The Biggest Hits Of 1978

The Biggest Hits Of 1978


1978: Frankie Valli and Olivia Newton-John at The Grease party Los Angeles. Photo by Brad Elterman/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

It was a big year for memorable and enduring hits, and a big one for a handful of veterans (including Paul McCartney and Frankie Valli) as well as some newcomers (like Kate Bush) at the very start of long and impressive careers. As usual, there were a few one-hit wonders, but sadly it wasn’t a great year for local artists – the Bee Gees and “our” Oliva couldn’t really be considered locals by that point - although it did give us one of our truly iconic tracks.

40 years on, ILYOS looks at some of the biggest hits of 1978.

Grease – Frankie Valli

A third Gibb tune recorded by an artist other than the Bee Gees that had a huge impact in ’78 was the theme song to another musical produced by their manager Robert Stigwood. Interestingly it was performed by an artist from the early ‘60s era that the film celebrated, yet was recorded in a smooth disco style.

You’re The One That I Want – Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta

Grease (in ’71), like The Rocky Horror Show after it (in ’73), began life as a fairly subversive theatre musical celebrating the spirit of the late ‘50s and the early ‘60s.  Olivia was already a dozen or so years into a recording career – and, at 29,  a half-dozen years older than former Sweat Hog Travolta -  when she starred in the film, but she made the role of Sandy her own and “You’re The One That I Want”, written by fellow Melbourne ex-pat John Farrar, was an irresistible tune that bridged the early ‘60s and late ‘70s perfectly.

Ebony Eyes – Bob Welch

With Neil Finn replacing Lindsay Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac, now is good time to look at the man Lindsay himself replaced, when he and Stevie joined in ’75. Bob Welch, who sadly passed away in 2012, was a Californian guitarist and singer who helped the Mac move away from their earlier blues-based sounds when he signed on in ’71. He featured on five of the band’s albums between ’71 and ’74, each of which made the US Top 100, paving the way for the band’s future success. “Ebony Eyes” came from his first solo album French Kiss which featured contributions from Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsay Buckingham and was very much in the glossy West Coast style that Fleetwood Mac had helped create.

Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees

In ’78 the Brothers Gibb were on top of the world Saturday Night Fever. “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love” were both massive hits, and they also wrote smashes for Frankie Valli, Samantha Sang and Graham Bonnet that we’ll look at shortly.

Sometimes When We Touch – Dan Hill

New Wave and Disco may have changed music by ’78, but soft-rock endured, and it didn’t get much softer than this. Dan Hill was a Canadian singer-songwriter and was helped out on the composition of this tune by legendary Brill Building songwriter Barry Mann, who co-wrote scores of hits in the ‘60s with his wife, Cynthia Weil, including  “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”.

Rivers of Babylon – Boney M

One of two massive hits in ’78 (the other being “Rasputin”) for Boney M, “Rivers of Babylon”, oddly, was a Rastafarian spiritual number based on texts from the Hebrew Bible, first recorded by Jamaican reggae group the Melodians  and made famous by its inclusion on the influential The Harder They Come soundtrack album. The group was the vehicle of West German singer-songwriter Frank Farian, who provided the male vocal on all the band’s recordings. The fella who everyone thought was their singer, Bobby Farrell, was actually a male exotic dancer. As this sort of thing was fairly commonplace at the time they got away with it, but Farian wasn’t quite so lucky when he pulled the same trick years later with Milli Vanilli.  And a nice little Australian connection is found in the fact that group’s name was inspired by the Australian detective show Boney.

Love is in the Air – John Paul Young

Australia’s own contribution to Euro-disco - the track was written and recorded with the German market in mind - in ’78 came from Vanda & Young, utilising the voice of Australia’s favourite pop-rocking heartthrob JPY. Of course the song the song gained new legs when it featured in Strictly Ballroom in 1992, but it was already ubiquitous, having been a worldwide hit upon release.

Are You Old Enough – Dragon

The only other locally recorded smash of ’78 is one that probably would not even get written or recorded these days, given the subject matter that hints at underage sex. A fabulously catchy tune from the pen of Paul Hewson, it was Dragon’s first #1 and helped score them a crack at the US market, which Marc Hunter famously shot down in flames with more political incorrectness on stage in Texas.

Warm Ride – Graham Bonnet

We mentioned Bee Gees involvement in other artists’ hits in ’78, and this is one example. "Warm Ride" was written by Barry, Robin and Maurice and recorded by the Bee Gees and during the 1977 Saturday Night Fever sessions in France. Whilst their version went unreleased at the time,  the song was picked up by British singer Bonnet, whose Gibb connections went back to mid-late ‘60s duo the Marbles which also featured his cousin – and the Bee Gees’ old mate from Sydney  - Trevor Gordon, and who recorded a number of Gibb songs. Bizarrely, Bonnet would soon go onto front heavy metal groups including Rainbow and the Michael Schenker Group.  

Emotion – Samantha Sang

Another Bee Gees-related track from a Melbourne singer who had her first back in 1967 when she was known as Cheryl Gray and who first met the Bee Gees in London in 1969. Samantha had remained in touch with the Gibbs and they gifted her “Emotion” as they were recording Saturday Night Fever and on the cusp of world domination.   

I Can’t Stand the Rain – Eruption

British act Eruption were one of a handful of late ‘70s disco artists  - along with the likes of Ami Stewart, Alicia Bridges and Gloria Gaynor - who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and promptly returned there after having their one or two hit singles. They were another project from Boney M creator Frank Farian.  “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was a cover of the brilliant Hi Records’ 1974 soul hit from by Ann Peebles, which was also covered by Tina Tuner in 1984 and Seal in 2008.

Three Times A Lady - The Commodores

This #1 followed the Commodores’ 1977 hit “Easy” and firmly established Lionel Ritchie to audiences around the world. It was a rare 1978 hit for iconic soul label Motown from a group who first received attention early in the decade opening for the Jackson 5.

And if you love the sonsg of the 70s, make sure you're following our 'Hits of the 70s' playlist on Spotify...

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