Livin’ It Up (Friday Night) By Bell & James (A&M, 1979)

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Countless songs have been written about how much it sucks to work. Musicians know this subject all too well. From Sixteen Tons to Five O’Clock World, almost everyone can relate to that feeling of hating their job and waiting for the moment they can do a Fred Flintstone slide down a dinosaur’s back. The times, though, dictate what to the solution is. In Tennessee Ernie Ford’s downtrodden classic, the main character just gives up. The Vogues sing of the time of day where everything magical happens and the day really begins. The rise of disco and bar culture in the late 70s gave songwriters the idea of escapism. Don’t give up, give in. And rather than ‘fight the man’, live it up.

Casey James & Leroy Bell were songwriters in the mid-70s that rode this concept onto the charts in 1979. They were songwriters in the mid-70s for Philadelphia International. How did they get that cushy job? Didn’t hurt that Leroy’s uncle was producer Thom Bell. But they also wrote some catchy songs in the Philly soul vein. A few were recorded by the soul-curious Elton John in 1977, who eventually had a Top 10 hit with one them, Mama Can’t Buy You Love, in 1979. Bell & James, like many songwriting duos of the late 70s, got a recording contract from A&M records and began writing a mood ring adorned middle finger to the man.

Livin’ It Up (Friday Night) reached #15 in 1979 and went Top 10 Soul as well. It had all the fancy trimmings of a 1979 pop disco hit – slow building intro to give you time to get on the floor, just enough funk to move you without having to learn any new steps and lyrics that talk about how repressed you are during the day, so that you need release when Friday night comes along. Just hope the boss doesn’t ask you to work on the weekend. But a deeper look at the lyrics tells me that this guy may be fighting the man, albeit in a passive aggressive, way.

Up in the morning at six o’clock
Head for the city
Turn on the music, the radio
Nobody’s hurrying

That’s pretty damn early to get up. Are you a baker? How far away do you work from your job?

Day after day
Slaving away
Punching the time
I’m late again
Sneak in the back way

This is starting to sound like the plot from Office Space. This song should have been on the soundtrack.

I count the hours, minutes too
So glad it’s Friday
Jump in my ride
It’s Friday night

I know I should be on the side of the worker. But it sounds like this dude needs to get fired.

Only on a Friday
Never on a Sunday
Never on a Monday

Wait. What happened to Saturday? Can’t party on Saturday? Are you a cantor at Sunday mass? Knock all this Catholic shit off and get your groove on.

Same situation every day
Some kind of voodoo
Same complications
Stand in the way
Nowhere to run to

Does this guy really think his boss has a doll of him in his office that he sticks pins in everyday?

My mind is dreaming
I’m somewhere else
Can’t seem to shake it
I miss the feeling of having fun
No way to fake it

Hey do you know the difference between prison and your job? You can quit your job. Maybe he should be more appreciative of what he has. Especially since he got his job via nepotism.

OK I’m being harsh. Jump in your ride and turn it up at 5:00 next Friday on your way to the club with your friends. Slaving away is just another day away.

Sweet Lui-Louise by Ironhorse (Scotti Brothers, 1979)

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When Randy Bachman left the red-hot Guess Who in 1971, many folks did not think he could equal that band’s success. But in 1974, Randy and the Bachman-Turner Overdrive lucked into a #1 hit, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, which was kinda meant as a joke. Even former partner Burton Cummings did a half-joking, half-jealous lounge version on his first solo LP.

In 1977 he had enough of the BTO’s constraints and wanted to do a solo album. [Quick – what was Turner’s first name? Answer at the end.] Bachman-Turner Overdrive wanted to continue without Randy but they couldn’t use Bachman’s name so they continued as BTO (even though Randy’s brother, Robbie was still in the band).

BTO would eventually flame out as would Randy’s solo career. So he decided to form a new band called Ironhorse. They released 2 albums, and in early 1979 they released a track called Sweet Lui-Louise, which hit #36, making the Randy the only Canadian to have Top 40 singles with different bands in one decade. It’s no wonder that Sweet Lui-Louise has some success, considering it was a rewritten version of You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, complete with fake stuttering which again was merely a joke, one at the expense of his brother who had a speech impediment. So Randy got rich twice off of his sibling’s handicap. I thought Canadians were polite.

After Ironhorse’s 2nd 1980 LP, Randy would join, break-up, quit, or rejoin the following groups of people for the rest of his career: BTO, just Turner, with Turner as Union, BTO without Turner, Guess Who, Guess Who without Burton Cummings, just Burton Cummings, and with his son Tal Bachman, who had a Top 15 hit in 1999 called She’s So High.

BTW: Turner’s first name was Fred and also went by C.F.

Play the whole song and don’t fall asleep. Can you do it?

Minute By Minute by the Doobie Brothers (Warner Bros, 1979)

When What A Fool Believes came out and hit #1, everyone finally realized that the Doobie Brothers transformation from a San Francisco biker band to a Los Angeles West coast mellow rock outfit was now complete. This was Michael McDonald’s band now. When the title track from their Minute By Minute LP was released, people probably wondered if there was anyone else left in the band. This keyboard driven track retains the jazzy soul of Michaels’ former cohorts, Steely Dan, but smooths it out for pop consumption. If there’s any guitar in this recording its buried so far in the mix that the Moog and Rhodes drown it out. No wonder Tom Johnston left the band. There wasn’t any room for him anymore.

This is not say that Michael was some sort of dictator. In fact he revived the bands fortunes when Tom got sick in 1975 and couldn’t tour with them on the heels of the first #1, Black Water. Then we co-wrote their next 10 hit, Takin’ It to The Streets in 1976. And this is where we break to discuss their What’s Happening appearance…

I can’t think of another band making as much of an impact on me on a TV show than the 2 part episode where the Doobie Brothers plan at Raj, Duane & Rerun’s high school. People have derided this episode and band choice by saying it was too White and it made no sense for these kids to like them. Why couldn’t the Commodores have shown up instead?

To me, that would have played to the stereotypes. Having the Doobie Bros show up was an awesome decision, made or not made by the show’s creator Eric Monte [who was not White]. The band had changed from straight up rock to a more R&B based groove oriented unit and that change was occurring before McDonald showed up. He just happened to carry it to its fullest realization. Watching Rerun play air bass during the chorus of Takin’ It To The Streets hammers home that backbeat funk that you may have missed on your AM transistor. The choice wasn’t lost on the writers either, especially when Dee asks the only Black member of the band, Tiran Porter, if he was a half-brother.

Watching these 2 episodes via ‘rerun’ in the 80s was a reminder of how musical appreciation wasn’t limited to genre. You could like the O’Jays and Grand Funk and no one thought it was especially weird. In many ways we’ve come full circle with online sites offering a cafeteria style of musical entrees. But it took us another 30 years to get there. Or Doobie terms, over 16 million minutes by minutes by minutes by minutes….

Reunited by Peaches And Herb (Polydor, 1979)



“Okay everybody. It’s couples skate only. All singles, please leave the rink floor.”

“Man if only I had a girlfriend right now. I could be holding her hand and skating around the rink with her. Instead I’m here plugging quarters into Space Invaders while the smells of burnt popcorn and pizza invade my nostrils.”

Of course I was only 7 when this song came out and I could barely skate at all. But many others used this 45 as the ultimate opportunity to fire up that broken down romance, whether in the roller rink, discos or living room. Reunited by Peaches & Herb sold over 2 million 45s in 1979. Ironically Herb didn’t reunite with his former Peaches, but rather found a fresh one, with some help by friend Van McCoy. In total there have been 6 different ‘Peaches’ of various age and race. But none more successful than the one with singer Linda Greene.

Reunited was written by Dino Fekaris & Freddie Perren, who were surprised earlier in the year when their Gloria’s Gaynor hit, I Will Survive hit #1 for 3 weeks. But Reunited, the 2nd Top 10 single from P&H’s 2 Hot LP, spent the entire month of May 1979 at the top as well as on the R&B charts, just in time for prom season. Surprisingly it only made #4 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Huh? This is the definition of a slow jam. I guess it was still too urban for a few folks. I also read that Herb Fame has lived off of the royalties from this one tune, and he didn’t write it or own the publishing…damn!

The biggest reason this song crossed over and was so popular is due to the fact that it can played at various events, no matter the group of people, and it always seems oddly appropriate. I always thought that if United Airlines filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy that 7 years later, this would be the perfect song to play at the annual corporate meeting. We all know this got heavy rotation at just about every high school dance that year. What better song for Robby to forgive Julie for hanging out with some cruiser in a Trademark van, never mind that they were popping caps in the back? And can you imagine hearing this at a wedding? That couple must have gone through some serious shit to get to the altar.

What most people probably don’t realize is that Reunited really isn’t a song about being together forever or finding the one you love. It’s about 2 lonely horny people trying to talk each into banging again. Herb talks about how lonely is and that he knows he’s in love cause he wants her bad. When does that ever work as a line on a girl? She’s no better. She knows she’s in love cause she needs his touch. So which part of the body put on a missing persons report on Herb’s ‘touch’, do you suppose? Then Herb booty calls Peaches and she gets so hot and bothered she wants to give him whatever he wants, immediately. No foreplay. No talking things out. Just some of that good finger twirl of Herb’s….hey hey. Remember there’s one perfect fit…

My wife and I sang this years ago at a Halloween karaoke party at a bar and by the time the song was over, it got very quiet and awkward. Maybe it was because we looked like this:

At least we didn’t molest each other like these two below…jeez, get a room, guys…

Hot Summer Nights by Night (Planet, 1979)

The group, Night, holds a special chart fact that only Casey Kasem would love. It’s one of the few bands to have a Top 40 hit that includes the entire name of the band. Not counting examples like The Beatles Movie Medley, I can only think of two other instances: Living In A Box by Living In A Box in 1987 and Killer Queen by Queen in 1975. I can think of a few solo artists that turned the trick, like Are You Jimmy Ray by Jimmy Ray in 1999, Lucas With The Lid Off by Lucas in 1994 and countless other hip-hop acts. But we expect them to brag and boast and say their name over & over again. That’s why Hot Summer Nights by Night is a rarity. [Let me know which ones I’ve missed.]

But was Night actually a band? Or was it an excuse for Manfred Mann member Chris Thompson and background singer Stevie Lange to record some songs and see what happens? The first album (yes, there was 2) featured ‘rolling stone’ Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and future Pretender Robbie McIntosh on guitar. They even toured a bit as an opening act on the Doobie Bros Minute By Minute 1979 tour. But the song and LP instead came off as bland as their namesake. Probably why no one remembers this Top 20 hit or its Top 20 follow-up, If You Remember Me from the Jon Voight non-classic, The Champ. (wonder if he ever bit anyone in the ring or gave Ricky Schroeder a ride in his Chrysler LeBaron) I will talk more about that song in post #9732, I promise.

The song written by Walter Egan and recorded on his first LP, Fundamental Roll. It had more spirit and it was good enough as album filler for Walter, but Night turn it into a square 3-chord snooze-stomp. While Stevie Lange’s Bonnie Tyler-without-the-nodules vocals tried to give the song some much needed soul, it still didn’t make for a song you would ever want to hear on a hot sticky humid night, unless you couldn’t go to sleep.

Again I will ask – how did this make the Top 20? During its peak at #18 for the week ending September 8, 1979, it was ranked higher than Bad Case of Loving You by Robert Palmer, Drivers Seat by Sniff N the Tears and Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe – all superior singles. Did producer Richard Perry have that much blow to share with radio programmers?

My Life by Billy Joel (Columbia, 1979)

It took Billy Joel most of the 70s to finally get his footing on the pop charts. But once he was there he wouldn’t go right into and through the 80s. He had a minor hit with Piano Man in 1974 and then couldn’t really follow it up with anything bigger. Billy was a dreamer and started to drift more into the prog rock style of songwriter, writing great songs but nothing with enough pop appeal. All of that changed with The Stranger album, which was slicker in production and performance, resulting in 4 Top hits, including the standard, Just The Way You Are. (And of course, the 7 minute classic, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant).

So he was a setup to build on his big breakthrough in 1978, which is when he released 52nd Street. Billy acted like he was a rocker, wore leather jackets, acted tougher than his short stature, but he was a jazz man at heart. The album cover is Joel looking brooding on a dirty Manhattan street corner….holding a trumpet. Trying to be a punk while naming your album after a street in NY where many famous jazz clubs were located probably didn’t win over many young rebels. But it netted him a whole lot of pop fans, especially with his first single, My Life.

Billy had a great schtick – the angry young man behind the tinkling ivories. Here he was slamming those chords down on an electric piano backed with an acoustic guitar telling someone to fuck off while heading up the adult contemporary charts. Maybe it wasn’t a schtick. Maybe he really wanted to rock and couldn’t escape who is truly was and the anger was a large chip on his shoulder which grew each time he tried to prove it. Regardless he picked up the mantle that Elton John dropped while pursuing too many drugs and exhaustion, and started to churn out hit after hit.

But whenever I hear that back & forth octave bass part, I can only think of one thing – Bosom Buddies. BB was a TV show starring Tom Hanks & Peter Scolari who dressed up like women to get a cheap apartment for rent. Pretty much like a cross-dressing version of Laverne & Shirley. Didn’t matter to me cause I thought it was hilarious, esp Tom Hanks. Yeah he used to be very funny. They used My Life as the theme song to this show, which is pretty funny considering that the song is about telling people to mind your own business and here the premise of the show is two guys deceiving a building full of women. Which brings me to the lyrics….

There has always been talk of who the ‘old friend’ is in the first verse:

Got a call from an old friend we’d used to be real close
Said he couldn’t go on the American way
Closed the shop, sold the house, bought a ticket to the west coast
Now he gives them a stand-up routine in L.A.

The rumor is that it was comedian Richard Lewis, but there is no proof that Billy even knew him. I always thought it might have been Jerry Seinfeld, who grew up on Long Island just like Joel and moved out to L.A. in the 70s to get a start in stand-up comedy. As I listen to the song now, I wonder if Billy was talking about himself. He was a struggling musician in New York and decided to pack it up and move to Los Angeles. He was out there for a number of years, admittedly miserable, and moved back where he began to have success. Could it be that Billy was under advice of many people, managers, agents, record company folks to move out there against his better judgment and now that he proved he would be more successful and fruitful in his environment, he was telling those folks that he doesn’t care anymore what they say, that this was his [my] life? Either way the song is worth it for just this one line:

You can speak your mind, but not on my time.

Heaven Knows by Donna Summer (Casablanca, 1979)

The music you play for your children, with your children and around your children will shape their lives forever. That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean that they will like that music later in life. In fact, it may drive them crazy. Chances are though that it will be a sub-conscious soundtrack to their childhood that will shape some of their fondest memories. One artist who will always be in rotation in my mind is Donna Summer

I don’t think we ever owned an album of hers until the On The Radio Greatest Hits collection. And I don’t think we bought one of her 45s until Heaven Knows. But I knew every song of hers and the radio was always turned up louder when she came on. Except Love To Love You Baby. That one was deemed to adult for us. That one was barely even a song and probably did more harm to disco than good, giving it a seedy tawdry sheen that critics could use to deride the genre. Thankfully Donna made up for it for singing the futuristic I Feel Love. [The story goes that Brian Eno came by David Bowie’s place in Berlin and said, ‘I’ve seen the future and here it is..’ and put on Donna’s record.]
But while the former single was gimmicky, the latter seemed producer driven. So no one really took Donna seriously until her live LP, Live And More. Because up until then she came off like a studio singer, technical & emotionless.

And that’s why I like Heaven Knows. It’s Donna singing about herself, desperate and vulnerable, taking a chance and letting her guard down in front oh her lover and pleading please don’t take your love from me. All of her hits are about someone else and the few where she talks about herself never dig beyond the shiny surface. Maybe that’s due to her interaction with Joe ‘You’re The Best’ Esposito from Brooklyn Dreams with whom she duets. Having that foil unintentionally made Donna come off as human, because she can’t hide glitz and gloss. She’s about to lose the love of her life and in order to keep him, she needs to talk directly to him. All at 130 beats per minute.

What makes it even better is that she was really looking over Joe’s shoulder and staring at his Brooklyn Dreams partner, Bruce Sudano, who she would eventually marry and have a daughter named Brooklyn. This was a life changing experience for Donna.

Heaven Knows was part of a 17 and 1/2 minute suite filling up Side 4 of Live And More. The suite included the Jimmy Webb classic, MacArthur Park, which hit #1 and the track, One Of A Kind. Donna and her producer Giorgio Moroder had a great knack for writing songs that could short enough for pop radio and extended long enough to play and keep her credible in the clubs. No one else was able to do it with as much variety and success. That’s why she was crowned the Queen of Disco.

By the way I just found this video and it’s hilarious and almost goes against what I just spoke about. I think that’s a cardboard cutout of Joe on stage with Donna but I’m not sure….

Lotta Love by Nicolette Larson (Warner Bros, 1979)

In 1978, Nicolette Larson was just a background singer looking to get her shot at stardom. She go it from Warner Bros Records and took a big leap forward with her debut album and her first single, Lotta Love. Written by her former boss and lover, Neil Young, Nicolette took the track to #8 in early 1979 as well as hitting the top of the Adult Contemporary chart. Neil wrote it and told Nicolette that she could have it to record. But Neil ended up recording first for his 1978 LP, Comes A Time.

The two versions are a terrific example in contrasts, from the production down to the style of singing. Neil’s recording is sparse and brooding, full of despair. He sings, “gonna take a lotta love” as if he’s already given up. Nicolette’s version is lushly produced starting with a late 70s pre-requisite sax solo (provided by Memphis Horns’ Andrew Love) that’s firm with soft edges, backed by a spry Philly-soul style drum beat. She sings, “gonna take a lotta love“, with hope and promise, as if she’s figured out a way to make it work. She’s baring her soul to her lover and you can picture her holding someone’s hand and she sings, even though she’s singing to someone she hasn’t even met yet. I remember hearing a story on American Top 40 of how she recorded this song on roller skates. No wonder she’s sounds so upbeat. Could’ve been the sprightly flute solo too.

Despite this success of this single and the many accolades that were showered upon her, Nicolette managed only one more Top 40 hit, Let Me Go, Love in 1980. But she never stopped working singing duets and backing vocals for the Doobie Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Christopher Cross, even Van Halen. It almost seemed like she preferred that role to the spotlight. Maybe her voice was at it’s best when it was blended with someone else’s, like Neil’s on his American Stars N Bars LP. Regardless she ha a brief shining moment on the pop chart in 1979 which resonates on soft rock stations today. In fact chances are, if you’re in a CVS right now, you might be grabbing for some Pepto Bismal as you hear gonna take a lotta luhhh -uh-uh-uhve to make things work out right.

Rainbow Connection by Kermit (Atlantic, 1979)

Damn it, Jim Henson! What the hell’s the matter with you? Damn you, you son-of-a-bitch! I came to see a nice funny Muppets movie and 4 minutes in, you have me crying. I’ve been waiting for this all Summer. I’ve been so jacked up to see all the Muppets on screen for 1 1/2 straight hours. Now I’m here in a dark theater with my mom sitting next to me asking me if I want to go home. Isn’t it enough I have Charles Schultz sucking me in every year, jerking my tear ducts with every holiday Peanuts bawlfest and now I have to endure Kermit picking a banjo serenading himself on a log in the swamp with a song about rainbows? Jim Henson, you’re a bastard.

That was, more or less, my thought process some time during the Summer of 1979 in a movie theatre in West Babylon, NY four minutes into The Muppet Movie. If you don’t know or haven’t seen it, the movie opens simple enough with an aerial view of a swamp, maybe the Everglades in Florida who knows. The camera pans in as the 9-note banjo lick plays over and over again. Eventually we get up close and see Kermit singing the Rainbow Connection. I don’t what it was about that scene or that song that made my tear up. It’s kinda funny to think it had that effect on me as I listen to it now. But it did. And I’m sure I enjoyed the rest of that movie. But I couldn’t tell you about any other scene except the opening.

Obviously the producers thought it had enough appeal (or the power to make kids weep) to release it as a 45. Curiously the song only peaked at #25, even though the soundtrack went Gold. Jim Henson bookended the 70s with this hit and Rubber Duckie sung as Ernie, which hit the Top 20 in 1970, peaking at #16. He might be the only person to have 2 Top 40 hits under two different pseudonyms, with neither being his own name.

If this song was part of your childhood, give it a listen and fade back to those days. Just keep some Kleenex nearby…

Rise by Herb Alpert (A&M, 1979)

After being one of the biggest artists of the 1960s, Herb Alpert didn’t have a song of his hit the Top 40 until the last 4 months of the decade. It rose all the way to #1, making Herb the first artist to have a #1 song as a vocalist and a #1 song as an instrumental. In fact I’m not sure anyone else has even duplicated this feat or ever will.

The story of Rise starts in early 1979 when the 3M company gave A&M records a brand new 32-track digital recorder to experiment with. Herb decided to try out this top-of-the-line equipment pby recording some new material. Someone suggested to disco versions of his old catalog, like The Lonely Bull, but that sounded pretty cheesy to Herb. That’s when he got a call from his cousin, the aptly named Randy Badazz. Aptly named, because he handed the man that once outsold the Beatles during the 60s, a funky tune written with his buddy, Andy Armer, that would extend Herb’s fortunes through the next 20 years.

Herb dug Rise, bu thought it might be a little too fast for his crowd. So he slowed the tempo from the coke-fueled 120 BPM down to the Arthur-Murray-dance-lessons speed of 100 BPM. But the switch worked and it created a nice steady groove for Herb to blow his Spanish horn to. You could couples dance to it. You could pump up the bass in your low-rider to it. Or you could wind down a romantic evening to it. It went #1 on the Pop & Adult Contemporary charts and Top 10 on the Disco & R&B charts. A nice little crossover. But as good as the tune was, it needed a little help to get there. And it got some in the creepiest way possible.

Anthony Geary was an actor who got his big break on the soap opera, General Hospital, in 1978. His character, Luke Spencer, was a college student running the Campus Disco, when he first met, Laura Webber. His character was brought in to help break-up Laura’s marriage and add some youth to the show. His character would fall in love with her and slowly torture her at the same time, once almost causing her to die in a car accident. But his big scene was around the corner. He was about to confess his love to Laura by raping her. Yes, you read that right.

The writers on the show planned a big rape scene. I’m not playing this up – that’s what they called it. In fact it was gonna be pretty brutal until they toned it down (whatever that means). Geary suggested to the music director of the show that play this new song by Herb Alpert called Rise during the scene. It worked, at least from their end. The rape was big news and everyone wanted to know what song Laura was raped to. Again I’m not making this up. And whenever Laura replayed the rape in her mind, there was Herb’s trumpet – da da da da daaaaaaaaa da da da-dee daaaaaaa.

Flash over to Herb’s office in the late Summer of 1979. Someone tells him, ‘Man your song is really moving up the charts. People are diggin’ it.’ Here’s Mr Whipped Cream & other Delights, Mr. This Guy’s In Love With You, finally climbing back with a hit on his hands, due to its popularity during a fictional rape scene. General Hospital didn’t back down for a long time either. They played it up as much as they could. And when the Luke & Laura characters became so popular, they tried to turn the rape into a seductive moment. Nice try, sickos. You had a rape victim fall in love with her raper using Herb’s song as a backdrop for hundreds of thousands of impressionable young girls or whoever watches that crap. And they had to know this was wrong, cause they had the actors go to counseling sessions before they filmed the scene. Guess that sensitivity didn’t extend to their audience.

Maybe the song would have been popular on its own. Maybe not. Most people probably thought Herb Alpert was a square in 1979. Didn’t hurt that his song was played daily for weeks on a popular soap opera, this before MTV. But man, how icky!

If Herb was uncomfortable being associated with that, imagine how he felt being linked to Notorious BIG’s hit Hypnotize which Puff Daddy sampled, days after he was shot and killed in a drive-by. Now he was making money on a dead guy’s song.

I think about my life in a new house in a new neighborhood in a new school, trying to make new friends. Rise brings back Fall colors and slowly disappearing warm breezes. A quiet and questioning young boy adjusting to his surroundings in 3rd grade, creating a soundtrack of his own.