Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Five

When I sent off my list of favorites to Erik a few weeks ago, I’ll admit I was curious as to how many we’d have in common. I jokingly included an over-under line (7.5) in my email to him; I correctly took the under.

With so many possibilities, maybe it’s an upset that we even agreed on four selections. They’re a wide-ranging and interesting mix, that’s for sure. In chronological order:

Nilsson, “Without You” (February-March 1972, 4 weeks)

This is one I loved from the get-go—it simply feels like it’s always been there in my life. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I heard Badfinger’s original version. Their approach is perfectly fine, but I think the song demands Nilsson’s light, emotional touch on the verses and fantastic range for the chorus. I’d forgotten that Mariah Carey did a cover—she used the same arrangement, but Mariah is simply no match for Harry.

Love Unlimited Orchestra, “Love’s Theme” (February 1974, 1 week)

I hear the opening twenty seconds and I’m taken back to our living room in Walton, watching mid-70s weekend golf coverage on ABC—they’d chosen it for background music leading into or out of commercials. It’s such a smooth and easy piece—I think I could easily listen to a ten-minute extended version. To my mind, this is Barry White’s finest moment.

The Hues Corporation, “Rock the Boat” (July 1974, 1 week)

I had to restrain myself a little from placing some complete schlock, mostly from 1974, on this list (“Seasons in the Sun,” “The Night Chicago Died,” even “The Streak”). You’re welcome. “Rock the Boat” may get the eyeroll from some of you, but it’s a super catchy number, and the metaphor in the lyrics has held up well over the years. (Listening to this again I’m reminded that I’ve been meaning to research how many songs include the phrase “your bad self,” particularly to identify the first one to do so.)

I may have been introduced to “Rock the Boat” by a babysitter that summer of ‘74, a high schooler from our church. I can envision us hanging outside with her when it came on the radio she must have brought along—maybe she began dancing to it in our front yard?

The Knack, “My Sharona” (August-September 1979, 6 weeks)

The LP version is a must because of Berton Averre’s amazing extended guitar solo. At some point I began referring to “My Sharona” as the first song of the ‘80s, I suppose mainly for its mainstreaming of new wave sensibilities. When I staked this claim in a conversation last year with the brain trust over at The CD Project, he immediately countered that the Cars’ debut album should be considered the ground zero moment. He’s got a point.

I began putting this collection of songs together last summer. If you look back at these posts, you’ll notice that each year of the decade was represented either two or three times. That was intentional, but in the end I don’t it had too much of a distorting effect on my choices.

Erik and I also decided to tack on a few “honorable mention” selections. In coming up with them, I avoided songs from Erik’s twenty-five that I’d considered for inclusion on my list. I also refrained from choosing any that got mentioned in one form or another in our comments along the way. Here you go; I could write a little about each but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

The Carpenters, “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (July-August 1970, 4 weeks)
–The Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You” (November-December 1970, 3 weeks)
–The Honey Cone, “Want Ads” (June 1971, 1 week)
–David Bowie, “Fame” (September-October 1975, 2 weeks)
–Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, “A Fifth of Beethoven” (October 1976, 1 week)

I’m not sure what it says that out of the thirty songs I’ve highlighted across these five posts, nine come from the first two years of the decade, when I was really too young to know about music in any depth.

You can see Erik’s comments on our four joint selections and his HM selections here. Many, many thanks to him for agreeing to participate in this project. It’s been a blast, and we’re already kicking around ideas for future collaborations.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Four

The fourth installment in this look back to #1 songs from some of my formative years features some all-time greats: a stone cold R&B classic, the fellow who’s been involved in writing more #1 songs than anyone (pre-streaming era, anyway), one of the biggest international sensations of all time, and two tracks from one of the biggest selling soundtracks ever. Let’s start things off with a couple from lots of folks’ favorite left-handed bassist.

Wings, “Silly Love Songs” (May-July 1976, 5 weeks)

WH: A sentimental choice, as I’ll forever associate it with the spring I fell hard for AT40. At the time, you could find me listening to WSAI on my AM transistor radio practically everywhere I went. They played both the 45 and LP versions at the time—I’ve always favored the longer one.

EM: And I associate this one with the Bi-centennial summer. I was hooked on this one cause 1.) It’s Beatle Paul and 2.) and the crazy sound effects during the intro. What was up with all the squinches and galonks? Was it to prove that writing a love song was arduous work? An inside jab at Lennon? Or just another day at the office?

Paul and Linda McCartney, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (September 1971, 1 week)

WH: Macca’s the only artist who appears on my list more than once. “Band on the Run” was a legit contender for selection, but McCartney’s most Beatles-sounding hit won out. It’s true, however, that I’d always thought that Admiral Halsey had to have a bath or he couldn’t get to sleep.

EM: My uncle, who was nine years older, was a big McCartney fan. He had a sweet powder blue t-shirt with the Wings logo in silver glitter on the front. I think of him whenever I hear 70s Macca, especially this one, as he would randomly whisper, “the butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie” in my ear.

Personally, I dig just about everything Paul’s created, but I only included one of his on my list. And for the record, if I go by feels, “With A Little Luck” would have been my second choice.

ABBA, “Dancing Queen” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: Likely not my favorite ABBA song, but I cannot deny that it’s pop music heaven.

As noted above, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for the hits of 1976. However, I’ve come to decide in recent years that I like the scene in 1977 just a little better. I don’t think it’s because I have fonder memories of the time—I was in the middle of puberty and junior high, after all. I’m guessing one big reason is that was the year I played 45s (including “Dancing Queen”) to death on the portable turntable I’d gotten for Christmas at the end of 1976. Those songs, and many that charted alongside them that I didn’t buy, have really stuck.

EM: I love ABBA. I grew up on it. I was down when it wasn’t cool. And their reacceptance heartened me. I also cannot deny this is a beautiful piece of music. The vocals are just frosting on top of this prinsesstårta. And because I listened to so much of the group’s music, this one never stood out for me. I loved it, no more or less than the others. But if you push me, I would want to hear “Mamma Mia,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and “The Winner Takes It All” before I listened to this one.

The Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl” (May 1972, 1 week)

WH: The melancholy harmonica sets the scene perfectly. The guy knows he’s messed up and that he has no defense. The resignation in Eugene Record’s voice when he sings “I guess I better go” is one of the most achingly sad-yet-somehow-beautiful moments in all of 70s music.

EM: Here’s another Soul group that doesn’t get the love they should, especially their deeper cuts. That’s why I was happy when Beyonce lifted that horn sample from “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” and hopefully sent Eugene Record a few dollars his way. My only memory of this as a child was that I would confuse it with the Deputy Dawg bumper music, probably for the similar harmonica bits (kids are dumb). I’ve since come to respect its languid charm.

The Bee Gees, “You Should Be Dancing” (September 1976, 1 week)

WH: The Bee Gees had more #1 songs than anyone during the Me Decade—9—and settling on a favorite of theirs is tough. “You Should Be Dancing” winds up getting the nod. It’s a notable moment in their disco evolution, the first hit on which Barry fully embraces his falsetto. If this had been a “best #1 hits of the ‘70s” list, though, “Stayin’ Alive” would have been chosen instead.

EM: Let’s get this straight. The Bee Gees were always an R&B group disguised a folk-rock outfit. Arif Mardin recognized and encouraged their direction towards soul. It just so happened that Disco was getting added into the mix in the mid-70s, especially down in Miami, where they recorded. Such tracks like this ended up getting created and recorded, if not with intention, then by osmosis. And had they not written “How Deep Is Your Love,” this burner would have been on my list. More than anything newly recorded for Saturday Night Fever, this song was the true musical star of the film.

Yvonne Elliman, “If I Can’t Have You” (May 1978, 1 week)

WH: Barry snags his third songwriting credit here. I love the energy of the intro and the underlying rhythm in the verses. Sometimes I wonder how Elliman’s career might have panned out had she not hitched her wagon to the Gibbs—would she have found a different path to chart success? I can’t argue with results like this, though.

EM:  The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was a big part of childhood, at least most of it was. Since we had it on 8-track, we would skip the instrumental sections and play the same songs repeatedly until they were memorized. Yvonne’s take, which I prefer over the Gibbs’ version found on the B-side of the “Stayin’ Alive”45, breaks up the machismo with a soft yet confident vocal over lilting Philly-soul styled rhythm. And I was fascinated that her name started with a Y.

So, that’s 21 of the 25 I selected. To see Erik’s next set of choices, click here.

Why six today? Well, we elected to give the four songs we both picked their own post. A hint, if you care to spend any time on speculating what they might be: one is from 1972, two come from 1974, and one hit in 1979. Come back on Monday for those, plus maybe some odds and ends as the series wraps up.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Three

We’re crossing the halfway point of this exercise where Erik Mattox and I reflect back on charttoppers of the 1970s that still (sometimes, I suppose it’s now) mean a lot to us. This time, my set of five includes two long-running #1s from the early part of the decade, the biggest hits in the careers of two legendary performers, and one chart ascent that the artist never came close to duplicating. Let’s get on with the show:

Simon and Garfunkel, “Bridge over Troubled Water” (February-April 1970, 6 weeks)

WH: I can remember my father playing this album on his hi-fi when I was six years old. Hearing “Sail on, silver girl” puts me back in our living room in Stanford, the room where I’m introduced to music surging from a diamond needle applied to vinyl. I guess sometimes it’s the earliest memories that imprint themselves and wind up influencing how you feel about stuff even after a half-century. If I were giving you a ranked list in this series, “Bridge over Troubled Water” would slot in at #1.

I will go out on a limb to say this: it’s the classic it is in large part because Art sang it.

EM: This is one that I’ve come to appreciate a lot more with age and experience. As a kid, it would bore me to tears. My childhood connection to it would be sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. It’s a hard song to sing, but Art’s tenor effortlessly soars over a beautiful arrangement performed by the Wrecking Crew. A nice break-up gift from Paul to Art, netting them four Grammys and a lot of subsequent Simon jealousy.

Rod Stewart, “Maggie May” (October 1971, 5 weeks)

WH: The storytelling in “Maggie May” is remarkable. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of Rod’s–he had the look and the chops, but I think that all too frequently the material he chose was beneath his talent. Stewart sure ended up with quite a career, though. This, the song of a lifetime, was easily its peak moment.

EM: “Maggie May” is truly a high point in Rod’s catalog, but still not in my Top 25. It was so high he realized he could never top it, so instead, he went low with “Tonight’s The Night” and even lower with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” both of which hit #1. Now and then, Rod puts out a single that I enjoy [“Baby Jane,” “The Motown Song,” “Leave Virginia Alone” ], but I’d just as easily prefer to listen to a Faces album.

Thelma Houston, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (April 1977, 1 week)

WH: By my count, I chose five covers. We saw two last time (from the Captain and Tennille and Manfred Mann) and between this song and the one immediately following, there are two more today.

No offense to Teddy Pendergrass, but Houston just brings it on “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Three years ago, I wrote about it, “I was either too young or too naïve to get exactly what Houston was going on about (in 1977), but her vocal performance is so visceral that I should have figured it out anyway.” Yep.

EM: After “Disco Duck” reached #1 in late 1976, Top 40 radio regarded disco as a fad and began to turn towards the California rock of The Eagles & Fleetwood Mac. Between Rick Dees (who was nuts) and the fever of Saturday night, fewer dance songs crossed over to Pop radio, making Thelma’s smash a more significant triumph than many regard it. It’s so much more potent having a woman sing this. Hats off to Henry Davis, who plays a propulsive yet rubbery bassline that I’m sure influenced Chic’s Bernard Edwards.

Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good” (February 1975, 1 week)

WH: Ronstadt’s extended period of commercial success began around the time when the radio started commanding more of my attention. Were I to go back and rank Ronstadt’s Top 40 singles, it’s a virtual certainty “You’re No Good” would come out on top. I’ve noted before it’s the instrumental segment at the end, which comes almost out of nowhere, that got me interested in the rest of the song.

EM: Another one that could have been on my list. 1975 was such a fantastic year for chart-toppers; I could have compiled a Top 25 from those twelve months alone. And I was starting to intently pay attention to Top 40 songs, who sang them, the lyrics, intros, solos, and endings. I heard that Linda was singing this live for a few years before she recorded for Heart Like A Wheel, easily one of the most inspired covers she performed. Linda is definitely the star here, but let’s also credit Andrew Gold, who plays electric piano, drums, and the guitar solo.

Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia” (October-November 1973, 2 weeks)

WH: One of two #1 hits from 1973 whose title mentions the Peach State; you might notice the other one, by a certain colleague of Carol Burnett, is nowhere to be found (and would be a contender for a bottom 25 list).

The call-and-response arrangement of “Midnight Train to Georgia” makes the song come alive. It’s another case where my favorite song by an act is also their biggest hit.

EM: Originally recorded as “Midnight Plane To Houston” by songwriter Jim Weatherly, Cissy Houston’s producer asked to change it to its well-known title. Gladys and company heard it, crushed their take, and became her signature song. Still don’t know what a pip is, but I’m always down for some air train whistle during the “woo-woo” part.

Erik’s next five can be found here. You’re invited to check back on Thursday for our next installments.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part Two

On Monday, Erik Mattox and I began surveying chart-toppers from the 1970s that are near and dear to us, and now we’re back with another batch of fine tunes. This time my selections run the gamut from Motown and Philly soul to pure pop and AOR. When you’re done here, click over to Erik’s pad and to check out his next set of picks.

The Captain and Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” (June-July 1975, 4 weeks)

WH: My sister and I loved this so much when it came out and, like hordes of others, we became huge Toni and Daryl fans almost instantly. I’ve noted before that by 1975 I was getting old enough to consider there might be such a thing as a “#1 song of the year,” and that, based on my own anecdotal radio listening experience, “Love Will Keep Us Together” had to be the top song for ‘75. (Even if my logic wasn’t sound, I turned out to be right.)

EM: I watched tons of TV as a kid, more than I listened to music. And I was a sucker for variety shows, which would quench my thirst for both. So, I always made sure to catch Daryl & Toni each Monday night they were on. They used this as their theme, and why wouldn’t they? This keyboard-driven tune is easily the best pop single they recorded. Also, it’s the last #1 that drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine played on.

Did you know that the song’s writer Neil Sedaka originally recorded this in England in 1973 and was backed up by 10cc?

Dawn, “Knock Three Times” (January-February 1971, 3 weeks)

WH: There is no question that side one of K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits Volume 2 (an album my father picked up along the way) plays an outsized role in my memories and feelings about the music of the early ‘70s. “Knock Three Times” is the only #1 hit on that compilation. Despite all the lyrical clues, my seven-year-old brain screwed up where Tony’s apartment was relative to that of the object of his affection. It took years to unlearn the mistaken thought that she lived above him.

EM: Even though Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown stole a lot of this tune from the Drifters’ “Spanish Harlem” (and Dawn’s previous hit, “Candida”), I can’t deny how catchy this is or how it gives me a burning desire to smash things during the chorus. I do wonder what situation they imagined Tony Orlando (or us) to be in where we would have exposed pipes in our house to bang on and how tall we were or how low our ceilings were.

The O’Jays, “Love Train” (March 1973, 1 week)

WH: It’s great when such joy and positivity gets rewarded. Forget about the Coors Light commercials of the last decade or so; just join hands and climb on board.

Its trip to the top prevented Roberta Flack from having a second song spend six weeks at #1 .

EM: The biggest triumph for Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff has been co-opted so many times in the decades since. It’s easy to forget the significance of this slice of proto-Disco as a rallying plea for gender and racial equality and as the smoothest anti-war tune, you’ll ever hear. Lyrically, its strength lies in telling what you should do rather than what you shouldn’t. And I don’t care who has covered or will cover this tune. You are never gonna beat the choral sound of Walter Williams, William Powell, and Eddie Levert’s voices blended together.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “Blinded by the Light” (February 1977, 1 week)

WH: Here’s another song that snapped me to attention when I began hearing it on the radio; bought the single early in its chart run. My sister and I tried our best to decipher the lyrics that winter, to little avail. It took buying a copy of Song Hits magazine to knock out some of the more obscure passages, and even then, it was what Springsteen had written and not what Chris Thompson sang.

EM: As soon as I hear Manfred’s organ stabs, I’m transported to my backyard, rolling around the grass and running through our forsythia. When the verse was finished, and the guitarist played his triplet licks, I would run across the lawn as fast as I could before that Minimoog lead slid up to the top note, and as it wavered, collapsing to the ground while I stared into the Spring sun. Cause that was where the fun was.

And while everyone got caught up in the ‘was it deuce or douche’ discussion, I thought for sure Thompson said that “little Early Pearly gave me anus curly wurly, not “came by in his curly-wurly.” Mine makes more sense, especially since Bruce is writing about the music business.

The Jackson 5, “I Want You Back” (January 1970, 1 week)

WH: The song that launched/paved the way for quite a few careers, most notably that of precocious, eleven-year-old Michael. The intro is smoking, with a bass line to die for. MJ’s “All I need!” toward the end is simply the cherry on top.

EM: Thanks for including this, William. I didn’t put any MJ or his brothers in my list, but I will fully admit that their records are the only bubblegum that transcended the genre. I loved their cartoon and would watch reruns any time that I could. So, when I hear this single, or “ABC” or “The Love You Save,” all I can think about is the show’s theme song, a sped-up medley of all their hits at the time, while the band members flicked across the screen placed in their respective hearts along with Rosie the snake and the two mice, Ray & Charles.

The third installment is slated to go live early next week.

Twenty-Five Favorite #1 Songs of the 1970s, Part One

Last May I came across an article at by Troy L. Smith entitled, “Every No. 1 song of the 1980s ranked from worst to first.” Smith not surprisingly uses the Billboard Hot 100 as his source; he starts with “We Are the World” at #231 and, several thousand words later, lands on “Billie Jean” as his pick for best, a worthy choice in my opinion. I enjoyed reading the piece plenty—I’ve always been a sucker for lists—and forwarded the link on to my friend Erik Mattox, proprietor of the blog Music in the Key of E and The UnCola radio show/website. We’d already arranged to have a virtual meet-up at the end of the month and I thought what Smith had written would be good grist for the conversation mill.

It was, and by evening’s end, we decided to each take a stab at doing something analogous for #1 songs of the 1970s. Neither of us had the time or inclination to try putting 253 songs in order. But writing about 10% of that? You bet, though instead of identifying the 25 best chart-toppers of the 1970s, we agreed to write up blurbs about favorite #1s.

Time slipped away from us both, but recently we re-committed to finishing the project. And now we have. (In the meantime, Smith published his complete ranking of 1970s #1s in December. I haven’t read it yet but will soon.) Our choices will be presented in five chunks over the next 2-3 weeks, and as a bonus, we’re both reacting to the other’s picks. Let’s get going with the first installment.

Andy Gibb, “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (March 1978, 2 weeks)

William Harris: The youngest brother Gibb doesn’t have all that much of a voice, but he blew up during my formative age 13-14 period, so what can you do? Of his three #1 hits, this one is the fave, partly due to its slightly unconventional song structure, but also for its very low Barry quotient on backup vocals. It’s one of the songs that takes me back to snow days during the harsh winter weather of January 1978, my sister and I building snow forts and tunnels, playing board games, and working on jigsaw puzzles.

Erik Mattox: Under the category of timing is everything, Andy surreptitiously launched his solo career just before the Bee Gees were about to dominate in 1978. This track splits up a twelve-week run of Bee Gees #1s between “Stayin’ Alive” & “Night Fever.” This was written and recorded a full year before it was released and was a great follow-up to “I Just Want To Be Your Everything,” showing off Andy’s sensitive side to his teen idol worshippers. It gets lost in history even with a great hook with a nuanced vocal performance. So I’m glad William chose it.

Blondie, “Heart of Glass” (April 1979, 1 week)

WH: It’s not my favorite Blondie song—that’d be “Dreaming”—and I’m not 100% certain it’s my favorite #1 Blondie song (probably “Rapture”). But “Heart of Glass” leapt out of the radio the first time I heard it on a Saturday morning in mid-March 1979, right before either Mom or Dad drove me to Xavier University in Cincinnati, to the BASIC programming course for high schoolers I was taking at the time. It was my first encounter with Debbie Harry and company (perhaps I’d led a sheltered radio life to that point).

EM: Just as disco started to oversaturate the market, here came these downtown New York darlings to show us the way forward. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were inspired by the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” to write this, which is probably why I liked it so much. This song created the bridge from Studio 54 to the Mudd Club and Hurrah, elevating the form of New Wave dance music.

Gordon Lightfoot, “Sundown” (June 1974, 1 week)

WH: One of several tunes from 1974 that makes me think of my sister and me riding along with Mom in her blue 1970 Ford Fairlane. It’s also one of the first songs to which I paid close attention to the lyrics, not that I could fully understand them. One of these days I’m gonna do a deep dive on Gord’s catalog, as I don’t think I’ve disliked anything of his I’ve heard.

EM: 70s folk-rock was such that you could write a tune that sounds lyrically agitated but sounds musically mellow. Gordo was a tortured buddha. I thought this song was called ‘sometimes’ for years because I could never hear him sing the word ‘sundown’ clear enough. Also, “sometimes you better take care” makes a lot more sense to me.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Tears of a Clown” (December 1970, 2 weeks)

WH: One of the greatest intros of the era, from the calliope-like big top melody line down to the bari sax foundation. It wasn’t until researching for this writeup that I learned “Tears of a Clown” was already over three years old when it was released as a single (in response to it becoming a #1 in Britain earlier in 1970). Absolutely brilliant songwriting, though that shouldn’t be a surprise with Smokey and Stevie on board.

EM: Smokey is one of my all-time favorite voices, so it hurts me that I didn’t include this. I think it’s hard for me to remember this as a 70s song, probably because it was initially recorded in 1967. Its success made Smokey, who was about to leave the Miracles, hang out with the group for another two years. Four years later, the Robinson-less quartet would ride their “Love Machine” to #1, but Smokey would never see the mountaintop again.

Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain” (January 1973, 3 weeks)

WH: Maybe it’s the mystery surrounding the identity of its subject that have kept it near-and-dear all these years? Nah, it’s Simon’s ability to combine ice and fire. She’s obviously a woman scorned, yet in her disdain she’s still able to maintain some level of cool detachment about the man who’s done her wrong.

For what it’s worth, there was a total eclipse of the sun visible in Nova Scotia on March 7, 1970.

EM: It’s a shame that many have intertwined Carly’s career with James Taylor’s. For my money, she possesses a lot more soul in her work than he does, and it’s high time that it’s acknowledged and counted for on its own terms. The only thing they had in common was they were writing about the same person – him. I bet she cocked her head back and laughed like a maniac when she came up with that chorus.

I took songs like this literally, probably the same way someone on acid would. Your scarf was an apricot? There are clouds in your coffee? That was enough to jumpstart my imagination and hop into her world.

Come back later in the week for installment #2, and please hop on over to Erik’s place to check out his first five songs (and my reactions).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 2/13/82: Eddie Schwartz, “All Our Tomorrows”

The Cincinnati Bengals began play in the American Football League in 1968, and became part of the NFL two years later when the merger between the two leagues was completed. My father had been a Cleveland Browns fan in the 1950s and 60s but switched allegiances when their former coach Paul Brown became owner/coach of the new team closer to home. That quickly rubbed off on his children.

The Bengals had some success early on, scoring three playoff appearances in their first eight years, but it wasn’t until 1981-82, my senior year in high school, that they were able to win some postseason games and advance to Super Bowl XVI. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Ken Anderson, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 26-21 to the equally upstart San Francisco 49ers in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

(Seven years later, the Bengals were in Super Bowl XXIII. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Boomer Esiason, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 20-16 in heartbreaking fashion to the now dominant San Francisco 49ers. I wrote about that season three years ago.)

Soon after the 1980s ended, the Bengals became a really bad team for a really long time, almost fifteen years. Since 2005, they’ve been occasionally decent, occasionally awful, but until this year hadn’t won a playoff game since January 1991. They were probably the third or fourth best team in the AFC this past season, but lucked out in that there wasn’t a truly dominant team and have–finally–for the third time made it to the Super Bowl (maybe their real luck was not having to face Buffalo in the playoffs). QB Joe Burrow wasn’t the MVP, but seems to be on the cusp of a fabulous career.

The one time February 13, my birthday, was a chart date during the years I paid close attention to AT40 was that senior year in high school. While it was the last birthday celebration before I began my journey toward independence, nothing has stuck in my head from the day. FBLA Regionals and track season were in the offing, my college decision had already been made–I suppose I was taking life in stride (but perhaps also for granted).

The #30 song on that day was from a Canadian enjoying his one moment of glory on the U.S. pop charts as a performer. Eddie Schwartz would soon reach #28 with “All Our Tomorrows,” but he was already collecting royalties from penning “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Eventually he’d also contribute to Paul Carrack’s hit “Don’t Shed a Tear” and “The Doctor” for the Doobies.

Maybe on this date forty years ago, I was among the Bengals faithful still licking their wounds from the Super Bowl loss almost three weeks earlier. Thanks to now starting the season a week later than before, adding a week between the conference championships and the Big Game, and tacking on a seventeenth regular season game, the Super Bowl will now happen on my birthday every so often. It’s a trip and a treat to have the Bengals playing tonight.

In several hours, we long-suffering Bengals fans will know if we get to spend all our tomorrows remembering this as the day they won it all.

Bubbling Under, 2/3/79

The Bubbling Under portion of the Billboard pop charts from the first weekend of February 1979 included three songs that would go on to make the Hot 100: “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” by Instant Funk, at #106 but headed for #20, “Dancin'” by Grey and Hanks, at #104 on its way to #83, and “Now That We Found Love” by Third World, a fun reggae cover of an O’Jays tune, coming on at #101 and destined to reach #47. Here’s a quick synopsis at the other seven Bubblers from that week.

#110. Slave, “Just Freak”
With “Le Freak” at #1, we get a bit of titular symmetry at the other end. This funk band out of Dayton had already experienced Top 40 success with 1977’s “Slide.” All six of their pop-charting singles started off Bubbling Under; just two others besides “Slide” would graduate. This is the only week on for “Just Freak.”

#109. The Greg Kihn Band, “Remember”
Kihn was more than two years from breaking through with “The Breakup Song” (a big favorite around here) when he got a little attention with “Remember,” a pensive, acoustic-oriented piece. It had four separate runs on the BU chart for a combined twelve weeks, never climbing higher than #105. This is the first week of the third of those four runs.

#108. Chuck Mangione, “Children of Sanchez”
Mangione also had multiple tours of duty a-Bubbling with “Children of Sanchez,” three of four weeks each (this is part of the final one), topping out overall at #104. I don’t know the movie from which this comes, but parts of the tune do sound familiar.

#107. Robert Johnson, “I’ll Be Waiting”
Sometimes a song comes at you from two directions at almost the same time. Just a month ago, my friend Warren sent me a YouTube link to this power-pop gem featuring some blistering guitar work; now, here it is again. Obviously not the legendary bluesman, this Robert Johnson is a well-regarded session musician out of Memphis. Close Personal Friend, his debut album, is a minor cult classic. “I’ll Be Waiting” came in at #106 last week and is about to disappear.

#105. Gregg Diamond, “Star Cruisin'”
Diamond’s biggest claim to fame came three years prior to this, when he wrote and produced “More, More, More” for Andrea True. “Star Cruisin'” was the one song under his own name to hit the pop charts, spending two weeks at #102 in mid-March. If you came here seeking unadulterated disco bliss, you’re in luck.

#103. Barry White, “Just the Way You Are”
I was this-weekend-years-old when I learned that White had covered Billy Joel. Things kick off with some typical BW pillow-ish talk, but otherwise he stays faithful to the original. Alas, it would climb only one position higher than this.

#102. The ADC Band, “Long Stroke”
More funk, this time out of Detroit. It’s got a distinct Parliament-Funkadelic feel, which of course is not a bad thing. “Long Stroke” had already peaked at #101.

Modern Rock Tracks, 2/1/92

At the beginning of February 1992 I was well into my search for a tenure-track job at a college or university. I’d blanketed the country with packets containing a cover letter, my CV, and statements summarizing my dissertation research and teaching philosophy. I was not discriminating in where applications were sent–part of that was naivete, though it was true that the market was probably a little tight, with a number of mathematicians from the former Soviet Union looking to migrate to the U.S. Three weeks earlier, we’d all descended on Baltimore for the Joint Mathematics Meetings to give talks and attempt to impress institutions that were hiring with our potential. I participated in the Employment Register, which was run in a manner comparable to a speed-dating event. Both applicants and employers submitted lists of desirable targets, and a computer did its best to make matches. Applicants spent the better part of a couple of mornings visiting tables for 15-minute stretches. (I have no idea how many success stories arose from this practice, but it was still going on twenty years later–I got to participate on the employer side three times over the years.)

While I also had a few more extended interviews outside of the Register, I returned to Illinois without the sense I’d made a favorable impression anywhere. Truth be told, I really hadn’t given enough thought over the past couple of years about how I might contribute to the profession, and I imagine that showed when I talked with prospective future colleagues. The one thing I did come to realize as the process unwound was that I felt better suited for a smaller liberal arts place (much like my undergraduate institution) than a regional state school or (heaven forbid) a research university.

Three nice things from that conference external to any of the goings-on: 1) I had my first experience with Indian cuisine one evening–I’ve been a huge fan ever since; 2) I was able to hang some with Katie, who was in the middle of her first year at the University of Maryland; 3) I got a chance to listen WHFS, D.C.’s alternative rock station. It was a welcome change of pace from the options in Champaign-Urbana. That said, I was already aware (through 120 Minutes, mostly) of a number of the songs on this Modern Rock Tracks chart. It’s one I’ve been anxious to tuck into for some time, so without further ado…

#28. Lush, “Nothing Natural”
I’ve written about my affinity for “Nothing Natural” before, on a mixtape write-up–it’s the song that really turned me on to Lush.

#27. My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow”
Under all the noise–and despite the vocals being buried in the mix–there’s a conventional song structure here (although with an instrumental interlude instead of a chorus). Loveless is regarded as a masterpiece, but it also proved to be a dead-end for MBV–how do you follow up something like it?

I am a big fan of this song.

#25. Pearl Jam, “Alive”
Something tells me we’ll be hearing more from these guys.

#23. The Real People, “Window Pane”
I noted last go-round how some album covers (for records I never bought) from this period plant me right back in the Campustown Record Service. Here’s another one, seen below. Not sure I heard “Window Pane” back then. It’s a nice piece, but I think it would have gotten more notice had it been recorded about a year earlier.

#21. The Lightning Seeds, “The Life of Riley”
The title of the U.S. 1940s-50s radio and TV series The Life of Riley came from an already well-known expression. After reading through the Wikipedia page for that show, I now understand where a phrase my mother and grandmother frequently used–“What a revolting development this is” –originated.

I realize this really doesn’t have anything to do with Ian Broudie’s latest single, but that’s part of the price you pay for coming here.

#19. Lloyd Cole, “Tell Your Sister”
Cole borrows ‘Rue Morgue Avenue’ from “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” but this solid rocker about an other-side-of-the-tracks relationship bears no other resemblance to Dylan.

#14. Live, “Operation Spirit (The Tradition of Tyranny)”
The pride of York, PA, made a little noise with debut album Mental Jewelry. This Jerry Harrison-produced tune is just a little too earnest; I’m more of a fan of songs on their 1994 breakthrough Throwing Copper.

#13. Social Distortion, “Bad Luck”
Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell helped Mike Ness and band maintain the momentum their previous, self-titled release had established. “Bad Luck” wound up as their greatest success on the MRT chart.

#12. Midge Ure, “Cold, Cold Heart”
The former singer for Ultravox strikes with a single from his third solo album, Pure. No relation to the Hank Williams classic (or the recent Dua Lipa/Elton John hit, for that matter)–instead it’s a uplifting tune with a delightful African feel. Somehow I overlooked this one back in the day; it was the discovery of the weekend.

#11. Saint Etienne, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
There’s a strong chance this will be the best Neil Young cover you hear today. Even if I think it goes on a little too long, these Brits came up with an irresistibly trippy groove. This gets two big thumbs up as well.

#4. Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend”
Another excellent song featured on an earlier mixtape post. Twelve days after this chart date I’d hear Sweet play this in concert, opening for Robyn Hitchcock.

#7. U2, “Until the End of the World”
#2. Lou Reed, “What’s Good”
#1. The Talking Heads, “Sax and Violins”

The top ten is chock-full of tunes off the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. U2 still has “Mysterious Ways” on the chart at #15, as well as yet another song from Achtung Baby that we’ll address come April. “What’s Good” also appeared on Reed’s Magic and Loss, while “Sax and Violins” showed up on the Heads’ compilation Sand in the Vaseline. Somehow this last song escaped my notice then; I’m making up for lost time now.