9 February 1980 Overview

Eleven songs peaked on 2 February 1980.

Softly we met with a kiss

AerosmithRemember.jpgRemember (Walking in the Sand)” by Aerosmith, a blues-rocking cover of the debut single by the Shangri-Las peaked at #67.  Whereas the original sounds funereal, Aerosmith gave it a sharper bite by wisely dropping the moronic, naively maudlin vocal lead-in and making the chorus something of a rockabilly shuffle. It’s still overdone, but less ridiculous, which succeeds in doing what a cover should do:  reinterpret a song but not to the extent that it’s no longer memorable.  Not my cup of tea, but it serves its purpose.

Share my popcorn and jellybeans

SisterSledgeGottoLove.png After Prince’s genre-defying “I Wanna Be Your Lover” we needed someone to remind us what mainstream disco sounds like, and Sister Sledge does so suitably with “Got to Love Somebody” (#64).  Though it’s straight up disco with the twonky bass, standard brass section, and far more singers than are necessary, Sister Sledge do better than the average disco group in the topics they sing about and the lyrics they use in doing so.  This an empowering song that takes the specifics of loneliness without overselling loneliness as the end of the world– being the only hand in the popcorn box at the movies — and then the change in attitude that, presumably, will fix the situation.  The song isn’t making any promises other than that this girl is going to have fun looking for her next beau at the discos than she was watching rom-coms alone.

You’ve probably been crying forever

RodStewartTalkAboutIt.pngSometimes you have to be careful with YouTube.  I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by Rod Stewart (#46) is a case in point:  he rerecorded it in 1989, and I nearly reviewed the wrong version.  This one is acoustic, and as a result feels a lot earthier, and more sincere, not adjectives I normally associate with Rod.  His trademark gravelly voice works here to make him sound like he’s on the verge of tears, a vulnerability I really appreciate in a good ballad.  And it fits the lyrics:  in consoling an ex who has been hurt in some way, he’s absolving her, hinting strongly that he still loves her, sure, but not wanting to linger an the wrongs she’s done him.  The guitar work is nice, too (though I could have passed on the wonky key change toward the end), so all In all, a pleasant surprise.

Given any day there’s a jet flying somewhere

JonStewartLostHer.pngJohn Stewart is a former member of The Kingston Trio, and given “Lost Her in the Sun” (#34), he must have been the one with the boring voice.  Nevertheless, good songwriting and good delivery overcome vocal failings, and John Stewart delivers on this score.  “Lost Her in the Sun” is an aching ballad about a lost love; he wonders what he’s done that his girl should fly away without letting him know why, and he may never know.  He does know it’s going to hurt forever, like cold wind cutting deep into his soul.  And he knows, whatever it was, it’s his fault he’s lost something wonderful — he’s lost her in the warmth and light of the sun, after all.  Really this song is about as perfect as a two-verse lost love song can get.

Dance with you, romance with you

RufusChakaLoveWhatYouFeel.pngFull disclosure:  I was four years old in 1980, which means that like some of the young ‘uns out there today who are unaware that Sting got his start in a band called The Police, I was unaware that Chaka Khan started out with Rufus (who isn’t actually a person at all, but just the name of the band). They had a string of top-40 soul and disc hits through the 70s, of which “Do You Love What You Feel” (#30) was the final bookend.  Lyrically, it’s nothing special.  Musically, it’s fun, but not doing enough to really be memorable.

“Why Me” by Styx (#26) deserves its own entry.

Well, I wouldn’t stop for a million bucks

HayesDon'tLetGo.pngDon’t Let Go” by Isaac Hayes (#18) is his last hit.  It’s a bit unusual for him in that it doesn’t feature his voice the way you’d expect.  He’s pushed back in the mix, so much so that the jaunty funk guitar seems to get top billing over him.  Don’t get me wrong, this song is infectious; I dare you to listen to this without getting restless legs.  It’s just not a good showcase for Isaac Hayes.  Really, this should be a Grace Jones song (a la “Pull Up to the Bumper“, which fell one spot shy of the Hot 100 in 1981) — she can put the sultry sexiness that a choppy bouncy song needs, whereas Isaac Hayes is just too smooth for this kind of beat.

You’re a different space in time

WarwickDejaVu.pngSpeaking of Isaac Hayes, he’s one of the talents behind “Deja Vu” by Dionne Warwick (#15); he wrote it with Adrienne Anderson, and Barry Manilow produced the whole album.  Perhaps this is why the song sounds like living purple lame.  Listening to it, can’t you just imagine Dionne standing on a stage in, say, Las Vegas, wearing a purple lame gown, dripping in white rhinestones, exhaling this east ditty as a bunch of cigar-chomping businessmen sit around totally ignoring her?  I say ignoring her, because the way she delivers this song is barely substantial; it’s more a well-practiced breathing pattern than a series of words with natural inflection or even meaning.  like so much cigar smoke and twinkling light, it drifts around in the background, greasing social skids but leaving not much of substance in its wake.

In the public eye, giving someone else a try

tom-petty-and-the-heartbreakers-dont-do-me-like-that-1979.jpgDon’t Do Me Like That” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (#10) is another vulnerable rock song, albeit with a bit of a macho twang to it.  Here’s a guy who’s trying hard not to admit he’s in love with the girl he’s seeing, and he’s tryin’ to play it all cool warning her if she strays she’s going to get hurt, just as much as he would.  It’s a fine example of a guy transitioning from the free-wheeling womanizer to the marrying kind.  I’m not sure exactly why this is top ten material, but the competition wasn’t all that strong, as we’ve been seeing. If it sounds a bit on the high-school anthem side, like, oh, “Centerfold by the J. Geils Band, you’re not alone:  Wikipedia tells us that Tom Petty nearly gave this song to J. Geils, thinking it sounded more like their style than his.

All the debutantes in Houston

EaglesLongRun.pngAt #8, we have another loping bit of somnolent rocking from The Eagles, “The Long Run“, which isn’t making me like them any more than I did before.  It’s another rambling litany of related sentences that don’t get much further than establishing that the singer was a cad, and now he’s not, and it’s because he’s in love, and she should treat herself better, too.  If it were a little more drunk it would sound just like “Heartache Tonight“; there may have been room on the charts for them both in 1980, but I certainly don’t have the energy for both.

And finally, “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson spent its last week at #1, and every #1 deserves its own page.

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2 February 1980 Overview

 

OK, so, after quite a lot of thought and a comment by a reader, I’ve decided that the original plan was a bit too ambitious.  So I’m reformatting.  Instead of doing an entire page on each song that hit the Hot 100 in the 80s — an endeavor that could last more than four times as long as the 80s themselves — I’m going to do an overview of each week with a paragraph on each of the lesser songs, and then do a page on each of the more interesting songs.  I’m finding it’s rare that I have more than two paragraphs to say about many of these songs anyway, and I want to get to the more interesting stuff as quickly as possible. Still, I’m going to try to stick to the original format as much as possible, albeit in a condensed form.  The same links to videos, the same headers featuring lyrics from the songs when possible, and the same level of snarkiness.  The only downside is that these overview pages are going to be a bear to construct.  Here’s the first one.

Thirteen songs peaked on 2 February 1980.  The following I’ve already talked about:

So here’s what the rest of the week looked like:

They’re a dozen for a dime

RobertJohnLonelyEyes.pngPeaking at #41, just outside the hit zone, is “Lonely Eyes” by Robert John, who clearly has a thing for eyes, because his previous hit was “Sad Eyes” which made it to #1 in 1979.  “Lonely Eyes” is superficially triumphal, but it’s about a woman who hangs out at bars or discos and slinks from one one-night-stand to another.  The delivery, with its gentle lope and weepy violins, takes up a fitting tone, both danceable and world-weary.  This is the kind of music sung by a singer and played by musicians who have seen too many nights, just like that emotionally isolated woman, driven by habit or need, underappreciated for their talents.  The irony that this song didn’t quite score a hit only underscores the sweet sadness of the song.  This is a pleasant surprise for me.

It was one of those nights

ELOLastTrainThen we have a compelling guitar riff backed by a suitably funky pace, and I think that we may have something special… until I realize it’s the perfectly nonsense “Last Train to London” by The Electric Light Orchestra (#39).  It baffles me how anyone took the grating falsetto vocals (“I really want tonight to last forever!”) that epitomized disco seriously, particularly when they’re delivering totally uninspired lyrics (“I really want to be with you!”).  There are the requisite violin bursts and then what would be an utterly boring keyboard solo if it weren’t for the fact that it’s some sort of broken-glass orchestra noise they’re using, presaging how dance is going to merge with new wave soon.  There’s a last train to London, I’m not sure if he gets on it or stays with the girl he’s singing to, but I am sure I don’t much care.

I’m caring, sharing everything I’ve got

SantanaYouKNowThatILoveYouI somehow missed that Santana put out albums in the 80s, but given how uninspiring “You Know That I Love You” (#35) is, perhaps that’s not surprising.  There’s nothing here to suggest that this is the same musician who made “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman” the epitome of Latin rock.  How did Santana get so… uncool?  This is a lame, uninspired song that isn’t even worthy of being a fifth single off of a Cheap Trick album.  This was the only single off of Santana’s Marathon album, and that’s probably a good thing.

Please can I see you every day

VoicesCheapTrickSpeaking of Cheap Trick, here they are with “Voices” (#32), which is about as close to a stalker song as you can get without actually being a stalker song. I don’t normally like Cheap Trick because they feel sort of superficial and smarmy, making themselves out to be tougher than they are, but really just sounding like a light-weight Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.  On this song it works, though, because the desperation of the protagonist goes well with that mock-tough, mock-sweet tone.  This guy is at one and the same time begging his girl to love him and trying to convince her by stating as fact that she does indeed love him.  Those voices in her ear should be telling her to back away slowly, but until Bon Jovi comes along, these guys and Journey are about the best you were going to get in the arena rock category, so I guess you have to make the most of it.

I like what you like

OJaysForeverMineWe’re not going to hear much from The O’Jays in the 1980s.  Their hey-day was the 60s and 70s, and there’s not going to be much room for the molasses-rich soul vocals they were soaking their records in. This is a shame because even when they’re singing scary lyrics like “don’t you ever think about leaving”, like they do here on “Forever Mine” (#28), they sound so dignified and smooth, like scarlet velvet.  And the passion with which he sings about how she exceeds all the loves he’s had in the past makes you feel it, you know, that she is something special. I don’t know that the singer and the object of his affection are made for each other the way he says, but the song makes you want to think that they are.

I kept the feelings to myself

FoghatThirdTime.pngAnother classic band we’re not going to see much of again is Foghat, whose clumsily titled “Third Time Lucky (First Time I Was a Fool)” hit #23.  I kind of wish they’d go into the details of the three loves this guy is singing about — once bitten, twice shy, third time lucky.  In the lyrics, the first time sounds like he’s a jerk, writing to her that he’d never forget her and now he can’t remember his name.  Maybe being a fool is treating her so badly.  But that doesn’t sound like he’s been bitten, but rather that he was doing the biting.  Whatever, I’m sure she’s fine.  Then the second time he’s too shy to act on his feelings, which is indeed a disaster… unless you’re a stalker like the guy in the Cheap Trick song, in which case maybe it’s better you keep your distance.  I mean, really, this week guys in the charts really come off as jerks:  stalkers, creepy seducers, and this guy who thinks that somehow he’s the victim of two love affairs, one of which didn’t happen and the other of which was his own insensitive fault.

And then there’s “I Want to Be Your Lover” by Prince at #11, which I’ll cover on its own.  And that’s an overview of 2 February 1980.

 

 

 

 

You got to leave this town

JourneyTooLtaeOn 26 January, 1980, “Too Late” by Journey peaked at #90.

I don’t often think critically about Journey, mainly because I’m not convinced there’s much there to be thinking about, and “Too Late” isn’t doing the band much service in changing my opinion.  It was a perfectly competent ballad for the romantic roller skating crowd, and even has a halfway-interesting guitar solo, but the package as a whole just comes off as, well, nondescript.  It’s about someone leaving a small town because there’s too much baggage there.  Who knows where they’re going or why, or what anybody else thinks about it, other than that it’s not too late yet, and hey, that’s a good enough idea for a song if ever there was one.  Never mind that this sort of get-out-of-Dodge running-from-your-past maneuver probably works a lot better in music than it does in real life, in music you don’t have to worry about the consequences, not if you’re just trying to fill out an album with some tracks that will tie together the two big singles.  You see, “Too Late” is the fourth single off of Evolution — their second album that did anything notable on the charts.  We all know how second albums are, and we all know how those later singles off those second albums are, so it would be unrealistic to have many expectations for this song; it’s actually kind of a miracle that this charted at all, even if at only #70.

Most of all, I do love you

commodores-still-motown-3.jpgOn 12 January 1980, “Still” by The Commodores was at #6.  It peaked at #1 in 1979.

Still” by The Commodores is something of a lesson in being wary of what you wish for.  You may have noticed by now that I complain a lot about popular music having only two tempos:  the disco 120 beats per minute dance and the much slower intimate sway.  “Still” is slower still.  This thing is a stripped down slow dance with every dulcet tone waiting just that extra half-beat before emerging from the piano.  I can’t tell if the notes are reluctant or anxious to get into the open air, but either way the effect is curious:  what should be a straight-forward smooth ballad feels like a choppy, lumbering song, almost a dirge.  This is somewhat fitting, given that the song’s about a love turned sour, but by the same token, it’s awkward to listen to.  Right to that last, slightly delayed, almost sickeningly moist “still” I get goose bumps, and not the oh-this-is-so-sexy kind, more like the this-falls-in-the-uncanny-valley kind.  So, I’ll pass on this one; I’m not offended by it, but it feels creepy listening to it.

In my lifetime I’ve had one dream come true

PleaseDontGoPlease Don’t GoOn 5 January 1980, “Please Don’t Go by K.C. and the Sunshine Band peaked at #1. 

Who knew that K. C. and the Sunshine Band didn’t just spout out fodder for wedding reception dances?  After listening to “Please Don’t Go”, I kind of wish that’s all there was to them.  When K. C. belts out dance albums, he at least sounds authoritative, or energetic, or something that makes all the bachelorettes jump up and stumble to the dance floor.  When he’s singing a lovelorn ballad like this, he sounds ridiculously nasal and impossibly earnest, a bit like a ferret whining to be let out of its cage.  K. C. does the usual rationalizing with the departing woman of his dreams, first telling her not to go, then saying that even is she does leave, he’s lucky to have had her love him, and then resorting to begging her (damn her deaf ears, can’t you hear him?) to not leave.  And musically it’s a lot of dreamy wispy nothing until toward the very end, they turn up the mike on the bass guitar so you can hear it thumping like… what exactly?  Her cold heart as she walks out the door?  We don’t have much time to think about that, because then K. C. does a really pathetic voiceover, and it’s over.  Really we’ve heard this all before, and we’ll hear more or less the same on any given day on the charts, only perhaps not as haplessly as this.  And yet, this hit #1.  What a way to end the first week of 1980.

I’ll need your love to see me through

StyxBabe.pngOn 5 January 1980, “Babeby Styx was at #6, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #1 in 1979. 

I’m torn on Styx.  On the one hand, superficially they’re the kind of soft rock band I generally dislike, wall watered down and weak, a perfect candidate for the love theme or end credit to a heartfelt light drama of some sort.  But there are Styx songs I like.  As for “Babe“… I’m torn.  It starts out like something from the Barry Manilow catalogue, with a dribbly keyboard intro and oh-so-sincere vocals.  And the lyrics really aren’t anything special; it’s the standard going-away-I’ll-miss-you song.  There’s a little bit of magic in “Babe” though, in the little keyboard riff that comes with the end of the chorus (first at 1:51) that’s got a good combination of anticipation and yearning in how it doesn’t quite resolve without the singer’s voice.  So, my verdict on “Babe” is that it’s tolerable; I can understand how it got to #1 (Styx’s only #1), but it’s not showing up on any playlist I put together.