Forty years ago. Longer than some of you have been alive. In 1979, music was all over the place, there were so many different styles. That’s a good thing, so much variety!
Here are 25 from that year and maybe something interesting about the song and why I picked it.
“Shakedown Cruise” – Jay Ferguson. Previously a member of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, Ferguson was now on his own. Thunder Island was Ferguson’s second album and it produced a solid hit of the same name. His next album had “Shakedown Cruise,” not as big a hit, but a better song. Ferguson would have one more, but less successful solo album and would turn his attention to television and film soundtracks.
“How Much I Feel” – Ambrosia. It was their third album that firmly established Ambrosia as a hit maker, even though they had charted several singles before. Life Beyond L.A. was a more contemporary and polished sound, and “How Much I Feel” was their greatest success. Ambrosia would tour with Fleetwood Mac and other top bands for several years, riding this success. “How Much I Feel” is a great song, romantic but not schmaltzy.
“Love Comes to Everyone” – George Harrison. The 1970’s began with Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, the most successful beginning for any ex-Beatle. As the decade progressed, Harrison’s personal life and career ran aground. By the end of the decade his life changed for the better: new wife and son, lawsuits mostly settled, better health, and a new album that sold well and gained favorable reviews. Good times.
“Dance the Night Away” – Van Halen. From Van Halen II, this was their first top 20 hit. It was a powerful radio song. The album peaked at number six and has sold 6 million copies. It build on the warm reaction that their debut album met with. Hard rock could be fun and appealing.
“Sultans of Swing“ – Dire Straits. The first single from the band quickly established their sound and began to build their audience. Mark Knopfler’s voice and guitar picking-style are unique, and in 1979 they didn’t sound like anyone else. The song was released in 1978, but didn’t gain traction until January 1979.
“Gold” – John Stewart. Good luck happened upon John Stewart. He was signed to RSO Records (Eric Clapton, Bee Gees) and he befriended Fleetwood Mac, who helped him with Bombs Away Dream Babies. Stewart had been around since the 1960’s when he was a member of the Kingston Trio. Success as a solo artist had eluded him, until now. The album was co-produced and played on by Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks provided some vocals.
“My Life” – Billy Joel. The 1970’s were very good to Joel and the next decade would be even better. “My Life” came from the album 52nd Street. It featured several hit singles including this song. The album was a transitional one for Joel, who would shift into pop single wunderkind. He would have a string of hits that would help shape pop music. This album was more of a musician’s album. While it had pop singles, it also had grit. He stretched out musically on this album, it topped the chart and won two Grammy Awards. Not bad.
“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy“ – Rod Stewart. It was a great decade for Stewart, his solo career took off before he formally left The Faces. Album after album were hits for Stewart, and he was as famous on the celebrity circuit as we was on the radio. This song gained Stewart much notoriety, it was a big hit, but garnered great backlash from his rock audience who felt that he sold out to the disco audience. Stewart still plays this song in concert, but he does it with a smile.
“I Zimbra” – Talking Heads. After hooking up with Brian Eno, the Talking Heads sound got more exciting and polished. Fear of Music took the Talking Heads in a new direction. They were always quirky, but unfocused. Their sound needed to take a step forward to build their audience and separate from the pack. The funkiness and inviting rhythms are hard to resist. “I Zimbra” is a breath of fresh air.
“Jane” – Jefferson Starship. This was the first album after some lineup changes. Grace Slick and Marty Balin we’re gone. The voice of the Airplane and Starship now sounded different. Enter Mickey Thomas. The lead single from Freedom At Point Zero was “Jane,” which rose to number 14 on the chart. This song had a tough rock sound, there would be whimsy ballads in the 1980’s but this song had muscle, reminiscent of the Airplane days.
“London Calling” – The Clash. Although the album wouldn’t hit big until 1980, the lead single was getting airplay. The Clash would help change the musical scene in the early 1980’s. Originally a punk rock band, the Clash constructed very melodic songs that blended various styles of music. London Calling was a hard, gritty song with lots of raw energy, but it signaled a new sound had arrived.
“Message in the Bottle” – The Police. From their second album, this single continued to get them noticed, but they were still considered new wave or post/punk, and yet to score mainstream success. This was is a rocking tune, the bass line soared and the drums crashed, the guitar was tight and added great textures. America didn’t yet know what to think of this group, but they soon would.
“Prime Time” – The Tubes. Through the 1970’s, the Tubes were an acquired taste, with a punk sound and a theatrical stage presence. The Tubes’ fortunes changed after hooking up with producer Todd Rundgren who shaped their sound into a more commercial form but without losing the hipness. The result was a radio presence that would last several more albums with producer David Foster, and then Rundgren again.
“Refugee” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their third album, Damn the Torpedoes, put them in the big time. It went triple platinum, reached number two on Billboard and produced two top twenty single including “Refugee.” This album perfected the Petty sound, ringing guitars, sharp solo, and Petty’s rough voice.
“We Don’t Talk Anymore” – Cliff Richard. Sir Cliff had been around since the late 1950’s, with many radio hits, but his career stalled. In the early 1970’s, Richard bounced back after hooking up with some strong songwriters and had several strong hit. This song was perfect for Richard, easygoing but uptempo and fine production.
“Catch Me Now I’m Falling” – The Kinks. During most of the 1970’s, The Kinks had been in a career slump. In the latter part of the decade they got their creative mojo back with Low Budget, their best album. The songs were sharp, excellently arranged and had a great vibe.
“Good Times” – Chic. One of the most successful disco bands, Risqué was their third album, and most successful. Disco had been a formidable genre of popular music since the mid-1970’s, and would soon peak, as Studio 54 would close and the new decade would bring many changes. “Good Times” was a number one song and the first of three successful singles.
“Run Like Hell” – Pink Floyd. From The Wall, this was one of the hit singles. The Wall was Pink Floyd’s biggest album success since Dark Side of the Moon, and the album that tore the band apart. It was also the last Waters/Gilmour writing collaboration.
“Give it All You Got” – Chuck Mangione. A Grammy winning flugelhorn player, Mangione scored a big hit with his jazz-pop anthem, “Feels So Good” in 1977. Fun and Games was Mangione’s effort to duplicate the success of the Feels So Good album. “Give it All You Got” was more uptempo and had a driving beat. The song was used for the 1980 Olympics.
“Rock With You” – Michael Jackson. Off the Wall was Michael Jackson’s first big-time album, with several number one hits, including “Rock With You.” This album established Jackson as a major solo performer, in part because of Quincy Jones’ production.
“Love Ballad” – George Benson. George Benson has been producing jazz albums since the mid-1960’s, but he had breached into R&B, and incorporated vocals into his work. Livin’ Inside Your Love was a double album and double delight. “Love Ballad” was a breezy, uptempo song that featured Benson at his best as a guitarist and vocalist.
“Chuck E’s in Love” – Rickie Lee Jones. Her official debut album was the roast of L.A. The record companies had a bidding war over signing her. This was the lead single from that album, both of which were comfortably in the top five of the charts. This was a jazzy, folk song, daring in style like Joni Mitchell. The album sold over two million copies and won her a Grammy Award.
“Take the Long Way Home” – Supertramp. Breakfast in America was the high-water mark for Supertramp. They would not have anywhere close to this level of success. Take the Long Way Home was not the most successful single from the album, but this song represented what the band did best. Supertramp was less about short, hit singles, than longer stories filled with great images and impressive instrumental passages. Not only do they write intelligent songs but they were incredible musicians.
“Jojo” – Boz Scaggs. Silk Degrees, the album of a few years earlier was his greatest chart and sales success. Two albums later, Middle Man, spawned several singles including “Jojo.” Very good, but not great. This album was slickly produced and squeaky clean of any human emotion, unlike Silk Degrees.
“I Can’t Tell You Why” – Eagles. This song was mostly the creation of bass player Timothy B. Schmidt, who joined the band after co-founder Randy Meisner departed. This was one of the best Eagles songs, and the best from The Long Run album, the last Eagles album until many years later. The song is quite hypnotic, lovely and sweet, without being saccharine.
The year was notable because so many different genres of music was hits. These 25 represent some of that variety. Some of these songs represented the past, others the future. Music was getting bolder, sharper and was leaving behind some of the excess of the 1970’s.