Editor’s Note: In this column, CultureSonar explores what the charts looked like in a specific year in the past, and finds songs that never reached the Top 10 but deserved better.
The Top 5 on July 29, 1978
- “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb
- “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
- “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones
- “Last Dance” by Donna Summer
- “Grease” by Frankie Valli
The Hidden Gems
#75 “A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” by The Kinks (highest chart position #30)
By this time in the Kinks’ history, Ray Davies had abandoned the themed albums that had dominated the band’s output in the early 70s. With this wistful track, he seemed to be trying to make sense of his place in the music world. On the one hand, he describes the whole scene as nothing but fantasy and wonders if it’s worth devoting his life to it. But then he cites examples of how much his music means to others, how real it is to them. By the final verses, he seems to be digging in his heels and getting ready to get back in the game. The Kinks would indeed become arena rockers of a sort in the late 70s and early 80s, albeit ones with much more to say than the average bands of the genre.
#73 “Surrender” by Cheap Trick (highest chart position #62)
When this song was released in the middle of 1978, Cheap Trick had yet to release the Budokan live album that would make them superstars. As a result, “Surrender” originally stayed under the radar, although it is revered power-pop royalty now. Rick Nielsen found a new way to approach the generation gap that has been at the heart of rock and roll since the music’s beginning. The narrator’s befuddlement at his parents’ secret actions (listening to Kiss records, no less!) brings the humor, the song features one of the all-time great key changes, and the refrain (“Surrender, but don’t give yourself away”) almost sneaks its wisdom past you because you’re too busy shouting along to it.
Related: “Hidden Gems 1: Great Songs That Missed the Top of the Charts”
#51 “Prove It All Night” by Bruce Springsteen (highest chart position #33)
It’s easy to forget that there was once a time when radio was unimpressed by Bruce Springsteen. For all the critical accolades that his first six albums garnered, hit singles weren’t really forthcoming (with the exception of “Hungry Heart.”) It wasn’t until 1984’s Born In The USA that the dam broke in that department. You listen to a track like “Prove It All Night” today and wonder how it could have possibly been ignored by the pop charts. There isn’t an ounce of flab on it, Springsteen (on guitar) and Clarence Clemons (on sax) trade impassioned solos, and the lyrics effortlessly conflate heated romantic aspirations with frustrated personal ambitions.
#50 “Just What I Needed” by The Cars (highest chart position #27)
It’s amazing just how fully-formed the Cars were out of the gate, considering that they were largely innovating the New Wave style that would soon become all the rage. Credit the vision of Ric Ocasek, who saw that there was value in separating all the instruments into precise quadrants of a song so that each could make an impact. Greg Hawkes’ synth worms through the empty spaces left by the eighth notes, and the power chords of Elliot Easton hit home with that furious force when they arrive. Meanwhile, Ben Orr on vocals understood that deadpanning Ocasek’s lyrics in the verses would make the desperation of the narrator in the refrains much more impactful.
#39 “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra (post position #35)
Jeff Lynne may have begun ELO as a continuation of the Beatle ethos, but he took his group on flights of fancy that might even have left the Fab Four breathless. So many people now point to “Mr. Blue Sky” as his towering achievement that you wonder where they were when the song barely scraped its way into the Top 40. Very few songs reach the level of cultural shorthand, where you can hear a few bars in a movie, TV show, or commercial and have a mood immediately conjured by that little snippet. This song is in that rarefied air. Other artists needed whole albums to construct rock operas. With “Mr. Blue Sky,” Lynne got it done in five minutes.
- #88 “Steppin’ In A Slide Zone” by The Moody Blues
- #70 “Time For Me To Fly” by REO Speedwagon
- #59 “Follow You Follow Me by Genesis
- #52 “Close The Door” by Teddy Pendergrass
- #42 “I Need To Know” by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Photo: Promo photo of Cheap Trick
Good choices! I can’t believe that “Surrender” wasn’t a top 10 hit, as it’s one of the greatest songs of the 70s. And I never get tired of the Cars, and especially early gems like “Just What I Needed.” Roy Thomas Baker, who helped create the amazing sound of the early Queen records, sprinkled his magic fairy dust on the Cars as well.
I’ve been learning “Mr. Blue Sky” on the piano, and am marveling at what a tour de force it is: Crazy chord changes that shift the mood with the weather conditions (blue sky, night time, etc). And that epic Bach-sequel choral breakdown at the end brings it to a grand close.
Nice analysis!!!…. You have touched the very battle that was going on at that time (1977-1979) with the dominant Rock & Roll being challenged (for the first time in a decade) by the passing Disco/Pop train. Now I asking in retro: which music had more substance and longevity?…… ANSWER: No contest!
Although Bruce (who was now big enough to play Madison Square for the first time in August) and the Stones were all the talk that summer, if these four artist put these songs out just two years earlier, they may have made the top 10. Unfortunate luck of the timing.
THIS is my new favorite pop-rock retro magazine series! Please keep ‘em coming!
Thanks so much! Glad you’re enjoying it.
July 29, 2021
Raves from a reader- listener whose music was 50’s and 60’s. My first favorite gem was “Prove It All Night” — I was aware of Bruce then but my children knew him better. Now it’s great to get a second chance to appreciate this stirring song. Second, would have to be “Mr.. Blue Sky”– I can hear a bit of the Beatles which makes it easy for me to connect but there’s something new and wonderful as well!
Glad you’re enjoying it. It’s always amazing to learn that these great songs didn’t do better at the time.
I would also include Ever Fallen in Love With Someone by Buzzcocks, which got airplay in UK but not in the US
So glad I stumbled across. This immediately took me back to the summer I was eight🥰 I love this new find, thank you
Thanks! Glad you like our stuff.
The Agora Ballroom performance of Prove It All Night from August, ’78 must be heard to be believed… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Agora,_Cleveland_1978
I usually prepare to get disappointed, irritated or angered with Top “#” listings’ omissions or inclusions. No argument here. I was surprised with highest rankings on these songs, many if which we know by heart.
Badlands…Promised Land…Darkness On The Edge Of Town…as well as Prove It All Night….Any of these incredible songs from the Darkness album were flying under the radar when the album was in its infancy. But if you were any kind of Springsteen fan, and you just experienced the Born To Run album, you knew the impact that these new songs were gonna have….not the same kind of music as the Born To Run album, but still insanely good.