AM Gold: 1979

Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 71

One more. Just one more installment of Digging for Gold after this week’s and our journey through Time-Life’s AM Gold series is at an end. Here we go with the third batch of tracks from AM Gold: 1979.

Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)


#11: Blondie, “Heart of Glass” – #1 U.S. and U.K.; the first of four U.S. chart-toppers for Blondie.

Dw. Dunphy - I’d imagine those that knew Blondie from the first couple of albums were taken aback by this one. Punk princess Debbie Harry was all glammed up and discofied. The betrayal must have been impossible — or not. Sure, it is a pop-disco song, but it is a good pop disco song, and Harry isn’t really exerting herself that much on it. This track should be enjoyed with the same level of ease.

Jack Feerick - Everything else on this 1979 volume sounds like ‘70s — but “Heart of Glass,” from the first ticking of that Rhythm Ace, is pure Eighties. Even in this edited form, it’s the (then) future of music unfolding before your very ears.

And I do love that little hit-and-run dip into 7/8 time on the keyboard solo.

Jon Cummings -  I’d like to go on for awhile about Debbie’s perfection of the ethereal disco vocal that also enables the track to work just fine as a New Wave track, or about the relentless guitar riff, or … but the truth is, I don’t much like Blondie. Apart from “Dreaming” and sometimes “Atomic,” the opening notes of a Blondie song always had me reaching for the dial to change stations, from “Heart of Glass” straight through “Island of Lost Souls.” But here’s the thing: Dunphy’s opening line above worked for me in reverse, when I finally allowed myself (as a college student, six years after the fact) to listen to the band’s pre-”Heart of Glass” work. THAT’s what took me aback – the joyous and rockin’ quality of it. Sure, they were riding trends at least as much as setting them, straight from the start, but I really took to the girl-group influences on the debut album.

David Lifton - I have a distinct memory of seeing this video on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, and my parents seeing Debbie and saying, “Look at her eyes! She’s on drugs!” It was just like that scene in Almost Famous when Frances MacDormand holds up Bookends. Despite, or maybe because of, my parent’s scorn, I’ve always liked this song and now I love seeing that Clem Burke plays a Premier kit, because he wanted to be Keith Moon.


#12: Chic, “Good Times” – #1 U.S., #5 U.K.

Dunphy - My favorite Chic song, and even though it deviates so little from previous hit “Le Freak” that it should technically be disqualified, I still can remember hearing this playing down at the roller rink as a kid. I did NOT strap on the roller skates, Roller Skates!, because I had a natural inclination to falling on my ass. No, it was me grooving to “Good Times” while racking up points on the Space Invaders machine, thank you.

Feerick - “Le Freak” was disco stripped down to its starkest essentials. “Good Times” adds to that palette in small ways, but the template was so sparse to begin with that the changes feel grand: a more prominent role for the male vocals, a touch of proto-rapping, and (especially) the piano — from that monstrously distorted opening chord to the jabs and fills that lay down the blueprint for house music. Just divine.

Cummings -  I was never a huge fan of the protean, chanting nature of Chic’s hits, apart from “Le Freak” — and I had no use whatsoever for “Good Times” when it was out. They were singing about a life that didn’t have anything to do with mine … of course, as a 13-year-old I was focused on the fact that I generally stayed at least half a mile clear of the local skating rink … and so, for me, the track fit nicely into my “Chic works only on the dance floor” box. In any case, the litany of summer-’79 #1 hits goes like this: “Ring My Bell,” “Bad Girls,” “Good Times” … and then “My Sharona.” And that was pretty much it for disco as a chart-topping phenomenon (apart from La Streisand’s venture into the genre … and, I suppose, the wonder that is “Funkytown”).

Lifton - Even though it’s pretty much the same song as “Le Freak” and as expertly performed, there’s something missing from it – a sense of  playfulness that made the first so remarkable. Still, it does its job very well.


#13: The Doobie Brothers, “What a Fool Believes” – #1 U.S., #31 U.K.

Dunphy - Not much to say on this one. There’s probably an entire room at a server farm devoted to Popdose commentaries on “What A Fool Believes” so another paragraph is hardly necessary, but man is it easy on the ears.

Feerick - What I said last week about “After the Love Is Gone”? This is modulation done right. It sounds so simple and effortless, it’s easy to miss the changes.

It’s a world-class vocal, too — you can see why McD was Steely Dan’s go-to guy for harmonies — but what makes it move is the bass. The keys and drums keep a steady pulse, while the left hand is sparse and slightly off-kilter — the rest of the band is playing “The Great Pretender” while Tiran Porter thinks he’s jamming with the Wailers. It gives the whole thing a lift.

And I know we’ve discussed Michael McDonald to death, but it must be noted how much and how often and how successfully the Doobie Brothers transformed themselves, while remaining an identifiable brand. This is a million miles from the biker rock of “China Grove” or even “Black Water,” but it’s pure Doobie in a way that McD’s solo stuff isn’t.

Cummings - I don’t believe I’ve ever been brave enough to admit this on Popdose, since you all know where I live (metaphysically speaking, if not physically) … but my favorite memory of “What a Fool Believes” is rooting against it vociferously throughout the 1980 Grammy Awards ceremony. I wasn’t particularly rooting FOR anything else in the Record and Song of the Year categories — I was specifically rooting against the Doobies, because I … was … not a fan of “What a Fool Believes.” I’m still, I must sheepishly assert, still only iffy on the thing. I dunno … maybe I’m just not big on syncopated self-delusion? Anyway, I fully expect to be crucified on the altar of McD, so do your worst.

Lifton - Love the hell out of this one. The lyrics, once you can make them all out, paint such a vivid picture that “as she rises to her apology” still always gets me.


#14: Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman, “Stumblin’ In” – #4 U.S.

Dunphy - We’re four for four this time, aren’t we? This is Pinky Tuscadero’s second chart-topper, at least to my recollection, and who the heck knows what came of Chris Norman or his band Smokie beyond this track? This is a fairly charming, mostly inoffensive tune. I say mostly because this too has a bit of a bland streak in it, but I will take it over other songs of the day. Let’s hope the next song keeps the trend going.

Feerick - Ahem. That’s Leather Tuscadero, son, and don’t you forget it.

I never got that, really. On Happy Days Suzi Quatro was supposed to be playing tough rock ‘n’ roll chick, but she’s not exactly Pat Benatar, is she?

And Chris Norman (who he?) seems to be aiming for a Neil Diamond effect, which is bad enough — but he actually lands in B.J. Thomas territory, which is far worse. He dominates the duet by default, simply because Quatro is so bland. Sweet tone, good range — from the throaty lows of the verse up the octave to the chorus — but not a lot of character.

The Spanish tinge on the guitar solo is cute, though.

Cummings - Sometime over the last year I pulled a pretty decent selection of Suzi Quattro’s music off of eMusic, just to find out what the Brits and Europeans knew that we didn’t during the late ’70s. She rocked pretty hard and pretty well, which makes it all the more ironic that her only bite of U.S. radio success was with this flaccid little bit of fluff. She and Chris Norman (who was lead singer of the U.K. band Smokie, which also largely stiffed in the U.S. apart from “Living Next Door to Alice”) were both clients of the songwriting/producing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, often known as Chinnichap. We’ve covered plenty of Chinnichap already in this series, from “Ballroom Blitz” to “Kiss You All Over” and “Hot Child in the City” — but if we’re going to do a degrees-of-separation thing more relevant to this week’s discussion, it’s worth noting that Chapman produced not only Blondie’s Parallel Lines album (begetter of “Heart of Glass”), but also Get the Knack.

Lifton - I like how the song is in G but the verse starts on the A minor. That’s about the only positive thing I can say about it.


#15: Rupert Holmes, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – #1 U.S., #23 U.K.

Dunphy - Aw crap. It’s Pupkin.

I hate this song. Not as much as I hate “In The Summertime” because I totally hate that piece of crap, but this is a close runner-up for crapitulation. This song not only is an inch away from being a bunch of Vegas lounge tripe, but the lyrics…ye gods, the lyrics. The guy plans to cheat on his girlfriend…wait, I’m sorry. His lay-daah. So he’s going to cheat on his lay-daah with some personal ad piece-of-strange because she sounds like everything his old lay-daah isn’t. Turns  out this chick IS his lay-daah. That means they’re either both lying to each other or they’re friggin’ stupid. Bet the house on stupid.

I just can’t fathom it. We’re going out with this? This is the last song for the week? It hardly seems fair. I think we owe the readers something not so cruddy just by way of apology.

Chris Holmes - Then allow me to pimp Yacht Rock once again, especially since it relates directly to one of this week’s songs. Stuff like this is why the internet was invented.

Michael Parr - Is it just me, or does everyone wonder why the hell Rupert didn’t bitch-slap his old lady for trolling for some strange in the personal ads? Further more, what woman would laugh that shit off when her husband walked through the door after answering the ad? “Sweetie, I swear, I wasn’t going to do anything!” The utter lack of plausibility is just one of the songs many faults, but it doesn’t matter, I love this song despite them all.

Mike Heyliger – Time for you to write an expose, Parr.

“Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” – The TRUE story.

Feerick - I don’t have much to add to Mystery Science Theater 3000’s masterful exegesis of “Escape” …

… except to say that I liked this song better when it was Kate Bush’s “Babooshka.” Moving on, please.

Cummings -  I love and loathe this song simultaneously, sorta like Rupert and his old layday. It’s entirely appropriate that, as the ’70s itself did (this was the Christmas/New Year’s #1 in ’79), we get one more delightfully atrocious story song like so many we’ve heard through this series. I’m not finished cracking up over Parr’s analysis, which I (foolishly) hadn’t previously considered — so I’ll just finish by noting that when Rupert walked into that bar at the end of the song, I bet it was “What a Fool Believes” that was playing through the speakers embedded in the ferns.

Lifton - Rupert Holmes once said that people always want to buy him a piña colada, with the irony being that he hates piña coladas. I think that’s a fair Sisyphean punishment for inflicting us with this song.




  • mfeldman

    Love the MST3K analysis, though I must point out that “Junk Food Junkie” was incorrectly attributed to Henry Gross (as opposed to Larry Groce). I suppose that’s nearly as excusable as interchanging Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Black Oak Arkansas (see “Jackie Blue” in Digging For Gold 1975). I will also always remember the lead article in Rolling Stone’s special ’70s issue summarizing the decade by mentioning that the #1 song on the US charts when the decade began was “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” and when the decade ended it was “The Pina Colada Song” and declaring: “In with a whimper, out with a whimper.” Still, hard not to like it. Anybody else ever mishear that line as “I add hemp to champagne?”

    “What a Fool Believes,” the song that virtually *defined* yacht rock. I still find myself frequently compelled to point out that (a) There’s a version by Kenny Loggins which is oddly LESS commercial sounding and (b) It is not, in fact, Michael McDonald singing “Steal Away.” (aka What a Fool Believes 2.0).

  • Scarlett

    What about the rumors that MJ was singing background on WAFB? True? Not true?

  • http://robertcashill.blogspot.com BobCashill

    Rupert Holmes, the toast of Broadway again for the revival of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (85), which opened to raves last night.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    Good God, do not get Jason Hare started on “Steal Away” — he will cut a sucka.

  • http://redvioletblue.typepad.com/abyssgazing/ abyssgazer

    It doesn’t make the hurt go away.

  • http://jackfear.blogspot.com Jack Feerick

    This is apparently the source of the rumor, which is just goddam odd. I don’t suppose MJ had any reason to lie, but (a) he looks waaaaay fucked-up and out-of-it in that clip, and (b) layers and layers of complex high harmonies are pretty much a McDonald trademark — there’s a bit in the “Classic Albums” episode about the making of AJA where they isolate McD’s vocal tracks from “Peg,” and it’s just mind-blowing. He is more than capable of doing all that all by his lonesome.

  • dan

    Weird coincidence, but I heard Good Times today on the radio. And for the first time in my life I listened to the lyrics. “Clams on the half shell and roller skates, roller skates”?
    W – T – …..F?

  • http://www.facebook.com/barry.eisenberg Barry Eisenberg

    Wasn’t AM radio just about dead for pop/rock music by 1979? That wasn’t a comment on the music discussed here (though it could be)…I mean, FM was just about king and AM had seen its best days by the late 70s.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    I believe so, which is why I always found it odd that Time-Life went all the way through to ’79.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    I believe so, which is why I always found it odd that Time-Life went all the way through to ’79.