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The Top Ten Oldies Songs of 1979

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This list of the Top 10 songs from 1979 was compiled by me, your Oldies Guide at About.com, taking into account a number of factors -- chart positions, sales figures from time of release to the present day, critical standing, and historical importance. Only 45 rpm singles that hit the pop Top 40 in 1979 are eligible; artists are only allowed one entry per year in order to give a more balanced view of the cultural landscape. (Click on "compare prices" to find the song on CD, hear a clip of the song, and buy it if you like!)

1. The Knack, "My Sharona"

Capitol 4731 (June 1979) b/w "Let Me Out"
recorded
April 1979, Los Angeles, CA

Flying high on the biggest hype campaign the rock world had ever seen, the Knack were also cynics. And not romantic ones, as this epic stomper can attest. No, Doug Fieger and company tooled a canny image -- The Beatles rocking like Led Zeppelin, but with skinny ties! -- into a mania all out of proportion to their talent; if they'd had at least a few other songs to match this one, they'd have been real contenders. Sometimes, though, a wicked groove is more than enough. But despite their other mysoginist hit, the brilliant pure Beatles pastiche "Good Girls Don't," the Knack would soon disappear. But not before killing disco.

2. The Pretenders, "Brass In Pocket"

Sire SRE 49181 (November 1979) b/w "Space Invader"
recorded July 1978, London, England

This, on the other hand, was a touching display of vulnerability from one of New Wave's most cynical female voices. chrissie Hynde had no problem telling everyone where to get off during her late-Seventies and early-Eighties reign, but what makes "Brass In Pocket" so special (special!), besides the kind of soul only their peers in the Jam could match, was Hynde's schoolgirl-like tender desperation. This was only borne out by the video, where the brunette waitress (Hynde) can't be quite sexy enough to make the rest of the band forget their blonde model girlfriends. Small wonder it struck a chord.  

3. Queen, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"

Elektra E46579 (October 7, 1979) b/w "Spread Your Wings (Live)"
recorded June 1980, Munich, Germany

Queen had been many things during the '70s -- art-rock heroes, metal pioneers, even Beatlesque popsters. But just when everyone thought they had these guys nailed, along comes a by-god rockabilly number, and a great one, written in ten minutes and recorded in one afternoon. The stripped-down approach, which would inform their upcoming blockbuster album The Game, paid off: critics were mollified for once, and the simple (and catchy) pleasures of this Elvis tribute gave the band its biggest US single ever. That is, until they began the '80s with an equally minimalist funk number about a gangster rub-out. You may have heard of it.

4. Blondie, "Heart Of Glass"

Chrysalis CHE 2275 (January 1979) b/w "Rifle Range"
recorded June 1978, New York, NY

A real stunner in the rock/disco wars. Up until this point, Blondie was best known as a retro-kitsch band that had graduated to tough New Wave guitar anthems, but this was a whole nother deal entirely: a hit that kept the girl-group breathiness of their earlier style and added just enough glitz to make it out on the dance floor. Meanwhile, drummer Clem Burke -- perhaps the most underrated in rock history -- gives an extended clinic on how to insert rock and roll drum fills into that 2/4 glitter-ball beat. 

5. Donna Summer, "Bad Girls"

Casablanca NB 988 (June 1979) b/w "On My Honor"
recorded
August 1978, Los Angeles, CA

One of the last great disco hits, coming from what may be its best album, "Bad Girls" was nothing less than an ode to prostitution, a subject that would gnaw at disco's greatest diva until she went full-on born again Christian. The greater significance, at least as far as the rock world was concerned, was in proving that rock and disco could coincide peacefully (and wonderfully) in the same song. In fact, merging the two sounds was becoming a necessity as the Seventies ended, a synthesis that led directly to the rise of electropop.

6. The Pointer Sisters, "Fire"

Planet P-45901 (October 1978) b/w "Love Is Like A Rolling Stone"
recorded June 1978, Los Angeles, CA

Bruce Springsteen only had modest successes as a songwriter-for-hire, but "Fire" gave the Pointer Sisters not only their first massive hit but some much-needed identity as THE sexy girl-group for the new age of R&B. (It didn't hurt that radio stations in major markets also got their own copies of the single with the Pointers doing a little station identification after the words "You turn on the radio.") A perfect tale of innocence on the verge of being lost forever, "Fire" remains remarkably tender for a backseat anthem; you can feel that there's something beneath the heat.

7. Chic, "Good Times"

Atlantic 3584 (June 4, 1979) b/w "A Warm Summernight"
recorded January 1978, New York, NY

Conceieved as a return to the "Gold Diggers" spirit of the Depression era, when entertainers would routinely create fantasies about the good life for those hit by economic disaster, "Good Times" had a few unintented effects. Firstly, the glitterati ate it up, missing the wish-fulfillment and going straight to the glamour; at the same time, DJs at house parties in the South Bronx loved the break down so much they started rapping over it, directly leading to "Rapper's Delight" and, thus, to hip-hop itself. Which also had its mind on its money, although not clams on the half shell, and roller skates. (Roller skates.)

8. Cheap Trick, "I Want You To Want Me (Live)"

Epic 50680 (April 14, 1979) b/w "Clock Strikes Ten (Live)"
recorded
April 1978, Tokyo, Japan

It wasn't much of a song when it first showed up on the band's second album, just a fun little throwaway that was actually intended as a sort of neo-swing sort of ditty. But when electrified and arena-sized and sent out to a nation of adoring Japanese schoolgirls on "Live At Budokan," it, like so many live rewrites of the era, gave this band the recognition they'd deserved for years. Remarkably sweet and innocent and devotional for such a raucous anthem, it's since been covered by every bad and unneccesary act who wanted to take advantage of its bubblegum appeal. But this version remains the only one with the cojones.

9. The Charlie Daniels Band, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia"

Epic 50700 (June 23, 1979) b/w "Rainbow Ride"
recorded November 1978, Nashville, TN


Now as much a part of American folklore as any children's tale, this "Devil and Daniel Webster" rewrite imagines a fiddle contest between Satan and... oh, you know. It's that pervasive at this point. Better to reacquiant yourself with the wickedness of the groove, the ridiculously amazing fiddle solos by Charlie, and the storytelling. Most children's tales don't end with a young redneck calling the devil a SOB, but then, this IS Charlie we're talking about. And this smash presaged the coming country renaissance nicely.

10. Michael Jackson, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"

Epic 50742 (July 28, 1979) b/w "I Can't Help It"
recorded February 1979, Los Angeles, CA

Hard to believe now, but no one was sure whether Michael would make it as a solo star when this monster dance cut was waxed in '78; he had the voice, sure, and he'd had disco hits with the Jacksons, but now he had to carve out something new: a personal identity. Fortuantely, he had one, creating pretty much out of thin air the "adult" Micheal that would become a super and then megastar. Switching to a falsetto for good, Jacko annoucnes his new self with a stunning, quiet intro that allows him to portray the beat as his own personal muse and lifeforce. It would be a theme that would last the rest of his career.

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