Chart Week: July 22, 1978
Song: “Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
Chart Position: #2, 14th week on the chart. Peaked at #2 for six weeks.

I’ve been wanting to write about this song for ages, and everything finally lined up thanks to an AT40 I caught last week.

“Baker Street” is one of the greatest songs of its time. Or any time for that matter. It is an unforgettable, undeniable, unassailable piece of rock ’n’ roll art. I defy you to listen without cranking it up as loud as is acceptable for your location to revel in its glory.

Sadly, though, it was subject of one of the great screw-jobs in chart history. One that had a direct impact on what Casey Kasem said on two different American Top 40 broadcasts.

Scotsman Gerry Rafferty had six US Top 40 hits in his career; two with the band Stealers Wheel and four as a solo artist. “Baker Street” was, by far, the biggest of those hits. For five weeks in the summer of 1978 it sat at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, stuck behind what would become the #1 song of the entire year, Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing.” However, in late July it looked like Rafferty would sneak past Gibb into the top spot.

In AT40 replays from the 1970s, Casey often gave clues about what the next number one song would be. I always assumed this was because in the ‘70s, AT40 lagged the actual data by a week or two, and he had an idea of what songs would shuffle into what spots in the coming weeks.

The week of July 22, 1978, Casey shared one of these hints in an interesting way. Before playing “Baker Street,” he read a question from a listener asking what country had the most artists with number one hits per capita. He answered Scotland, with four: The Bay City Rollers, The Average White Band, Donovan, and Lulu against a population of about five million. But, Casey suggested, maybe there was about to be a fifth.

When it came time to record the next week’s countdown, Casey indeed worked off a chart that listed “Baker Street” as the number one song in America. He laid down vocals confirming that fact. However, before the show could be mastered and distributed, the chart was adjusted keeping the top two songs as they had been for the previous five weeks. Casey re-recorded the final segment of his show to reflect this correction. A week later “Shadow Dancing” finally fell to number five…but “Baker Street” also fell four notches to number six.

What on earth happened? How can the Billboard numbers change after they’ve already been locked in for the American Top 40 deadline?

The urban legend, and one that seems to have a lot of legs, suggests that Andy Gibb’s management team was responsible. They met with representatives from Billboard to plan for the singer’s appearance on a Billboard-sponsored show. When Gibb’s agents learned that “Shadow Dancing” was about to fall out of the top spot, they strongly inferred that their client would not be making an appearance on the program if his song was no longer number one. Since Gibb was one of the hottest stars in the world at the moment, this sent Billboard scrambling to adjust the count and ensure Gibb’s performance.

Or so people say.

Whether true or not it is a fun theory to speculate about.

So, sure, Andy Gibb kept Gerry Rafferty from earning a number one hit on the Billboard chart. And that sucks. But I guarantee “Baker Street” gets played way more often now than “Shadow Dancing” does, and probably has every year since 1978.[1] So suck that, Andy Gibb (RIP).

By the way, since that question was asked of Casey, four more Scottish acts have topped the Hot 100: Rod Stewart, Sheena Easton, Lewis Capaldi, and Calvin Harris. I would imagine that means Scotland still has the most number one artists per capita of any country. Even with Gerry Rafferty getting screwed.[2]

There is also a controversy about who wrote the incendiary sax line that anchors the song. You can read all about that here. What blew my mind when I read this piece was that Hugh Burns, who plays the roaring guitar solo on “Baker Street,” also played on George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” another song that is built upon a monster sax riff. Crazy coincidence!

Oh, and if you don’t think this song is a 10, you can fuck right off.

(Worth noting that Tom Breihan wrote about “Baker Street” and the various stories behind it as a bonus track for The Number Ones during last year’s Stereogum fundraiser. You can read it here. He only gave it a nine. 🤷‍♂️)

  1. I’m not here to hate: “Shadow Dancing” is a terrific song, too. It’s just not All-World like “Baker Street.”  ↩
  2. I wonder if this experience caused Casey to stop dropping hints about what the next week’s top song would be. In the ‘80s he did far more “What song will be number one next week? Will it be…” and then rattled off two or three contenders without committing to any one song.  ↩