American Top 40 PastBlast, 3/24/79: Frank Mills, “Music Box Dancer”

I’m not a purist about the label ‘instrumental;’ as far as I’m concerned, an ‘instrumental’ can include some vocals (e.g., “T.S.O.P”, Bill Conti’s “Theme from ‘Rocky’”), though I admit this can lead to debates about where the boundary should be. Take two songs from May/June 76: I’d definitely call Brass Construction’s “Movin’” an instrumental, but I’m much more hesitant about doing so for Rhythm Heritage’s “Theme from ‘Baretta,’” which, let’s be honest, with the vocals so far down in the mix, is still really all about the music.  I suppose in the end, that’s my criterion: where is our attention being directed?

Just because, let’s take a gander at most of the (mostly) wordless hits of 78 and 79:

“Theme from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’” John Williams and Meco. One of the oddities of late 70s AT40 lore occurred on 1/21/78, when these competing versions of music from the Richard Dreyfuss flick debuted back-to-back, leading off the show. Each is quirky in its own way, and it’s hard to say which I like better. Williams got to #13, while Meco stalled out at #25.

“Feels So Good,” Chuck Mangione. My introduction to the flugelhorn. It’s a fabulous track. Half of one of the great two-song debut weeks, in terms of chart performance, 3/18/78: “Feels So Good” reached #4, while its partner, “The Closer I Get to You,” made it to #2.

“Let’s All Chant,” Michael Zager Band.  To me, this more or less follows the Silver Convention model: let the musicians do their thing for long stretches, and have studio singers repeat a few phrases over and over. I’d consider “Fly Robin Fly” and “Get Up and Boogie” both to be instrumentals, so here we are. Besides, in May 78, disco-goers had to be focusing on the groove here while working their bodies. Yeah, I featured this #36 hit a while ago.

“Chase,” Giorgio Moroder. I didn’t hear this all that much beyond its three AT40 appearances in March 79 (it’s on for the final time, at #34, on this show, and Casey’s insisting on calling it “The Chase”), but I liked it even then. Took me a while to realize the scope of Moroder’s influence in the dance music world, then and in ensuing years.

“Morning Dance,” Spyro Gyra. A thoroughly enjoyable jazzy piece from August/September 79; one kinda wonders how they wound up a one-hit wonder (though they did make the Hot 100 three other times). There’s all sorts of fabulous percussion here (not to mention that sax line!), but maybe it’s the steel drums in the intro that caught folks’ ears? Got as high as #24.

“Rise,” Herb Alpert. The biggest hit on this list, it gave Alpert the distinction of having an instrumental and a vocal #1 song. It spent most of the last four months of 79 on the show. Alpert snuck in the follow-up, “Rotation,” at #40 on the last chart of the decade.

“Music Box Dancer,” Frank Mills. I first heard “Music Box Dancer” on 3/3/79, the weekend it debuted at #40. The very next day, I bought the single at Recordland in the Florence Mall. There may be another 45 or two I purchased over the years after just one listen, but then again, maybe not. For whatever reason, I immediately found the combination of the melody and the “ah”-ing in what you might call the chorus pretty moving—I’ll still cop to thinking it’s a gorgeous piece. It’s #19 this week, and would make it to #3. Interesting that the recording was almost four years old when it began getting airplay in Canada, in the spring of 78. Obviously, we in the US were a little slow on the uptake even then…

My chart-keeping follies, part 23,617: the first couple of weeks Frank Mills was on the show, I wrote down the title of his composition as “Musicbox Dancer.”

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