I need a lover’s vacation

MistressOn 5 January 1980, “Mistrusted Love” by Mistress was at #49, its highest position in the 80s.  So far as I can tell, that was its peak overall.

There’s not much on the Internet about Mistress.  Well, there might be, but I’m not going to chance the questionable content of sites Google will return for a search of “Mistress”, so I’ll just tell you what I can glean from the comments section of the Youtube video for “Mistrusted Love“.  Mistress was a hard-working band in the San Francisco Bay area who hobnobbed with the likes of The Doobie Brothers and Huey Lewis & The News; they got to tour the country a few times, they released a few albums, and had some promise and this one single that nearly made it to the top 40, but for whatever reason they didn’t catch on.  This is a shame, because “Mistrusted Love” is actually a pretty good track; I prefer it to the output of similar bands occupying the musical space between rock and easy listening.

Maybe part of the allure for me is the thrill of discovery; I’ve never heard this song and probably never would have had I not decided to do this project.  But I think the greater part is that it really achieves what it sets out to do.  The song is about a guy who is lamenting having gotten involved with a woman he shouldn’t have; she even warned him that she was no good.  His emotions are really complicated as a result.  His voice aches with both love and remorse, and it’s pretty clear that he both regrets and thrives on his misplaced love, and as a result he’s hollow and frustrated, so much so that he’s left stamping his feet on the ground in futility.  And the song sounds like that mix of emotions; the twangy guitar is both taut and nervous, the beat moves forward tentatively and then rests reluctantly.  At least in this song, Mistress pretty much hit the tone they needed, not bombastic, not too quiet, not full-on angst, not fully despondent.  This is the first artist in this project that I actually want to know more about and may probably pursue; here’s hoping that there’s more Mistress out there than there was on the Billboard charts.

We only read you when you write

ShipsOn 5 January 1980, “Ships” by Barry Manilow was at #64, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #9 in 1979. 

Because he’s been the target of so many jokes, it’s hard to talk about Barry Manilow without any prejudice, but really listening to “Ships” doesn’t do much to dispel those prejudices either.  It’s all the overwrought drama that you come to expect from him.  The lyrics at least try to be interesting.  Instead of the broken-hearted love song you might brace for when that forlorn trumpet pulses over the gentle piano, it’s a lament at the emotional gap that develops between parents and their adult children, drawing a comparison to ships passing in the night.  I’m not sure the simile works — ships in the night don’t really have any reason to care much about each other, whereas family members really should. Ships in the night certainly don’t “smile and say it’s all right” when they communicate their positions over the radio.

So, instead of going on any more because I really can’t get any traction on this song mentally or emotionally, I’ll pass on one of those Barry Manilow jokes:  Here’s “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow” by Ray Stevens, whose ficus plant has lost its will to live.

“Ships” was written and originally performed by Ian Hunter, in a similarly slow, sappy, and lugubrious manner, albeit in a raspier voice and with some backup singers. I’m not sure that Manilow did any damage to it, but he sure didn’t improve on it.

All my friends say I’ll survive

Broken Hearted MeOn 5 January 1980, “Broken Hearted Me” by Anne Murray was at #82, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #12 in 1979. 

There’s only so much pain you can feel at the supermarket.  These days you can hear pretty much anything over the loudspeakers while you’re comparing the merits of various brands of tomato sauce; I’ve heard “Forget You“, which I think is pretty edgy for Safeway, for instance.  Back in 1980, you couldn’t tell off your ex in so direct a manner, at least not at the supermarket, or in your dentist’s waiting room, or even at a garage while paying for your oil change.  For civil but effective send-offs, you needed something like Anne Murray’s “Broken Hearted Me“.

Anne tells her ex how ruined her life is since he left.  She tells us about how she goes through the motions of her days, playing the game of being a normal person, dating people whose names she can’t even remember, and being reassured by everyone that she’s not a damaged person, that she’ll survive.  But she knows, and we know because of faint quiver in her voice, that it’s not true, that she’s never going to be the same person.

Really, I shouldn’t like this song.  It sounds exactly like the watered down, overly-sentimental mass-market music I despise out of most artists.  Sure, Anne Murray’s voice is sweet and more emotional than most, but on the whole this song should be forgettable.

But there is magic in this song (if anything you could hear at the orthodontist’s in 1980 could have magic).  The magic is in the lyrics.  Anne Murray does her gosh-darnedest (because no words stronger than that could cross the lips of someone as angelic as Anne Murray, I mean, look at that hair!) to make her ex feel bad about how bad she feels.  She could have said, “When you hear this song, I hope you’ll see that everything worth having was me.”  But she won’t say that; instead, she says that she hopes he’ll see that “Time won’t heal a broken hearted me.”  She’s bitter and she’s going to bare her scars for everyone to see and hear as they put their Ragu in the cart humming gently to themselves.

For what it’s worth, this is actually a cover; the original was released in 1978 by England Dan and John Ford Coley.  Apart from it being sung by a man and backed by a slightly more dramatic arrangement, it’s essentially the same song.  Anne’s voice is better suited to the material, though; she’s more vulnerable and less whiny, and this is a song that shouldn’t be served up whiny.

The Internet has failed me

On 5 January 1980, “I Still Have Dreams” by Richie Furay was at #87. 

The Internet has failed me.  I’m not sure how this has happened, but despite all the resources available on the Internet, I can’t find a copy of “I Still Have Dreams” by Richie Furay.  It’s not on Youtube, there isn’t an article about it on Wikipedia, and copies of the cd cost upward of $50, which is more than I’m willing to spend for one blog entry.  Somehow the Internet passed this song by; I can find songs by obscure German goth bands (like “All That I Wanted” by Belfegore), and I can find music by Ricky Gervaise before he was Ricky Gervaise (“Bitter Heart” by Seona Dancing), but I can’t find a minor hit by the guy who did “Ooh Ooh Child”.  What has the world come to?

It makes me feel like it’s 1994 again.  In 1994, the Internet was an information wild west:  all sorts of things were out there, but all sorts of things weren’t out there and when you went out in search of information, you never knew what you would find, if you would find anything at all.  Downloading music was taking life into your own hands:  you’d go to a file sharing site, and if you were lucky there was something — anything — you found interesting, and then you had to hope that whatever it was wouldn’t destroy your computer.  There was the thrill of discovery and the tense anticipation as you listened to the whole track to find that it wasn’t corrupted or wasn’t some horrible remix.  Now, most any song is available from Amazon for $0.89 to $1.99 (though not quite everything; I keep a list of songs I can’t find, “Bitter Heart” by Seona Dancing included).  Of course being able to find nearly anything legally is a good thing — it’s true of books and other media as well as music — but the thrill of the hunt is gone.  So now, when I want/need to find a minor hit and it’s not available, I don’t take it as a challenge any more.  Instead, I shrug my shoulders and move on to the next track.  Some of the romance of the Internet is dead.

Caught between a lover or two

LovePainsYvonneEllimanSingleCoverOn 5 January 1980, “Love Pains” by Yvonne Elliman was at #88, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #34 in 1979. 

Love Pains” is our first disco song, so this is as good a place to talk about disco as any.

I hate disco.  I mean, there are individual disco songs I don’t mind, but as a genre, disco is really close to unbearable for me.  It’s totally predictable, with its obvious 4/4, 120 beat per minute time signature, with its gleeful major chord optimism (even when the song is about horrible things or people), with its violin string section there to play accent bursts, with its kick-drum and sync-sync-syncopated rhythm.  It’s music that tells you to stop thinking; unlike easy listening, it demands your attention and won’t let you think about anything else, but really doesn’t offer you much of interest to think about.  It’s the five year-old constantly tugging at your pant leg, asking why why why when you’re trying to cook and/or clean and/or talk to the bank on the phone.

“Oh, it’s just dance music,” you say.  “Dance music doesn’t always have to be deep and meaningful.”  And I agree.  There’s a lot of moronic dance music out there that I like, but it’s generally dance music that at least sounds different from other dance music.  To me, disco all sounds the same, and given how easy it is to assemble superdancemixes of disco tracks that all run into each other, I can only conclude that disco is designed that way.  You’re supposed to dance to it and not notice that the song has changed; you just keep dancing blithely to the 4/4 kick drum.

So now let’s talk briefly about “Love Pains”.  It’s got the kick drum, the violins, the obvious dramatic key change for the last chorus, all the hallmarks of disco.  And the lyrics!  She’s singing about how she’s going to leave her lover during the night to run off with some other guy she hardly knows, but she hesitates.  She’s torn.  Torn between a lover or two.   A lover or two?  How does that make any sense?  You can’t be caught between one lover, so it has to be two… unless one of them isn’t a lover, but that doesn’t fix the grammar problem, and my brain can’t tolerate it.  I’d have kicked her out months ago.