The songs that peaked in the week of 1 March are (except for one) a really uninspiring bunch. Brace yourself…
Apprehending all my criminal need
You almost certainly don’t know Narada Michael Walden for “I Shoulda Loved Ya“, which got to #66 this week; you know him for his production work with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Jermaine Stewart, and a host of other R&B musicians, about which we’ll reserve judgment until they peak later in the 80s. Listening to “I Shoulda Loved Ya”, it sounds like it belongs in the top twenty tracks of 1987, what with its heavy focus on saxophone, and handclaps urging you to do that mid-80s lurchy dance from side to side. The bass solo in the middle sort of pulls you back to the very late 70s, but all in all, this feels like it slipped through a time warp to warn us of what was to come: “Do something now or EVERYTHING on the radio will sound like this!” Actually, I’m being too harsh — this is at least perky and refreshing. I wish the lyrics were a bit more coherent, because the theme of a guy who realizes he’s mistreated someone he’d been seeing is underutilized (maybe because most musicians don’t want to empathize with cads) and far more interesting than all these guys chasing women who aren’t interested in them, or, worse, so achingly in love with the person they’re with.
Just one lover is all you need to know
Or there’s achy, preachy earnestness, like “You Might Need Somebody” by Turley Richards (#54), which ambles in like your junior-high art teacher walking up to you to scold you after some other authority figure broke up a fight. Only Turley is here to berate you for… what, being anti-social? The message here is to let someone into your heart, as if most people didn’t want that to begin with, and, really, the few people who don’t aren’t going to reconsider their self-isolation just because someone tells them that everyone needs someone around. Gee thanks, tell us something we didn’t already know, and try to do it with less somnolent instrumentation.
Travelling down that lonesome road
I’ve never knowingly listened to Molly Hatchet before, and I’d always wondered why Ray Stevens referenced them in”Erik the Awful”. Looking at their mythologically Teutonic alum covers, I simply assumed that they were a good-spirited heavy metal or glam band. Nope, they’re southern rock, which explains the Ray Stevens reference, if not the album covers. “Flirtin’ with Disaster” (#42) is pretty much what I expect when I think of southern rock… mildly rebellious nasal vocals, fast-paced twangy guitars, with a solid solo, and… not much else. This is what the US was listening to instead of Motorhead — who really knew how to rock — and it’s hard to say we were better for it.
Some things are not better left unsaid
I understand that there are lyrics to “Let Me Go, Love“, (#35) but when Nicolette Larson and Michael McDonald sing it, it’s hard to tell, because they sort of mumble the words over each other’s very idiosyncratic voice, so the result sounds like two people warbling alphabet soup out loud in a humid room. Listen to how “look” sounds like “Luke” in “you’ve got that look in your eyes” and you’ll get an idea of what I mean; all the vowels in this song are a little bit nonstandard, and the result is decidedly alien. Musically, it’s lazy dreamy, and a little bit jazzy, and not entirely uninteresting. I think this would have been better as a Herb Alpert-like instrumental without the vocals.
I’ll take control of your beautiful mind
“Wonderland” by The Commodores (#25) is one of those soul songs that can’t decide whether it wants to be sexy or creepy. The singer’s approach — reassuring the woman he’s met that she’s lucky to meet him, that she shouldn’t be afraid, that he’ll take control of her, that any minute that passes may make the whole endeavor of seduction for naught — reeks of desperation, but that promise of being taken off to a magical wonderland of love sounds so enticing doesn’t it? If it weren’t for the taxi driver, one might expect the song to turn out to be an episode in a serial murderer’s modus operandi. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to turn out that way, and the music is suitably trippy and smooth, so I’ll give it a wary pass on the creepiness.
I suppose I should give “September Morn” by Neil Diamond (#17) its own entry, but I won’t like it.
Let me smell the moon in your perfume
Take a good look at Steve Forbert. Does he look familiar? If he does, you were probably watching MTv in 1983, not because his videos were showing, but because he had a cameo role in one of 1983’s most memorable videos: he was Cyndi Lauper’s boyfriend in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Before that, here in 1980, he just missed the top ten with his sweetly lilting “Romeo’s Tune” (#11). It’s really hard to write a song that sounds and feels both intelligent and innocent without sounding fake or cynical; Steve Forbert has done that here and, looking at what was in the top ten when “Romeo Tune” peaked, he deserved to be in the top ten. He avoids simple clichés, but delivers lines that sound like fresh clichés, turns of phrase — those southern kisses and smelling the moon — that feel like he discovered them instead of created them. The scene with the king and queen feels like a young adult in love discovering his recently outgrown youth, couching it in the imagery of his childhood fairy tales, but recognizing the need to be staid and boring when adulthood calls. And the jaunty piano tune and the sweet backup singers emphasize the quiet excitement of not-so-young love. In a way, this song is too good… how can a musician follow up on it? And Forbert didn’t. A dispute with his record company didn’t help, but generally it’s hard to shake the overshadowing effect of a single break-out hit; several other musicians I can think of (and will write about) have had similar flame-outs, and it’s a shame when the charts are so consistently filled with otherwise mediocre stuff. .