Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1979
YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1979
If you can name everyone in the above photograph, you'll know everything in my top 40 best singles of 1979. When I do these lists, I give each song a mark out of 100 and sort them high to low to get my list. As it's completely arbitrary anyway, it seems the best way of doing it. 1979 scored the highest collective score of all the years I've rated so far (1973-1979). '79 was a very metallic year for me. All the music sounded like it was made on metal instruments - The Police, Gary Numan, Michael Jackson and Dire Straits - all sounded very bleak, tinny and futuristic to me. Back then, each year had it's own sound, usually something brand new with a bit of retro thrown in. '79 had the most innovation of everything I've heard from the 70s. Lots of experimental music and lots of safe dance music too with repetition to really embed that groove in your brain and make you go out and buy the single.
1979 was when I started to pay attention to the charts rather than have music seeping into my head by osmosis. I remember settling down in front of the television with three channels, waiting for Top of the Pops and watching The Boomtown Rats singing 'I don't like Mondays' and feeling an excitement I felt time and time again throughout the 80s and beyond when I heard a song so brilliant, I couldn't believe humans had created it. The art of creating a brilliant single is an art form. Coming up with something nobody has ever heard before to make sure you stand apart from your peers and possibly even invent a genre - it was possible in the late 70s and early 80s to do that. Nobody has done that for thirty years in fact (since Grunge? Garage? Happy to be corrected!) Everything you hear these days sounds like something you've already heard. Even in 1979 however, there were songs that sounded like other songs in the same chart because that was popular, it was what people wanted to listen to, it was going to shift units. It's the whole point of this blog - those people who 'sold their soul' in order to become famous, popular, make money - rather than write the songs your integrity told you to. You can guarantee the people behind 'The Birdy Song' weren't musical purists but those who were, nobody has heard of and they had to work two jobs. Anyone who makes my top 40 of the year managed to keep their integrity and make money (or something).
I might go totally overboard about some of the songs in this countdown but the further into the 80s we get, it's only going to get worse so I'm not even sorry.
(40) Does Your Mother Know - Abba
14 hits in and the boys wanted to have a go on vocals. They'd sung on other songs but not on singles. I guess they thought they'd become popular enough to risk not letting the female half of the group handle the vocals for once. A bit like Roger Taylor singing I'm in love with my car I suppose?
It reached number 14, This was featured on ABBAs best album, "Voulez-Vous" from which it was downhill all the way to them disbanding.
(39) Message To You Rudy - Specials
Two Tone were a revolutionary record label. Many progressive and charismatic acts recorded for the label and The Specials were probably their greatest exponent. This was a double A Side (quite a popular trend at the time) and reached number ten.
(38) Wanted - Dooleys
I think (apart from my Dad's copy of 'Pretty Flamingo') that this was the first song I played on Vinyl. I was four years old - my older sister was out somewhere so I snuck into her bedroom and saw the Dooleys album propped up in front of her record player. Looking at the cover (Se above) even then I couldn't understand how this was a good image for a band - terry toweling track suits and roller skates. I knew how to get the disc out of the sleeve, plop it on the turn table, set it spinning and put the needle down at the start of the disc. 'Wanted' was the first track and I loved what came out of the speakers. I've no idea why this album was in my Sister's collection; it wasn't her taste at all. She'd bought the 'Jump to the Beat', 'Upside Down' and 'Wednesday Week' singles, all very energetic, rhythmic upbeat songs. The Dooleys released inoffensive songs, stuff they'd play in supermarkets. This track was very different though. It got to number 3 and rightly so - it's brilliant (and it's not just misty eyed nostalgia)
(37) Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
This number two hit was up my alley, regardless of the political commentary which was completely lost on me at the time. It had a catchy chorus so it was always going to appeal to the masses. The piano was very reminiscent of Abba.
(36) Making Plans For Nigel - XTC
I've often thought XTC would have been a good name for one of those bands which emenated from Manchester in the early 90s and sang about mind altering chemicals. This was late 70s though and you weren't allowed to overtly sing about drugs a la 'Ebeneezer good'. XTC's sixth single was their first hit - the first released copies of the single included a free board game. It got to number 17. Until I researched this list, I didn't know XTC were responsible for "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead" which I always thought was a Crash Test Dummies original.
(35) Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd
This was the last number one of the seventies and the first of the eighties. Pink Floyd weren't a singles type of band - in fact, I always found their over indulgent almost jam-like bloated tedious songs overbearing. This was great however as was the film. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yurr meat??
(34) One Step Beyond - Madness
It was hard for people to take Madness seriously as musicians. However, they were all masters of their craft, especially Lee Thompson the Saxophonist and Mike Barson on Piano. Whilst they were the perfect singles band, coming up with catchy earworms, in the late 80s they managed to sound soulful and reflective - probably a sign of growing up. Their first single was a tribute to Prince Buster whilst this, their second single, was a cover of their favourite Prince Buster composition. The video for this was our first look at them as personalities, which was just as important as the music, especially in the advent of the music video and MTV. This got to number seven and was a staple in school discos across the land.
(33) Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney
None of the artists I love (and own all the albums of) ever did a serious Christmas Single (apart from maybe U2). So I've always wondered what Beatles and Paul McCartney fans thought of this single. I always thought this was from the very early 70s and was surprised to see it was released in 79. The production doesn't sound that fresh but regardless of that, it's wheeled out every Yuletide and I never get sick of it.
(32) Message In A Bottle - Police
This was the first single from the 'Regatta De' Blanc' (White Reggae) album and couldn't be further away from Reggae. This entered the chart at number eight and jumped to number one the following week. The thing that set The Police apart at the time (and ever since I suppose) was the erratic but cracking use of a drum kit, the use of guitar as an orchestra and the bass as both a rhythm section and bolster. Still not convinced by Sting's vocals (preferred him on 'Every Breath' and 'Don't stand' to 'Roxanne' and 'Walking on the moon') but they were signature, instantly recognisable and unique which is something you just don't get these days.
(31) Spacer - Sheila B. Devotion
This song came courtesy of Chic. There were a few songs around this time that had 'Space' themes, especially after Star Wars had become so massive. 'I lost my heart to a Starship Trooper' springs to mind. It's been copied many times, including this cringe-worthy video for 'Crying at the Discotheque' in 2020 by Sophie Ellis-Bextor (which also has shades of 'Dreams' by Fleetwood Mac) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdXecuVl7_4
(30) Complex - Gary Numan
My favourite ever Gary Numan song but not a single. Baffled as to how this got to number 6 - probably riding on the fact his first two songs went to number one. It's depressing, slow, full of paranoia and fear of fame. It's one of the best songs ever written. For those who were into this sort of thing, it actually is a great single - just not something you'd ever hear ABBA do.
(29) Bang Bang - B.A. Robertson
The first and biggest of his five hits - I first heard this on one of those K-TEL compilation albums with a large roller skate on the front. I heard a lot of late 70s singles this way, before 'Now That's What I Call Music' came along in 1983. I've only recently got the point of the song and it's quite clever lyrically (how sexual encounters can destroy dynasties), which puts it just inside the 'novelty single' circle of the Venn Diagram. BA wrote songs for Mike and the Mechanics and co-wrote 'The Living Years'. Next year's 'Kool in the Kaftan' was even better!
(28) Roxanne - The Police
This charted a full year after it's original release and that was down to it being an American top 40 hit after flopping here initially. It reached number 12 and launched them into the stratosphere. It reached number 17 a year later as part of the "Six Pack" release, and the same position when remixed in 1997. It's not my favourite of theirs by any means but a great single nonetheless.
(27) Some Girls - Racey
That familiar singing organ sound which I'd be drawn towards in 'We don't talk any more' and various other hits that year. Barry Manilow had a go at covering this on his "I Wanna Do It With You" album. I had a full blown argument at school with a lad over what it was Barry wanted to do 'with you'. I still don't think I know what it is.
(26) Heart Of Glass - Blondie
Blondie's first number one in the UK, and by the end of 1980, they'd had five! This was the third single from the 'Parallel Lines' album and for a third song from an album that was already out there, it was unusual to get to number 1. I guess they found a whole new audience that didn't already have the album. A fourth single from the album also got to number 1 a few months later. Amazing!!
(25) Lines - Planets
Lots of production on this and sounded a lot like The Specials before they'd hit the charts. A bit of Pseudo-Reggae which was extremely mainstream at the time. This had lots and lots of airplay, the amount of airplay normally reserved for top ten hits. Yet, it only reached number 36!
(24) Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel
Art Garfunkel got to number one had the biggest selling single of the year with this. It was about Rabbits with bright eyes. It made me think that Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' was also about Rabbits when they sang 'Turn around bright eyes' and they had laser beam eyes in the video which creeped me out more than anything I'd seen in my I-Spy book of insects.
(23) One Way Ticket - Eruption
This was a cover of a Neil Sedaka song which I discovered when I did a deep-dive into his back catalogue a few years ago. They're both brilliant but this was of it's time, given that it's a Disco treatment that sounds a lot like Boney M or Ottowan (or one of those Disco-ey groups). It reached number nine and that was the last we heard of them.
(22) Hold The Line - Toto
The name of the group came from vocalist Bobby Kimball's real name 'Robert Toteaux'. The first time I heard this was at a Tina Turner gig in 1996 when they opened for her. I thought it was great live and the recorded version (now I can get my hands on it (no Spotify then)) is even better. Strange given the quality of this single that their next top 40 hit was four years in the making. It reached number 14.
(21) Off The Wall - Michael Jackson
I'm not sure why that demonic drug-fuelled laughter happens at the start of the track but the bass line was good enough to make this a great single. This was Michael at his best - forget Thriller and Bad, this is what his voice suited. It peaked at number seven.
(20) Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
This went to number three. The video was parodied brilliantly by Leigh Francis (playing his Bo'Selecta version of Michael) with the lyrics changed to 'Don't stop til you get enough Cola Cubes'
(19) Is She Really Going Out With Him - Joe Jackson
This flopped when it was released in September 1978. The world wasn't ready. Also, "Sunday Papers" and "One More Time" flopped after that. But after getting to 21 in the USA, it was released here again and reached number 13. It's typical of that stompy jangly guitar stuff that was happening in the late 70s with Elvis Costello being the leader of the skinny weird looking musical geniuses that littered the top 40 in 1979 (Gary Numan, Trevor Horn, Bob Geldof, Terry Hall, Mark Knopfler et al.)
(18) Boogie Wonderland - Earth Wind And Fire & The Emotions
This peaked at number four and became one of the all time classics. They credited The Emotions on the front of the sleeve this time, giving them the recognition they deserved.
(17) Gimme Gimme Gimme - Abba
This would probably have been their eighth number one if they hadn't released their second greatest hits album at the same time. It actually got to number three. The precise production on this, the spacing of the instruments and the very deliberately (in my opinion) exaggerated accents from Frida and Agnetha made this such a great track to listen to.
(16) Knock On Wood - Amii Stewart
Amii's Mother Miquel Brown made her chart debut in 1984, then her sister 'Sinitta' followed in 1986. This is infectious and has all the ingredients of a hit single which is probably why it was.
(15) Tragedy - Bee Gees
Imagine writing this - you would just know it was a number one single. It got to number 1 for two weeks but, they must have thought that their work here was done because they didn't hit the top ten again for eight years. Steps took their cover of this song to number one twenty years later and it was played at each of the 26768 birthday parties I went to that year.
(14) Walking On The Moon - Police
A deserved number one for this. I didn't want to believe he was talking about actually walking on the moon. I always thought it was a metaphor for that feeling you get when something good happens. Like 'Walking back from your house, walking on the moon', like he'd been to see his girlfriend and they'd had a lovely evening in with the scrabble board and a pizza and he was walking home on joyful cushions of air, like you do on the moon? No? Just me? Well, you definitely don't want your leg to break if you're on the moon. There aren't any hospitals up there.
(13) Cars - Gary Numan
It reached number one for a week on first release. It's been released about five hundred times since and always hovers around the top 40. I'm a huge Numan fan and have every album he's ever released. It all started with one note. It's the one at 2m 55s in, where the counterpoint synth comes in and plays an augmented ninth. It's beautiful. I was hooked. And over 40 years later, here's him doing today even better than he did back then :
(12) Lost In Music - Sister Sledge
The third and least successful release from the 'We are Family' album became the most successful when it was re-released five years later. It got to number 17 in 1979. The B-side "Thinking Of You" was released as a single too and got to number 11. They then hit number one with 'Frankie' but to my knowledge, haven't troubled the charts with anything original since.
(11) Angel Eyes / Voulez Vous - Abba
It's like ABBA had an energy factory they used to inject the stuff into their singles. Voulez Vous is a monster of a song and dare I say it, Erasure made it slightly better in 1992? Not convinced about Angel eyes though. This reached number three.
(10) We Don't Talk Anymore - Cliff Richard
It's that metallic singing organ again that imprinted itself on my psyche! This was the first time Cliff had been to number one since the late sixties! It inducted him into the same club as Elvis in having a number 1 in each decade the charts were a thing. He did it in 59 and 79, just creeping into that decade's last opportunity for a chart topper. He went on to hit number 1 in five separate decades too! Nearly six but his Millenium Prayer was knocked off the top in the first chart of 2000. It was a karaoke favourite of mine way back when.
(9) I Don't Like Mondays - Boomtown Rats
It's the first video I remember watching on Top of the Pops. I'm sure it wasn't the first time I'd watched Top of the Pops but it's the first one I can recall because it was stark. The bloke at the piano in the white room and Bob looking all riled up directly into the camera from a few centimeters away.
This was number 1 for four weeks. The song was based on the true story of American schoolgirl Brenda Spencer who shot dead a number of other school children, apparently because she didn't like Mondays. It was banned by many radio stations across the US for fear of it upsetting the victim's families.
(8) We Are Family - Sister Sledge
It reached number eight but I don't think there was a person alive in the 80s who didn't know this song.
(7) Pop Muzik - M
If you were writing a book on how to write a perfect pop song, this would be one of the chapters. This got to number 2 and became one of those on the countdown with Ultravox's Vienna as a 'number 2 that should have been number 1'. It went back to number 15 when re-released ten years later.
The original 12 inch single was released as a special double grooved record. You put the needle down at the beginning of the record and never know whether you'll get "Pop Muzik" or "M Factor". I don't know how that didn't catch on. Maybe it was too expensive or too annoying. I like the mystery of the whole thing personally. Life isn't like a box of chocolates, it's like a 12" single by M.
(6) I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor
I used to use the opening lyrics to this song as a drama workshop. Getting people to act 'Go on now go, walk out the door' as if it was a high tension drama. This spent four weeks at number one and is another all time classic from 1979.
(5) Angel Eyes - Roxy Music
I refuse to believe that this song was released in 1979 or that it was written by actual humans. It's wa-aa-aay ahead of it's time and too perfect to be something you just sit and knock up on a piano or guitar. Only got to number four as well.
True Roxy fans won't have liked this or anything the did around 78-82, but it was much more appealing to me; much more commercial, memorable and catchy - isn't that why you release a single? To appeal to the masses?
(4) Dance Away - Roxy Music
For everything I said about 'Angel Eyes', multiply that by 0.25 and you've got another brilliant tune. They'd split up in 1976 so it's a good job Bryan Ferry was struggling with his solo stuff or these two singles might never have happened and that would have been tragic.
(3) Night Owl - Gerry Rafferty
I loved this when I first heard it in 79 and forgot it existed for about twenty two years until a mate at work reminded me about it. I downloaded it that night and it's been on my playlist ever since. A street and a half ahead of Baker Street this and full of the type of production and atmosphere other bands could only dream of. Note and lyric perfect.
(2) Video Killed The Radio Star - Buggles
Talking about all time classics coming out of 1979, this was one I first heard on that aforementioned K-TEL compliation alongside 'Bang Bang' and Joy Sarney's 'Naughty Naughty Naughty'. They were in fact predicting the future and they were sort of correct. The radio was still quite important way up until the mid 90s I'd say when people started to get all the music channels in their houses and t'internet was cheap enough to access. Just one week at number 1 strangely. The Buggles were Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, both of whom were in the re-formed 'Yes' a year later. Geoff went on to be a member of 'Asia' and released at least one solo album, while Trevor went on to some great production work with 'Dollar', 'ABC', 'Art Of Noise' and 'Frankie Goes To Hollywood' amongst many others. Video hadn't killed the radio star at that point, but the video to this single was the first to be shown on 'MTV' and so ironically was part of the process.
(1) Are Friends Electric - Tubeway Army
Superb and a four week stint at number one. As distinctive as it is haunting and as unusual as it got in 1979 save anything John Foxx did. This was about Gary's vision of the future in which robots or androids are used for various things but especially, company. They all looked the same, like tall grey men. The B-side "We Are So Fragile" was brilliant as was the album 'Replicas'. This was one of those genre defining moments that never happen these days. I'm not sure how many bands followed because of this record but there are hundreds who cite Gary Numan as a huge influence on them. Gary was by no means the first to have a synthesizer based hit but nobody had one this big and the hook in it, the 'der ner' bit, was an accident. It's a musical anomaly which shouldn't work and it doesn't if you write it in dots on a manuscript - but in real life, it does! Happy accident indeed. Gary was hugely influenced by Ultravox before him who were in turn influenced by David Bowie's 'Low' album. Giorgio Moroder was having minor hits prior to this and Kraftwerk had already been in the top 10 but this was the marker. This is what they all had to aspire to.