American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/30/79: Van Halen, “Dance the Night Away”

This is a notable countdown: it represented the first—and only, I think—time that the top five slots on the Hot 100 were all occupied by female acts: Rickie Lee Jones, Sister Sledge, Anita Ward, and two from Donna Summer. Casey also notes that Summer is just the fourth act—and first woman—to hold two of the top three spots on the chart (see My Favorite Decade’s commemoration here).

The top of that chart is pretty disco-heavy, clearly, and there are several other dance tunes to be heard on this show, including “Boogie Wonderland,” “Makin’ It,” “Does Your Mother Know,” and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” The next week, AT40 would present a special countdown, The Top 40 Songs of the Disco Era.

Casey’s staff put that show together just in time, as the backlash was ready to strike. I imagine we’ll be reading stuff in a couple of weeks noting the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. In six months, disco fever will have fully broken, at least in terms of presence on the pop charts.

Toward the other end of the pop/rock music spectrum, we’ve got “Dance the Night Away,” the second Top 40 hit from Van Halen, sitting at #18; it would very soon peak three spots higher. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a VH album from start to finish, though I’ve become acquainted with plenty of their stuff from listening to AOR radio over the years. Not that this makes me qualified to offer an opinion, I will nonetheless: David Lee Roth > Sammy Hagar as a front man, and it’s not especially close. The DLR material is simply more fun to listen to. After beginning to articulate this in my head, I did a quick rundown of Steven Thomas Erlewine’s reviews of VH albums at AllMusic—I found that even without me knowing their full catalog, I was hitting on a lot of the same things Erlewine noticed (not that I think I’m advancing a novel or controversial position). But I’ll also opine that Roth without Eddie, Alex, and Michael was far worse than VH with Hagar leading.

Anyway, if I were to try to list my ten favorite Van Halen songs, the only clear entry from the Hagar years would be “Right Now.” I’ve never been ashamed to laud “Jump,” but “Dance the Night Away” would be up near the top, too. Even if it’s not any particular showcase for Eddie’s unique talents, it comes across as almost effortless pop-metal. I spent several sunny Saturday evenings in May and June of 79 sitting in our kitchen with AT40 running; this song is one of several that puts me right back there.

2 thoughts on “American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/30/79: Van Halen, “Dance the Night Away””

  1. I used to prefer Hagar-era VH because I thought they wrote better songs. Roth-era VH just seemed to me to be Roth spieling over whatever big riff Eddie had squeezed out of his fingers.
    With time I have come to appreciate Roth-era VH to a greater degree.

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    1. You know, once I began ticking off singles from the Hagar era, I got to thinking it wasn’t as bad as I remembered–you have a point about better songs. Roth was definitely a goof but he was also a showman–I guess I think he and Eddie complemented each other to a decent degree.

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