Overview of 12 April 1980

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

rcr_scandalThe 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

nazareth-holidayI’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

bar-kays-today-is-the-dayNo 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!

zevon-certain-girlI’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

John_Denver_Autograph_album_cover.jpgI 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

roberta-flack-with-donny-hathaway-you-are-my-heaven-atlantic-2.jpgListen 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

loggins-keep-the-fireSome 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_by_kool_and_the_gang_and_lisa_stansfieldToo 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…

 

 

 

 

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 23 February 1980

23 February 1980 is a short week, with only seven songs hitting their peak:

 It ain’t love but it ain’t bad

JohnCougarSmallParadise.jpgJohn Cougar Melloncamp’s made a career out of angsty earnestness, and “Small Paradise” (#87) is an attempt in kind that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  It feels like it’s trying to be epic, but it’s hard to be epic with only two verses; do we have enough time to feel much for the veteran lovers whose hearts are warm despite their ears being cold?  Do we care if the girl John thinks he knows is actually the girl he thinks he knows when we don’t get another verse about her?  “Small Paradise” doesn’t feel finished, and we don’t know enough about the bar to know whether calling it a small paradise is irony or honesty.  One more verse, maybe we could have gotten another 20 places on the charts.

“I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats at #73 warrants its own page.

You can say we’re conceited

JimKirkVoiceofFreedom.jpgYou would think if you wanted to foist a jingoistic single on the world, you would try to time it to your country’s independence day.  Independence Day in the USA is July Fourth; Jim Kirk’s grating bombastic bit of national chauvinism — “Voice of Freedom” — peaked in February at #71.  Perhaps he was hoping to perform it at the Super Bowl.  The lyrics are so cringe-inducing that it’s sometimes hard to tell if “Voice of Freedom” is meant as an ironic bit of satire that hit so close to its target as to be indistinguishable.  Lyrics like the part where the TM singers boldly announce without a hint of sorrow that a lot of their friends have died for freedom really make me wonder.  But even the most craven satirist wouldn’t juxtapose lyrics about treasuring the freedom of speech with lyrics insisting that schools teach kids religion.  I’m all for freedom, but this song isn’t about freedom; it’s about forcing a particular set of values on an unsuspecting world.  Call us conceited, indeed; this song is the sort of thing that make other free societies — the UK, Sweden, France — wonder where our sense of perspective went out of whack.  I don’t know which is more surprising, that “Voice of Freedom” got into the Hot 100 at all or that it didn’t climb higher.

That six and one

TavaresBadTimes.jpg In slot #47, there’s Tavares, who in 1976 were worried that heaven might be missing an angel, but here are only trying to make ends meet in “Bad Times“.  This is a hard thing to doconvincingly when your ensemble sounds smoother than vanilla, and as a result, the lyrics to this song feel largely superficial.  There’s the occasional atonal flourish that tries to ground the frustrated lyrics with the disco, but all in all, it’s not really enough to make for an urban blight anthem.  Still, it sounds nice, and it’s certainly danceable.

I get all choked up inside

BonniePointerCan'tHelp.jpgBonnie Pointer of the Pointer Sisters had something of a solo career, of which “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” (#40) is an unfortunate reminder.  It’s a breathy, hyperactive disco interpretation of the doo-wop classic by The Four Tops that makes you want to take Quaaludes.  Bonnie extracts all the soul out of it, straining to keep pace with the racing tempo, and instead of the tension of a frustrated lover, I hear the anxiety of maybe not turning the lyrics sheet in time.  Even the bell and staccato blurting sax solos don’t really add anything necessary to this version.  Seriously, go listen to The Four Tops.

There’s a light in your eye that keeps shining

Led-Zeppelin-Fool-In-The-Rain-189812Leave it to Led Zeppelin to construct something that grabs a listener’s attention with something that just sounds different. In this case it’s “Fool in the Rain“, which landed at #21.  I suspect that this high performance has a lot to do with the fact that it’s Led Zeppelin, a very popular established act, than the quality of the song.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like what I’m hearing, but I’m surprised that a listening public that put Captain & Tennille on the top of the charts would have time for something as challenging as this.  Let’s just call it the Fleetwood Mac phenomenon; people will tolerate unusual music from a band that’s already got a history of hits behind them.  Anyway, the classic rock samba interlude in the middle, sounding like someone crawling with fleas, is quite a cacophonous revelation, and jibes well with the frustration that a neglected lover would have, feverishly seeing his girl only in his dreams.  It’s ambiguous whether his being on the wrong block is a shaggy dog story — listen to this funny story, babe — or whether it’s an existential thing that he’s dating the wrong girl.  Whichever, it’s a rousing revelation of an ending, and I feel good for him, whatever it is he’s realized in the end.

And then there’s “Cruisin'” by Smokey Robinson, at #4, which also deserves its own page.

 

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.