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.

 

 

 

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Overview of 29 March 1980

29 March is a mixed bag both musically and in terms of quality, but there really aren’t any stand-out songs.

You say it, and I’ll pay it

jimmy_buffett-survive_sI’m getting a very strong Randy Newman vibe off of “Survive” by Jimmy Buffett (#77).  It’s in the way Jimmy takes concrete, mundane details that we all can recognize from our everyday lives and turns them into an image that speaks depths about deep emotions, here love and loneliness.  Who hasn’t on occasion opened up a telephone bill and gotten a green, sour feeling in their stomach?  But here, Jimmy turns it into a symbol of how much he misses whoever he’s singing to:  the daily (and costly) reminders of being away make his longing for her all the more poignant.  The later verses make it clear that he’s missing his woman because he’s off on a tour — he doesn’t unpack for that one day’s visit because he has to go back and play some gig somewhere — and it’s usually a bad sign when a musician starts complaining in his song about how tough life is on the road, but at least in this song, it’s a good thing.  And it’s a reminder that musicians (or any performers) are real people:  no matter how much fun they look like they’re having on stage singing for the thousandth time about margaritas and volcanos, they’ve got real lives that they’d much rather be leading.

You’re a fool-hearted man

dottie-west-a-lesson-in-leavin-united-artistsHas any hip-hop artist sampled the backbeat from “A Lesson in Leavin’” by Dottie West (#73)?  Because if they haven’t they should:  it’s got a funky little beat and, more importantly, that intro is about as clean a clip as you can possibly get — no need to stitch it together from other parts of the song, there it is in all it’s glory.  Even the first vocal lines, the part over the backbeat with no other music, made me think that maybe this wasn’t the country song I was expecting it to be, that maybe Dottie West was some blue-eyed soul singer.  But no, it’s country, but as country goes, this is pretty good.  It’s not twangy or nasally.  Really the only things that make this fit for the country stations is Dottie’s slight a Tennessee accent and the somewhat shrill female backing vocals.  Well, and the lyrical content:  the restrained vengeful reprimand from a wronged woman, and a few Southern turns of phrase.  In a way, I’m surprised this wasn’t a bigger cross-chart hit, because it seems like it could have been an easy fit on the top 40 and easy listening stations as well as the country chart it topped.

I kept my promise

festival-argentinaAs you can probably imagine, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” by Festival (#72) is a disco version of the song from the hit Broadway musical, Evita, and as you can probably imagine, it’s really horrible.  I’m not going to go into my distaste of Evita, what with it being a celebration of the puppet-wife of a quasi-fascist dictator; I’ll just say that I generally don’t much like musicals to begin with because of how most of them, Evita included, artificially force a story and music together into some sort of lumbering Frankenstein creature. But then to discofy it, makes an even clunkier Frankenstein beast.  Keep your distance.

Clouds burst to give water

stevie-wonder-outside-my-window-tamlaI’m going to sing the praises of Stevie Wonder again, not because I think “Outside My Window” (#52) is a particularly good song, but because it’s an interesting song with a something of an interesting story.  You see, it’s literally a love song to a flower.  Why?  Well, this song, and the entire album it’s from, are the soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants, a documentary furthering the theory that plants are at least semi-sentient.  First off, you have to be really brave to write and perform an entire soundtrack in support of such a thesis; I’ve already said on this blog that Stevie Wonder is one of the few people so far in 1980 who was taking any musical risks, and here he is doing it again, with a moderate amount of mainstream success.  Not only is the whole project a bit weird, but it’s even weirder — and braver — to have  a blind guy write music to accompany a movie about so visual a topic as plants.  The Wikipedia article for the album talks briefly about how Stevie Wonder went about doing this, having the producer describe what the scenes in the movie look like so he could write fitting accompaniment, and frankly, that takes guts on the part of everyone involved.  Not having seen the film, I can’t say if the result works as a soundtrack, but this single is at least interesting:  a musically odd piece, with reduced chords, jazzy construction, and a weird squishy noise serving as percussion.  Do I want to listen to this a lot?  No.  Was it refreshing to hear a few times?  Absolutely.

Invisible airwaves crackle with life

RUSH_The_Spirit_of_Radio.jpgI have never been much of a fan of Rush, but I respect what they do with music, because, like Stevie Wonder, they try and succeed in doing interesting things with music that few people were trying to do on the top 40 charts. “The Spirit of Radio” (#51) is a perfect example of them doing this.  They have their trademark soaring guitars and complicated rhythms that lift a listener beyond the standard rock n’ roll beat with the predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus structure.  Instead of the music being a vessel for the lyrics, Rush seems to use lyrics as packaging for the interesting things they’ll do with the music, as if they’re bribing us to listen to their musical mastery by giving us words to listen to.  Not that the lyrics are lightweight:  no, Rush has written a song about the power of music to capture people’s imaginations, but also about how easily such a force for liberation can be corrupted by the allure of fame that categorizes, delegitimizes, and sanitizes music.  Rush is railing against the top 40 radio they successfully broke into (well, in Canada and Britain anyway, where this song went to #13 ad #22 respectively), and I’m all for subversiveness like that.  And then toward the end, they throw in some reggae, just to keep us on our toes.

Burned up my childhood days

willie-nelson-my-heroes-have-always-been-cowboys-cbsMy Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” by Willie Nelson (#44) is a straightforward cover of a song by Waylon Jennings from 1976 from the soundtrack to The Electric Horseman, which I’ve never seen, or even heard of.  I was always befuddled that my moth and my two uncles had a fascination with cowboys — and the wild west in general — similar to the sentiments of this song.  Cowboys have never meant anything to me, and I certainly never had the idea that they were a cohort of noble savages who fought for law and justice despite being barely civilized themselves.  But my mother and her brothers would reminisce about Bonanza and Gunsmoke, speaking a language I barely understood, despite it being English.  Of course, their parents’ generation created those shows about their parents’ generation, something along the lines of my generation creating Argo, Apollo 13, and Mad Men.  So, even though my heroes have never been cowboys, this song has its place; it’s just not in my record collection.

Stab you in the back with a switchblade knife

foreigner_-_women_b-w_the_modern_day_1979The don’t make casual misogyny like “Women” by Foreigner (#41) anymore.  The lyrics are just a rundown of all sorts of women in the world:  behind bars, in airplanes, in magazines, limousines, who need a shove, and, as if it were unusual, with their clothes on.  None of these women seem to be particularly nice or even pleasant, and the only thing that makes them interesting is the situation they happen to be in.  I mean, those women behind bars got there somehow, but Foreigner doesn’t seem to care about that beyond the fact that they’re bad girls.  So, what does this song say about women?  That they exist, that they can be dangerous, and that sometimes you need to rough them up.  No thanks.

You know I’m not that strong

j_geils-come_back_single_coverCome Back” by The J. Geils Band (#32) presages a time when the charts would be dominated by songs that occupy the intersection of rock, dance, and new wave, synthesizer-driven songs that nonetheless rock and get people out into the shadow of the disco ball.  If this song had been released in, say, 1982 alongside “Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone”, I think it would have been a huge hit.  Not that #32 is a bad showing or anything, but with more polish and an audience more primed to hear music in this vein, it’d’ve been big.

Give it all you got

Mangione-Give-It_all-You-Got.jpgMy father loved Chuck Mangione.  I never regarded him as anything more than harmless.  Given all the other things we might have been listening to on the way to school, I far preferred Chuck Mangione over some of the other available options.  I don’t explicitly remember “Give It All You Got” (#18), but frankly it sounds like all the other smooth jazz I’ve heard in my life.  At least it actually sounds like jazz, unlike a lot of the other stuff I’ve heard on smooth jazz stations.  (Once I heard “Moments in Love” by the Art of Noise on a smooth jazz station, which pushes the definition of jazz to a ridiculous extent.)  Anyway, I feel the same way about “Give It All You Got” — it’s harmless, and at least it showcases trumpet, which doesn’t happen very often in top 20 singles.

You don’t need that heart of stone

shalamar-second-timeShalamar, at least in “The Second Time Around” (#8) is everything I hate about disco.  Its mix is all front-loaded, which makes it sound like a TV commercial, even the bass guitar sounds like it’s treble, it has silly little sound effects to remind you when to point your gold ring-encrusted finger at the air conditioning vent while you boogie, and the lyrics are, well, boring.  “The second time is so much better, baby; and I’ll make it better than the first time.”  Honey, don’t do it!  He’s going to trample all over you again, just like he is this monotonous disco beat!

Together we can learn to grow

Andygibbdesire.jpgDesire” by Andy Gibb (#4) starts out sounding like something dark and stormy, but it doesn’t last long.  Unfortunately, Andy Gibb has to remind you that he’s a Bee-Gee but blurting out a few breathy gasps right out of “Stayin’ Alive”.  Fortunately, there’s a bit of a reggae shuffle beat underlying “Desire” that may distract you from the fact that the vocals are delivered at such a high falsetto as to be unintelligible.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of those falsetto vocals.  And the lyrics are some sort of mélange of world peace nonsense, juxtaposing opposite states and then suddenly springing on the woman in question that Andy’s totally smitten with her.  Presumably is such a confusing world, the only thing he knows is that he’s infatuated.  The only think I know is I’m waiting for next week.