Why it doesn’t Suck: Music from the seventies VI

Today, I’m featuring music from the seventies by The Carpenters, and will do it without any sense of irony — not even a wisecrack, promise! The Carpenters was the bane of 70s FM album-oriented radio (meaning that AM radio was their domain). The Carpenters was as commercial as it got. This was far away from Pink Floyd, Blue Cheer, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, all of whom tried to expand the boundaries of music, often creating music that was, uh, rather challenging to listen to; but when the “experiment” worked, it produced many of the masterpeices of rock music for which the seventies have become identified.

The Carpenters would have none of that. No experimentalism here. They were going for what sold. The sure thing. We all know that. But The Carpenters did the “Sure thing” very well. The sure thing was their thing, and it suited their style, their image, and their talents. What I respect is the fact that they came upon their commercialism honestly, without the slightest hint of awkwardness. They sung the songs they were meant to sing, inviting you into their perfect world, for a short time.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote “Close To You” in 1963, which, as was the case for all Bacharach/David songs, was first recorded by Dionne Warwick but not seeing the light of day until arrangements were added to the demo in 1964. Richard Chamberlain released it first in 1963, as the title “They Long To Be Close To You” (no parenthesis), the flip side to his hit “Blue Guitar”. This was later picked up by Dusty Springfield in 1964. It was sitting around in the vaults until 1967 when it finally appeared in her album “Where Am I Going?”. It was also covered by Herb Alpert during that time also. Even Burt Bacharach himself tried to make it a hit in 1968, but it flopped. The song remained in obscurity until Karen and Richard Carpenter recorded it in 1970. The song, whose title was slightly modified to “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, became a huge hit, staying at #1 for four weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. No one I’m aware of was ever able to make it a hit before or since. Not even Frank Sinatra, who sung it a year later. It became the song that was immediately identified with The Carpenters, winning them a Grammy Award in 1971. This song seems to make cameo appearances on The Simpsons from time to time also.

This is a great video in that we get to see Karen both sing and play drums.

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Why it doesn’t suck: Music from the Seventies V

You Should Be Dancing was the first serious disco hit for the Bee Gees in 1976, a year before Saturday Night Fever. The song later made it on the soundtrack as well, although it was not played on the film. Neither was Jive Talking.  It used the signature falsetto that was found in many of their subsequent hits throughout the 70s and 80s.

I like the rock drums and guitar on this tune, since it makes it rise above the plasticity and superficiality of all disco that came later (by nearly everyone including the Bee Gees). This song was culled from their mid-seventies comeback period, where many of my favourite Bee Gees tunes reside. I am not all that fond of their music before or after, but Jive Talkin’, Nights on Broadway, Fanny, and  You Should be Dancing are my all-time Bee Gees favourites. All of these hits occured in a short period between 1975 and 1976.

Bee Gees – You Should be Dancing:

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Why it doesn’t suck: Music from the seventies III: Kenny Loggins

It was 1972, and while commercialism of the music industry was on the rise, there was still enough genuine and original songs to call 1972 a high water mark in popular music. Things got even better in ’73, but then a long, slow decline happened that persists to this day. In my opinion, 1972 was also the high water mark of Kenny Loggins’ music. After this, he started over-commercialising himself, especially with the soundtracks: Danger Zone (Top Gun), Footloose (Footloose), and I’m Alright (Caddyshack) are three over-played songs on radio that immediately come to mind.

“Danny’s Song” is a tune penned by Kenny Loggins during his time with Loggins and Messina that fits in with a number of songs of that period that you can imagine a kindergarten or grade 2 teacher teaching their kids to sing. It is wholesome, with just the right amount of sentimentality that, I think, hits everyone at a basic level. Kind of like “Yellow Submarine”, or “This Land is Your Land”.  When Anne Murray sung this tune a year later, she was nominated at the 1974 Grammies for best female vocalist. She was up against Roberta Flack (“Killing Me Softly”), and won the Grammy in 1974. It is one case where, while the cover was a bigger hit than the original, the original still stands on its own.

The period had a raft of similar tunes, but some of them were trying to hit you over the head with this Kindergarten teacher idea to such an extreme so as to bring actual children in as backup singers.  Two over-the-top examples that immediately come to mind are: “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr., or “Sing” by the Carpenters.

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Why it doesn’t suck: Music from the seventies I: Diana Ross

This new series is inspired by another blog where writers Wes Clark and Bob Hargus just list out a raft of seventies songs that “suck”, with some subjective criteria included, not to mention the odd bit of commentary. Among those listed are, of course, the music we all think about when we think of tacky songs of that period: a good chunk of ABBA, “Feelings” by Morris Albert, “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (I once saw this single nailed to a pillar in front of a Toronto used record store on Yonge Street, south of Bloor — rotate that!), Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”, and most things found in any K-Tel catalogue.

You probably expect me to list those things, along with the predictable tut-tutting of what we all listened to, and how it makes us feel foolish. But you know what? I won’t. And that’s because what passes for a monster musical hit these days is worse than the worst seventies song. Yes, there are exceptions, there are always exceptions, but there are many good reasons that songs these days suck so much, mostly having to do with the changes in the music industry. It seems to me, that in an attempt to become a predictable source of revenue to its shareholders, the hit songs of today have to sound like previously existing hit songs. Punk rock also saved the major labels a load of money in not having to book so much studio time so that the band could get its act together. This was because not rehearsing or even checking to see if their instruments are in tune is the whole point of punk rock. But as music fans started to understand the political statement behind being a punk, they probably started to discover that they can take control of their lives and improve their communities without needing to listen to such shitty music while they’re doing it. It also doesn’t seem quite as necessary as it used to be to dye your hair purple, wear a mohawk, or stick a clothes pin through your nostril to rebel against vanity and fashion. Although, that kind of fashion idiocy has been replaced by another form of fashion idiocy, inspired by Rap and Hip-Hop. I have already previously commented on the similarities in tastes in clothing and how it is worn, to that of rednecks. What goes around comes around.

So, for my first instalment in this series, I present to you my reasons for why Diana Ross, and “Touch Me In the Morning”, does not suck. I think this song is actually a good song, foremost because of the fact that it is better than any torch song or ballad sung these days. But even on its own merit, it is classic motown, and the song reached number 1 and charted on Billboard for nearly 6 months. Most motown artists worked through the sixties making hit records, but it wasn’t until the seventies that the craft of artists like Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, The Supremes, and Marvin Gaye was perfected, and we heard the best motown could offer. The part I like best in this song is the beginning, as it builds up. When it does build up, I imagine that people might say it sounds too much like disco. But remember, this was 1973, and disco did not become big until much later. Maybe disco was trying to sound too much like Diana Ross.


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