by Jeff Fiedler
Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column.
Bobby Caldwell, Bobby Caldwell (1978, Clouds)
The lone artist on Clouds (a subsidiary of T.K., KC & the Sunshine Band’s label) to reach the Top 40, Caldwell’s sole hit as a performer, the Top Ten hit “What You Won’t Do for Love,” is still ubiquitous to this day, both as a mainstay on smooth-jazz-radio stations and as one of the most heavily-sampled songs in all of pop music, most notably in Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” and Tatyana Ali’s “Boy You Knock Me Out.” (It’s also been covered by everyone from Go West to Boyz II Men and also recently resurfaced in 2014 in ads for the Mitsubishi Outlander.) [Note to vinyl buffs: the single was also issued as a limited-edition red-vinyl heart-shaped disc, while the song’s parent album – this self-titled affair – was also released in limited quantities on yellow vinyl.] Though Caldwell never cracked the Top 40 again, he’d re-emerge on the charts in the late ‘80s as the co-writer of Chicago’s “What Kind of Man Would I Be?,” Boz Scaggs’ gorgeous and quite underrated hit ballad “Heart of Mine,” and the Peter Cetera and Amy Grant chart-topping duet “The Next Time I Fall.”
Almost Summer, Celebration (1978, MCA)
Technically, not everything on this soundtrack to the movie of the same name is by Celebration, but since the band supplies all but the final two cuts, this disc is generally considered to be the band’s debut album. [They’d go on to make two more albums before calling it a day.] The title cut of this disc made it to #28 and would be the only hit the band would ever have, but don’t feel too bad for the band members: lead singer Mike Love had a substantially more lucrative full-time gig as one of the Beach Boys (in fact, the title cut of this disc was co-written by Love with his Beach Boys bandmates Brian Wilson and Al Jardine), while keyboardist Ron Altback and bassist Dave Robinson had scored a near-Top-Ten-hit in the early ‘70s as members of King Harvest with the song “Dancing in the Moonlight.” (The connection between King Harvest and the Beach Boys isn’t even limited to Celebration; King Harvest guitarist Ed Tuleja and saxophonist Rod Novak would play on Dennis Wilson’s lone solo outing Pacific Ocean Blue.)
Not Shy, Walter Egan (1978, Columbia)
It’s quite odd in retrospect that Egan’s first album, 1977’s Fundamental Roll, got such little notice, because it was co-produced by none other than Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac, the biggest rock band on the planet at that moment, thanks to the multi-platinum success of Rumours. Egan would bring Buckingham back to co-produce this sophomore effort, Rumours co-producer Richard Dashut also assisting this time out, while Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood both pop up as guests on multiple cuts here. Nicks’ unmistakable voice, in fact, pops up repeatedly throughout the disc’s – and Egan’s – lone hit, the Top Ten smash “Magnet and Steel.” Though Egan would never again reach the Top 40 as a performer, the band Night (featuring legendary session pianist Nicky Hopkins and future Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh as two of its members) would cover this disc’s closing cut, “Hot Summer Nights,” and take it all the way to #18. Though Egan’s profile would diminish shortly after, he’d notably pop up as a contestant on the ‘80s game shows Catchphrase and Scrabble, and he’d earn another hit as a songwriter in 2009 when rapper Eminem sampled Egan’s own version of “Hot Summer Nights” in his Top Ten hit “We Made You.”
City Nights, Nick Gilder (1978, Chrysalis)
British-born but raised in Canada, Gilder’s first big break came via his stint as the lead singer in the glam-rock band Sweeney Todd, who topped the Canadian charts with “Roxy Roller.” Gilder would split shortly after for a solo career – the lead-vocalist role would later be filled by a young Bryan Adams – and would have a monster-sized hit with his first and only Top 40 single, the Number One smash “Hot Child in the City,” which strangely seldom pops up on the radio these days in spite of being one of the more appealing – and certainly one of the more distinctly rock-oriented – Number One hits of the largely disco-dominated late ‘70s. Why nothing else from this disc (helmed by Mike Chapman, best known for his work with Blondie, The Knack, and Sweet) followed the single into the Top 40 is a mystery – there was certainly no shortage of strong candidates, especially “All Because of Love” – but Gilder would eventually find his way back into the Top Ten by other means, shooting at the walls of heartache by co-writing Patty Smyth and Scandal’s massive 1984 hit “The Warrior.”
Rubicon, Rubicon (1978, 20th Century)
This band from San Francisco – featuring a horn section whose members included Jerry Martini, formerly part of the most famous and longest-lasting lineup of Sly & the Family Stone – may not have stayed together very long, but they did manage to score a minor Top 40 hit with the #28-peaking “I’m Gonna Take Care of Everything,” and several of their members would go on to much bigger things: guitarist Brad Gillis and bassist Jack Blades would later form the 1980s hard-rock band Night Ranger, scoring a run of six Top 40 hits that included the Top Ten hits “Sister Christian” and “Sentimental Street.”
Stealin’ Home, Ian Matthews (1978, Mushroom)
Ian Matthews was actually a longtime industry veteran by the time he scored his lone solo hit in the U.S., having served as an original member of Fairport Convention, subsequently leaving that band to start his own folk band, Matthews’ Southern Comfort, which scored a #23 hit with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that was more in keeping with Joni’s own subdued version than the more famous, raucous hit rendition by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Matthews finally scored a hit under his own name with the near-Top-Ten hit of the chiming, lovely hip-swaying soft-rock of “Shake It,” one of the most criminally underrated adult-contemporary 45s of the late ‘70s. He nearly scored a second hit from the album with his cover of “Give Me an Inch,” written and originally recorded by Robert Palmer for his album Pressure Drop.
Bell & James, Bell & James (1979, A&M)
The R&B duo of Leroy Bell (the nephew of legendary Philly soul producer Thom Bell) and Casey James hit the Top Twenty with the million-selling disco/funk smash “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)” and never had another pop hit – at least as performers. But the duo could take some solace in the fact that they scored an even bigger hit the same year – a Top Ten, at that – as the songwriters behind Elton John’s Thom Bell-produced “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.”