Like so many of 1979’s chart-toppers, Lena Martell was a new face: but this time trailing no stylistic or cultural shift. In fact “One Day At A Time” is one of those occasional Ronseal hits you got back when the buying base for singles used to be huge – a plain sentiment, quite plainly expressed. If it struck something true in you, you might buy it; otherwise just hunker down and wait for it to pass. Relatively unbowed by life’s trials, and with no great interest in Jesus, I’m in the second camp. In fact after a year so stuffed with delights – or at least interesting failures – this sticks in the craw, feeling like a refugee from grimmer times: it would have fitted into the more erratic, unlucky-dip lists of the mid-70s.
Is this unfair on Lena Martell and her song? Not especially, I think. Her voice swings about alarmingly, sometimes giving it some bogus Southern twang, sometimes taking a more earnest tack. The arrangement never really integrates steel and strings. The lyrics take a slightly finger-wagging tone with Our Lord but there’s no killer lines or any real moral fire here. And yet the tune’s obviously got something – it’s one of those songs that feels like it’s been around for decades longer than it actually has, and I was a little surprised to find that it sprang from the pen of big Kris Kristofferson rather than some lost 19th Century devout. It’s a clunky record, to be sure, but its appearance in context is what really annoys.