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Looking for love on the Billboard Hot 100: 1979

40 years ago in the Earth, Wind & Fire era, about half the black artists on the year-end pop chart were singing love songs

Where did the love go? Specifically, what happened to popular black love songs?

The year-end Billboard Hot 100 charts are widely regarded as the best measure of America’s most popular songs. We compiled numbers from the Billboard charts for the last five years (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019), and for 10-year intervals over the past 50 years (1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009). These charts show a decrease in love songs by black performers. (To see our story on the reasons behind the change, click here.)

How did we define a love song?

Love songs give voice to humanity’s most powerful emotion, that alchemy of need, companionship and commitment that can include, but also transcends, the physical. Songs that only talk about sex are not counted as love songs. Songs that talk about heartbreak, lost love, etc., are counted as love songs. Our definition of love songs includes those dealing with dysfunctional aspects of love: domestic and emotional abuse, cheating, and other unhealthy or harmful situations. We call these songs “tainted love.”

We recognize the subjective and malleable nature of “black music.” Is the salsa remake “I Like It” by Afro-Latino Cardi B an example of “black music”? What about work by Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny or the Colombian reggaeton artist J Balvin? Reasonable people can disagree … but Cardi B says “n—a” in the song, so that’s gotta be black music. We include Bruno Mars as making black music because he’s way too fonky.

Songs by white performers that “feature” black artists are not counted as work by black artists on our list. Nor are songs by white artists who perform in a black style (with the non-negotiable exception of Bobby Caldwell). We are analyzing black music. Nothing by Post Malone is black music, even if he has a black artist performing on that particular song. Same for Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, etc. We do not count Eminem as producing black music because his fan base is overwhelmingly white. Don’t @ me.

Here are the receipts for 1979, when black love was still big on the charts:

Guide to reading the chart: Black artists are in bold and love songs are all CAPS. On the year-end Billboard Hot 100 for 1979, there were:

36 songs by black artists.

Of that 36, there were 16 LOVE SONGS BY BLACK ARTISTS


  1. “My Sharona” (The Knack)
  2. “Bad Girls” (Donna Summer)
  3. “Le Freak” (Chic)
  4. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” (Rod Stewart)
  5. “REUNITED” (Peaches and Herb)
  6. “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor)
  7. “Hot Stuff” (Donna Summer)
  8. “Y.M.C.A.” (Village People)
  9. “Ring My Bell”(Anita Ward)
  10. “SAD EYES” (Robert John)

    Donna Summer performs at the 50th annual Academy Awards on April 9, 1979.

    Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

  11. “TOO MUCH HEAVEN” (Bee Gees)
  12. “MACARTHUR PARK” (Donna Summer)
  14. “Makin’ It” (David Naughton)
  15. “FIRE” (Pointer Sisters)
  16. “Tragedy” (Bee Gees)
  17. “A LITTLE MORE LOVE” (Olivia Newton John)
  18. “HEART OF GLASS” (Blondie)
  19. “WHAT A FOOL BELIEVES” (Doobie Brothers)
  20. “Good Times” (Chic)
  21. “YOU DON’T BRING ME FLOWERS” (Neil Diamond)
  22. “KNOCK ON WOOD” (Amii Stewart)
  23. “STUMBLIN’ IN” (Suzi Norman and Nick Quatro)
  24. “LEAD ME ON” (Maxine Nightingale)
  25. “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” (The Jacksons)
  26. “Don’t Cry Out Loud” (Melissa Manchester)
  27. “The Logical Song” (Supertramp)
  28. “My Life” (Billy Joel)
  29. “JUST WHEN I NEEDED YOU MOST” (Randy VanWarmer)
  30. “YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT” (Raydio)
  31. “Shake Your Groove Thing” (Peaches and Herb)
  32. “I’LL NEVER LOVE THIS WAY AGAIN” (Dionne Warwick)
  33. “LOVE YOU INSIDE OUT” (Bee Gees)
  34. “I Want You to Want Me” (Cheap Trick)
  35. “THE MAIN EVENT/FIGHT” (Barbra Streisand)
  36. “MAMA CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE” (Elton John)
  37. “I WAS MADE FOR DANCING” (Leif Garrett)
  38. “AFTER THE LOVE HAS GONE” (Earth, Wind & Fire)
  39. “HEAVEN KNOWS” (Donna Summer and Brooklyn Dreams)

    Singer Diana Ross is seen here performing as a guest on The Tonight Show.

  40. “The Gambler” (Kenny Rogers)
  41. “LOTTA LOVE” (Nicolette Larson)
  42. “LADY” (Little River Band)
  43. “Heaven Must Have Sent You” (Bonnie Pointer)
  44. “HOLD THE LINE” (Toto)
  45. “He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sister Sledge)
  46. “Sharing the Night Together” (Dr. Hook)
  47. “SHE BELIEVES IN ME” (Kenny Rogers)
  48. “In The Navy” (Village People)
  49. “Music Box Dancer” (Frank Mills)
  50. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (Charlie Daniels Band)
  51. “Gold” (John Stewart)
  52. “GOODNIGHT TONIGHT” (Paul McCartney & Wings)
  53. “We Are Family” (Sister Sledge)
  54. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” (Bad Company)
  55. “Every 1s a Winner” (Hot Chocolate)
  56. “Take Me Home” (Cher)
  57. “Boogie Wonderland” (Earth, Wind & Fire)
  59. “WHAT YOU WON’T DO FOR LOVE” (Bobby Caldwell)
  60. “New York Groove” (Ace Frehley)
  61. “Sultans of Swing” (Dire Straits)
  62. “I Want Your Love” (Chic)
  63. “CHUCK E.’S IN LOVE” (Rickie Lee Jones)
  64. “I Love The Nightlife” (Alicia Bridges)
  65. “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” (McFadden & Whitehead)
  66. “Lonesome Loser” (Little River Band)
  67. “Renegade” (Styx)
  68. “LOVE IS THE ANSWER” (England Dan)
  69. “GOT TO BE REAL” (Cheryl Lynn)
  70. “Born To Be Alive” (Patrick Hernandez)
  72. “I JUST FALL IN LOVE AGAIN” (Anne Murray)
  73. “Shake It” (Ian Matthews)
  74. “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” (KISS)
  75. “I JUST WANNA STOP” (Gino Vannelli)
  76. “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” (GQ)
  77. “OOH BABY BABY” (Linda Ronstadt)
  78. “SEPTEMBER” (Earth, Wind & Fire)
  79. “Time Passages” (Al Stewart)
  80. “Rise” (Herb Alpert)
  81. “Don’t Bring Me Down” (ELO)
  82. “PROMISES” (Eric Clapton)

    Singer Dionne Warwick performs on stage at the Park West in Chicago Nov. 27, 1979.

    Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

  83. “GET USED TO IT” (Roger Voudouris)
  84. “HOW MUCH I FEEL” (Ambrosia)
  85. “Suspicions” (Eddie Rabbitt)
  86. “YOU TAKE MY BREATH AWAY” (Rex Smith)
  87. “How You Gonna See Me Now” (Alice Cooper)
  88. “Double Vision” (Foreigner)
  89. “EVERY TIME I THINK OF YOU” (The Babys)
  90. “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” (Instant Funk)
  91. “DON’T STOP ‘TIL YOU GET ENOUGH” (Michael Jackson)
  92. “BAD CASE OF LOVING YOU” (Robert Palmer)
  93. “SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT” (Barry Manilow)
  94. “WE’VE GOT TONIGHT” (Bob Seger)
  95. “Dance The Night Away” (Van Halen)
  96. “Dancin’ Shoes” (Nigel Olsson)
  97. “THE BOSS” (Diana Ross)
  98. “SAIL ON” (The Commodores)
  99. “I DO LOVE YOU” (GQ)
  100. “STRANGE WAY” (Firefall)

Liner Notes

Source: Chart ranking by Billboard. Categorization by race and subject matter by Jesse Washington and Taylor Thomas for The Undefeated.

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.