Friday, March 20, 2020

Rating the Top 100 songs of 1978

1 Andy Gibb Shadow Dancing: A-
Andy allegedly turned down the chance to become the fourth Bee Gee, so be a solo artist who did Bee Gee-esque songs with his brothers writing the material. In 1978, the Bee Gees could do no wrong, and this song is no exception.

2 Bee Gees Night Fever: A
It doesn't seem like this should be the biggest hit off of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but here it is. What is interesting about this song is the verses are at a higher emotional pitch than the chill chorus.

3 Debby Boone You Light Up My Life: D+
I may be overrating this song that spent months at number one, but didn't top the year end chart, since it's run came between 1978 and 1979. This is a rendition of a theme song from a movie no one saw (someone else sang it in the movie - hat tip to my friend Tom Borsellino), it's sappy dreck, but Debby Boone's singing is A-OK.

4 Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive: A
I didn't see Saturday Night Live until 2009, so for many years I simply appreciated the disco melodrama of this tune. Now I can't think of it without seeing John Travolta strutting in one of the great movie opening scenes.

5 Exile Kiss You All Over: C
This song was written by the Mike Chapman-Nicky Chinn team (which means it was just written by Chapman), who wrote all those glam rock hits for Sweet, Suzi Quatro, and Mud. Apparently, this was Chapman's attempt at a Barry White song. Yeesh.

6 Bee Gees How Deep Is Your Love: A+
This ballad just escapes being overly sappy, but heads to the stratosphere with the middle eight (or is it the bridge? I'm not a musician or songwriter).

7 Player Baby Come Back: A
Most Player music was conventional, anonymous rock. They only succeeded when they tried to be Hall and Oates, which they did really well here.

8 Andy Gibb (Love Is) Thicker Than Water: C-
This is simply an annoying song. The verses and chorus just don't flow. I think this was Barry, Robin, and Maurice trying to see how crappy of a song record buyers would go for.

9 A Taste Of Honey Boogie Oogie Oogie: B+
Yeah, they probably shouldn't have won the Best New Artist Grammy, but this is nice slice of sophisticated disco in the vein of Chic and Odyssey.

10 Commodores Three Times A Lady: B
This is pure cheese, but it was the song that turned the Commodores from an R & B band that crossed over to a genuine pop act, and charted Lionel Richie's career arc. Well crafted, well sung, but he did better ballads later on.

11 Frankie Valli Grease B
So six of the top 11 songs of 1978 were written by the Brothers Gibb. That's how hot they were -- Robert Stigwood had to get them one song on the Grease soundtrack. The lyrics make no sense, so, in that sense, it's a throwback to '60s Bee Gees. Frankie Valli's vocal is really good and it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.

12 Paul Davis I Go Crazy: B
This wasn't a big smash, but it stayed on the Top 40 for what was then a record-length time. According to Casey Kasem, Davis recorded this solid ballad as a demo for Lou Rawls, but the head of Paul's record company put the kibosh on it and allegedly, the hit version was a demo. A really good vocal on this song and nifty touches in the arrangement.

13 John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John You’re The One That I Want: B+
Grease was the movie that freed up Olivia Newton-John to do more than lite country and MOR pop. This was the song that did the trick, and John Travlota was a great duet partner.

14 Samantha Sang Emotion: B+
This makes seven of the top 14 songs of the year written by the Bee Gees. Samantha Sang must have been a swell person, as she's just an okay song, but geez, what a bit hook (sung by the Brothers Gibb)

15 Eric Clapton Lay Down Sally: B-
Clapton proved that he could put together his own J.J. Cale song. Just an okay J.J. Cale song, but it was a hit, so I suppose that counts for something.

16 Rolling Stones Miss You: A-
The Stones go disco! This was somewhat controversial in some circles, but not too hard for a band that was used to being inspired/stealing from blues and R & B. The groove is nice and Mick Jagger puts on a performance.

17 Billy Joel Just The Way You Are: B
On one hand, this song was an instant standard, and no surprise, since Billy Joel, no matter what style he was trying, was a Tin Pan Alley guy at heart. The production and performance are a little cloying, so that takes away from the composition.

18 Wings With A Little Luck: A-
I was a 12-year-old Paul McCartney stan in 1978, but this song didn't do much for me then. Years later, I picked up a used copy of London Town on CD, and it clicked. Like a lot of '70s Macca, there's not a whole lot to the song, but the simplicity, combined with just the right instrumentation and a great vocal from Paulie make it a winner.

19 Yvonne Elliman If I Can’t Have You: A
Elliman never really had a big career, but she was a strong singer, and had some hits. This is a bit more old school R & B than the other Saturday Night Fever stuff, and it's pretty terrific. This makes 8 of the top 19 songs composed by the Gibbs.

20 Chic Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah): B
This introduced the world to Nile Rodgers, Bernie Edwards, and Tony Thompson, and it sounds like a bit of novelty. The best was yet to come for these urbane disco kings.

21 Chuck Mangione Feels So Good: C
It's possible Chuck Mangione's greatest contribution to society was educating the public as to what a flugelhorn was. Every once in a while a jazz artist would hit the charts with a mediocre instrumental (see Spyro Gyra), and this was one of those.

22 Nick Gilder Hot Child In The City: B+
This gets docked for being about a teen prostitute. Beyond that ick factor, this was a nice slice of pop from the Canuck glam rocker, whose non-binary vocals still confuse some to this day. Unfortunately, none of his best songs ever hit, so Nick's a one-hit wonder.

23 Sweet Love Is Like Oxygen: A
I remember the first time I heard this song. I picked up the album at Swollen Head Records in La Grange. I got home, and peeled off the shrink rap, admiring the cool album cover (which looked like a close up of a guitar, looking up at the strings), perusing the script letter on the lyric sheet. On the U.S. version of the album, this song is the last track on side 1. The orchestration, the fool proof guitar part, the super catchy chorus, and verses that sound like they came from another band entirely. It was their last big hit and I still love it.

24 Bonnie Tyler It’s A Heartache A
I don't know if the world was looking for a female Rod Stewart, but that's what the raspy voiced Bonnie Tyler sounded like, and this is a sublime slice of '70s pop. Gets bonus points for being one my daughter's favorite songs when we'd listen to METV-FM on trips too and from her pre-school.

25 Queen We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions: A
I almost docked this a notch for the stupid scene in Bohemian Rhapsody about the making of "We Will Rock You"...or maybe the entirely of that piece of crap film. But the first song of this duo still works, and the second song might be the Freddie-est Freddie Mercury song ever.

26 Gerry Rafferty Baker Street: A+
This is a typical low key Gerry Rafferty tune, with a subtly effective melody and good lyrics, with the edition of amazing sax hook and a great guitar solo. The song still thrills.

27 Barry Manilow Can’t Smile Without You: C-
I like some Barry Manilow stuff, but this is just a cloying song that somehow slots between bad Broadway musical and mediocre commercial jingle (which Manilow had experience with).

28 Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams Too Much, Too Little, Too Late C+ Two great talents, great title, too M, too O, too R, too cute by half.

29 Peter Brown Dance With Me A
Recorded in his bedroom in Blue Island, Illinois. Peter Brown's debut album, Fantasy Love Affair, is a disco classic, as Brown's songwriting skills were top notch and he was very ambitious with his arrangements. This has that awesome middle eight with the multi-tracked backing singer.

30 Meat Loaf Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad: B
Meat Loaf himself was certainly a powerhouse singer, which is just what Jim Steinman needed. It's weird to think that compared to later Loaf/Steinman efforts, this is relatively restrained.

31 Raydio Jack and Jill B+
I have a soft spot for the song that got Ray Parker Jr. on the radio as an artist, as opposed to a backing musician. This is just a sweet R & B pop song, with really stupid lyrics.

32 ABBA Take A Chance On Me A+
Speaking of songs my daughter Maya took to as a three-year-old. This was a song that I loved the first time I heard it too, and Maya got me to revisit ABBA in a big way, and what a track. The opening hook, which was based on the rhythm of bicycling, is never repeated, but that was only because of the three separate sections (verse, bridge -- where Agnetha goes for it -- and indelible chorus) that are all brilliant.

33 Dan Hill Sometimes When We Touch C+
Dan Hill certainly gives his all on this one, which he co-wrote with Barry Mann. Wow, this is overwrought, but it's well crafted.

34 Donna Summer Last Dance A
The start slow and then pick up the tempo thing wasn't invented here, but it was certainly perfected. A solid Paul Jabara song, great work by Giorgio Moroder and crew, and Donna Summer sings the hell out of it, the way only she could.

35 Olivia Newton-John Hopelessly Devoted To You B+
ONJ wasn't a powerhouse vocalist, but she could bring it, and this is a '50s kissed, rock version of a '70s country song, and the notes Olivia hits at the end are sublime.

36 Foreigner Hot Blooded A-
This is probably the best Foreigner song, sounding either like the best Bad Company song ever, or a more meatheaded version of Free, and right in Lou Gramm's wheelhouse.

37 Rod Stewart You’re In My Heart C+
Man, Rod Stewart had hits with some dire songs. We should have seen those Great American Songbook albums were coming back then.

38 Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway The Closer I Get To You B+
Just a better grade of MOR soul than other MOR songs here, and it's a really nice song, and Flack and Hathaway always sounded great together.

39 Kansas Dust In The Wind B
It's weird to think that Kansas went from truly pretentious prog rock wannabes to truly pretentious proggish rockers who could score Top 40 hits. It's a really nice piece of music, and I try not to listen to the lyrics.

40 Walter Egan Magnet And Steel A
A little bit of '50s inspiration in the verses, and that chorus is so fricking perfect. How did he not have at least one other great song?

41 Randy Newman Short People B+
Newman's only Top 40 hit isn't his best, but it's a fun song and pissed a lot people who didn't understand the message of the song, and that's certainly worth something.

42 O’Jays Use Ta Be My Girl: B
This is one of the last big hits the O'Jays had on Philadelphia International, and it's a bit of a throwback to '60s soul, and quite nice.

43 Natalie Cole Our Love C
A pretty unmemorable MOR ballad from Natalie, who made okay material sound a little better, but she couldn't do much with this one.

44 Pablo Cruise Love Will Find A Way B
I'm giving it a little boost since we put this on a mix cd we gave out as a favor at our wedding. A well crafted yacht rocker, that's supposed to be hopeful, yet seems not wholeheartedly so.

45 Andy Gibb An Everlasting Love: B
This lies between Gibb's other two smashes in 1978. Great chorus, again, totally elevated by his brothers.

46 John Paul Young Love Is In The Air B
Australian pop star hit only once here with this light pop song. Totally made for cruise ship singers.

47 David Gates Goodbye Girl A-
One of the last gasps of success for the frontman of Bread, and while a little cloying, the hook is undeniable.

48 Paul Simon Slip Slidin’ Away A-
This is definitely a song that I like better now than I did back then. Similar to McCartney's "With a Little Luck", this is pretty simple, but when you have a nice melody and good lyrics, you don't need much else.

49 Heatwave The Groove Line: A-
Heatwave was the training ground for future Quincy Jones collaborator Rod Temperton. This is a solid piece of disco-funk with dense production.

50 Jay Ferguson Thunder Island A
I always liked this song and then saw Nora O'Connor sing it once at Space in Evanston and now I love it. Hard to believe this is the lead singer of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne, but the insistent acoustic guitar, great vocal arrangement, and solid hook make it endure for me.

51 Atlanta Rhythm Section Imaginary Lover: B
Being from the South, and being a rock band, it's no surprise that Atlanta Rhythm Section were lumped in with the Southern rock bands, and I suppose songs like "Champagne Jam" fit a bit within that description. But some of these guys were in the '60s pop-rock band Classics IV, and a lot of ARS just updated that brand of R & B underpinned pop with just a bit of rock overlaid on it. This song seems to fit somewhere between Steely Dan and Carly Simon.

52 Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band Still The Same: B
Once Seger figured out how to be commercial, there was no stopping him. This song seems to split the difference of "Night Moves" and "Mainstreet", a somewhat soulful balladry that his sandpaper-y voice was tailor made for.

53 Toby Beau My Angel Baby: B-
This verges on being a power ballad. It's slow dance at the prom type number that came in handy if the DJ forgot Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'"

54 Trammps Disco Inferno: A+
This song actually came out a year before Saturday Night Fever and was added to the soundtrack, which is what made it a hit. Disco did not kill vocal groups who adapted, and The Trammps were on board that train early and had lots of good songs, sometimes sounding like a bit grittier Spinners, thanks to the rough, soultful vocals of Jimmy Ellis. He really takes over this one.

55 George Benson On Broadway: B+
A bubbly take on The Drifters' classic from the jazz guitarist who managed to become quite the pop star. There's a nice groove here.

56 Styx Come Sail Away: A-
I have a soft spot in my heart, or perhaps my head, for these local Chicago boys. Dennis DeYoung and company had some prog influences, and seemed to figure out how to Midwesternize groups like Yes. As time went on, DeYoung's natural Broadway tendencies took hold, and it lead to this slice of melodrama, that is over the top in just the right way.

57 L.T.D. Back In Love Again: A-
L.T.D.'s biggest hits were their best. I picked up a cheap compilation of their hits, and it's full of underwhelming ballads. This is a fun, mid-tempo R & B bopper, with Jeffrey Osborne's great singing.

58 Player This Time I’m In It For Love: B+
A lot of people think Player is a one-hit wonder, but this was the second of their three chart hits, and it did quite well. This might be a bit more Pablo Cruise than Hall and Oates, but it's a solid yacht rock-ish track.

59 Carly Simon You Belong To Me: B+
This is one of the more soulful numbers that Carly ever did, and while it did big MOR chart business, it's got a strong backbone.

60 Dolly Parton Here You Come Again: A-
Dolly's big pop breakthrough was written by the great songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who came up with some great melodies for Dolly, and that voice just locks into the words and it's really something.

61 Linda Ronstadt Blue Bayou: A+
This so blows away Roy Orbison's version. I presume it was Peter Asher who slowed the song down even further, and from there, I don't know if Linda Ronstadt ever gave a great performance, and those last notes she hit are still thrilling to hear nowadays.

62 Steely Dan Peg: A-
Aja was simply all over the radio. Almost every aircut got airplay, from the singles on the Top 40 stations, to the longer songs on AOR stations. This is one of their peppiest numbers, and earned a sample on De La Soul's first LP.

63 Anne Murray You Needed Me: C+
Of course the vocal in this song was great, because Anne Murray was such a good singer. The song is a paint-by-numbers MOR ballad.

64 Evelyn “Champagne” King Shame: A-
A slinky disco number that introduced the world to King, whose reputation seems to have grown among collectors, out of proportion to her four Top 40 hits, and I need to go back and listen more.

65 Little River Band Reminiscing: A
One thing about the '70s were bands like Little River Band that were ostensibly rock bands (their first hit, "It's a Long Way There", has a cool 8-minute album version that fit in on any AOR station at the time) whose music was pitched to people who didn't want to rock too much. They verged on soft rock, and finally jumped to the other side on this nostalgic number.

66 Jefferson Starship Count On Me: B+
Marty Balin sure as heck earned his paychecks with the Starship. Ever year or two, he managed to come up with some sort of soulful ballad destined for the charts. This one is even gospel inflected.

67 Eddie Money Baby Hold On: B
A meat and potatoes rock dude, Money conveyed just enough personality, and had some solid songs, like this one.

68 Shaun Cassidy Hey Deanie: A-
Probably the best of Cassidy's short run of teen idol hits, this is a peppy rendition of an Eric Carmen song.

69 John Travolta and Olivia Newton-john Summer Nights: B+
This was about the last era where a rock and roll inflected Broadway-type show tune could do so well on the charts.

70 Lynyrd Skynyrd What’s Your Name: B+
The last hit for Skynyrd. This was back in the day where songs about groupies were socially acceptable. And this might be the poppiest thing the band ever did.

71 Crystal Gayle Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue: B+
A nice countrypolitan crdssover smash from Loretta Lynn's little sister. Her vocals are what make this work.

72 Patti Smith Because The Night: A
We need a name for one-hit wonders who nobody calls one-hit wonders because their careers were too substantial to be defined that way. This Smith collaboration with Bruce Springsteen made Smith a bit more palatable to the mainstream while still being true to her sound.

73 Robert Palmer Every Kinda People: B+
Palmer's first hit is a fluffy MOR number with a vaguely tropical feel. His cool bluesy vocals charm.

74 Barry Manilow Copacabana: A-
A showtune from a non-existent show, Manilow co-wrote it, and it's a story song that Cher should have done.

75 Heatwave Always And Forever: A
Donna Summer's "Last Dance" wasn't guaranteed to be the last dance at a dance if the DJ wanted to end the night with a slow dance. So this was the logical song to turn to, and it's sappy in just the right way.

76 Rick James You And I: A
This was the first punk-funk hit for James, and it has a typically salacious vocal and a great groove.

77 Earth, Wind and Fire Serpentine Fire: A
Some of this groups lesser hits were actually their best songs. Earth, Wind & Fire balanced funk and polish like no other band the percussive bridges between the choruses and the next verses are special.

78 Bob Welch Sentimental Lady: A
It was well worth digging out one of Welch's signature tunes from Fleetwood Mac and polishing it up into a sleeker Top 40 vehicle.

79 LeBlanc and Carr Falling: B
This sounds like a more Southern version of England Dan and John Ford Coley.

80 Santa Esmeralda Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood: A
This disco cover of The Animals' song had a Latin flavor consistent with the band's name. And the full disco mix is pretty awesome.

81 Michael Johnson Bluer Than Blue: B+
The first of Johnson's three Top 40 hits is a well-written piece of pop with a bit of a country vibe and a great chorus.

82 Jackson Browne Running On Empty: A-
The title track from the live album that broke Browne to a bigger audience. One of the quintessential life on the road songs.

83 Kenny Loggins Whenever I Call You “Friend”: B
Loggins hit the ground running as a solo act with this track and having Stevie Nicks on it elevated it for sure.

84 Chris Rea Fool (If You Think It’s Over): A-
Rea's long time success in the UK never translated over here, but his sole U.S. Top 40 hit was a dandy piece of soulful pop.

85 Foxy Get Off: A
I'm a big fan of the short lived career of Ish Ledesma, who led this trashy disco band and then went new wave with Oxo. Neither band had staying power, unfortunately. This is so fun.

86 Electric Light Orchestra Sweet Talking Woman: B+
While Lynne is slagged by some as just a Beatles rip off artist, his ability to channel some of what was going on in R & B at any given time gave his Britpop a different vibe, and this song has a nice disco undertone.

87 Joe Walsh Life’s Been Good: A
The album version is an A+. This is a pretty quirky single for the Top 40, and funny songs like this usually don't wear so well, but the music is catchy throughout.

88 Alicia Bridges I Love The Night Life: A
This is a disco-pop classic. I suppose a being a white lesbian R & B singer limited Bridges options, but she made her one hit count. The attitude in her vocal is awesome.

89 High Inergy You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On): B+
The songs lyrics are sexier than the performance, which is more of classic R & B vocal group style. But it works.

90 Linda Ronstadt It’s So Easy: B+
A really nice Buddy Holly cover for Linda to tear into with gusto.

91 Odyssey Native New Yorker: A
A superb single, and the height of disco sophistication.

92 Parliament Flashlight: A+
One of my all-time favorite songs, with just layers and layers of instruments and multiple hooks. It sounds even more impressive closing out Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome, which is the best funk album of the '70s.

93 Boston Don’t Look Back: B+
Boston's pristine AOR songs paved the way for anonymous corporate rock, but damn, their songs were so well crafted.

94 Electric Light Orchestra Turn To Stone: B+
This wasn't an obvious single choice and there are some songs on Out of the Blue that I would have chosen ahead of this one. It's one of those songs that sounds faster than it actually is.

95 Eruption I Can’t Stand The Rain: B+
A disco interpretation of the Ann Peebles classic out of Germany. It doesn't mess with the song.

96 Bob Welch Ebony Eyes: A-
The disco production touches work on this song, which also has a cool chunky guitar and a great chorus.

97 ABBA The Name Of The Game: A
The other hit off of ABBA's The Album, which is probably the best ABBA long player. The middle vocal break is ridiculously good.

98 Rita Coolidge We’re All Alone: B+
Nice cover of the Boz Scaggs tune.

99 Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band Hollywood Nights: A-
This was the first single off of Stranger in Town and showed that Bob had the goods to follow up Night Moves. A bit flashier than the prior album, but it's intent performance really carries it.

100 Steely Dan Deacon Blues: A
One of the best Steely Dan songs, with cryptic lyrics that don't fully make sense, but sound great together.

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