The 11 Number One Albums of 1979

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An ad announcing The Knack’s big debut appeared in the June 16, 1979 issue of Record World

Some of the headlines from 1979, as we closed out a decade… NASA’s Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter, a mere 172,000 miles. McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.

Radicals invaded the U.S. Embassy in Iran and took 90 hostages. Fifty-two Americans would be held for 444 days.

Eleven fans were killed when the crowd waiting to get into a Who concert in Cincinnati, Ohio, rushed to get into the arena. There were too few doors opened for the general admission show.

Just one movie earned over $100 million at the box-office: Kramer vs. Kramer, with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Others in the year’s Top 10 included Rocky IIAlien, The Jerk and Apocalypse Now.

Our recap of 1979’s chart topping albums in the U.S., included many classic rock favorites, as determined each week by Record World.

Before we get to the list, here are some of the noteworthy releases that earned big sales but were blocked from the top spot: Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, Michael Jackson’s Off the WallCheap Trick at Budokan, ELO’s Discovery, Styx’s Cornerstone, and Foreigner’s Head Games.

Eleven different albums claimed the top spot in ’79; each had a story to tell.

Listings are in reverse order, saving the longest-running title for the end. (Note: The stats will differ slightly from what was compiled by rival Billboard.)

The Doobie Brothers – Minute by Minute (1 week)

In most other years, this Dec. 1, 1978 release would have likely remained at the top for a while, thanks to the Top 40 success of the title track and “What a Fool Believes,” which became the group’s second #1 single of their career. On April 21, more than four months after its release, the album became the Doobies‘ sole LP to top the chart.

Donna Summer – On the Radio – Greatest Hits Volumes I and II (1)

The disco queen was dominating the singles chart and dance floor and this two-record set, released on Oct. 15, capitalized on that success for the holiday sales season.

Billy Joel – 52nd Street (2)

The Piano Man had broken through in 1977 with The Stranger which just missed the top, peaking at #2. This time, with Side One’s radio-friendly tunes “My Life,” “Big Shot” and “Honesty,” Joel earned his first of four #1 albums. The Oct. 13, 1978, release topped the chart that year for six weeks. After the holidays, it returned to the pole position on Jan. 13. (It went on to earn the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1980.)

Barbra Streisand’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 (2)

Released for the ’78 holiday sales season on Nov. 15, and powered by a new version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” her #1 duet with Neil Diamond, the collection hit the top for the last two weeks of that year. It continued selling into the new year, with two non-consecutive weeks at #1. The package also includes her #1 singles from The Way We Were (the title cut) and A Star is Born (“Evergreen”).

Related: Only 6 albums reached #1 in 1978, here’s why

Rod Stewart – Blondes Have More Fun (3)

This Nov. ’78 releases returned the shaggy-haired singer back to the top of the U.S. sales chart for the first time since 1971’s Every Picture Tells a Story. Its success coincided with the Top 40 and dance floor success of the monster hit, “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” one of the year’s biggest singles.

The Knack – Get the Knack (4)

This debut album was produced by Mike Chapman, who had had a run of hits earlier in the decade for such artists as Suzi Quatro and Nick Gilder, and had recently produced Blondie’s massive Parallel Lines album. The LP was an out-of-the-box hit, driven by the song “My Sharona.” Both the single and album were released in June and each shot to #1 on Aug. 11. The catchy song held the top slot for six weeks, eventually becoming the biggest single of the year.

Related: Check out the 40 biggest singles of 1979

Donna Summer – Bad Girls (4)

The disco diva was in the right place at the right time, with this Giorgio Moroder / Pete Bellotte production. The two-album set was released on April 25 and the only surprise was why it took nearly two months to reach #1, which it did for the first time on June 16. Though it was replaced at the top for four weeks, it stormed back for another three, beginning on July 21. Its three humongous pop and dance floor hits include the great #2 “Dim All the Lights” and a pair of #1s: the title track and “Hot Stuff.” Everybody sing: Lookin’ for some hot stuff, baby this evening, I need some hot stuff, baby tonight…

Led Zeppelin – In Through the Out Door (7)

Part of a 2-page ad in the Sept. 1 issue of Record World

The band’s eighth, and final, studio album arrived in stores undercover, packaged in a plain, brown bag. In just three days of sales, it was the #1 album in the U.S., just the second time in Record World‘s history that that had happened. Although reports have its street date as Aug. 15, I don’t think that’s accurate. I worked in the magazine’s chart department and we finalized all charts on Tuesdays for the week ending on the previous Sunday. The magazine’s Sept. 8 issue was actually published on Sept. 3 and in that issue the LP debuted at #1 and was the Most Added at FM stations. (That same issue’s retail column notes the album’s historic debut.) Since the charts that appeared in that issue were finalized on Tues., Aug. 28, I’ll go ahead and re-write history and claim that In Through the Out Door arrived in stores on Friday, Aug. 24.

Eagles – The Long Run (9)

How do you top the success of Hotel California? It was an impossible task as the band was in the midst of personnel changes (Timothy B. Schmit replacing Randy Meisner). One month after its late September release, The Long Run replaced Zep atop the sales chart, where it stayed for nine of the next 10 weeks, closing out the decade, thanks to enormous airplay for the #1 single, “Heartache Tonight,” as well as the title cut and “I Can’t Tell You Why” (with Schmit singing lead). [Their 2024 collection is available here.]

Supertramp – Breakfast in America (9)

The British group had experienced success prior to this but no one could have envisioned what would happen when this album was released on March 29. Three enormous hits on Top 40 and FM stations – “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger” and “Take the Long Way Home” – put the LP on top for nine of 10 weeks, beginning in May. [It’s available here.]

The Bee Gees – Spirits Having Flown (10)

Surprise! Despite the enormous success of the three rock bands above, it was actually the Brothers Gibb who earned the most weeks at #1, their first release since they dominated 1977’s Saturday Night Fever two-LP set. (And, yes, we’re overlooking the soundtrack to 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s film.) The trio were so successful in the late ’70s that Spirits yielded three more #1 singles: “Too Much Heaven,” “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside Out.”

Greg Brodsky

8 Comments so far

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  1. melf
    #1 melf 3 April, 2020, 03:21

    Thanks for the 1979 flashback. So many artists in that timeframe. The Eagles , even though Hotel California was break through, The Long run was a contender. I think Heartache tonight allowed Henley to take his path through the Eighties. Also impressive, and it’s time tested.
    Keep posting all the highlights of the seventies and eighties. I wish there were more comparable bands around!

    Reply this comment
    • 122intheshade
      122intheshade 20 May, 2021, 01:14

      The suite on Side Two is one of my favorite Eagles trips: Those Shoes/Teenage Jail/Greeks is just a lot of fun. And Bill S. dominated the 70s the way Richard Perry and Ted Templeman did. Rolled out one great LP after another.

      Reply this comment
  2. recordhound
    #2 recordhound 14 May, 2022, 11:34

    Record release dates are now Friday, but back in the 70’s, it was Tuesday. I think it’s still Tuesday in the UK?

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky Author 14 May, 2022, 16:02

      The worldwide music industry adopted Fridays as Global Release Day.

      Reply this comment
      • Jeff H. - Tulsa
        Jeff H. - Tulsa 23 May, 2023, 11:10

        Thank you so much Mr. Brodsky for your absolutely phenomenal work of love you have founded for the priceless enjoyment of all of your readers. I think I can actually speak for everyone here. In a day where so many in the media are constantly trying to keep dividing people with their written words/videos, you and your staff provide our one place where we can all come together and just simply enjoy the gifts of so many talented artists. How you are able to provide the enormous volume of knowledge and interviews is mind-boggling. You all are so very much appreciated and valued for all that you do. I can’t imagine not ever seeing these daily news letters arrive in my email inbox. So thank you again for all of the joy that you give me – not just with providing all of the amazing interviews and unbelievable information of our past and present, but for me, what I value most is that of my daily treat of reminiscing (“indulging in enjoyable recollection of past events”). I hope you labor of love never ends and someday in the year 2073 my grandchildren will be enjoying your gift to them as well.

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        • Greg Brodsky
          Greg Brodsky Author 23 May, 2023, 13:13

          Thank you very much, Jeff H. It’s reader comments like these that make the effort so worthwhile.

          Reply this comment
  3. BMac
    #3 BMac 20 May, 2024, 16:21

    This was the year that rock came back and effectively ended disco. Well, sort of. The back half of the year probably more so than the first half of the year. Didn’t quite kill it, but it came close.

    Reply this comment
  4. 122intheshade
    #4 122intheshade 21 May, 2024, 00:58

    Donna and Giorgio stopped the disco train themselves. “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” are bad-ass ROCKERS.

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