Sunday, February 11, 2007

WHO STARCHED THE MUSIC???
...a rather jaundiced overview of trashy '70s music...

I usually enjoy those Time-Life infomercials, you know, the ones that show footage of artists from bygone eras as they perform their big hits which are, for better or worse, burned into our collective musical memory banks...and some of those infomercials are really great to watch, even though I'll never buy a Time-Life CD. (You know, the ones which you buy one set of, and then they'll send you countless discs over a 150 year period, and if you don't send 'em back, yer stuck with the bill, or something like that.) The hosts of the particular Time-Life infomercial I'm watching right now (which showcases '70's soft rock'), though, are "Air Supply". AIR SUPPLY??? How important were THEY to the American Pop Landscape? Answer: NOT AT ALL. I can't get over how ridiculous some of those '70s stars look in that old footage...Eric Carmen with a prim pompadour coiffe, Todd Rundgren wearing some kind of weird looking apron-type thing, or, the group "Exile", all decked out in leisure suits, putting everything they've got into a lip-sync performance of "Kiss You All Over", which is a TERRIBLE song. It is amazing, how "dated" these performers look after all of those years. Hey, I didn't buy into it...no leisure suits for me!

168 BIG HITS! Yep, that's what they say you'll get in this set of socially irrelevant-to-anything songs, and you could probably live without a whole lot of them. (Note: "Saturday In The Park", showcased on this infomercial, by CHICAGO is one I CAN'T live without.) Oh, wait, there's a shot of Elton John with his own hair, rather than the fake hairpiece he uses these days. But on this particular informercial I absolutely cannot believe the over-abundance of tacky polyester suits and over-done hairdo's, where the longhaired musicians had to look presentable, and often ended up looking TOTALLY RIDICULOUS in the process. And now, in this part of the infomercial, Gram Russell and Russell Hitchcock (the two wanna-bes who comprised "Air Supply"...woulda been more correct to call them "Hot Air") are sitting on a couch, singing a rather-spontaneous "Even the Nights Are Better", which is another TERRIBLE song, like every other song they did. And now, a hairy-chested Gino Vanilla-Vanilli or whatever his name is, doing, "I JUST WANNA STOP", yet another awful song. Stop, please! And now, there's MEAT LOAF doing one of his Jim Steinman-authored overwrought pop soap-operas. The guys in "Air Supply" then tell us, "every one of these tunes will take you away" (to a place that is actually kinda embarrassing to return to, actually).

Something happened long about 1971 or whatever...all originality seemed to disappear more with every succeeding year, leaving listeners with a bunch of cotton-candy, flabby, shallow music. Like, say, "YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE DANCING" by Leo Sayer. I played that song on the radio and I HATED IT. Little squeaky Leo Sayer, singing a song so shallow it evaporates by the time the tune runs its course. Or "MISSING YOU" by John Waite...another song that just absolutely REEKS. One of my favorite groups, STYX, is shown here doing "BABE"...the only song Styx did that was worse than that was "Come Sail Away"...I guess it's called "sellout". "Let's record what the producers want us to record 'cos we'll sell more records that way", and meanwhile, artistic integrity flies out the window. And sure 'nuff, "Babe" got to #1. Me, I bought Styx albums for the ALBUM songs, which were always invariably better than the hits. KANSAS was one of my favorite bands; better yet, Kansas never comprimised its sound. Their "Carry On Wayward Son" can hold its head up high as being a rare example of a '70s hit which contained artistic integrity!

I remember in the late '70s when the old group, The FOUR SEASONS were once again having top chart records. But...I saw 'em on TV...there was a different singer for most of the song; longtime lead singer Frankie Valli got a coupla token lines, and the song was "December 1963 (Oh What A Night)" which, even though it was a #1 tune, was just awful...pure musical malto-meal. The great Frankie Valli reduced to singing, "oh, I....got a funny feeling when she walked...in the room..." How sad. I wrote about the group Chicago up above...well, they had a #1 song that was one of the most sappy pieces of music I ever heard, "If You Leave Me Now", also a #1 hit. I think some sort of "70's corollary" presents itself here; the worse the song, the higher it places on the charts...is that possible? The type of '70s artists I preferred, at least APPEARED to be at least somewhat genuine. The Doobie Brothers, with "Listen To The Music", for example. "China Grove", or "Long Train Runnin'"...absolutely my cup o'tea. But, the 70s got them, too. Tom Johnston, the group's chief singer and songwriter, got bounced out, and mealy-mouthed Michael McDonald took his place. The Doobies instantaneously turned into a watered-down, castrated flabby '70s band, and what was worse, YOU COULDN'T UNDERSTAND A WORD of Michael McDonald's vocals. And yet, "What A Fool Believes" topped the charts. It was then I knew the world was going to hell. In a BIG handbasket.

I liked the Eagles, Styx, for the most part; I got tired of REO Speedwagon real fast after they began having hits with power-pop ballads that your grandmother would like; Daryl Hall and John Oates are 'okay'; so was James Taylor (although 'You've Got A Friend' is poorly written, especially on the part where it says "they'll take your soul if you let them, so don't you let them"...not exactly the stuff college dissertations are made of)...I liked Elton's music; always have, always will, although the less I hear about his gay lifestyle, the better...I loved ANYTHING by the group "War"; Earth, Wind and Fire really amazed me with their energetic chart hit, "Getaway"...Electric Light Orchestra was great; heck, I even liked Seals & Crofts and England Dan and John Ford Coley; their last hit, "Love Is The Answer" is totally awesome, dude...

But gosh, there was a lot of shallow '70s music...Cliff Richard ("Devil Woman"), Mary MacGregor ("Torn Between Two Lovers"), most EVERYTHING John Denver did, and the worst-EVER #1 song I've ever heard, "Disco Lady" by Johnnie Taylor...that's even worse than "Joy To The World" by Three Dog Night, which I ALSO can't stand! But the 'triple dogpack' are still on my list of best groups, because they kept rocking, until they couldn't find any more good songs, and just kinda faded away...another awful record I was forced to play on the radio was "Boogie Fever" by the Sylvers; three minutes of crap! Or how about "Baby Come Back" by Player; I'm sorry, I listened to that song over and over, and could find no justification for it being a #1 record. In a way (now, hear me out)...disco actually pepped up the 70's music scene a little bit, because at least you could count on those songs having mobility and energy, for the most part. I think "Disco Inferno" by the Trammps is great, and I think the Bee Gees came awfully close to making disco music an art form, because they put their songs together intelligently; I was a big fan of their "Saturday Night Fever" stuff, although I'd never be caught in public wearing one of those white leisure suits...they're so bad, they couldn't even be a guilty pleasure; I couldn't wear one in private, either.

When I worked at that little radio station in the '70s, I couldn't help thinking that something was just MISSING from the music. A lot of it was shallow, unexciting, with absolutely no hint of spontaneity whatsoever. It wasn't that the music was BAD; it was competent, rather melodic, but it just SAT THERE, not knowing what to do with itself. That was my big complaint; the music just didn't do a thing for me, and still doesn't. And back then, I would watch the popular groups on "In Concert" or "The Midnight Special", and they'd all be swaying and dancing to the music as they were singing, but nothing was happening. Who starched the music? In every era, good songs come along, and some appeared in the '70s. And there are good songs in the ultra-synthesized-glossed-over 80s and 90s as well. There's a lot of good alternative music happening on the scene. It's just that music which is performed as "product" and nothing more, sticks out like a sore thumb...and that 'thumb' was sore a lot of the time in the '70s! I know the musical scene changes all the time, but maybe I'm changing too. When I was moving into my new place in Oregon, I listened to a 2-CD set of Hank Williams (Sr.) greatest hits...and that sounded REAL. It was GREAT. Songs INTELLIGENTLY WRITTEN. And performed with BELIEVABILITY. I'd dare say any song performed with those objectives in mind will excel...whether or not it reaches #1, or even the "bubbling under" section of the Billboard charts (songs which reach #200 and below).
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Wow, judging from this post, I really 'teed off' here. I didn't mean to write the complete history of music over the last 40 years; really, I didn't. Although, maybe I'll write more stuff about music in future posts. All I have to do is search my memory banks. I've got a couple of brain cells in there which still function.

4 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Because of my age, I just missed all that 70's light pop that was all the rage. I started paying attention to music in the late 70's, with the emergence of artists like Elvis Costello, XTC, The Police, Cheap Trick, and The Clash. The 70's were also the decade of Paul McCartney's best solo work, not to mention all those classic Queen songs!

I don't mind some of those super-mellow songs when I'm in the right mood. But you're right, they don't seem very memorable, and mostly they serve as pleasant background sounds.

12:22 PM  
Blogger little ol' me said...

Hi, Phil...you might recall I listed artists who brought some integrity into the 70s, such as ELO, the Eagles, etc...and the ones you list Kept that integrity, although personally I find Elvis Costello really "dry" and XTC a bit too robotic, but I agree with you totally on the Police, Cheap Trick and Macca. Never did like them young snotty punks, tho. I found the Clash hard to listen to. Besides, that trip was done better and more effectively by the Sex Pistols.

3:17 PM  
Blogger raymond pert said...

keep writing these posts about music. one thing it does for me is help me define what I mean by "guilty pleasure" when I hear a song by Air Supply and fine myself enjoying it. this is a great rundown of the 70's. don't stop.

rp

12:47 PM  
Blogger little ol' me said...

Thanks, Mr. Pert. Not that I'm any kind of musical expert, but I know how a song affects me, and I guess I have a pretty high filter. If a music is "product", it had better be good product...I prefer the kind of music that intrigues me, and I'm not a fan of innocuous musical drivel...I keep trying to find good "unusual" music, but instead of the current musical scene, I've actually delved more into jazz...old or new, and even then I prefer the older jazz.

7:25 PM  

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