American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/10/79: Sister Sledge, “He’s the Greatest Dancer”

My 9th grade Health & PE teacher was Ms. Ryan (she was also sponsor for the cheerleaders and coach for the softball and girls’ track teams during my high school years). That spring, with the birth of her first child fast approaching, we got a long-term sub/student teacher, a young woman whose name I’ve long forgotten. What I do recall about her is the disco line dancing she taught us.

We spent a few weeks of our PE time in March and/or April on this effort; I guess it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to do as far as aerobic exercise goes (it does make me think she may have spent some of her evenings at nightclubs). I didn’t pay too much attention to the names of the dances we learned, but I know we did some variation of the thing from Saturday Night Fever (finger points and all), and it could well be we tried to tackle the Bus Stop. “YMCA” was all the rage right at this time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we spelled that out as part of it all, too.

Spring 79 was close to the perfect time for this sort of activity. While disco music had been around for over four years at this point and had spawned many musical careers, movies like SNF and Thank God It’s Friday had catapulted it to near ubiquity. (Casey says on this show that there are 13 disco songs on it, to that point an all-time high.) It wouldn’t be long before the scene started sinking under its own weight, however.  The backlash came swiftly, and with a vengeance; Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago was just a few months away, and soon adult contemporary, country, and even a little new wave ruled the charts. It would have been unfathomably uncool to learn those moves just a year later.

I don’t remember to which songs we boogied down, but this dynamite groove from Sister Sledge would have been an excellent choice. The four siblings (Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy, who’s singing lead) from Philly caught their big break when Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic took an interest in them; their first two albums had stiffed. While “We Are Family” is forever their most-noted song, I’ve always liked this one better, even if the lyrics are an ode to superficial attraction. It’s debuting at #38, just ahead of Chic’s “I Want Your Love”—two slinky, fantastic bass lines from Edwards back-to-back!—and it got to #9. Sorry that the sound quality in the video isn’t all that good, but at least we get to see some fine moves from the era. As it turns out, today is the first anniversary of Joni’s death.

Ms. Ryan is still part of the Walton community and remains much beloved. Amazing to me to think that the baby boy she had that spring is now almost 39.

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