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Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Commemorating my $7.99 purchase of "Big Hits of the '70s." on impulse at Tower yesterday...track by track.

1. The Knack, “My Sharona”
You know, The Knack are one of those bands that keep coming back, and no one seems to notice. Not that this is a bad thing. (That no one notices, not that they keep resurfacing.) These lyrics are quite risqué for their time, at least for something that was this big a hit. (It’s somehow less fun, now that you can drop all sort of stuff into lyrics and no one notices.) I know it’s popular to despise this song, because there are a lot of things wrong with it – the vocals kinda suck, it’s way too long for what it is. The second guitar solo’s impressive at some level but it seems like a tacked-on afterthought and drags. Power pop ditties should not run 4:53. Somehow I have a soft spot for it. I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with “Reality Bites.”

2. Sweet, “Ballroom Blitz”
This one’s even better if you know that the Sweet began life as a pre-fab bubble-gum outfit and then broke loose from their Svengalis. It has undeniable pop charm, but it still sounds like it could have come from a garage. I’ve no clue what most of the lyrics are, since they’re either slurred or screamed. But who cares? Unfortunately, the song also brings back memories of that awful cover Tia Carrere recorded for “Wayne’s World.”
Did the man in the back ever get together with the girl in the corner?

3. Raspberries, “Go All The Way”
Before Eric Carmen had to resort to the hard-to-swallow syrup of “All By Myself,” he came up with, well, syrup that’s much easier to swallow, like this one. Guilty pleasure all the way, with the hooks and chord changes in all the right places. The distorted guitar riff probably even allowed it to stride the musical divide of the early 70s and get airplay on both AM (think Rolling Stones) and FM (think Bread) stations. I suppose if this came from the other side of the Atlantic, they might classify this as “glam rock.”

4. Pilot, “Magic”
The epitome of ‘70s cheese, with the corny lyrics, the la-la-la background singers, the short blasts of horn, the hand claps, and the fact that it’s been used in commercials. I will get this stuck in my head from time to time now. Which makes me wonder if this purchase was such a great idea.

5. Bob Welch, “Ebony Eyes”
No, not the pitcher who won 27 games for the Oakland A’s in 1990. I love this song. I love the opening riff, and so does R.E.M., since they ripped it off for “Begin the Begin.” Welch was a member of Fleetwood Mac just before they were famous, and this has netted me many a trash tossup. The chorus is catchy as the Ebola virus; the weak link is the bridge, but it’s short and ends up being another convenient place to drop the opening riff on us again. An obscure rock classic from 1977.

6. Tavares, “It Only Takes A Minute”
It suppose a compilation couldn’t call itself “Big Hits of the 70s” without including disco. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a cover of this bandied about. About the only notable thing I can think of about this song is that its lyrics make reference to job hunting and unemployment lines, which is odd for the disco genre, and it uses more minor chords than normal. That this song isn’t more famous probably has something do with its 1975 release date, before disco really peaked.

7. Blondie, “Heart of Glass”
Debbie Harry makes her best case for being a pop diva. The original idea Blondie had was to make this song a teary-eyed reggae song at a much slower tempo. Although it might be a better fit for the woe-is-me lyrics, I think this worked much better – an essentially guilt-free disco tune. It also ages pretty well, like much of the Blondie catalog. It takes a bit too long to end, but that’s a relatively minor flaw.

8. Maxine Nightengale, “Right Back Where We Started From”
I’m shocked that hasn’t been brought back by someone in a big way, either via a cover or a high-profile appearance in a movie soundtrack. The chorus is legendary for its sunny infectiousness. One of those songs you know even if you don’t, if you know what I mean.

9. Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose, “Too Late To Turn Back Now”
The arrangement suggests a sped-up version of Philadelphia soul (Delfonics, Stylistics). The vocals suggest the blue-eyed soul of Johnny Rivers. It’s a winning combination.
I wouldn’t suggest paying attention to the lyrics (if you’re losing this much sleep and calling someone ten times a day, you probably need professional help.)

10. Ike & Tina Turner, “Proud Mary”
“We never ever, ever do nothin’ and easy. We always do it nice and rough.” Another one of those quotations that sounds much more disturbing with some context (i.e. the relationship between Ike and Tina Turner, fraught with domestic abuse.) If I didn’t know, I’d never guess this song wasn’t theirs. Other than the bit about “you don’t need to worry if you got no money – people on the river are happy to give,” you’d also not have guessed that original writer John Fogerty of CCR was a Californian who had never been anywhere near the Mississippi River when he wrote this.

11. The Sylvers, “Boogie Fever”
Second-tier disco, again from the comparative early days of 1975. There’s very little distinctive about it, and I don’t think the Sylvers had any other major hits. It’s one of those songs that you can hear a Muzak version of and not miss much. One would think they were too cheap to get higher-level disco product, but the next track is…

12. A Taste of Honey, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”
This tune netted A Taste of Honey the Best New Artist Grammy, over the likes of Elvis Costello, which turned out to be the kiss of death it nearly always is. Their only other hit came a few years later with a cover of “Sukiyaki.” (Why that song keeps coming back is beyond me – it’s nearly as hard to keep down as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees – or “MacArthur Park.”) The bass line and guitar fills are appealing enough, but 7:17 is way more Boogie Oogie Oogie than anyone will ever need in their lifetime.

13. Hot Chocolate, “You Sexy Thing”
Thank the movies for the resurgence of this great tune. It seems invented to strip to, and that’s not by any means a bad thing. And of course was used very effectively in “The Full Monty.” It sadly has not led to a broader revival for Hot Chocolate. (Not that the movies tend to do that anyway – it’s not as if the re-emergence of “Stuck in the Middle With You” ignited any further interest in either Stealers’ Wheel or the solo output of Gerry Rafferty.)

14. Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
In the musical canon thanks in large part to Pulp Fiction (I still love Tarantino’s soundtracks – they age better than his films.) This song does speak for itself, and Al Green is a bona fide soul legend. If you want your woman (or man) back, you can’t do much better than dedicate this one. I’m surprised they were able to get the rights to this one, since it’s listed as being “under license from Hi records,” and nearly everything else on here can be traced to issuer EMI-Capitol.

15. Nick Gilder, “Hot Child In The City”
Gilder, who not only sounds androgynous but looked that way in 1978, muses about a young prostitute, probably a runaway teenage girl, in Los Angeles. Some of the lyrics are clever – for some reason the double entendre “So young to be loose and on her own” is in some way impressive. Although generally teenage prostitutes aren’t attractive, their clientele generally isn’t “young boys” but dirty old (or at least middle-aged) men, and the narrator might want to think twice before “making love” to this person. (Why do I deconstruct lyrics to pop songs so much, anyway?) Love that riff. Reminds me a little of the electrified version of “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed – come to think of it, the subject matter reminds me of Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” (ObPointlessTrivia: Gilder also wrote Scandal’s “The Warrior.”)

16. Blue Swede, “Hooked On A Feeling”
This one baffles me. The base song, by B.J. Thomas, is OK, nothing to write home about. Doing a cover of it a scant three years later, as the age of multiple versions of the same song charting in a short span was essentially over, seems like a strange idea, even if the horns and wood blocks seems like a better arrangement to go than the strings and sitar of the original version. And that’s before you even mention the “ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga” business.

17. Sugarloaf, “Green Eyed Lady”
Maybe it’s because its release date was in 1970 (essentially the peak of the epic-jams-as-pop-hits era) Or maybe its the flower-child lyrics, the noodling organ and guitar solos, and the bizarre intro, but this song seems to last much longer than it actually does (3:37, believe it or not.) As a kid I used to think the song was about a three-eyed lady. Either way, I’m not sure how this was such a big hit or why it’s anything but ultra-obscure today.

18. The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)”
They don’t have access to actual Creedence, so instead we have a Creedence cover and this song, which sounds for all the world like a CCR tune, in particular “Green River” and “Born on the Bayou.” Something of a fluke, this tune was a hit in 1973, long after any of the other Hollies hits and after the departure of its most famous member, Graham Nash.

19. Dr. Hook, “Sharing The Night Together”
It’s hard to take anything Dr. Hook does seriously. I wonder if that’s the point, sort of a soft-rock, low-rent version of Warren Zevon. But this tune, a lame stab (complete with bad whispering background vocals) at being for out-of-the-loop white people what something like “Just the Two of Us” would be for the R&B crowd, seems much closer in spirit to, say, “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns than to either “Cover of the Rolling Stone” or anything by Zevon. If you hate Steely Dan, this could pass for Steely Dan; if you like them, you’re now throwing things at the screen. There’s no reason to listen to this; anyone you could lure into bed with this isn’t worth the trouble.

20. Little River Band, “Lonesome Loser”
Yum. Australian country music, with a heavy influence from REO Speedwagon. I think I’ll pass. This was a hit around the same time as “Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, and as a kid I always wondered if there was a connection there, since the title character of “Lonesome Loser” gets “beaten by the Queen of Hearts every time.” I wish this collection had included “Reminiscing” instead. It’s catchier, and has the easy-on-the-ears quality you’d expect from songwriter Barry Mannilow without any his unctuous voice.

Well, there you have it, dear readers. Off to enjoy the last day of sunshine before tropical storm Isidore drops some much-needed rain on the Washington area…


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