I Remember Everything

The very first post at this blog warned you: “Some of what we get into will likely be so personal that I’ll be the only one who could conceivably be interested in it.” And so here we are in the middle of January 1977. The list, which I playlisted and drove around with this week, was originally posted on Twitter by Retro Music Ads; click to embiggen.

2. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. Me, 2017: “A few years ago some Internet site I was reading suggested that your life’s theme song is the one that was #1 on your 18th birthday. But there is no goddamn way I’m accepting “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb. I would, however, take the #1 song on my 17th birthday….”

4. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor
5. “Walk This Way”/Aerosmith
“Torn Between Two Lovers” is very 70s, and not just because it’s bland pop cheese that scratched some cultural itch and became an unlikely #1 hit. It’s also quite progressive, in Mary’s suggestion that there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be able to love two people equally, as each one of them provides something she needs and cannot get from the other. That radio stations would play it in the same quarter-hour with “Walk This Way” leaves me woozy with delight.

8. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. Some big hits don’t stay on the radio very long after they drop out of current rotations, but precious few disappeared as fast or as completely as “Hot Line,” which went to #5 on the Hot 100 and was #1 at WLS in Chicago. It ranked #25 on Billboard‘s official year-end Top 100 (and #11 at WLS), but literally dozens of the songs that ranked behind it would be much better remembered and get much more airplay across the years to come.

9. “Dazz”/Brick. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me one of the things wrought by the triumph of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s was the virtual end of the crossover between jazz and Black pop. But before that, in bands from Earth Wind and Fire to MFSB down unto Brick, guys with jazz chops frequently got to show them off on the radio.

12. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow
17. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck
25. “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings
28. “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)”/Barbra Streisand
Here I am at peak irrationality about the winter of 1977, although it has far less to do with what’s in the grooves than it does the context in which I was listening. That said, however, neither Manilow nor Streisand ever did anything better.

14. “Tonight’s the Night”/Rod Stewart
22. “Hard Luck Woman”/KISS
Rod sings, “Disconnect the telephone line / Relax baby, enjoy that line,” thereby rhyming “line” with “line.” My man’s got coke-fueled seducin’ to do and no time for poetic details. It’s said that in 1977, people mistook “Hard Luck Woman” for Rod Stewart, although to the extent I hear that, it’s much more so in the backing track, which sounds like it could have been on Gasoline Alley or another early album.

15. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger
16. “Somebody to Love”/Queen
20. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
29. “Livin’ Thing”/ELO

The other day on my radio show I played for the first time one of the giant hits of the moment (which I cannot mention by name, alas), a record that’s been getting thousands of spins a week across the country for a couple of months—and friends, it is garbage. It’s so bad that it actually makes me angry. We consumed plenty of empty musical calories back in the day, but from time to time, artists would challenge themselves and us with music that demanded and rewarded attention, and it was good for the soul in ways that endure years later.

30. “More Than a Feeling”/Boston. I have written before about “the climax of ‘More Than a Feeling,’ just as the wall of guitars gives way for that Louie-Louie bass line to kick in for the last time, and where for just a moment I remember everything.

And I do. The angle of the light on those January mornings, and the promise of those days, and the way my future rolled out in front of me, a road leading inevitably over the rainbow, an easy journey as long as I just kept walking.

I would never get over the rainbow, of course. Remembering the time when I was sure I would will have to be enough now.

As with all things at this website, your mileage may vary. We’ve all got music that speaks to us of things only we can understand, on a frequency that only we can hear. This is some of mine.

14 thoughts on “I Remember Everything

  1. This is one of my favorite periods for pop music, and I have my own set of memories and feelings when I think back on it. I’m inclined to agree with you about “Weekend in New England.”

    I’ve always heard that part of “Tonight’s the Night” as “Relax, baby, and draw that blind,” alluding to the desire for as much privacy as possible. Then again, I was twelve at the time, so drug references could easily have gone over my head.

    1. mikehagerty

      I heard “Tonight’s The Night” the same way—“draw that blind”.

      #1 on my 18th birthday is Cher’s “Dark Lady”, so who has it worse? I’ll steal your cheap showbiz trick and switch to my 17th birthday, which gets me “Love Train”.

      1. Apparently it really is “draw that blind,” which might be even worse poetry than rhyming “line” with “line.” But the coke reference is far more true-to-life, so I am going to continue to choose to believe that’s what it is.

  2. Oh, and a methodology question, because I am suddenly unsure:
    In years when your birthday falls between Top 40 charts, do you consider the “#1 song on your birthday” to be the song that ended the previous week at #1, or the song that was #1 for the week in which your birthday occurred?

    Hypothetical example: Say your special day is November 7, 1979. “Pop Muzik” was #1 for the week ending Nov. 3; “Heartache Tonight” was #1 for the week ending Nov. 10.
    I think most people would say “Heartache Tonight” was #1 on their day, because it had the most airplay/sales for that calendar week.
    But if you’d stopped someone on the street on November 7, 1979, and asked them what song was #1, they would have said “Pop Muzik.”

    1. Chris Herman

      If you’re using the Billboard chart, I think it would depend upon what issue of the magazine was on the rack at the time. In most cases, the date of a weekly periodical represents the last day it’s supposed to be for sale. In this case, that would mean the November 10, 1979, edition of Billboard (which includes its Top 40/Hot 100 chart) would be the one for sale, indicating “Heartache Tonight” was the song at #1 on November 7th.

  3. Aaron

    Not sure if jb can confirm/deny in the comments, but my guess for “makes me angry” would be “I’m Good”, an extremely lazy cover of Eiffel 65’s “Blue”, whose current success on the charts mystifies me to no end.

  4. Leo Edelstein

    Lotsa good tunes here, thanks JB. Engelbert, whatta voice, still hear his stuff on 1280 WNAM in the Fox Valley, full of fine adult standards. Is the “makes me angry” tune Hold Me Closer by John/Spears?

  5. Wesley

    Let’s see, my 18th birthday’s number one was Africa, while my 17th one was Centerfold. I’ll settle for the latter.

    Also, Jb, your accurate note about the “triumph of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s was the virtual end of the crossover between jazz and Black pop” brings to mind something I’ve noted in Tom Breihan’s “Number Ones” column in Stereogum, which you alerted me to when I started reading this column. Breihan is now in the mid-aughts, a period when hip-hop dominated the top spot, and reading each entry on them is a chore or a bore or both because of the song and artist(s) involved, very rarely due to Tom’s prose. It’s depressing how many writeups there mention at least one person dying before he or she was 50, often due to drugs or gun violence, and quote some of the most unappealing, uninspired lyrics I’ve ever heard. Interestingly, while Tom seems to love most of it, most of his readers seem more critical toward them. We’ll see how long this dichotomy lasts. Incidentally, if he continues reviewing songs at the current three-per-week average (minus a few weeks and days off), he should be finished covering all the Hot 100 chart toppers within two years from now.

    1. Chris Herman

      There was a crossover between jazz and hip-hop in the late ’80s and early ’90s with groups like Us3, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets having a fair amount of success but the “Jazz Rap” genre largely declined in popularity after 1994.

      I also regularly read Tom Breihan’s “Number Ones” column and have a similar problem with his recent entries. However, that’s mostly because I had little interest in Top 40 pop by the oughts. With the exception of a few songs, I no longer knew or cared what was on the charts. I was busy with other things in my life and, when I listened to music, had already carved out my own path.

      Also, for the record, the #1 on my 18th birthday was “Billie Jean” and “Centerfold” on my 17th. It’s close but MJ edges J. Geils.

  6. porky

    Fool that I can sometimes be, I loathed all things Gibb during their second act (post “Main Course”) and especially with brother Andy, but damn is “Love is Thicker Than Water” an amazing record. Just recently found out it’s Joe Walsh providing the slide guitar during the mid section.

    And the flak Barry Manilow took, but his records still sound pretty good. Just finished (and highly recommend to those who visit Jim’s blog) “Let’s Do It, the Birth of Pop Music, A History” by Bob Stanley, a nearly 4-inch thick book that I didn’t want to end. After running thru said history Stanley says (paraphrasing) if you put this book in a blender you would come up with Barry Manilow, praising him for his pop savvy. Stanley throws curves like that which I really enjoy.

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