Overview of 5 April 1980

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog, and for that I apologize — life took some wicked turns, but now I’m back to 1980…

Suddenly it went astray

jackie-deshannon-i-dont-need-you-anymore-rca.jpgI’ve never seen the film Together? and based on the lead single from the soundtrack — “I Don’t Need You Anymore” recorded by Jackie DeShannon and co-written by no less than Burt Bacharach and Paul Anka (#86) — I don’t feel like I need to.  The syrupy delivery of run-of-the-mill break-up lyrics slicked over treacly instrumentation, complete with plaintive, but unimpressive, harmonica, simply mumbles, “really, don’t listen.”  It’s a shame, because the big reveal at the end (spoiler alert) “Except I don’t think it’s really true” gets drowned out in all the bathos.  That last line really needs much more emotion than Jackie DeShannon is delivering.

This funky kind of music just makes you want to move

Vaughan Bounce Roll.pngSo, apparently “skate disco” was a thing, and if you were skate-discoing in early 1980, you were almost certainly doing so to “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll Pt. 1” by Vaughan Mason & Crew (#81).  I was too young to skate disco; even if I were old enough, I’d probably not have been, because I’m a lousy skater and I don’t much like disco.  Nonetheless, even though this song is as tautological as any song advertising some fad dance (like the popcorn or the peppermint twist), it’s nonetheless fun and funky.  It’s got a good bassline, it’s got a good groove, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

I work on solar power

Debbie Jacobs High on Your Love.jpgDonna Summer’s influence on disco can’t be overstated, whether you like her or not (I’m mixed on the subject).  As evidence, we have “High on Your Love” by Debbie Jacobs (#70), which clearly shows the influence of “Hot Stuff“, not just in lyrical content, but from in instrumentation and delivery.  As derivative as the song is, from its rambling guitar intro to Debbie belting out her lustful stamina, it does do a few interesting things.  The song breaks away to an interesting cowbell interlude (can a cowbell have a solo?  I guess so!) followed by a solo by some synthesized noodle box sort of noise thing.  I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but I like it.  If I were at a dance club, this song could keep my batteries going for hours, too.

I can’t wish you well anymore

Bonoff Baby Don't Go.pngFull disclosure:  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Karla Bonoff song.  She’s one of those names I’ve heard a lot about, but have no actual experience with.  (Boz Scaggs is in this category as well.)  “Baby Don’t Go” (#69) doesn’t really explain to me why she’s got a strong reputation.  I can only imagine that she’s a really powerful songwriter whose work is too interesting to make it to the charts, except when she’s deliberately playing to the crowd.  She’s a darling of Linda Ronstadt, who actually has pretty good taste in music, so that’s saying something there.  I’m just not getting much inspiration out of this particular track.

Take off your ring

the-captain-and-tennille-love-on-a-shoestring-1980.jpgI had never herd “Love on a Shoestring” by Captain & Tenille (#55) before today.  I expected it to be a sappy love song about how, when you have a perfect love, you can get through with out much money and get through any hardship.  This is, I admit, mainly because I know “Muskrat Love“, which is dreadfully sappy in addition to being entirely ridiculous, so who could blame me for expecting more of the same?  The good news is that I was wrong.  This song is a bit edgier, telling the story of a woman who is recalling the affair she had with a married man, knowing that there were no (shoe)strings attached, and lamenting that the affair has lapsed.  The bad news is that it’s still Captain & Tennille, which means it’s still musically uninteresting and vocally soulless.  Nice try, big miss.

After all this time, you’d think I wouldn’t cry

wayne-newton-years-stereo-aries-iiThis is the only time we’re going to hear from Wayne Newton, so before I talk about “Years“(#35), I want to point out that in 1989, Wayne Newton made a wonderfully smarmy James Bond villain in License to Kill.  As for “Years”, Barbara Mandrel first recorded it a year earlier and, despite the occasional bent-string country guitar string plaintiveness, I think her version is better.  She’s got a voice that sounds like honey, whereas Wayne Newton has a voice that sounds, well, not silky-smooth anyway.  When Barbara Mandrell sings about leaving the hall light on just in case her ex comes back, it sounds sweet; for Wayne Newton, it sounds pathetic, if not creepy.  Barbara didn’t have to go for a cheap key change either.  So, once again, here’s a cover of a song that really didn’t need to be covered.

A good man pays his debts

heart-even-it-up-epic-2I am not a big fan of Heart, but I recognize that it’s a good thing they exist.  They are refreshing proof that rock n’ roll (as opposed to pop) can be a women’s domain as much as it is for men.  This may seem a strange thing that needs asserting, but the reason women rockers are fairly commonplace today is because of bands like Heart.  In the macho 70s, Heart proved women could be tough and assertive without being countercultural, carving out space for women to be strong and disappointed with their male options.  “Even It Up” is a great example of this:  the girls — ahem, women — Are singing their hearts out about how much effort they’re putting into their relationship with a guy who’s not holding up his end of the deal.  She brings him breakfast in bed when he’s down and all he can do is boast about his prowess.  Well, in that last bit, she tells him the axe is going to fall (a female axe, mind) and then it does, with a solid guitar solo. So, keep on rockin’ Heart; I may not be listening, but there are a lot of guys who are, and, more importantly, should.

You were all of sixteen

tommy-james-three-times-in-loveListening to  “Three Times in Love” by Tommy James (#19), I am reminded of The Last Picture Show, specifically the relationship between Jeff Bridges and Cloris Leachman.  He’s a high school senior, she’s a middle-aged woman neglected by her otherwise distracted husband, and, in an Oscar-earning scene, the whole thing falls apart.  I don’t know if Tommy James and Ron Serota had that scene in mind when they wrote this song, but they captured the sentiment of a mismatched relationship going past its expiration date.  In this context, “Three Times in Love” imagines what eventually becomes of that sixteen year-old guy once he matures, and suggests he’s mature and can have a normal relationship.  But, it’s Cloris Leachman whose shattered emotions won the Oscar; has anyone written a song about her?

Dream about me

ronstadt-how_do_i_make_you_coverSpeaking of Linda Ronstadt, we have “How Do I Make You” at (#10), mercifully in rock mode.  And she’s really rockin’.  As someone who knows her better for warbling pseudo-country or for her psychedelic work with the Stoned Ponies, this is an eye-opener.  She’s pushing the limits of her indoor voice pleading this guy to love her.  As I said above, Linda’s always had good taste, and she’s willing to explore areas outside of her comfort zone.  She’s doing that here, perhaps less interestingly than when she’s covering Warren Zevon, but still in unexpected ways.

Not my brand

him_-_rupert_holmesRupert Holmes continues to surprise me.  I had originally written off “Escape (The Pina Colada Song) ” as a sappy nothing until I actually listened to it.  Now, here I am with “Him” (#6), and the treacly lounge violins belie a surprisingly thoughtful telling of a man who knows his girlfriend is cheating, and is reaching the breaking-point.  She’s getting careless, you see, leaving the other guy’s cigarettes around the house.  It’s possible that it’s this carelessness is what is setting Rupert over the edge; the first few lyrics are so careworn and resigned that I get the sense that he could handle the cheating if Rupert weren’t always being reminded of it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from relationships (and advice columnists) the member of a relationship who delivers an ultimatum like Rupert does in this song is going to be the one who loses — either she’s going to leave or she’ll pretend to be faithful while going back to the affair on the sly.  But Rupert sounds like he’s ready to lose, and who can blame him?  He’s a victim in a really unpleasant situation; I’d want it to end, too.

I used to love to make you cry

working_my_way_back_to_you_-_spinnersIt is, alas, established in the entertainment business that if you put something out there that has name recognition, people will naturally gravitate toward it.  This is why Hollywood keeps creating mediocre remakes of good movies (Sabrina, The Day the Earth Stood Still) instead of making stories that are more relevant to the zeitgeist of the time.  So, then The Spinners come along and give us a straight-up remake of not just “Working My Way Back to You” by The Four Seasons throwing in a bit of something called “Forgive Me, Girl” which I’m not able to track down in the limited amount of time I’m willing to work on it. The result, “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” is bland and overproduced.  But it worked– it went to #2.  Give the people what they want, or even more importantly, what they don’t realize they want, and you’ll never want for money.

 

 

 

Overview of 16 February 1980

Only ten songs peaked on the Hot 100 in the week of 16 February 1980 and quite a few of them are notable, so this overview will be fairly short.

We both know something is coming

Dana Valery I Dont' Want to Be Lonely.pngFirst off, at #87 we have  “I Don’t Want to Be Lonely” by the lovely Italian Dana Valery, which is a very good song for people learning how to speak English.  Valery sings about a relationship on the rocks very simply and clearly, the sentences are very straightforward and literal, using only the commonest of idioms.  As a result, it is incredibly unmemorable, with no standout lines or anyplace in particular in the song where the music does anything surprising or notable… even the guitar solo is anodyne.  I’d be amazed if anyone remembers this song at all.

Journey to the stars! Rock n’ roll guitars!

april-wine-i-like-to-rock-capitol.jpgThen we have “I Like to Rock” by April Wine at #86.  April Wine were a much bigger deal in Canada than they were in the US, but they had a bit of a heyday south of the border for a year and a half around 1981.  It’s not entirely clear exactly what prompted them to write “I Like to Rock”.  The lyrics are a bunch of non-sequiturs, particularly the part about space travel, and the music is not particularly special classic rock jammin’.  C’mon Canada, you can do better than this.

 

Even though it’s not a big hit for them, “The Hardest Part” by Blondie (#84) is too interesting to tackle in just a few sentences. It gets its own page.

Spread it with some jelly

twennynine-featuring-lenny-white-peanut-butter-elektra.jpgPeanut Butter” by Twennynine featuring Lenny White (#83) is not in any way what I was expecting.  I was expecting a disco cover of “I like Peanut Butter” by The New Beats, which is surprisingly not the most insipid song ever written. Instead, this is a funk anthem of sorts about eating peanut butter sandwiches.  Oh, with the occasional Woody Woodpecker laugh.  It’s a weird concoction clearly made with a healthy sense of nonsense.  Or is it really a Taoist philosophical parable — if all you want in life is a peanut butter sandwich, how can you ever be unhappy?  You know, ’cause peanut butter ain’t nothin’ but a sammich.

Swift time

MikePineraGoodnight.pngMike Pinera had a career playing guitar with hard rockers like Iron Butterfly and Alice Cooper, which makes “Goodnight My Love” (#70) weirdly incongruous, because it sounds like the kind of thing Kenny Rogers should be singing. That’s not exactly a bad thing, and I think Pinera actually does a better job than the standard lifeless crooner in singing about how torn he is between wanting to stay with his love and needing to leave because the wee hours are turning into the waking hours.  he sounds tender and torn, and that’s an achievement in easy listening.  Nonetheless, the song isn’t particularly memorable, which makes his lack of chart success unsurprising.

It’s a heartbreakin’, earthshakin’ devil’s child

dann-rogers-looks-like-love-again-international-artists.jpgI can’t say the same about Dann Rogers’s delivery in “Looks Like Love Again” (#41), in which he sings about the repeated travails love puts you through in a tone more suited to selling dish soap. It’s a shame, because lyrics like “love’s a little slice of heaven and a little hell” deserve a more heart-felt vocal, and the title needs to be sung in a world-weary pain that doesn’t come across in perky easy-listening country well.  This one could serve to be covered by someone willing to take more risks.

 

There are four more songs that peaked this week, but they’re all notable, so I’ll write about them individually. And because they’re all clumped in the high numbers I can keep them secret for a bit.  So, those are the lesser songs of the week of 16 February 1980.  Next up will be Blondie, and then four mystery songs, at least one of which is actually good.

 

Car won’t start; out of gas

pleasure-glide-fantasy-bellaphonOn 2 February, 1980, Glide” by Pleasure peaked at #55.

It’s February of 1980 and your friend says, “Hey, there’s this new song you have to hear.  It’s ‘Glide‘ by this group called Pleasure.”  Now, chances are you’ve never heard of this band, because this is the first time they’ve been on the Hot 100, and they’ve scraped along in their particular genre chart, but despite never having heard of them, I’m pretty sure you’d have guessed that Pleasure is a slick funk group.  Maybe you aren’t sure whether the lead singers are male or female, but you’re not going to be particularly surprised when your friend puts it on and you feel like doing the electric slide.

What may be surprising is the fact that despite being nearly seven minutes long, all you get is one ambiguous verse about the perils of driving a clunker in the city, and then a lot of steamy sounding dudes singing “glide” over an admittedly pretty good funk backing track.  My guess is that the guys in Pleasure were willing to take a back seat to the pretty good music in order to get on board the emerging break dancing fad.  If you can’t imagine a troupe of urban youths spinning and breaking to this, then you have absolutely no soul and have no business listening to “Glide” to begin with.  Anyway, that’s all I’ve got… it’s surprisingly good disco fodder.

Smiling in the night

EW&F StarOn 19 January, 1980, “Star by Earth, Wind, and Fire peaked at #64.

Another song about a star, and, dipping back a bit, another funk song.  Earth, Wind, and Fire are a little more adventurous than your standard funk band, and “Star” is a good example of how.  “Star” is perky and upbeat.  It makes you want to dance, but it doesn’t tell you exactly how to.  The beat’s a little choppy, the vocal delivery is certainly unorthodox, what with its speedy delivery and unusual willingness unnatural pauses in the middles of phrases, and the pace is faster than a stroll, but slower than disco.  It’s a hopeful, happy song, too, talking about how the stars are playful but beneficent.  My only complaint is that it doesn’t sound like the stargazing the singers are singing about.  When they’re singing about how they can feel the dark, I keep feeling that the music is bright and sunny.  So nothing offensive here, just a mismatch between the lyrics and the content of the song.

Listen here, how we sing it in your ear

Bar Keys Boogie BodyOn 12 January 1980, “Move Your Boogie Body” by The Bar-Kays was at #57. It peaked in 1979 at #53. 

OK, let’s talk about “Move Your Boogie Body” and let’s talk about funk, because “Move Your Boogie Body” is as funk as funk gets.   Which is to say I hate it.

Which is not to say I hate funk in general; there’s a lot of fun and interesting funk.  Like “Brick House” by The Commodores; who doesn’t like “Brick House”?  And there’s a lot about funk in general I like — interesting instrumentation, complicated rhythms, a general sinuosity, and lots of bass guitar.  The problem with lots of funk groups, though, is that they want to sound like they’re the center of everything that’s funk, and as a result, there are a lot of bands that sound alike and, strangely, unintelligible. And that’s “Move Your Boogie Body” in a nutshell.  There’s too much going on to get a sense for how this song is its own creature; it just sounds like all sorts of other funk songs.  This is the disco of funk.  And I can’t understand a word anyone is saying.  Unintelligibility is not a problem in of itself when the voice is being used more as an instrument than in communicating information; Sigur Ros (definitely not funk) is brilliant at singing meaningless lyrics in ways that are musically intriguing.  But the vocals in a lot of funk songs are jarring in a way that, while not exactly cacophonous, isn’t exactly musical either.  The Bar-Keys are the kind of funk I can do without, but which was very very popular in the late 70s.  It’ll take us until about 1985 before there’s going to be funk I like, I fear.