Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: 7 Cool Things That Happened in the Late '70s ('77-'79) That Nobody Talks About This Century

Now that I have your attention (thanks, Jimmy), let me confess: This post has absolutely nothing to do with the 39th President of the United States, the first one I can actually remember getting elected. (I'd fallen asleep beside my dad in my parents' bed on Election Night '76 when my mom came in to tell us that James Earl Carter Jr., the "dark horse" candidate and peanut guy from Georgia, had won.)

Today Throwback Thursday is all about the music from his first three years in office, which happen to be my three favorite years in retro-pop, if not exactly the three best years of my life -- or even my youth. (I'd pinpoint those as being circa 1969-1972, aka the ones I don't really remember.)

Lately, thanks to those mp3s of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 that have become a regular part of my weekly listening routine, I've become re-obsessed with music from the late '70s, especially the forgotten songs that most people probably don't think about when they think about that era. Though disco was making everyone's temperature rise in the late '70s (indeed, for the week ending May 12, 1979, there were 15 disco songs in the Top 40, according to Casey), Saturday night fever wasn't everything.

Now on with the count-up (in alphabetical order)!

1. Andrew Gold went gold nearly a decade before his Golden years. Thanks to its appropriation as The Golden Girls' theme song in 1985, "Thank You for Being a Friend," Gold's No. 25 1978 single, has gone on to become his best-known hit. That left "Lonely Boy," the late singer-songwriter's best and biggest hit (No. 7, 1977), as woefully overlooked and out in the cold as its title character, which is too bad. Gold's golden "Boy" could just as easily be re-positioned as a gay anthem or as the theme to another TV show that's beloved by gay men. I think Rufus Wainwright should record a cover, and they could play it every time Patrick (Jonathan Groff) appears onscreen next season on Looking. (Fun fact: As a member of Linda Ronstadt's band and the main musician on her 1974 single "You're No Good," Ronstadt's first and only No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, Gold was largely responsible for my favorite outro in the history of recorded music.)


2. Atlanta Rhythm Section put Georgia on the '70s lite-rock map. Before R.E.M., The B-52's, The Georgia Satellites, The Black Crowes, Trisha Yearwood and even President Carter, the Peach State gave us ARS, a more-or-less forgotten band that launched several '70s hits, including two No. 7's, 1977's "So Into You" and '78's "Imaginary Lover." The former went on to become part of the American English vernacular via its title, which it would also go on to share with the breakout hit by another acronym-ed act, SWV (Sisters with Voices), who added "I'm" and climbed one notch higher in 1993.


3. Climax Blues Band's "Couldn't Get It Right" did. I still have a hard time believing that the British band responsible for giving the world "Couldn't Get It Right," 1977's No. 3-peaking lite-funk workout is the same one that drew blood, sweat and so many tears with its No. 12 smash "I Love You" four years later. (Fun fact: "Couldn't Get It Right" entered Billboard's Top 10 at No. 9, as ARS's "So Into You" held steady at No. 7 the week ending May 7, 1977, aka the day I turned 8.)


4. Foreigner rocked (for the very first time). Before carrying the torch that lit two of the biggest power ballads of the '80s ("Waiting for a Girl Like You" and "I Want to Know What Love Is"), Foreigner was best known for rocking hard, fast and furiously, as the band did on each of its four Top 10 singles from the '70s. "Double Vision" (No. 2, 1978) was the Mick Jones/Lou Gramm-led act's biggest hit of the decade (and my personal favorite in Foreigner's singles oeuvre), but few debuts in the history of rock have aged as well as 1977's perfectly titled "Feels Like the First Time," which ascended 25 to 22 during my 8th-birthday week, on its way to No. 4.


5. Jay Ferguson's "Thunder" rolled. Here's what Jimmy Buffet might have sounded like with a little edge, a lot more sex appeal and way better hair. Sadly, "Thunder Island," Ferguson's biggest solo single, has gone largely unheard since its 1978 chart run to No. 9, an under-sung fate that also befell "Run Run Run," the 1972 No. 27 hit by Ferguson's former band Jo Jo Gunne that sounded kind of like Sweet with an American accent.


6. Pablo Cruised. You probably know the No. 6 hits, 1977's "Whatcha Gonna Do" and '78's "Love Will Find a Way," even if you have no idea who sang them. No, it wasn't a guy named Pablo Cruise (no relation to Tom). As far as I know, Pablo Cruise doesn't actually exist, which gave the band that still goes by that name a certain mystique never even hinted at in the shamelessly mainstream sound of its biggest singles, a relatively concise hit list that also included "Cool Love," a No. 13 single from 1981 that I always confuse with Little River Band's "Cool Change," although they sound nothing alike. (Fun fact: ARS enjoyed its double No. 7s in the same years that Pablo Cruise scored with its pair of No. 6s.)


7. Utopia found "Love" and lost it. Comparing 1977's flop original version of "Love Is the Answer" -- sung by Utopia frontman Todd Rundgren, its author -- to the cover that England Dan & John Ford Coley took to No. 10 in 1979, is like comparing apples and oranges, or Fats Domino and Pat Boone singing their infinitely dissimilar versions of Fats' "Ain't That a Shame" in 1955. Guess who was Fats and who was Pat in '77-'79?


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