Breakdown By Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Shelter, 1978)


Tom Petty is a rock and roll legend. That should not be understated. He is considered the leader of the heartland rock movement and an American icon. Their blue collar stick-it-to-the-man punk energy may have mellowed over time, but his lyrics and attitude have always been straight forward, getting right to the heart of their intention. Tom & the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, the first year they were eligible.

Interestingly the first people to embrace him were not the US; they were the British. TPH had 2 Top 40 hits in the UK (Anything That’s Rock N Roll, American Girl)  before having any success in their native homeland. Of course once they had some some fortunes Stateside, they began to break out in a big way. And it all started with their first failed single which refused to die – Breakdown.

Breakdown was the first single released from The Heartbreakers self-titled debut in late 1976. It had a simmering mysterious quality to it due partly to Benmont Tench’s soulful keyboards and Mike Campbell’s melancholy downwards lick on the guitar over a steady, taking-my-time drum beat. Building up with Tom’s lo-fi verses crescendoing into a snarling chorus with label mate, Phil Seymour on back up vocals. Then it drops back down to a more confidently sung verse, like Ali going back to his corner before another round. Tom hits the chorus hard again before slithering away like snake that finished his meal with ‘go ahead and give it to me’ seemingly a dare to his partner. And who doesn’t dig that fake intro? But…

It flopped. So did the subsequent 2 singles they released, even as they garnered status overseas. But as the band kept touring in the UK and in the US, Shelter Records decided to re-release the 45 in the Fall of 1977. The song’s chart run on the Hot 100 was a testament to Tom’s never say die energy, so let me lay it out for you.

November 5th, 1977 – The song debuts on the Hot 100 at #90, one spot below (Love Is) Thicker Than Water by Andy Gibb and one spot above Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Santa Esmeralda, both of which would peak higher than Breakdown. The #1 song was You Light Up My Life by Debby Boone. We needed Tom more than ever!

November 12th, 1977 – Breakdown jumps 10 spots to #80. Runaround Sue by Leif Garrett debuts at #79. It, too, would peak higher.

November 19th, 1977 – Breakdown jumps another 10 places to #70. Leif jumps 20 spots. Also I Honestly Love You by Olivia Newton-John, a former #1 from 1974 has been re-released and sits at #63.

November 26th, 1977 – Happy Thanksgiving. But not for Tom who only moves 5 notches to #65 as the song loses its bullet. Meanwhile future Wilbury, Jeff Lynne, leapfrogs Tom with the new ELO single Turn To Stone, now at #63, up 18 spots.

Now this is where stuff gets real…

December 3rd, 1977 – Breakdown falls 35 spots to #100. What the hell happened? How did radio and those who held interest in the song just give up? Leif Garrett not only enters the Top 40 but sits on top of Tom with another former hit, Surfin’ USA at #99. That’s right, folks. On this day we preferred two Leif Garrett cover songs to our American icon – Tom Petty.

So let’s recap: In early December 1977, The British love Tom Petty. The US loves Leif Garrett. That’s not a world I ever want to live in again.

Now that the song was on its way off the charts, it would be very difficult for it to ever become a Top 40 hit or just a well-known single. Remember this was the label’s second attempt to have a hit with this song. Maybe Tom and the band won’t even get a chance at a 2nd album. Would Shelter or ABC records drop them?

Thankfully they never had to go down that road. Through word of mouth and constant touring, miraculously the song rebounded. [I’m imagining a lot of cool parents or hip uncles and aunts buying the single or album for their kids/nephews during that Christmas.] And over the next 11 weeks, within the time span of 2 different Bee Gees #1 songs, it moved up 60 spots to finally hit #40 and Casey Kasem called the band’s name on February 18, 1978, its 16th week on the chart. It eventually became the only Top 40 song for the band in the 70s, even though they released 3 albums during that decade. [Don’t Do Me Like That peaked in February 1980 at #10.] Tom and Breakdown did not back down and it was the first of 16 Top 40 hits for him, with and without his band.

Success never comes easy. Careers like Tom’s don’t happen overnight. You gotta want it. And you gotta get lucky. Even though this would be the first of many struggles for Tom in the music industry, Tom wanted it. Tom got lucky. And as music fans we should all be appreciative of that world, because we are all better for it.


Runaway by Jefferson Starship (Grunt, 1978)


The entity of airplanes and starships gets a lot of undeserved flak in the annals of pop rock. The fact of the matter is they had a 22 year career hitting the Top 40 amid name changes, personnel changes, and music changes. Who could have predicted that they would have 3 #1 hits in the late 80’s? (Say what you want about We Built This City, I think Sara is a fine song) Having a career like that means that they had a knack for understanding and embracing the ever evolving pop landscape, knowing what their audience wanted and of course being extremely lucky.

Runaway, their 2nd single from the LP Earth, was their 4th Top 40 hit of the late 70s, a glossy yet mellow shot of AOR pop, that became their stock in trade – smoothly loping along a George Harrison-esque guitar lick with a beat for easy nodding. Yes, for those that traded in their tabs for Js, Jefferson Starship had you covered. Man I dug this song as a kid.

But here’s the problem with AM radio. I have always heard the lyrics a certain way and I just recently found out I was wrong. I always heard the first line as:

You don’t know how much I miss you
But I love you like a son

Well when coupled with :

I’d like to put my arms around you and run run run runaway

It felt like a guy getting close to someone who needed a father figure. It could be a boy’s uncle who’s dad is away at war. I guess it also be a little creepy, especially if its a stranger talking to some kid.

I read that the lines are actually:

You don’t know how much I love you
but I love you like the sun
I’d like to put my arms around you
and we could run run run, runaway

It kinda feels boring to me. I love you like the sun? Who are you, George Hamilton? Then I started to wonder what made me hear it that way? What was going on in my life at that time? Was I looking for a different dad or one that would ‘love me like a son.’? Then again I always thought Marty said he was ‘sittin munchin on a flower’ rather than just watchin all the flowers. Still do. Can’t hear it any other way.

The song was written by someone named N. Q. Dewey. I can’t find anything else written or recorded by this guy and he doesn’t get special thanks on Earth’s liner notes, so I wonder if this a pseudonym.

By the time Marty repeats the first verse with that ache in his voice, I realize that I want to be this guy’s kid and runaway wherever. Maybe I’ll change my name to Jefferson…

Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill (20th Century, 1978)


Blame it on Alan Alda. The poster man-child for all things sensitive embodied the soft introspective and liberal kindness that the media pushed on males to become during the 70s. Alda’s squint and smirk stayed with us throughout the decade via the TV show, M*A*S*H and, after decades of bottled up feelings, became the go-to guy for the ‘new’ man. Some guys took this soul searching to hilarious new depths, but not many traveled in a emotional diving bell like Dan Hill and his Top 3 hit, Sometimes When We Touch, from his 3rd LP, Longer Fuse (good one, Dan)

Dan Hill is Canadian, which is French for either polite or passive, I can’t remember which. And even if Dan wanted to convey a feeling of warmth and intimacy, it feels like he wrote this song in a remote cabin somewhere on the Manitoba tundra, miles from civilization. Or maybe he was in a large Shining-like hotel, typing ‘subsides’ over and over on an old typewriter, until he went nuts. He may want you to think he’s a sensitive soul but instead he comes off like a guy with a lot of restraining orders against him. How does anyone take these lyrics seriously?

You ask me if I love you
And I choke on my reply

Yikes! That’s not a good sign. Of course, I (cough, cough), love, er, ummm, you…or something…what?

I’d rather hurt you honestly
Than mislead you with a lie

Here’s some of that sensative crap coming out. See he’s a good guy cause he’s being honest even if he’s crushing your soul in the process. Don’t get mad, the truth hurts. And yeah, I need you out of my house at the end of the week.

And who am I to judge you on what you say or do?
I’m only just beginning to see the real you

Is this a back-handed compliment? Is he saying that everything was cool until he found out who you really were? Buy hey if that’s your thing to be a total bitch all the time, that’s your trip, man. That’s a YP, not a MP.

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide

Uh, wait. I thought you wanted honesty here. And now you’re saying it’s too much? And you wanna make like an ostrich?

I wanna hold you til I die
Til we both break down and cry
I wanna hold you til the fear in me subsides

This guy would like to hold you til he dies…ladies, the line forms to the left.

Ok, this is where Mr. Crazy shows up. Hold you til I die? I thought he was breaking up with her and now he’s getting all Single White Female on her. And who doesn’t want a boyfriend that’s so clingy that you have an emotional breakdown?

Romance and all its strategy leaves me battling with my pride.
But through the insecurity, some tenderness survives

Basically, he’s saying that he doesn’t want to work at a relationship, is he not? And even if he is a dick to her, she still loves him. Or maybe he’s saying something else? It’s vague, in a very non-cryptic, lazy way.

I’m just another writer still trapped within my truth

No, you’re not.

A hesitant prize fighter still trapped within my youth

When looking for an adjective that describes winning boxers, hesitant would not be on the list. Nor would childlike. Except for Mike Tyson.

At times I’d like to break you and drive you to your knees
At times I’d like to break through and hold you endlessly

Now there’s some brutal honesty. Dan admits he wants to smack his girl around. And then when he calms down, or has what he calls, a breakthrough, then hold you and never let go. Ladies, are you getting excited yet?

At times I understand you
And I know how hard you’ve tried
I’ve watched while love commands you
And I’ve watched love pass you by

Doesn’t this sound condescending to you? It should be to the girl that’s he’s breaking up with.? Or to the girl that he’s letting know that he wants to keep an open relationship with.

At times I think we’re drifters
Still searching for a friend
A brother or a sister
But then the passion flares again

Ok I get the ‘wanting’ companionship part. But comparing looking for a sister or a brother to ‘passion flaring’ is beyond creepy.

So to recap, Dan’s not in love with you. Dan doesn’t really want a commitment. And Dan wants you to respect that. But Dan doesn’t want you to go anywhere or be with anyone else. Or Dan is gonna get mad. Real mad.

We had this 45 in our house, which explains a lot of what I had to overcome in the relationship arena. Think about all kids born in late 78/early 79 whose parents had this gem on the hi-fi while they got busy. Now that honesty is way way too much.

Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton (RSO, 1978)


It’s tough to figure the moment when I became officially into music as a kid, Top 40 specifically. There was always music playing in my house, in the car, at my school, in department stores and supermarkets, doctors offices, and from kids playing their radios outside. But the Spring of 1978 sticks out in my head for some reason. Whenever I heard Feels So Good or Baby Come Back, I get sucked into a wormhole of time travel and placed in my backyard between our red barnyard-like shed and a yellow blooming forsythia.

Looking back through my parents stack of 45s, a good deal of them came from this time period. I can remember my parents coming back from shopping and having a stack that they immediately cued up on the stereo: Natalie Cole’s Our Love and Samantha Sang’s Emotion led the mix. I get the feeling that things were rocky between my folks and that my dad thought a trip to Record World might help my mom forget whatever dumb shit he did. The power of music is such that it sometimes did.

One 45 I remember making that trip back home was Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally and I have no idea why. We didn’t really listen to Clapton’s music, but then again this song really didn’t represent what Clapton had been about. I knew my dad was a closet country fan and loved to fiddle around on his acoustic guitar, but this was still a weird choice for guy who hardly bought any music.

Regardless, this track took Eric back into the Top 5, 4 years after his breakthrough smash, I Shot The Sheriff and was another hit for the when you’re hot you hot RSO label, while also crossing over to the Country charts. But if Eric had kicked his heroin habit by the time he recorded this, you’d never know it from his performance. He sings like he’s a mile away from the mic and then suddenly gets closer and falls. I wouldn’t rank his guitar playing or solos on this high either, even if he was. It almost feels like he stops and looks around to see where he is or that he isn’t sure whether to even do a solo. Slowhand was definitely the right name for this LP.

I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s a weird entry in a catalogue that’s full of so many passionate soul and blues influenced rock songs. Of course this is the guy who would also turn Layla into the aural version of Sominex in 1992. Adding to the strangeness is the song itself. For starters, the title Lay Down Sally doesn’t sound very romantic or grammatically correct. And when Marcy Levy, who is a background singer and should be in the background, loudly comes in on the ‘dontcha ever leave’ part and takes over the chorus, it makes you feel like Sally might be in more trouble than she realizes, like a menage about to go horribly wrong, especially since there might be an unwilling participant. Marcy, take your hand off the door lock. Why can’t she just sit down if you just want to talk to her? Why does she have to ‘lay [lie] down’? There’s no difference from a ‘what’s your sign’ come on at a disco to this song. It makes Eric come off like some sleazy lounge lizard with a faux-Southern drawl who’s more likely to pass out if and when Sally does eventually lie down.

You Needed Me by Anne Murray (Capitol, 1978)


There are certain songs that you hear that immediately take you to a golden sunny day, a perfect 72 degrees, blue sky, light breeze kind of afternoon, whether it’s because you equate that song with good times or because it was popular during that one memorable summer. Or there’s just something about it that has a warm happy feel that just makes you relax and have fun. You Needed Me is not one of those songs. You cannot listen to this song outside. It will ruin your day and fill it with grays and browns and endless barrels of self-doubt and pity.

I’m convinced that there was a record number of hookups by shocked people in 1978, as in ‘I can’t believe I’m with this person’, to which this song immediately spoke to them. Or we were so broken down during the 70s that our optimism of ‘we can change the world’ disintegrated into ‘Does anyone give a shit anymore? Oh you do? Nice.’ This song is like the long Indian tear streaking down Iron Eyes Cody’s face as someone throws a bag of garbage at his feet. Like a bowl of marshmallows that have heated up and melted into a sticky mess that you can’t get out of.

Canadian singer Anne Murray was spitting out Country pop hits for 10 years before she just went ‘fuck it’ in 1978 and stopped trying any more. That’s when the hits starting pouring out. [Note to you kids out there. Current pop stars start their career with that moment rather than waste 10 precious years] Anne decided to jump into the deep side of soft rock pool with concrete block strapped to her feet. That made her an unlikely recipient of a #1 1978 hit in the middle of Bee Gees-RSO discopalooza that was monopolizing the charts.

Anne seems like a nice lady and is a legend in Canada, but her vocals on this song are so lifeless and bland, I swear I can hear her doze off in between the verses. But maybe that’s the brilliance of Anne. Since there’s hardly an emotion, we have no idea if she’s saying thank you to this guy or completely ridiculing him. ” I cried a tear. You wiped it dry. Stop touching me!” You can tell this is where someone like Shania Twain built her ‘it looks like country, but sounds like mellow rock crap’ career.

And I know Anne didn’t write these lyrics, but how the hell did she sing them with such a straight face?

I was confused, you cleared my mind
I sold my soul, you bought it back for me
And held me up and gave me dignity
Somehow you needed me

She sold her soul? To whom? The devil I presume. So what do you have to do to buy back a soul from the devil, besides keeping a lot of mouthwash handy?

You gave me strength to stand alone again
To face the world out on my own again
You put me high upon a pedestal
So high that I could almost see eternity
You needed me, you needed me

Thank you for helping me so that I don’t have to hang out with you. And thanks for worshiping me so much, that I almost I died. I got a feeling they sang this song at many Synanon retreats.

You held my hand when it was cold
When I was lost you took me home
You gave me hope when I was at the end
And turned my lies back into truth again
You even called me “friend”

I would love to know how to turn lies into truth. That’s a trick not even George Constanza could perform.

So basically it sounds like Anne was a crazy bitch, did tons of drug, showed up at her job at Burger Chef constantly loaded, had sex with every bi-ped she encountered, money laundered, dealt in human trafficking, ripped tags off of mattresses, you name it. But this guy didn’t care, because he needed her. He needed her. Man how screwed up is that guy? Run Anne run!

Dust In The Wind by Kansas (Kirshner, 1978)


Kansas was one of those bands that really confused me as a kid. First of all, how could a band have the same name as a state? That didn’t make any sense to me. Was the entire state of Kansas involved in the band? You could have also made the same argument for Boston or America or Chicago, but for some reason I could explain that to myself. Not Kansas. I even gave Toto a pass. [although I would have loved to have seen Dorothy Moore singing Tin Man opening for a twinbill of Toto & Kansas)

Then there was the fact that my mom wouldn’t let me listen to them. “They’re too loud”, she said. “It’s just noise. It makes no sense.” Well she was on to something, especially when it came to Progressive rock. That combined with their dramatic old century album covers and the pictures of the band with their giants long hair made me think they could be a little scary. Then I heard Dust In The Wind on the radio and thought, how could that be Kansas? I could rock myself to sleep to that song. I’m not scared at all and my ears are fine.But I still had just enough insecurity to give them and the song a bit of intrigue to me.

Can you imagine anyone writing such a serious song devoid of irony nowadays? You would be completely torn apart. In fact people do that to this song using it for punchlines in movies, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure & Old School. And, like most hits are, it was written as an afterthought and recorded as the last song on Kansas’ Point of Know Return LP. Writer Kerry Livgren was picking a little tune out on his guitar as a finger exercise when his wife heard it and casually mentioned that he should write words to it. So he wrote some quick lyrics based on A Native American poem whose premise was ‘all that we are is dust in the wind’. Kerry used that thought and built the idea about how success and money don’t really mean anything when you’re dead. And then, ironically, this became the song which made him even more rich & famous than he was. Even in the digital age, he’s made at least a million dollars in download royalties.

Actually it’s not a very cheery song, but it broke up, quite nicely, the Saturday Night Fever I’m-gonna-live-forever disco singles that were monopolizing the charts in early 1978, even taking the band onto the Country & Adult Contemporary charts. Maybe it was crazy haired Phil Steinhardt’s violin/viola interplay. Maybe it was Steve Walsh’s straight ahead impassioned delivery on lyrics like ‘and all your money won’t another minute buy‘, obviously written by a Jedi. Regardless, if any song should ever have been written about dust & wind, it should be by a group called Kansas.

If I Can’t Have You by Yvonne Elliman (RSO, 1978)

Hearing this song again takes me back to driving around Philadelphia in a almost fully carpeted Trademark van filled with cherry tobacco smoke. Now some of you may be looking at this 45 and thinking, What a cheap hit, she was riding the Bee Gees coattails on that one. I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong, dead wrong. As wrong as the 2001 Odyssey was in giving Tony & Stephanie first prize in a rigged dance contest, when it was obvious that the Puerto Rican couple were way better dancers.

Hawaiian-born (Haven’t seen her birth certificate, so I’ll take her word for it) Yvonne had been slowly working her way through the music industry during the entire decade, playing the original Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar to touring with Eric Clapton and singing back-up on I Shot The Sheriff. When she married Bill Oakes in the early 70’s, he helped her get a record contract with RSO Records owner, Robert Stigwood. A few mid 70s Top 20 hits later, Robert kept her in mind to sing a song off the soundtrack to a new film he was producing, Saturday Night Fever. He had the Bee Gees write a soft ballad for her much like their track, Love Me which she already had a hit with. But at the last moment he suggested the Barry and the brothers sing How Deep Is Your Love and gave Yvonne a midtempo disco number, If I Can’t Have You.

If it truly was his suggestion, that was a stroke of genius. I can’t imagine anyone buy Barry singing How Deep.., nor could I imagine anyone else doing justice to If I Can’t Have You other than Yvonne. The Bee Gees version, released as a B-side to Stayin’ Alive was so heavy-handed, too synthy and sluggish. Yvonne’s version, produced by Freddie Perren, was light, classy and sensitive with a touch of Philly-soul. In the movie the song play off the unrequited love that doormat Annette was for Tony at the same time that macho Tony finds himself falling for Stephanie. The songs grooves perfectly and there’s just enough ache in Yvonne’s voice to convey the longing and feeling of impending rejection that both will face. In other hands this song is an album cut. In Yvonne’s, it’s a career-making smash.

And she’s friggin hot…that always helps.

Baby Come Back by Player (RSO, 1978)

Always be yourself. No matter how much that conformity may seem the path to success, be true to who you are. And you’ll have better stories. That’s the lesson learned for two musicians, Peter Beckett & JC Crowley, who decided to be who they were, separately attending a Black Tie party in t-shirts and jeans. The two guys found themselves amid a sea of black cumberbunds and immediately bonded over music and the depression of recent breakups. This meeting immediately led to a get together where they wrote one of the biggest hits not performed by a Gibb in 1978, Baby Come Back.

Player hit the top of the charts in early 78 for 3 weeks with their debut tune. Many in history have mistaken it for a Hall & Oates cut and who could blame them. From the bass & drum intro with the warbly guitar lick that sounds like it’s being played underwater to the chorus harmonies and high notes hit on the bridge,this slice of blue-eyed soul pop could have easily been dreamed up by the now famous Philadelphia duo. Except for one thing…it’s so chill. Yes, it has some high drama adn some passionate vocals, but that groove is mellow, it makes Pablo Cruise seem like Yes. And I’m sure there was a Pablo Cruise/Player concert some time back in the day, probably down in Mission Beach.

This is another of those West Coast songs that immediately puts me in that late 70s, So-Cal, Three’s Company, Hawaiian shirt state of mind. And when I was 7, I wanted to know where you could buy a mask of false bravado. That sounded so confusing, but so awesome.

And let’s talk about those lyrics, because when you read the verses, the first is almost the same as the second, except he flips the time of day. Pretty much the guy who lost his girl is fairly cool during the day or at least he feels like he has to bullshit everyone that everything’s OK. Not sure why? What does he do during the day? Maybe his girlfriend was his assistant manager at Wicks N Sticks in the mall and now that they broke up, she also quit her job. So everyone at work is wondering, ‘Hey, where’s Tawny? I need to switch my schedule.’ So he has that to deal with.

And then as the sun sets he really starts to lose his shit, like some horny werewolf. Now, what the hell does he do at night? He sounds like the Son of Sam, for Christsakes. Was he in a backgammon tournament and lost his practice partner? Does he miss snuggling under an Afghan rug watching Mannix reruns?

Then he wakes up, and he can’t deal with it. So he goes back out and spends more money, faking it as he goes. What a vicious cycle. Baby just go back to this guy already. You can blame everything on him, including the reason you cheated on him in the first place. I mean, c’mon. How is she gonna trust a musician in a group named Player?

Oh! Darling by Robin Gibb (RSO, 1978)

For the 1st half of the 70s, the Beatles and their music were held sacred. The public held out hopes that the Fab Four only needed a temporary break from each other and that they would soon record again or better play live together. As the decade the wore on those hopes faded. Then two movies came along, aiming to satisfy those Beatles fans’ needs, but missed the target completely.

All This & World War II was a 1976 film that collaged World War 2 newsreels together with Beatles songs as the soundtrack. Not even the original Beatles music. They were all covers by artists as disparate as Frankie Laine, Peter Gabriel & Helen Reddy. Bizarre and very, very wrong.

Not to be out done in the poor taste department, Robert Stigwood, the Ego-maniac manager of the Bee Gees, decided to make a film starring the Peter Frampton & the Gibbs based on the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP. He might as well have just kicked John Lennon in the nuts.

While the movie is the not the worst thing in the world, it did kill many careers that were peaking at the time, RSO Records and just about anything else that touched it, save Steve Martin. Watch it for yourself (the first time, sober) and you’ll understand.

The soundtrack was OK, but course everyone thought they had another Saturday Night Fever on their hands. I think Sesame Street Fever sold more copies. (Actually the rumour goes that album was shipped platinum and returned double platinum, with most copies buried in the desert.) The soundtrack did yield 3 hits: Earth Wind & Fire’s Got To Get You Into My Life, Aerosmith’s Come Together and Robin Gibb’s Oh! Darling. (side note: my Mom was very angry at Aerosmith and their version of Come Together and would not let me listen to it. I didn’t understand the idea of cover versions and tried to have my mom explain why the Beatles weren’t on the soundtrack. She would just get frustrated and change the subject. But EWF…she was cool with them.)

Robin was the first Gibb brother from the Bee Gees to have a solo hit in the U.S. Oh! Darling made it into the Top 20 in late 1978. Suprising but very fitting for a man who sang on most of the Bee Gee’s hits in the 60s, but started to feel like a second fiddle to Barry by the end of that decade and quit the band. His first attempt at a solo career fizzled and the Gibb 3 got back together, stronger. Robin’s version had a nice mellow arrangement which was in stark contrast to the Abbey Road track with its New Orleans blues feel, Paul McCartney via Fats Domino. But he also gives one of his most understated and smoothest performances, keeping his trademark warble to a minimum. I would have loved to have heard a WestCoast R&B album from Robin, but this is as close as we’re ever gonna get.

Here You Come Again by Dolly Parton (RCA, 1978)

It’s so easy to think of Dolly Parton as an icon but it took some time before she wasn’t looked at as just another Porter Wagoner sidekick. In fact it took Dolly 10 years and 17 albums before she finally crossed over to the Top 40 with her first big hit, Here You Come Again. It reached #3 in January 1978 – not bad for a piece of country pop during the wave of disco washing over the charts. Also unusual was the fact that it wasn’t an original by Dolly. The song was penned by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Brill building songwriters who came up with the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin’ & Kicks by Paul Revere & the Raiders, to name a few. So Dolly didn’t mess around when she decided to consciously cross over. Even though this was originally recorded by B.J. Thomas, Dolly was the first to release it as a single and of course made it her own. Supposedly it was written and offered to Brenda Lee, but I guess she preferred to settle into obscurity rather than pad her bank account.

By the mid-70s, Country songs were having a hard time finding their way onto the Top 40 and Country superstars really had yet to be born again. Maybe it was the movie, Nashville. Maybe it was our first Southern-born president in 100 years. Maybe it was the Hee-Haw reruns. I think the Country superstar was created the moment that Dolly decided to go as far as she could into the mainstream. Yes, Kenny Rogers had a big hit the year before with Lucille. But his roots were based in faux-psychedelic pop a la the First Edition. Dolly was a Southern girl and broke through playing Country on the Grand Old Opry. And with her coterie of wigs, songwriting skills and a tiny body that deified physics, she was a Tennessee original. She was the first one that was going to multi-task her way to fame via song, stage, TV, movies and amusement parks.

And this is where it all started. Think about that next time you ride the log flume down in Gatlinburg…