So… what just happened?

My last post was the first of the “Meanwhile…” series, in which I admit I give up on top 40 radio and highlight a band that NEVER had a single in the Hot 100.  The reason is simple:  there was a lot of good music in the 80s that didn’t get proper attention at the time and may still be languishing in obscurity.  And, frankly, it’s kind of surprising to realize that a lot of those great singles that populate 80s compilations albums, or those incredibly important genre-defining performers never actually had a hit, or even something approaching a hit.  There won’t be a lot of Meanwhile, because too many would defeat the purpose of the blog, but I’ll do them occasionally to show my admiration for and express my rage about what we weren’t listening to in the 80s.

Meanwhile… Motorhead

Ace_of_Spades_(song)While Americans were listening to all this disco, all the young dudes in the UK drove Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” all the way to number 15. Admittedly, it happened much later in 1980 than this post suggests — it was released in October, whereas I’m mentioning it in the context of the songs that were popular in January — but I can’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it now because Lemmy just died.

I will freely admit I’m not a Motorhead fan, or even a fan of heavy metal in general.  And I will freely admit that I’d never heard “Ace of Spades” before yesterday.  I always figured that it was one of those songs (like most of AC/DC’s output) that I’d heard somewhere ambiently, but no, listening to it now, I realize I’ve never heard it before.

I know this because even though I don’t actually like it, I can tell it’s crazy awesome and I’d remember it if I’d heard it.  It’s alive and fierce, rambunctious and driving, not merely loud the way so much of glam was (I’m giving a scornful stare at Kiss here). These guys, who along with Blue Oyster Cult pioneered the use of the heavy metal umlaut, were pioneering the hardening of rock, bringing punk and country rock into the mix to make something groundbreaking.  Listening to “Ace of Spades” I’m hearing little bits of lots of things to come, from Metallica to The Clash to Ween.  Yes, Ween; specifically “Gonna Be a Long Night“.

And the lyrics of “Ace of Spades” are filled to bursting with the kind of stuff American audiences think they like but don’t actually like.  This is a hard-scrabble country song reimagined, putting people like Kenny Rogers to shame.  This is a song about cowboys gambling, betting everything they have on a poker hand, because they know that without luck they’re nothing and they’re resigned to that.  Lemmy sings that he doesn’t want to live forever, and he didn’t, but he was that joker he didn’t want us to forget; the world of music is the richer for him.

 

We won’t waste another tear

nomoretearsOn 5 January 1980, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” by Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer was at #21, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #1 in 1979. 

Oh, God, it’s disco.  I mean, when it starts, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” sounds like the standard, schmaltzy Barbra Streisand duet, complete with the corny old-timey reference to an earlier decade (“it’s raining, it’s pouring”, if I’m not puking, I’m snoring).  Admittedly the second voice is Donna Summer, and I suppose that should have been a hint… but it goes on for one minute and forty-five seconds like that.  Can you blame me for thinking — hoping — that it was just going to be a ballad?

But no, when Barbra goes into that long, limpid note, there’s the buh-dump of the kick-drum, and the blood turns to ice in your veins because the disco starts to flow in all its clichéd glory.  It tried to outdo “I Will Survive” as a female-empowerment anthem by having not one but two divas screaming about how horrible the men in their lives are.  I won’t go into the awfulness that this stereo assault of colorless dance slop is — you can hear it for yourself — but I will ask this one question:

When am I supposed to listen to this song?

It’s clearly a dance song, but its introduction is so long and lugubrious that you really can’t play it at a club; no club music can possibly lead into it in any reasonable manner.  It’s perhaps reasonable to expect it to be played at weddings as a transition from slow songs to fast songs, assuming perhaps that the DJ forgot his copy of “Don’t Leave Me This Way“, but is this really a song you want to play at a wedding?  It’s all about kicking that no-good two-timing man out of your life, not marrying him.  The start of the song makes it sound like waiting-room fodder, but then the song’s ample disco body is far too fast for the podiatrist crowd.  It could easily be the song for the end credits of a movie, but it wasn’t that, at least not until k. d. lang and Andy Bell covered it for *shudder* the Coneheads movie, and they perhaps wisely took all the disco out of it.  I’m trying to imagine the traditional Barbra Streisand fan listening to this on an album; after all the usual crooning, this would come as quite the shock.  It’s far more suited to sit alongside the rest of Donna Summer’s work; it probably goes very well with the rather good “Hot Stuff“.  If you look at the Wikipedia page for “Enough Is Enough”, sure enough, Donna Summer performed it live all the time, whereas Barbara only did as a tribute to Donna after she died, and then only a bit of it.  Which leaves radio, which is the perfect format for a song like this, a song so schizophrenic that it can only exist sandwiched between two bouts of a vinyl jock chattering about how great the track is, or maybe between the weather and the traffic report.  And radio’s all that matters for the Hot 100, kids.

As an aside, my thanks to the music gods for the single format; the version of this song that was released on Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits album is eleven minutes long.  Enough is enough!  I’m stopping at 4:48!

Who’s to blame if you’re not around?

TakeTheLongWayHome.pngOn 5 January 1980, “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp was at #26, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #10 in 1979. 

Youtube does not have a video of “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp.  I assume this is for copyright purposes, but I still think it’s a crime — and a serious one — because this song is one of the absolute best of the waning days of 1979.  So, here are the lyrics; I think posting them is fair use, because I’m going to talk about them at length.  Anyway, you should go download the song at Amazon.com, because you need to hear this song if you aren’t familiar with it, and if you are familiar with it and don’t have a copy of it, you need to rectify that situation, pronto.

So you think you’re a Romeo
Playing a part in a picture show
Take the long way home
Take the long way home

‘Cos you’re the joke of the neighborhood
Why should you care if you’re feeling good?
Take the long way home
Take the long way home

But there are times that you feel you’re part of the scenery
Oh, all the greenery is comin’ down, boy
And then your wife seems to think you’re part of the furniture
Oh, it’s peculiar, she used to be so nice

When lonely days turn to lonely nights
You take a trip to the city lights
And take the long way home
Take the long way home

You never see what you want to see
Forever playing to the gallery
You take the long way home
Take the long way home

And when you’re up on the stage, it’s so unbelievable
Oh, unforgettable, how they adore you
But then your wife seems to think you’re losing your sanity
Oh, calamity, is there no way out?
Oh, yeah

Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy
And when you look through the years
And see what you could have been
Oh, what might have been
If you’d had more time

So, when the day comes to settle down
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
You took the long way home
You took the long way home
You took the long way home
(Tu, ru, ru, yea)
You took the long way home

You took the long way home
(Oh yeah)
You took the long way home
You took the long way home
(Ooo yeah)
You took the long way home

I suppose it takes a performer to write a song about the shallowness of the lifestyle of a performer, and for some reason, the 70s seemed to be full of the angst of performers feeling shallow inside.  Everyone from Kate Bush (“Wow“) to Frank Zappa (200 Motels) were writing about it around the same time, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of many examples from the following decade.

Regardless, I don’t know that anyone did it as heartrendingly (or popularly) as Supertramp did in “Take the Long Way Home”.  Lyrics like  “you’re the joke of the neighborhood, Why should you care if you’re feeling good?” cut through the fat that sentimentality lards onto actors and musicians whose job it is to entertain others.  We, as listeners, delude ourselves into thinking that someone who can make others feel such profound emotions — elation, humor, depression, wrath — must have no emotions himself, or at least is in full command of them.  Perhaps this delusion extends to the performers themselves — this song paints one performer who is so deluded, thinking that a person who can make others laugh, forever playing to the gallery, can’t possibly be sad and needn’t play to himself.  I don’t think anyone’s surprised to learn of a psychiatrist who is himself deeply mentally disturbed; why should we imagine that a person whose job it is to delve into others’ emotions can’t have emotional problems, when we freely believe that someone whose job it is to delve into people’s psychological problems can have his own psychological problems?

I don’t want to suggest that all performers are basket-cases waiting to melt down.  Obviously that’s not the case.  And really, this song doesn’t need to be about actors and musicians; they’re just the most visible when their lives melt down, when they’re trying to convince us and themselves that they’re winning, when in reality, they’re trying to forestall their personal implosion with whatever it is they fuel it with.  The silent melting down are all around us, and sometimes it’s hard to see them, because they’ve become part of the scenery, but they’re there.  And when the rest of us have settled down, they won’t be around.  They took the long way home, and for their sakes, one can hope they’re still on their way.