Guilty Pleasures: 70s Songs I Hate to Love
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.