The future was already underway, we just didn’t know it: falling out of the top 40 this week, from a high of #36 the week prior, was “Rapper’s Delight.” But otherwise, yeah, it’s still the ’70s. Don’t believe me? Listen in.
1 2 ROCK WITH YOU –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-12 (1 week at #1) (1) — Off the Wall is nearly as great as Thriller, and “Rock With You” is easily the equal of any of Thriller‘s singles, unless the slight disco flavor offends you. (And if it does, what is your problem?!) Rod Temperton is an ace songwriter, and Quincy Jones is, of course, the greatest producer of all fucking time. And MJ is, simply, forever.
2 3 DO THAT TO ME ONE MORE TIME –•– The Captain and Tennille (Casablanca)-14 (2) — Ew, please don’t.
3 1 ESCAPE (The Piña Colada Song) –•– Rupert Holmes (Infinity)-14 (1) — A story song so utterly absurd, it’s utterly sublime. And the production on this is stupidly great soft rock.
4 7 COWARD OF THE COUNTY –•– Kenny Rogers (United Artists)-10 (4) — Everything I dislike about story songs is on display here — and I hate these lyrics. The production’s fine, whatever, and Kenny can do songs like this in his sleep (and in this case, sounds fairly like he is). One of his weakest hits.
5 4 SEND ONE YOUR LOVE –•– Stevie Wonder (Tamla)-12 (4) — I suspect that part of the reason so many people so profoundly hate “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is because they/we know what Wonder is capable of in the ballad sphere — this being a perfect case in point. This is soft yet still sturdy, romantic but smart, and utterly swoon-worthy.
6 12 CRUISIN’ –•– Smokey Robinson (Tamla)-16 (6) — I’m not a big fan of 1979’s Robinson album Where There’s Smoke…; it’s too unattractively disco-y as a whole. But this! I’d say it’s the sound of Smokey getting his groove back, but he never lost it, he just made some questionable musical choices. This sumptuous ballad (#4 pop/R&B) not only set things up nicely for 1980’s smash “Being With You” (#2 pop/#1 R&B), but it brought Smokey back to the pop consciousness in a major way. I love how his voice simultaneously sounds tender and slightly ragged on this, along with the little production/arrangement touches, like the subtle use of tympani — yes, tympani!
7 9 WE DON’T TALK ANYMORE –•– Cliff Richard (EMI-America)-14 (7) — I don’t know for certain, but would wager that this was the biggest global hit in this chart, as it hit the top 10 in (deep breath) Australia, Austria (#1), Belgium (#1), Canada, Denmark (#1), Finland (#1), [West] Germany (#1), Ireland (#1), Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway (#1), South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland (#1), the US, and the UK (#1): 18 countries in all. Musically, it’s a perfectly competent midtempo pop number, nothing more or less.
8 8 LADIES NIGHT –•– Kool and the Gang (De-Lite)-16 (8) — Where K&TG started their turn from ’70s funkateers into ’80s “party band,” to their extreme detriment.
9 5 PLEASE DON’T GO –•– K.C. and the Sunshine Band (T.K.)-22 (1) — Like drinking a gallon of skim milk.
10 11 COOL CHANGE –•– Little River Band (Capitol)-14 (10) — Does Australian schlock go down the drain counter-clockwise?
11 13 THE LONG RUN –•– Eagles (Asylum)-7 (11) — The last goddamn folks I’m gonna listen to sing about love is this gang of misogynists.
12 14 BETTER LOVE NEXT TIME –•– Dr. Hook (Capitol)-15 (12) — I mean, as light pop from its era goes, it’s not that bad. At least it’s got some tempo.
13 16 I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER –•– Prince (Warner Brothers)-9 (13) — His first R&B #1 and first pop top 40 hit (heading two notches higher; he’d not go top 10 until 1983’s “Little Red Corvette”) is a tidy early summation of Prince’s gifts. In reviewing the following year’s Dirty Mind, Robert Christgau said that the Prince of this song’s parent album (titled Prince) was an “utterly uncrossedover falsetto love man,” and that’s a tidy summation of Prince on this record. Tasty guitars, both lead and rhythm, a steady backbeat, smart synths, and Prince’s gorgeous falsetto, all stroking his “I wanna be the only one you come for” lyrics, which you already know. As perfect as pop/R&B gets.
14 15 JANE –•– Jefferson Starship (Grunt)-12 (14) — The Starship’s first single with Mickey Thomas on leads “rocks” but doesn’t really rock if you know what I mean.
15 20 SARA –•– Fleetwood Mac (Warner Brothers)-6 (15) — Nicks-led Mac at their most gorgeous and haunting, dark and moody, just like that “sea of love/where everyone/would love to drown.”
16 17 THIS IS IT –•– Kenny Loggins (Columbia)-14 (16) — It’s smoooooooooth, yet still kinda rocks: the glorious essence of Yacht Rock.
17 19 DON’T DO ME LIKE THAT –•– Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Backstreet)-10 (17) — Much like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” for Prince (#13), this is a prime early distillation of Petty and his Heartbreakers’ prodigious gifts. Tight songwriting, tighter playing, and a bridge like Roger McGuinn just learned how to rock.
18 30 CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE –•– Queen (Elektra)-5 (18) — Queen does rockabilly, and Freddie Mercury reminds you that he can sing any goddamn thing he wants.
19 21 WAIT FOR ME –•– Daryl Hall and John Oates (RCA)-13 (19) — Since hitting #1 in the spring of ’77 with “Rich Girl,” Hall & Oates had somehow managed to not capitalize on it at all — this was the highest they’d been on the Hot 100 since (and this would only get one notch higher). It wouldn’t be until their following album, Voices, released later in 1980, where they’d finally harness what made them great and show it to the world. This is a lovely, sad midtempo rock almost-ballad that I’ve always loved, but even I’ll grant that it should’ve been more effective than its recorded version.
20 22 DON’T LET GO –•– Isaac Hayes (Polydor)-13 (20) — I’m not sure what prompted Hayes to cover Roy Hamilton’s fine #2 R&B/#13 pop hit from 1958, nor why Hayes made the unfortunate decision to drench it in run-of-the-mill disco strings and cooing female backing singers. This is the worst kind of generic disco, made by a man who clearly had no idea in which direction to take his music as the ’80s approached.
21 27 DEJA VU –•– Dionne Warwick (Arista)-11 (21) — Funnily enough, Hayes co-wrote this, which was expertly produced by Barry Manilow (at Clive Davis’s behest) for Warwick’s comeback album/Arista debut. Warwick sings it fine, and the song is great, but the star here is Manilow’s warm bath production — not surprisingly, this was a #1 AC record.
22 6 STILL –•– The Commodores (Motown)-17 (1) — Their second and final pop #1, and their sixth and final R&B #1 with Lionel Richie in the group, “Still” is somehow simultaneously grand and understated, a gorgeous, heartbreaking ballad. And Richie sings the fuck out of it without going overboard. My favorite ballad by either the Commodores or Richie solo.
23 10 BABE –•– Styx (A&M)-16 (1) — No one needs that much multi-tracked Dennis DeYoung. Styx should’ve been the laughingstocks of AOR, because their records were ridiculous, and not in a good way. Prog pop is not a move forward.
24 28 YES, I’M READY –•– Teri DeSario with K.C. (Casablanca)-10 (24) — DeSario’s voice is stunningly thin and colorless, so much so that not even K.C. can save it. It doesn’t help that they’re duetting on a cover of a limp pop-soul nugget from the ’60s; this sounds like karaoke night at the local pub.
25 31 ROMEO’S TUNE –•– Steve Forbert (Nemperor)-8 (25) — One of those one-offs that the era seemed to toss up pretty consistently, Mississippian Forbert somehow got lucky with this one, that got him tagged with the kiss-of-death “new Dylan” tag for a few months. To my ears he’s more of a word salad than a new Dylan, but YMMV.
26 26 THIRD TIME LUCKY (First Time I Was a Fool) –•– Foghat (Bearsville)-10 (26) — The sound of a bunch of lumbering ’70s oafs realizing that they have no fucking idea how to deal with the coming decade.
27 18 HEAD GAMES –•– Foreigner (Atlantic)-11 (14) — Hoary late-’70s AOR that doesn’t deserve the time you can give it. They made some good records, but this ain’t one of ’em.
28 46 DAYDREAM BELIEVER –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-5 (28) — I love Murray’s voice, but goddamn do I hate the Monkees — and songwriter John Stewart was no great shakes, either. Nobody needs this record.
29 33 AN AMERICAN DREAM –•– The Dirt Band (United Artists)-7 (29) — It pains me that Rodney Crowell wrote this, because “An American Dream” is a puddle of hot dog vomit, even with Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. This is about a half-inch away from the marvelous artistry of Jimmy Buffet.
30 32 ROTATION –•– Herb Alpert (A&M)-10 (30) — Written by the same pair who penned his freak #1 smash “Rise,” this is another instrumental highlighting Alpert’s perfectly pinched trumpet technique, this time paired with some trickier electronic grooves. It wouldn’t get any higher than this on the chart, but is deservedly a Balearic classic to this day.
31 40 FOOL IN THE RAIN –•– Led Zeppelin (Swan Song)-5 (31) — Because what you didn’t know you needed is Led Zep with a samba beat. But it works, doesn’t it? I love how loose Robert Plant sounds on this.
32 42 WHY ME –•– Styx (A&M)-6 (32) — Why indeed.
33 37 FOREVER MINE –•– The O’Jays (Philadelphia International)-9 (33) — The O’Jays first hit the top 10 of the R&B singles chart in 1967, and last did so in 1991, a run of 34 years — impressive by any standard. Their pop chart run (of top 40 hits) is fully contained in their legendary years on Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International label, from ’72’s “Back Stabbers” through this lovely ballad, which ultimately peaked at #4 R&B/#28 pop. Post-disco, this was the kind of R&B record that could still crack the pop charts without too much trouble: classy balladry. And heaven knows, as funky as they were, the O’Jays were superb at classy balladry, thanks especially to the heavenly leads of Eddie Levert. This is ultimately, perhaps, minor O’Jays, but minor O’Jays is still superior to plenty.
34 34 SAVANNAH NIGHTS –•– Tom Johnston (Warner Brothers)-10 (34) — This was the 31st video played on MTV on their launch day, over 18 months after it peaked at this (rather lowly) position on the Hot 100 — but it had the advantage of being from a recognizable voice, that of the original lead singer of the Doobie Brothers. He sang lead on seven top 40 hits for the Doobies, including the ’73 #8 single “Long Train Runnin'” (which was hilariously remixed in 1993 and hit #7 in the UK — seriously, if you’ve never heard this, you should, because it’s ridiculous beyond belief). This song is a bit of a forgotten gem, marrying the Doobies’ early ’70s groove with a slightly southern yacht sound (check out that keyboard!) and some thoroughly 1979 production. Also: horns! Congas! It’s smoother than most of Johnston’s Doobies work, and I suspect it will surprise no one who knows my aesthetic to learn that I love it.
35 55 LONGER –•– Dan Fogelberg (Epic / Full Moon)-6 (35) — I’ll stan for Fogelberg, a high mountain rock-folkie who knew his way around a song, but this is just a big bowl of Adult Contemporary oatmeal, made all the more mawkish by Jerry Hey’s flugelhorn solo. So of course it became Fogelberg’s biggest hit spending a pair of weeks at #2.
36 43 YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU –•– Santana (Columbia)-9 (36) — Good lord, this is a plod.
37 41 VOICES –•– Cheap Trick (Epic)-7 (37) — Cheap Trick should never drop the tempo. Ever.
38 24 NO MORE TEARS (Enough Is Enough) –•– Barbra Streisand/Donna Summer (Columbia / Casablanca)-14 (1) — This diva summit couldn’t miss on paper, and fortunately, doesn’t on record, either. Streisand spent most of the ’70s hot as could be, and Summer of course was riding an insane streak of her own through the back half of the decade (including three consecutive #1 double albums!), so it seemed fitting for them to close the decade on this team-up, an unlikely duet that works like crazy. Their voices actually mesh, and the team-up by their then-producers (Gary Klein and Giorgio Moroder) does, too.
39 51 SEPTEMBER MORN’ –•– Neil Diamond (Columbia)-5 (39) — I’m not much of a Diamond fan — I find his songwriting generally mawkish — but something about this schmaltzy ballad gets me in a way that most of his material doesn’t. But yeah, this is pure corn, made to Adult Contemporary order (where it hit #2, as opposed to its #17 pop peak).
40 44 DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU FEEL –•– Rufus and Chaka (MCA)-9 (40) — The final #1 Hot Soul Single of the 1970s was produced freshly and cleanly by Quincy Jones (nicely bracketing this chart), and nicely straddles the disco/funk divide. Having Chaka Khan on leads never hurts, of course.