American Top 40 Flashback: December 8, 1979

The full chart from December 8, 1979:

All the Casey Kasem segments from this episode:

How’s the chart as a whole?

Decades are arbitrary markers of time, but there does seem to be a changing of the guard on this chart from the tail end of the 70s, as superstars of the past (The Eagles, The Captain and Tennille, KC and the Sunshine Band) and future (Prince, Tom Petty, John Cougar) meet for a fairly star-studded week. This chart desperately needs that infusion of energy at the bottom, because its top 10 is historically bad. There are good songs on their way up, and good songs on their way down, but this week all the junk has risen to the top. There’s a certain seediness to many of this chart’s songs, bordering on sleaziness– sometimes intentional, sometimes not– that really hasn’t aged well. It’s as if, in the metaphorical disco of the 1970s, the dance floor has closed down for the night, but there’s still a skeezy lounge open for a while. Overall, this week gets a D-plus (the Casey Kasem syndicated rebroadcast cut off songs 33-40, which included the best sequence of the chart, which made it feel more like a D-minus).

Forgotten gems

#31 – Blondie, “Dreaming”

Sandwiched between Parallel Lines and a string of megahits in the early 80s, Blondie’s Eat to the Beat scored only a couple of minor hits in the US, though it’s a great album in its own right. This song might be my personal favorite from the band, built on a masterfully propulsive drumming performance from Clem Burke, and with a moving lyric that unspools precisely but gracefully.

#4 – KC and the Sunshine Band, “Please Don’t Go”

The first US #1 of the 1980s, the final US hit from the Sunshine Band, and the one song that I love from this week’s dreadful top 10 (“Send One Your Love” is pretty but forgettable). It’s lyrically simple and direct as usual, but in this epically lush ballad, that turns into a virtue. Perhaps it gains some poignancy for me due to its “end of an era” signification in hindsight.

#14 – M, “Pop Muzik”

I guess it’s similar to “Life Is a Rock” by Reunion (which I hated) in some ways, but “Pop Muzik” is weirder and more forward-thinking, and satirizes the production, promotion and consumption of popular culture as much as it romanticizes it. Perhaps it’s another one of those songs that has a kernel of hip-hop in it, as well. Next week, “Video Killed the Radio Star” would hit the chart, if one iconic self-referential song from the pre-MTV video era wasn’t enough for you.

#36 – Isaac Hayes, “Don’t Let Go”

An inspired interpretation of an old rock n roll tune from the 50s that builds a great tension between rubbery funk in the verses and crowd-pleasing disco accoutrements in the chorus. At a peak of #18, this would be Hayes’ second biggest pop hit behind the theme from Shaft.

Worth a listen

#35 – Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Wait For Me”

Hall and Oates were in a bit of a hit-or-miss phase in their careers (“Portable Radio,” their disco-inflected follow-up to this song, would flop), but their appearance is pretty much always a net plus for me. This isn’t one of their best, but it’ll do this week.

#17 – Cliff Richard, “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

One of Cliff’s bigger American hits, this is pretty light stuff, but at least it leans into synthpop instead of trying to ride the disco wave.

Justly forgotten

#2 – Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer, “Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)”

The uptempo disco section is pretty good, but that horrible maudlin nursery rhyme intro takes up half of the song’s run time on the single edit!

#8 – J.D. Souther, “You’re Only Lonely”

An utter desecration of Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” that rips it off while stripping it of its dynamism (hey, where’d the chorus go?) and Roy’s style.

#28 – Chris Thompson and Night, “If You Remember Me”

The ballads on this chart are much worse than the ones from last week’s chart. Last week, we got Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s “Noboby Does It Better,” and this week, the songwriting pair returns with a much weaker song, with a weaker singer, from a less-successful movie.

#30 – Kenny Rogers, “Coward of the County”

A particularly egregious case of rape as plot device, as it’s the inciting incident that inspires our titular hero to finally “be a man.” Probably not forgotten among country fans of a certain age, but it should be.

Was the #1 song worthy?

“Babe” by Styx – Styx is never a favorite of mine, and this song finds them in full-on “easy listening laughingstock” mode. This undying hit is a solid contender for banishment.

Song I would banish from the radio forever

It’s tempting to take a shot at the two Eagles songs on this chart (from a little-loved period in the band’s history, at that). But “Babe” is worse, I think: banal and dated and a little creepy.

Bubbling under

“Video Killed the Radio Star,” “Highway to Hell,” “An American Dream” by the Dirt Band, “The Second Time Around” by Shalamar

#1 in the UK (hat tip to Nerdherder):

“Walking on the Moon” by the Police.

Here’s the Top of the Pops rundown of 1979:

Top five

#31 – Blondie, “Dreaming”

#11 – Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”

#37 – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Do Me Like That”

#22 – Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”

#4 – KC and the Sunshine Band, “Please Don’t Go”

Honorable mention: “Pop Musik,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Chiquitita,” “Rock With You,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Cruisin,’” “Wait For Me,” “Love Pains”