Friday, October 12, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 8 - The Ballad Of Tony Manero (Disco's Biggest Year Pt. 1)

Ah, Disco.  Love it or hate it (and I was definitely in the Steve Dahl camp growing up), Disco was everywhere in 1977, a cultural force that completely reshaped how many around the world danced, dressed, and lived (and that was all before Saturday Night Fever the film hit in mid-November, which sent Disco-fever into the stratosphere).

But as meteoric as Disco's rise had been, it's fall from grace was just as dramatic, finding itself nearly irrelevant from a mainstream standpoint within another few years, and the butt of a never ending array of pop-culture jokes for decades to come.

But then, around the turn of the century, based in part on the success of the play Mama Mia, the expanding electronic music scene, and especially, the rapidly growing popularity of a pair of French robots, a positive reappraisal of Disco began to emerge and has continued to gain traction ever since, to the point we find ourselves at now, where Disco is widely regarded as one of the most dominant influences on the music of today.

So now that we are all deeply enmeshed in Disco Phase 2, let's take a two-mix look back at some of the biggest hits in the biggest year of Disco Phase 1.

Here's the link.

About The Artists/Albums/Songs:

1. Night Fever - The Bee Gees: Kicking things off with another Bee Gees cut from the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, aka the best selling soundtrack of all time (over 45 million copies), and also arguably the most influential soundtrack all-time, with probably only the Jimmy Cliff-dominated The Harder They Come soundtrack and just maybe the soundtrack to The Big Chill giving SNF a run for its money. But give this cheeseball classic its due, there's never been a single album that single-handily encapsulates an entire genre the way the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack does disco. And a funny tidbit about Night Fever - it actually appears in a way on the soundtrack twice. After the recording of Night Fever was finished, its physical drum track tape was cut and spliced back together in an alternate pattern to get the drum track for Stayin' Alive

2. Take A Chance On Me - ABBA: This second single from Abba's late 1977 release Abba: The Album was their final UK#1 hit of the decade, powered by its rhythmic "Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance" vocal riff that originally was just a pace-keeping nonsensical chant band member Bjorn Ulvaeus would hum to himself when jogging.

3. Boogie Nights - Heatwave: One of my personal disco favs, Boogie Nights was the first in a long string of late-70s/early-80s hit songs for the Britain-based but international in makeup Heatwave, which boasted members from America, England, Switzerland and Czechoslavakia.

4. A Fifth Of Beethoven - Walter Murphy: The first of three chronological cheats on this mix and the next that were actually originally released before 1977 but felt like they belonged here due to their inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, composer/arranger/producer Murphy tried for several years to repeat the fluke success of A Fifth Of Beethoven to no avail, but he would go on to experience tremendous success over the next four decades as a film and television composer, with several of his biggest, award winning efforts coming from his many collaborations with comedian / show runner Seth McFarlane.

5. Yes Sir, I Can Boogie - Baccara: Though they never had any chart impact in the States, this first song ever by a pair of Svengali-controlled Spanish flamenco dancers/folk singers turned disco divas was one of the biggest songs of the year throughout Europe and within a short period became the best selling single of all-time by a female act or artist until Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You surpassed it in 1992. They would continue to thrive in Europe for a few more years exclusively as singles artists, and then see interest in their song revived in 1997 with the success of the British comedy The Full Monty, which featured the song prominently in its soundtrack.

6. Boogie Shoes - KC & The Sunshine Band: Another chronological cheat, Boogie Shoes first appeared on the Florida act's 1975 debut KC & The Sunshine Band, but didn't become a hit until late-1977/early 1978 after its inclusion on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack.

7. Strawberry Letter 23 - The Brothers Johnson: This song was one of three late-70's hits for the Motown-promoted but LA-based Brothers Johnson, a pair of actual brothers who went by the amusing nicknames of Lightnin' Licks and Thunder Thumbs.

8. I Just Want To Be Your Everything - Andy Gibb: The song, the very first release, single or otherwise, from the Bee Gees' kid brother Andy, was one of the biggest hits of 1977, dominating AM radio throughout August and September of that year. It was so omnipresent at the time, even my mother, who rarely paid much attention to music as she was bogged down raising two unruly tween-age boys, bought a copy of the single.

9. By Way Of Love's Express - Ashford & Simpson: Possibly the greatest husband and wife songwriting duo in R&B history, by 1977, after 10 years of penning Motown hits, including but not limited to most of Marvin Gaye's collaborations with Tammi Terrell, Ashford & Simpson were as focused on their performing career as their songwriting/production efforts, releasing two albums over the year. This track was one of two R&B hits from their bigger-selling second album of that year, Send It.  We'll catch a track from the duo's first album So So Satisfied when we get to Part II of our look back at Disco's biggest year.

10. How Deep Is Your Love - Bee Gees: So here's another fun factoid about Saturday Night Fever the film.  The Bee Gees did not work on the soundtrack until after principal photography was finished. Most of the dance scenes were actually performed with Boz Scaggs or Stevie Wonder playing in the background, but when Scaggs refused to license Low Down and other tracks to the film because he already had an arrangement with another disco-themed film in the works, the Bee Gees were contacted.  This track here would go on to win the 1978 grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Group.

11. Love's What's Happenin' - The Emotions: Considered amongst the most influential all-female acts in soul history, the Chicago-based Emotions made the canny switch from Gospel to Disco right as Disco was taking hold. By '77, they were at the peak of their popularity, based in no small part on Rejoice, the best selling record of their career, and the album we pull this deep cut from here. The album's top track, Best Of My Love, has already been profiled on our Vol 2 - Nancy's Favorites.

12. Jack And Jill - Raydio: This late December '77 lead single from the eponymous debut full-length for the Ray Parker, Jr.-led Raydio (yes, Ray Parker Jr. of Ghostbusters fame), a song which reworks the Jack and Jill fable in a tragically modern romanticized way, was the band's first hit, but they would continue to appear on the US R&B charts for the remainder of the decade.

13. Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band - Meco: Meco was the recording name created specifically for this classically cheesy novelty disco track by well-respected industry session musician, producer, Chuck Mangione high school buddy, 1960s West Point graduate, and bonafide Star Wars nut Domencio Monardo. Holding down the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, it was, like for so many artists on this mix, the biggest hit of his career.

14. You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On) - High Inergy: Pasadena's High Inergy would land a number of small hits on the US R&B and Pop charts throughout the remainder of the 70s, but none would hit with the impact of their debut single here.

15. (Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again - L.T.D.: Yet another one-hit wonder from 1977, this song could have just as easily ended up on our upcoming funk mix.

16. Don't Leave Me This Way - Thelma Houston: Motown originally planned on giving this monster cover of the Blue Notes' original to Diana Ross, but for some reason changed their minds and gave to one of their younger emerging artists instead.  It would go on to win Thelma Houston the 1978 Grammy for best R&B Vocal Performance.

17. Devil's Gun - C.J. & Co.: The super funky title track to C.J. & Co.'s debut album was the highest charting song of the Detroit-based production duo's short-lived careers, but it continues to land on film soundtracks to this day.

18. Float On - The Floaters: Another of the biggest singles of 1977, Float On peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, but spent a full six weeks topping the US soul charts. It would be this R&B act's only mainstream hit.

19. If I Can't Have You - Yvonne Elliman: Yvonne Elliman was a well known Hawaiian singer of Japanese and Irish descent, who in addition to having a few charting singles in the early 70s, had also been an original member of both the original stage version and 1973 film production of Hair (as Mary Magdalene) and toured as a back-up singer for Eric Clapton. After landing a top-20 hit with the Bee Gees-penned Love Me in 1976 she was recruited by the Bee Gees to perform How Deep Is Your Love, a song they written specifically for her, on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, but producer Robert Stigwood objected, thinking How Deep should be performed by the Bee Gees, so they gave her another new song, If I Can't Have You, instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

20: Love Is In The Air - John Paul Young: Though he would have greater international success in the UK, South Africa, and his native Australia (after emigrating from Scotland as a child), Love Is In The Air was the only American hit for John Paul Young.

21. More Than A Woman - Bee Gees: Though one of the few songs original to the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack that was never released as a single, this has always been my second favorite Bee Gees' number from the soundtrack after Stayin' Alive.

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