Previously on Vintage Ads: Carl Douglas, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ & Barry White ‘You’re The First…’ (1974)
THE REALISTICS – ‘THE YEAR IN MUSIC’S GREATEST HITS’ (1978)
Happy New Year! To close out the hard-to-believe 2018, here’s a set of “fake grooves” from precisely 40 years earlier.
This time of the year, I’m always a sucker for “year in review” programs and articles to catch up on the trends and news stories I missed. Since there’s no 8-track to review 2018’s musical highlights, let’s jump back exactly forty years to this tidy ten-song rundown of the best of 1978 — not the original hits but very good cover versions by Columbia House studio group The Realistics.
This tape (and its LP counterpart) were issued as companions to a fat, 320-page Columbia House book, The Year in Music, reviewing the pop trends, hits, tours, and sales records of 1978. (A followup book and album were issued in 1979.) The songs here really are 1978’s greatest hits; nine of the ten songs here reached Billboard #1 (“Baker Street” only hit #2). Let’s rewind to the happier, funner New Year’s Eve four decades ago and listen!
“Grease”: The Bee Gees were everywhere in 1978, mining their hits from Saturday Night Fever and crafting new gems for younger bro Andy Gibb. (Half the songs on this tape are Bee Gees-related.) Barry Gibb wrote this smash title song for the film version of the ’50s-themed musical Grease. The Realistics turn in an admirable remake; the singer doesn’t quite match Valli’s nasal style but he’s pretty close. Heard at a party, you could mistake this for the real thing.
“Boogie Oogie Oogie”: Of course, disco was huge in 1978 too; one of the biggest hits was this dancefloor anthem by Los Angeles’ A Taste of Honey. Performing the tape’s only female vocal is a talented studio singer, likely doubling herself on backing vocals. This remake is very close to the original, convincingly mirroring its handclaps, clavinet keyboards, and sizzling fuzz-guitar solo.
“With A Little Luck”: Even with the disco invasion, rock was still very big in 1978, with new wave hits by Blondie and The Cars, heavy-metal successes from Foreigner and Van Halen, and great returns to form for the Who and the Rolling Stones. The closest this Columbia House tape gets to rock, though, is a cover of the gentle “With A Little Luck” by Wings, whose lead singer had rocked the ’60s in The Beatles. Admittedly the single was straight-up pop music, and The Realistics sound more like a very good bar band than they do Paul’s high-flying combo.
“Baker Street”: Featuring pop’s best sax riff until Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” this Gerry Rafferty number offers the mysterious, late-night atmosphere heard in so many late-’70s yacht-rock radio hits. It’s a good cover: the Realistics’ vocal is convincing, the synth work admirable, and the sax player nails that signature riff. (8-track-curious listeners should note the fade down and up at 2:16 to accommodate the program break — I chopped out the silence — and the glitch at 3:17, probably a capstan burn on my 8-track cart.)
“Three Times A Lady”: Even as disco dominated R&B music in 1978, straight-up funk and soul also thrived. Led by Lionel Richie, Motown group The Commodores wisely stayed away from straight-up dance music, following 1977’s “Easy” with another fine ballad, “Three Times a Lady.” But Richie’s passionate vocal stylings were hard to fake; note how the less-than-soulful Realistics singer turns this epic soul ballad into a limp Dan Fogelberg record.
Still, what a year — that one and this one! Thanks for trackin’ with 8-Trackin’ in 2018 and see you with more tapes in 2019 — the journey has just begun!
You can read last week’s installment here: (Crazy Eights): ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ (TV, 1978); Jefferson Starship, ‘Gold’ (1979)
Join us for more of Andrew Tonkin’s 8-Trackin’ next Thursday!
Here’s a splendid ad from 20th Century and Pye Records touting the number one successes in the US and UK for Carl Douglas’ “Fung Fu Fighting” and Barry White’s “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything.”
Douglas’ paean to Kung Fu ranks as one of the best-selling singles of all time, reaching #1 in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere. White’s love song was no slouch either, grabbing #1 in the UK and Spain and #2 in the US. Catch both below.
Previously on Vintage Ads: Supertramp, ‘Crime Of The Century’ (1974)
More Barry White at Cherry Stereo: Disco Lab: Barry White – ‘It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me’ (1977)
A very merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today! We’re taking things nice and easy on this fine Tuesday – so let’s roll into some holiday music.
Here’s the The Kinks with their 1977 single “Father Christmas.” Cheers!
Previously on Playback!: Elton John, ‘Step Into Christmas’ (1973)
Happy holidays, everyone! Let’s liven up the place with our buddy, Johnny Cash. Here’s Johnny singing “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'” from his 1977 Christmas Special.
It’s short and sweet and goes down a treat. Tap yer feet!
Previously on Playback!: Canned Heat, ‘Let’s Work Together’ (Live, 1970)
*Note: This Johnny Cash post originally appeared on our sister site BionicDisco.com.
‘STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL’ (TV, 1978); JEFFERSON STARSHIP, ‘GOLD’ (1979)
15 fun facts about the notorious sci-fi Christmas special and its only soundtrack release on 8-track.
1. George Lucas hates the Star Wars Holiday Special. With its dated comedy, odd music, and tedious pacing, this 1978 exploitation of his 1977 movie isn’t what Lucas had in mind when he okay’ed it. He claimed that he wanted to grab a sledgehammer, “track down every [bootleg] copy of that show and smash it.”
2. Still, the concept could have worked. The idea for the program was that a member of the Star Wars team would be delayed around the holidays; their worried family would distract themselves with electronic amusements, offering TV viewers comedy, drama, and musical interludes.
3. Much of the dialogue is in untranslated Wookiee language. Sadly, the family chosen was Chewbacca’s, and none of them speak English (or Galactic Basic), instead barking, yelping, and grunting for minutes on end. This is very strange to watch.
4. The show has a plot, sort of. As Chewbacca and Han Solo fend off enemy forces flying back to Kashyyyk, the Wookiee’s family is hassled by Imperial leaders and stormtroopers wanting to know more about Chewie’s rebel activities. With the help of friendly trader Saun Dann, they distract and confuse their foes until Han and Chewbacca arrive to set things right. Afterwards, all rebel believers astral-project into outer space to celebrate their secular holiday.
5. The word “Christmas” is never uttered. Wookiees and their friends celebrate Life Day, an annual observance of diversity, friendship, and peace. So there’s no mention of Santa Claus or the Christian nativity (this was “a long time ago”). However, Saun Dann does bring gifts for the family in a big Santa sack, and the Life Day gathering includes robes, candles, and mention of a “Tree of Life.”
6. The stars of the movie appear. Via video links, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford reprise their now-iconic roles from the 1977 film. Though Hamill and Fisher are phoning it in (by Carrie’s own admission, she was a bit medicated), Ford delivers a surprisingly committed performance, especially interacting with Chewbacca’s wife Malla.
7. The supporting cast is made up of TV comedy actors. Alas, Art Carney (The Honeymooners), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Bea Arthur (Maude), and Diahann Caroll (Julia) yank us out of that far, far away galaxy and smack-dab into ’70s network TV.
8. In one sketch, Korman appears in drag — and brown face paint. He plays a cooking-show host that Malla can’t follow since she lacks his four arms. Korman’s character’s campy attire and swarthy complexion derive from its alien origins, but it’s still painful to watch. (Plus the sketch itself is desperately unfunny.)
9. The show actually predicts modern household technology. The special anticipates many aspects of our digital lives decades later. Video chats via flat screen suggest Skype or FaceTime sessions, portable units provide high-resolution entertainment, and flat, clear cards offer data playback a la CDs and DVDs.
10. Weirdly, it also invents VR porn. Saun Dann (Carney) gives Grampa Itchy a proton pack for his Mind Evaporator device, allowing him to view sexy Mermeia (Carroll) singing “This Minute Now.” Somewhat awkwardly, her spoken intro and Itchy’s grunting, panting response build this up as virtual-reality pornography: “We are excited, aren’t we? We can have a good time, can’t we? … I am your fantasy —I am your pleasure— enjoy me.” Enjoy he does. Jeepers, Gramps.
11. Fanboys can’t ignore the show — because it contains Boba Fett’s first appearance anywhere. On a portable device, young Lumpy watches the cartoon “The Faithful Wookiee” (written by Lucas), in which Lumpy’s own father Chewbacca interacts with bounty hunter Boba Fett. The cult-favorite Fett wouldn’t be seen in the movies until 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
12. The show has never been broadcast again or (except for the cartoon) released on video. The special’s commercial failure and Lucas’ horrified reaction have prevented the Holiday Special from receiving any official release. However, old-school fanboys with $1000 VHS decks and $25 tapes (1978 prices) captured the show’s sole broadcast, making it available to fans on bootleg tapes and online streaming (seek and ye shall find). (The cartoon segment would finally appear as a 2011 Blu-ray box set “easter egg.”)
13. For a few minutes, the show kinda rocks. Saun Dann briefly distracts an Imperial officer by showing him a rock-music performance on Malla’s new holo-player: a miniature Jefferson Starship plays the brand-new number “Light The Sky On Fire.” (Franchise aficionados have struggled to incorporate this 1978 song into the Star Wars universe, particularly its spoken lyric “The great god Kopa Khan came from the stars and vanished.”)
14. At the time, the “Light The Sky On Fire” 45 was the only proof the show ever happened. The retail single sleeve states that the song was “seen and heard on the CBS-TV ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special.” (The promo sleeve also boasts, “estimated viewing audience 50 million people – play it now!”) No other merchandise from the special was made available at the time (Kenner dolls of Malla, Itchy, and Grumpy were planned but cancelled), so without the 45 you might have thought the Special was just an urban legend – or a strange, boring dream.
15. “Light the Sky on Fire” is only on the Gold 8-track (and cassette). The original vinyl release of the first Jefferson Starship best-of included “Light The Sky” on a bonus 45 that was dropped from later pressings. If you were a hardcore Starship or Star Wars fan, you had to track down the tape to solve the puzzle of the ethereal Kopa Khan.
So does George Lucas want to find every 8-track of Jefferson Starship Gold and smash those as well? That’s just one more Yuletide mystery for this Christmas season. Happy Life Day from 8-Trackin’!
You can read last week’s installment here: Willie Nelson, ‘Pretty Paper’ (1979)
Join us for more of Andrew Tonkin’s 8-Trackin’ next Thursday!
More Starship at Cherry Stereo: 8-Trackin’: Jefferson Starship, ‘Red Octopus’ (1975)
“We bring it back alive!”
Two late Seventies commercials from Pioneer on the slate today. First up, a spot for Stereo “loudspeakers.” Second, a spot featuring jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. You’ll likely recognize the narrator in both – it’s actor Burgess Meredith.
Pioneer stereo speakers aired November 1979.
Pioneer ‘Sonny Rollins’ aired October 1978.
Previously on Vintage Commercials: Crazy Eddie Stereo Blowout (1978)
Supertramp’s Crime Of The Century LP was the band’s breakthrough in the US and UK, reaching #38 on Billboard’s album chart and #4 in Britain.
The record features two hit tunes; “Dreamer” (#13 UK) and “Bloody Well Right” (US #35). Have a listen to the title song below.
Previously on Vintage Ads: Heart, ‘Dreamboat Annie’ (1976)
More Supertramp at Cherry Stereo: Vintage Ads: Supertramp, ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ (1975)
WILLIE NELSON, ‘PRETTY PAPER’ (1979)
Willie shakes off his outlaw-cowboy image for a blissful, understated set of holiday pop standards perfect for any occasion.
Pretty paper? You mean like rolling paper? Sorry, folks; in spite of wild Willie’s stoner reputation, the title track of this fine Christmas album is actually about wrapping paper. Way back in 1963, presumably pre-weed, Nelson was inspired by a disabled street vendor’s cry to write a touching song about holiday loneliness. Within weeks Roy Orbison fought off a 102° fever to render a poignant vocal version that took his version of “Pretty Paper” to #15.
Skip ahead to the mid-’70s as Willie’s career is finally catching fire thanks to “outlaw country,” a rebellious, rootsy response to the processed Nashville sound. But even as the Wanted! The Outlaws compilation takes off, restless Willie is ready for greener musical pastures. Strolling his Malibu neighborhood, he bumps into neighbor Booker T. Jones, leader of ’60s soul combo Booker T. and the MG’s. Willie invites Jones to produce his next album, a collection of American pop standards from the 1920s-1940s. No one had expected the 1978 Stardust LP but everyone loves it; the gently jazzy release quickly hits multi-platinum status and garners rave reviews.
Willie’s CBS contract gives him complete artistic control over his releases, and a year later this artist decides to cut a Christmas album (unlike most holiday releases, this one is not a greedy label’s cash grab). Nelson calls up Jones again (or maybe just shouts over the back fence) and reassembles his talented Stardust backing band. Again they choose a handful of Great American Songbook numbers, this time all Christmas-themed. They add a couple traditional carols and two originals, including Willie’s Orbison hit “Pretty Paper,” which becomes the title track.
Result: 29 minutes of pure, understated holiday joy. This is largely due to Willie’s nasal crooning, which has a great storytelling quality that brings story-songs to life (as heard on his brilliant conceptual song-cycle Red Headed Stranger). He even turns the familiar “Jingle Bells” into a thrilling sleigh adventure.
All this is underpinned by Willie’s own fine work on nylon-string Spanish guitar. Nelson is doubled beautifully by Jody Payne on electric guitar, while Mickey Raphael adds sweet fills on harmonica. But the secret weapon is Booker T. Jones himself on organ, prominent throughout and very recognizable to fans of his ’60s work. Still, the effect is minimalistic and subdued, with only a couple instruments audible at any one time. It’s tasteful as hell, frankly.
On “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman,” Willie spins some jolly tales for the kiddies with appropriately bouncy backup; on more reflective tunes like “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” he’s restrained and emotional. For me the highlight is “Winter Wonderland,” with Willie’s intimate, romantic vocal clearly aimed at his snowman-building, face-unafraid partner. The soulful instrumental “Christmas Blues” even evokes the heyday of Booker T. and the MG’s.
Hearing Pretty Paper for the first time just now, I was quite floored by its splendid display of holiday cheer. Like Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, it sets a warm, festive mood without being too manic or maudlin. From tree-trimming to gift-wrapping to family feast, it’s hard for me to picture a holiday setting where this wouldn’t be ideal. (For the record, the 8-track is also perfect, effortlessly breaking its twelve songs into four equal programs with no broken or repeated songs.) With this Pretty Paper of blue, may all your Christmases be white — and all your Christmas “trees” be green. (Some stoner humor I think wild Willie would appreciate.)
You can read last week’s installment here: ELP, ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ (1971); Philip Glass, ‘North Star’ (1977)
Join us for more of Andrew Tonkin’s 8-Trackin’ next Thursday!
More Willie Nelson at Cherry Stereo: Vintage Ads (Look & Listen): Willie Nelson, ‘To Lefty From Willie’ (1977)
The single, written by Ann and Nancy Wilson and released in late ’76, floated to #42 on the US Hot 100 and #53 in Canada.
Previously on Vintage Ads: Gordon Lightfoot, ‘Gord’s Gold’ (1975)
More Heart at Cherry Stereo: Music Makers of the Seventies: Heart