Chuck’s Record Collection: “1979 – Beyond The Beat”

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Although “disco” became a dirty word at radio by the end of the year, Top 40 throughout 1979 went beyond the beat.

Two K-tel collections – Circuit Breaker at the year’s start and Starflight at its end – offer a smorgasbord of both the outgoing disco and the incoming sounds that would vie for the attention of radio programmers and record buyers.

By this point, K-tel had grown up a bit both in content and form from the fizzy collections of the early ’70s.

For starters, covers no longer resembled teen magazines with headshots of a half-dozen stars of the moment.

Instead, buyers received graphic-design treatments of the title metaphor: an electric jolt in the former…

…and a space cruiser’s rainbow contrail in the latter.

Then, there was the quality of the recording itself.

No longer forcing 22, 20 or even 18 songs onto a single disc, K-tel resorted less often to the obvious sonic compression that characterized earlier releases.

Indeed, these albums’ covers boast of being “produced from the original master recordings … from the highest quality material available.

Hype? Yes – but most songs on these albums sound like their 45 or LP counterparts.

And finally: the selections themselves.

Listeners would find few surprises and no bubblegum or intentionally wacky choices on either album.

Indeed, folks like Tom Breihan who aren’t fans of adult contemporary music might find them “boring.”

I don’t. I find a lot to enjoy about both sets, even if there are few easy 10’s… or awful 1’s.

Rock finds a place:

Each collection includes both Top 10 hits and durable lower-chart performers.

  • On “Circuit Breaker,” Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” follows the Top 20 hits Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” and the Patti Smith Group’s “Because the Night.” 

Starflight” pairs Foreigner’s “Blue Morning, Blue Day” with Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and Peter Frampton’s “I Can’t Stand It No More.

In both cases, the songs were organized in “rock blocks,” similar to what you’d find on AOR-oriented Top 40 radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

East Coast/West Coast before rap:

Two similarly styled disco-pop hits flaunt their West Coast and East Coast roots.

  • Circuit Breaker” kicks off with Leif Garrett’s cheesy “I Was Made for Dancin’,” a song that earns whatever accolades it gets from tapping into a vibe of Beach Boys-meet-Shaun Cassidy at the disco.

Meanwhile, side two of “Starlight” begins with David Naughton’s “Makin’ It,” the lite, lite version of “Saturday Night Fever”-style New York disco pop.

I’m more partial to Naughton than Garrett; your mileage may vary.

Odes to the recently departed:

(That would be as of 2023, not 1979.)

  • The late Bobby Caldwell’s moment in the sun, “What You Won’t Do for Love,” shows up on “Circuit Breaker..” (Complete with his picture on the back cover, so buyers of this album weren’t among those reading his obit last week and saying, “Wait, he’s white?”

And Thom Bell, the prolific producer who passed away a few months back, is represented on “Starlight” via “Mama Can’t Buy You Love,” his collaboration with Elton John (and a highly underappreciated track).

Ready for the ’80s:

Each collection has one song that peeks at the trends in the decade ahead.

  • On “Circuit Breaker,” Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” hints at the country-meets-adult contemporary movement that would lead to “Urban Cowboy” and the rise of Eddie Rabbitt, Juice Newton and others.

And on “Spotlight,” M’s “Pop Muzik” flies the banner for British new wave and what we’d hear from Human League, Soft Cell and their cohorts.

And disco’s not quite dead yet:

Both collections have a few selections from the dance floor.

  • On “Circuit Breaker,” Sylvester’s classic “Dance (Disco Heat)” follows the Raes’ “A Little Lovin’ (Keeps the Doctor Away),” Chanson’s “Don’t Hold Back” and Rick James’ R&B/funk hit “Mary Jane.
  • Starflight” includes Bonnie Pointer’s discofied take on “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” and the collaboration “Boogie Wonderland” crediting Earth, Wind & Fire…

… while errantly leaving off the Emotions.

Lots to enjoy in both sets for pop music fans, then and today.  

Top-shelf: On “Circuit Breaker:”

  • What You Won’t Do for Love
  • Michael Johnson’s “Bluer Than Blue
  • Because the Night”
  • Right Down the Line
  • The Babys’ “Every Time I Think of You
  • Firefall’s “Strange Way
  • Dance (Disco Heat)

On “Starlight:”

  • “Mama Can’t Buy You Love”
  • Blue Morning, Blue Day”
  • “Pop Muzik”
  • Heaven Must Have Sent You
  • Boogie Wonderland”
  • “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”
  • Robert John’s “Sad Eyes”
  • Maxine Nightingale’s “Lead Me On”
  • Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know”
  • and Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited”

Decent: On “Circuit Breaker:”

  • “You Needed Me”
  • “Hot Blooded” (the 45 version isn’t as good as the LP version)
  • Nigel Olsson’s “Dancin’ Shoes”
  • “Don’t Hold Back”
  • “A Little Lovin’ (Keeps the Doctor Away)”

On “Starlight:”

  • “I Want You to Want Me”
  • “I Can’t Stand It No More”
  • “Makin’ It”
  • Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman’s “Stumblin’ In”
  • and the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “Do It or Die.”

The Yuck: No complete catastrophes.

… Although I have to be in the right frame of mind for “I Was Made for Dancin’,” Dr. Hook’s “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” or Ian Matthews’ “Shake It.”

Question marks:

Rick James’ “Mary Jane” is an odd choice on “Circuit Breaker,” as a song that missed the Top 40 and is off on its own R&B/funk island.

Still, it hints at what we’d hear in a few years on “Super Freak.” 

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (9 legal).

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Pauly Steyreen
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March 27, 2023 10:10 am

“Mary Jane” reminds me of the movie Friday. Definitely a weird addition for an album that leans pretty hard into lite rock and adult contempo sounds.

For my money, Gerry Rafferty is the big winner on Circuit Breaker (apologies to Patti Smith) and M wins on the inferior Starflight album.

mt58
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March 27, 2023 10:43 am

I really tried to like Stumblin In, because I always rooted for Suzi Quatro.

But boy, it’s a tough record. I’m usually a fan of a cool cold-open, but it didn’t work for me. Not to mention the sing-songy lyrics. Oof.

Was expecting a full-on Chuck-Yuck for that one.

Phylum of Alexandria
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March 27, 2023 10:55 am

Nice, I like the eclecticism of the compilations. Though sometimes I question the sequencing. Apparently Circuit Breaker opens with “I Was Made for Dancin” and then goes straight to Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me.” Talk about breaking the circuit!

I never heard “Pop Muzik” before, but I love it. Thanks for the recommendation!

dutchg8r
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March 27, 2023 11:26 am

What an eclectic selection for those compilations!! Those are the best kind though, like snapshots of music available up and down the dial – old school shuffle mix.

Chuck, is there a compilation album out there you know exists but you haven’t found yet? How complete is your K-Tel collection?

LinkCrawford
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March 27, 2023 12:54 pm

I would happily listen to either of these compilations! But this is from that era of music that I liked almost everything on the radio. (But I would pick up the needle and skip “Because the night”, because I can’t stand that song.)

I didn’t have either one of these collections, but I remember seeing both of them in the store.

JJ Live At Leeds
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March 27, 2023 2:16 pm

Dr Hook definitely makes it into The Yuck selection for me. There’s a lot of these that I don’t know, more than usual it seems as I’d say well over half of these titles don’t ring any bells.

Pop Muzik of course I do know, flying the British flag and almost one hit wonders wonder here as well with their only other top 40 hits being a #33 and ten years on from the original a remixed version of Pop Muzik got to #15. Though I had thought it was a chart topper here only to realise it was kept off the top spot by Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes; the sad sack lament to the lives, loves and sometimes violent deaths of some bunnies. I’m half surprised that doesn’t feature in these compilations.

lovethisconcept
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March 27, 2023 2:21 pm

Dr. Hook and Robert John are both hard passes from me. Agree with you on most of the rest. I can’t judge Leif Garrett fairly. I don’t think that I would have liked him in any case, but having a young relative who played him nonstop while she gazed lovingly at his posters on her wall means that I sicken immediately at the sound of his voice.

cappiethedog
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March 27, 2023 4:38 pm

Maxine Nightingale had a follow-up hit? I’m not familiar with “Lead Me On”.

(time lapse)

I know this song.

You cleared up a mystery for me.

I worked with Yvonne Elliman’s current husband. Stopped being Rob Gordon for five seconds and bought “20th Century Masters: The Millennium Edition(oh, I just made myself sad, I misspelled “millennium” initially).

I was looking for “Lead Me On”.

I played and replayed “Love Me” over and over, convincing myself that this was the song I was searching for. It’s a 7. I thought, oh, you’re older now, you went through a Ministry stage, tastes change. But there was something in the back of my mind that screamed you’re in denial, that’s not the song.

“Lead Me On” and me, reunited.

It’s a 10.

Have a great day, Chuck Small.

Thanks.

mt58
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March 27, 2023 4:49 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

I love that even in the comments, cappie operates in real time.

Atta dog.

cappiethedog
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March 27, 2023 10:57 pm
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“Couldn’t Get It Right” was the other song I was long-separated from because I couldn’t recall the lyrics quite right. And then, like magic, I heard it at an event called Beatle-lele. The warm-up act played it, on a…self-explanatory. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Eleanor Rigby” played on four…

blu_cheez
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March 27, 2023 4:48 pm

Right Down the Line” is an absolutely amazing, close to perfect, song. That is all.

dutchg8r
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March 27, 2023 7:16 pm
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Why, I had a very similar package arrive in my mail today as well! Thanks, Gracious Host mt!

mt58
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March 27, 2023 10:25 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

 🙂 

mt58
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March 27, 2023 10:25 pm
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 😌 

mt58
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March 27, 2023 10:27 pm
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Aww… !

And remember, all: if you wrote even one article for us last year…

https://www.tnocs.com/happy-birthday-to/

… hit me up!

Last edited 5 months ago by mt58
cappiethedog
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March 27, 2023 10:59 pm
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How many mugs are left? I’m just worried about my e-mail giving your e-mail a virus.

mt58
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March 27, 2023 11:21 pm
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Nah, no worries. Our spam filter is robust.

Every author gets a mug! Hit me up!

submissions@tnocs.com

cappiethedog
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March 29, 2023 7:10 pm
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I get this error message that says “your ICloud settings are out of date.”

Just had to know who J. Baud was. Was. Not. Worth. It.

Eric-J
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March 27, 2023 9:20 pm

David Naughton – what a weirdly multifaceted pop-culture footnote:

  • Star of long-running “I’m A Pepper” commercials, which were ubiquitous at the time.
  • Had a significant hit with Makin’ It, which was also the theme song for a sitcom in which he starred. It lasted 9 episodes. (And co-starred Ellen Travolta, John’s sister.)
  • Star of “American Werewolf in London,” a truly classic horror-comedy with ground-breaking special effects.
  • Then, just kind of faded into bit parts.

https://youtu.be/7We6t2qOG-o

cappiethedog
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March 27, 2023 11:03 pm
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I just bought An American Werewolf in London on Arrow. I remember “Makin’ It”. I never made the connection before. For some reason, I thought Steve Guttenberg was the “I’m a Pepper” guy,

Eric-J
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Eric-J
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March 28, 2023 10:13 am
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That sounds like a pretty common Mandela Effect memory.

Edith G
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March 28, 2023 1:05 pm

Maybe it’s because that’s the year I was born, but I think 1979 was still a good year for music (with some exceptions, like my own birthday song “Reunited”, which is one of the most “meh” among the “mehs” ever).

In this compilation there are songs that I really like such as “What You Won’t Do for Love”, “You Needed Me”, “Dance (Disco Heat)”, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, “Boogie Wonderland” and “Heaven Must Have Sent You”. There are few songs that I don’t know, but I have to give a listen.

Ozmoe
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March 31, 2023 8:40 pm

Like most hits by the Atlanta Rhythm Method, er, Section, “Do It or Die” has pretty much vanished from regular rotation even on most hardcore oldies stations. Even their guitar-heavy version of “Spooky” seems to get less airplay to my ears than the original by the Classics IV during Halloween season. A shame, since I’ve always liked their stuff.

washingtonknight
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April 10, 2023 8:35 pm

Such time capsules! I especially like the inclusion of “Lead Me On” by Maxine Nightingale. I prefer that to her Number Two hit.
“What You Won’t Do For Love” and “Bluer Than Blue” sound like a one-two yacht rock combo.

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