Number One Hits for the Year: 1979

By Billy Parrott, Managing Librarian, Mid-Manhattan Library, Art and Picture Collections
September 11, 2013
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL)
Black and white type of 1979

I was recently going through a box of old photographs and came across photos from the first concert I ever attended: Kiss. October 21, 1979. Houston Summit. I was 10.

That got me to thinking of the music from that year.

1979 marked the end of arguably one of the most unfortunate eras in American music history: Disco. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hater. I like all kinds of music and I can certainly appreciate the nostalgic sounds of mid-to-late 1970s popular music: the four-on-the-floor beat, the open hi-hat on the off-beat, the syncopated bass lines, and the lyrical cacophony all now synonymous with the disco. It's a guilty pleasure. I can watch Saturday Night Fever repeatedly and never tire of it. One of the absolute best subway performances I have ever heard was an acoustic version of "How Deep is Your Love" on the Clinton Washington G platform about 10 years ago. That song isn't disco, but the Bee Gees epitomized the genre. It's all good. But all good things must come to an end. The fashion, the dancing, all that hair… It had to come to an end sooner or later. Enough was enough.

On June 1, 1979 Get the Knack was released.

Most critics place The Knack into the one-hit wonders category populated by the likes of M, whose only hit "Pop Muzik" reached #1 on November 3, 1979. But Get the Knack was much more. It was a final nail in the coffin. It was a beginning and an end. It was 12 tracks of infectious confectionary rock candy that rocketed to the top of the charts, for six straight weeks, displacing the likes of Donna Summers from the position she was all too familiar with. Disco’s death rattle continued for a while, but the writing was on the wall. The Queen was dead. Long live the Queen.

Many of the over 50 #1 hits from 1979 were disco. Some rockers even got into the genre. Rod Stewart was at #1 for four straight weeks with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” The drums and bass in that song? Definitely disco. If you've never heard the 1972 Jorge Ben Jor song "Taj Mahal" give it a listen. It's got the familiar four-on-the-floor beat and a chorus melody that Rob Stewart blatantly "borrowed". Stewart was sued, lost, and donated all his royalties from the song to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Stadium seat view of Kiss on stage in 1979
Kiss. October 21, 1979. Houston Summit.

Kiss also got into the groove. The first single from 1979’s Dynasty was "I Was Made for Lovin' You". It made it to #11 on the US charts. To many fans' dismay, it was definitely disco.

Other #1 standouts for the year: “Heart of Glass” by Blondie and Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop 'til You Get Enough”. Those songs have definitely stood the test of time. Styx had their first number one hit with a ballad. Eagles also made an appearance. The Doobie Brothers reached #1 on April 14th with “What a Fool Believes”. It went on to win for song and album of the year. That song, co-written by Kenny Loggins, is now a perfect example of the Yacht Rock genre of the late 70s. Another great example of 70s genre music was the #1 song from the last 2 weeks of 1979: "Escape" by Rupert Holmes, better known as the Pina Colada Song.

Below are the Billboard Hot 100 number one hits of 1979. There were countless great tunes that did not make it to number one that year: "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (Granny, does your dog bite? No child, No), "The Sultans of Swing" (They don't give a damn 'bout any trumpet playing band), "Dance the Night Away" (Yes, It's love in the third degree), the live version of "I Want You To Want Me" recorded in Budokan (Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin), "Don't Bring Me Down" (Bruce!).

It was an amazing year for music! What are some of your favorites from 1979?