Amii Stewart, Knock On Wood, Ariola Records SW-50054, 1979
In the 80s there was a raging debate about whether Madonna or Cyndi Lauper would be the more successful singer. For the discount record buyer, we have to scale it down a bit to questions like which 1979 Disco one hit wonder’s record is better, Anita Ward’s or Amii Stewart’s? On cover alone, Amii Stewart wins. Don’t wear this outfit to shovel snow in February.
While the back is much more sedate, it’s easy to see why her career never really reached these heights again. Side one features the #1 hit in a fun 6:13 extended dance mix along with the #69 follow-up, an 8:26 version of The Doors’ Light My Fire. Unfortunately side two is just some middling efforts written by the producer Barry Leng. The vocals are engineered in such a way that I don’t think it really mattered who the singer was.
Interestingly, however, while this one album will represent the extent of any US record shopper’s Amii Stewart collection, she did go on to have a successful 10 year string of chart success in Italy. Apparently, l’amore is mutual, as Stewart lives in Italy and appears on TV and performs there to this day. Take that Anita Ward!
Cost: $2, $438 Remaining
KC & The Sunshine Band, Do You Wanna Go Party, TK 611, 1979
In case the red spandex pants don’t give it away, this is an album the came out in the waining days of the disco era. Acts like KC & The Sunshine Band who were known as being disco artists were doing what they could to remain relevant. It didn’t go well.
The Champagne corks were about to pop to welcome in the 1980s and people were really tired of everything 70s. Disco was in the way, and I remember seeing this album being discounted in droves right after it came out. But then a funny thing happened.
Radio discovered a last minute addition to the record, a synthesized ballad called Please Don’t Go. When the title track Do You Wanna Party flopped as a single, TK released Please Don’t Go in July 1979 and hoped for the best. Debuting at #100, after a month it looked like it was stalled at #79. But it kept on rising, a few notches a week. It reached #1 for the week ending January 4, 1980, making it not only the first #1 of the 80s, but tying the record for the longest climb to #1.
Cost: $2, $468 Remaining
The Bee Gees, Spirits Having Flown, RSO 1-3041, 1979
IF you’re the biggest group in the world, and you’ve just released the bet selling album up to that point, you don’t really change up the formula too much for the follow up. Even if it brands you as only capable of being a disco artist at a time when the genre was dying. The Bee Gees sold more copies of this record in 1979 than they did of all albums in the 37 years since.
It’s not like it wasn’t a heck of a run. From 1977-79 they wrote and produced two platinum albums for their younger brother Andy, two multi-platinum soundtrack albums for Grease and Saturday Night Fever, and capped it all off this 20 million selling album. The three singles from it all hit Number One, giving them six straight chart toppers.
But that was it. Branded a disco act, this was probably the last true disco album to hit Number One. They complained about it, and they had major hits as songwriters for other acts, but The Bee Gees only had one more top ten single, and that was in the 1990s. I don’t think this is a cautionary tale for a young band not to emulate, though.
Cost: $1, $532 Remaining
Donna Summer, Bad Girls, Casablanca NBLP-2-7150, 1979
It doesn’t matter to a bargain record buyer what genre of music is on the record. We buy anything! While I personally get more excited about a classic rock album than a classic disco album, finding a great copy of the ultimate disco album is still a good thing.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack may be the ultimate disco record, but this double album from Donna Summer is right behind it. Never comfortable with the Love Goddess image given to her by her producer Georgio Moroder, she wanted this record to done more in a rock style than pure dance music. The combination is really great, and the album became the biggest of her career.
After this record, and as the best selling female artist in the world, she felt strong enough to go further with her interest in rock music, but Casablanca refused to back her. She signed with the then new Geffen Records to get more creative freedom. Casablanca chose to do what record companies always do, release a greatest hits package, and mine this album for “new” singles for two years. Both the artist and the company saw the sales dry up, and by 1981 the artist was considered a has been and the company was out of business. Still, this record is really great (it would be an amazing single record!), and one that is easy enough to find.
Cost: $2, $652 Remaining
Peaches & Herb, 2 Hot!, Polydor PD-1-6172, 1979
This fine late 70s product is yet another example of a producer driven record. They’re only on the record in name only, but this is really a Freddie Perren record with Peaches & Herb on the cover. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps records like I Want You Back by The Jackson 5, Love Machine by The Miracles, Boogie Fever by The Sylvers, and I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor will. All, and many many more, were written and produced by Freddie Perren.
The Peaches & Herb record came out just after Perren produced the huge Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. So to say he was hot was an understatement. The original Peaches & Herb had a few soul hits in the late 1960s, but the mid 70s, Herb was working as a policeman. But old habits die hard, and Herb reached out to some old friends who supplied him with a new Peaches, Linda Greene, as well as a contract with Freddie Perren.
It’s a great record. It’s certainly a product of it’s time, but there are two all time R&B classics here in Shake Your Groove Thing and Reunited. It’s safe to say though that virtually anybody would have had a hit with material this good, and it just so happened that Peaches & Herb fit the suit that week.
Cost:$2, $821 Remaining
Anita Ward, Songs Of Love, Juana 200,004, 1979
It is said that Anita Ward’s biggest fear was becoming a one hit wonder. But with the success of Saturday Night Fever, Disco Music sales soared, virtually ending the popularity R&B/Soul sound of African American singers. It was way past the point of people thinking it was a fad. So when the popular disco label TK Records tells you that their star producer Frederick Knight wants to sign you to a brand new label he’s starting and has a sure-fire hit to jump start your career, well, if you’re like Ms. Ward, you sign on the dotted line.
Like many up and coming singers, the lure of a hit might cause you to agree to a few things that you never thought you would. Like Donna Summer, Anita Ward’s faith made her uncomfortable to sing the double entendre sexual lyrics she was given to record. Ring My Bell really had nothing to do with actual bells after all.
Unlike Ms. Summer, it all came crashing down fast for Anita Ward’s career. Despite the international success of Bell, TK Records was bankrupt by 1980, disco died virtually overnight, and Anita was in a bad car accident that laid her up for months. Her seven big days at number one would be all she ever had. This excellent copy of her crowning achievement will live on on my shelf, complete with it’s original shrink wrap and promotional stickers, the Juana label with the TK inner sleeve, and it’s cautionary tale for all newcomers.
Cost: $2, $825 Remaining
Lipps Inc., Mouth To Mouth, Casablanca 9128-042, 1979
Sometimes when I find a stash of cheap records, I don’t have the time to flip through them and really know exactly what I’m getting. I just kind of grab and go and see what I bought after. I’d been looking for a nice copy of this Lipps Inc. record for a while. It has the 7:20 version of Funkytown and who wouldn’t want that?
It wasn’t until I went to go and play it that I noticed how flimsy and oddly shiny the cover felt. It did’t take long to see that somehow I found a German pressing of the US album. There’s nothing really different, it’s the same music, but records made in other countries usually are of a lesser quality than US made ones. I’m sure the only way to make an album affordable in a 1979 West Germany still waging a Cold War was to use thinner vinyl and laminated paper covers.
The record’s label gives it’s Bavarian roots away. There’s a stern looking warning at the bottom edge, some strange trademarks like GEMA added to a standard Casablanca label, and “Made In West Germany” printed under the catalogue number. The actual vinyl is really flimsy too. It plays well, but my search will continue for a nice US version.
Cost: $2, $831 Remaining
The Ethel Merman Disco Album, A&M SP-4775, 1979
I imagine sometimes that it’s really hard to say no to an offer, especially if your phone hasn’t been ringing much lately. Broadway legend Ethel Merman was 71 and not only way past her prime, but beginning to deteriorate physically when the offer came in to combine Broadway and Disco into one smash album. Do I have to tell you it’s tragic?
Producer Peter Manz certainly had a certain target market in mind with certain song selections, namely Something For The Boys. On I Get A Kick Out Of You, Miss Merman reverts to the original Cole Porter lyric, screaming “Cocainnne” on top of the swirling beat. Oy, is it cringeworthy.
Apparently, this is quite the collectible, so I was thrilled to find it at a vintage shop for $2. A review I found said it’s good for a laugh, but there’s only one joke. I found it funny once, but then sad. It has a nice “promo” stamp on the back cover, and a date stamp of July 27, 1979, so I know it wasn’t something that someone originally bought. The record is only in VG condition, but it’s a nice addition to the camp section of my collection, and a worthy addition to Trying Too Hard Week.
Cost: $2, $915 Remaining
I was watching Ken Burns’ excellent documentary about The Roosevelts, and one of the historians was going on about Franklin and the effects his polio had on the mechanics of his life. The effort it took him to seem to walk was incredible, but the magnetism of his personality was such that people really believed he could walk. The historian continued that it was a shame that it was unlikely that Americans would ever vote for someone with the same condition again. Which naturally made me think of this $1 Robert John album I just bought.
This unassuming little record has a song that peaked at #1 in October 1979. MTV premiered August 1, 1981. And I don’t think Americans have sent singers like Robert John back to number one since. Before MTV, when a song became a hit from a new artist, you really had no idea what they looked like. Maybe you were lucky, a singer with a hit would randomly appear on a variety show. I even have the 45 of “Sad Eyes”, but until I saw him leaning back in a director’s chair in a Goodwill bin, I had no idea what Robert John looked like (but I was tempted to see if either of his faux-satin jackets were hanging nearby).
It’s not that Mr. John, not Elton, is a particularly bad looking guy, but he just doesn’t seem to have much of a visual presence, even on his own record. After MTV, singers needed to be at least fashionable if not drop dead gorgeous to become successful. Popular music immediately added a visual aspect it never really had before, and just being a guy who could hit a high falsetto on a photo-disco ballad was no longer good enough. I’ve found a live performance of “Sad Eyes” on youtube, and you can see why he wouldn’t have made it if he came along a few years later than he did.
Musically, the record is the catchy hit single “Sad Eyes” coupled wth 9 sub-standard ballads and disco songs. “Dance The Night Away” almost sounds like a disco parody that was written for The Simpsons. Even with first rate “wrecking crew” LA studio musicians and “20 Feet From Stardom” quality background singers, it’s really a pretty bad album. “Sad Eyes”, though, more than justifies the shelf space, and the so-bad-it’s-good album cover, it was a worthy $1 purchase.
Cost: $1, $980 Remaining