Acdc_Highway_to_HellAC/DC – “Shot Down in Flames” – (1979)

Highway to Hell was AC/DC’s final album with Bon Scott on lead vocals and it was packed with good hard rock songs. “Shot Down in Flames” is the second-best track on the album, behind the title track, of course. It wasn’t one of the album’s three singles, but I still hear it on classic rock radio from time to time.

#1 – Pink Floyd – “Another Brick in the Wall (full version)” – (1979)

Okay, so technically this is more than one song. It’s actually four tracks from The Wall but this is the version I always heard on the radio. It contains “Another Brick in the Wall Part 1” followed by “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” then “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” and finally “Another Brick in the Wall Part 3.” This is one of the best albums of all time – so well put together – everything is seamless. Part 1 is kind of soft with a bass line that just hums along and some guitar and sounds of children in the background. It’s subdued and runs for just over three minutes. “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” comes in with a helicopter sound effect and a teacher shouting… the lyrics start and things get a bit heavier, then the most famous Pink Floyd lyric of all time sets off Part 2: “We don’t need no education.” Part 2, on is own, was a Hot 100 #1 hit in 1980. Part 2 lasts almost four minutes and gives way to Part 3, which starts with breaking glass and a louder volume and “I don’t need no arms around me…” and gradually fades out and into “Goodbye Cruel World” which sometimes is included here. This is one of the best examples of classic rock. It’s really an amazing arrangement and totally worth listening to in its entirety.

#2 – Supertramp – “The Logical Song” – (1979)

Wow. You can’t find this song on YouTube anywhere. Breakfast in America might be my favorite album of the 1970s – it had so many good songs, this foremost among them. It was a really difficult decision whether to put this at #1 or #2 and it ended up at #2. Not sure why. It’s just awesome. The keyboard and that voice of Roger Hodgson’s – everything is so good here. This song is fantastic.

#3 – The Police – “Message in a Bottle” – (1979)

Reggatta de Blanc was The Police’s second album and this was the best song off of that album – and best song to-date. Everything comes together brilliantly here: guitar, vocals and everything else. It was a #1 in the U.K. but only barely cracked the top 75 in the U.S. It’s great.

#4 – Charlie Daniels Band – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – (1979)

Charlie Daniels will be remembered forever for this song. It’s not that this is the greatest song in the world, but it is so famous that it has to be in the top five for 1979. Daniels is just sort of talking, and not really singing, but the fiddling is world class, making this one of the top country songs of all time. The best part is that it’s a story – there’s something happening in the song: Johnny vs. Satan in a fiddle-off. This is the biggest hit of Charlie Daniels’ career, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100. It’s classic, even if you don’t like country.

#5 – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Refugee” – (1979)

Gotta love Tom Petty. He’s been putting out good music for going on 40 years and he seems to still love doing it. This is among my very favorite hits from The Heartbreakers. Listen to his voice at the chorus: “You don’t haaave to live like a refugee” – except that he’s barely forming words and the lyrics sort of drip quickly out of his mouth. It might be the finest example of Tom Petty’s unique voice. It reached #15 on the Hot 100 and is the best song on Damn the Torpedoes.

#6 – Blondie – “Atomic” – (1979)

This is one of Blondie’s best songs. It topped the charts in the U.K. but only barely cracked the top 40 in the U.S. It’s a blend of new wave, disco and rock – in fact, it was released right at the dawn of new wave and acted sort of a prototype for many songs to follow. But I find it much cooler than most of the really 80s new wave that followed.

#7 – Little River Band – “Lonesome Loser” – (1979)

The Little River Band began as an Australian rock band, even though their current lineup is almost all American. Their sound in their most popular days can best be described as pop rock or soft rock. This is my favorite song by them (even though it wasn’t their biggest hit) and it is one of the best soft rock songs ever. It was also a top 10 hit on the Hot 100. The vocals here are really great.

#9 – Eagles – “I Can’t Tell You Why” – (1979)

This is the best song from the Eagles’ The Long Run album. It was the first Eagles track to feature lead vocals from bassist Timothy B. Schmidt. Schmidt has a wonderful, velvety voice and can hit some pretty high notes. The song peaked in the top 10 and fortunately allowed Schmidt to do more singing on future Eagles hits.

#10 – Chic – “Good Times” – (1979)

Disco was a force of nature. It came in, swept everyone up, and left a hated thing. But it gave us some memorable music, this song among them. This was Chic’s second #1 hit and was the #1 R&B hit of 1979. If you read about this song, you’ll learn that it’s lyrics are based on songs by Al Jolson and Milton Ager – songs from the 1920s and 30s and that it’s a statement about the then economic depression. Deep stuff, Chic. Then again, the words “roller skates” are in the song too, so read into those claims as much as you want.

#11 – The Knack – “My Sharona” – (1979)

Here is the song that The Knack is and always will be known for. Impressively, this was their first single and it was a smash – #1 on the Hot 100 for six weeks. The hook of the song is one everyone knows and it can get stuck in your head for days. If you listen, you’ll notice it’s kind of similar to “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Spencer Davis Group. It you don’t know that song, hang around here long enough (until we get to 1966) and you’ll see it near to the top of that year’s countdown. Supposedly, this song was written in 15 minutes. And that’s about how long The Knack’s fame lasted.

#12 – Jimmy Buffett – “Fins” – (1979)

Depending on where you’re from, Jimmy Buffett is either a singer from the 1970s and 1980s or some kind of mid-life crisis savior figure. Where I’m from (and it’s mentioned in this song, much to this city’s delight), it’s definitely the latter. “Fins” only hit #35 on the Hot 100 but it remains one Buffett’s most popular songs and concert goers expect it played so they can sway when “Fins to the left, fins to the right” is sung. Like him or not (and I do), you have to admit his songs are fun. “Can’t you feel ’em closing in honey…”

#13 – The Clash – “Train in Vain” – (1979)

London Calling just barely squeaks in as an album of the 1970s, being released in mid-December of 1979. This song is far superior than the album’s title track. Honestly, this might be my favorite Clash tune, part of which is due in part to the pop-like delivery of the lyrics. The singing here is well done – not something punk bands are especially known for. It’s fantastic.

#14 – Fleetwood Mac – “Tusk” – (1979)

Famous for its featuring of the USC marching band, “Tusk” is a drum-heavy song from the Fleetwood Mac album of the same name. The drums here outweigh everything. The lyrics seems whispered and the beat just marches on – it’s much more rock than some of their more immediately previous work. It’s a pretty awesome song with a very different feel from most of their stuff.

#15 – Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – (1979)

This song was a turning point in Michael Jackson’s career. It was the transitional hit from little kid from the Jackson 5 to solo superstar and a little insight into what we could expect from his fantastic albums of the 1980s. It was the first song that Michael had complete creative control over and you can see what that allowed him to do. It was his first Hot 100 #1 in seven years and remains one of his best-known songs.

#16 – Kenny Loggins – “This Is It” – (1979)

The 1970s gave us soft rock. And Kenny Loggins was one of the flag-carriers. This top 15 hit (#11) is a fine example of late-70s, early-80s adult contemporary. And one reason is because it featured un-credited backing vocals from the (to me) definitive voice of 70s/80s soft rock: Michael McDonald. It also won Loggins a Grammy. This kind of music always makes me happy and reminds me of being a kid.

#17 – Van Halen – “Dance The Night Away” – (1979)

Yep. This song is ranked too high. Sorry. This was Van Halen’s first entry into the top 20 on the Hot 100 (it reached #15). This is one of my favorite Van Halen songs because as it is hard rock, the “Oooh baby baby” line sounds like straight up pop music. It’s more friendly than some of Van Halen’s later, guitar-heavy stuff – in fact, Eddie Van Halen left a guitar solo out of this song. They knew what they were doing, if it put them on the charts.

#18 – Sister Sledge – “We Are Family” – (1979)

Here’s another great disco tune (a phrase not uttered since a radio DJ said it back in early 1980). Can’t you just picture people on roller skates dancing around a rink with a disco ball above it to this #2 Hot 100 hit? Sister Sledge consisted of three sisters (guess what their last name was) from Philly and this wedding staple was their biggest hit.

#19 – Donna Summer – “Hot Stuff” – (1979)

The beginning of this sing (where the synthesizer comes in) sounds an awful lot like music from an early Sonic the Hedgehog video game on Sega Genesis. Just my opinion. This is a #1 hit from the Queen of Disco and one of the biggest hits of her career and a staple of disco (yes, disco music is in my top 21 – but why shouldn’t it be? It dominated 1979).

#20 – Electric Light Orchestra – “Don’t Bring Me Down” – (1979)

Jeff. Mother$%&*#!$. Lynne. He’s one of the best songwriters of all time and front man of ELO. Yet he isn’t a household name like other huge artists. He was in the Traveling Wilburys. This song was ELO’s biggest hit, charting at #4 on the Hot 100 and in the top ten in countries all over the world. Lynne’s singing style is on display here, hitting some high notes – something not many rockers can do.

#21 – Bad Company – “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” – (1979)

“Here come the dancers one by one… your mama’s callin’ but you’re havin’ fun…” Everyone has a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy – that’s what’s great about rock and roll music – it’s “the life” everyone wants (supposedly). This was Bad Company’s last big hit, reaching #13 on the Hot 100.

This is our new form of countdown – I couldn’t reconcile the entire 1970s (or 1960s, or 50s) into a single “Top 100 or 200” list because the decades sort of blended together – 1969 and 1970 are very similar where 1970 and 1979 are totally different. So we’ll start with 1979 and work backwards. Only one entry per artist per year (for 1977, Fleetwood Mac would’ve had the top 10 covered if not for this rule). And why 21? Because it is evenly divisible by three of course.

#23 – Shirley Bassey – “Moonraker” – (1979)

Moonraker ranks as one of the most over-the-top Bond movies of all time. Have fights in space? Sure, they may have called the whole space shuttle thing, but come on. Originally, they wanted Frank Sinatra to sing this song but asked Johnny Mathis instead, who said “no.” So they went with old faithful – Shirley Bassey, who sang three different Bond themes. This, while not the greatest song in the world, was not her best – even though her best isn’t necessarily the best vocal she could’ve given – it’s just more iconic. One problem with some of these songs is that they are very British and being old and very British doesn’t usually translate well to today.

Tubeway Army – “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” – (1979)

Tubway Army was the New Wave band fronted by Gary Numan, who would go on to have a very successful solo single of his own. In fact, his solo single was so big that many people forget this song – and even this band – ever happened. It’s synthpop – and early synthpop at that, having been released in early 1979. It was a #1 in the U.K. The music is actually kind of odd and it just drones on and on with robotic-like lyrics. It’s like listening to early Kraftwerk and I only use that comparison because, at the time of its release, there really wasn’t much to compare it to.

The B-52’s – “Rock Lobster” – (1979)

I will admit that this is one weird tune. Then again, that’s part of the charm of the B-52’s. This was the band’s first single and it was actually released in 1978. Their debut album came out in ’79. The lyrics are weird. The music is a little odd. But it’s catchy and memorable. It hit #1 in Canada and broke on to the Hot 100 in the U.S. Strangely, when John Lennon heard this song in 1980, it made him decided to go record again (he hadn’t released an album since 1975). I think this song would’ve have been just as big a hit in the mid-1980s – and this is what we’ll start talking about next week: songs from the 1990s that would’ve been just as big of hits in the 1980s as they were in the 1990s. Stay tuned.

Gary Numan – “Cars” – (1979)

Gary Numan, who is not German, despite what the image at left would make you think… okay, maybe that’s not fair. But there’s something oddly German about a guy with well-combed hair in a suit and eyeliner who is sitting in a bleak area staring at a triangle. Then there’s the music video – maybe it’s just 80s electronic music that screams “German.” Anyway… Gary Numan, from the U.K., had this big hit in 1979/80. It may sound dated now, but when it comes to synthpop and New Wave, there are few better examples. This song goes hand in hand with “Pop Muzik” in my mind for whatever reason. Agree?