Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1977

YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1977

To me, a single is something that has to have mass appeal. Before streaming and downloads, a single had to encourage someone to leave their house, go to a shop and pay money for a song on a black plastic disc. Sometimes, you'd get two good songs for the price of one if the artist stuck another of their tracks on the b-side. Some bands put experimental pretentious stuff on the b-side (which I always thought was a cheat) and you'd only get one track to play whenever you wanted. Groups who released so-so singles were only going to sell to their hardcore fans, collectors and the odd member of the public who accidentally caught a snippet on one of John Peel's 'off the chart' shows. He managed to get great singles into the chart which would otherwise have gone unheard. Then there were singles which were played over and over by Terry Wogan which despite their exposure, only reached the lower end of the top 40. My point is, to get someone to physically leave their house and part with money for one song, was a feat. To get into the top 10, you needed to shift at least 100,000 units in a week. If streaming wasn't a thing these days, who knows how many units Ed Sheeran would shift per single so we can't really compare - but, if that many people were paying for your song and not just taping it off the radio, it must have had something going for it.

The biggest selling song of 1977 was Mull of Kintyre. Much maligned, it was deemed 'one for the mums' but I guess people just enjoyed the familiarity of it. Paul McCartney was a master of writing songs you could sing along to by the end of the first listen. So catchy and you weren't sure why you were even listening to it sometimes but it outsold everything else at the time.

A great song can be a great single : a great single isn't always a great song

The best songs can often be found on albums; songs you'd never hear on the radio. The artist's job was to hook you in with a great single and then hope you want to hear nine more songs recorded around the same time. Some artists recorded songs they didn't want to record in order to get a record deal and then changed their genre entirely! Some artists recorded a disco single and then filled their album with middle-of-the-road folk (ok, maybe not, but they had to choose between money and integrity most of the time - unless they really enjoyed writing commercial music). There were some record producers who knew what people wanted to hear and so manipulated their roster. ABBA were massive so The Brotherhood of Man appeared, 2 men, 2 women singing 'Angelo' which was a direct rip of 'Fernando' and even had the piano motif from Dancing Queen. They also entered the Eurovision Song Contest and won.

1977 had 305 new songs in the top 40, I noted 115 which I thought were above average and narrowed that list down to 40 for your viewing, listening and reading pleasure.

 

(40) If I have to go away - Jigsaw

Despite sounding like he'd just sat down too quickly, this isn't a bad impersonation of The Stylistics. Looking like they'd had the photoshoot for their single cover at the local working man's club after a game of darts and a Ploughmans, Jigsaw were disappointed to learn that their follow up to 'Sky High' (which I put at 35 in the best singles of 1975) only reached 36 and that was the last we saw of them. Shame, this was a lovely song - just needed a nudge onto Top of the Pops and I'm sure it would have been a bit hit.

(39) Ma Baker - Boney M

The 'Ma Baker' in the song is actually 'Ma Barker', the matriarch and supposed mastermind of her sons criminal gang in 1930s Arizona.

A classic Disco track, this got to number 2. As you'll read later, I blame Boney M for my obsession with Pop Music.

(38) Ma Nah Ma Nah - Piero Umiliani

A wonderful pop record if you put your snobbery aside for a moment. People loved Led Zeppelin and people hated them. People bought this record in their droves and lots of people hated it. Make of that philsophy what you will but my older Sister used to sing this to me when I was 3 years old. She'd do the 'Mah Na Mah Na' bit and I'd do the 'Dee deeee de dee dee' bit. You could take or leave 'The Wheels on the Bus' (which I also had on an LP of Nusery Rhymes), this and Boney M's Brown Girl in the Ring were my Nursery Rhymes. This got to number 8 incidentally and I'm aware that the single cover above is the Muppets version not Piero's. They were in the chart at the same time though.  Anyone remember 'Vanilla' and 'No Way No Way' who thought they were going to be the new Spice Girls in 1997? No? Just me? Their song went 'No way, no way, Mah Na Mah Na'. AWFUL.

(37) Greatest Love of All - George Benson

It depends which side of 1980 you grew up on as to whether you think George or Whitney did this better. George is a hero of mine so of course his version is better. This only got to number 27 which wasn't nearly as high as Whitney's attempt in 1986.

(36) Baby Don't Change Your Mind - Gladys Knight and the Pips

One of those songs you know but you don't know you know until you hear it and you definitely don't know it's by Gladys and her pips. This is one of those luscious Philadelphia, Disco, Mowtown cross over things that cheer you right up. It got to number 4 and still sounds as good today as it ever did. Things like this never date.

 

(35) Oxygene - Jean Michel Jarre

Another instrumental hit, and another single to spend four weeks at a top five peak position, in this instance number four. I only knew this tune (and didn't know the name of or the artist) from science fiction and programs like Tomorrow's World as it sounded like something they'd listen to in Star Wars. It's nice. Not my favourite thing ever but as I'm being objective, it's here at 35.

This is the definitive version here :

 

 

 

(34) Give a Little Bit - Supertramp

How this wasn't a massive hit is a complete mystery. Only reached number 29. It was re-recorded for the ITV Telethon in 1992, but failed to chart.

(33) Year of the Cat - Al Stewart

Most people who know this song consider it a classic.  Nobody else even knows it exists.  It only got to number 29 but that's probably because it's just not commercial enough. It got to 8 in America where musical sensibilities were vastly different to ours until the early 80s. There have been many stories concerning what the song is actually about, but the official story is that it's about a tourist trapped in the 'Casablanca' of the hit film.

(32) No More Heroes - The Stranglers

I didn't warm to the Stranglers until about 1982 - they were the most palatable of the Punk-wave artists. This is probably their best known track pre '80 and got to number eight. This track has that running electric piano motif in the background which was adopted more and more by the New Wave acts emerging over the next twelve months.

(31) Pretty Vacant - The Sex Pistols

A number 7 chart placing by a banned song isn't a bad feat (before the days of Frankie anyway). This was actually very good for a Punk tune which are all generally very loud, angry and shouty. This one is a very melodic loud, angry, shouty song which contains a very immature (but still fun to shout when singing along) Mondegreen.

I'm a huge fan of John Lydon. Every time I see him interviewed I find him to be engaging, intelligent, wise and hilarious. He said once that the most shocking thing about him was that he was a nice bloke!

(30) Boogie Nights - Heatwave

This was Heatwave's first and biggest (of seven) hit. It climbed all the way to number two and had a generation of imitators, not least of which Michael Jackson on his song 'Off the Wall'.  You'd not believe a group from a TV talent show could come up with something so profoundly resonant in popular music but for once, 'New Faces' did its job. Rod Temperton (a member of Heatwave) later penned one of Michael Jackson's most well known songs "Thriller", while vocalist J.D.Douglas later joined the Commodores and featured on their last big hit "Nightshift".

On the day of the shoot for the single cover, they'd forgotten their P.E. kit and all had to do it in 'skins'. Everyone looks up for it except the bloke on the left who looks decidedly awkward with his enforced nakedness.

(29) Love Bug - Tina Charles

Most of you will think this is quite a weak track but it's right up my particular boulevard. Fun, fresh and catchy. I love the synth swirls at the start and the flange guitar riffs. This would have been a fixture on my turntable if I'd had one at the time (and my two-year-old hands could have operated it). It reached number 26. It's something Sophie Ellis Bextor should have covered in the late 90s.

I wonder if Stevie Wonder ever got in touch to contest the similarity to 'Uptight' though...

(28) Easy - Commodores

The Commodores were making a welcome return to the chart after three years away with a song totally out of keeping with the funk they'd been serving up and getting into the lower reaches of the 40 with. It reached number 9 and got a new lease of life eleven years later when it was on an advert for a bank or building society. A cover by Faith No More also got in the chart in the early 90s.

The intro to this is a good example of the difference between someone who can play piano and someone who uses the piano as an instrument. There are dynamics here which give the song and message exactly what it needs. Something modern songwriters ignore with their programming and sequencers.  There's a guitar bit halfway through which is completely out of place though. It just sort of happens and then it's gone again. I always imagine the guitar player during the recording going 'There's this thing I can play. Can I put it in the song?' and they're like, 'not really, it doesn't fit - it's a slow ballad' but then he snuck in to the studio that night and dubbed it in randomly anyway and the song got released before anyone noticed.

(27) Red Light Spells Danger - Billy Ocean

Billy Ocean reached number two with his fourth hit in just over 12 months. But, he would have to wait seven years before he had his next hit. This is up-tempo and full of life - a jaunty ditty too.

 

(26) Baccara - Yes Sir I Can Boogie

Baccara were Spanish and it always struck me that they were (like a lot of other acts at the time) riding the coat-tails of ABBA who had popularised continental pop music. I first heard this on a 'Roller Disco' compilation album which also contained 'Naughty, Naughty, Naughty' by Joy Sarney (the one with Punch out of Punch and Judy). I was probably four or five at the time and used to wonder who they were talking to and why someone had asked them specifically whether or not they could 'Boogie'.

I'm quite a serious connoisseur of the Karaoke machine. Whenever I happen upon an establishment that has one, I'm very careful about my song choice. I want to sing something I'm able to sing, something I think others would like to hear and something I'm going to enjoy. I usually settle for something deeply 80s. However, I had a mate who was less than serious about his song choices. One night, he got up and sang 'Yes Sir, I can Boogie' in falsetto and brought the house down. I learned quite a valuable lesson that night.

(25) Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway

This spent two weeks at number five; easy to see why - it's got all the classic ingredients of a hit single. The lead singer had a very annoying face however.

(24) Elkie Brooks - Sunshine After The Rain

Berri covered this in 1995 and did a really good job of it.  However, this original is far superior, especially with Elkie's voice.  This reached number ten and was Elkie's second hit. The only time I've ever heard someone use the word 'Elkie' is when they're talking about Ms Brooks (apart from that time I thought I saw a large deer which looked a bit Elky).  She started her career in 1964 releasing six singles in two years before joining the 'Humphrey Lyttleton' and then 'Eric Delaney' bands. After a further solo single in 1969 she joined a jazz-fusion rock band called 'Dada', who recorded one album before changing their name to 'Vinegar Joe' as 'Robert Palmer' joined to share lead vocals with Elkie.

The band split in 1974 after three albums, with Robert and Elkie both starting solo careers. Elkie finally got her chart breakthrough in the Summer of '77 with a song about Janis Joplin, called "Pearl's A Singer". From then on, she continued to have hits at varying intervals until her last with "No More The Fool" at the beginning of 1987.

(23) Deniece Williams - That's What Friends Are For

Deniece had some cracking singles in the 70s.  This was the follow up to her number one hit "Free" and got to number 8.

(22) Fleetwood Mac - Dreams

Bafflingly, none of the singles from the Rumours album did much in the UK chart.  Imagine dating someone in your band and then splitting up acrimoniously. You both go ahead and write a song about the other person.  Lindsay Buckingham wrote 'Go your own way' whilst Stevie Nicks had to sing backing, using words which were a scathing attack on her.  She got her own back with 'Dreams' which was a much more subtle but still razor sharp retort.  'Listen carefully to the sound of your lonliness' and 'Women they will come and they will go', she sings, telling him he'll never find a love like hers. Ouch. It climbed to number 24 but had its day in the sun when The Corrs covered it in the late 90s.

(21) Leo Sayer - How Much Love

Leo Sayer was following up his only UK number one with the number ten peaking "How Much Love". A perfect example of someone stamping his personality on a song. If you watch the video and see him dancing along with that cheeky hamster-faced enthusiasm, you realise this song is just Leo Sayer in musical form. Joyful and triumphant.

(20) Emotions - Best Of My Love

This was written by Earth, Wind and Fire and reached a peak of number four. The Emotions only managed one minor hit afterwards, apart from their "Boogie Wonderland" collaboration with the aforementioned EWF for which they're probably best remembered. C.J. Lewis decided to take a steaming number 2 all over this song in 1994 so it's best we move on.

(19) Boney M - Sunny

Another Boney M song in my top 40 you say? Too right! They were the best thing about 1977 for me. This was the second of nine consecutive top ten hits and peaked at number three.  I love their voices, they mix so well with each other and have such rich depth.  They had transformed this Bobby Hebb hit "Sunny" into a disco tune and for that we thank them - it's easy to forget that Boney M were a disco act before they started making religious and nursery rhyme songs.

 

(18) Bee Gees - How Deep Is Your Love

The he-be Beegees spent five weeks at number three with this record. If you can write something this amazing and not get to number one, you must first have a little sit down in a cupboard with your head in your hands and then realise you must have been kept from the top spot by something pretty special? Well, at number 2 was 'The Floral Dance' by 'Brighouse and Raistrick Brass Band' and at number one... Mull of ***kin'tyre.

(17) Boz Scaggs - Hollywood

 

I consider this to be the first 80s song. Yeah, we're just over 2 years away but this was at least five years ahead of it's time.  A brilliant song in all respects, it only reached number 33 and Boz never made the top forty again.

(16) Leo Sayer - Thunder In My Heart

Yeah, Leo is in my top 40 a few times and I'm not even sorry.  Not only had he recently had his first UK number one, but he'd also broken the USA!  Sadly for Leo, this was his first hit not to make the top ten, as it stalled at number 22. This song was resurrected in the 2000s and got to number one for two weeks.  Irene Cara of 'Fame' fame also covered this.

(15) Deniece Williams - Free

As masterpieces go, this is up there with the best vocal performances of the century.  This got to number one and was Deniece Williams' first hit.

Though I can't find any reference online, I'm sure I heard someone like En Vogue singing this - probably just a live non-album version for the hell of it. Dina Carroll brought back all of Deniece's vocal sensibilities in 1993; all homage and no irony.

(14) Leo Sayer - When I Need You

After reaching number two three times, Leo Sayer finally reached the top with his sixth hit single, the only one of the six not written by him! In America this was his second consecutive number one. "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" had already been to number one and spent 17 weeks in the top 40. The Barron Knights then did their own version :

(13) Queen - We Are The Champions

This was a massive hit and spent three weeks at number two. It's endured throughout the years too. It's also part of that annoying Mandela effect thing people keep going on about where they say you believe something happened that didn't. Then try and prove it's a real thing by going 'You think the last part of the song is 'we are the champions of the world' when in fact it's 'we are the champions...' and then it ends.  Next time someone says this, they want to hope I don't have access to a pointy stick.

(12) Thelma Houston - Don't Leave Me This Way

Harold Melvin got to number five with his version and a couple of weeks later, Thelma released the definitive version. She only got to number 13 and there were many people who bought both versions rather than just picked their favourite and stuck with it. If you were a buyer of singles, you'd probably pick up five or six in one go.  Over nine years later the battle in the UK was belatedly won by the Communards who hit number one and had the biggest selling single of 1986. The Communards version takes elements of Thelma's version which are missing from Harold's (most noteably, the bass guitar motif in the chorus which they transpose to brass).

(11) Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way

As previously mentioned, none of the singles from Rumours got above 29.  This only managed to place at 38! If you want to hear some raw emotion, give this isolated vocal version a whirl :

 

(10) Trammps - Disco Inferno

This song has such a mood to it. Even people who don't know anything about the construction and appreciation of music will understand the emotion of this immediately. This is a proper Disco record and probably one of the best ever.  It only got to number 16. I guess this adds weight to the argument that the pop charts back in the day represented everyone's musical tastes and not just those of the under 30s.

(9) Andrew Gold - Lonely Boy

An extraordinary songwriter, Andrew Gold had his very first hit with "Lonely Boy", and peaked at number 11. His grasp of melody, chord progressions and instrumentation tells you this bloke was born a musician. Great song and a wonderful greatest hits album! Watch out for more gems in 1978!

(8) Althia And Donna - Uptown Top Ranking

It always felt to me like these two had written this in their bedroom and performed it at a school talent show (that's what their appearance no Top of the Pops looked like anyway).  Whilst their stage presence and charisma was completely missing, this brilliant song spent a week at number one. The best thing about this song though was that it kicked Mull of ***kin'tyre off number one after nine weeks of ear-bleeding inanity.

(7) Donna Summer - Love's Unkind

No apologies for sticking this in my top 10. It's a brilliant single and another I would have spent several week's pocket money on. She spent three weeks at number three in January 1978 (released in '77) with this and stayed in the 40 for 13 weeks.

(6) Abba - Name Of The Game

Another number 1 for Abba which stayed there for four weeks. For the second year running, they spent more weeks on top than anyone else. I'm not a massive fan of this - I prefer their uptempo stuff but it's something of a classic.

(5) Rod Stewart - I Don't Want To Talk About It

This was Rod Stewart's fourth number one. "I Don't Want To Talk About It" was taken from his 1975 album "Atlantic Crossing", while "First Cut Is The Deepest" was from his most recent "A Night On The Town" album. This was one of Rod's many covers, as he usually did other people's songs a lot better than they did. It was originally recorded by 'Crazy Horse', written by band vocalist Danny Whitten who didn't live to see his song taken to the top. He died of a drug overdose and was the subject of Neil Young's song 'The needle and the damage done'.

(4) Donna Summer - I Feel Love

She's here again! This time using all those futuristic space noises and swirling synths to produce something which, sonically at least, influenced a whole raft of musicians. A lot of whom started breaking into the charts the following year.  The fact this went to number 1 was a bit of a surprise at the time - Donna had only had one single before this in the top 10 and this sounded nothing like anything else she'd done. After this record, she just had hit after hit!

(3) Rita Coolidge - We're All Alone

The song was written by Boz Scaggs and originally recorded by him for his "Silk Degrees" album.  Enter Rita Coolidge with the first of her two hits which was also the biggest, peaking at number six.  It's got hints of 'Greatest love of all' about it but thankfully, it stands on it's own two feet.

(2) Abba - Knowing Me Knowing You

This single is a masterclass in production. It sounds wonderful - all that analogue seventies muddiness along with the primitive flange and phaser on the keyboards. The vocal treatments are spot on too - and for those who don't waffle on pretentiously about the construct of the song, it's got enough lightness and drama to lift it above most other songs of its type to the point where there should be a statue built for ABBA somewhere if there already isn't. It spent five weeks at number one.

(1) Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill

Words can't begin to describe what this song means to me. If I could somehow bring up a list of the songs I've listened to the most in my life along with the number of times I've listened to them, this would be in the top five.  Lyrically it takes you there and back, musically it's convoluted and interesting, and Gabriel's voice is a joy to behold. Check out his version of 'Book of Love' and you'll know what I mean.  This was his first hit since leaving Genesis (the song in fact was partly about leaving Genesis, that feeling of letting go of something you've got for the possibility of something better), and got as high as number 13. The fact it's on every single movie trailer has tainted its legacy a little.

Posted in Music Museum.

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