5 Top-40 Hits Argent Vocalist Russ Ballard Wrote for Other Artists

As a rock and roll frontman, Russ Ballard had one shining moment. He sang lead on Argent’s lone hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “Hold Your Head Up.” The track from Argent’s 1972 album All Together Now became an AOR classic and Top 40 staple, going to No. 5. Ballard would only remain with Argent for two more albums, departing the group in 1974.

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This would mark a new beginning rather than the end of Ballard’s career as a songwriter. (Ironically, Rod Argent and Chris White, not Ballard, wrote “Hold Your Head Up.”) The English singer and multi-instrumentalist would go on to write songs for dozens of artists. He penned one of the biggest hits of 1979, “New York Groove” by KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, which was first recorded by the English band Hello in 1975. Ballard even scored a few minor hits from his own solo albums, namely “On the Rebound,” “Voices,” and “The Fire Still Burns.”

Aside from “New York Groove,” the following five songs are probably the best-known Ballard compositions that were made famous by other artists. Each of them spent time on the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, and two of them made it into the Top 10.

“Liar,” Three Dog Night

“Liar” was initially recorded by Argent for their 1970 self-titled debut album, and it was the first single the band ever released. While Argent’s original version did not chart, Three Dog Night had far more success with the song. As the third single from their Naturally album and the follow-up to their No. 1 signature song, “Joy to the World,” “Liar” topped out at No. 7 on the Hot 100.

“Liar” is one of two Top 10 hits by Three Dog Night to feature Danny Hutton on lead vocals—the other being the No. 1 smash “Black and White.” Hutton is the only founding member of Three Dog Night who is a current part of the band’s lineup. During the band’s late ‘70s hiatus, he became a band manager, and one of his clients was the Los Angeles punk band Fear. 

“Winning,” Santana

Santana was actually the fourth artist to record this Ballard tune, but they were the first to make it a chart hit. Ballard recorded it as the title track for his 1976 album, and former Labelle vocalist Nona Hendryx covered “Winning” a year later for her debut solo album. In 1980, Swedish musician and actor Björn Skifs, recording under the name Zkiffz, made “Winning” the leadoff track for his album, also called Zkiffz.

However, most listeners hadn’t heard “Winning” until Santana released it as the third single from their 1981 album Zebop! In addition to being the only one of the album’s five singles to reach the Top 40 at No. 17, it was Santana’s highest-charting song since “Everybody’s Everything” went to No. 12 in 1971.

“So You Win Again,” Hot Chocolate

Winning and losing was also the theme of another Ballard hit. Before releasing “So You Win Again,” Hot Chocolate had charted with 15 singles in their native UK, but none had topped the singles chart—not even their biggest U.S. hit, “You Sexy Thing.” “So You Win Again” broke the streak, spending three weeks at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. It also went to No. 31 on the Hot 100. While it was the lead single from their 1978 album Every 1’s a Winner, the title track was a much bigger hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 6.

“You Can Do Magic,” America

Capitol Records A&R Vice President Rupert Perry asked Ballard to write “You Can Do Magic” for America, and it turned out to be a major comeback hit for the soft-rock group. Neither of their two albums that preceded View from the GroundSilent Letter (1979) and Alibi (1980)—made it into the upper half of the Billboard 200, and neither album contained a Hot 100 single. By reaching No. 8, “You Can Do Magic” gave America their first Top 10 single since “Sister Golden Hair” topped the chart in 1975.

Ballard didn’t merely write “You Can Do Magic.” He also produced the track and played every instrument other than drums, though he left the lead vocals to Gerry Beckley. He also performed all of those duties for “Jody,” another track from View from the Ground.

“I Know There’s Something Going On,” Frida

Ballard had to compete to get one of his most popular songs onto an album. Upon soliciting songs for her first English-language solo effort outside of ABBA, Frida received approximately 500 submissions. Not only did “I Know There’s Something Going On” make the cut, but it was the lead single from her album Something’s Going On (1982), and it went to No. 13.

If you’re wondering what “I Know There’s Something Going On” would have sounded like as a Ballard original, you can now find out. He posted his own version of the song on his YouTube channel in 2022. Just the absence of Phil Collins’ gated drums alone gives it an entirely different feel.

This wasn’t the only song Ballard wrote for a member of ABBA. He composed “Can’t Shake Loose” for Agnetha Fältskog’s 1983 album Wrap Your Arms Around Me. As the album’s third single, it topped out at No. 29 on the Hot 100.

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Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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