An e-mail came in one day last week from a reader who found this site while searching for the Gerry Rafferty song “Days Gone Down,” heard on a recent American Top 40 repeat from the summer of 1979. “I couldn’t help noticing what a surprisingly mellow time that was, music-wise.” A look at a mid-summer record chart confirms that observation. Perhaps 1979 didn’t go down quite as we remember it. It was our disco summer, wasn’t it?
Disco was still riding high in that season, but apart from that, the radio was not rockin’ very hard. Take a look at the Cash Box chart for the week of July 21, 1979. There are but three rock records in the Top Ten—if you choose to count ELO’s beat-heavy “Shine a Little Love,” otherwise it’s just two, “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick and John Stewart’s “Gold.” The latter is rockin’ gently, as are most of the rock bands in the upper reaches of the chart this week: Peter Frampton, Poco, Rafferty, Supertramp, even Van Halen. KISS is at Number 17, but “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” is as wimpy as anything that bad-ass band ever recorded.
“I Want You to Want Me” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another” represent the extent of the rock ‘n’ roll bite among the week’s biggest hits, although several records that would return big riffage to the radio by summer’s end are on the way up: “My Sharona,” “Let’s Go,” “Goodbye Stranger,” “Bad Case of Lovin’ You.” As listeners, we perceived the coming of these records as an anti-disco backlash, and from 32 years away, it’s easy to connect them to Disco Demolition Night, which occurred in mid-July, although all of these tunes had already charted by then. But it’s just as easy to call them the sentinels of an anti-mellow backlash, because the first half of 1979 was the heyday of pallid, inoffensive pop songs, and the evidence is clear during this week: “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman,” “Do It or Die,” “She Believes in Me,” “Shadows in the Moonlight,” “Lead Me On,” “Up on the Roof,” “‘Suspicions,” “You Take My Breath Away,” and the list goes on. (If there are three longer minutes in this life than the time it takes Rex Smith to croon “You Take My Breath Away,” I have yet to experience them.)
History may remember 1979 as our Summer of Disco, but it would be just as accurate to call it our Summer of Schlock.
I’ve posted this before, but it’s worth another look and listen. I wouldn’t hear it until the fall, but it was on the chart in late July, and where it was getting airplay, “Saturdaynight” by Herman Brood was the most kick-ass thing on the radio that summer.