Overview of 22 March 1980

There was a whole lot of lovin’ going on in the lower reaches of the top 100 on 22 March 1980.  Starting with…

It’s so hard when I’m feeling on fire

suzannefelliniloveonthephone… a pleasantly weird surprise.  I was expecting “Love on the Phone” by Suzanne Fellini (#87) to be, frankly, dreadful, and probably disco, but what we have, while not exactly spectacular, has a certain do-it-yourself feel that’s kind of reminiscent of early Blondie.  It’s a little bit edgy, as Suzanne suggests she get undressed while talking to her long-distance lover, and the sensualized rat-a-tat of “makin’s” toward the end aren’t exactly rated G, but really, this is pretty chaste as light punk goes; she may be talking dirty, but it’s with a boyfriend out of town.  Regardless, it’s really not like anything else we’ve heard so far, and a younger me probably would have played the heck out of this one mainly because it was different and didn’t take itself too seriously.  Still, I can’t imagine sitting through a whole album of this.

I love you, I le-ove you

engelbert-love-s-only-love-coverI’m having trouble taking “Love’s Only Love” by Engelbert Humperdinck (#83) seriously.  The sappy lounge style it’s sung in doesn’t help matters, but that just makes it bad, not ridiculous.  No, what makes this song ridiculous is the line I used for the header, which happens for the first time at 1:01:  “I love you, I le-ove you.”  I’m not doing it justice, because really, you can’t spell the word love the way Engelbert pronounces it that second time.  Not only does he make it a two-syllable word, but this love has some sort of quasi-French, or more likely, Dutch, accent to it; it sounds sort of like “loaves” without the S.  “Leeuuv”?  “Lowv”?  Whatever it is, it’s the only word in this whole song that matters, and I wonder how the backup singers don’t break up in giggles hearing it.

I don’t want to be a big star

England DanJohnFordInItForLove.pngIn some parallel universe that isn’t all that different from the one we live in, “In It for Love” by England Dan & John Ford Coley (#75) could have been the theme song for a prime-time sit-com.  It has the kind of perky, faux-lounge keyboard that would easily serve as backing to a montage of clips introducing a handful of family members (and the quirky neighbor couple that lives next door).  And really, “In it for Love” wouldn’t be a bad name for a family-oriented comedy series.  That said, with precious few exceptions, it’s hard to take sit com themes seriously as real music, and anything that sounds like them is, by association, pretty forgettable.

It hurts so much more in the night

starland-vocalloving-you-with-my-eyesThe Starland Vocal Band is the band that made having sex during the daytime something naughty, or at least highlighted that peculiarity in “Afternoon Delight”.  So perhaps it’s only natural to expect that musicians with such a narrow range of sexual options would also produce sappy maple-syrup suffused schlock like “Loving You With My Eyes” (#71).  The woman in the song may actually be something of a martyr — she promises not to cry if her guy comes back, even if it’s to say goodbye, but it drips so heavily with overwrought sentiment that it makes my teeth hurt.  Perhaps it’s the vocal; a woman with this sweet a voice sounds like someone who can be hurt easily.  I’m imagining a gravelly-voiced singer, like Kim Carnes, Marianne Faithfull, or Grace Slick, singing this; when a tough woman feels this way, it’s much more believable.

We’re both a little shy, love

GayleIt'sLikeWeNeverSaidGoodbye.jpgAnd here’s Crystal Gayle again, with all of her glorious alien locution in tow, singing “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye” (#63).  The content is pleasant enough:  everyone likes to think they can have a second chance on the opportunities they missed in the past, and the music is uplifting if not exactly engaging.  And that’s really all I have to say — nothing else about this song stands out to me in any way.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that this song stalled at #63, but it shocks me that something so content-less reached #1 on the country charts.  I mean, it doesn’t even sound like country.

“Computer Game”

YMOComputerGame.jpgComputer Game Theme from the Circus” by The Yellow Magic Orchestra (#60), on the other hand, is completely different from even the few new wave songs we’ve heard so far.  It’s from Japan; it’s an instrumental; it starts with uncoordinated electronic noises; and it’s not particularly danceable.  I’m tempted to label it a novelty song, but it’s definitely not a novelty — the guys who made this track were serious about making this kind of music, in much the same way Kraftwerk and (I guess) Vangelis were (at roughly the same time).  What we’re hearing here is early electronica, music the point of which is listening to the interesting things synthesizers can do:  electronic music designed to stretch the abilities of noise-making.  As a side-note, this some is also evidence of how quickly computers became part of the collective psyche.  Space Invaders was the first hit arcade game; it was released in 1978, and here we are less than two years later, with a song on the charts that sounds like Space Invaders.  I don’t want to overstate how groundbreaking this song was, but I have to think it was very influential given how big synthpop became and how much hip hop borrowed from synthpop.  And, seriously, the Yellow Magic Orchestra went on Soul Train to promote the single, and were probably the weirdest thing that had ever happened to Soul Train until then.

Violet lightning

jeffersonstarshipgirlwiththehungryeyesJefferson Starship is back with “Girl With the Hungry Eyes” (#55), which is something of a hyperkinetic post-apocalyptic lust song, in which a guy who (despite what Einstein’s theories say) can travel at the speed of light meets the daughter of the overlord, who has a perfect fit with perfect lips.  It sounds like a match made in heaven, but that’s debatable because there’s a killing floor involved somehow, but whatever, they hook up after all her friends have gone home, so it’s all good.   In tone it sounds something like a classic rock band trying to get an edge in on the pogoing punk crowd, and come to think of it, that may be exactly what was happening.  It’s fun, and it reminds me in a very good way of Hawkwind’s “Quark, Strangeness, and Charm“, both as a space-aged love song and for it’s fast-paced lightheartedness (and for name-dropping Einstein), but with a deeper instrumentation.

“What I Like About You” by The Romantics (#49) deserves its own entry

When does the heartache end?

david-gates-where-does-the-lovin-go-elektra-3Where Does the Lovin’ Go“, asks David Gates at #46.  I don’t know that I can be bothered to try to answer that question.  And I’m having trouble being bothered to discuss this particular song, because it sounds like so many other sickly-sweet someone-done-someone-wrong songs, that it gets hard to say anything intelligent about one that’s so uninteresting as this. Instead, I’m going to ask this:  Where do all the forgettable albums go?  Back when I was a kid, every record store (there were record stores then, lots of them) had a box or basket or some other display item that held all the non-sellers.  They were worth looking through because sometimes you’d find Shriekback or Gang of Four there.  Often they were full of albums that were supposed to sell big, but didn’t; I remember in particular seeing a lot of Boz Skaggs in cut-out bins.  I imagine David Gates filled a cut-out bin or two in his time, too.  But what happens to forgettable albums now that we buy so much of our music digitally?  It’s an existential question; they sit in the cloud on Amazon or iTunes, but if no one buys them, if no one remembers to even look for them, can they be said to really be?  It’s even weirder than the falling tree in the forest, because the tree undeniably is an object, even if no one is there to hear it fall.  But an album that is entirely digital, with no physical presence… it makes no noise if no one is there to hear it, and can it really be said to be there at all if no one looks for it?  Like the loving that ceases to exist when it goes away (because love, not being tangible, doesn’t really go anywhere), those forgotten tracks sort of phase out of reality into some sort of cultural quantum state, perhaps never to truly exist again…

Someone must’ve kicked you around some

Petty Refugee.jpgRefugee” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers breaks us out of the sub-40s right up to #15, with blues-rock guitar and vocals delivered in a half-Dylan style.  I don’t know what’s going on in the song, but it sounds pretty scary:  there’s this girl and she’s been kidnapped, tied up, kicked around, and Tom’s all nonchalant about it. Actually, now I think I do know what’s going on:  she’s had a hard life so far and she’s worn-down, tired out, and suffering over it… and then Tom Petty comes around and tells her that life is hard, and it’s time to get past the past and not rely on the world to give her the dignity she needs.  It’s an interesting combination of self-reliance and casual indifference that passes as a simple motto for life, or at least the foundation for getting back on one’s feet.  I’m not a fan, but I give it kudos for going past clichés to get at ideas that are more complex than those that show up in your radio-standard pop song.

Deeper than any forest primeval

Fogelberg Longer.pngQueen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” did everyone a great service by keeping three songs out of the #1 spot:  “Do That To Me One More Time” by Captain & Tennille, “Yes I’m Ready” by Teri Desario and K.C., and this, “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg.  Of the three, this is probably the best, and not only because it has a flugelhorn solo in it.  As an extended comparison of love to the marvels of nature — the innumerable stars and fish, the deep beauty of untouched forest, and the relief brought by fire in winter and rain in spring — it genuinely has poetic lyrics.  It’s calming and soothing, which makes it a fine soundtrack to a quiet afternoon with your lover on the patio… or for a ride on an elevator to visit your ophthalmologist.

 

 

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Someone found a letter you wrote me

summer_on_the_radio_hollandOn 15 March 1980, “On the Radio” by Donna Summer peaked at #5

All through this blog, I’ve been pretty derisive of disco for being mindless and boring.  I was worried that “On the Radio” by Donna Summer was going to be more of the same awful disco.  Musically… it kind of is:  it’s in a more somber, pensive key than most other disco, but other than that, there’s the same kickdrum-violin onslaught that makes for easy but boring djing.  But the lyrics are actually something else entirely.  The song starts with what is a familiar feeling for most people, being wistful for a lost love, but it doesn’t address it in the usual terms.  In the usual disco song, the singer would sing something like, “I heard a song on the radio and it reminded me of you.”  But this is different:  “Someone found a letter you wrote me and they told the world just how you felt.”  These lyrics personalize the synchronicitous relationship of a random event with one’s daily emotions:  it highlights how when we have strong emotions, whatever they are, ambient events suddenly have meaning.  Of course the song didn’t fall through a hole in the pocket of his overcoat, but that Donna can think that some random song could have been written by her estranged man makes for a much more heartfelt sentiment.

This approach also sets up tension more direct lyrics can’t establish:  “On the Radio” could turn into a stalker song, an unrequited love song, or a happy reconciliation song, and the interesting lyric makes us actually care which way it goes.  We don’t know what kind of character Donna is until she resolves her emotions.  This is an effective way to spice up a worn genre, pull a listener’s interest in, and win over a curmudgeonly jade like me.  So let it not be said that I categorically hate disco — I can like it when it lets me consume the music, not just listen to it.

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.

Can you imagine how I feel today?

Cliff Richard We Don't TalkOn 26 January, 1980, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard peaked at #7.

I don’t know what genre to put “We Don’t Talk Anymore” into.  Cliff was 39 when it was released and had really already had a pretty rich career as a rock n’ roll pioneer that had peaked and waned, and then came rocketing back with this song, making him the first act to chart in the Billboard US Hot 100 in every decade from the 50s on (thank you, Wikipedia).  And his comeback song is… well, it’s far too pop to be disco, but it’s far too quirky to be just pop, and it’s not electronic or quirky enough to be new wave.  It’s in a very small category of smarter-than-average adventurous pop songs that do more than they set out to do.

The lyrics aren’t even all that standard.  Later in the 80s, a Canadian band called The Pursuit of Happiness would sing about how adults can sing boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl songs, but have to sing man-wonders-what-the-hell-went-wrong songs, and that’s what this is, an adult pop song, albeit one with a very idiosyncratic keyboard approach.  He doesn’t sound too beaten up about the fact that what’s-her-name is leaving.  Sure, there’s the standard bitter admonishment that she shouldn’t come back crying for sympathy, but he jauntily sings about how he’s not counting sheep at night (sheeeep!) lying awake pining for a lost love.  And it sounds like he really means it.  It’s not like there’s a hint of remorse or nostalgia in Cliff’s voice as he tells her to have a good life; nope, he’s marching off to that weird synthesizer music into his life, key-changing his way to something better. Many whiny break-up songs make me think the person walking away made the right choice, but not here.  Nope, Cliff was a keeper, and someone messed up in letting him. Sorry, hon.

She’ll never let you down; she’ll never fool around

QuatroShe'sInLoveOn 26 January, 1980, “She’s in Love With You” by Suzi Quatro peaked at #41.

There isn’t much I can say about “She’s in Love With You“; it’s a pretty straightforward power pop song that Suzi Quatro delivers well… she’s a decent rocker and a decent singer, not so polished as to sound fake but polished enough that she’s listenable.  The lyrics take a sidestep from the traditional love song.  You see, this one is told from the point of view of the girl’s friend.  Lyrics that would sound pathetic and demeaning sung in the first person are an earnest, friendly warning when sung in the third person.  Beyond that, there’s not all that much here to surprise or amaze.  I’m pleasantly surprised, but not excited by it.  Perhaps the most surprising thing is that “She’s in Love With You” nearly cracked the top 40.  Whatever, it’s a nice song to hear once or twice, but it’s not particularly memorable.

Every time I call and you’re not there

LeifMemorizeOn 26 January, 1980, “Memorize Your Number” by Leif Garrett peaked at #60.

It’s rare that an actor-turned-musician has a memorable music career, and it’s even rarer when that actor is a child actor, so I fully expected Leif Garrett’s “Memorize Your Number” to be a total turkey.  I expected the sickly-sweet love ballads one usually gets from drug-fuelled heartthrobs whose greedy managers (or parents) decided they should press a record.

But hey, it turns out that drug-fuelled heartthrobs can occasionally put out a rockin’ power pop single.  This has got an angsty itchy rhythm guitar driving a similarly angst-riddled vocal about… well, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, but it’s clearly a relationship on the rocks.  Is Leif trying not to fall in love?  He doesn’t want to memorize her number, and he’s already predicting not only living with this girl, but also breaking up with her a year later and telling her that she’s the one who messed it up.  So, yeah, he’s just met this girl and he’s already jaded about how the relationship is going to go, with all its jealousies and disappointments.  That’s pretty heavy for a guy who was about to turn 18.  (He was also about to get into a car crash that crippled his best friend, but hey, responsibility sucks.)  So, while this song is not exactly great shakes, it’s a bit more adventurous and edgy than one would expect from a guy whose music career was supposed to make 13-year-old girls the nation over swoon at the very hint of his honeyed voice.  This is a mature song and a pretty risky recording; Leif didn’t shy from risky behavior in his personal life (and sadly, still doesn’t as of his 2010 drug possession arrest) and it’s a good thing he didn’t in his venture into music.

Put me in your pocket

bullens_05_45_trust_me_a.gifOn 26 January, 1980, “Trust Meby Cindy Bullens peaked at #90.

Before I can talk about “Trust Me” at any length, I have to talk about Cindy Bullens first.  Cindy started as a backup singer; you can hear her on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee and on a few songs from the Grease soundtrack. She had a few albums in the late 70s, had a family, and then put out a few more albums in the 90s and early 2000s, but only ever scored one singe — “Trust Me” — on the Hot 100.  Also, in the years leading up to 2102, she became a female-to-male transsexual, and renamed herself Cidny.  This makes it hard for me to use pronouns when talking about her, but, given that the song was written, performed, and recorded while Cidny was Cindy, I’m going to use the feminine pronouns when referring to her pre-transition career.

“Trust Me” is a pleasant surprise.  I was expecting something vapid like those songs she provided backup vocals for, and maybe at first blush “Trust Me” sounds like that — a standard romping torch song.  But the lyrics go a ways past what’s standard for the genre.  Its narrator is confronted with a suspicious lover, and sure she asserts her loyalty to him (or her, I guess) as we expect:  “I wouldn’t hurt you if my life depended on it,” and so on.  But she also addresses the lover’s insecurities, pointing out that he (or she) “got wounded in the war of hearts” and that Cindy’s there to care.  This song isn’t just heartfelt and earnest; it also looks into the feelings of someone other than the singer herself, which is something too few popular songs do.  Even Elton and Kiki can’t stop talking about themselves in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” enough to talk about what the other feels.  Great art is supposed to make us think new ideas, feel new feelings, and, presumably, build empathy.  A song like “Trust Me” goes further in doing that, and that’s refreshing.

The inspiration, the ladies’ delight

tom-johnston-savannah-nights-warner-bros-2.jpgOn 19 January, 1980, “Savannah Nightsby Tom Johnston peaked at #50.

Often an artist will leave a band for a solo career exploring all sorts of music that, as part of a band with a brand, that musician couldn’t really experiment with.  That’s not what’s going on with Tom Johnston.  No, Tom Johnston wandered off from the Doobie Brothers to make music that sounds a lot like the Doobie Brothers; “Savannah Nights” is no exception.  I’m not complaining, though:  the Doobie Brothers sound is infectious.  It’s smarter and better crafted than most other light rock, and it’s hard to not want to get up and dance when you hear that characteristic smooth brassy funk sound.  “Savannah Nights” has a particularly swank breakdown starting around 2:24 that makes my spine want to slip and glide.  Lyrically, it’s about a smooth operator picking up a shy chick at a dance club in Georgia (sure, why not?).  He’s a much smoother (and faster, and funkier) version of the guy in Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”  Come to think of it, why were people even listening to “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” when they could have been listening to “Savannah Nights”?  Perhaps there’s only so much room in the public consciousness for music that sounds like the Doobie Brothers; they had five top-40 hits in 1979 and 1980, which is rather a lot for such an immediately recognizable band.

She said she don’t love me anymore

Peter_Brown_-_StargazerOn 19 January, 1980, “Stargazer” by Peter Brown peaked at #59.

I get the feeling that for the few months that people remembered “Stargazer” by Peter Brown, it was a popular pick for prom slow dances and maybe even first dances at weddings.  Not that it’s an appropriate song for budding romance or for a lifelong commitment — it’s about a woman who gives up on her stargazer boyfriend because he’s too distant and complicated for her to figure out, let alone live with.  But it’s got that sway from side to side slow jam feel to it that makes it perfect dark-room-illuminated-only-by-motes-of-light-from-the-disco-ball dance floor fodder that more creative DJs would bring out when they’ve gotten totally sick of the more obvious options that get girls to get their more awkward, or macho, boyfriends out onto the dance floor.  It has a little bit of that oily cheese feeling that so many desperate love songs have, and I kind of get the sense that Peter Brown is trying really hard to convince everyone he’s Freddy Mercury…

…and yet I kinda like it.  It doesn’t sound like any of the other slow songs we’ve had to deal with up to now, and it’s not in that super-polished perfect tone that makes so much popular music too slip.  I actually feel that Peter Brown is torn between the agony of losing his girl and being the stargazer dreamer whatever-he-is that he is.  You can tell from how he’s singing that he’s going to call her bluff (assuming it’s a bluff) and be the guy he is, not the guy she wants him to be.  He’s his own man, and you can hear him walking off — alone — into the moonlight, even if she does secretly want one last dance with him.

 

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.”