You came up on me like a landslide

RaittOn 12 January 1980, “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming by Bonnie Raitt peaked at #73. 

I suppose that “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming” is intended to be a rip-roaring road-trip anthem, something along the lines of “Born to Be Wild“, but I’m just not feeling it.  Don’t get me wrong — the lyrics are clever:  There’s something simultaneously smart and racy about a line like “In all this heat it’s a job keepin’ cool, and I could fry an egg on you” that makes you know you’re listening to something more than your usual radio-fodder.  But when Bonnie Raitt sings that she had a Thunderbird outside that she wants to light, the way she does sounds more like she’s got something smoother and tamer, like, I don’t know… a silver Honda Accord.  I can’t really blame her though; the song was written and recorded a year earlier by  Robert Palmer, and that version is even less rocking than this one.  I don’t know if the song’s just not rugged enough to really rise to its aspirations or if Robert and Bonnie aren’t the right singers to be growling about frying eggs on their navigator’s abs, but either way, this song falls a bit flat.

We can’t rewind; we’ve gone too far

BugglesOn 12 January 1980, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was at #83. It peaked on December 15, 1979 at #40. 

Imagine yourself as someone like Bobby Darin, who was a regular feature on the popular charts in the 50s and 60s . Imagine standing in an old radio studio, sifting through a bunch of old singles tucked away in their warehouse, perhaps not yours but those of your contemporaries:  Perry Como, Dion, Freddy Canon, Sonny James.  And imagine a young, curly-haired geek of a guy comes up to you and says, “Hey, I remember listening to your stuff when I was a kid!  I love the bassline from that one single, you know the one that soul group turned into a synthesizer riff for their newest single.  I’ve always wondered what you think of how the music industry has changed.  Well, what do you think?”

What would you say?

At least for me, I imagine I’d say something along these lines:  “Everything’s changed; I’m glad I had my time and it was great while it lasted, but time moved on and there’s so much new, who knows if I could have been who I was — who I am  — seeing how it works today.”

That’s the story told by “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.  It’s not triumphant, nor is it sad.  It’s wistful, glad for the time spent lying awake intent at night listening to the disembodies voices singing on the radio, but also accepting that now, thanks to video tape recording, those voices aren’t disembodied any longer, and what a performer looks like, what he or she does in front of a camera is as important as what they croon into the microphone.

This was perhaps not a novel thought; after all ever musician wanted to get a spot on Ed Sullivan or The Tonight Show so that America’s eager public could see as well as hear them.  But if just being on TV were the be-all and end-all of attracting an audience in the video age, then The Buggles wouldn’t be in their video dressed in silver lame, or backed by dancing-singing robotic sci-fi women, and they certainly wouldn’t have a little girl in a red jumper looking forlorn as she climbs up a playground slide.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” is a rare single that captures a pivot point in social history, talks about it intelligently, even poetically, without being either condemnatory or triumphant.  Trevor Horn, that curly-haired geek of a guy, came along and told us that music had just changed, and for better or for worse, there’s no going back.  It didn’t predict MTv really — even though MTv would take another two years to air, music video programs had started popping up in the UK and the US in the late 70s — but it did predict that musicians were going to have to do something more than dress sharply and swivel their pelvises to get popular traction.  Pictures had come to break hearts and it was a phenomenon that couldn’t be undone.

Is someone at MTv headquarters sitting in the abandoned set of Yo MTv Raps lamenting how the internet killed the video star?  MTv did a lot to kill itself off, by abandoning its video show format and investing in comedy shows and reality programs. But, until the rise of internet streaming and the ubiquity of the mp3, someone at MTv or VH1 could have hit rewind; they even tried with  spin-off stations that, sadly, became as inundated with non-video content as their parent stations.  Now, there’s no going back; the mp3 killed the video show, and that’s how it will be, at least until the next ground-breaking technology comes along.

You’ve got a lot of class, and you can kiss my lips

CuginiOn 12 January 1980, “Let Me Sleep Alone by Cugini peaked at #88. 

I have a soft spot for songs that have a good sense of humor; they can be in any genre — rap, country, madrigals — if they sell a good joke well, I’ll probably like it.  “Let Me Sleep Alone” is a disco song that does this.  Before yesterday, I’d never heard this song before, nor had I heard of Cugini, but now I can’t get it, or the crazed-Rod-Stewart vocals, out of my head.  Dude meets a foxy lady, they go to Studio 54, and even though she clearly wants to get into his stuffed skin-tight polyester bell-bottom leisure suit, he’s having none of it.  He wants to dance and go home alone.  It’s a refreshing departure from all of those other disco songs told from the point of view of the prospective pants-diver.  This guy’s just into the music.  And the brazen false rhyme that makes for the humor — you can kiss my lips, indeed — is adorable.  Frankly, I’m just thrilled this song isn’t what I feared it was going to be:  a ballad about a guy whose girl dumped him and he wants the bittersweet memories to let him sleep at night.  Anyway, in case you think the humor in this song is unintended, look at that album cover:  the B-side is called “You Give Good Boogie”; this man has a good sense of humor, and I rest my case.

I can’t find anything easily on the internet about Cugini (isn’t that the name for clam-shell-shaped pasta?) and really I don’t need to; there’s no reason for me to believe that this guy is more than a one-off.  I’m content with knowing that “Let Me Sleep Alone” exists and smiling to myself whenever someone is describes as having “a lot of class.”


Herb Alpert RiseOn 12 January 1980, “Rise by Herb Alpert was at #94, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #1 in 1979. 

So, crazy random trivia about Herb Alpert.  He’s the A in A&M records!  Who knew?  Well… obviously he did, but you know what I mean.  He also did the theme song to the original Casino Royale, the first unofficial James Bond movie, and his wife, Lani Hall, performed the theme song to Never Say Never Again, the other unofficial James Bond movie.  He’s also the only artist to have hit number one on the Billboard charts with a vocal performance and an instrumental.  The vocal was “This Guy’s in Love with You” from 1968 and the instrumental is this entry’s topic, “Rise“.

How “Rise” got to be a hit is bizarre in of itself.  Lest you think I watch soap operas, I’ll tell you that this is what Wikipedia says:  “Rise” was the background music used on General Hospital when Luke Spencer raped Laura Webber.  Wait, you say, didn’t Luke marry Laura?!  Everyone knew that!  It was on the cover of People magazine!  Well, they got married later; when Luke raped Laura, he was drunk, and there was mob activity involved, and… well it’s complicated.  And sure it may not be the best of examples to have a daytime soap heroine marry her rapist, but at least he wasn’t Scorpio!  Now he was a cad!  Anyway, back to “Rise”:  this song was played repeatedly on General Hospital, whenever Laura was remembering the rape, so people got really used to hearing it, and it climbed up the charts, never mind that it was essentially a theme song for date rape.

Musically… eh, it’s pretty harmless.  As easy listening goes, it’s ok:  it’s not adventurous, but it’s not bad.

Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?

TuskOn 12 January 1980, “Tusk by Fleetwood Mac was at #97, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #8 in 1979. 

So, all that complaining I’ve been doing about how all the music of the late 70s is the same?  I’m going to stop right here, because the music gods have brought us Fleetwood Mac, and Fleetwood Mac have brought us “Tusk“, a tribal anthem that’s just, well, downright weird.  And I love it. It’s got a chugging beat drifting in over a swirl of murmurs; it’s got half-whispered, half-mumbled voices of paranoia menacing us with “Don’t tell me you love me!” from the depths of an audio mist; it builds and builds and the voices shriek “TUSK!”, the brass section underscores the screaming howling in the background; it breaks down in a clamor of drumbeats and builds again and fades out like an army of witches and ghouls into an October night… How did this ever get on the radio?  Why did the DJs decide to play it enough to get it into the top 10 (number 8!)?  The only reason I can think of is that Fleetwood Mac simply could do no wrong; whatever they put out would get airplay.  Frankly, I’m happy it did, and wish classic rock stations today would continue to play “Tusk”, because I’m tired of hearing “Rhiannon.”

Good luck finding anything like this on the radio today.  The only thing I can think of off-hand in the past few years is “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, a brooding menace of darkness that while not musically similar is at least emotionally similar.  It managed to get to #3 in 2010.


Turn up the old Victrola

220px-Dim_All_The_Lights_(Holland)On 12 January 1980, “Dim All the Lights by Donna Summer was at #98, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #2 in 1979. 

What’s with all the filling women up like cups?  We had Crystal Gayle’s “Half the Way“, and now Donna Summer’s “Dim All the Lights“, which uses the same vaguely pornographic metaphor for loving someone to their fullest.  Apart from that, and Donna’s ability to hold notes for longer than most, I really don’t have much to say about this song; at surface it’s your standard disco song, if slightly better than average.

So instead I’ll talk a bit about Giorgio Moroder.  You may not know who he is, but you’ve undoubtedly heard his work numerous times:  he’s a legendary producer of disco and new wave singles, and I have a love-hate respect for him.  I hate him for the disco.  He imported to the US the horrible, most obnoxious traits of European disco:  jaunty, gallop beats, overuse of dramatic key changes, and a blinkered devotion to happy major key compositions even when the lyrics of a song are downbeat or angry, yet with no sense of irony.  Actually, lack of irony is perhaps Moroder’s greatest sin; everything he does is to be taken at simple face value.  When it was disco — particularly with Donna Summer — it was generally bland and uninteresting.  But when he got to playing around with synthesizers — it would be too generous to say he pioneered with them — he found a lush sound sometimes dipped into darker territory.  Sure, he still secreted brainless singles like “Together in Electric Dreams” (with Phil Oakey of The Human League), but he also had the brilliant Midnight Express soundtrack, which included the dark, urgent, and entirely synthesized  “The Chase“.  He produced the soundtracks to Scarface (complete with a single with Debbie Harry) and Cat People (complete with a single with David Bowie), he worked with Berlin and Kenny Loggins on singles from the Top Gun soundtrack,  and every kid of the 80s knows the title song to The NeverEnding Story:  That’s Giorgio Moroder working with Limahl of Kajagoogoo fame.  Not everything he did was gold (I hate the NeverEnding Story theme song, and his reworking of the silent film Metropolis to have an all top-40 new wave soundtrack was predictably unironic to say the least), and he’s certainly not as challenging as Cabaret Voltaire in his use of synthesizers, but he certainly left an indelible mark on the early 80s and left the place rather more interesting than when he found it.