Pop top 40 summer nights super-special: 7/21/79

#25 pop, #1 country, #2 adult contemporary: Murray was killing it in ’79.

Not just the pop top 40 from this week 40 years ago, but the country top 10, too, because just look at it. All but two of these are in the accompanying playlist.

Hot 100:
1 1 BAD GIRLS –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca)-9 (2 weeks at #1) (1) #1 pop, new #1 R&B, and #1 album. The entire album had already hit the top of the Dance/Disco chart and was at #2 this week, behind Patrick Hernandez’s “Born to Be Alive.” That’s called domination, folks — not to mention that her former three-week #1 “Hot Stuff” was, as you can see, still ensconced in the top 3! She spent four weeks total with both songs in the top 3, and “Bad Girls” eventually spent five weeks at #1. Chic (#4) had a big year, and there are those who think the Knack (#34) indicated some kind of pop chart sea change (they’re wrong), but Summer unquestionably ruled ’79. It also doesn’t hurt that “Bad Girls” is one of her best singles ever: tight, taut, and perfectly arranged and sung.
2 2 RING MY BELL –•– Anita Ward (Juana)-11 (1) — I’ve never been a fan of this one: too cutesy-kitschy. I do, however, appreciate all of the opportunities for singing “pew! pew!” the song provides.
3 3 HOT STUFF –•– Donna Summer (Casablanca)-14 (1) — If you prefer soul-disco Summer, there’s “Bad Girls.” If you prefer her more rocking, there’s “Hot Stuff.” She could sing anything, and she sang it all so expertly.
4 13 GOOD TIMES –•– Chic (Atlantic)-6 (4) — I love the beginning, as if something’s sliding into phase. And of course that should-be-patented Nile Rodgers chicken-scratch guitar, along with the piano riff, makes this song a monster.
5 7 MAKIN’ IT –•– David Naughton (RSO)-17 (5) — I love this motivational poster of a slab of disco-licious Velveeta, even though I know it’s just empty calories.
6 6 BOOGIE WONDERLAND –•– Earth, Wind and Fire with the Emotions (ARC)-11 (6) — What a smart combination. What joy they managed to capture on record! Underestimate this record at your peril; it crackles with energy, disco and otherwise. EWF were pretty much as perfect as anything, and circa ’79 were peaking hard.
7 8 I WANT YOU TO WANT ME –•– Cheap Trick (Epic)-14 (7) — But Robin, I don’t want you. Or your band, frankly, sterlin practitioners of boring old Yankee rock.
8 9 SHINE A LITTLE LOVE –•– Electric Light Orchestra (Jet)-10 (8) — I will grudgingly admit that as ELO goes, this is pretty solid.
9 10 GOLD –•– John Stewart (RSO)-10 (9) — This ode to “people out there [presumably Los Angeles] turnin’ music into gold” has less personality than a white v-neck undershirt.
10 5 SHE BELIEVES IN ME –•– Kenny Rogers (United Artists)-13 (5) — The verses provide Rogers with an opportunity to show off his softer side; he undersings them beautifully. And then, on the chorus, he opens up — but even there, he’s not belting, but instead using lots of control. The man was a master with his vocals.

11 14 WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN –•– Dr. Hook (Capitol)-15 (11) — Totally bouncy and totally empty.
12 4 CHUCK E.’S IN LOVE –•– Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Brothers)-13 (4) — This song is the essence of the word “laconic.” I wager it only could’ve been a hit in the hot-weather months. And Jones’ voice — there’s nothing like it.
13 16 AIN’T NO STOPPIN’ US NOW –•– McFadden and Whitehead (Philadelphia International)-13 (13) — THOSE DISCO STRINGS!
14 17 I CAN’T STAND IT NO MORE –•– Peter Frampton (A&M)-9 (14) — And just like that, with this song’s peak at this position, Frampton’s hitmaking run ended after three years. Frampton Comes Alive, I’m in You (ick), and this single, and then: nothing. Which is still more than this AOR journeyman hack deserved. “Can’t Stand” fumbles around amiably enough, but that’s all it does.
15 19 YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT –•– Raydio (Arista)-13 (15) — Slushy yacht soul that Ray Parker, Jr. could (and did) churn out in his sleep. He’d get sharper in the ’80s.
16 26 THE MAIN EVENT / FIGHT –•– Barbra Streisand (Columbia)-6 (16) — Songwriter Bruce Roberts not only co-wrote this major hit, heading for #3, but also Dolly Parton’s “You’re the Only One,” at #2 on this weeks’ country chart (below). Now, that’s a pro. And Babs sings the fuck out of it, really sinking her teeth into this uptempo disco explosion, making it one of my favorites of her catalog. This positively throbs.
17 18 DAYS GONE DOWN (Still Got the Light In Your Eyes) –•– Gerry Rafferty (United Artists)-8 (17) — Lukewarm soft rock without the sax that at least helped “Baker Street” stand out.
18 22 I WAS MADE FOR LOVIN’ YOU –•– Kiss (Casablanca)-9 (18) — Shameless, in both the best and worst ways.
19 20 DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW –•– Abba (Atlantic)-10 (19) — A surprisingly rock-y entry from Sweden’s finest, featuring vocals from the men! Because they so rarely did this kind of thing, it stands out like a strobe light in the forest, and like insects to that strobe, you can’t help but be drawn to it.
20 21 HEART OF THE NIGHT –•– Poco (MCA)-11 (20) — As yacht-country as something this clearly indebted to the Eagles (yet superior to most of their catalog) can get. I confess this makes me swoon a little.

21 23 MAMA CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE –•– Elton John (MCA)-7 (21) — Elton’s toe-dip into disco soul, courtesy of Thom Bell at Philadelphia International, fit him shockingly well. These strings and horns complement him like a tailored suit.
22 24 DO IT OR DIE –•– The Atlanta Rhythm Section (Polydor)-9 (22) — Was this inspired by est? The sentiment’s fine, but the title is unfortunate. The soft rock chug that served ARS so well on “So Into You” and “Imaginary Lover” lets them down a bit here, as “Die” just sounds sleepy and flat.
23 25 GETTING CLOSER –•– Wings (Columbia)-6 (23) — Did Paul just call Linda a “salamander”?
24 11 THE LOGICAL SONG –•– Supertramp (A&M)-18 (6) — As a pre-teen in junior high, coming across this on AOR radio, I found this quite deep. However, I’m no longer a pre-teen, and I now know better. Not to mention the repetitive keyboard figure in this is insipid.
25 27 SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-9 (25) — I love the propulsion of this; Murray’s mid- and uptempos were always better than her ballads, which often erred on the side of drowsy. The arrangement is sublime. Also, when she sings “I’m gonna make you glad you came,” I’m not entirely sure she’s not dirty-talkin’.
26 28 PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH WIND –•– Kansas (Kirshner)-8 (26) — The driving rhythm and keyboards on this give it the barest disco touch, which is just weird from Kansas. And also sounds extremely coke-y, which is somewhat less surprising.
27 31 LEAD ME ON –•– Maxine Nightingale (Windsong)-9 (27) — Blousy.
28 30 UP ON THE ROOF –•– James Taylor (Columbia)-8 (28) — NO.
29 41 ONE WAY OR ANOTHER –•– Blondie (Chrysalis)-8 (29) — I don’t love Blondie, sacred cows that they are, but I generally prefer them in rock mode to disco mode. This is rock.
30 33 WEEKEND –•– Wet Willie (Epic)-9 (30) — Kansas (#26) weren’t the only rockers slipping a little disco rhythm into their sound, as evidenced by this surprisingly successful, yet still mostly “meh” fusion of lite southern boogie with a little dancefloor action. The harmonica solo doesn’t help. (And no, I’m not kidding.)

31 35 IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM –•– Joe Jackson (A&M)-7 (31) — I have no idea whatsoever how A&M got this slice of pub rock onto top 40 radio in the summer of ’79; it must’ve sounded radical next to the rest of this chart. I don’t typically have much time for pub rock, but Joe Jackson supercedes the categorization. Such smart songwriting. That bridge!
32 34 SAD EYES –•– Robert John (EMI-America)-10 (32) — A twinkling, soft pop masterpiece that actually invokes sadness as it swells into its chorus.
33 38 SUSPICIONS –•– Eddie Rabbitt (Elektra)-7 (33) — I’ve said it before and will continue to do so: this is one of the all-time great songs about a lover’s paranoia. I’ve also previously called this a “sultry ’79 country-soul nugget,” and while that’s still true, these days I consider this more country-yacht. Rabbitt was a superb singer, a city boy (raised in NYC) singing country, which made him much smoother than your average, and this song was perfectly tailored for him. It’s barely country at all, but it is the essence of smooth. Also: a flute solo! One of my favorites, not just on this chart but all-time.
34 45 MY SHARONA –•– The Knack (Capitol)-5 (34) — Fuck the Knack.
35 12 WE ARE FAMILY –•– Sister Sledge (Cotillion)-13 (2) — Overplayed — and overly simple. To my ears, one of the Chic Organisation’s rare misses.
36 15 DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY –•– Van Halen (Warner Brothers)-13 (15) — Sleazy, dirty, ur-LA metal just the way you like it. This is the sound of a band who knew what they were capable of and precisely how to do it.
37 46 THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA –•– The Charlie Daniels Band (Epic)-5 (37) — This country-rock is successful, but that doesn’t mean I have to care, or like it.
38 32 JUST WHEN I NEEDED YOU MOST –•– Randy Vanwarmer (Bearsville)-18 (4) — There’s soft pop, there’s supersoft pop, and then there’s this. Also featured in the ninth circle of Hades.
39 39 IF I SAID YOU HAD A BEAUTIFUL BODY WOULD YOU HOLD IT AGAINST ME –•– The Bellamy Brothers (Warner Brothers / Curb)-9 (39) — Ah, country novelties. This is more “Margaritavile” than “Ring of Fire,” and that’s really all you need to know about this shit.
40 43 KISS IN THE DARK –•– Pink Lady (Elektra / Curb)-8 (40) — I’d never heard the Japanese duo Pink Lady before this, only knowing that they had a rep for having had a hand in one of the supposed worst TV series in US history, a short-lived variety series. Well, I’ve not seen their show, but “Kiss in the Dark” is a slightly insane disco marvel. It also made them only the second Japanese artists ever to make the US top 40, after Kyu Sakamoto (who took his original version of “Sukiyaki” to #1 in 1963).

1 2 SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT — Anne Murray-10 (1) — See #25, above.
2 3 YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE — Dolly Parton-7 (2) — This ain’t country, it’s adult contemporary, but when but the song and singer are this good, I don’t give a good goddamn.
3 4 (GHOST) RIDERS IN THE SKY — Johnny Cash-10 (3) — Cash’s cover of the 1948 song would make it one notch higher and stop behind Parton, the highest it’s ever made it on any chart. The two songs couldn’t be more different, with Cash doing a perfect, hard country retelling of the classic folk tale.
4 1 AMANDA — Waylon Jennings-10 (1) — Waylon had a way with ballads, and to take a Don Williams record and surpass him on it is saying something.
5 6 SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME — Emmylou Harris-8 (5) — Amusingly, Parton would cover this herself three years later. Her version, however, is soaked in synths, whereas Harris’s is strictly bluegrass. And utterly lovely.
6 9 SUSPICIONS — Eddie Rabbitt-6 (6) — See #33, above.
7 12 COCA COLA COWBOY — Mel Tillis-6 (7) — I’m more a Diet Pepsi guy myself.
8 5 I CAN’T FEEL YOU ANYMORE — Loretta Lynn-12 (3) — She’d only make the country top 10 twice more, with this song’s follow-up and 1982’s “I Lie,” and listening to this, you can kinda hear why: not only was Lynn not writing as much as of her material anymore, she wasn’t picking the strongest songs, either. This string-laden “here’s why I’m leaving” song could’ve been cut by anyone, and you’d get about the same result. It’s just there.
9 16 FAMILY TRADITION — Hank Williams, Jr.-7 (9) — I had a few things to say about this landmark song last year, all of them complimentary.
10 18 NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD — Tammy Wynette-7 (10) — Amazingly, just like her ’60s/’70s sister in country stardom, Lynn (#8 above), Wynette would only grace the country top 10 two more times after this single. And similarly, this is a fairly weak effort, loaded down unnecessarily with strings. The times, they were a-changin’.

Please note that half of the country top 10 is women, and country radio stations did not all suddenly go out of business en masse — or at all. “Women don’t want to hear women” is a bald lie perpetrated by male radio consultants and PDs and MDs, nothing but bullshit.

Posted in 1970s, charts, country, disco, pop, R&B, rock

Pop top 40 summer nights special: 7/20/74

Continuing a series of looks back at the pop charts in summer, ergo the title change. This chart from 45 years ago is an interesting one; more interesting than I expected, definitely. Songs not in the accompanying Spotify playlist are linked in their titles.

1 1 ROCK YOUR BABY –•– George McCrae (T.K.)-8 (2 weeks at #1) (1) — I love the tinny drum machine flavor that so many T.K. records had, and this is not only no exception, it’s a shining example. The song is, frankly, nothing special, but the simpleness of its arrangement sells it.
2 2 ANNIE’S SONG –•– John Denver (RCA)-8 (2) — As a kid, as my Mom played this over and over and over on her stereo, I assumed the song was titled “You Fill Up My Senses.” Good god, he was saccharine.
3 10 ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN –•– The Righteous Brothers (Haven)-9 (3) — Eight years beyond their last #1, “Soul and Inspiration,” these hacks did their hackiest work with this cliché-fest, the ’74 version of a Buzzfeed listicle of dead rock stars. I hate this with a white-hot passion.
4 6 DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME –•– Elton John (MCA)-5 (4) — I’d argue this has been overwhelmed over the years by the ’92 live duet version between Elton and George Michael; this hit #2 and the cover hit #1, and to my ears the cover’s plenty better. There’s something thin about the arrangement on this version.
5 5 ON AND ON –•– Gladys Knight and the Pips (Buddah)-9 (5) — Just as he’d do with Aretha for Sparkle in 1976, the soundtrack to the James Earl Jones/Diahann Carroll film Claudine was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, and in this case, sung by Gladys Knight and her Pips. You can hear it here, too: “On and On” is not only the funkiest single they’d released in years, it’s also sexy. At its pop peak here, this made it to #2 R&B as well.
6 3 ROCK THE BOAT –•– The Hues Corporation (RCA)-9 (1) — Cheesy (“voyage of love,” ick) but musically solid.
7 13 RIKKI DON’T LOSE THAT NUMBER –•– Steely Dan (ABC)-11 (7) — Weirdly, their biggest hit ever, on its way to #4. To my ears, as a devoted Dan fan, it’s mid-tier. I mean, it’s no fucking “Deacon Blues,” is it?
8 8 YOU WON’T SEE ME –•– Anne Murray (Capitol)-14 (8) — This Beatles cover became Murray’s third pop top 10 and fourth AC #1 — and it’s one of my favorite Beatles covers by a longshot. The arrangement is strong, and Murray sings the hell out of it, making it clear that she’s not taking any of your shit.
9 9 THE AIR THAT I BREATHE –•– The Hollies (Epic)-14 (9) — I have no use whatsoever for these British Invasion jerks, but if I have to hear one song by them, I’ll pick this one, which has a slightly sinister undercurrent I can kinda get off on. The first 15 seconds are great.
10 12 IF YOU LOVE ME (Let Me Know) –•– Olivia Newton-John (MCA)-15 (5) — She got better as she got poppier. And sexier. Which she is neither of here.

11 14 SIDESHOW –•– Blue Magic (Atco)-10 (11) — Sky-scraping falsetto was all the rage in early ’70s R&B, which helped this semi-kitschy ballad top the R&B chart (it’s on its way to a #8 pop peak). It’s pretty as hell.
12 4 SUNDOWN –•– Gordon Lightfoot (Reprise)-15 (1) — Lightfoot’s only #1, which is a shame on a couple of levels: firstly, my love of his 1976 #2 “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is something I’ll shout from the mountaintops; secondly, this number, while fine enough musically, is lyrically a little nasty, clearly about a relationship going kind of sour.
13 7 BILLY, DON’T BE A HERO –•– Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (ABC)-14 (1) — Ah, story songs in the early ’70s. This has a rep worse than it probably deserves, but not by that much.
14 11 ONE HELL OF A WOMAN –•– Mac Davis (Columbia)-17 (11) — It’s got a little southern soul in its DNA, but also a heaping helping of Vegas, and his voice ain’t much. But that title, in 1974: racy!
15 16 RADAR LOVE –•– Golden Earring (Track)-11 (15) — Butt rock (see also #20) from the Netherlands that might as well have stayed there.
16 22 FEEL LIKE MAKIN’ LOVE –•– Roberta Flack (Atlantic)-5 (16) — First of all, this inspired great cover versions by both Bob James (released the same year!) and D’Angelo (one of Voodoo‘s best tracks, frankly). It also, once it hit #1 later in the summer, made Flack the first woman to top the Hot 100 in three successive years. (Five weeks atop R&B, too.) A magical, warm-yet-cool, sexy-as-hell ballad about sex — which is more rare than you might think. This song could make just about anyone “[moan] sweet and low.”
17 21 FINALLY GOT MYSELF TOGETHER (I’m a Changed Man) –•– The Impressions (Curtom)-12 (17) — Their biggest hit post-Mayfield (at its pop peak, this spent two weeks astride the R&B chart), and it’s — okay. Pretty average ’74 soul.
18 18 WATERLOO –•– Abba (Atlantic)-8 (18) — Napoleon would’ve surrendered before the might of this record, too. A leviathan, awe-inspiring monument to pop brilliance.
19 23 PLEASE COME TO BOSTON –•– Dave Loggins (Epic)-8 (19) — Better finger-picked folk than I’d remembered; I really like the way he sings it.
20 24 TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS –•– Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Mercury)-10 (20) — I like this single’s predecessor “Let It Ride” fine, but boy, the term “butt rock” was made for these mooks, wasn’t it?

21 25 IF YOU TALK IN YOUR SLEEP –•– Elvis Presley (RCA)-7 (21) — I was unfamiliar with this song before covering this chart, and it’s great, Elvis in soupy ’70s soul mode. But what’s even more exciting is to discover the mind-blowing Elvis at Stax collection, three discs’ worth of this stuff, dipping into pop, soul, and country, but uniformly sensational. Goddamn, he was good.
22 26 MACHINE GUN –•– The Commodores (Motown)-6 (22) — A fine, gritty funk instrumental, one that the Beastie Boys unfortunately ruined for me.
23 27 CALL ON ME –•– Chicago (Columbia)-5 (23) — Great Cetera vocal, great horn charts, great everything. One of my favorites from their ’70s output.
24 28 THIS HEART –•– Gene Redding (Haven)-12 (24) — The only hit for a fellow Hoosier (!) discovered by Etta James (!!) at a USO club (!!!) in Anchorage, Alaska! It’s a sweet soul ballad that sounds more ’68 than ’74.
25 39 TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD –•– Rufus (ABC)-6 (25) — It’s easy to take this classic (heading for dual #3 pop and R&B peaks) for granted, but resist the impulse, no matter how many times you’ve heard the song. Listen again, preferably with headphones, and revel in that nasty, greasy guitar, and Chaka Khan’s too sexy vocal. Sure, songwriter Stevie Wonder could’ve made a perfectly great record on this, but he was wise to give it to Rufus, because what Chaka’s got… well, you know.
26 15 BAND ON THE RUN –•– Paul McCartney and Wings (Apple)-14 (1) — Mid-table Wings that goes on for far too long.
27 20 BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT YOU GOT –•– William DeVaughn (Roxbury)-12 (4) — So smooth, so Curtis Mayfield — and interestingly, the band on this is pulled from the membership of MFSB! #1 R&B, #4 pop, and gold within two months of its March ’74 release; it eventually sold 2M+. Listening to it now, I think, “Well, of course Massive Attack covered it [for Blue Lines].” They didn’t top the original, though.
28 35 KEEP ON SMILIN’ –•– Wet Willie (Capricorn)-9 (28) — Of course these southern rockers were signed to Capricorn — and of course they didn’t get much chart action beyond this #10 hit, which is, as the phrase goes, fair-to-middlin’.
29 34 FISH AIN’T BITIN’ –•– Lamont Dozier (ABC)-6 (29) — 1/3 of Holland-Dozier-Holland steps in front of the mic, and makes a pretty great, clean-sounding soul record. A great discovery.
30 30 COME MONDAY –•– Jimmy Buffett (Dunhill)-10 (30) — This wants to be sincere folk but can’t avoid dunking itself in commercial string-wash, which makes sense from a hack like Buffett.

31 38 SURE AS I’M SITTIN’ HERE –•– Three Dog Night (Dunhill)-4 (31) — After ’75 they’d never bother the chart again, but this was the 19th of their 21 consecutive top 40 hits, a run that started in ’69. Most of them, this included, are awful. One of the most inexplicable hitmakers of the first half of the ’70s.
32 40 THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED –•– Paper Lace (Mercury)-6 (32) — We all died a little, didn’t we?
33 36 BALLERO –•– War (United Artists)-7 (33) — I loathe both “Spill the Wine” (gross hippie rock) and “Low Rider,” but much of the rest of their prime is, well, prime stuff. These guys could play, and had soul for weeks. This live cut is as good a starting point as any, though my personal faves are ’72’s “Slippin’ into Darkness” and “The World Is A Ghetto.”
34 63 SHININ’ ON –•– Grand Funk (Capitol)-2 (34) — I can’t believe I’m saying this publicly, but: when so inclined, these guys could boogie, couldn’t they?
35 62 WILDWOOD WEED –•– Jim Stafford (MGM)-3 (35) — This asshole did like his wink-and-a-nudge songs, didn’t he? On its way to #7, this would be his second top 10 pop single. (The country chart was smart enough to never let him get higher than #57.) Least surprising line in his Wikipedia entry: “Stafford has headlined at his own theater in Branson, Missouri, since 1990.”
36 42 ROCK ME GENTLY –•– Andy Kim (Capitol)-5 (36) — This soft-popster just sounds like a one-hit wonder, even though I know he’s not actually one. And it makes perfect sense that he wrote the garbage that is “Sugar, Sugar.”
37 43 YOU AND ME AGAINST THE WORLD –•– Helen Reddy (Capitol)-6 (37) — There’s twee — and then there’s Helen Reddy.
38 17 HOLLYWOOD SWINGING –•– Kool and the Gang (De-Lite)-14 (6) — A friendly reminder that in the days long before their ’80s pop heyday (cf. “Joanna”), they were funky as fuck.
39 52 HANG ON IN THERE BABY –•– Johnny Bristol (MGM)-4 (39) — Not surprising how glorious this record is, as Bristol wrote and/or produced at Motown for the likes of Marvin & Tammi, the Supremes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and the Miracles. Bristol wrote, produced, and sings this soaring midtempo R&B number, which flirts with early disco just so.
40 32 WORKIN’ AT THE CAR WASH BLUES –•– Jim Croce (ABC)-7 (32) — The absolute worst kind of “folksinger.” I find his entire catalog vile.

Posted in 1970s, charts, pop, R&B, rock

Pop top 40 summer nights special: 7/16/94

I swear “MTV Jams” played this video every damn day through the spring/summer of 1994.

25 years ago this week. A great summer for R&B, as “MTV Jams” proved on a daily basis. Here’s the playlist, only missing two selections (whose videos are linked below).

1 1 I SWEAR –•– All-4-One – 13 (1) — All-4-One’s spiritual predecessors Color Me Badd were better than you likely recall; All-4-One themselves, would-be masters of the goopy ballad, were not.
2 2 REGULATE –•– Warren G & Nate Dogg – 13 (2) — Talk about a classic: you know how perfect this is, how smoooooth, how Warren & Nate make it look so easy. It’s not though: if it were, both would’ve had more hits. Simply, though, neither ever sounded better than they do here. Of course, don’t underestimate the (pre-“Yacht Rock”!) power of the McDonald.
3 3 ANY TIME, ANY PLACE / AND ON AND ON –•– Janet Jackson – 8 (2) — Quite possibly Miss Jackson’s sexiest ballad ever, “skirt around my waist” and all.
4 5 STAY –•– Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – 11 (4) — Twee but effective.
5 4 DON’T TURN AROUND –•– Ace Of Base – 11 (4) — Tina Turner first cut this Diane Warren co-write, in 1986 (it was the b-side of the far superior “Typical Male”). Soul singer Luther Ingram (“If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right”) did a sadly overproduced version the following year, which led to British reggae group Aswad putting their spin on it in ’88 and getting a surprise UK #1. Ace of Base released their take as the third US single from The Sign for summer ’94, what with its faux-reggae rhythm and all. And if you think that white Swedes with thin voices doing faux-reggae sounds pretty awful, well: you’re right.
6 6 BACK & FORTH –•– Aaliyah – 12 (5) — Aaliyah’s voice so feathery and light but also just tuff enuff, R. Kelly’s song/production so R&Bouncy and perfectly suited for her. I know, we know all about their history nowadays, but that doesn’t change the fact that the music they made together was fairly magical.
7 11 FANTASTIC VOYAGE –•– Coolio – 7 (7) — He’s no great rapper, and I never liked the Lakeside original much in the first place, either.
8 9 CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT –•– Elton John – 9 (8) — Didn’t care to hear Elton sing this bowl of “inspirational” oatmeal, and I’m not looking forward to the Beyoncé/Childish Gambino duet version, either.
9 13 FUNKDAFIED –•– Da Brat – 7 (9) — Riding a sample of “Between the Sheets” is always a good idea, and for the most part, so is Jermaine Dupri’s production; he’s entirely underrated as a record-maker. And Da Brat never made a great album but made plenty of great singles, including this debut.
10 10 IF YOU GO –•– Jon Secada – 11 (10) — Boy, he sang with passion, didn’t he? A great, forgotten uptempo number from the Estefan family’s protegé. And were all of his hits sad songs?

11 7 I’LL REMEMBER –•– Madonna – 16 (2) — She’s had seven top 2 singles just from films — and that number doesn’t even include “Into the Groove” (not an official single), Bond theme “Die Another Day” (#8), “Beautiful Stranger” (#18!), or any of her Evita singles (“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” the biggest, making #8). This is fairly MOR Madonna, especially for the time, but was nonetheless one of a trio of top 3 hits she had in ’94, including her all-time biggest, “Take A Bow.”
12 8 YOU MEAN THE WORLD TO ME –•– Toni Braxton – 16 (7) — The third and final top 10 pop hit from her astoundingly successful, eponymous debut album, is stately, perfectly paced pop-soul, helmed of course by L.A. and Babyface. Braxton doesn’t get enough credit these days for what a great singer she is.
13 16 WILD NIGHT –•– John Mellencamp & Me’Shell Ndegeocello – 8 (13) — Mellencamp’s final top 10 pop single, and first in seven years (!), was kinda of a fluke: a Van Morrison cover done as a near-duet with the R&B critical sensation Ndegeocello. In 1994, nobody expected a Mellencamp single to breach the top 10, let alone, as it did, make it all the way to #3. Anchored by Ndegeocello’s bass and Kenny Aronoff’s snare tattoo, this is instantly memorable and totally fun.
14 12 ANYTIME YOU NEED A FRIEND –•– Mariah Carey – 8 (12) — I know, I’m quoting a fuck-ton of chart stats, but there’s a bunch of chart-interesting songs all lined up in a row! And as for this one, well: this is the song that broke Carey’s career-opening string of 11 consecutive top 10 — and top 5! — pop singles. And I have no clue why, because it’s one of her best, a legitimately inspirational, inspirational ballad, one where the gospel choir is not only appropriate but earned. I also particularly love the famed C&C Club Mix, where they really take the song not only to the club but also back to church.
15 17 SHINE –•– Collective Soul – 11 (15) — Collective Soul are hot trash, but at least this resulted in Dolly Parton’s glorious version.
16 15 YOUR BODY’S CALLIN’ –•– R. Kelly – 10 (13) — Again: I know. But goddamn if the asshole didn’t have an incredible way around an R&B slow jam.
17 20 I MISS YOU –•– Aaron Hall – 10 (17) — Wish I knew why the vocal heir to Charlie Wilson’s legacy, formerly of R&B titans Guy, didn’t have more of a career. Because he certainly had the talent for it. This song, fairly summed up by its title, is a bit rote, but he sings the everloving fuck out of it.
18 14 BABY I LOVE YOUR WAY –•– Big Mountain – 21 (6) — An awful song made worse by this cod-reggae treatment.
19 18 THE SIGN –•– Ace Of Base – 29 (1) — I wish I hadn’t seen it.
20 23 CRAZY –•– Aerosmith – 9 (20) — In 1994, Aerosmith were still riding their MTV comeback wave, so much so that a lesbionic video starring Alicia Silverstone and Steven Tyler’s daughter (ick) could get their bluesiest single in years into the pop top 20. It was a weird time.

21 19 THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL IN THE WORLD –•– Prince – 20 (3) — Thanks to label limbo, I think this is about the last Prince record missing from Spotify. Which is such a damned crime, because this is one of his loveliest, most effortless-sounding ballads. And somehow, it simultaneously sounds triumphant.
22 25 ALWAYS –•– Erasure – 12 (22) — I dunno how, six years after The Innocents, Erasure got into the US top 20 with this, which to my ears sounds like just about any other Erasure single. I admit I’ve always been immune to any of their purported charms, to the point where I actually actively dislike them, outside of perhaps the Abbaesque EP, which has a certain cheeky charm. Your mileage, inevitably, may vary.
23 21 RETURN TO INNOCENCE –•– Enigma – 20 (4) — I think every sexually active 20-something in the ’90s had sex to Enigma at some point; theirs were those CDs. Ridiculous but inoffensive.
24 22 DON’T TAKE THE GIRL –•– Tim McGraw – 9 (17) — Not only does this story song sound like something John Anderson would’ve sung in the ’80s, McGraw’s delivery sounds almost note-precisely like Anderson’s. Which is to its great benefit, because Anderson is a master. The only country record on this chart, and only here due to its impressive CD single sales, because heaven knows top 40 radio wasn’t playing it. Their loss.
25 24 BEAUTIFUL IN MY EYES –•– Joshua Kadison – 14 (19) — Every generation gets the male troubadours it deserves, from James Taylor to (gah) Ed Fucking Sheeran. Kadison had a rich voice and no sense of irony, both of which I find to be assets on “Beautiful,” a record that sounds wonderful on AC radio to this day.
26 33 WILLING TO FORGIVE –•– Aretha Franklin – 10 (26) — 1989’s duets album Through the Storm gave the Queen what would be her final top 40 pop hit (the Elton duet) and final top 10 R&B hit (the Whitney duet) — until five years later, when for an add-on track for her first Arista hits album Clive Davis paired her up with, who else? Reigning soul king Babyface and Daryl Simmons, who crafted this marvel of a ballad, on which Aretha, in her brilliance, reigns it in, to its profound benefit. An absolutely perfect four minutes of a single.
27 30 ALWAYS IN MY HEART –•– Tevin Campbell – 4 (27) — Oh look, it’s yet another slice of Babyface-made R&B perfection, and actually my single favorite Campbell record — and he made a surprising number of great ones in a relatively short amount of time. Slightly oversung, but when the song and its production are this milk-chocolate-creamy, I’ll forgive a lot.
28 29 BACK IN THE DAY –•– Ahmad! – 8 (28) — Heading for a minor #26 pop peak, this nostalgic slice of west coast hip hop mainly got over on its sample from “Love TKO.” Apart from that, it’s pretty unmemorable.
29 31 PRAYER FOR THE DYING –•– Seal – 6 (29) — I wish that Seal’s second self-titled album had a little more oomph to it, but lots of its instrumentation comes from Wendy and Lisa, and it features some superb Trevor Horn production. (The way the chorus explodes on this!) Additionally, those deep vocals of Seal’s are fittingly front and center, and “Dying” is a wonderful dense, tricky little song. I love this one rather unapologetically.
30 28 COME TO MY WINDOW –•– Melissa Etheridge – 21 (28) — If the Indigo Girls had been a little more rock in their execution or a little more pop in their dreams, they might’ve had Etheridge’s career. But they didn’t, so she did.

31 27 ANYTHING –•– SWV – 15 (18) — Allen “ALLSTAR” Gordon took an album track from SWV’s debut and remixed it for the Above the Rim soundtrack (from whence #2, above, also originates), adding an all-time killer bassline and a crazy-loud drum track. This is devastating, and if it’s not enough for you, might I suggest the “Old Skool Remix,” which features Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, and U-God from Wu-Tang Clan? Yeah, I thought so.
32 39 WHEN CAN I SEE YOU –•– Babyface – 5 (32) — ‘Face is a genius producer and writer, but I really wish that he was a little more, say, George Clinton and a little less James Taylor on his own records. That said, this acoustic soul is smart, and very well-made, just a little snoozy.
33 26 I’M READY –•– Tevin Campbell – 19 (9) — The fifth Babyface record in this countdown spent four weeks stuck at #2 on the R&B chart, stymied by the then-record-setting 12-week run of #40, below. But that doesn’t seem to have hurt it; this still sounds like a classic, and as opposed to my beloved “Always in My Heart” (#27), Campbell gives this one just the right touch.
34 37 THE PLACE WHERE YOU BELONG –•– Shai – 7 (34) — Fittingly forgotten, much like its source, the Beverly Hills Cop III soundtrack, this is entirely anonymous R&B.
35 36 100% PURE LOVE –•– Crystal Waters – 8 (35) — You know how you feel about this one, and there’s no in betweens. Give her this much: she was fighting the good fight to keep pop-house on the radio into the mid-’90s.
36 32 MISLED –•– Celine Dion – 12 (23) — When she’s “been dissed,” well, I get a thrill every time. Her voice is still a little on the thin side back in this day, and this song is silly as all hell, but I love it dearly. And how did I just find out that my beloved MK remixed it?!?
37 41 FALL DOWN –•– Toad The Wet Sprocket – 7 (37) — Not as far from R.E.M. and their ilk as I thought back in the day. But god, that stupid name helped keep me away.
38 40 I’LL TAKE YOU THERE –•– General Public – 15 (22) — Riding that year’s wave of a “reggae” revival (see also #18), ashamedly, GP made their comeback with a limp Staples Singers cover from the Threesome soundtrack. Gross all around.
39 34 GOT ME WAITING –•– Heavy D & The Boyz – 17 (20) — “Boring” isn’t something Heavy D was known for being, but that’s what this record is.
40 35 BUMP N’ GRIND –•– R. Kelly – 24 (1) — One of the greatest R&B records of the 1990s. And for better and worse, 12 Play may have been the most purely influential R&B album of the decade.

Posted in 1990s, charts, pop, R&B, rock

“Queer as in ‘Fuck You'”: A Pride playlist

126 songs in my iTunes version, 108 in this Spotify version. I expected things to be missing; what surprised me is what’s here, from Kevin Aviance’s “Cunty” (a ballroom classic) to the song that gives this playlist its name, Dog Park Dissidents’ queer punk “Queer as in Fuck You.”

The Stonewall riots — which, lest you need to be reminded, were riots, not peaceful rainbow-soaked demonstrations, parades, et.al. — happened 50 years ago last month; I was born about 18 months later. I’m so grateful for the sacrifices made by those involved, by those who came before, and those who came after (and are yet still on the march). I’ve done my share of marching, too, though admittedly not enough.

The current tenor of the U.S. has made me feel a bit combative. If you don’t think I deserve the same rights as you, let alone personage, I’m not interested in a hand-holding “let’s come together” conversation. You don’t think I’m worthy of the same things you are? Then FUCK YOU. Not apologizing.

Hopefully, this wide-ranging playlist gives you that mood, that feel. Not that it’s all angry; there’s room and time for celebration, certainly. A few of the big dance songs on here are here because they’re anthems and/or made by gay icons (Barbra/Donna, “I’m Coming Out,” “So Many Men, So Little Time,” RuPaul before she soured). A few more are here because I have very specific memories of dancing to them in gay clubs (J-Lo, “I’m Gonna Get You,” Aguilera, and yes, thank-God-he-finally-came-out Barry Manilow).

Not everything here is super obvious; I skipped Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring,” for example, in favor of the likes of “Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend” and “In Private.” I included “Relax,” but also Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s album cut “Krisco Kisses.” (You’re welcome.) The Village People tracks aren’t their biggest hits, but their gayest songs. I made sure to include plenty of the political, too, from Communards’ AIDS requiem “For a Friend” to Boy George/Jesus Loves You’s “No Clause 28.” There’s some women’s music, mostly from the ’70s, arguably its most fertile decade. (If you’ve never heard the astonishing Olivia Records comp Lesbian Concentrate, run-don’t-walk. A few of its songs are here.) I’ve also included a fair bit of early ’70s gay male folk that you may never have heard.

Notes on a few selections:
“Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.,” the Miracles (1975): According to the Wiki for this song’s parent album, “City of Angels is a concept album, depicting of [sic] a man from “Anytown, U.S.A.” who follows his estranged girlfriend Charlotte to Los Angeles, where she has gone in hopes of becoming a star.” Which helps the song make a lot more sense; I’d always wondered what the Miracles were doing with a song like this. Which, by the way, is surprisingly favorable towards queers.
“Another Man,” Barbara Mason (1984): In which Ms. “Yes, I’m Ready” (who also had a number of great soul sides in the early ’70s) signs with West End and discovers that her man has been taking up with another man. Escandalo!
Automatic Man,” Michael Sembello (1983): I’m not saying, or even insinuating, that Sembello’s queer. I’m just saying, well, check out the album cover of 1983’s Bossa Nova Hotel. (Also, this song, his official follow-up to “Maniac” and only other US hit (#34 pop), is a banger.)

“Back Chat” (1982) and “Don’t Stop Me Now” (1978), Queen: I know that everyone refers to “Stop” as Freddie Mercury’s out-without-being-out song, but listen to “Back Chat” and C’MON.
“Candy Says”, the Velvet Underground (1969): It’s not just the second verse of “Walk on the Wild Side” that’s about Warhol starlet and trans trendsetter Candy Darling; it’s also this entire song from the VU, sung by Doug Yule.
“Castro Boy,” Danny & the Serious Party Gods (1983): A spoof of Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” set to Hi-NRG and talked-sung as stereotypically gay as it gets.
C7osure (You Like),” Lil Nas X (2019): Welcome to the club, kiddo.
Deadbeat Club,” the B-52’s (1989): A heartbreakingly sad, sweet song about the Athens band’s good ol’ days, when Ricky Wilson was still with them, before he’d died from AIDS. Alfred wrote a beautiful, brief paper about it for this year’s PopCon.
Emerge,” Fischerspooner (2003): What a supernova, but occasionally, I think this performance is one of the greatest works of queer art of the 21st century.

Girl,” the Internet feat. KAYTRANADA (2015): How in the world this Frank Ocean-affiliated neo-soul group got a love song both for and sung by (lead singer Syd) a woman onto Adult R&B radio I do not know. But I know that a) it’s great and b) it matters.
“I Love the Nightlife (Disco ‘Round),” Alicia Bridges (1978): Did you know that Bridges is not only openly lesbian but went on to work in women’s music in the ’80s? Well, now you do.
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” Whitney Houston (1987): I included this not because of rumors about Houston’s sexuality, but because these lyrics, in 1987, hit so hard for queers, starting with the title. Who doesn’t feel this?
I’d Really Love to See You Tonight (Tony Moran’s Extended Club Mix),” Barry Manilow (1997): First of all, I think any historical queer mix should include Manilow, a superstar for decades who finally came out about two years ago. But also, back in the mid-late ’90s, my then-best buddy Jeff, who’s straight, would drive the two of us 2 hours south from northern Indiana down to Indianapolis so we could go dancing. Jeff was no fool: he knew that the best dance music was at the gay clubs (back then — sadly no longer true), and he graciously also understand that this was my only gay outlet. Once ’97 night we went to my favorite club, Our Place/O.P.’s, which has a magnificent dance floor and is just an all-around great gay club (and is still in business, bucking the current trend!). We walked in and immediately saw, on one of their 6-foot-tall video screens, gay porn playing: specifically, a huge, hard cock. Jeff, without flinching, said, “Okay then!” and went to the bar to get us drinks. And among the many songs we assuredly danced to that night, this one stood out, originally from Manilow’s ’96 album Summer of ’78, wherein he covers soft pop classics from the era. He sings this one so beautifully, and I’ve always cherished this remix by Moran, formerly half of the Latin Rascals and openly gay himself.

I’m Still Standing,” Elton John (1983)
“In Private (Stuart Crichton Club Mix),” Pet Shop Boys feat. Elton John (2006)
“Wrap Her Up,” Elton John feat. George Michael (1985)
The first is here for its lyrics, and its gay, gay, gay video. The second because this is, finally, Elton singing as an out man, duetting with Neil Tennant. And the third because it’s the saddest form of performative heterosexuality, especially its video: this is what it looks like when a gay man (men, really, including GM) attempts to appear hetero. (Additionally, the laundry list of women they sing over the coda is so absurd: you know who straight men really like? Billie Jean [King, presumably]. Annie Lennox. Nancy Reagan. (Elton, c’mon.)

Screamingly heterosexual.

Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter), “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia” speech (1986): Because gay men of a certain age all know this by heart, from the second episode of Designing Women, and I can’t imagine being queer without it.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“Well, now you do.”

Remember: celebrate Pride, either as a queer person or as an ally, year-fucking-round. It’s not just about #rainbowcapitalism and the month of June. We are who we fucking are, and that will never change.

Posted in personal, playlist, queer

My favorite songs: “One Love,” Whodini

Whodini were different. They were an ’80s hip hop group from NYC who weren’t hardcore at all. Their first album featured production from, among others, Conny Plank and Thomas Dolby. And their first smash, “Friends” (#4 R&B, 1985), features as its chorus the question “Friends/How many of us have them?” They’re damned near existentialists!

They also rooted much of their music in synthesizers, rather than scratched records, or the rock influences of, say, a Run-D.M.C. No less a black music authority than Nelson George described their second album, 1984’s Escape, as “‘radio-friendly, singles-oriented hip hop,’ as opposed to the ‘hard-core, more rhyme-centered rap.'” (From the Wikipedia entry on the album.) And they definitely were more R&B-edged than most of their peers at the time.

Case in point, my favorite of their singles, and in fact one of my favorite hip hop records of the decade, 1986’s “One Love” (#10 R&B). The song, like all of Whodini’s Escape and Back in Black, was produced by the unsung genius Larry Smith, who — showing his extreme flexibility — also co-produced the first two Run-D.M.C. albums! Smith co-wrote “One Love” with group member Jalil Hutchins, and the song features a deep bassline and some gorgeous synth chords that sound like fucking clouds, damn near bringing a touch of ambient to ’80s hip hop. Rappers Jalil and Ecstasy flip rhymes about the real meaning of love, and how “you’re lucky just to have just one love,” also offering cautionary tales about how they loved and lost, but wouldn’t change a thing. Shit’s deep. And true!

Posted in 1980s, hip hop, my favorite songs

My favorite songs: “The Killing of Georgie (Part I & II),” Rod Stewart

Say what you will about Rod Stewart — I mean, we all do — but I will forever appreciate that he wrote, recorded, and got his record company to release as a single a song that was a positive portrayal of a gay man (and also told the sad story of his murder) in 1976. That’s insane to think about nowadays, and says plenty for how Rod chose to use his superstar capital. And then on top of that, it hit #2 in the UK! (‘Twas a more modest hit in the US, charting at #30.)

In this interview with openly gay journalist Jim Farber from 2016, Stewart says it didn’t occur to him at the time that writing about his late friend George was a big deal. But it most certainly was. “Part I” is a lovely little portrait of Rod’s friend and reportage about his death, while “Part II” is a longing plea for him to still be there (“Georgie please stay/You take our breath away”). It doesn’t hurt, either, that Rod’s voice was at its most pleasingly raw in ’76. This is easily the loveliest entry in his vast catalog.

Posted in 1970s, my favorite songs, rock

My favorite songs: “Hooked on Classics,” the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

In late 1981, a very — odd? unique? standout? Casey Kasem called it “most unusual” — single entered the Billboard Hot 100. It was a medley of 14 individual classical compositions, set to a roughly disco beat and played by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And it’s deliriously ridiculous. And it hit the pop top 10, peaking at #10 (see below)! Its parent album did even better, making it to #4 the same week in late January 1982. And this set off a brief fad for such medleys: Larry Elgart’s “Hooked on Swing” hit #31 later in 1982.

You can, without too much stretching, call the entire top 9 of the album chart (above) AOR — except for the RPO. Juice Newton and George Benson make their appearance in the top 10 of the singles chart slightly less jarring, but only slightly.

I love “Hooked on Classics” unironically, but I love it even more in the version I’ve posted to Soundcloud, above. In this version, taken from American Top 40‘s 1982 year-end countdown (where the song is #60), Casey Kasem IDs each piece of music as it comes in (except for coda, which, he says, “goes by too fast”). For whatever reason, I can listen to this over and over and over; I’ve played it at least a dozen times while writing this entry. And say what you will about “Hooked on Classics,” but it genuinely did introduce a lot of people — especially teenagers, I’d surmise — to classical music, and isn’t that ultimately a good thing?

Not to mention: that incessant Linn drum!

Posted in 1980s, my favorite songs