Here’s the Spotify playlist, minus two songs. Make sure you read all the way down for a bonus: the top 20 R&B records this week (which are far superior to those on the pop chart).
1 1 I JUST WANT TO BE YOUR EVERYTHING –•– Andy Gibb (RSO)-16 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — Goddamn, Barry Gibb could write some songs, couldn’t he?
2 2 I’M IN YOU –•– Peter Frampton (A&M)-11 (2) — I’m no Frampton fan, but this watery bullshit ballad is waaaay beneath him.
3 6 BEST OF MY LOVE –•– The Emotions (Columbia)-9 (3) — In two weeks, this would jump to #1, spend four weeks there, get knocked back to #3 for a week (by the song it replaced, Andy Gibb’s #1), and then return to the top for a fifth and final week in late September. Now, that’s a fucking hit. Written by Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White (RIP) and Al McKay (and co-produced by White), this was actually a bigger pop hit than any EWF song. Never underestimate the power of a “girl group,” huh? The Emotions sing this with such pure joy, I don’t know how it couldn’t have been a smash.
4 4 MY HEART BELONGS TO ME –•– Barbra Streisand (Columbia)-12 (4) — Because in 1977, Streisand could hit the top 5 with ease with supersoft Adult Contemporary records. Were teenagers requesting these?
5 7 DO YOU WANNA MAKE LOVE –•– Peter McCann (20th Century)-16 (5) — Not with you I don’t.
6 5 DA DOO RON RON –•– Shaun Cassidy (Warner Brothers / Curb)-13 (1) — Every generation gets the teen idol/s it deserves, a wise person once said. Those of the ’70s were severely lacking, starting with this doofus and his older brother.
7 9 (Your Love Has Lifted Me) HIGHER AND HIGHER –•– Rita Coolidge (A&M)-14 (7) — A pure, perfect, pristine voice — on a song I never want to hear again in any version.
8 13 EASY –•– The Commodores (Motown)-10 (8) — Goddamn, Lionel Richie could write some songs, couldn’t he? And moreso than Barry Gibb, Richie had a real gift for timelessness.
9 10 WHATCHA GONNA DO? –•– Pablo Cruise (A&M)-17 (9) — Great early yacht rock (pre-Toto! pre-prime McDoobies!) that chug-a-lugs along nicely, with premium harmony vocals.
10 11 YOU AND ME –•– Alice Cooper (Warner Brothers)-15 (10) — What Alice was doing singing this piece of shit soft rock ballad, I have no idea. It’s a terrible song, gloppily produced, and it barely even sounds like Alice. Disgraceful.
11 12 YOU MADE ME BELIEVE IN MAGIC –•– The Bay City Rollers (Arista)-10 (11) — The Scottish heartthrobs had a string of 10 top 10 singles in the UK, but they only notched three in the US (including ’76’s #1 “Saturday Night,” which bizarrely didn’t even chart in the UK). This was their third and final US top 10, one that sounds quite a bit more grown-up than most of their earlier UK hits. Which probably explains both a) why I prefer it and b) why it stiffed in the UK (#34, their final top 40 over there).
12 3 LOOKS LIKE WE MADE IT –•– Barry Manilow (Arista)-14 (1) — Third and final single from ’76’s This One’s for You, which became his third and final #1 pop single. Listen to those lyrics closely, though: sure, the protagonist has “made it,” as has his ex — but with separate people. They’ve moved on. So this is actually a painfully bittersweet song, which to me is what makes it pretty sensational.
13 17 JUST A SONG BEFORE I GO –•– Crosby, Stills and Nash (Atlantic)-11 (13) — Sofffffft ’70s L.A. pop that wouldn’t sound remotely like CSN were it not for those famous harmonies. And talk about quick: 2:10!
14 15 UNDERCOVER ANGEL –•– Alan O’Day (Pacific)-19 (1) — ’70s schmaltz (cf. Starland Vocal Band) that could only have come from this era.
15 8 MARGARITAVILLE –•– Jimmy Buffett (ABC)-19 (8) — One of the worst songs in the history of recorded music, seriously. Right up there with the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” (fun fact: both from the same album, the Cocktail soundtrack).
16 22 DON’T STOP –•– Fleetwood Mac (Warner Brothers)-5 (16) — Solid, though by no means top-tier Rumours material. And 40 years later, it’s been drilled into my brain so much as to make it fairly un-enjoyable.
17 19 HANDY MAN –•– James Taylor (Columbia)-8 (17) — Oh, shut up. “I fix broken hearts … 24 hours a day”? Someone’s got a high opinion of himself.
18 20 BARRACUDA –•– Heart (Portrait)-11 (18) — By far the hardest-rocking song on this chart — yes, even moreso than KISS. Also one of the best. Don’t fuck with the Wilson sisters.
19 14 KNOWING ME, KNOWING YOU –•– Abba (Atlantic)-13 (14) — Goddamn, Benny & Bjorn could write some songs, couldn’t they? And akin to Lionel Richie, they had a real gift for timelessness.
20 24 TELEPHONE MAN –•– Meri Wilson (GRT)-10 (20) — A super-gross and super-stupid novelty record cut from Benny Hill cloth. (Ooh, it’s about sex! So naughty!) Its only redeeming quality is that it’s over in less than two minutes.
21 16 ANGEL IN YOUR ARMS –•– Hot (Big Tree)-25 (6) — Why does this R&B record (though it barely scraped the bottom of the R&B top 30) sound so, well, country? A simple two-word answer: Muscle Shoals. Which is why this song about revenge infidelity was a perfect fit for Barbara Mandrell in 1985, as she had a top 10 country hit with it. Great song either way, though I prefer Mandrell’s take, largely because she’s a better singer.
22 26 TELEPHONE LINE –•– Electric Light Orchestra (United Artists / Jet)-9 (22) — I’m not a fan of prog-pomp-rock, so ELO has never done much for me, until they went all in for pure pop on Xanadu.
23 25 GIVE A LITTLE BIT –•– Supertramp (A&M)-10 (23) — You know what I really hate? Strummy acoustic-based songs.
24 27 HOW MUCH LOVE –•– Leo Sayer (Warner Brothers)-5 (24) — What did people hear in that schreechy, shrill voice?
25 18 YOU’RE MY WORLD –•– Helen Reddy (Capitol)-15 (18) — What did people hear in that overly off-off-Broadway voice? Her 14th and final top 40 single. Fun fact: produced by Kim Fowley!
26 29 SMOKE FROM A DISTANT FIRE –•– The Sanford / Townsend Band (Warner Brothers)-8 (26) — Southern yacht that bops along nicely.
27 31 BLACK BETTY –•– Ram Jam (Epic)-9 (27) — A downright odd hard rock song which I guess fits its time, but not this countdown. I appreciate the way it flips around time signatures.
28 36 SWAYIN’ TO THE MUSIC (Slow Dancin’) –•– Johnny Rivers (Big Tree)-7 (28) — Zzzzzz.
29 40 FLOAT ON –•– The Floaters (ABC)-5 (29) — Absolutely supper-club soul, on its way to #2 pop (!) and #1 R&B. Class all the way.
30 32 ON AND ON –•– Stephen Bishop (ABC)-13 (30) — “Down in Jamaica they got lots of pretty women/Steal your money then they break your heart”? Well, that’s not problematic or anything. I’ll wait five years for his Tootsie theme, thanks.
31 35 WAY DOWN –•– Elvis Presley (RCA)-7 (31) — This slightly swampy, slightly discofied rock record was the last released by Elvis while he was alive, and was in fact on the charts at the time of his death; it was spending its second week at its initial #31 pop peak, and was sitting atop the country chart (I have no clue why, apart from that is was Elvis in ’77, because nothing about this record says country to me). This fell to #53 before rebounding after the King’s death, eventually making it back to a new peak of #18. It’s also Vegas-y as fuck.
32 33 ARIEL –•– Dean Friedman (Lifesong)-17 (26) — Very intensely lyrically detailed, but unfortunately the lyrics are embarrassing at best. Musically this is nothing special, generic late ’70s pop-rock.
33 34 (Remember the Days Of the) OLD SCHOOLYARD –•– Cat Stevens (A&M)-7 (33) — And for his final top 40 single, Cat Stevens decided to go in on synths. Which was, in retrospect, perhaps not the best idea.
34 37 STRAWBERRY LETTER 23 –•– The Brothers Johnson (A&M)-6 (34) — These guys, part of Quincy Jones’s house band, were funky in their damn sleep. So funky they could sing a song about “strawberry letter 22” and title it “Strawberry Letter 23”! This is how you make a funk ballad, y’all.
35 39 CHRISTINE SIXTEEN –•– Kiss (Casablanca)-4 (35) — First instrument you hear: piano. I can almost kinda hear them going for late-period glam here, but it never quite gets there.
36 38 SLIDE –•– Slave (Cotillion)-8 (36) Too funky for white folks, Slave’s debut single topped the R&B chart but only got to #32 pop. It’s a premium slab of P-Funk-aping funk that features what may be the finest use of the vibraslap in pop history. An incredibly underrated band.
37 21 JET AIRLINER –•– The Steve Miller Band (Capitol)-15 (8) — This plane should’ve been grounded by the FAA.
38 23 IT’S SAD TO BELONG –•– England Dan and John Ford Coley (Big Tree)-14 (21) — A beautifully, absurdly sad — and slightly absurd — song about finding the love of your life when you’re already with someone else. Just leave her and move on, dude. Musically, this is of course more of that ED&JFC right-in-the-pocket soft rock that in some ways epitomized the ’70s.
39 43 DON’T WORRY BABY –•– B.J. Thomas (MCA)-6 (39) — On its way to #17, Thomas’s final top 40 hit (do you notice the trend here?) was a cover of one of the Beach Boys’ grandest moments. He could’ve used some of those harmonies here. Fun fact: the album this comes from also featured a version of “It’s Sad to Belong”!
40 41 LIVIN’ IN THE LIFE –•– The Isley Brothers (T-Neck)-7 (40) — The follow-up to the R&B #1 (pop #63) “The Pride — Part 1” made it this high and no higher on the pop chart, while heading for #4 R&B — because of course, because this was their 11th consecutive top 10 R&B single. ’70s Isleys basically had two modes of operation, sweet balladry and funky-as-fuck; this one falls into the latter category. I can listen to it on repeat for hours.
You may have noticed that there’s not a lot of R&B/funk in this countdown, save for the bottom quarter-plus. In the top 28 of this week’s pop chart, in fact, there are a sum total of two black artists, both in the top 10 with former Hot Soul Singles #1s: the Emotions with their disco single, and the Commodores with their ballad, both of which were still ascendant on the pop chart. Six of the top 7 songs on this week’s Hot Soul Singles list are in the pop top 40, excepting Enchantment’s “Sunshine,” which while a #3 soul smash, never got higher than #45 pop. And not much of the rest of the week’s top 20 crossed over, but it’s definitely worth a closer look, because this week’s Hot Soul Singles >>>>>> Hot 100. And you should listen, too, so here’s another Spotify playlist, this time of the Hot Soul Singles top 20 as seen below.
C.J. & Co.’s disco smash “Devil’s Gun,” on its way to #2 R&B (and already having spent 5 weeks topping the Dance/Disco chart), did scrape to #36 pop, but then you have songs like Natalie Cole’s jam-and-a-half stormer”Party Lights,” at its #9 R&B peak this week, the follow-up to her #1 R&B/#5 pop “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” — it only climbed to an underwhelming #79 on the pop chart. Absurd. War’s “L.A. Sunshine,” also on its way to #2 R&B, stopped cold at #45 pop, even though it was from their fourth consecutive top 10 pop album.
That said, there were some records that would have been a surprise had they crossed over. Dorothy Moore (#11), Johnny “Guitar” Watson (#13), Tyrone Davis (#17), and Bobby Bland (#20) were all primarily blues artists with little histories of pop success. The Whispers took Bread’s 1970 pop #1 “Make It With You” and soulfully discofied it! “Vitamin U,” which didn’t get any higher than its #18 on this chart (or than #101 pop), is Smokey Robinson at his worst, a schmaltzy Vegas-cum-variety-show disco record with garish horns; it sounds as if he should be performing it with Dinah Shore. Candi Staton’s cover of the Bee Gees’ “Nights On Broadway” isn’t straightahead disco as I’d have expected, but a kind of disco-via-Stax gutbucket-ish thing, which really doesn’t work at all.
What’s left, then, is the songs at numbers 12-15, and they’re an interesting crew. Starting with an actual all-star crew, one of the very first all-star charity records, the Philadelphia International All-Stars’ “Let’s Clean up the Ghetto.” On its way to #4 R&B, this assemblage of every major artist then signed to Gamble & Huff’s Philly Int’l label featured Lou Rawls (who gets the opening recitation), Archie Bell, Billy Paul, 2/3 of the O’Jays, Dee Dee Sharp, and Teddy Pendergrass. It’s a very socially conscious track pointed squarely at their black audience — “let’s clean up the ghetto/’cause that’s where we live,” goes the chorus — so not surprisingly, it only got to #91 pop. It’s kind of inspiring and depressing at the same time. Rawls’s own “See You When I Git There” sat alongside “Ghetto” on the chart, and was more of his patented brand of smooth, upscale, supper-club soul. The lyrics feature some rather dubious sexual politics (not a shock if you know anything about his personal life), but goddamn, that music kills. The Ohio Players, even though they had a pair of pop #1s, were often just too fonky, too greasy for the pop world, and that was definitely true of the greasy, synthed-up (and unknowingly future-looking) “O-H-I-O,” their final R&B top 10 single (it’d make it to #9). And then, there’s bluesman Johnny “Guitar” Watson. “A Real Mother For Ya” isn’t on Spotify, and you need to hear this cuz it’s as funky as bacon grease:
I love that the song’s title is clearly short for “it’s a real motherfucker for ya.” This, as opposed to the Staton track mentioned above, is a very successful fusion of blues-slash-down ‘n dirty soul and disco (or at least, disco-ish). And, since his middle name is “Guitar,” there’s a great, stinging little guitar solo — and a little bit of talkbox! I mean, really: there’s nothing to dislike here.