paints the ultimate caricature of the "DISCO" stereotype. Ted Striker (Robert Hays) in Airplane! does the ultimate disco parody to "Stayin' Alive", climaxing with that pointed-finger-in-the-air pose from the SNF soundtrack cover.
And the #1 disco song on this countdown? Awwwwwwww......
1) LE FREAK / Chic (1978)
A highly-deserved honor. Having Gaynor or Murphy up here would've, ummm, freaked me out.
As I said, had AT40 done this countdown later in the year, some more aquatic life could've been caught in the big net. Songs like:
BAD GIRLS / Donna Summer
DIM ALL THE LIGHTS / Donna Summer
RING MY BELL / Anita Ward
GOOD TIMES / Chic
Did you know that back in the late '70s there was actually a medical sub-specialty dealing with back injuries from, ummm, "getting down" too strenuously? It was called (I kid you not!) "Discogenics."
I'll leave you with this comment, made in 1979 by the director of the Rhodesian Broadcasting Company: Disco is "a contributing factor to epilepsy."
All right, folks, the dance floor is closed. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. DJ, give us some AC/DC to clear the room........
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "Got to put on my-my-my-my-my-my platform shoes!" Gleck
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