Revisiting 1979 Music

By Tom Woron

More 1979.  Yes!  Only this time the focus is only on the music of that year.  After my writing of “1979” for the October issue of Neighbors, it was pointed out in the next issue that when I discussed the music of 1979 in my article, I neglected to mention any female and non-caucasian bands or singers that were popular that year.  I can assure that there was no deliberate intent to snub or disregard the musical contributions of female and non-caucasian musicians in the year 1979, rather it was more or less short sightedness that led me to only mention the bands and musicians that I did mention.  I knew that putting together a long article about a rather tumultuous year in the world would only allow me limited space to discuss the music of the year.  Facing the deadline for submission I chose to “wing it” by just going with the music that I remembered being exposed to on an almost daily basis in 1979.  I remember thinking that I could write a whole article on just the music of 1979 in which, of course, I would have thoroughly researched into the greater picture of the songs and all of the musicians that made the year a great one in music. 

In the summer of 1979 I started working my first job, as a dishwasher in a restaurant.  Just around the corner from where I did my work were the restaurant’s cooks.  They had a radio on at all times that I could hear clearly.  That radio, I believe, was always set on to just one rock station.  Prior to taking the job, my exposure to rock and pop music was somewhat limited.  I was familiar with a few bands and song artists such as Elton John, Steve Miller, Linda Ronstadt, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a few more but I couldn’t always identify who sang most of the songs that I did hear.  Working a seven hour shift though, with a nearby radio set to one rock station that bombarded me with the same songs by the same bands and artists day in and day out burned those songs into my collective memory.  All day long when I worked I heard Supertramp, Kiss, The Knack’s “My Sharona,” (and also the Knack’s “Good Girls Don’t”), Rod Stewart, The Charlie Daniels Band, Electric Light Orchestra, Styx, Robert Palmer, The Eagles, Foreigner, Warren Zevon and some others.  I don’t really recall hearing any female singers on that particular radio station with the exception of Pat Benatar with her hit song “Heartbreaker” in late 1979.  I heard the Little River Band’s “Lady” often at home because in the morning my mother used to listen to radio personality Bob Steele who played the song frequently.   

It was actually in the early months of 1980 that I started to become aware of the music of Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Blondie, Kool and the Gang and many others that I could not identify with before.  Sure, I heard their songs at times but didn’t always catch what the title of the song was and who sang it.  That all changed in early 1980 due to the fact that it was only then that I started to tune into other radio stations rather than just be exposed to the one I heard at my job.  (I got a radio for Christmas 1979!)  So I have long incorrectly associated many songs that were hits in 1979, or even earlier, with the year 1980 as that was when I began to identify specific songs with who sang them.  Without a doubt many more bands and singers than just those that I mentioned previously in my October article deserve to be recognized for their contributions to popular music in the year 1979.   An analysis of some of them follows.  

First of all in the late 1970s America was in the peak of what is now known as the disco era.  Disco was basically dance floor music.  As a different musical culture it was usually characterized by repetitive lyrics, a sort of catchy, hypnotic rhythm, and sounds that were electronic in nature.  A disco was a nightclub specifically set up for dancing to such music.  

The biggest name in disco was undoubtedly American singer and songwriter Donna Summer from Boston, Massachusetts.  Now known as the “Queen of Disco” Ms. Summers was well established as a highly successful musician and she was internationally famous by the late 1970s.  Her highly successful album “Bad Girls” was released on April 25, 1979 and it didn’t take long for it to reach the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart.  The album contained several hit songs.  Among them was the album’s title song “Bad Girls.”  Also big hits from the album during the year were the songs “Dim All the Lights,” “Hot Stuff,” and “Heaven Knows.”  Ms. Summers won many award for her music and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame On April 18, 2013 eleven months after her death.  

Led by Robert Earl “Kool” Bell, the American Rhythm and Blues band Kool and the Gang had their beginnings as a band in New Jersey in 1964.  Their hit album “Ladies Night” was released on September 6, 1979.  The single title song of the same name became an instant hit and a regular on many radio stations.  Described as “funky motion music,” “Ladies Night” is considered by many to be one of the best songs of the disco era. 

In 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania four sisters, Debbie, Joni, Kathy and Kim Sledge formed the musical group Sister Sledge.  The group rose to international notoriety during the peak of the disco era with the release of their breakthrough album “We Are Family” in early 1979.  The single “He’s the Greatest Dancer” from the album charted number one as a Rhythm and Blues hit.   As I did mention in my October article, the 1979 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates adopted the Sister Sledge title song “We Are Family” from the album of the same name, as their team’s anthem.  

Another example of a song that I heard occasionally over the years and found very appealing but never really identified who sang it was “Reunited” by American duo Peaches and Herb.  The song came in number 5 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1979. 

The song that came in number 6 right behind “Reunited” on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1979 was Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive.”  Gloria Gaynor is an American singer from Newark, New Jersey that has been active as a singer since 1965.  Ms. Gaynor achieved fame during the disco era especially after the release of her album “Love Tracks.”  The album was released in November 1978 with the single “I Will Survive” having been released the month before.  “I Will Survive” was to become one of the most popular disco songs of the disco era.  Again, I found “I Will Survive” to be a very appealing song when I did hear it however I tended to associate it with a later time rather than the year it rose up the charts. 

Obviously with limited space to work with it is impossible to analyze and discuss all of the songs and musicians on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles chart for 1979.  However, one more certainly deserves special recognition and that is Michael Jackson, “the King of Pop.”

Michael Jackson, considered to be a major cultural icon of the 20th century, began his musical career as a child as a member of the Jackson 5 in 1964.  The Jackson 5 (later The Jacksons) were a pop music band consisting of Michael and four of his older brothers.   Michael was later to be catapulted to stardom as a solo artist with the release of his fifth solo album “Off The Wall.” in August 1979.  It was the first album to produce four hits that made the top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.  One of those hits was “Rock With You” which also charted as the third best number one hit of the whole decade of the 1980s.  Michael Jackson’s hits dominated the pop singles charts for many years and “Rock With You” is considered to be one of the last big disco hits of the disco era. 

It was in a bar in New York City in early 1980 that I first recall hearing “Rock With You.”  I was certainly glad to have the opportunity to catch the song there as no one questioned my age.  ($2.87 for a bottle of Heineken in a NYC bar!  Outrageous!)  

Michael Jackson outdid himself with the release of his 1982 album “Thriller.” The album has the distinction of being the best selling album of all time.  Seven songs from “Thriller” charted in the top ten which set a record for the most top ten hits from one album.  Two of those songs, “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” charted number one. 

In 1983 I was a fan of the band The Police and their hit album of that year “Synchronicity.”  I was quite pleased when I saw “Synchronicity” on top of the album charts for a little while.  It didn’t take long though for “Thriller” to take over the top spot and remain there for many weeks.  I preferred to see “Synchronicity on top but when I saw the MTV videos for “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and the title song, I went out and bought the “Thriller” album.  At the record store I saw several people also buying “Thriller.”  I could see why the album was on top of the charts.  It just seemed at the time that when the “Thriller” album was taking over the top spot on the charts it was telling the “Synchronicity” album to “Beat It.”

Among them was Michael Jackson’s hit “Rock With You” from his 1979 hit album “Off the Wall.”  

Escape to Freedom (maybe)

By Tom Woron

Who does not like a good, real life mystery raise your hand.  Nobody, I thought so.  While there are many good true unsolved mysteries in the world, here is one that continues to intrigue six decades after the fact.

Alcatraz.  The very name conjures up a sinister aura of mystery.  Alcatraz is an island located in San Francisco Bay off the coast of the city of San Francisco, California.  

The island became famous as it was the location of a maximum security United States federal prison that was intended to incarcerate the worst of criminals.  The idea of a prison located on an island in San Francisco Bay was to have it be escape-proof and be America’s most secure penitentiary.  The waters of the Bay are extremely cold and the currents very strong. The chances of an escaped inmate surviving to reach the mainland were believed to be extremely slim if not impossible.  The federal government states that no inmate has ever successfully escaped from the penitentiary on Alcatraz.  That is very much disputed to this day.

The Island of Alcatraz was at one time the site of a U.S. Army military prison with construction of the main prison building beginning in 1910. The United States Department of Justice acquired the military prison on Alcatraz in 1933.  After some modernization of the buildings, the following year the Federal Bureau of Prisons beefed up security and began using the island penitentiary as a Federal prison to incarcerate the nation’s most troublesome criminals.  The prison was a three story cellhouse with four main cell blocks. The individual cells which measured nine feet long, five feet wide and seven feet high were very primitive and lacked privacy.  The basic needs of the prisoners were provided for but they received little else.  In the building there was also an office for the warden, a visitation room, a library and a barber shop.  Six cells at the end of the building were called “the Hole” and it was there that prisoners with behavior issues often received brutal physical punishment.  Former inmates described overall inhumane conditions at the penitentiary. It didn’t take long for Alcatraz to gain the reputation as the toughest, most feared prison in the country.  Officials of the Federal Bureau of Prisons believed that the Alcatraz prison was truly escape-proof given its high security and its location in San Francisco Bay surrounded by very cold water with dangerous currents.  But was it really escape-proof?  

It’s been stated that with Alcatraz’s reputation for brutal conditions, once an inmate arrived at the penitentiary his first thoughts were how to get out.  The slim possibility of surviving an escape attempt did not prevent 36 inmates from trying.  In all the escape attempts, six prisoners were shot and killed during their attempt, two were known to have drowned, twenty-three were recaptured and five are missing and presumed drowned.   There was even a three day “Battle of Alcatraz” in May 1946 which claimed the lives of three prisoners and two prison guards. But did any inmates ever escape from Alcatraz and survive to live in freedom never to be found?   

Late on the night of June 11,1962 (or possibly in the early hours of June 12) three Alcatraz inmates, Frank Morris along with brothers John Anglin and Clarence Anglin carried out an escape attempt that was months in planning. The three men had created papier-mache heads that resembled themselves and placed them in their beds to make it appear that they were sleeping.  The three then slipped through ventilation ducts into an unused utility corridor and then to the outside.  Once outside the inmates left Alcatraz in a raft that they had constructed from raincoats and managed to keep concealed from the prison guards.  The three men disappeared into oblivion their fates unknown with absolute certainty to this day.    

A fourth inmate, Allen West, was supposed to go along but when he ran into difficulty he ended up staying behind.  West would subsequently cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in their investigation of the escape.  

The dummy heads in the beds of the three escaped inmates fooled the guards enough so that the escape was not discovered until later on the morning of June 12.  An extensive search of San Francisco Bay and the lands surrounding Alcatraz Island failed to find the escapees.  The FBI took the position that the three inmates almost certainly perished in the frigid waters of the Bay. 

Although the FBI believes that the three escaped Alcatraz inmates did not survive their escape attempt, there is no concrete evidence to support this belief.   Allen West told the FBI that the escapees planned to steal a car upon getting to the mainland.  According to the FBI no cars were stolen in the general area around the time of the escape.  Since the escape there have been reported sightings and some tantalizing but inconclusive evidence suggesting that the men did make it to freedom.  

In 1967 a man who claimed to have gone to school with Frank Morris reported to the FBI that he encountered him in Maryland.  The man provided no details.  

In 1962 the Anglin family received a Christmas card that said “to Mother, from John, Merry Christmas.”  The mother of the Anglin brothers also received flowers from an unknown sender every Mother’s Day after the escape until her death in 1973.  Two very tall and heavily made up women, possibly men in disguise, were said to have shown up at the Anglin’s mother’s funeral.  Also when the Anglin’s father died in 1989, Robert Anglin, brother of John and Clarence, reported that two unknown bearded men came to the funeral home, viewed the body, wept and left.  

From the mid 1960s through the 70s there were several reported sightings of John and Clarence Anglin in northern Florida and Georgia.  In 1989 alleged witnesses phoned the TV show Unsolved Mysteries claiming that photos and sketches of Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris bore resemblance to men they knew of living in Florida.  

In 1993 a man named John Leroy Kelly on his deathbed told a nurse that he and a partner picked up the escaped Alcatraz inmates in a boat and took them to the Seattle, Washington area.  There, Kelly said, he and his partner killed the escapees in order to take money that the convicts’ families collected for them.  Kelly described a location where the escapees were supposedly buried but a subsequent investigation of the site did not find any human remains.

The National Geographic Channel aired a documentary on the Alcatraz escape in 2011 in which it was disclosed that a raft was indeed found on June 12, 1962 on Angel Island near Alcatraz.  Footprints led away from the raft.  Furthermore that same day, a blue 1955 Chevrolet was reported stolen in nearby Marin County on the mainland contradicting what the FBI originally said.  The stolen car claim was confirmed by articles in local newspapers from the time of the Alcatraz escape.  A motorist reported the next day that he was nearly run off the road by three men in a blue Chevrolet.  

Also in 2011 a man named Bud Morris, claiming to be Frank Morris’s cousin, claimed to have met with Frank in San Diego shortly after the escape.  Bud’s daughter who was a child at the time, remembered being present when her father met with “his friend Frank.”

In 2015 The History Channel ran a documentary in which the Anglin family presented circumstantial evidence supporting the possibility that John and Clarence made it to freedom after their escape from Alcatraz.  That evidence included Christmas cards that family members received for a few years after the escape purportedly containing the Anglin brothers’ handwriting.  In addition the family members identified a friend named Fred Brizzi, who grew up with the Clarence and John, who supposedly encountered the two brothers in Brazil in 1975.  A photograph allegedly taken of Clarence and John in Brazil in 1975 was determined by a forensic expert to very likely show the Anglin brothers.  However the men in the photo were wearing sunglasses thus making a definite identification of the two in the photo difficult. The authenticity of the photo itself is questionable.  

Before Robert Anglin died in 2010 he told other family members that he had been in contact with Clarence and John from 1963 up until about 1987.  The other Anglin family members know of no contacts with John and Clarence after 1987.  

Perhaps the most tantalizing bit of evidence supporting the survival of the escapees was a letter that the San Francisco Police Department received in 2013.  The letter’s writer claimed to be escaped Alcatraz prisoner John Anglin and stated that he was 83 years old (which John Anglin would have been in 2013) and that he needed medical treatment for cancer.  The writer stated that Frank Morris died in 2008, Clarence Anglin died in 2011, and offered to surrender himself to authorities in exchange for medical treatment. The existence of the letter was not acknowledged by the FBI until 2018 and wether or not it was really written by John Anglin was never determined.

Studies of the ocean currents of the Bay and experiments with rafts made of the same materials as the Alcatraz escapees’ makeshift raft, have revealed that it was indeed possible to escape the prison and get to the mainland.   

Did the three inmates who escaped from Alcatraz perish in the attempt in June 1962 or did any or all of them make it to freedom where they possibly lived for many years?  The FBI’s investigation ended in 1979 however, the U.S Marshals Service considers the case still open with the three escaped inmates still on their wanted list.  If alive today Frank Morris would be 97 and the Anglins in their early 90s.  Whatever happened to the escaped convicts, the mind of the average person reading about the escape wants to definitely go against the FBIs position that the three perished on June 12th or 13th, 1962 and to believe that the three outsmarted authorities, got away, and are living or lived out their lives in freedom The escape from Alcatraz in June 1962 continues to be an enduring mystery with the absolute truth ever so elusive.


By Tom Woron

Nineteen Seventy-Nine!  The final year of the 1970s.  It was one of the most eventful years in recent history.  A lot happened that year that was noteworthy, seemingly much more than in most other years.  There were climactic match ups in sports, great music, and much upheaval in other countries. It was a pivotal year that changed the world.  

In 1979 the President of the United States was James Earl “Jimmy” Carter.  The year began with President Carter extending diplomatic recognition to the Communist government of mainland China.  Since 1949 the U.S. only recognized the Nationalist Chinese government on the island of Taiwan as the legitimate government of all of China.  It was ultimately in the best interest of the United States to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communists.  

In the 1960s and early 70s, the United States tried to prevent Communists from taking control of all of Vietnam and its neighboring country, Cambodia.  The efforts failed and Communists took full control of both countries in 1975.  Strangely enough the two Communist neighbors began to fight each other in 1977.  It escalated into full scale war in late 1978 and on January 7, 1979 Vietnamese troops drove the Khmer Rouge, the ruling Communist faction, out of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, effectively taking over the country.  The Khmer Rouge had been responsible for a genocide in Cambodia over the previous few years, however, the United States and many nations disapproved of the Vietnamese action.

On January 16, 1979 a full year of upheaval in Iran reached a climax.  The U.S. supported Shah (king) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, left the country after many months of violent demonstrations against his rule. The revolution was inspired by the the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an Islamic religious cleric who was exiled from Iran years earlier for opposing the Shah’s rule.  For a few weeks Iran was in chaos as it was not clear who among several opposing groups was going to lead the government.  On February 1st the Ayatollah Khomeini was welcomed by thousands as he returned to Iran from exile.  Iranian Army troops that were still loyal to the Shah were quickly defeated by rebel groups opposed to him. On February 11 Khomeini effectively took over leadership of the country and soon after proclaimed an Islamic Republic.  The repercussions of the revolution are still felt by the world today.   

We all heard of the Iranian hostage crisis that began in November 1979 when the U.S. embassy in the Iranian capital of Teheran was seized by Iranians loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini and held American diplomats prisoner for over a year.  However there was an earlier, little known hostage crisis also involving the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.  During the chaos in February, armed Iranian urban guerrillas seized the American embassy and held U.S. Ambassador to Iran, William Sullivan and his staff hostage for over two hours. In what was later to become a bit of an irony, Iranian forces loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini drove the guerrillas out and rescued the American diplomats.    

In 1979 as was the case for decades, the Communist giant, the Soviet Union was the opposing superpower to and the ideological rival of the United States.  The two had struggled for years to promote their opposite ideologies to other countries and prevent the other from doing so all the while trying to avoid going to war directly with each other.  Both superpowers possessed many nuclear weapons.  In his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1979, President Carter, in what was seen as a warning to the Soviet Union, stated that just one of our Poseidon submarines, which comprised of less than 2 percent of our nuclear weapons capability, possessed enough nuclear warheads to destroy every large and medium sized city in the Soviet Union.  

The Southeast Asian picture got even more complicated in February. Communist China attacked and invaded Communist Vietnam on February 17th.  The reason was that the Chinese supported the Khmer Rouge Communists who had ruled Cambodia and they were not at all happy about the Vietnamese invasion of that country.  China and Vietnam were historic enemies despite the fact that they were allies during the Vietnam War.  Vietnam then turned to the Soviet Union for support.  China and the Soviet Union at the same time had been feuding with each other for a while.  As if giving them the go-ahead to oust the Chinese supported government of Cambodia, the Soviets signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Vietnam on November 3, 1978 effectively bonding the two countries together against the Chinese.  The Chinese attack on Vietnam was “to teach them a lesson” and was clearly in retaliation for for the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.  It all seemed so strange because United States participation in the Vietnam war from 1961 to 1973 was to prevent the North Vietnamese Communists from taking control of South Vietnam.  Successive American administrations refrained from taking drastic action against Communist North Vietnam, that could have won the war, fearing that Communist China would enter the war on the side of the North Vietnamese.  Ironically now the two Communist countries were fighting each other.  Headlines stating that Chinese jets were attacking the Vietnamese port of Haiphong seemed odd since American jets had attacked Haiphong often in 1972 . Fighting raged in northern Vietnam for a few weeks and the world wondered if the Soviet Union would enter the war on the side of the Vietnamese. The Soviets did not and the Chinese withdrew their forces in March.  The headline on the cover of the March 5, 1979 issue of Time magazine was: COMMUNISTS AT WAR.

In sports the 1978 National Football League season was concluding as the post season was played out in early 1979.  The powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers obliterated the Houston Oilers 34-5 in the American Football Conference Championship game on January 7 to win the right to play in Super Bowl 13.  Later that same day in Los Angeles a powerful Dallas Cowboys team squared off against a strong Los Angeles Rams team for the National Football Conference Championship.  The Rams had great teams during the 1970s but always failed to reach the Super Bowl. They would fail again this time as the Cowboys prevailed 28-0.  That set up what was anticipated to be a really Super Super Bowl!

The cover of the January 22, 1979 issue of Newsweek magazine hailed “A Really Super Bowl.”  The cover was shared by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Cowboys linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson.  During the two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, Henderson caused a stir as he taunted Steelers players in the media and insulted the talent and intelligence of Bradshaw.  Henderson had taunted the Rams and correctly predicted that the Cowboys would shut them out.  The Steelers did not reply to Henderson who predicted that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl 31-0.

Super Bowl 13 truly lived up to the hype as it turned out to be one of the best ever. Hollywood Henderson was correct in that the Cowboys scored 31 points, however…

The teams battled it out in Super Bowl 13 scoring a combined nine touchdowns.  At one point the Steelers led 35-17.  The Cowboys battled back to make the score 35-31.  That’s how it ended as time ran out on the Cowboys.  The heartbreaker for them was that a veteran receiver, Jackie Smith, dropped a certain touchdown pass in the end zone earlier in the game.  Had Smith held onto the ball it could have made the score 35-35 at the end of regulation time.  

A week later the Pro Bowl, the NFLs all star game, was played in Los Angeles.  The crowd was eerily quiet the whole game something the telecasters attributed to the Rams again failing to reach the Super Bowl. 

In March President Carter scored a triumph as he played a critical role in getting bitter enemies Israel and Egypt to conclude a peace treaty between them, the Camp David Accords.

On March 28 a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania caused radioactive gases to be released into the environment in a heavily populated area.  The accident gave a strong boost to the movement opposed to nuclear power because of the dangers it entails. 

In the field of aviation the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft was not having a good year in 1979.  On May 25 a DC-10 taking off from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport had an engine detach from its wing upon take-off resulting in the aircraft crashing.  It was the worst aviation accident in U.S. history with 273 fatalities.  Two other DC-10 crashes later in the year were not due to anything wrong with the aircraft itself but a famous image of the Chicago DC-10 missing its engine just before the crash was particularly damaging.

In May 1979 the world of hockey fans yawned as the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the fourth year in a row.  A second major hockey league, the World Hockey Association played out its last playoffs as the league was soon to cease operations.  The last WHA champion was the Winnipeg Jets. Four WHA teams, including the Hartford Whalers, would join the NHL.  

June 1979 saw a re-match of the previous year’s National Basketball championship finals with the Seattle Supersonics prevailing over the Washington Bullets, the opposite result of the year before.  

In the spring of 1979 Americans began to feel the repercussions of the Iranian Revolution earlier that year.  Oil production from Iran was greatly reduced and a major oil crisis resulted.  Panic buying then led to fuel shortages. Long lines formed and long waits occurred at gas stations and many states imposed odd-even gas rationing.  This meant that whatever number or letter your license plate ended with determined what days in the month you could buy gas. In the late spring of 1979 outraged Americans saw the price of a gallon of gasoline go over a dollar for the first time.

In the spring and early summer of 1979 TV news broadcasts frequently covered civil war in the Central American nation of Nicaragua.  Fierce battles raged in the streets of the cities and towns of Nicaragua as rebels called Sandinistas, named after a martyred hero, fired from behind barricades at troops of the government’s army, the National Guard.  The heavily armed National Guard was eventually defeated as town after town was taken over by the rebels who were widely supported by the general population. The government of the American supported dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, had long fallen into corrupt ways which in turn fueled the rebellion.  The final battle for the capital city of Managua led to Somoza leaving the country on July 17 and the collapse of the National Guard two days later. The new Sandinista government seemed moderate at first but it eventually became allied with Communist countries namely Cuba and the Soviet Union.  

1979 was a great year for music. Undoubtedly the anthem of 1979 was “My Sharona” by The Knack, an American band from Los Angeles.  Released in June 1979, “My Sharona” reached number one on the Billboard hot 100 singles chart and remained on top for six weeks.  “My Sharona” was also placed number one on Billboard’s Top Pop Singles year-end chart for 1979.

In 1979 Americans often said “No!” when they heard British Rock Star Rod Stewart sing the line “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” from his song titled the same.  The song, released in late 1978, was everywhere in 1979.  

In March 1979 the British Rock band Supertramp released their highly successful album Breakfast in America.  Three big hits from it, “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Take the Long Way Home,” became very popular.

Electric Light Orchestra released an album containing the song, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” a big hit that has stood the test of time.  The Australian rock group The Little River Band released their song “Lady” In September 1978 and it was a big hit in 1979. The American group The Charlie Daniels Band had its big hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in 1979.  The American rock band Styx released their number one hit “Babe” in September 1979.  English singer Robert Palmer sang “A Bad Case of Loving You” making the song written by an American songwriter a big hit in 1979.  The band Kiss had its hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” in 1979.  The band Foreigner released its hit song “Head Games” in late 1979.  There were, of course, many other hit songs in 1979.

In the early summer of 1979 there was a sense of suspense.  America’s first space station, Skylab, which was launched in 1973 and used by astronauts up until February 1974, couldn’t maintain its orbit around the earth. It was going to come crashing down to earth.  But where?  On July 11th Skylab disintegrated over the Indian Ocean showering debris there and onto part of Australia. 

The unmanned American space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 made close approaches to the planet Jupiter in March 1979 and July 1979 respectively.  The probes transmitted high resolution photographs of the planet and some of its moons.  Voyager 1 discovered that Jupiter has a ring around it and observed active volcanoes on Io, a moon of Jupiter.  In September another U.S. space probe, Pioneer 11, was the first probe to fly by and transmit close-up photos of Saturn, its rings and its moon Titan. The probe detected that the average temperature on Titan was minus 315 degrees Fahrenheit.  

In the late summer of 1979 a political firestorm erupted when the U.S. intelligence community revealed that there was a Soviet combat brigade stationed in Cuba.  The brigade was believed to consist of about 2,600 Soviet troops and had been in Cuba for many years.  It was the timing of the release of the information that caused the uproar.  The United States and the Soviet Union were in a period of time in the 1970s, called detente, during which tensions and threats of previous decades were easing up.  The two superpowers were at the time negotiating limiting the number of nuclear weapons between them. President Carter and a number of U.S. politicians deemed the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba as unacceptable.  U.S Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, met with Soviet envoys to try to persuade them that the brigade must be removed.  The Soviets had no intention of removing the brigade and assured the Americans that its presence in Cuba was only for training purposes. Unable to force the Soviets to withdraw the troops from Cuba, President Carter, in his speech to the nation on October 1 declared that the combat brigade in Cuba posed no direct threat to the United States.  The furor calmed down and the crisis was all but forgotten.  The September 17, 1979 cover of Time magazine had in large letters: STORM OVER CUBA.  The Cuban crisis of 1979 did not involve nuclear weapons as did the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.  Unlike in 1962, it was the U.S. side that backed down from a potential confrontation with the Soviets.  Although the crisis turned out to not be as big a deal as originally thought, it did derail nuclear weapons limitation negotiations and was the beginning of the end of the period of detente.

In a little known incident, on September 22, 1979 an American Vela satellite detected a double flash, consistent with a nuclear weapon test, in the South Atlantic Ocean roughly half way between South Africa and Antarctica. Originally called the South Atlantic Flash, the cause of the double flash was never officially determined.  Although no nation ever claimed responsibility for a nuclear weapon test in the ocean (banned by international treaty) at that time, the Vela Incident is believed to have been a joint nuclear weapon test between Israel and South Africa.

On a local note the residents of Windsor and Windsor Locks, Connecticut that were alive and old enough to be aware will never forget October 3, 1979.  That was the day an unexpected tornado started in the Poquonock section of Windsor and made its way northward roughly following Route 75.  The tornado measuring F4 passed through Windsor Locks and Suffield before ending in Agawam, Massachusetts.  The twister left 3 people dead and many homes and businesses destroyed or damaged.  Many aircraft on display at the Bradley Air Museum near Bradley Airport were damaged or wrecked.  

The Major League Baseball season was different in 1979.  The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox dominated the American League East the previous few years but 1979 saw the Yankees and Red Sox down in the standings and the Baltimore Orioles on top almost from the start.  In October the Orioles met the Pittsburgh Pirates the World Series.  In a series played in much cold weather, Baltimore won three of the first four games.  However, the Pirates won the next three games and the World Series Championship. The Pirates adopted the 1979 Sister Sledge hit song “We Are Family” as their theme song.

Also in October the government of the Central American nation of El Salvador was overthrown leading to a civil war that would become a major issue for the United States in the 1980s.   

Iran was back in the news on November 4 as Iranians loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran and held 66 Americans as hostages.  The reasons for the seizure was that the deposed Shah of Iran was in the U.S. for medical treatment and the Iranians feared an American attempt at restoring the Shah to the throne in Iran.  They also demanded that the U.S. hand the Shah over to them so they could put him on trial for brutality carried out by his secret police against Iranians during his reign. The crisis escalated as newscasts showed thousands in the streets of Teheran burning American flags and engaging in anti-American demonstrations.  The images broadcast around the world of blindfolded American captives in the hands of fanatical Iranians was a national humiliation. The Iranians released some Americans but 53 remained captive as the year ended. 

With the humiliation of the hostage situation, Americans needed a lift. They got it, sort of, in the form of a song.  Some genius composed a humorous song about the hostage situation sung to the tune of “My Sharona.”  The word “Ayatollah” was used in place of “My Sharona” and there were some made up words that rhymed with “Ayatollah.”  I remember many people getting a big kick out of that song. 

If the hostage situation in Iran wasn’t bad enough, on November 21 the U.S. embassy in Pakistan was stormed and burned down by Islamic fanatics who were inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini. A couple of Americans were killed and some were taken hostage. They were subsequently rescued by Pakistani troops. It was a very somber holiday season in the U.S. with the Pakistan incident and seemingly no resolution to the Iran hostage situation in sight.

As 1979 was winding down into its final days. the southwest Asian country of Afghanistan was suddenly front page news.  Afghanistan had been taken over by a Communist government in April 1978 with Communist General Secretary Nur Muhammad Taraki installed as its leader.  This began a chain of events that would plunge Afghanistan into seemingly endless turmoil that continues to this day.  A rebellion by Moslem Afghan tribes began fighting to overthrow the Communist government.  In September 1979 Taraki was assassinated and Afghan prime minister Hafizullah Amin took over leadership of the country.  Dissatisfied with Amin’s rule and unsure if the Communist government could hold out against the rebellion, the Soviets had Amin assassinated and sent about 85,000 troops into Afghanistan in the final week of December. 

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 was seen as a threat to world peace and seriously soured relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.  It began a new period of potentially dangerous tensions between the two superpowers.  

The Chinese zodiac had 1979 as the Year of the Ram.  In the 1979 NFL season the Los Angeles Rams, the franchise that had many good teams over the years but never made the Super Bowl, was not expected to accomplish much.  Their owner died in an accident over the summer and the front office had a shake-up.  The team lost its starting quarterback to injury.  The Rams had only a so-so regular season of 9 wins and 7 losses.  But it was enough to get into the playoffs.  

On December 30, 1979 the Rams got a measure of revenge against the Dallas Cowboys for their humiliating playoff defeat early in the year.  They beat the Cowboys in Texas 21-19 in a playoff game.  With that victory, the Rams were on their way to their first Super Bowl.  

Champ or No Champ?

By Tom Woron

Scotland has Nessie.  Over here we have Champ.  Or does Scotland really have Nessie?  And for that matter, do we really have Champ?

Everyone has heard of the legendary Loch Ness monster, affectionately named Nessie, and usually referred to in the singular sense.  Nessie is the alleged unknown water creature that inhabits Loch Ness, a long and deep lake in Scotland.  Whether Nessie really exists or not has been the subject of much study and debate for over a century.  The Loch Ness monster, if it does exist, is a cryptid. 

Cryptozoology is not a recognized branch of true science.  Rather it is more or less a separate cult whose mission is to seek out creatures of hearsay, legend and folklore that have not officially been documented to exist in reality by mainstream science but rather might exist or might have once existed.  Creatures large and small that mainstream science cannot prove nor deny the existence of are referred to as cryptids.   The definition of cryptids can also be extended to include animals that existed at one time in reality but are officially recognized as being extinct.  The possibility that creatures officially considered to be extinct but may possibly still exist is one subject of cryptozoology.

The cryptid that allegedly inhabits Loch Ness, while eyewitness descriptions often vary, is usually described as serpentine in nature possibly resembling a sea serpent that existed during the time of the dinosaurs.  Whether it’s an unknown animal that hasn’t yet been documented or really a creature that never actually went extinct, it’s existence is very much disputed to this day.

In North America is Lake Champlain, a large natural lake that is located between the states of New York and Vermont but also stretches to the north into Canada into the province of Quebec.  Lake Champlain is 107 miles long and 14 miles wide at its point of maximum width.  The lake covers 514 square miles and has an average depth of 64 feet with a maximum depth of about 400 feet.  Lake Champlain has also long been said to be the home of a serpent-like cryptid.  

In 1609 the French explorer Samuel De Champlain, the discoverer of Lake Champlain, is said to have documented “a 20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse.” This quote by Champlain has been published repeatedly but its authenticity in describing a creature in Lake Champlain is in dispute.  Historians and scholars who have read Champlain’s writings seem to think that he was describing something that he saw near the St. Lawrence River.  Champlain did however, describe seeing some fish in Lake Champlain that were five feet long, as thick as his thigh, with a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth and with silvery-gray scales so strong that a dagger could not penetrate them.  The native peoples of the area told him that some of them were known to be up to 10 feet long.  

Earlier legends told by the native Abenaki and Iroquois tribes, both of whom long lived and hunted near Lake Champlain, spoke of a large horned serpent or giant snake that lived in the lake.  The early French explorers were warned against sailing on the lake so as not to arouse the serpent.  

Since the early 1800s up to the 1990s there have been approximately 200 reported sighting of a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain with over 600 witnesses claiming to have seen it in many different parts of the lake.  In 1873 an article in the New York Times reported that a railroad crew working alongside the lake saw the head of a huge serpent, with silvery scales that glistened in the sunlight, rise above the surface of the water.  The crew left the scene in a hurry.  

The unknown or mythical creature of Lake Champlain, affectionately named Champ, is very often described as an unusually large snake or water serpent.  The serpent is, at times, described as having a head like that of a horse.  Sightings of Champ have sometimes occurred to multiple witnesses at the same time occasionally to groups of passengers sailing on steamships on Lake Champlain.  A common size estimate of Champ is between 20 and 40 feet long although historically there have been descriptions of a water creature in the lake that was estimated to be over 180 feet long.  

In 1977 Sandra Mansi, a woman from Connecticut who was on a family vacation alongside Lake Champlain, supposedly took what is widely believed to be the first known photograph of Champ (like Nessie, Champ is usually referred to as a single creature).  But just like with alleged photos of the Loch Ness monster, whether or not Ms. Mansi’s photo shows a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain is a matter that is hotly disputed.  It is pointed out that Ms. Mansi could not locate the original negative and could not later identify the precise location where she took the photo.  Both would have been useful in further studies of the object in the photo.  Does the Mansi photo really show a water serpent or a large partially submerged floating tree trunk?  The debate goes on.  

The 21st century has brought many additional reports of sightings of a lake monster in Lake Champlain including a video taken by 2 fishermen in 2005.  Analysis of the video can be interpreted to show a snake-like creature or the long neck and head of a creature similar to a prehistoric reptile, but again, the video is a matter of much dispute.  Although it is believed that the video is not faked nor tampered with, a retired FBI forensic image analyst who examined the video does not believe that any animate object is shown in it.

So what have people been seeing at Lake Champlain for the past few centuries?  Are they seeing an oversized eel or multiple eels?  Maybe a large sturgeon or group of them?  Perhaps Champ is a northern pike or muskellunge that grew way beyond the normal size that one would be.  Is Champ possibly a giant northern water snake that grew to an immense size?  Or is the Lake Champlain monster really a serpent that is undocumented by science or a prehistoric reptile long thought to have been extinct?  One has to wonder what did the railroad crew see in 1873 that frightened them to the point of fleeing their worksite.  Recently I talked with a fisherman who fished Lake Champlain frequently.  He told me he’s seen some weird things around the lake and definitely believes Champ exists.  The search for Champ goes on.  

What Are Foo Fighters?

By Tom Woron

“That was ‘The Pretender’ by the Foo Fighters,” said the DJ on the radio as a song ended. The Foo Fighters? Yes, there is a rock band called the Foo Fighters. 

Back in the early 1990s a popular American band called Nirvana from Aberdeen, Washington, was the key band promoting a type of rock music called grunge. Nirvana dominated the airwaves for a while, but the untimely death of lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain in 1994 spelled doom for the band. Without its frontman Nirvana could not carry on, and the band became defunct.

After the demise of Nirvana, the band’s former drummer, Dave Grohl, began a project by himself in which he recorded 15 songs that he wrote. With only one exception, Grohl played all of the instruments himself and sang all of the vocals on all 15 songs. When the recording was completed, Grohl handed out cassette tapes of the project to friends for their opinions of it. Desiring to keep the identity behind his songs a secret, Grohl named his project “Foo Fighters” so as to lead listeners to believe that there were multiple musicians behind the music, not just him by himself. The recording got the attention of record companies. The Foo Fighters went from what was supposed to be a one-time solo project by Grohl to becoming a highly successful rock band. 

Grohl at the time did not know that the Foo Fighters would become a huge success and that the band would become his full-time career in music after Nirvana. Had he known what was to come, he has said, he would have come up with a different name, because he thought that Foo Fighters was the dumbest name ever for a rock band. How did Grohl come up with the name? What are “foo fighters”? 

While it is unclear why Grohl chose the name for his project, foo fighters in reality were unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that were seen by numerous pilots and airmen during the Second World War. Although Allied airmen had seen what they believed were UFOs earlier in the war, it was from November 1944 onward that Allied airmen flying over Germany and German-occupied territory frequently noticed strange, rapidly moving lights that seemed to pursue their aircraft. These objects glowed red, orange, white, and green at times, and behaved as if they were controlled by some intelligence. They sometimes appeared as a single fiery object and at other times as many in a formation.

The astonished airmen witnessed these objects maneuvering in ways that no known aircraft could at the time. One pilot, believing that the unknown objects were a new type of Nazi weapon, decided to challenge them and turned his plane toward them. The objects immediately disappeared. A short time later the mysterious lights reappeared, but at a much greater distance from his aircraft. Apparently they were not made of any kind of solid material since they did not show up on either ground or airborne radar.

Reports of strange glowing objects buzzing around Allied aircraft came in more frequently as the war wound down in its final months. Although descriptions of the unknown objects varied, the pattern of the encounters was similar in many respects. Mysterious fiery lights would suddenly show up, appear to pursue Allied aircraft for a while, sometimes getting up close, and then they would suddenly veer off and disappear. The objects maneuvering around the aircraft were never reported to take any hostile action nor in any way cause damage to the aircraft; however, the airmen who encountered them found the experience to be nerve-racking. One American airman, a radar operator, who saw the strange lights following his aircraft named them “foo fighters.” 

Single-engine German aircraft approaching Allied aircraft with the intent to shoot them down were called “fighters.” It is widely believed that a U.S. 415th Night Fighter Squadron radar operator, Donald J. Meiers, gave the name “foo fighters” to the mysterious lights approaching and seemingly chasing the airplanes. The name came from Smokey Stover, a popular American comic strip of the time. The strip featured the silliness and mishaps of the title character, a firefighter who referred to himself with a nonsensical phrase, “foo fighter.” 

The phenomenon was not limited to the European Theater. American airmen in the Pacific Theater also encountered mysterious “balls of fire” that hovered in the sky and, at times, pursued their aircraft. They, too, noted that these balls of fire never fired upon nor damaged their aircraft. They ultimately decided that the objects were a secret Japanese psychological weapon designed to distract them and drive them crazy. After the war, the Americans asked Japanese airmen about the flying objects that their country sent out to buzz around our airplanes and drive our pilots insane. Surprised at being asked the question, the Japanese replied that they too had seen the objects, had noted that they took no hostile action against their aircraft, and had come to the conclusion that they were a secret American weapon designed to mess with their minds.

Likewise after the war, thirteen high-ranking officers of the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany’s air force) were questioned about the unknown glowing objects observed by British and American airmen on night missions over Europe. All thirteen claimed they knew nothing about any secret German weapon or anything else that could explain the mysterious sightings. 

As 1945 began, a news reporter who had spent time with the 415th published a story about the foo fighters that ran on the front page of newspapers all across the United States. Because of the number of reports of foo fighters and the impact they were having on aircrews—and, more shockingly, the fact that a reporter had interviewed the airmen and published their story—the military decided to investigate the matter.

Many theories were offered to explain the foo fighter sightings. Among them was that they were hallucinations due to battle fatigue. Another theory was that they were the Nazis’ newly developed V-2 rocket, a ballistic missile, many of which were being launched from Germany against Great Britain and the Western European allies. 

The airmen who observed the foo fighters rejected the hallucination theory. They were there, and they knew what they saw. The V-2 rocket explanation seemed plausible at first since the tail of the rocket would glow with a flame as it burned fuel. However, this theory was also dismissed by the airmen and by military aviation historians because descriptions of the foo fighters’ maneuverability—such as “turning on a dime” and sudden accelerations—were not consistent with the speed and course that a ballistic missile would take. Other theories offered to explain the foo fighters witnessed during World War II have also been dismissed due to the lack of any credible evidence. They were never identified or logically explained.

Although the foo fighters seen during the Second World War remain an unexplained mystery to this day, they sure gave us a great rock band! 

Your assignment: If you’re not familiar with the Foo Fighters band and/or their song “The Pretender,” Google it and watch the YouTube video.

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