On one level the ‘plot’ of “Dreadlock Holiday” is hugely important to any judgement of it. On another, not at all, but let’s recap anyway. The narrator is a tourist in Jamaica – he gets mugged for his silver chain and returns to the comfort of his hotel where a woman tries to sell him weed.
Nobody comes out of the story well: the song’s parent album was called Bloody Tourists, and the narrator is a simp, trying and failing to fit in (“concentrating on truckin’ right”) and then fleeing to the hotel at the first sign of trouble. But the island isn’t exactly a welcoming place either,
Lionel Richie pens a heartfelt tribute to the Celtic triple Goddess – maiden, mother and crone. Well, I assume that’s what it’s about. Before I got into soul music, this is pretty much what I assumed all soul music sounded like: insipid gloop for grown-ups, to be drowsed through in the hope something better might show up. Now, of course, not only do I know that soul is a broader church than I once imagined, I also know that a lot of the stuff that does sound like “Three Times A Lady” is terrific. The great soul ballads deliver a double payload – the comfort that comes from letting a thick wave of sentiment carry you up, and the pleasure of listening more closely to hear the nuance and twist in the singer’s delivery.
“Three Times” also holds these attractions to some degree - Richie is a fine singer and commendably restrained here, and there’s some attractive swells and surges in the arrangement towards the end. But I still can’t enjoy it. Maybe I’ve just heard it too often, maybe I like my balladry more situationally grounded and “Three Times” is too abstract. Maybe I’m just cold-hearted.
I have never seen Grease. My cultural ignorance is becoming a bit of a theme in these entries, but here at least I had a reason: I hated it. I can’t remember when I started hating Grease, or why exactly – incomprehension and resentment, I’d imagine; it was very much music for kids a few years older than me, and in 1978 it was everywhere. I’m sure some of the five and six year olds of today will have an inchoate loathing of High School Musical, its obvious modern comparison point.
I didn’t know about genre in 1978 but that didn’t mean I couldn’t recognise it, and this fitted into a very particular and not wholly liked one: music you might sing in school assembly. I didn’t need to have read a single Psalm to know that somehow this fitted next to “When I Needed A Neighbour” and “Kum-By-Ya” and “The Ink Is Black” – i.e. “earnest singalong” not “fun singalong” like the soon-to-be-A-side “Brown Girl In The Ring” (which I did like).
Never having read Wuthering Heights may be philistinism, but never having seen Saturday Night Fever comes close to dereliction of duty. Of course, I’ve heard the soundtrack plenty of times, and SNF has become such a cultural cornerstone, so open to reference and pastiche, that I feel like I’ve seen it. But honestly I haven’t. Luckily, the Nik Cohn essay it was based on was completely made up anyway, so in that pioneering spirit I can safely say that “Night Fever” encapsulates the film’s vision of disco and dancing: anonymous glide punctuated by breathtaking, desperate release.
If Don McLean’s “Vincent” presents the romantic case against critical neglect, “Matchstalk Men” is its populist inverse. Instead of the complacent mass refusing to see genius through Van Gogh’s pain, here we have the snooty establishment admitting – too late! – that the Northern folk who adored L.S.Lowry were onto something. Brian and Michael score the win on solid pop grounds – their tune is better and their production is hotter. Well, Colliery Brass Bands are always hot in my world.
I’ve never read Wuthering Heights, though I like to imagine its heroine does a pushy-arm dance at some point. Looking it up on Wikipedia, however, I was shocked to realise that Kate Bush is singing this song as a ghost, but really that’s just another oddness on a teetering pile of them: in a really excellent article on Bush for the late Stylus magazine, Marcello Carlin (hi dere!) points out that she is “the last musician to be allowed to do what she likes, as and when she likes”, and the precocious, precious “Wuthering Heights” is both evidence and justification for this indulgence.
“Take A Chance On Me” couldn’t be more different from “The Name Of The Game”: here it’s the beloved who’s shy and afraid, and the singer who radiates confidence and amused self-security. “You don’t want to hurt me? Baby don’t worry, I ain’t gonna let you.” The song is a typically ABBA-ish twist on a well-worn romantic situation: a rejected suitor pleading their case. Many writers would assume a hurt or hangdog perspective – instead “Take A Chance” is absurdly buoyant. Come on, it says, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s one of ABBA’s most straight-up joyous hits, brimful of an inspirational strength.
It’s also a step back from “The Name Of The Game”‘s complexity – the rhythm is “Dancing Queen” redux (though with a little more pep), and like that song it leads with its steamroller chorus. The simplicity here’s a little deceptive, though – that wonderful a capella rhythm line is as bold a stroke as you’ll find on any of their records, and the flashing, bubbling keyboards show that Benny and Bjorn had been paying attention to Moroder’s advances. But that’s really all secondary to the song’s effervescence, with the girls’ hammy semi-spoken bits summing the whole thing up: this is a band having casually brilliant fun.
Since there isn’t a great deal more to say about the last entry, time to scratch an itch I’ve had for a while about who exactly is reading this. I’ve kept the questions vague so as to avoid spoilers for records we’ve not covered yet.
Basically, I’d like you to answer these questions in the comments:
1. When were you born?
2. What was the year you were first regularly interested in what was at #1?
3. Do you still listen to music in the Top 40 on a regular basis (and if the answer’s “no”, when did you stop)? more »
When pop’s weather changes, sometimes it’s the mediocre songs that tell you – left beached, suddenly seeming not just below-par but a bit ridiculous. Some records are the sound of a game being up. The hoofy hornsome jauntiness of “Figaro” wouldn’t have sounded good whenever it was released, but not so long before it would at least have fitted in better, just another bad mid-70s pop side, and why expect more? But in the context of 1978 it sounds risible in its complete paucity of ambition (those bastard horns especially). I like this a lot less than the much-despised “Angelo”: a pastiche that runs out of steam beats this horrid evocation of the holiday hustle. “Figaro” – well, “Figaro”‘s brass section - is like being woken at dawn, with a hangover, from an itchy bed by a Butlins Redcoat and made to party till your feet bleed. A single too far for the Brotherhood and their whole aesthetic.