Chart Digging: April 8, 1978

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.

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8 Responses to “Chart Digging: April 8, 1978”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    John Williams’ “Theme From ‘Close Encounters…'” is the song that takes me back to that time, as it was one of those records I never got into on the WJON hit parade. The Brooklyn Dreams record, however, is one that I hadn’t even thought about, let alone heard, since it left the Radio 12 playlist. Not a bad one at all, that one.

    I did some direct A/B comparisons of the Doucette single and album track a few years ago. Due to mix differences, the single is a unique version, and cannot be edited from the LP track.

  2. porky says:

    When I managed a used record store in the late 80’s folks would shell out 30 bucks for the Doucette LP (it was out of print but still played on the radio). That song continues to have a hold on folks here in the area; a co-worker some years younger heard it and HAD to know who it was.

    Pete Carr did a couple of instrumental LP’s in the style of Jeff Beck’s “Blow by Blow” period. Very nice but no Beck (but who is?)

  3. Opus says:

    “Mama Let Him Play” was in my band’s song list for a couple of years, occupying a revered spot in the first contiguous block of tunes, seven in all. (We didn’t take breaks, just sewed tunes together through the night for uninterrupted entertainment.) It also has a permanent spot on my 32GB iPod. We also did “Keep On Running” for a few months after it came out, but Jerry had relatively weak material aside from this one gem.

  4. Alex says:

    I absolutely love Angel’s “Winter Song” — for more details go here.

  5. jb says:

    I am late getting to this post, but better late than never to say that anyone who doesn’t love “Mama Let Him Play” is a flawed and sad human being. I am also a big fan of “Falling,” and I suppose I should someday write about the reason why.

  6. Yah Shure says:

    @Porky: It was the same story here in the Twin Cities, where “Mama Let Him Play” remained one of KQRS’ “secret weapons” for years. Two decades ago, my neighborhood store had literally dozens of used copies of Jerry’s ‘The Douce Is Loose’ follow-up album, but copies of MLHP never turned up. I bought the MLHP CD when it first came out on the local Era/K-tel label, and was floored to see it fetch prices well north of $100 after it, too, quickly went out of print. Unfortunately, the CD was a needle-drop, with the top end No-Noised into oblivion.

    A used vinyl copy on Mushroom finally turned up in those same used bins a couple years back for under three bucks, and both it and the 45 sound great.

    We gave Doucette’s “All I Wanna Do” single a couple weeks’ worth of airplay on WJON, but it generated no listener interest at all.

  7. Yah Shure says:

    @whiteray: Just to clarify, the “Mama Let Him Play” single and album track are, for the most part, different *mixes* done from the same recorded performance. Most notably, the U.S. Mushroom 45 – which was in stereo – has one guitar panned hard left from the start, while the second guitar is centered between the two stereo channels. On the LP track, both guitars are centered right down the middle.

    The 45 mix *does* have a unique backing track once the song kicks into the “Mama let him play, let him play” refrain (at 2:03 on the posted video.) This allows the song to be concisely edited, yet still sound smooth. There’s simply no way to edit the longer refrain on the album track without it sounding like a bloodbath. I tried it, and it was not pretty!

  8. porky says:

    one more comment:

    It would help if I actually had read all the way through the piece on LeBlanc and Carr before chiming in about Pete’s solo LPs. Duh.

    “Falling” was on the charts when I worked in radio and I have a soft spot for the tune. Me and a co-worker used to joke about their name: “I can’t start le blanking car!!” It seemed funnier thirty some years ago….

    In the used record biz one always heard strange conspiracy stories about what drove used record prices be it disappearing master tapes or other skullduggery of the business. I heard a story that after Heart made it big the owner of Mushroom ended up in a trunk and the tapes went missing, hence certain over-priced Mushroom titles. Here’s a little salt to take with that tale…..

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