In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The ’80s didn’t really begin on January 1, 1980. The popular-imagination version of the ’80s — the day-glo, the architecturally molded hairdos, the cocaine yacht parties — was already starting to take shape in the waning days of the ’70s, but that whole ’80s aesthetic didn’t take over for years. In most respects, especially on the pop charts, the first few years of the ’80s are pretty much ’70s hangover. That’s especially true of the decade’s first #1 single: One of the defining chart-pop groups of the ’70s pulling off a short-lived last-ditch post-disco reinvention.
There’s no one party that can claim responsibility for the disco boom, but KC & The Sunshine Band were, at the very least, early adapters. Bandleaders Henry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch wrote and produced George McCrae’s 1974 smash “Rock Your Baby,” which I consider to be the first fully intentional disco #1. After that, the Sunshine Band themselves did everything they could to capitalize on the sound of the gay-club underground, scoring four quick-succession #1 hits from 1975 to 1977. For a hot minute — until the Bee Gees came along and kicked them into the sun — KC & The Sunshine Band were the biggest band in disco.
It couldn’t last. The Sunshine Band’s sound was maddeningly simple and repetitive. Their songs were fun, but they were also subtlety-free bulldozers. You don’t carve out a lasting pop career by knocking out subtlety-free bulldozers for years in a row. The Sunshine Band followed up the 1977 #1 “I’m Your Boogie Man” with the relatively limp “Keep It Comin’ Love,” which peaked at #2 later that same year. (“Keep It Comin’ Love” is a 5.) For nearly three years after that, the Sunshine Band got nowhere near the top 10. In 1978, the year disco hit its commercial peak, the Sunshine Band only managed a couple of singles that scraped the lower rungs of the top 40. Other than that, they went hitless. It took a ballad to temporarily bring them back.
“Please Don’t Go,” the first #1 hit of the ’80s, happens to be the first ballad that the Sunshine Band ever recorded. It’s also the last song that the classic version of the band would ever make. The members of the band weren’t getting along by the time they recorded the 1979 album Do You Wanna Go Party. Shortly afterward, Richard Finch, the Sunshine Band bassist who’d co-written and co-produced all the group’s hits with Casey, split bitterly from the group. Casey kept the Sunshine Band name, but he essentially became a solo act. In this Songfacts interview, Finch claims that Casey sounds emotional on “Please Don’t Go” because he knew it was the end of the band.
I don’t have Richard Finch’s ears, but I don’t really think Casey sounds that upset on “Please Don’t Go.” Instead, this seems to me to be a clear case of a band attempting to change course mid-stride. Musically, the album Do You Wanna Go Party is exactly what the title implies: The kind of simplistic uptempo funk that had taken the group to the top a half-decade earlier. “Please Don’t Go,” on the other hand, is a boilerplate breakup song, a generic plea written without any kind of personal detail. To me, it sounds like the band noticing that adult-contempo ballads were suddenly ruling the charts and doing their level best to meet the listening public where they were.
Lyrically, “Please Don’t Go” is about as vague as it gets. Casey starts the song off by simply intoning “I love you” in a bored voice. Then he spends the rest of the song moving between a slightly clumsy falsetto and a chest-out bellow, presenting as a combination poor man’s Al Green and poor man’s Rod Stewart. If you want to read deeply into the lyrics, Casey’s narrator sounds like he’s already resigned to the fact that he’s getting dumped. He doesn’t seem to think that the person in question will stick around, but he wants this person to know that it’s going to be rough on him: “I’m going to miss your love the minute you walk out that door.” But Casey also tries to pull the classy move of letting this person know that the relationship has been a wonderful experience for him: “I was blessed to be loved by someone as wonderful as you.”
But you probably shouldn’t read too much into “Please Don’t Go.” I’m not sure Casey and Finch put too much thought into the song. They had many gifts as songwriters, but nuance was never one of them. I like Casey’s swaggering hook-delivery mechanism of a voice, but it’s not really built to convey regret or bittersweet nostalgia. And the changes that the Sunshine Band make on “Please Don’t Go” are all cosmetic: The slightly slowed-down BPM, the canned strings, the washes of harp.
Still, “Please Don’t Go” works better than it should, mostly because you can hear the Sunshine Band itching to go back to disco as quickly as possible. In its opening moments, “Please Don’t Go” is pretty flat and boring. But the song builds as it goes, adding luxe horns and push-pull rhythms and funky little basslines that continually nudge the song back toward the dancefloor. About halfway through, there’s this little kick-drum/hi-hat shimmy that locks in beautifully, and I can’t even tell if it’s played live or programmed. It gives the song the strut it needs. Maybe a heartbroken love-ballad shouldn’t have any sort of strut to it, but this is the Sunshine Band we’re talking about here. If they aren’t strutting, they’re standing still.
Henry Wayne Casey had one more big hit ballad later in 1980. He duetted with his old high school classmate Teri DeSario on a cover of Barbara Mason’s “Yes I’m Ready,” an R&B love-jam that had peaked at #5 in 1965. (Mason’s original “Yes I’m Ready” is a 4.) Casey produced the cover, but he’s the guest on the song, and DeSario is the lead artist. That DeSario/Casey cover turned out to be bigger than the original, and it peaked at #2 later in the year. (It’s a 3.) This would be Casey’s last top-10 hit in America.
Casey got into a bad car accident in 1982, and he had to spend months relearning how to walk and play piano. In 1983, Casey had an international hit with a dinky dance-pop track called “Give It Up,” which became his first UK #1. But Epic, Casey’s label, declined to release “Give It Up” in the US. Casey split from Epic and released the single on his own label in the US; it peaked at #18. Casey retired from music in the mid-’80s, but he came back in the early ’90s, and he still plays on the nostalgia circuit with a reconstituted Sunshine Band.
Things didn’t turn out so well for the other ’70s Sunshine Band members. Guitarist Jerome Smith did session work for a while, bu then he left music and worked in construction. In 2000, Smith died in a bulldozer accident at the age of 47. Meanwhile, Richard Finch, Casey’s songwriting and production partner for the Sunshine Band’s best years, was convicted of molesting teenage boys in 2010. He served seven years in prison.
So, on that disturbing note, we’re into the ’80s, everybody! Radical!
BONUS BEATS: In 1992, the Italian dance group Double You recorded a house-pop cover of “Please Don’t Go.” The Double You version of the track was a top-10 hit in many European countries. Then, shortly thereafter, the UK trio KWS released their own “Please Don’t Go” cover, which copied the Double You version of the song as closely as possible. This led to a court battle between Double You and KWS. Here’s Double You’s video for their version of “Please Don’t Go”:
And here’s the video for the KWS version:
Despite the whole cover-of-a-cover angle, the KWS version of “Please Don’t Go” turned out to be an even bigger global hit than the Double You one. The KWS “Please Don’t Go” got to #1 in the UK, and it peaked at #6 in the US. (It’s a 5.)
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Backstreet Boys’ 1996 album track “Don’t Leave Me,” which samples “Please Don’t Go”:
(The Backstreet Boys’ highest-charting single, 1996’s “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” peaked at #2. It’s a 6.)