Chart Flashback: Rating the top 10 hits from this week in '78
How do 29-year-old hits from the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, and Kansas hold up today? Let's give 'em another listen
Chart Flashback: Rating the top 10 hits from this week in ’78
Oh, Flashbackers. I am sad to announce that the apparently illegal subscription site, where I used to stream rare songs not available on iTunes, was shut down by the long arm of the law last week. I knew this would happen someday (yeah, there’s no way my $60/year was finding its way much past the PayPal account where I was sending it), and I knew it would be bad news for any pre-1980s charts. But I’ll tell ya, I never in a million years imagined it would also kill my ability to listen to the Bee Gees, who, for reasons known only to them, have done a hell of a job scrubbing the internets clean of their most popular songs. Yes, if you’d like to rock out to their hits from 1967-1969, you can score 47 whole minutes for free, but even if you’d like to pay to relive your glory days on the dance floor, I believe the expression is ”s— out of luck.”
It’s incredibly frustrating in these high-tech times to realize that in order to hear something you might actually have to get up, walk to the record store, and rummage through a bin in order to find it; it’s the same sort of feeling I get whenever my cell phone runs out of batteries and I’m forced not only to use a pay phone but remember someone’s number. As a commenter on AOL’s music boards said of the Gibb brothers’ Saturday Night Fever work, ”I whish the had it on itunes so i could buy it.” So do I, greenpuck201. So do I. Anyway, thank god for YouTube. Because yes, I know how ”Stayin’ Alive” goes, but do you really want me writing from memory? Trust me, Flashbackers. You do not. That’s how we wind up with long tangents about my childhood.
In better news, we’ve finally got the Chart Flashback email address up and running! This means so much more interactivity for you kids, and it means I can finally start getting rid of some of the swag in my office that I’ve been collecting to hand out as prizes. So without further ado, here is your first Chart Flashback Trivia Flash Chart Happy Fun Time Question!
Q: Some of the songs on this chart teamed up to help one man set a record that has never been broken. What are the songs, who is the man, and what is the record?
This is not a hard question, Flashbackers! First person to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the correct answer wins! (Confused by all the excitement? Read the FAQ!
Billboard‘s Top 10 for the week ending April 1, 1978
10. ”Dust in the Wind,” Kansas
Welcome to your first finger-picking guitar lesson, boys and girls! Today we will learn how to get that classic rhythmic sound, perfect for late nights in dark rooms spent sitting on bong-water-soaked carpet and singing mournfully with our eyes closed. Can’t you just smell the patchouli? While I can’t say anyone ever brought a violin to the jam session, this song still defines those passionately awful late-night-at-art-school sing-a-longs, so many of which were killed once the shaggy-haired dude with a loose grasp on deodorant picked up a guitar and started plucking this out, causing everyone to nod their heads deeply in approval until they realized that no one but the shaggy-haired dude knew all the verses. Ah, yes. Remember those times, friends, for soon we shall all be gone, hooting in falsetto as we fade into the haze. Ashes to ashes, with nothing but our frilly shirts left to carry on, until they, too, are reclaimed by the earth. God. Now I’m just depressed. B
9. ”Thunder Island,” Jay Ferguson
Joe Walsh guitar solos? We’ve got ’em! Bar-band keys? They’re right here! All the fun of ”Brown-Eyed Girl” with none of Van Morrison’s weird Celtic leanings? You’ve come to the right place! Sure, I don’t know what ”She was the color of the Indian summer / And we shared the owls without number” means — What? It’s not ”owls”? — but I can think of few other songs that want so desperately to be loved. Sadly, I am unable to love it ”all the way” (if you know what I mean, and I think you do, Jay Ferguson), because the ”Brown-Eyed Girl” parallels really are too egregious to ignore, but if I was ever to use the words ”sun-drenched” in a Chart Flashback, this wouldn’t be a bad time to do it. B+
8. ”(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,” Andy Gibb
Gibbs’ Week kicks off with this overwrought little number, which manages to be both way too complex for its own good and to not really amount to much. Andy starts off all proud and strong and loud, declaring a number of clichés to be true and then calling his ladyfriend ”Heaven’s angel / devil’s daughter,” which makes it seem like she was kinda bad news. That description certainly explains the segue into the quieter, more contemplative sections, where he muses on how he now has to wander the world, confused and alone. So much angst for such a young man! Sadly, the bombast and the murmuring don’t fuse together all that well, in my opinion, and the zazzy bridge — where, once again, we get Joe Walsh guitars (although this time without the actual participation of Joe Walsh) — sounds like it’s been choppered in from Starlight Express or something. And after all that, Andy’s plum tuckered out, and spends the entire last third just saying ”die die die” over and over again. Sure, it’s not ”die” like ”die” — it’s just a noodly singing thing — but it sure does go on forever. Maybe it was a subconscious cry for help. He wasn’t the healthiest guy in the world, you know. Oh, sad. Now I need to listen to ”Dust in the Wind” again. B-
7. ”I Go Crazy,” Paul Davis
Wait. You have to hear something. Go here. (Thank me later for linking to the cheesy karaoke video instead of the Disney lion porn.) Okay. Did you listen to it? Remember the chorus? Paul sings, ”I go crazy,” right? And then little plinky things go ”plink-plink-plink-plink-plink, plink-plink-plink-plink-plink”… Um, is it just me, or do you then immediately want to sing, ”Babe, I love you”?? I don’t know if it was possible for me to have more concerns about Styx, but there seems to be something very fishy happening here. And thank god, because without that tiny self-generated controversy, this song’s plodding pace and Davis’s torpid voice might have put me to sleep. At least until the end of the song, when the plinky things wig out. That probably would have woken me up. Ugh. C+
6. ”If I Can’t Have You,” Yvonne Elliman
Frankly, this woman can do no wrong — that’s how much I love Jesus Christ Superstar — so the fact that this friskily desperate track is so much fun seems like bonus points. My favorite part is the demure French horns in the background, because I like to imagine they’re her quiet pain, pain she’s trying to mask by tossing out a lot of swirly strings and high hats and flute and waving them around in front of us like a rhythmic gymnast’s ribbon. But we know the truth, Yvonne. And we’re here for you. A-
5. ”Emotion,” Samantha Sang
Kind of ridiculous to credit anyone but writer/backup singer/omnipresent godlike creature Barry Gibb here, as it didn’t take much effort from Samantha to whisper the verses and then be steamrolled by his lock-jawed parrot squawking. Speaking of parrots, I must now go in search of crackers to accompany this yummy, yummy cheese. Oh, Flashbackers, it’s songs like these I find the most frustrating. You see, I so desperately want to be cool and aloof and not admit that the line, ”I cry me a river / that leads to your ocean” gives me goosebumps every single time, but then I feel like I’m holding back from all of you, and I don’t want to hold back. So let’s just put it out there: I think parts of this song are better crafted than anything on this chart. ”It’s just e-mo” for example. No, not ”tion.” ”Tion” does nothing for me. But that four-note scale on ”it’s just e-mo” is perfect. Also perfect: the harmonies on ”Good night, good night, good night.” But then Samantha goes back to whispering again, and I get a little crabby about it. I guess I just like a little more assertiveness in my chick singers. Although for what it’s worth, Beyoncé’s version, in which she attempts to become Mariah Carey before our very ears, is not better. B+
4. ”Can’t Smile Without You,” Barry Manilow
Only video I could find was this one with clips from Supernatural, and hey, the whistling in this song’s intro is even creepier when set against a ghost! Yes, America, your No. 4 song this week should perhaps be subtitled ”Anthem For a Psycho Killer.” Let’s start with that whistling: It reminds me, just a bit, of what Barry would whistle if he was walking calmly down a dead-end alley toward his ex-girlfriend, who has fled in terror, only to find herself trapped, and desperately trying to claw her way up a chain-link fence to safety. Next up, the chorus of men that chime in about halfway through: Has Barry brought his boys from the bar to get her back? Do some of them have baseball bats, and are they tapping them menacingly against their palms? (I don’t know — I’m asking you.) What is with those bangs towards the end? Are those supposed to be handclaps? Or is that the sound of the baseball bats hitting something? Say, the fire escape that the ex-girlfriend has finally succeeding in pulling down, and is struggling to climb up, but each and every bang from the bats shakes her grip a little looser, and soon she’ll be too tired to hang on anymore? I mean, who could withstand this sort of thing for very long? The song just gets louder, and louder, and louder, as though Barry is more and more convinced that HE CANNOT (BANG!) SMILE (BANG!) WITHOUT HER (BANG! BANG!)… Jeez. Here’s a thought: Maybe she took off ’cause she couldn’t stand the noise in the first place. B
3. ”Lay Down Sally,” Eric Clapton
It’s not one of Clapton’s flashier songs, but my brain finds the simplicity quite refreshing at the moment. Sure, it’s odd to find a blues beat on a largely disco chart — even with backup buddy Yvonne Elliman close at hand — but something about what Slowhand laid down fits in perfectly, the chucka-chucka just a subtler version of a dance beat. Been out at the clubs? Here’s your afterparty. A-
2. ”Stayin’ Alive,” Bee Gees
I used to work as a house painter in Arkansas, and sometimes, when I was feeling frisky, I would attempt to walk jauntily down the road while swinging a bucket of oil-based enamel. That never ended well. But who can try to understand this sweet bassline’s effect on man? Full of more instrumentation than the trunk of a band director’s car, the Gibbs’ hit can drive even the crankiest pants to dance, and the video is the best unintentional testament to the power of excellent dental work ever made. I’d implore you to watch it, enjoy it, but try to avoid doing that pointing thing, even though I fear three decades of unfortunate white people going hip-to-sky have proven it is impossible to resist. That’s okay. Take a walk if you need to, or find a quiet corner and get those hokey moves out of your system. Just don’t let it steer you to the polyester. A
1. ”Night Fever,” Bee Gees
I can only assume this song and its wocka-wocka backdrop took the top spot because people were getting really sick of No. 2. It should also be noted that, aside from the chorus, I cannot decipher a damn word they’re saying. Can you? Here, I’ll transcribe as we go: ”Hansel do me down. There is movie nolanown. There is moooey all aroun, an I can bleedit. On the wees ozzy air, there is dazzy out there. There’s a. Bitchin. Igan seelin.” Your guess on that is as good as mine. (NO FAIR GOOGLING LYRICS.) Anyway, I’ve deducted points here mostly because I feel like the Gibbs have this tendency to repeat lyrics or progressions around four times more than they needed to, just to drive their point home. (See ”die die die,” above.) I mean, ”Night Fever” is fun and everything, but it’s about a minute twenty-five of material stretched out like taffy. By the time we hit the midway point, I realize I’m quite bored and I’d rather be watching this, which I believe is a strong indication that I’ve just hit my disco limit for the day. Anyway, I’m out of crackers. B+