This weekend forty-four years ago, the top ten on Billboard‘s pop singles chart included hits by the Bee Gees (two of ’em, even), Paul Simon, Styx, and Queen; “Baby Come Back” was #1. Way on the other end, sitting just outside the Hot 100 in the Bubbling Under section, were songs almost exclusively by R & B and dance acts. Only one–Stargard’s “Which Way Is Up?”–went on to graduate from purgatory, and it eventually climbed to #21. I wasn’t aware of any of the others at the time, but I sure can work on appreciating them now. Let’s take a look:
#110. Grace Jones, “La Vie en rose”
This cover of Edith Piaf’s signature tune went Top 5 in Italy and the Netherlands, and made #10 on the U.S. Dance Chart. Taking a song like this on demonstrates that Jones was already plenty willing to go big or go home. Here, she won, even if it would climb only one spot higher.
#107. The Blackbyrds, “Soft and Easy”
These former Howard University students were already done with their Top 40 career, having hit twice with “Walking in Rhythm” in 1975 and “Happy Music” a year later. They would continue making on the Soul chart until 1981, one of which was this quiet storm number that climbed to #102 here.
#106. The Village People, “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)”
I was about six months away from knowing about the Village People, but disco-goers all across the nation had already been grooving to them for a while. “San Francisco” spent an incredible twenty-four straight weeks from October ’77-April ’78 a-bubbling, never getting above #102. (It made a few one-week returns after that, as well.) It bears more than a little resemblance to “Macho Man” without being as immediately arresting.
#105. Dorothy Moore, “With Pen in Hand”
Vickie Carr had the most successful version of this Bobby Goldsboro-penned tearjerker, reaching #35 in 1969. It was also a hit to varying degrees by Billy Vera (in his pre-Beater days), Goldsboro, and country singer Johnny Darrell. Moore (who reached #101) really draws out the pathos at the end as she says goodbye to the daughter for whom she’s just lost custody.
#104. T-Connection, “On Fire”
We’ll wrap up on a higher note with a couple of funky funfests (or are they fun funkfests?). First up is a Bahamian group who had their greatest success in the spring of 1977 with the #46 hit “Do What You Wanna Do.” “On Fire” is another one that wandered in Bubbling Under territory for quite a while–fourteen weeks, never getting higher than #103.
#103. Parliament, “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”
A few weeks after this, “Flash Light,” the second single from Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome (was there a better album title at the time?), would light up dance floors and climb to #16 on the pop charts. At this moment, though, “Bop Gun” was close to wrapping up a nine-week Bubble run, having already topped out at #102.
Exploring these tunes today makes me realize I was missing out on something at the time. Was I just too focused on Top 40 stations to go exploring around the radio dial? Too young to appreciate a wider variety of music? I dunno; I’ll just have to work on continuing my education…