Top 5: In the Driver’s Seat

(Late edit below, which you’ll want to read.)

As much as I love Ron Smith’s Chicago Top 40 Charts books, they’re missing something useful: there’s no chronological listing of the songs to reach #1 on the WLS surveys. So I can’t tell you for sure which record topped the chart the longest.  (Someday I might use the complete WLS chart archive at Oldiesloon to develop my own chronological list of #1s, but today is not that day.)

Here are some guesses: The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” was #1 for nine weeks in 1978. “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band and “I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett each lasted eight, in back-to-back runs early in 1982. Songs that spent a long time atop the Billboard Hot 100 are logical candidates for long runs at WLS, too. “You Light Up My Life” lasted seven weeks in 1977 (and charted for an amazing 35 weeks). In 1972, “American Pie” and “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack went six at #1. Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” (1981) went five, as did Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” (1976). (“Hey Jude,” which spent nine weeks at #1 in Billboard in 1969, was #1 for only a week on WLS.) However: on the WLS survey dated October 20, 1979, “My Sharona” by the Knack was in its 10th week at #1. I can’t think of another song likely to have stayed longer.

(Additional note: Shortly after this post went up, I got an e-mail from Ron Smith himself. He says the lack of a chronological list of #1 songs in his WLS book was an oversight, but he put one in the WCFL book he published later. And he was kind enough to send me a chronological list for WLS, which is a kindness that blows my mind. The list reveals that one other song topped the WLS survey for 10 weeks: “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, late in 1980. That wasn’t a song I went looking for in my patented half-assed search process the other day, but it certainly makes sense—WLS about drove people insane with that record.)

The memory of the critical backlash against the Knack intrudes on our memories of “My Sharona,” as does the fact that they failed to make another record remotely as good, and how within one year of becoming the most talked-about phenomenon in rock, they were finished. But in the summer of 1979, “My Sharona” blew away everything else on the radio. For over a year, the Top 40 had been dominated by brainless disco thump and watered-down pop ballads. “My Sharona”‘s big-ass backbeat and grinding guitar riff indicated that rock wasn’t dead. It was also a near-perfect record for radio, produced so that it would jump out of whatever you were listening on.

Also jumping out at WLS this week in 1979:

11. “Bad Case of Loving You”/Robert Palmer (up from 15). Palmer’s place in the mythology of this blog is secure: on September 25, 1979, touring on the Secrets album, he appeared here in Madison, and it remains the single greatest concert I have ever attended.

14. “Good Girls Don’t”/The Knack (up from 21). Anything the Knack put out after “My Sharona” was likely to have been a hit, but the gleefully nasty “Good Girls Don’t” was the best of the bullets they had left in the gun.

17. “After the Love Has Gone”/Earth Wind & Fire (down from 14). “After the Love Has Gone” should be on my list of radio momentum killers, but there’s a rush up the scale eight seconds in that makes it impossible for me to care, and by the time they get to the refrain, I’m slow-dancing in my head with whoever’s close by.

21. “Driver’s Seat”/Sniff ‘n’ the Tears (up from 23). The best thing on this chart, and whatever’s in second place isn’t close. “Driver’s Seat” reached #15 in Billboard and #21 on WLS (but was top-10 in Boston, Toronto, and Phoenix). Today, however, it’s beloved out of all proportion to its chart performance.

29. “Babe”/Styx (debut). It’s arguable that no band in the 29-year history of WLS as a Top 40 station was more popular than Styx, who seemed to be on the station’s air every five minutes, especially in the early 80s. It took “Babe” five weeks to reach #1, but it would stay there for seven, and would remain on the WLS chart for 26 weeks in all.

In the fall of 1979, I was working weekends at KDTH and far too many hours at my college station, feeling like I had the industry by the tail, plotting my run for program director at the end of the semester. Things did not quite turn out the way I envisioned them. What I didn’t know then, of course, is that they rarely do.

3 responses

  1. Jim, What do you think it was about The Knack that caused all the backlash? I remember even when “My Sharona” was beginning to slip back down the charts, some of the Houston radio stations really pulled back air play more then they would for a record slipping down the charts. “Good Girls Don’t” took forever to be added. I had a promo copy from the Capitol rep almost 5 weeks before I heard it on air. I know PD’s might sit on a record awhile before adding it, but considering how hot The Knack was, it was unusual.
    As to Robert Palmer, saw him in 1979 also, it was a fun show. He really got the audience involved, a great showman. You got your moneys worth with him, and he pored himself into every song. I heard his 80’s show after “Addicted To Love” was a hit, the shows were even better. Never got a chance to see him after that. Not many deliever that kind of show today.

  2. barelyawakeinfrogpajamas | Reply

    I’m always surprised when something by The Knack pops on the iPod that isn’t “My Sharona” – I have about a dozen or so tracks from a compilation – and how good their other stuff is, not “My Sharona”-good, but still worth the time.

    Good call on “Driver’s Seat.”

  3. Making mental note: Stand well clear of Bartlett when “After The Love Has Gone” comes on.

    Much of the Top 10 is cheesy, but from there on down it ain’t a half-bad chart, IMHO.
    Gotta love the album chart too. Off The Wall, Rust Never Sleeps and Highway to Hell back to back to back.

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