In the summer of 1975, I did not like the Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” even as it did a month at #1, the first record to last that long at the top in over two years. I did not like “The Way I Want to Touch You” that fall, even as it insinuated itself into my head and now inspires strong flashbacks to the end of that year. (Which is omething I intend to write about next week.) The Captain and Tennille were woven into my favorite year, 1976, with three big hits. “Shop Around” didn’t bother me, but “Muskrat Love” and “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” did. (Click the link for Professor O’Kelly’s thoughts on the latter, and several C&T songs.) By 1977, however, they ceased to register much at all with me. By the end of 1980, they were gone from the charts, never to return, and I felt no void because of it.
As the years went by, I called them a cocktail-lounge act. I called Toni Tennille’s voice an in-your-face bleat, and I said that she reminded me of that mouthy cheerleader you hated in high school. I described the Captain’s style on keyboard as “blips and farts.” I even criticized them on a sociological basis. In their last two big hits, “You Never Done It Like That” and “Do That to Me One More Time” (which went to #1 in February 1980), I heard Toni criticizing the Captain’s prowess in the sack. “You Never Done It Like That” contains one of the most demeaning things a woman ever said to a man after he’s made love to her: “Hey little man, I want to shake your hand.” In “Do That to Me One More Time,” Toni seems mildly surprised to have gotten off.
Even in the early days of this blog, I was prone to snark. Back in 2005, I wrote:
September 20, 1976: The Captain and Tennille’s variety show premieres on ABC. It becomes one of the most enduring hits in the history of television, remaining on the air until 1994. Its staggering popularity results in seven consecutive number-one albums, 24 top-10 singles, and the 1997 induction of Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wait, maybe not.
Now, all these years later, “Wait, maybe not” is right.
The variety-show crack gets at something truthful in a backward way: a network variety show did not often boost an act’s hitmaking profile. Sonny and Cher, Roy Clark and Buck Owens (with Hee Haw), Tony Orlando and Dawn, Donny and Marie, and the Captain and Tennille never scaled the charts after their TV shows like they had before. And if the Captain and Tennille’s show was cheesy, it wasn’t much more so than its contemporaries. As a time capsule of what TV celebrity looked like in 1976 and 1977, you can scarcely do better.
As for the rest of it—in-your-face bleat, mouthy cheerleader, and so on? Nah, that’s not fair, and I don’t believe it anymore.
Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon were hipper than people knew, as Ultimate Classic rock summarizes here, including the funny story about the Pink Floyd fan who discovered Toni is on The Wall, and the Captain’s history with the Beach Boys. In the middle of the 1970s, they cut some great songs: several by Neil Sedaka and one (“Shop Around”) by Smokey Robinson. They were backed on record by the LA superstars known as the Wrecking Crew. And they hit in an era that was perfectly perfectly primed for solidly built pop music, lightweight and catchy and fun.
(One of their records was more than just fun. “Shop Around” contains advice no young man ever needed. But by gender-flipping it, the Captain and Tennille told young women of the 70s that they could control their own lives and make their own choices—topical and significant advice amidst the changes of that decade. It’s my favorite record of theirs by a mile, but I like this one a lot, too, speaking of lightweight and catchy.)
No, the Captain and Tennille aren’t getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And no, I’m not going to buy their complete-works box set, should there ever be one. But it’s hard to imagine the 1970s without them, and that’s the biggest tribute I can pay anybody. Rest well, Captain, and thank you for the music.