Overview of 19 April 1980

Only eight songs peaked this week; some of them may actually be good…

She doesn’t love you anymore

ForbertGoodbyeIf you liked “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert, you’ll like “Say Goodbye to Little Jo“, too.  Sure, it stalled at #85, but as we’ve seen, it isn’t always the best songs that climb the charts.  This song sounds like a bitter sweet break-up song, but if you listen, not even too closely, it’s a bitter telling off of a guy who’s lost a girl who was too good for him.  She’s perhaps that stereotypical woman who was trying to fix the problem boy, but she’s finally had one too many nights of not talking and being manipulated into staying and she’s gone.  It’s a rare empowerment song that isn’t self-congratulatory; no, it’s a song about learning from mistakes, praising the women who do and castigating the men who don’t.

My heart keeps on feeling

Beach Boys Goin OnI will admit I wasn’t expecting to stumble on The Beach Boys in 1980, and, doing research I’m even more amazed to learn that these are all the original Beach Boys.  I’ll also admit I’ve never much been a fan of their music, but I do respect them.  Don’t get me wrong — I respect them — they’ve clearly got talent, pulling off harmonies that other groups wouldn’t try to crest even with floatation devices.  It’s just that their lyrics are so predominantly vapid; I wish they’d used their talent to perform better music.  “Goin’ On” (#83) is a perfect example of this.  The vocal talent is crystal clear, layered, and deep, but the lyrics are moronic:  “We couldn’t quite make it/But I still can’t shake it” are the lazy, cheap teen-aged rhymes Frank Zappa was mocking the Beach Boys for back in the 60s, and here they are as certified adults singing the same kind of nonsense.  I wish I could say that The Beach Boys get better, but I know that 1987 is going to bring us “Kokomo”, so, no it doesn’t get better.

Don’t look now, but here come the ’80s

Styx Borrowed TimeBorrowed Time” (#64) was Styx’s opening song for their 1979-80 tour, and I’m sure at the time it sounded really rockin’ and edgy. I don’t think it’s aged well.  The tempo is in an awkward middle-ground between driving and rambling, which, when combined with the grouped triplets they use to emphasize the starts to the phrases in the chorus, sounds shambling and staggering.  They also haven’t quite figured out how to meld the gentle sci-fi synthesizer with their hard-rockin’ guitar, and the coupling feels like a pale imitation of what Queen and Journey were doing around the same time.  Still it’s inoffensive and it gets to where it wants to go, which is the second rockin’ song in the set, so let’s cut it some slack.

Lighting my dreams like a morning star

Cavaliere Only a Lonely Heart.jpgYou may not know Felix Cavaliere by name, but you probably know some of his work.  He was a member of The Starlighters, who gave us “The Peppermint Twist” ( which as a Twist song has stood the test of time much better than anything Chubby Checker put to vinyl)  and he was a Young Rascal, whom we have to thank for the inanity that is “Good Lovin’“. But he had a mellow solo run too, and “Only a Lonely Heart Sees” (#36) is an artifact of that solo career. Here he’s jumping on the easy-listening bandwagon, giving it something of a breathy Bee-Gees twist, making music for people who are to laid-back, or perhaps a year or two too old, for real disco.  He’s going to show us the way to paradise on the heels of the hands that tap out the Caribbean rhythms on those bongos that pepper the percussion track.  No need to get out of your lawn chair or maroon shag easy chair — in paradise your pulse doesn’t have to rise above resting rate.

I appreciate you’re busy

Carrie-by-Cliff-RichardInexplicably, here’s Cliff Richard again, this time with “Carrie“.  I understand that he was a big deal in Britain — like Johnny Hallyday was for France, he was, no, is, Britain’s Elvis — but I didn’t understand that he had any impact overseas.  And yet here he is at #34, the lower reaches of the top 40, but top 40 nonetheless.  Perhaps more inexplicably, this song is actually good.  The creeping guitar manages to capture the feel of anxious shyness and curiosity, precisely the tone that a song told by a guy looking for a vanished girl should hit, full of trepidation and hope at the same time.  And the lyrics are interesting:  “the young wear their freedom like cheap perfume”, for instance, captures both the slapdash excitement of immature maturity and the cynicism of an older person’s perspective on that ill-considered freedom. All of that and this song rocks, with an infectious melody that makes you want to follow Carrie to wherever she went, maybe a grimy billiards room or some back-alley biker bar.  Wherever she is and whatever reason, you can feel why Cliff wants to find her.

You deny me of my needs

utopia-set-me-free-bearsville-5Utopia was essentially a vehicle for Todd Rundgren to produce music under a name other than Todd Rudgren.  “Set Me Free” (#27) is a surprisingly bouncy light-progressive single.  I’m not sure what, exactly, I was expecting.  Well, I can tell you that at first I was expecting Utopia to be a disco-funk outfit, and then, when I saw Todd Rundgren on the track, I was expecting something, well, more rock-oriented.  But “Set Me Free” is pretty much straight-forward pop.  Well, at least the arrangement and instrumentation is.  The melody wanders all over the place, so that it doesn’t really have that sing-along quality that characterizes pop singles.  I mean, imagine trying to sing this karaoke, even without a few beers in you, let alone drunk like most karaoke would be done.  I’m not sure it’s possible.  Anyway, it’s an interesting curio, but ‘m not entirely sure I understand how it got to #27.

Somebody’s got to lose

Whispers Beat Goes OnThe Whispers are the funk-disco outfit I expected Utopia to be. “And the Beat Goes On” was their biggest hit, landing at #19 and more or less at the midpoint of their singles catalogue.  As disco songs go, it’s pretty innocuous.  It makes my feet want to get up and dance without relying on too many disco clichés.  And there’s a message to the song that is unusual for a disco song:  instead of the beat going on being about endless dancing, its about picking oneself up after a setback (in love, of course, it’s always about love) and getting on with your life.  And dancing to it.  The instrumentation of this song is actually very promising; it sounds a lot more like the kind of funk that was coming out in 1985 than the bulk of soul tracks that populated jukeboxes in 1979.

Leave that nine-to-five up on the shelf

Michael Off the WallSpeaking of music that sounds like 1979, this week’s list ends with “Off the Wall” by Michael Jackson (#10).  Maybe that’s unfair.  Michael Jackson’s voice is its own thing, it’s timeless, and regardless of the backing music, it transcends its release year. And musically, the composition is more adventurous than most disco, with an almost prog-like melody and ambitious bridges.  But the instrumentation is very disco; it’s very very close to a Stevie Wonder-style modern jazz song, but there’s the breathy layered background music and the kick drum and that weird Evermean cackling at the beginning.  Regardless, the song just wants to get you up off your feet and drop your inhibitions, and, if you like disco, this will achieve that goal while still challenging your brain with complexity you won’t get from KC & The Sunshine Band.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Is this really your real phone number?

SwitchWe’ve finally made it out of January of 1980, folks!

On 2 February, 1980, “I Call Your Name” by Switch peaked at #83.

In 1963, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons released “Walk Like a Man“, which, in the grand scheme of things is a pretty good song.  It’s message is undermined a bit by the fact that Frankie Valli, while singing about how he’ll walk like a man, is failing to sing like a man, what with his amazing piercing falsetto.  He’s a good singer, don’t get me wrong, and the falsetto works for songs like “Ragdoll” and “Dawn”; it’s just that for “Walk Like a Man” there’s an inherent — and I assume unintended — irony that I can’t imagine people didn’t pick up on.

So, now we have Switch.  These guys are a one-hit wonder, hitting #38 in 1978 with “There’ll Never Be”, and they kept trying until 1984 to score another hit, but never managed.  “I Call Your Name” was the last time they even hit the lower reaches of the Hot 100, peaking at #83.  And it’s got that same inadvertent irony as “Walk Like a Man”.  The song starts with an earnest voiceover, starting with “I used to think about immature things”, said by a guy who sounds like he’s in sixth grade.  Listening to him muse about how he’s gotten past worrying about whether his girl loves him, it’s hard not to snicker when he says, as if it’s a revelation, “I’m a man now!”

Just like if a country has to tell you in its name that it’s a democracy it probably isn’t, if you have to state you’re a man in a song, there’s probably a good argument that you aren’t.

Part of the problem is also that Switch was coming to prominence in the waning days of disco.  There’s really nothing too wrong with the lyrics to this song — some of them are actually pretty good — and I bet if the Jackson Five had performed this in 1974, it would have been a big hit.  But for a struggling soul band to try to claw its way up to the top on saccharine-cute disco in 1979 was a tall order.  And, sure, for every pretty good lyric (“Although I love the sunshine, I’ll still accept the rain”) there’s a turn of phrase that makes you wonder if the writers actually speak English in their normal lives.  “Doggone”?  Who says “doggone” in any seriousness?  Maybe “I Call Your Name” is deliberately ironic, and so successful that it’s indistinguishable from a clumsily penned sincere song…. I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.  I mean… who conducts an experiment in irony for over 7 minutes of valuable radio air time?

We can’t rewind; we’ve gone too far

BugglesOn 12 January 1980, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was at #83. It peaked on December 15, 1979 at #40. 

Imagine yourself as someone like Bobby Darin, who was a regular feature on the popular charts in the 50s and 60s . Imagine standing in an old radio studio, sifting through a bunch of old singles tucked away in their warehouse, perhaps not yours but those of your contemporaries:  Perry Como, Dion, Freddy Canon, Sonny James.  And imagine a young, curly-haired geek of a guy comes up to you and says, “Hey, I remember listening to your stuff when I was a kid!  I love the bassline from that one single, you know the one that soul group turned into a synthesizer riff for their newest single.  I’ve always wondered what you think of how the music industry has changed.  Well, what do you think?”

What would you say?

At least for me, I imagine I’d say something along these lines:  “Everything’s changed; I’m glad I had my time and it was great while it lasted, but time moved on and there’s so much new, who knows if I could have been who I was — who I am  — seeing how it works today.”

That’s the story told by “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.  It’s not triumphant, nor is it sad.  It’s wistful, glad for the time spent lying awake intent at night listening to the disembodies voices singing on the radio, but also accepting that now, thanks to video tape recording, those voices aren’t disembodied any longer, and what a performer looks like, what he or she does in front of a camera is as important as what they croon into the microphone.

This was perhaps not a novel thought; after all ever musician wanted to get a spot on Ed Sullivan or The Tonight Show so that America’s eager public could see as well as hear them.  But if just being on TV were the be-all and end-all of attracting an audience in the video age, then The Buggles wouldn’t be in their video dressed in silver lame, or backed by dancing-singing robotic sci-fi women, and they certainly wouldn’t have a little girl in a red jumper looking forlorn as she climbs up a playground slide.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” is a rare single that captures a pivot point in social history, talks about it intelligently, even poetically, without being either condemnatory or triumphant.  Trevor Horn, that curly-haired geek of a guy, came along and told us that music had just changed, and for better or for worse, there’s no going back.  It didn’t predict MTv really — even though MTv would take another two years to air, music video programs had started popping up in the UK and the US in the late 70s — but it did predict that musicians were going to have to do something more than dress sharply and swivel their pelvises to get popular traction.  Pictures had come to break hearts and it was a phenomenon that couldn’t be undone.

Is someone at MTv headquarters sitting in the abandoned set of Yo MTv Raps lamenting how the internet killed the video star?  MTv did a lot to kill itself off, by abandoning its video show format and investing in comedy shows and reality programs. But, until the rise of internet streaming and the ubiquity of the mp3, someone at MTv or VH1 could have hit rewind; they even tried with  spin-off stations that, sadly, became as inundated with non-video content as their parent stations.  Now, there’s no going back; the mp3 killed the video show, and that’s how it will be, at least until the next ground-breaking technology comes along.