Something last week – a conversation with the Texas Gal or maybe something I saw on television or read in Time magazine – reminded me of the Steven Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So on one of my trips to the library, I found the DVD and spent a couple hours the other evening reacquainting myself with the film.
I thought the story held up for the most part – I could have done with fewer scenes of Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary attempting sculpture – and the special effects still worked, even after thirty-four years of increasing proficiency in visual effects. It was apparent that the movie was made before the existence of MTV, as the pace of the editing seemed a bit slow at points: I noticed several times that static shots were held when the arc of the story seemed to demand – by today’s story-telling tendencies, anyway – quicker cuts and movement.
Still, the movie worked. And I still think that the shot of the aliens’ mother ship rising over Devils Tower is one of the great visuals in film history.
Beyond that, watching Close Encounters reminded me of the times in 1978, during my first months in Monticello, when I would head off to the Twin Cities suburbs on a Saturday morning and spent the day taking in two, sometimes three movies. I’d see one or two films in the late morning and afternoon, meet a friend for dinner and then see another movie before heading forty miles up Interstate 94 to home.
I remember vividly a few of the films I saw on those days: Saturday Night Fever, The Turning Point (which seems to be forgotten these days), Looking for Mr. Goodbar and, of course, Close Encounters. I remember being spooked and thrilled by Spielberg’s film, and I recall thinking about the scene in which Neary is stopped in his vehicle at a dark intersection. He waves absently at the vehicle behind him to pull around and misses entirely the fact that the vehicle’s lights rise in the air behind him.
A little spooked, as I said, I was keeping a close eye on the lights of the vehicles in my rear view mirror as I drove home to Monticello.
So what was I hearing on the radio as I drove home? Well, at least one of those movie days in the Twin Cities took place in early April, and here’s what was in the Billboard Top Ten as of April 8, 1978, thirty-three years ago today:
“Night Fever” by the Bee Gees
“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees
“Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton
“Can’t Smile Without You” by Barry Manilow
“If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman
“Emotion” by Samantha Sang
“Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
“(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb
“Thunder Island” by Jay Ferguson
“Jack and Jill” by Raydio
It was, as many weeks in late 1977 and early 1978 were, a good week for the brothers Gibb. Along with the two tunes at the top by the older brothers and the one track from younger brother Andy, the Bee Gees had written the Elliman single and the Samantha Sang single (which was produced by Barry Gibb). Overall, I’m not crazy these days about any of the tunes in that Top Ten, although I liked the top two well enough at the time (before they were played to death).
So what else do we find on the chart that week? Let’s jump close to the bottom for our first stop and then backtrack:
A couple of years ago, I got an email from my Wisconsin pal jb, proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He wondered if I had a copy of “Mama Let Him Play” by a Canadian group called Doucette. I checked the files, and found nothing there. Intrigued – and not about to let on that I’d not heard of Doucette until that moment – I cast my virtual nets out into the Web, and found the album, also titled Mama Let Him Play. I shipped the mp3 of the title track eastward, noting that I was not sure if the album track was the same as the single edit. (It wasn’t, based on the video I above.) [Note on May 3, 2014: The video originally posted was the album track; the single was not actually not a single edit but an entirely different recording, according to reader Yah Shure. See his comment below. The video posted as of May 2014 is, I believe, the mono promo single.] I probably should have mentioned my ignorance, but then, not a lot of people knew about “Mama Let Him Play” when it was out. A pretty good record, it peaked at No. 72; thirty-three years ago today, it was at No. 88 and in the first week in the Hot 100.
At No. 31, there’s the only Top 40 hit for a two singers who were also well-regarded studio musicians. One can find the names of Lenny LeBlanc and Pete Carr in the credits of many a record made during the 1970s in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the spring of 1978, their single “Falling” – from their album Midnight Light – was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 13. Two other tracks from the same album, “Something About You” and the title track, also made the Hot 100, peaking at Nos. 48 and 91, respectively. (Both LeBlanc and Carr have solo albums in their discographies: I don’t think I know any of LeBlanc’s solo work, but he had two singles in the Hot 100 in 1977 and 1978. Carr released two albums in the mid-1970s, and his 1976 release, Not A Word On It, is particularly worth finding.)
The disco trio of Brooklyn Dreams had four singles in the Billboard Hot 100 from 1977 through 1983, but not one of them got any higher in the chart than No. 57. “Music, Harmony and Rhythm” was that best-performing single, and it was sitting at No. 61 thirty-three years ago this week.
(You really need to look at this video if for no other reason than to see some great Seventies hair.) The single isn’t a bad piece of work – I do like the introduction – but it seems to have gotten lost among the multitude of similar disco tunes on all the turntables. The trio did get some notice during 1979 when they were credited as being featured on Donna Summer’s “Heaven Knows.”
The band Angel, says All-Music Guide, “epitomized the type of commercial rockers who were hated by rock journalists but adored by their fans.” The quintet from Washington, D.C., had its greatest success in the spring of 1978 when a cover of the Rascals’ “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” went to No. 44. In the chart of April 8, 1978, the record was at No. 77 and climbing. It’s not a bad single although I’m sure I would have ignored it had I heard it in 1978.
I’ve mentioned before my affection for Boz Scaggs’ Down Two Then Left, the relatively unsuccessful 1977 follow-up to his 1976 masterpiece Silk Degrees. Despite my admiration for the album, only two singles from the album made the Billboard Hot 100, and neither of them made it into the Top 40: “Hard Times” went to No. 58 in late 1977, and “Hollywood” went to No. 49 in the spring of 1978. Thirty-three years ago, “Hollywood” was at No. 100 and was heading off the chart, having tumbled thirty-three spots from the previous week.
Brooklyn again: Brass Construction, a nine-man disco/funk group from the New York borough, was in a downward slide on the pop chart. The group had hit the Top 20 in early 1976 with “Movin’,” which went to No. 14. Later in the year, “Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)” entered the Hot 100 but stalled at No. 51. And in the Billboard chart we’re examining today, “L-O-V-E-U” was bubbling under at No. 105, having peaked a week earlier at No. 104. It’s a good tune, but like the Brooklyn Dreams track mentioned above, not all that different from a lot of stuff that was out there at the time. The group did much better on the R&B chart, placing seven records in the Top 40. Of those, “Movin’” went to No. 1 for one week, “Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)” went to No. 8, and “L-O-V-E-U” peaked at No. 18.