Top hits of 1979 | Mark’s Remarks

For Christmas 1979, one of my gifts was a transistor radio.

I’d never had a radio before, so I wasn’t sure about it. I remember thinking that surely this was a more grown-up gift and maybe my parents thought I was mature.

Casey Kasem was on the radio back then, and it was cool to listen to him every week to see which songs were at the top of the charts. That year, he kept talking about a special episode in which we would all look back at the hits of 1979 and decide which ones were the year’s best.

I was extra excited that year, because you see, I had this great radio to listen to. Throughout the week leading up to the big special episode of “America’s Top 40,” there would be a replaying of the year’s best songs.

Disco was still around somewhat, and folks like Donna Summer, Rod Stewart and Peaches and Herb, were topping the charts.  The Bee Gees were still making good music after their monstrous success a few years before with the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever.” The Village People had “YMCA” that year, and Olivia Newton-John was chart topping on the heels of her popular role as Sandy in the movie “Grease.”

Familial groups were prevalent on the charts; the Jacksons, Doobie Brothers, and Pointer Sisters. The guy who was in the werewolf movie and who sang the Dr. Pepper song even had a song in the top 20.

I must have really had little to do and not much of a social life at that point in my life. I was, after all, 12 years old. I kept a notebook on my little desk and kept track of how many times I heard a song or wrote down titles I thought might make it on the list of the year’s ten best.

I remember having a crush on Debra Harry from “Blondie.” She was a bit of a wild girl, one someone from my grandmother’s era might call a “painted lady.” For some reason, she intrigued me. I had a picture of her on my wall, next to the bionic woman, and one that I’d probably gotten from some magazine off the rack at Food Park.  

Her group’s song “Heart of Glass” was pretty popular and I liked it. It was one of those songs that was sort of breaking out of the disco mold, so I was rooting for Debra and the guys from “Blondie.”  

Another fave that year was the song I called “Freak Out” – actually called “Le Freak” by the group Chic.  It was on my prediction list and I was pretty sure it would be in the top 10 that year.  

A few days before Christmas vacation, I called in to a radio station and won a trivia contest. The question was about “I Love Lucy,” which we watched all the time in our house. I knew the name of Ricky Ricardo’s nightclub, which was the Tropicana.

My parents drove me out to the station and I picked up my prize: a Donna Summer disco album. So now I was a big Donna Summer fan simply because I had all her top hits at my fingertips.  

Since I now fancied myself as quite the music aficionado, I was eager to discuss music with just about anyone. Our family friends had an older daughter, already into her teenage years, who most likely thought I was pretty cool since I could talk music genres and bands with her.  

I remember one particular conversation with said family friend that involved arguing over the Gloria Gaynor song “I Will Survive.” She was certain the song would be near the No. 1 spot, because they played it on the radio all the time and it was a song women liked.

I begged to differ.

On New Year’s Day evening, I tuned in to hear the special episode of Casey Kasem’s show. It was on from the early evening hours until late at night, and because it was holiday vacation, I was pretty sure I could listen to the whole thing.  He would be playing the top 40 songs of the year that evening, offering background information, interviews, and various other musical tidbits to stretch out the show.  

Surely the entire world was listening.

By the time Casey got into the top 20 songs of 1979, I was already a bit off my game. I had predicted “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers would have been in the top 10, but it was barely in the top 20. Furthermore, my girl Debra Harry and “Blondie” with Heart of Glass were beaten out by Olivia, the Gibb Brothers, and even the guy from the Dr. Pepper commercial!

What was happening to my research findings?  Down the tubes!

One of my least favorite songs that year was that song “Sad Eyes” by a guy named Robert John. It was in the No. 10 spot, and I started to feel very put out, losing hope somewhat.  Gloria Gaynor’s anthem made it to No. 6, and Rod Stewart asking everyone if they thought he was sexy made it to No. 4.

All was not lost with my prediction notebook, though. I’d said that the great Donna Summer would prevail in the tops of 1979, and she actually held the number 2, 7, and 12 spots with, respectively, “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff” and “MacArthur Park.”

And to think, I owned the album.

All because of Ricky Ricardo.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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