While pondering tunes heard early in his Seventies childhood the other day, the writer at Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas mentioned that he no doubt heard some of them while in the back seat of his family’s turquoise AMC Gremlin. I mentioned in a comment that back in those days, my then-wife and I had a friend who drove a Gremlin, though hers was yellow with black stripes, and I added that we ourselves had owned an AMC Hornet (green, of course).
And that got me thinking about the spring of 1979, when we got that 1974 (I think) Hornet, replacing the clunky and decaying Ford Galaxy that the other half of the household had been driving for a few years. (We’d already upgraded the vehicle in my side of the driveway, going from a clunky 1967 Falcon wagon to a 1972 Toyota Corona with a stop at a 1971 Plymouth Duster along the way.)
We’d been talking about retiring the Galaxy for some time, but our conversations continued to carry the tone of “We’re going to have to do something one of these days,” rather than the urgency of “We need to replace that car this month before it falls apart.” And then, one evening, she noticed an ad in the shopping supplement published by the Monticello Times offering a Hornet for sale for what seemed a reasonable price. The car was just outside the little burg of Becker, about eight miles away.
The next day was a Thursday, a slow day at the newspaper, and the Other Half was able to get away from her office as well, so we drove to Becker. The car looked and drove fine, and though neither of us was too mechanically inclined, we noticed no obvious flaws, so we told the seller we were interested and headed back to Monticello to check out financing.
And here’s the part that seems remarkable to me: From the Times offices, I walked across the parking lot to the local bank at about one o’clock that afternoon. Ten minutes later, I was sitting across the desk from George, one of the owners of the bank. And fifteen minutes later, I was walking back to my own desk in the next building after depositing something like $900 in my checkbook to buy a car.
That doesn’t seem like that much money these days, but according to an online inflation calculator, that $900 was the equivalent of about $2,600 these days. And all it took was a brief conversation, some simple work on a short loan form and less than half an hour. The equivalent transaction these days, I imagine, would take at least a couple of days.
But as I think about it, there were a number of things that made that transaction easy: First, the bank was an independent bank, and George – being one of the co-owners – was the final authority. My application didn’t have to be shuffled up a paper chain through three or four managers. Second, George’s bank was the only bank in town: The Other Half and I had accounts there, as did the Monticello Times, so George probably had a good idea of our financial circumstances even before he looked anything up. And if something went wrong, all George had to do to find me was walk across the parking lot. Third, and this pretty much trumps everything else: Monticello was still a small town, with about 3,000 people. And at the time, that’s how business was done in a small town. Maybe it still is, but I have my doubts.
Anyway, by the time the sun set that evening, the Hornet was in our driveway, and we were most likely listening to the radio as the evening wore on. And we likely heard at least a couple of the Billboard Top Ten from the fourth week in May of 1979:
“Reunited” by Peaches & Herb
“Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer
“In the Navy” by the Village People
“Love You Inside Out” by the Bee Gees
“Goodnight Tonight” by Wings
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” by the Jacksons
“Just When I Needed You Most” by Randy Vanwarmer
“Stumblin’ In” by Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman
“Love is the Answer” by England Dan & John Ford Coley
Well, if we heard some of those that evening – and I imagine we did – it might have been a long evening indeed. The only record I ever liked of any of those – and I still like it a lot – was the Sister Sledge single. That Top Ten shows me clearly the reasons I spent a lot of time listening to a light jazz radio station in those days.
As usual, though, a closer look at the Billboard Hot 100 from that week – dated May 26, 1979 – reveals some interesting tunes and tales. Musically, one of the best things I see as I look down that list was a tune by three one-time members of the Byrds that was sitting at No. 78. “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” by McGuinn, Clark & Hillman had peaked a week earlier at No. 33 and was on its way down the chart. The group’s self-titled album, the source of the single, got as high as No. 39. A second single from that album topped out at No. 104, and a second album, City, got only to No. 136 in 1980. But “Don’t You Write Her Off Like That” does have some charm:
Over the course of his career, the late Frank Zappa had five singles reach the Hot 100 or its Bubbling Under section. Of course, Zappa being Zappa, those singles were, well, different. Thirty-two years ago, the acerbic and surreal “Dancin’ Fool” was sitting at its peak position of No. 45, giving listeners across the country Zappa’s skewed view of the disco craze. I’m not sure it mattered to him, but the record would end up being Zappa’s second-highest ranking record ever. (“Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon Unit, went to No. 32 in 1982.)
Another take on the wide outbreak of disco fever (and yes, the Other Half and I did watch Deney Terrio’s syndicated show on Saturday evenings) came from Roxy Music, whose forlorn “Dance Away” was sitting at No. 58 during the fourth week of May in 1979. The tune, like much of the album Manifesto, was more accessible than had been earlier Roxy Music projects. As All-Music Guide notes: “[T]rading sonic adventure for lush, accessible disco-pop isn’t entirely satisfactory, even if it is momentarily seductive.” I’m not sure I agree entirely. In any event, the single peaked at No. 44.
I’ve listened to “Church” by Bob Welch, the one-time member of Fleetwood Mac, a couple of times since I saw it listed at No. 86 in the Hot 100 from this week in 1979, and I still don’t know what to make of it. In some ways, I hear a lost great single, very much of its time but better than most of the stuff on the radio in those days. But I’m also hearing bits and pieces of other stuff from the time, as if Welch were imitating groups and performers who themselves were influenced by the early 1970s Fleetwood Mac. And I hear echoes of the Mac’s own Mystery to Me album from 1973. At any rate, the single went only as high as No. 73. On the other hand, the album Three Hearts – the source of “Church” and a follow-up to 1977’s French Kiss – got to No. 20.
In 1978, Chris Rea had a No. 12 hit with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over),” and the album Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? went to No. 49 (although the title track of the album went peaked only at No. 71). In the spring of 1979, Rea’s “Diamonds” peaked at No. 44 and was sitting at No. 93 during the fourth week of May. It doesn’t seem to have had the charm that made “Fool” a hummable hit. Although Rea never cracked the Top Forty again, he’s done some interesting stuff, and I’ll likely be writing about one of those interesting tracks next week.
Smack dab at the bottom of the chart for May 26, 1979, is a relic of one of the worst programming decisions in television history. Charged with reversing the decline of NBC Television in the late 1970s, Fred Silverman evidently decided that the best way to find a hit was to throw lots of crap at the wall and see if any of it stuck. One of his ideas was to craft – and the word is used loosely there – a series around a duo of young Japanese women who sang disco songs in phonetically rendered English. The show, officially titled Pink Lady also featured American comedian Jeff Altman (which provided the show with its popular title of Pink Lady and Jeff). Wikipedia notes: “The format of the show consisted of musical numbers alternating with sketch comedy. The running gag of the series was the girls’ lack of understanding of American culture and the English language; in reality, Pink Lady did not speak fluent English. Jeff would then attempt to translate and explain the meaning of things which led to more confusion. The series also featured Pink Lady performing various songs . . . along with interaction with celebrity and musical guests. The group would end the show by jumping into a hot tub together.” The show was ranked No. 35 by TV Guide on its list of the fifty worst television shows ever TV Guide. And at No. 110 in the Billboard Hot 100 from May 26, 1979 was “Kiss In The Dark” by Pink Lady.