Still trying to get back into a good pace on these posts. This week is a mixed bag…
Come the night, we’re in overdrive
The lower reaches of the Hot 100 are designed for songs like “Scandal” by RCR (#94). It’s a competent classic rock song with a swaggery guitar and lyrics that approach interesting but fall mostly on the cliché side of things. It’d fit just fine with rock songs by bigger stars of the time — think Pat Benatar, Tom Petty, The Pretenders, and the like. The problem is that as much as it makes my shoulders bob, it doesn’t do enough to be memorable past whatever song comes next. Very little in the song — voice, guitar playing, lyrics, even attitude — is particularly unique, though, so it’s no surprise to me that “Scandal” didn’t rise any higher.
No more jaguars
I’ve never heard a Nazareth song before, and I can’t say I ever felt I had missed something. Listening to “Holiday” (#87), I’m thinking I might want to rethink that. It’s not that I like it — I think it’s clumsy, with the chorus taking too much of a flippant departure from the grittier body of the song — but I like what they’re trying to do in the chorus. It’s hard to pull off a line like “Please, no more husbands” and still come off sounding macho; Nazareth succeeds in this pretty handily. There’s an interesting attempt here at capturing that moment when an adolescent realizes his home environment isn’t healthy, whether it’s because Mom’s a drunk, or engaged in serial disastrous relationships, or pushing her son too hard to be something he isn’t. Bravo for taking classic rock to a place it rarely goes, even if I don’t actually like the result.
We’ll both be walking away
No joke, the first time I went to listen to “Today Is the Day” by The Bar-Kays (#60), I didn’t last more than 20 seconds. With that first “Today is the day!”, my brain said, “I can’t take this, it’s going to be awful.” But I persevered, in the name of science, or completeness, or foolhardiness, or something, anyway… My brain was right; it’s awful, from the so-high-pitched-it’s-nearly-nonexistent “oooh!” to the plodding self-important beat, to the entirely uninspired brass section, it’s shamelessly uninteresting. Don’t forget the needless guitar, and the key change at 2:13. Everything about this song is screaming, “Get me into the top ten!” and the evil part of me is glad it never got there.
What’s her name? I can’t tell ya!
I’m a big fan of early Warren Zevon, and it saddens me that this song is the only time I’m going to get to talk about him. He’s sort of Elton John’s evil twin brother, writing piano ballads about alcoholism and urban blight, upbeat dance songs about psychos and werewolves, and stomping rockers that sound like snippets from out of a Charles Bukowski novel. Even more unfortunate is that “A Certain Girl” (#57) is a cover of an single by Ernie K-Doe that was subsequently done by The Yardbirds. Not unfortunate because of quality; not at all: Warren Zevon takes the song and makes it his own, putting a sinister thread of angst under the whole track that culminates in manic, frantic near-insanity at the end. The narrators of Warren Zevon songs are rarely people you’d want to date, even when the song is borrowed. No, it’s unfortunate because I can’t talk about the genius of Warren Zevon’s own lyrics… there’s no disturbing character-building here, no clever wordplay (Warren Zevon manages to get words like cummerbund and brucellosis into his songs, without raising eyebrows). Nope, I have to be content with a relatively tame Zevon track; if you haven’t listened to his beeter-known singles, you owe it to yourself to look them up.
Trying so hard not to see
I have vivid memories of John Denver’s episode of The Muppet Show. I remember waiting eagerly for Kermit the Frog to announce the guest star, and when he announced John Denver, my whole body would be overcome with emotion… “What? Again?! Where’s Shirley Bassey? Or Mark Hammill?” I’ve seen that sappy-sick version of that garden song so many times that I fear I may have an unfair prejudice against John Denver. But than I listen to “Autograph” (#52), and all that sappy-sick disappointment rushes back. But this time there’s a flute.
Heaven in the morning
Listen to the voices of Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack on “You Are My Heaven” (#47), how effortlessly they make their voices sound like silk, sliding through the air into your ears, strong but caressing. Really, they’re like human brass instruments, putting just enough happiness into the verses, just enough surprised contentment into their sighs that you could believe that they were indeed a couple rejoicing not just in the greatness of their love, but in the every-day comfort of being together. This song really embodies the wonder of an everyday love, one that has settled into a routine, but still brings both lovers happiness: heaven in the morning every morning, who wouldn’t’ rejoice in that?
Your river is fading
Some musicians seem to exist mainly to fill out the gaps in the top 100. Kenny Loggins is one of these artists, with a surprising number of otherwise forgettable singles that capped out somewhere between 80 and 30, he’s sort of a superpowered studio musician, there to keep the studio running when better things aren’t on order. “Keep the Fire” (#36) is one of these ephemeral songs, with vaguely new-age lyrics (and album cover), suitable for listening between traffic reports, and featuring what is, I think, an early use of autotuning. I’ve never heard it before now, I’ve no intention to hear it again, and if I were to hear it again, I’m not convinced I’d remember it at all.
Gotta run for shelter
“Too Hot” (#5) is the second entry for Kool & The Gang, and… it’s kind of a let down after “Ladies’ Night”. It’s a fine, if not particularly insightful, look at a relationship that’s gone sour after years of getting stale. It’s sort of the opposite of “You Are My Heaven” above. I’m not sure why musicians take lyrics about fading love and set it to a song appropriate for a couple’s slow dance. Listening to this, I imagine men in white suits and women in gold sequin gowns dancing slow and close, looking deep into each others’ eyes, but the song is about people who don’t intend to do that sort of thing any more. Has anyone ever had this as their wedding dance song? It has the feel of a wedding song, but would be so inappropriate in that role
And… we’ll cover the #1 song in a separate entry…