Monday, April 20, 2020

Grading Billboard's Top 100 singles of 1977

1. Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright) - Rod Stewart: B
I'm either grading this a bit too low or way too high. Although the album this came off of, A Night on the Town, had some songs that were reminiscent of his great early work for Mercury, this song was the beginning of Rod Stewart, Mega Pop Star. A four-minute tune with Rod the Mod asking Britt Eklund to have sex with him, I presume that the record buying public found it sexy, but it comes off as too chaste. Either it should be even more innocuous or more explicit. This song is certainly the most successful single featuring a Swedish model speaking in French. And the inspiration for the song was America's "Today is the Day".

2. I Just Want to Be Your Everything - Andy Gibb: A-
Phase II of the Bee Gees' plan for world domination was setting up younger brother Andy for success. Andy was an affable presence, and it's hard to get a line on how talented he was, because he was propped up by one the great songwriting teams of all time. This is an easygoing R & B-laced pop song, with the older Gibbs adding backing vocals. What this record showed is that the Bee Gees had more songs than they could possibly keep for themselves, and so other artists were going to benefit from that.

3. Best of My Love - Emotions: A
If a family act is great, how about combining two families? The Emotions were sisters who grew up in Chicago. They got started as a gospel act, and by 1964, they had gone secular and hit the R & B charts. And for well over a decade, they landed singles all over those charts. Finally, working with fellow Chicagoan Maurice White (and two of his brothers) of Earth, Wind & Fire got them to cross over. This song really mixed a great girl group vibe with that classic E, W & F mix of soul and funk to create a truly sublime song. Somehow, The Emotions never hit the Top 40 on their own again, while continuing to hit the R & B charts. At least their one hit was an instant classic.

4. Evergreen (Love Theme from "A Star Is Born") - Barbra Streisand: A-
This is an example of a song I hated when I was 11 that I've grown to like now that I'm older and wiser. Paul Williams composed this ballad, and it is Williams at his melodic best. This is combined with an excellent, rich performance from Streisand. The movie may have been "meh," but at least it produced this song.

5. Angel In Your Arms - Hot: B
This song being so high up on the year-end tally surprised me, as it only got up to #6 on the Top 40, so it must have stayed there for a while. This was the sole hit for a vocal trio out of Hot, who happened to be recording at a studio in Muscle Shoals. One of the singers asked their producers for a country song to sing, and this classic cheating song is what they delivered. Giving it a pop/R & B treatment turned out pretty well. The singing is solid, but not amazing -- the star here is definitely the song. Eight years later, Barbara Mandrell had a big hit on the country charts with this tune.

6. I Like Dreamin' - Kenny Nolan: C-
Nolan was a very successful songwriter, who finally set out as a recording artist with a self-titled debut album featuring this song. Although Nolan had worked on hot songs like LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade", apparently his aim as a singer was to be the poor man's Barry Manilow. He succeeded, with this syrupy goo.

7. Don't Leave Me This Way - Thelma Houston: A+
This is a Philly song that became gigantic on Motown. In 1975, this appeared on a Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, where it made some noise on the dance charts, despite never being released as a single. The original version, as produced and co-written by Gamble and Huff, would be very familiar to anyone who only knows Thelma Houston's version of the song. Diana Ross's producer Hal Davis originally was going to have the diva do this song, but it ended up landing in the lap of Ms. Houston, which was all for the best. Davis upped the disco elements in the song without touching what worked in the original version. And while I'm sure Diana would have done a nice job on this track, Houston's earthier, gospel-style vocals were what this smoking track needed, creating a disco classic. Philadelphia International noticed and released the Harold Melvin original as a single in the UK, where it duked it out with Thelma's cover for chart supremacy...and won, as the original hit #5, while Houston's version wound up a respectable #13.

8. (Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher - Rita Coolidge: B-
Coolidge had a fascinating c.v.. She was a backup singer for Joe Cocker, inspired Leon Russell's song "Delta Lady", and allegedly Jim Gordon stole a piano piece she had written which was used as the coda for Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla". She was also married to Kris Kristofferson. Taking Jackie Wilson's high energy hit and turning it into a laid back Laurel Canyon pop tune is an accomplishment of some sort, but it doesn't serve the tune all that well. That said, Coolidge has a really comfortable voice and had a better single ahead.

9. Undercover Angel - Alan O'Day: A-
I first heard this song when it was played on American Bandstand's Rate-a-Record, where a guy and a gal would hear part of song, and then Dick Clark would ask them to each rate it between 35 and 98 (Clark thought no song was so bad it should be below 35 and no song was perfect). He would take the two scores and average them, after asking each rater why they gave a particular rating, which usually led to the answer, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it." This is the only song I remember where both raters gave it a 98. They were prescient, as this was a #1 hit from the writer of "Angie Baby" and many other hits. Like that hit Helen Reddy tune, this also has a fantasy element to it, as O'Day sings of a dream lover. What makes this so weird, is that this story of an angel who hooks up with the loser protagonist is used to convince a real live woman to go out with him. Relationships were different back then. I loved this song back then, and my grade is definitely boosted by nostalgia. That being said, there is no doubt this is an incredibly well put together song, with plenty of hooks.

10. Torn Between Two Lovers - Mary MacGregor: D
A maudlin cheating song given a strangely robotic performance by this singer who was guided by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, who co-wrote and co-produced this piece of crap. Few realize that MacGregor eked out another Top 40 hit a few years later, so she's not a one-hit wonder. This inspired a TV movie starring Lee Remick, which is way more than this song deserves.

11. I'm Your Boogie Man - K.C. and The Sunshine Band: A-
This was part of K.C. and company's run of big hits, but it seems to have faded away on oldies radio. But this is one of my favorites, as it's relatively aggressive for a disco song, with a bit more hard R & B in its DNA, with some great horn parts, and plenty of hooks.

12. Dancing Queen - ABBA: A+++
This is arguably the pinnacle of pop music in the '70s, from one of the greatest groups on pop history. When Benny brought home the backing track to play to wife Anna-Frid, she began crying, finding it so beautiful. Agnetha later said that while they often didn't sense which songs would be hits, they all knew that this one was going to be gigantic. Benny and Bjorn had fallen under the spell of disco, while still retaining their European-meets-girl-group sensibility, and the combination of rhythm with that majestic melody on the piano created an update on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Agnetha and Anna-Frid never sounded so majestic, as the song manages to exude joy with a wistfulness that that joy is truly ephemeral. Ultimately, the song seems to be saying that you've got to hold onto that joyful feeling, because the joy itself will not last.

13. You Make Me Feel Like Dancing - Leo Sayer: B+
Whether Sayer was making a bid to become the next Frankie Valli or not, he certainly had success mixing insane falsetto with vocalizing in a normal range. And his second big U.S. hit wasn't necessarily an obvious one, due to the idiosyncratic vocal approach. That being said, this is a fun pop song, and the bridge and chorus work really well.

14. Margaritaville - Jimmy Buffett: A
This song gets a lot of crap, as if the song that made Buffett a star should take the hit for what Buffett did with that stardom. First off, Jimmy Buffett is a talented singer and songwriter. He has a keen eye and his observational lyrics are really good. His early career was typified by songs like his first hit, "Come Monday". This song is cut from the same cloth, with tropical musical touches to fit the setting of the song. The words are both descriptive and fit so well together in terms of the rhythm of the song. The fact that within just a few years Buffett went overboard with the whole Parrothead thing and spent a large portion of his subsequent career trying to monetize whatever he could sucks, but that doesn't mean this isn't a great song.

15. Telephone Line - Electric Light Orchestra: A
One off the big hits off of the album, A New World Record, that I believe to be E.L.O.'s masterpiece. This song is a throwback to the '60s, but with state-of-the art production (in part due to having the super-talented Mack engineering the record), it still sounded modern. This mixes Roy Orbison, The Beatles, and even girl-group pop, and the song builds to a gigantic chorus. Great stuff from Jeff Lynne.

16. What'cha Gonna Do? - Pablo Cruise: B+
A perky piece of yacht rock from this rather faceless Bay Area crew, this was their first Top 40 hit. This is a nifty piece of pop-rock, with a bit of R & B, a bit of California laid back vibes, sounding like a less serious Boz Scaggs or something. This song has a surprisingly ripping guitar solo and a knockout chorus.

17. Do You Wanna Make Love - Peter McCann: D
Nature abhors a vacuum, and somebody had to fill the void for icky, uncomfortable quasi-romantic pop songs left by Paul Anka. For a fleeting moment, this one-hit wonder did so, with a song that fell somewhere between Dan Hill and Orleans.

18. Sir Duke - Stevie Wonder: A+
This was the second single off of the amazing Songs in the Key of Life, the double album set that capped off Wonder's run of five consecutive classic albums. Moreover, it's the fifth and final cut of one of the best first sides of an album ever. Very few songs exude pure joy like this one, as Stevie celebrates how music brings us together, while invoking the jazz greats of yore in a song that is prime Wonder soul, with some jazz touches.

19. Hotel California - Eagles: C+
Joe Walsh joined the band, and not even he could do anything to mitigate this ponderous piece of music. This song has such pretentious, pseudo-intellectual lyrics and it just drags. I realize many will disagree, but you can give it your own grade. All of this is exacerbated by Don Henley's singing becoming increasingly whiny and unpleasant.

20. Got to Give It Up, Pt. 1 - Marvin Gaye: A
Talk about adapting to disco. Marvin Gaye didn't just try to retro-fit his typical soul tune to disco, he dove into the deep end of the pool and created a distinctive groove that held up in extended form (hence the "Pt. 1" single edit here). As a piece of songcraft, Gaye has a lot of better songs, but this song was solely meant to get people dancing, and it was wholly successful at it.

21. Gonna Fly Now (Theme from "Rocky") - Bill Conti: B+
Before he devoted a substantial portion of his life to playing Oscar-award winners off stage before they could thank anybody, Conti did lots of soundtrack work. This is very difficult to disentangle from its use in the movie. Rocky is a great, but flawed, movie, but the training montage scene that this accompanies is so perfect, and this song deserves extra credit for being a part of movie history. On its own, it's a pretty rousing piece of music, and wouldn't have sold a few dozen copies had it not been part of that scene.

22. Southern Nights - Glen Campbell: A+
This is how an artist makes a song his own. This is an Allen Toussaint song, which was the title track of his 1975 album. Toussaint's version is languid, like a humid summer evening. It's lovely. Campbell heard the song and it struck a chord with him. He modified some of the words, learned a guitar lick from Jerry Reed that he used in the song, and turned this into a fantastic pop song. This is another very joyous song -- if you hear this and Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" back to back on the radio, you had no excuse for frowning.

23. Rich Girl - Daryl Hall and John Oates: B+
I really dig H & O, and this was their first number one hit. And I'm not baffled why it was a hit, but I prefer a number of their other songs in this decade. Still, it's really catchy and is a great mix of rock and Philly soul, with a typically strong lead vocal from Hall. I do like this song, but maybe I'm grading on a curve here.

24. When I Need You - Leo Sayer: B
No vocal gimmicks here. This is a really straightforward love ballad from Sayer. Relative to the standards of the day, it's pretty restrained and well-produced. I love the melody in the song.

25. Hot Line - The Sylvers: B+
Another big hit for the family act with the gigantic afros. This song was a pop song first and an R & B song second, and shares some qualities with songs that Freddie Perren was writing and co-producing for Tavares. This is about as lightweight as you can get, but the song has an updated Motown feel, and the performances are good. But why Foster Sylvers wasn't the lead singer is beyond me.

26. Car Wash - Rose Royce: A
Rose Royce was a vehicle for the songwriting and production skills of Norman Whitfield after he left Motown. This partnership coincided with his involvement in the movie of the same name, so of course he got his new group involved. And he wrote this awesome theme song. This is just darned good funk-pop, with a great vocal from Gwenn Dickey. Of course, the hand clap intro is classic. The movie is good too, with great performances by Bill Duke and Franklin Ajaye.

27. You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be In My Show) - Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.: A-
The married duo from the The 5th Dimension scored a big hit early on in their abbreviated career as a duo (they only release four albums in a 40-year span). Working with vets who had experience with Motown, Stax, and other reputable soul hit factories, this is a really nice piece of soul-pop that definitely has some of the vibes of their old group. Writing a love song about being in a good relationship is a lot more difficult in writing a break up song, and this track is so happy, and Marilyn and Billy's real life chemistry translates very well to vinyl, that it's no surprise this was a chart topper.

28. Fly Like An Eagle - Steve Miller Band: A
I didn't recall this being such a big song on Top 40 radio, but I can't argue with Billboard. Of all of Miller's post-"Joker" hits, this is the one that hearkens back most to his earlier recordings. This has a spacey, psychedelic vibe to it, and Miller combines it with the pop instincts that he developed on the fly, with vocal and guitar lick hooks, along with a solid melodic base, and a simple memorable chorus.

29. Don't Give Up On Us - David Soul: C-
Before he became famous as Hutch from the ABC television show Starsky and Hutch, David Soul did some singing. Indeed, he charted a fair amount in England during the mid-70s (he covered Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" on his debut album!), but he only had one hit to his name here in the U.S., and it went all the way to number 1. This soppy ballad was written by Tony Macaulay, who wrote scads of hits in the UK. Soul's performance is alright, but the song is nothing special.

30. On and On - Stephen Bishop: B+
A soft rocker who is generally to soft for yacht rock, and a true craftsman of a songwriter, this was the biggest of the four Top 40 hits he recorded. This is a very sweet, gentle song which shows off Bishop's winning way with a melody, and a very nice singing voice to go with it. Fun fact: Bishop appears in the movie Animal House. He's the folk singer whose guitar John Belushi smashes during a frat party.

31. Feels Like the First Time - Foreigner: B
Foreigner, who included guys who played with King Crimson and Spooky Tooth, were the next step in corporate rock after Boston. This is where FM and AM radio blurred, as Foreigner had rock chops, and a solid poor man's Paul Rodgers in lead vocalist Lou Gramm, but leader Mick Jones (the other Mick Jones) knew how to craft really commercial songs. As a band, Foreigner wasn't always awash in personality, and this song is played seamlessly, but without much passion. But Gramm sings it well, and the hook in the chorus is too big to be denied.

32. Couldn't Get It Right - The Climax Blues Band: A
It's an oft-told story. Veteran band records album. Label says it's okay, but it's lacking a radio-friendly track. So the band is asked to come up with a hit. In the '80s, the label would probably send the band to a professional songwriter. When it happened to the Climax Blues Band, their manager suggested covering an Elvis Presley tune. Instead, the band collectively came up with this Top 10 smash. This song sounds like it could have come out a few years before. The main guitar riff is catchy, and the constant rhythm of the song doesn't hurt. But the key was coming up with a really distinctive chorus, and it holds up pretty well, since it gets a lot of use over the course of the song.

33. Easy - The Commodores: A+
An instant classic from Lionel Richie. He was really developing into a great songwriter, and this is one of his hallmark compositions. Richie rides a Southern soul groove with an easy melody and maybe just a hint of country into a chorus that is like a warm blanket. The middle eight suddenly rises up and then goes into that awesome guitar solo from Thomas McClary, reminding folks that while Richie became the star of the band, they were a band, a really, really good one.

34. Right Time of the Night - Jennifer Warnes: B+
Peter McCann wrote this song, which almost mitigates his horrible "Do You Wanna Make Love" earlier on this list. This was the first Top 40 hit for the friend and former back up singer for Leonard Cohen. Warnes is a great singer, who really interprets the material she's given, which might explain her inability to become a big commercial force. But this song was undeniable, a piece of pop with a slight country flair. Warnes finds a middle ground between Anne Murray and Linda Ronstadt on this fine performance.

35. I've Got Love On My Mind - Natalie Cole: B
With her pedigree, it's no wonder that Cole's team and label wanted her to sing ballads. And she did a really nice job on them, but based on songs like "Sophisticated Lady", I wish she had done more funkier stuff. Anyway, this is a solid pop-soul single and Cole sounds great.

36. Blinded By the Light - Manfred Mann's Earth Band: A
As soon as Bruce Springsteen was deemed the "new Dylan," Manfred Mann's ears must have perked up across the pond. The keyboardist/bandleader had done pretty well with Bob Dylan covers, so he was eventually going to get around to The Boss. This really shows Mann's talents as a producer and arranger, as Springsteen's original version was slow and jazzy. Mann streamlined it into a powerful rock tune, giving it a sense of drama as opposed to just a story telling tune. This is so good it overcomes the rather generic vocals of Chris Thompson.

37. Looks Like We Made It - Barry Manilow: C-
While I generally love songs that have upbeat music but more downer lyrical content, as the juxtaposition often creates interesting feelings, Manilow's approach on this song undermines the lyrics. This sounds like an anthem for a couple that overcame struggles. In fact, it's about a former couple who finally found happiness with other people. Not a bad lyrical concept, but it's totally lost here, both in the music and in Manilow's vocal. This could be a good song, but not like this.

38. So In to You - Atlanta Rhythm Section: A
ARS was from the South, and thus, they got lumped in with the Southern rock movement. But most of these guys were vets from the pop band Classics IV and session work, and only on occasion did the music approach boogie. In fact, the Section preferred ballads and R & B laced numbers like this classic. This is subtly funky, and just simmers. A lot of why this works so well is that it never goes over the top, it just slinks along with real confidence.

39. Dreams - Fleetwood Mac: A
Stevie Nicks wrote this song in the studio in about 10 minutes during a break while the band was working on the immortal Rumours album. The band was pretty underwhelmed by it when she played it for them. It was their only #1 pop hit. The simplicity of the song, which is what the rest of the band was connecting with, is part of what makes it so compelling. The rhythm pulses, with great work from John McVie on bass, and Nicks carries the melody, while Lindsay Buckingham subtly layers on guitars. The whole thing is soulful, mysterious, and warm and the profits were either blown on cocaine or lawyers.

40. Enjoy Yourself - The Jacksons: A-
When The Jacksons left Motown, they dropped the "5" from their name and decided to follow the Philly express, hooking up with Gamble and Huff. To Gamble and Huff's credit, they didn't try to mold The Jacksons into some version of The O'Jays or one of their other acts. Instead, they crafted this song, which matches the ebullient feeling of their classic early singles with just a little bit of funk (but no disco). And this is a really fun, and mostly forgotten, hit.

41. Dazz - Brick: A+
Sometimes all you need a good rhythm and groove and this song is all about rhythm and groove. This Atlanta jazz-funk band decided not to make their disco move subtle, letting everyone know this was disco-jazz (made more obvious on the album version, which has a lengthy flute solo). The groove alone is worth the price of admission, but the simple vocal melody that they sing over, while not offering much more than a call to dance, fits so well with the groove that the song is irresistible.

42. I'm In You - Peter Frampton: C+
Faced with the prospect of following up one of the best selling albums of all time, Peter Frampton, a talented, nice guy, choked. He would have been well advised to whip a few more of those sunny, California-styled rock tunes. Instead, he decided to go for the kill with a big ballad that sounded like something John Travolta or some other teen idol would have done. It was well-performed but the song was undernourished. The fans shunned it, and the I'm in You album filled cutout racks around the country.

43. Lucille - Kenny Rogers: B
Rogers was making a go of it as a country singer, when this song, co-written by pro Hal Bynum, landed in his lap. This was the right song with the right singer, and Rogers gave a great performance and went from a minor star from the late '60s to a superstar. This is a simple tale of a gal breaking a guy's heart, and the chorus is great for drunken sing-a-longs, and Rogers' slight raspy voice gives it extra charisma.

44. The Things We Do for Love - 10cc: A
This came off Deceptive Bends, which the band's first album since Lol Creme and Kevin Godley left the band. While this was not good for the band's long term fortunes, certainly Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart were great songwriters and this is just a sterling piece of pop. Of course, Gouldman was writing smashes in the '60s like "For Your Love" and "Bus Stop", and this song is really cut from the same cloth as that Hollies classic. The "rain and the snow" middle eight is fantastic.

45. Da Doo Ron Ron - Shaun Cassidy: C+
Following in the footsteps of his half-brother David, Shaun Cassidy was an instant teen magazine sensation, his recording career and television career (starring in The Hardy Boys) starting almost simultaneously. Shaun was a competent and enthusiastic, but not dazzling singer, and his producer, Michael Lloyd, did a good job of finding poppy material. This is a decent, non-offensive version of The Crystals' classic.

46. Handy Man - James Taylor: C
The original of this song by Jimmy Jones, who co-wrote it with Otis Blackwell, was a sprightly soul-pop number in the vein of Jackie Wilson. This is the totally decaffienated version. In slowing it down, Taylor does connect with the lyrics, but in slowing it down, it removes a lot of what made the song fun in the first place.

47. Just a Song Before I Go - Crosby, Stills and Nash: A
Graham Nash was staying at a friend's place in Hawaii, and had a plane to catch. His friend said to him, since he had about a half hour before leaving for the airport, why not write a song, and bet him $500 he couldn't do it. Years later, Nash told David Letterman he still has the $500. This shows how inspiration can work with a great talent like Nash. This is such an economical song, with a tight, vaguely Eastern melody (maybe a cousin of Nash's "Marrakesh Express") with a well-put together lyric. Throw on the classic CSN harmonies and some haunting guitar, and you have a great hit record.

48. You and Me - Alice Cooper: B-
One of the great rockers of the '70s spend the latter half of the decade singing big, swelling ballads. This biggest surprise of this is how strong his vocal is, as he usually didn't sing in this part of his range. Not really the best use of his talents, but well crafted.

49. Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin') - Johnny Rivers: B
This was the last of Rivers' 18 Top 40 hits, dating back to the early '60s, and this is an example of Rivers ability to pick a song. This song was released by a band called the Funky Kings two years prior, written by band member Jack Tempchin, who had co-written some Eagles' hits. It's just a nice piece of soft pop. For a guy with so many hits, Rivers didn't have a style, unless making hit singles was a style. He tailored his approach to the song, and thus, his final big hit made him a yacht rocker.

50. Lonely Boy - Andrew Gold: A
Gold, who backed Linda Ronstadt on guitar for years, had quite the pedigree. His dad won an Oscar for best film score, his mom, Marni Nixon was the vocal double for a lot of actresses in movies, most famously, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Gold may have been too talented, as he never seemed to settle on an approach in his career. His first and biggest hit was this slice of drama, a story song about a young boy who was getting a brother. The song is full of great devices, like the piano-guitar note sequence that starts the song, the bridge into the chorus, and man, a lot of great arrangement tricks. Gold pitched this song just right, as it could have been way over the top.

51. I Wish - Stevie Wonder: A
One of the most distinctive bass lines ever to open a song, this was the first single off of Songs in the Key of Life. This is a wonderful slice of nostalgia, with some of Stevie's best lyrics, evoking so much about what childhood was like. And it was married to that type of funk that only Stevie and his band could play, and when they go into that groove at the end of the song, they could keep playing for days and it would never get old.

52. Don't Stop - Fleetwood Mac: A
It possible that beyond the rhythm section, the best combo in the classic line up of Fleetwood Mac was Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham. McVie wrote this tune, but Buckingham then put this bouncy song on his back and added to it in every way possible. His vocal interplay with McVie never failed, and then his guitar work is just perfect.

53. Barracuda - Heart: A+
It starts with the riff, one of the quintessential guitar riffs in rock music history. A riff which was inspired by Nazareth's cover of a Joni Mitchell song. Heart toured with the Scottish rockers and were taken by the chugging guitar in Nazareth's hit cover of Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight". There is a vague similarity, but Heart turbo charged it (maybe injected it with the elixir of Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song"). Then Ann Wilson penned angry lyrics inspired by the band's battle to get out of its contract with Mushroom Records. All of this anger and energy got captured on tape, and while this isn't Heart's biggest hit, it's their signature song, a classic rocker and a song that let Ann Wilson really show that she was one of the great hard rock singers of all time.

54. Strawberry Letter 23 - Brothers Johnson: A
Quincy Jones and George and Louis Johnson didn't mess around when covering this Shuggie Otis tune. They didn't change the basic arrangement of the song. They did add some production gloss and their own ambience to the song. The Q must have felt the hit potential in this song, leaving nothing to chance, and having Lee Ritenour play the key guitar solo instead of George Johnson. A great song rendered so well. The single came in a picture sleeve and the inside of the sleeve had a strawberry scent. It lasted on my copy for many months.

55. Night Moves - Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band: A+
The song that finally made Bob Seger a star. His early work, especially with The Bob Seger System, showed Seger capable of fierce, garage rock. But even early on, he had a more contemplative side. As he went through his ups and downs, he continued to hone his chops. After the success of his Live Bullet album, he went and wrote the best batch of songs he would ever come up with, highlighted by this classic. This is acoustic rock and soul, Seger's raspy voice singing those knowing, evocative lyrics, and that dramatic middle eight setting up the powerful choruses at the end.

56. You're My World - Helen Reddy: B-
This was an Italian pop song that was recorded many times from the '60s on. This time, when the wheel stopped spinning, it landed on Helen Reddy. The song sounds like it came from over 15 years earlier, a nice, swoony love song. The production is a bit too much, but Reddy sings it just right.

57. Heard It In a Love Song - Marshall Tucker Band: A
The second and final Top 40 hit for another band that was lumped in with the Southern rock crowd, and I suppose it made a bit more sense than Atlanta Rhythm Section. But unlike the typical Southern rock band, the blues was not much of a motivator for the Tuckers, as their songs were rooted more in country and jazz. So they didn't really sound like anyone else, especially when you add in the distinctive lead vocals of their great singer Doug Gray (who is the only member still part of the touring aggregation of the band). Anyway, while this was vaguely more commercial than the average Marshall Tucker Band song, I can't imagine the band thought they had a big hit on their hands. But the song has a pop structure, a great chorus, and, as a bonus, Jerry Eubanks blowing away on the flute.

58. Carry On Wayward Son - Kansas: A-
Another American wannabe prog rock band (well, their albums were prog rock, they just didn't sell), they got more concise as time went on, and finally came up with an unforgettable song. The chorus sounds like a Dust Bowl version of Yes, and the dramatic verses and overcooked lyrics are acted out well by singer Steve Walsh. The band packs a lot into this song, which is one of the rare slices of prog-pop to hit it big.

59. New Kid In Town - Eagles: B
A co-write between Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and J.D. Souther, this pairs well with Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy", portraying young white male angst. This is pitched a bit lower than Gold's number (and older, as Gold's song was about a young child), and it's not in a hurry to get where it's going, so when it gets to the dramatic part, it sounds really good.

60. My Heart Belongs to Me - Barbra Streisand: A-
This is one hell of a song and production. This song was considered, but rejected, for the soundtrack of the movie A Star Is Born, but someone wisely realized that this was totally in Streisand's wheelhouse. This song is sweeping and dramatic, and Streisand just nails it.

61. After the Lovin' - Engelbert Humperdinck: C-
The last U.S. hit single for the man originally known as Arnold Dorsey. He was still making the adult contemporary charts, but this was his first Top 40 hit in eight years. It is what it is, a schmatlzy song from a guy who made a living out of singing such songs.

62. Jet Airliner - Steve Miller Band: A-
Steve's buddy Ben Sidran hipped Steve to an album by Paul Pena that Sidran had produced, but remained unreleased. Miller took a shine to this song, and he had to be hooked in on the primary guitar riff, as the rest of the original version is bluesier. So Miller made the riff even more prominent, streamlined the song, and moved the tempo up, and voila -- another easy going, rocking hit.

63. Stand Tall - Burton Cummings: B-
The Guess Who are a really underrated band, and singer Burton Cummings was part of their transition into stars. After Randy Bachman left the band, they only hung on for a few more years until Cummings split. And instead of continuing his pop-rocking ways, Cummings swung for the fences with an over-the-top MOR ballad. Admittedly well written and well sung, but just a bit too much. What is more galling, to me, is that on his first solo album, which is keyed by a naked attempt at hitting the charts, he does a big band styled cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet", as if Bachman was the one who sold out.

64. Way Down - Elvis Presley: A-
This single came out a couple of months before The King's death. It hit number 31 on the Top 40, fell out of the chart, and then re-entered after his death, hitting number 18. So it's the rare gold single that didn't even come close to the Top 10. At least Elvis went out on a relatively high note, as this is a nice piece of funky country-pop, with a real swing to it and Elvis getting into it. However, the song set a record for a low note, as back up singer J.D. Sumner hit the lowest note one can hear a human voice sing on a record (something he had done on another record 11 years prior).

65. Weekend In New England - Barry Manilow: B-
This song was written by Randy Edelman, who went on to a successful career scoring movies and TV shows. The song itself is a low key gem, with words that concisely tell a story. And as the single begins, Manilow sings with intimacy. But Barry is going to Barry, and by the end of the track, everything is at (for Barry) fever pitch. If for once, he could have just stayed with the low key thing, this would have been something really good.

66. It Was Almost Like a Song - Ronnie Milsap: B
This classic ballad was Milsap's eighth number one song on the country charts and his first crossover to the pop Top 40, with five more pop hits in his future. This was more of a pop song anyway, and a really well written one, with the title phrase just a subtle hook. The middle eight is what really drives this, and Milsap shows why he was so successful, upping the emotional temperature without killing the mood.

67. Smoke from a Distant Fire - Sanford Townsend Band: A-
This is a yacht rock classic from this one-hit wonder group out of Alabama that was fronted by two keyboardists. This song has just a slight R & B undertone, and it's got just the right amount of drama for a song about an impending back up. This is one of those recordings where everything is in place, with strong vocals, stinging lead guitar, and, of course, a saxophone. These guys yielded one of my all-time favorite stories on American Top 40. When Sanford and Townsend were really struggling to make ends meet, they saw a convenience store with a bunch of glass pop bottles stacked out in the back. That was back when stores would give you a nickel for every empty glass bottle you returned. So they grabbed a few dozen, went to the front of the store and collected their money. And if worked once, well, you can guess the rest...

68. Cold As Ice - Foreigner: A-
This slice of AOR-pop drama almost never became a hit. Early pressings of "Feels Like the First Time" had this song on the flip side. Someone at Atlantic Records must have realized there was another potential hit on the album, and later pressings had "Woman Oh Woman" (which, as soon as I saw the title, the chorus started playing in my head). This was a co-write between singer Lou Gramm and band guitarist/mastermind (The Other) Mick Jones, and it has little prog rock touches, while also having a bit of the grandeur of Queen, who would have done their version of this song with more of a nod and a wink.

69. Ariel - Dean Friedman: A
Dean Friedman never stopped recording and performing, and I wonder if that wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for this unlikely hit, which some might say is a novelty song. I don't know if I'd quite buy it, as this song is more of a pastiche in the chorus, somewhat akin to some of 10CC's early British hits. Friedman is a humorist who happens to sing basic pop songs, and this one has nifty, specific lyrics, which Friedman doesn't try to make funny, allowing the humor to work, and then there's the simple chorus with the loud back up singer. I like this song way more than I should (and yes, I owned it on 45).

70. Lost Without Your Love - Bread: A
This was Bread's comeback hit after a three-year hiatus. It was also their last hit together, as David Gates left for a solo career that wasn't nearly as successful as most might have predicted. It would be hard to be less hip than Bread, but they were soft rock giants, and that was due to Gates, who was not only a great songwriter, but he was a very talented producer. Indeed, he was a producer before Bread formed, working with a wide range of talent. He even produced two early singles for Captain Beefheart! Bread really set the template for soft rock. All the things that Barry Manilow did to kill good songs (and I like some of his singles a lot) by scaling up the emotion too high and glopping on the production, Bread did too...except Gates knew just how far to go. Indeed, this melodramatic song is a great example. He pumps up the chorus a bit, but lets his lead vocal be more measured, and it works so well. Someday, I'll explore Bread's albums, but their singles make up a great body of work.

71. Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band - Meco: A-
Meco Menardo was a studio musician (he played trombone on Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out), arranger, and producer. As a producer, he was on the ground floor of disco, producing a number of key hits. After seeing Star Wars on its opening day, he was so enthralled, he caught the film four more times the next day. He eventually convinced Casablanca Records head Neil Bogart that a disco version of the score would sell (the fact John Williams' theme charted helped), and he went in with some fellow musicians and dashed off this pure piece of exploitation that still sounds great to my ears today. This is a tribute to how strong the main theme is. And incorporating the Cantina Band music gave the instrumental more variety. This song gets a notch up because the flip side is a quasi-New Orleans style instrument called "Funk" that gets an A from me.

72. Float On - Floaters: A
The Floaters were a Detroit smooth soul act, with some members of The Detroit Emeralds. Because they had some veterans in the group, they had a very polished stage presentation. This song was part of the act, as it was how they introduced themselves. It's hard to be more '70s soul than this song, from the sci-fi keyboard effects to each member stating his astrological song. The album version of this song is almost 12 minutes, but someone at ABC Records noticed its commercial potential. The album version is fun, but the tighter single version is the one to get. It's just four guys letting the ladies know what they were all about, and the swooping bridge to the chorus is magic.

73. Jeans On - David Dundas: A
This song first came to light as a jingle for Brutus Jeans in England. People loved the jingle so much that Dundas and producer/co-writer Roger Greenaway (a pop juggernaut, who wrote everything from "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" to "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress") extended the song just enough to turn it into a single. It was #3 in the UK and did just fine over hear. It sounds to me like a Gilbert O'Sullivan tune, but without any negative twist. It is so freaking happy. Someone should do a medley of this and Supergrass's "Alright".

74. Lido Shuffle - Boz Scaggs: A+
The shuffle in the title refers to the piano rhythm that first got Scaggs started writing the song. He worked out a Fats Domino-inspired part and played it for future Toto-member David Paich, and together they completed the peppiest song on the classic Silk Degrees album. This is one of those songs that still stands out on the radio today, with Paich not only pumping out the piano part, but adding some great synthesizer licks. The song is so full of energy.

75. Keep It Comin' Love - K.C. and The Sunshine Band: A
This song only made it to #2, but this is my favorite of all the big disco-pop hits that Harry Casey and his crew had in the '70s. I think part of it is that it's premised more on the great guitar playing by Jerome Smith. The song has a bit more sonic space than other KC singles, while still having strong horn parts, so the song is really dynamic. Moreover, the melody in the verses is simple, but effective.

76. You Made Me Believe In Magic - Bay City Rollers: C
The penultimate Rollers song in the U.S. Top 40 was this competent but uninspired disco pop tune. The cheery sounds of Les McKeown sound incongruous with the anonymous backing.

77. Livin' Thing - Electric Light Orchestra: A
This was the first hit single off of A New World Record. Quite frankly, practically any song on the album could have been a single. This was certainly a pretty good choice. The intro to the song is so striking, with a violin and other strings kicking things off in a dramatic fashion, before a bed of poppy acoustic guitars remind us we're still in AM radioland. The song has a little bit of everything, from slight psychedelic vibes to girl group-ish backing vocals, before reaching the proto-orch-pop chorus.

78. Give a Little Bit - Supertramp: B
This was the second Top 40 hit for this art-pop band. After the ultra-British pop-prog "Bloody Well Right", this song seems lot more like California sun-kissed pop. The song actually predated Supertramp -- Rodger Hodgson wrote it when he was around 20 years old, inspired by The Beatles' "All You Need is Love". He kept noodling around with it for years, and eventually, Rick Davies helped him finish it off. It's cheery and bouncy, and the saxophone allows it be played on yacht rock playlists nowadays.

79. That's Rock 'n' Roll - Shaun Cassidy: B+
This was a really good selection for Cassidy, a cut above the usual teen idol material. Someone decided to clean up a couple of PG-13 lines in this song that was originally performed and written by ex-Raspberries frontman Eric Carmen. Cassidy was not exactly a powerhouse singer, but he was enthusiastic, and that was just what was needed for this fun piece of fluff.

80. Love So Right - The Bee Gees: A-
The Bee Gees just killed on these ballads. This one seems to balance some of the qualities from their '60s ballads with the modern R & B sounds that were now at the foundation of what they were doing. The song itself was not old -- it was written by the Gibbs the year before. According to Barry, they were trying to be The Delfonics on this track, and this further solidified Barry using the falsetto that became his trademark.

81. Rubberband Man - The Spinners: A+
This sounds like a silly song, and, to an extent it is, but it started with Thom Bell trying to inspire his son. Bell's kid was overweight and getting teased, and so the song initially was written as "The Fat Man", but eventually, for unspecified reasons, Bell and co-writer Linda Creed came up with this. The song is teeming with hooks and singer Philippé Wynne is committed to the nonsensical lyrics. The rhythm and horns draw one in, the verses are carried by Wynne and the rhythm of the lyrics, the chorus is first rate, there's the practically spoken word middle eights, and that great "do do do do do" harmony vocal breaks. There's so much going on here. This also led to The Captain and Tennille doing this song on their short-lived TV show, with Toni singing and the director cutting to Darryl Dragon, sitting on the floor, wearing multi-colored socks with individual songs, plucking a rubberband in his toes. It's on

82. I Never Cry - Alice Cooper: B
Probably the best of Cooper's hit ballads. The middle eight is really good. Still, a waste of talent as this wasn't his strength. Still better than the dire stuff that he did with Jon Bon Jovi.

83. Nobody Does It Better - Carly Simon: B
A good not great James Bond theme song. The song from Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch is solid, but what makes this record work is the combination of stellar production work by Richard Perry and really good performance by Simon. Simon doesn't sound like a classic Bond singer, but she really invests the song with feeling and nails the big ending. I think she could have written a better song.

84. High School Dance - The Sylvers: A
The final Top 40 hit for this family group, and the first one written by family members. This is pure bubblegum soul, sounding like an co-ed hypothetical -- what if you rammed The Beach Boys into The Jacksons. What makes this song killer: 1) the second half of the chorus, which has this combination of handclaps and pumping percussion, into a more aggressive choral celebration of high school dances, and, 2) just letting Foster Sylvers take some vocal lines. Why didn't he sing lead on every song? Anyway, this is just fun, fun, fun.

85. Love's Grown Deep - Kenny Nolan: D
More poor man's Barry Manilow from Nolan. Yuck.

86. Ain't Gonna Bump No More (with No Big Fat Woman) - Joe Tex: B+
The last pop hit for the gravel voiced singer best known for "I Gotcha". Yep, this is a song that would not have been acceptable nowadays. As things go, the lyrics are tame, and if you haven't heard the song, the title really sums it up. Perhaps I should grade this lower, but I really like Joe Tex. Blame disco for the lyrics, if you must.

87. I Wanna Get Next To You - Rose Royce: A+
Throughout the movie Car Wash, Franklin Ajaye is trying to win back his girlfriend, who is waitress at diner near his place of employment. He's trying to win tickets to a big concert, constantly running to a phone booth whenever the DJ announces another giveaway, hoping to win and impress her. During one scene, he goes into the diner to talk to her, and this song is in the background. It is a splendid soul ballad, with singer Kenny Copeland working his falsetto, and the bridge into the chorus is splendid, pausing for a beat and then getting to the chorus (which is just the title of the song). This is an old school soul song and a classic one, at that.

88. Somebody to Love - Queen: A+
I was surprised to see this on here. It peaked at #13, and it didn't get much airplay love here in Chicago. But the first time I heard it on American Top 40, I fell in love with it. After John Deacon had injected some R & B in the band, Freddie Mercury goes even further, as this is a gospel-inspired song. And the lyric is a great fit for the music, with Freddie questioning what God means to someone without love. Freddie, apparently inspired by Aretha Franklin, gives an incredible vocal performance and the multi-tracked combo of Freddie, Brian May, and Roger Taylor makes for an impressive chorus, especially during the vocal breakdown near the end of the song.

89. Muskrat Love - Captain and Tennille: D
This is a pretty dire song from the band America. The duo here adhered to the basic structure of the tour, but then Darryl Dragon added synthesized sound effects, which apparently made the song more attractive to some listeners. Toni Tennille does her best, but no singer could make this a good song.

90. Walk This Way - Aerosmith: A+
Critics weren't fond of Aerosmith back in the day, deriding them for ripping off Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds, for Steven Tyler being a poor man's Mick Jagger, and so on and so forth. The band's biggest crime seemed to be not getting to where they were first, which was very unfair. While Aerosmith's peak was very short (two classic albums in Toys in the Attic and Rocks), they did carve out an original sound, and part of the reason for that was being open to trying different things. And this song showed that approach really paid off. Joe Perry developed the riff while the band was touring, inspired by The Meters, he asked drummer Joey Kramer to lay down a groove on the drums, and the riff came from that. Eventually, he brought it to Steven Tyler and they fleshed it out. But the song wasn't fully developed while the band was in the studio working on Toys in the Attic. Short of material, they revisited the song. After going to see Young Frankenstein, producer Jack Douglas suggested the title Walk This Way Tyler wrote lyrics to it...and then left them in a cab on the way to the studio. So he threw them together in the studio, putting together such a great rhythm of words. The song sounded like nothing else on the radio, and it's not surprising how well it adapted to the later collaboration with Run-D.M.C. in the '80s.

91. Cherchez la Femme / Se Si Bon - Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: A
One crazy thing about disco is how quickly it attracted novelty acts. And, despite the great talent involved, Dr. Buzzard's was a novelty act, marrying big band and jazz to disco. But like I said, they were really talented, with a great singer in Corey Daye, and the future Kid Creole (August Darnell) and Coati Mundi (Andy Hernandez). This is just a flat out great song, modernizing old influences, with cool lyrics, top notch playing, and Daye sounding like she came over from Tommy Dorsey's band.

92. Year of the Cat - Al Stewart: A
Al Stewart was a cult British folk artist, known for his erudite lyrics, considerable guitar skills, and being the first major label artist to use the 'f' bomb in a song (though in a most genteel manner). A great talent, but there was nothing in his c.v. that would lead one to believe he had a future in the Top 40. Yet someone believed in this song, a lovely, mysterious song. It's tells a story, but quite abstractly. The hook in the chorus is subtle but killer in how it ties off each prolix verse. The best thing about the unexpected hit is that it was not any sort of concession to commercial notions. It just seems that, for brief period, the public tastes caught up to the man's talent.

93. Boogie Nights - Heatwave: A
This was the song that got Englishman Rod Temperton on the charts, the beginning of a long career collaborating with many people, most importantly Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. Heatwave was started by an American veteran who stayed in West Germany to form a band and eventually gravitated toward London, where he put together a truly international band. Hooking up with successful songwriter/producer Buddy Blue, this single was a great bridge between disco and funk. The song doesn't really have a verse-chorus-verse structure. It's basically just one chorus, over and over, but the chorus has multiple parts, so it works. And the band sounds really together.

94. Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac: A+
Angry break up songs don't often chart high, but few are as great as this masterpiece from Lindsay Buckingham. He started with the chords and opening line. He envisioned a rhythm somewhat akin to The Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man". So Mick Fleetwood came up with that great drum part that really helps the song stand out. This song definitely has a late-60's feel to it. The song makes a great use of dynamics, and each verse builds from Lindsay, his guitar, and Mick into the full band on the rollicking chorus. And Buckingham caps it off with some stinging lead guitar.

95. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word - Elton John: A-
If the Bee Gees were taking ownership of the latter half of the '70s, Sir Elton owned the first half. And while he didn't burn as hot in the second half of the decade, he kept cranking out quality hits. This was the big single off of Blue Moves, when his collaboration with Bernie Taupin was winding down. It's a really well done stately ballad. For most artists, this would be an artistic high point, but Elton had written a half-dozen or so other ballads even better than this one, which doesn't mean this isn't quite good.

96. Don't Worry Baby - B.J. Thomas: C+
I owned this on 45. I recognized that it was a great song. Indeed, this Beach Boys number is one of Brian Wilson's greatest songs, a simple love song with the car racing background. This is a solid, but unexceptional, cover of the song from a pro. Not inspired, but not so bad that you wanted to change the dial to another station.

97. Knowing Me, Knowing You - ABBA: A+
This is where folks in the rock world began taking ABBA seriously. Although you can hear some nifty slices of glam rock on deep cuts on early albums, ABBA's songs generally didn't rock. And this isn't some big time rock number, but it rests on power chords, which is why folks like Pete Townshend made their approval known to the public. This also is the start of ABBA's great break up songs. At this point, both couples in the band were together, but the tensions were building. And suddenly, the sad melodies that the writers spun out fit even better. Like all great ABBA tunes, this song has multiple hooks, and a great lead vocal from Anna-Frid.

98. How Much Love - Leo Sayer: A-
Sayer shows that he can have hit without singing in falsetto. This is just a good piano pumping tune, somewhat akin to Elton John, with a bit of a R & B thing going on in the background, verging on disco. This seems to be a forgotten song, but it's got great energy and Leo is on his game.

99. Main Title Star Wars - London Symphony Orchestra: B
This is what I love about Top 40 radio in the '70s. Aerosmith, followed by The Manhattans, followed by Elton John, this song, and then Ronnie Milsap. This is perhaps the most famous theme in movie history. It has a real majesty to it, fitting the awesome frontier of space. I just remember the Star Wars hype. I don't recall seeing TV ads, but they had ads for it on the radio. It was the movie that my classmates and I had to see. And it lived up to all the publicity. Hearing this theme takes me back to those days.

100. Devil's Gun, C.J. and Co.: B+
This was a massive disco hit. I was surprised to see it on this chart, as it peaked at #36 on the Top 40. Nevertheless, it spent 29 weeks in the Hot 100, earning enough chart points to sneak in the year-end chart. This was a studio group out of Detroit, guided by the great session guitarist Dennis Coffey. This is a cool piece of disco funk, with a nifty gospel-inspired chorus.

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