The week of 8 March is, barring one escapist jaunt, truly dreadful; thankfully only seven songs peaked, so we can get this over with and go on to something better.
All the boys are jealous of me
Imagine you’re in a band called Rockets and you’re writing “Desire” (#70). You want it to be a hit really bad; what words immediately jump into your mind? Fire? Higher? Wire? If you came up with all three of those, maybe you should write rock songs, because that’s what Rockets came up with. Once they got done with rhyming the title, they went and rhymed insane and brain; you, do, and view; and street with meet. These are, quite possibly, the most used rhymes in all of popular music. Couple that with the most popular theme in popular music — I’m hot for a girl and all the guys wish they were me — and then put that over the most uninteresting musical riff you can think of, and there you have it, the formula for a top 100 hit. Oh, and pour some sugar on him, too, because that’s not cliché in any way at all.
I’m three quarters home
In a completely different vein, we have a very strong candidate for most unlikely single of 1980,” I Wish I Was Eighteen Again“, which peaked at #49 and garnered George Burns a nomination for best male country vocalist. It’s predictably saccharine-sweet and maybe the backup singers piping in angelic voices are ill-advised, given that George Burns was 84 at the time, but the really inexplicable thing is that I can’t figure out who this single was marketed to. Octogenarians aren’t a major portion of the consumers of new music, and I have trouble imagining younger audiences buying this, except as a grandparents’ day gift. Were this more musically interesting — a swan song for an established country musician, like Slim Whitman (20 years younger than George Burns, true, but his last charting country single was released in 1981) — this would make more sense. But no, instead we have George Burns who probably didn’t realize that for the next 12 years, he was going to end pretty much every appearance of his on any stage, live or recorded, by singing this loping drivel. I can’t explain it — the singles charts are a weird place, and this is a prime piece state’s evidence.
I don’t even mind if we get wet
It’s possible to stretch a metaphor too far, and “Kiss Me in the Rain” by Barbra Streisand (#37) does precisely that. The song is about a woman who has lived through hard, heart-breaking times; she’s singing to a lost love who is back (I guess), and she wants him to rekindle their love in the midst of her shattered life. This is a fine theme for a song, and the metaphor of being kissed in the rain isn’t a bad one… but that “I don’t mind if we get wet” is too literal to be taken seriously. Even if it’s a concrete image — they’re literally talking on her front steps in that warm summer rain, and they’re going to kiss in the downpour — it’s still ridiculous. It makes me imagine her, with her curled locks hanging limp all over her head like a sopping mop, and it’s not flattering, no matter who she’s kissing.
I’ve got to turn my back on you
From Barbra Streisand to Barry Manilow, this was a good week for easy listening adult contemporary, and a bad week for people who dislike abrupt key changes. ‘Cause that’s the main feature of “When I Wanted You” (#20), in which Barry Manilow wheedles about a woman he’s hung up on but has to leave because she doesn’t mean all that much to her. It’s a theme in love songs that deserves to be explored, and really there’s nothing all that wrong with the song itself (well, the utterly boring instrumentation isn’t winning any awards), but Barry doesn’t sound torn between love and dignified, and there’s certainly no anger when he belts out the mouthful of “how does it feel to feel how I used to feel?” No, he sounds like he feels the way he always sounds like he feels: achingly in love. That only works for the first verse of this song; when the revenge steps in, there needs to be more bite, and Barry has the bite of a Chihuahua.
I think Jamaican in the moonlight
Before staycations were a thing, The Dirt Band was singing about them in “An American Dream” (#13). The singer is floating off in his mind behind closed eyes to the point that he can’t even hear Linda Ronstadt (which is hard to do, given her ubiquity on the charts in the early 80s). Without money, you can just close your eyes and travel anywhere you want. This hillbilly wants to go to Jamaica — I just read A Brief History of Seven Killings, and I think he should go to Aruba instead — to relax on the beach and drink oodles of rum. And who can blame him? Maybe Rodney Crowell, who recorded the song first in 1978, but it’s hard to be upset with as straight a cover as this one is. Anyway, as escapist country songs go, this one’s pretty good. It has some clever lyrics, and sounds gentle and pleasant. Next time I staycation, this song is allowed on the soundtrack.
Cheer up, sleepy Jean
Another cover, this time Anne Murray’s cover of “Daydream Believer” (#12), originally by The Monkees. It’s hard to tell exactly what Anne Murray wanted to do with this song, because it’s practically indistinguishable from the original, lacking only the actual emotions The Monkees put into the lyrics. Another too-perfect delivery undermining what is otherwise a rather good song.
I don’t even know how to hold your hand
“Yes, I’m Ready” by Teri DeSario with K.C. (of K.C. & The Sunshine Band) (#2) is also a cover, this time of a 1965 pop standard originally by Barbara Mason. In this case, the cover is an improvement over Mason’s curiously warped vocal styling, bending around notes in a way that is jarringly cacophonous. Don’t get excited for this version, though: it’s the musical equivalent of dry browned toast. It’s pleasant enough for a slow dance early in the evening prom, but it’s unlikely to be the song that anyone remembers falling in love to, or even having a first kiss to. It’s background music that does what background music should do: stay in the background.