Imagine it’s a new year, you’re a record label owner and one of your artists, who happens to be one of the hottest recording acts in the music biz, just k/o’d the biggest single in two decades (Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”) by knocking it out of the #1 slot on the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s probably no big deal to you at first because that group on your label has had other #1 songs in the past and you have been associated with some major successes over the last decade with stage and movie musicals like Hair, Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Now imagine that new #1 song on your label is replaced at the top by another one of your artists to give you two #1s in a row.
Then, after a few weeks, that second song is replaced by another one of your records, then another, then another, and another…
That was the situation for Australian born Robert Stigwood – owner and founder of the Robert Stigwood Organisation (yes, with an “s”) – who died on January 4, 2016, at the age of 81.
When I learned of his death recently, it immediately took me back to the incredible year he had as a label owner and executive. I was amazed by it then and I’m still amazed as I write about it now in tribute to the man who could seemingly do no wrong in 1978.
His RSO record label achieved the unthinkable 38 years ago when six of his singles took successive turns at the #1 spot to give his label sole ownership of the Billboard Hot 100 crown from late December 1977 through mid-May 1978.
Those six incredible consecutive #1 hits were: “How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees), “Baby, Come Back” (Player), “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees), “(Love is) Thicker Than Water” (Andy Gibb), “Night Fever” (Bee Gees) and “If I Can’t Have You” (Yvonne Elliman). In all, they totaled 21 straight weeks at #1 and launched what would become one of the most remarkable years any music mogul has ever experienced before or since.
And, as if those six hits weren’t enough, more of Stigwood’s RSO singles would add to his #1 portfolio as the year progressed.
After a three-week interruption by two non-RSO records following Yvonne Elliman’s run, RSO reclaimed the throne in June with a song from the motion picture Grease: “You’re the One That I Want,” by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. That was then replaced by yet another RSO #1 record, Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing.”
Then, three weeks after “Shadow Dancing” relinquished its 7-week-long grip in August to allow two more non-RSO songs to briefly shine, one more megahit on the RSO label took over: the platinum-selling title song from “Grease” by Frankie Valli.
In total, that’s nine #1 songs spanning 29 of 1978’s first 35 weeks (plus the last two weeks of 1977)…all by one record label.
No single label has ever had that kind of dominance over the Hot 100 in a single year. Not Motown, not Atlantic, not Columbia, not Capitol, not any of them.
But that’s not all.
The chart domination displayed by the Robert Stigwood Organisation in ’78 is even more impressive when you consider the motion pictures with which his music was affiliated.
The top grossing film of 1978 – and still the highest grossing musical ever – is Grease, starring Travolta and Newton-John. The two biggest-selling albums of 1978 were the soundtracks to Saturday Night Fever and Grease, with the Fever soundtrack becoming the biggest-selling soundtrack album of all time.
Both those films (and their soundtracks) were executive produced or co-produced by none other than Robert Stigwood under the RSO production company. For one man to be creatively responsible for the biggest movie, albums and singles of any year is nothing short of phenomenal. It showed that Stigwood and his stable of musicians simply had the magic touch during a year when it was great to be a pop music fan.
But not everything Stigwood did in 1978 was an unqualified success.
For instance, there were two motion pictures that many of us who were around then – and likely those who were associated with them – would like to forget.
Those films were the ill-fated box-office disaster Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (starring the Bee Gees and popular rocker Peter Frampton) and the wretched May-December romance film Moment by Moment (with Travolta and Lily Tomlin).
Under Stigwood’s production arm, they were released in the latter half of the year – after SNF and Grease had made Travolta a huge star – and the world now saw the Bee Gees’ as the kings of disco. To feature Travolta as a character named “Strip” in a halfway serious romance with Tomlin (who was easily 15 years his senior) was a tough one to sell (plus the writing was really bad).
Likewise, casting the world’s most reluctant but now-favorite disco act, the Bee Gees, in a psychedelic Beatle-esque movie was – in hindsight – also not a good move.
Both of those films are still chided today as must-sees for fans of rotten movies, which has given the two box-office flops somewhat of a cult following.
To go along with its dismal box-office performance, the soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s – which featured remakes of Beatles tunes by some of the day’s biggest stars like Earth Wind & Fire (“Got to Get You Into My Life”), Aerosmith (“Come Together”) and the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb (“Oh! Darling”) – is considered one of the worst ever made, even though the singles did reasonably well. For instance, EWF’s remake (released as a single on their home label, Columbia Records) topped the R&B chart and reached the pop top ten.
The success of those three Sgt. Pepper’s songs was proof positive that no matter how good or bad his movies were that year, Stigwood’s musical output could still find success on the charts.
And speaking of the music charts, those six songs that began the year as the first six number ones of 1978? They all wound up among the 20 biggest hits of the year. In fact, RSO records accounted for half of the year’s 20 biggest, with the label’s ten biggest songs finishing 1978 as follows:
1. Shadow Dancing – Andy Gibb
2. Night Fever – Bee Gees
4. Stayin’ Alive – Bee Gees
6. How Deep Is Your Love – Bee Gees
7. Baby Come Back – Player
8. (Love is) Thicker Than Water – Andy Gibb
11. Grease – Frankie Valli
13. You’re the One That I Want – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John
15. Lay Down Sally – Eric Clapton
19. If I Can’t Have You – Yvonne Elliman
That’s a finish that no single record label or imprint has been able to achieve before or since. And it was all done under the watchful creative arm of rock music tycoon Robert Stigwood.
Stigwood – whose film production of Grease is still lauded by fans and critics alike as one of the best big-screen musicals ever made.
Stigwood – whose touch on the disco music scene through Saturday Night Fever undeniably led to the genre’s unprecedented commercial success in 1978 (and perhaps its downfall a year later).
Stigwood – who, through his movies and music that year, gave us the soundtrack of an era. His 1978 performance was one for the ages that I was fortunate enough to experience and one that I’ll never forget.
Stigwood’s RSO Records continued to have success in later years with the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and follow-up movies to both his Grease and Saturday Night Fever blockbusters, as well as the motion picture Fame.
But the success soon faded and the RSO label folded in 1983.
His passing this month is yet another example of the great music legends who’ve already left us in 2016, but in doing so have left a music legacy that can never be taken away.
He’s a man who will be missed in the music world.
Rest in peace, Robert Stigwood.
And thanks for your contribution to one of the greatest years in music history.
You can check out my special DJRob playlist of RSO’s big hits from 1978 and other years by clicking here.
And here are some other notable RSO singles from 1978:
- “This Time I’m In It For Love” – Player
- “An Everlasting Love” – Andy Gibb
- “Hopelessly Devoted to You” – Olivia Newton John
- “Summer Nights” – John Travolta and Olivia Newton John & Cast
- “Oh Darling” – Robin Gibb
- “Greased Lightning” – John Travolta & Cast
- “Our Love, Don’t Throw it All Away” – Andy Gibb
- “Promises” – Eric Clapton (top ten in January 1979)
- “Too Much Heaven” – Bee Gees (reached #1 on New Year’s Eve 1978/79)