Saturday, August 26, 2006

Top 5: Ring My Sharona

It's one of the tenets of this blog that the disco era, on the Top 40 at least, began with the release of Saturday Night Fever, and that it continued until August of 1979. That was when "My Sharona" by the Knack hit Number One and signaled that times were changing, again. But that's just my opinion--I could be wrong. First, five records from this week in 1979 that prove I'm right:

"My Sharona"/The Knack. As roundly hated by critics as any new band in history (partly for being unwilling to court the media, partly for imitating the Beatles on their album cover), the Knack nevertheless brought power chords and rock attitude back to the Top 40 at a moment when it seemed like all was lost.

"Goodbye Stranger"/Supertramp.
"The Logical Song" had ruled the radio during the summer, but it sounded like a novelty record compared to this, which rocked harder than anything Supertramp would ever take into the Top 40.

"Let's Go"/The Cars. There'd never been anyone who sounded quite like the Cars, and it would be several years until we figured out what they were--the precursor to the chilly English dance-pop of the 1980s, only with better musicianship and greater rock credibility.

"I Want You to Want Me"/Cheap Trick. Their first two albums had generated an underground buzz, and "Surrender" had been a modest hit on the singles charts in 1978. Live at Budokan was their breakthrough record, and it's as much the screaming energy of the Japanese fans as it is the energy of Cheap Trick themselves that makes the record.

"Bad Case of Loving You"/Robert Palmer.
In which Palmer exchanges blue-eyed soul for guitar edge--an edge that would stomp later records like "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistable," which strived to sound even harder and didn't make it.

And now, five records from this week in 1979 that prove I'm wrong, and that disco had as strong a hold as ever:

"The Main Event"/Barbra Streisand.
Absolutely everybody was dabbling in disco by this time--remember, Ethel Merman made a disco record in 1979. Streisand had the beat, but she lacked the soul to be remotely credible.

"Ring My Bell"/Anita Ward.
I hated this record back then--those stupid syn-drums in the intro and Ward's breathy sex-kitten voice. Although Bad Company was using syn-drums at the same time (on "Rock and Roll Fantasy") and I didn't mind them.

"I Was Made for Lovin' You"/Kiss. Make no mistake--despite their rep as the ultimate rock band, this is a disco record, and one as lacking in credibility as Streisand's. Even when they were rockin' at their hardest, they never sounded as white as they do here.

"Makin' It"/David Naughton.
Another disco record thoroughly steeped in whiteness. This was the theme song from a TV show starring Naughton, who later starred in An American Werewolf in London and as an alcoholic boyfriend of Elaine's who falls off the wagon at the office Christmas party on Seinfeld.

"Born to Be Alive"/Patrick Hernandez.
Completely disposable disco--you'd heard it before and you'd hear it again, although not specifically on this record. You knew this record would never get back on the radio once it fell out of recurrents.

I have a theory, which I haven't explored in detail but which I think is halfway plausible, that the period between "My Sharona" in '79 and the release of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" from Thriller in early 1983--of which this week is typical--represents an inter-decade period that is neither entirely 70s nor entirely 80s in nature. It's a period when dance music and rock music co-existed uncomfortably on the charts, not only never meshing, but seeming utterly opposite of one another. (Thus it's no surprise that this in this period, Top 40 as a radio format began to splinter.)

But I could be wrong about that, too.


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