Alfred was the one who originally, specifically asked me to do a chart from the ’70s, and since I’ve already done one from the first half of the decade, it makes sense to go for one from the disco years. And is it ever! To paraphrase Barry White’s hit at #24: oh, what a chart for dancing! However, a warning: Grease content ahead.
1 1 SHADOW DANCING –•– Andy Gibb (RSO) -11 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — Thanks to the production and songwriting prowess of his big brothers, Andy was able to make some pop singles almost as good as theirs. Almost.
2 3 BAKER STREET –•– Gerry Rafferty (United Artists) -10 (2) — No, this isn’t yacht rock.
3 4 IT’S A HEARTACHE –•– Bonnie Tyler (RCA) -14 (3) — She could’ve had a career like Bonnie Raitt’s, I think, but someone somewhere made some poor choices. At least we’ll always have “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
4 2 YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT –•– John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (RSO) -13 (1) — I pretty much hate this song, except for Olivia’s verses. Travolta is a horrendous singer (if that’s what you’d even call him), and the chorus is appalling. ONJ does the best she can with what she’s given. That said, credit Grease with the start of the “sexy Olivia” makeover/narrative, which I am not mad about. (See also: “A Little More Love,” “Physical” and everything that came after “Physical.”)
5 6 TAKE A CHANCE ON ME –•– Abba (Atlantic) -10 (5) — What glorious popcraft they made. This song is so great that I even like Erasure’s cover of it, and I generally am not a fan of Erasure at all. But of course it’s no patch on the perfection of Benny and Björn’s production: turning the “take a chance, take a chance, take a ch-ka-chance-chance” refrain into the rhythm track was a stroke of genius.
6 9 YOU BELONG TO ME –•– Carly Simon (Elektra) -11 (6) — Oh, goddamn. I tend to run a bit hot & cold on Simon, but when she hits it, watch out. From 1972’s “The Right Thing to Do” to the Chic-produced 1982 single “Why,” as well as 1987’s pop comeback Coming Around Again, her career has plenty of high points — but maybe none higher than this sultry midtempo “don’t you dare fuck anyone else” plead which Simon cowrote with the godlike Michael McDonald. I mean, think about that: it takes a lot to make a pleading song sultry, yet Simon does so with seemingly no effort. Arif Mardin’s production bathes the song in warmth, and David Sanborn’s sax is an able dance partner for Simon as the song vamps its way out. This song is absolutely perfect, a rare McDonald composition sung better by someone else. And one more thing: Boys in the Trees is one of the sexiest album covers of all time.
7 12 USE TA BE MY GIRL –•– The O’Jays (Philadelphia International) -9 (7) — Their 8th R&B #1 on Philadelphia International, and their first pop top 10 since ’75’s “I Love Music” (on its way to a #4 peak), “Use Ta Be My Girl” is a premium example of the O’Jays as the finest vessel for Gamble & Huff’s superlative songwriting and production. This is sweeping, symphonic soul that fit into disco playlists without actually being disco, anchored of course by Eddie Levert, Sr.’s incredible vocals (yep, Eddie Jr. and Gerald, later of LeVert, got it from their Daddy).
8 10 LOVE IS LIKE OXYGEN –•– Sweet (Capitol) -19 (8) — Kind of a fluke final hit, coming three years since their last top 10 in the US or UK, ’75’s “Fox on the Run.” This is all pomp and no circumstance, all but prog rock distilled into single essence. And accordingly, it’s not that good.
9 16 STILL THE SAME –•– Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (Capitol) -7 (9) — Seger’s Stranger in Town, along with 1976’s Night Moves his most-certified studio album, at 6M US, was also his first top 5 album, and it’s easy to see why: the singles taken from it were this one, “Hollywood Nights,” “We’ve Got Tonite [sic],” and “Old Time Rock and Roll.” If you’re over 35, chances are you know each and every one of those songs, maybe even by heart, whether you want to or not. This was the biggest hit but feels a little flat now, though the songwriting’s solid.
10 11 DANCE WITH ME –•– Peter Brown with Betty Wright (Drive) -17 (10) — Written with his partner in crime Robert Rans, and produced by TK house producer Cory Wade, this was Brown’s biggest hit, going top 10 on both the R&B and pop charts, and justifiably so: this is state of the art disco that also scores high on the quality meter. Fun fact: Brown and Rans later became very, very, very rich, because they wrote a little song you may have heard of called “Material Girl.”
11 13 THE GROOVE LINE –•– Heatwave (Epic) -8 (11) — Before he became Quincy Jones’s right hand man in the studio — and especially as a songwriter, perhaps you’ve heard a few of his compositions? — Rod Temperton led this shit-hot UK funk band. You can’t argue a lick with a CV that includes “Boogie Nights,” “Always and Forever,” and this, no, you can’t.
12 14 TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD –•– Meat Loaf (Epic / Cleveland International) -15 (12) — [insert joke about warmed-over leftover meatloaf here]
13 15 BECAUSE THE NIGHT –•– The Patti Smith Group (Arista) -12 (13) — It’s still shocking, almost 40 years later, to see that Patti Smith had a top 20 single — and with a Springsteen song, no less! Her band was so tough, and they had to be, to back her up. Superlative.
14 5 TOO MUCH, TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE –•– Johnny Mathis / Deniece Williams (Columbia) -13 (1) — Fitting that years later they sang the theme for Family Ties, because this kind of sounds like a TV theme itself. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” is a little too sweet and too cute.
15 7 FEELS SO GOOD –•– Chuck Mangione (A&M) -20 (4) — A flugelhorn player hit the top 5 in 1978: it was a different time. This is also an all-time smooth jazz jam, though I actually prefer 1980’s “Give It All You Got” (which hit #18, but like this was a #1 AC record).
16 18 EVERY KINDA PEOPLE –•– Robert Palmer (Island) -14 (16) — One of the few white musicians capable of pulling off credible pop-reggae, and a better singer than you likely recall.
17 20 BLUER THAN BLUE –•– Michael Johnson (EMI-America) -10 (17) — Achingly, beautifully sad, this song says so much.
18 21 YOU’RE THE LOVE –•– Seals and Crofts (Warner Brothers) -11 (18) — Wherein the folky light-rock duo add a touch of the disco rhythm to their sound, with solid results.
19 22 EVEN NOW –•– Barry Manilow (Arista) -8 (19) — Once a Broadway baby, always a Broadway baby.
20 23 LAST DANCE –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca) -7 (20) — The first disco record to go from ballad to disco tempo within the space of a single, I can still remember how stunning this sounded on the radio in ’78 (I was 7 years old at the time). Songwriter Paul Jabara deserved every single award he received for this, which included both the Golden Globe and the Oscar. And as for Summer, watch this clip of her performing at the Oscars and marvel and the control and power she displays. She could belt and bellow without breaking a sweat; what a phenomenal singer and artist.
21 8 ON BROADWAY –•– George Benson (Warner Brothers) -16 (7) — Great singer, ridiculous guitar player, jazz legend: that’s George Benson. “On Broadway” has always read a little kitschy to me, but then again, I’m no Broadway baby.
22 28 I WAS ONLY JOKING –•– Rod Stewart (Warner Brothers) -9 (22) — Underproduced, in a fine way, because it specifically spotlights Rod’s voice, which was at its best right around this time.
23 29 FOLLOW YOU, FOLLOW ME –•– Genesis (Atlantic) -10 (23) — The sound of three guys free to mold their prog songs into pop songs and actually have, y’know, hits. Shame the song isn’t stronger.
24 25 OH WHAT A NIGHT FOR DANCING –•– Barry White (20th Century) -9 (24) — “All the discotheques better be ready/We’re gonna hit ’em, hot ‘n heavy,” he sings — yet, fascinatingly, this is barely midtempo, almost a slow dance. Not a White classic, but subpar White is like subpar pizza, still pretty good.
25 31 MISS YOU –•– Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones) -5 (25) — Like most great disco songs, this comes down to its rhythm section: Charlie Watts showing you that most great disco is four-on-the-floor, and Bill Wyman playing one of the funkiest basslines he’d ever play. Credit too Mick & Keith, whose production on this is so goddamn smart. Yeah, it’s a disco song, but it’s still inherently a Stones song, too.
26 17 WITH A LITTLE LUCK –•– Wings (Capitol) -14 (1) — Paul sounds great bathed in waves of synthesizer, doesn’t he? He also sounds gloriously happy: credit his beloved Linda for that.
27 33 WONDERFUL TONIGHT –•– Eric Clapton (RSO) -7 (27) — One of the whitest love songs ever recorded, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.
28 30 ALMOST SUMMER –•– Celebration Featuring Mike Love (MCA) -9 (28) — A Beach Boys cast-off that reeks of hot garbage in the sun.
29 34 I CAN’T STAND THE RAIN –•– Eruption (Ariola America) -16 (29) — Eruption were a Euro funk group under the wing of Frank Farian, he of Boney M and Milli Vanilli fame. Accordingly, they sound very Euro-slick and not very interesting on this Ann Peebles cover.
30 37 ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG –•– Billy Joel (Columbia) -7 (30) — Apparently true, because Billy Joel’s still with us.