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Guilty Pleasures: 70s Songs I Hate to Love

October 28, 2010

Here are mine – what are yours?

1. “Rock the Boat” (Hues Corporation) I played this song every night for four months in a Top Forty Funk band.  It was my favorite song of that gig, which says a lot about the wretched state of music in the mid-70s.  It’s catchy but sleazy, like a social disease. After a couple of months of it we got bored and started singing: “F*ck the goat! Don’t tip the goat over!” Which was worth a laugh. Or maybe two.

2. “Afternoon Delight” (Starland Vocal Band) That this song hit No. 1 in 1976 makes sense. It captures America’s schizophrenia over the recent sexual revolution – equal parts puritanical horror and animal delight. The smarm of this thing makes “Rock the Boat” sound as dignified as Beethoven. At the same time there’s real delight in the vocal harmonies with little contrapuntal twists that echo Palestrina. Also the steel guitar, disguised with fuzz and phasing, tone-painting the lyric “Sky rockets in flight”, soaring over what you know isn’t a real house, but some little apartment complex where the action is happening. It’s all the clunky double-entendres that give their game away, the worst being “Rubbin’ sticks and stones together make the sparks ignite.” Ick. This love in the afternoon isn’t good clean fun. It’s guilty, naughty stuff.

Starland Vocal Band.

They look like graduate students. Maybe they should be studying instead. They know it’s wrong but just can’t help it. I know it’s    wrong but can’t stop listening. Then they hit that last bit of juicy, juicy  counterpoint, and I know I’ll be listening again.

3.  Saturday Night Fever (BeeGees) Something about the exuberant falsetto mania of the voices over a classic disco bed of four-on-the-floor, slurping high-hat and sad you’ll-regret-this-in-the-morning strings has me in musical rubber-necking mode. Now I’m running from the scene of the crime fast as I can, but the song’s chasing me, right behind. I can’t lose it.

4, Saturday in the Park (Chicago) I long ago gave up hating on these guys, and mostly love them. (Except for “Color My World.” Not only is it unforgivable, but if you’ve ever tried to fake your way through it on a gig, the chord changes are impossible.) But I’m ambling through Saturday’s park with them, diggin’ the fine melody, groovin’ on the scene until I stumble over some lyrics –“A man selling ice cream, and playing Italian songs…” bits of local color delivered with such misplaced passion that I want to go hide behind the nearest tree and laugh my ass off.

5. “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Carpenters) Or any of a handful of others – “Goodbye to Love”,  “It’s Gonna Take Some Time.” I’ve said enough about these elsewhere. Karen achieved the highest form of the hate to love song.

6. “More Than a Feeling” (Boston) At the time the juiciest lead guitar sound ever heard! And man could that guy sing high! That power chord riff, whata hook!  But when you listen again, and again (I was living in Boston at the time it was a hit and couldn’t avoid it) you realize there’s absolutely nothing beneath the surface. The guitars and that voice start sounding cheesier and cheesier. But I don’t change the station.

7. “She’s Gone” (Hall and Oates) Nothing wrong with this song. And a lot that’s right in Arif Marden’s brilliant arrangement. It’s the melodrama of the vocals –the humorless hurt in the verse and the histrionics in the chorus that’s the hate part. These guys singing soul can’t help being white. But do they have to sound so white?

8. “Take it to the Limit” (Eagles) I tell myself they’re awful. Then again, can you really hate a band as bland as the Eagles? “Limit” is as close as they come to real music. The simple string arrangement is very effective. That guy singing almost convinces me that he’s feeling something. Almost.

9. “My Love” (Wings) I can’t abide anything else Paul did with Wings.  This one’s sappy. Except somewhere in those “woah-woah’s” of the chorus I hear the ghost of Lennon and McCartney singing together, and I get a chill.

10. “You Light Up My Life” (Debbie Boone) OK. I realize I’m crawling out to the end of a very shaky limb here. I risk losing respect, if not my readers.  Don’t know what to say – she just sounds so darned sincere. How can you fault that? Come on, who doesn’t want to get their life lit up?  I’m sure you will fault me for this. So will I, once I think about it.

  1. Carolyn permalink

    I turned fifty last week. you have captured the HORROR of my teens, perfectly.

  2. Carolyn permalink

    As for my own hate-to-loves, two words: Billy Joel.

    • Billy Joel was long at the top of that list. After hearing those songs enough times the love part is gone. 50’s a blow. Then there’s 60.

  3. I disagree with you on the Chicago song and Hall and Oates but you’ve hit the mark on all of the others.

    • I knew I would get some disagreement here about the Chicago song. It was that or “Backstabbers”, and I just didn’t want to go there.

  4. For me, with the Bee Gees, it’s always been “Jive Talkin,'” with that embarrassingly cool chicka-chicka groove. Remember, this was two years *before* ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Arif Mardin’s production work, which has this almost feline sexuality, really is underrated. (You’ll keep all of this between you and me, right? Heh.)

    • I got to watch Arif producing a horn session for Chaka Khan with the Brecker Bros. She exuded top-shelf star stuff. He was cool, now that you mention it, cool as a cat.

    • These pictures actually brought tears to my eyes – you just look so happy.Beautiful photos! I love your festival follow-ups. Keep them coming!Lou x –

  5. Having seen Chicago live 9 times, I actually kind of do agree with your assessment of Saturday In the Park. I consider it a good song that suffered the fate of being overplayed to a nausea inducing level. It’s from a great album. And as good as the song is, it’s actually one of the weakest songs from Chicago V. As for Colour My World, I have live bootlegs from the early 80s with Bill Champlin singing it. He HATED to sing the song as he is one soulful white boy and there’s nothing about that song that really lends itself to Champlin’s blue-eyed soul style. Eventually Champlin gladly gave up singing the song live and Robert Lamm took over singing it live for about 15-20 years. In recent years trumpeter Lee Loughnane has taken on the lead vocals. Vocally, Loughnane is a poor man’s Terry Kath so he actually does the song some justice.

    Oh and Rock the Boat, I too consider that a guilty pleasure. Whenever I play it though I have to also play The Hustle either immediately before or immediately after listening to it.

    • Yes, the Hustle! One of the catchiest riffs in 70s music. I think I’ve heard it too many times now, but for a while it was almost a non-guilty pleasure.

  6. This is great! Packs the most laughs per line of any I’ve read of yours so far. You really hit the nail on the head. You’re really exposing your inner schlock-music-lover here and one must really respect that. Personally, I will never lift a finger to actually play any of the above tunes ever, ‘cept for maybe the Chicago and Eagles tunes, but that is doubtful since I don’t have those on CD. There’s just too much good stuff out there.
    P.S. Please add any Foreigner song to this list, (Cold as Ice-comes to mind), but that’s mostly hate.

    • Thank you, Andrew. No shame in shlock-love. Only guilt. And no love at all for Foreigner here – One time some weasel of a manager described their singer to me as a “gorilla” – the term of the time for big-selling musicians. If I wanted to work with gorillas I woulda gotten a job at the zoo. Sheesh.

  7. Believe it or not. “I” yes I, am a HUGE Carpenters fan. Always have been , always will!

    • Actually, I’m not totally surprised. For all the negatives, they did what they did better than anyone. Some Jazzer, when asked what “kind” of music he liked (meaning genre) laughed and said, “The GOOD kind.” Amen.

  8. John, your substitute lyrics for “Rock The Boat” made me laugh out loud. Oh the cynical things that come from playing cover tunes. (We used to play a cover of Van Morrison’s, “Brown Eyed Girl” …. and yes, as you can imagine, we sure did bastardize those lyrics, but the song kept the dance floor going nicely).

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post !

  9. Great list — this brings back a lot of bone-chilling memories. My guilty pleasure, that I’ll admit too, is “Close To You” by The Carpenters.

    As for finding any pleasure in disco, sorry man, “It Ain’t Me”. Any time I walk into a room and a disco tune is playing, I just turn around and leave. I still haven’t recovered from the damage disco did to our pop culture in the late seventies.

    • You haven’t recovered form the damage, neither have I and neither has pop culture.

      New millennium doesn’t seem to have meant a fresh start either.

  10. Aargh! And it took me years of therapy to forget this lot…

    Well, you’ve done it now, I’ve just scrawled out a huge rant against the mid-70s. Expect to see it posted soon! I’m feeling better already..:)

    • Awaiting your rant with bated breath!

      • As my FaceBook item on Political Beliefs used to say (before it was silently wiped and now I cannot update it), “FED up with the elephants AND the donkies (less than afeottienacfly known as The Money Party), and waiting for a majority to catch up.” Does that answer your question? Note this coming war is a global issue.

      • If I were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, now I’d say “Kowabunga, dude!”

  11. I’d grumble about the Hall & Oates and Eagles entries, because I do like both without reservations, but including the Starland Vocal Band absolves you. And in many ways, this was what one aspect of college sounded like. Thanks. (The other aspect of college was the Allmans, Dark Side of the Moon, Boz Scaggs and The Band. I lived in two musical worlds, depending on with whom I was spending my time.)

    • Speaking of Boz, here is the proof that some 60s musicians actually got better afterwards. His singing here just blew me away:

  12. You Light Up My Life makes me gag.
    I so agree with your list. I loved Chicago, though, up until it was the Peter Cetera ballad show. They kind of bit it after Kath died.
    I still have sentimental feelings for “More Than A Feeling,” though. RIP Brad Delp.

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