Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 53
Disco, glam rock, and Leo Sayer are riding high on the charts, which can only mean one thing. It’s time for AM Gold: 1975 baby!
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#1: KC and the Sunshine Band, “That’s the Way (I Like It)” - #1 U.S. Hot 100 and R&B, #4 U.K.
Jack Feerick - I don’t care what y’all say, I like it (uh-huh, uh-huh).
Dw. Dunphy - I don’t mind this song as much as I used to which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t say much. KC certainly did much worse, but because we so openheartedly embraced “That’s The Way (Unnecessarily Added Parenthetical)” we somehow encouraged him/them to get dumber and dumber as they went along. So this is our fault.
David Medsker - Talk about right place, right time. People dismissed them as an empty-headed good time band, but even the Clash shook their asses once in a while. This song’s a jam, plain and simple.
Jon Cummings - As early K.C. goes, I greatly prefer this to “Get Down Tonight,” for which I can drum up no affection (except for its use in “Mr. Jaws,” of course). However, the standard against which I hold all K.C. singles is “Rock Your Baby,” which Harry & Finch co-wrote … and against that standard, practically everything the Sunshine Band did themselves inevitably falls short.
David Lifton - The groove and horn chart are undeniable, and it’s as effective as a good-time party song as you can get. But you can still see how disco dumbed down funk. The same year this came out, Funkadelic put out Let’s Take It To The Stage and Stevie was working on Songs In The Key Of Life. There was so much more interesting music coming out that was every bit as danceable, and yet this is what filled floors.
Matthew Bolin - I’ve always felt that KC sings the verses to this song like he’s out of breath, which is probably why I can’t remember the lyrics to the song. Well, that and the fact that 85% of the song is chorus, and what little verse lyrics there are are unmemorable. I also can’t get past the fact that almost the entirety of the song sounds like what the producer said after they laid down the rhythm track:
“Well, what do you think?”
“THAT’S the way I like it!”
“Hmmm….hold on a minute….let me grab a pencil.”
As for the music, I’ve always loved the horns and bassline for this, along with the “Ooooooooo” female vocals.
Feerick – Matt, I think you just described the next State Farm commercial.
#2: Leo Sayer, “Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance)” – #9 U.S., #4 U.K.
Feerick - Every time some post-Dylan songwriter revisits Highway 61 again, the returns just diminish further. Sad, really.
Dunphy - I’ll have to check this tonight at home. I’m sure I’ll remember it on first listen but, right now, drawing a blank. I am, however, surprised there was so much Sayer prior to “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”
Medsker - This one doesn’t ring a bell at all, and listening to it now, it seems like a very unlikely Top 10 single. You can still hear the “Show Must Go On” rasp in his delivery, but the falsetto king that would be his trademark in America is on display as well.
Dunphy - Well, this is rather unpleasant. Fortunately, I do believe I’ve never heard this song before. If I had heard an annoying little gnat of a song like this and not had some recollection of it, I’d be fearing for my faculties. The bigger shock is that I really love the song “When I Need You,” and later on the cover of “More Than I Can Say.” Neither of those songs have any resemblance, neither low nor high, to this song which is trying so very, very hard to be Dylanic (not a word? It is now!).
Cummings - I’m so bummed that you guys aren’t diggin’ on “Long Tall Glasses.” It was one of the first singles to float around my house once my brother and I started collecting them — I think he bought the 45, but I have it now — and these days I still find it to be a delightful curiosity. It came at a moment when pop listeners were suddenly being inundated with dance music, and it was an early entrant in an emerging category of songs: White Fuddy-Duddies Forced To Participate In Disco. (There are probably a dozen examples we can come up with, though the one that immediately springs to mind is the atrocious “Play That Funky Music.”) Anyway, “Long Tall Glasses” isn’t really about disco unless it’s heard in the context of all those other dance hits — in fact, it has one white-spatted foot in music-hall tradition — but it’s within that increasingly discofied context that the song succeeded as a pop hit. Well, that and the stuff about “wine up to … hyaaaar.” That’s actually what fascinated me about the song as a kid, for some reason — there I was, 9 years old, hearing this song in the context of “Get Down Tonight” and “Love Hangover” and whatnot, and I couldn’t help wondering … do they serve lots of food in the discos? Do people really wander into the discos looking not for entertainment, but “for poultry and game”? I swear I was looking for the buffet when I saw Saturday Night Fever.
Lifton - This sounds vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until the chorus that the memory banks opened. I like the banjo and the slide guitar, but that’s about it.
Bolin - This song is annoying as hell: Take one part Dylan story song (and whiny vocals), throw in some “Stuck in the Middle With You”, and combine with some combo of club music and ragtime (The Sting had come out only about a year prior). Mix thoroughly and serve with a side of ham. Thank God Richard Perry got to him soon after this.
#3: LaBelle, “Lady Marmalade” – #1 U.S., #17 U.K.
Feerick - The song that launched a thousand clumsy come-ons! (I was on the receiving end of one, if you were wondering.)
Dunphy - Yeah, no one has ever used “Lady Marmalade” lyrics as a pick-up line for me. Funky tune, though.
Medsker - Always thought this came out a few years later when disco was in full swing. Now that I know better, it makes the song even more impressive in my eyes. Patti LaBelle, man…she’s a beast.
Cummings - I hated this song as a kid, for some reason — the nonsense lyrics? The French? The fact that I didn’t know what the French meant, and that even when I knew what it meant I didn’t really know what it meant? Or just Patti’s belting? In any case, its value eventually revealed itself, even to me, and even despite the rapid descent of its central line into cliche. Hell, I can even stand the remake, just because the song is such a non-stop rollicking romp.
Lifton – See, this is what I’m talking about! There’s so much more going on than on “That’s The Way” – musically, lyrically, and especially vocally – and you can’t hear it without wanting to move at least one part of your body.
And who among us can walk into a Starbucks and not feel the temptation to order a mocha-choco-latta-yaya?
Bolin - My feelings about this song have already been summed up by others, so I’ll just use my comments here to muse on a couple of tangents:
How do you think Sarah Dash feels about being the 3rd member of LaBelle? You’ve got Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and then….the other one. She’s sort of like the earlier version of Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child.
Also, do you think Dash ever has had this conversation?
Person A: Hey…don’t I know you from somewhere.
Dash: I was in LaBelle.
Person A: No. You’re not Patti LaBelle!
Dash: No, I didn’t say I was Patti LaBelle. I said I was IN LaBelle
Person A: ……Ew…..gross.
#4: Pilot, “Magic” – #5 U.S., #11 U.K.
Feerick - Our first fake ELO song of this session! Everybody remembers the chorus, of course — even my nine year-old, who starting singing along unbidden as I played this one weekday evening — but I was shocked by how rawk the rest of it sounds. It’s featherweight pop songwriting and singing, but the guitars are screamin’ and the drums are monstrous — yet its remains tight and sure-footed. It’s like Blue Cheer covering “Mr. Sandman,” or something. How can something so heavy be so nimble? How can something so nimble be so heavy? It’s like that bit in Fantasia with the hippopotamus ballerina.
Dunphy - I like this tune more than is necessary, from those McCartney-esque saxes behind the guitar, all “Jet”-like, to the odd emphasis singer David Paton puts on occasional words (“leaning on my pillow in the mohr-neeng LI-EET”). The track is produced by Alan Parsons who would co-opt most of the group for the Project. Ian Bairnson became primary guitarist, Paton the regular bassist and frequent vocalist (think “Let’s Talk About Me” from Vulture Culture). Jack is on the right track about the song’s construction as it is essentially a bubblegum/yacht-rock tune with a layer of crunch that is unexpectedly layered in. Plus there is that flanged, wah-wah that sproings out now and then like a Jack-In-The-Box gone awry, but still, a fun tune that is terribly hard to fall into when it is playing.
Medsker - No one was calling it power pop yet, but girls still knew to stay away from boys who liked this song.
Cummings - Another of my first dozen (or so) 45s, and the victim of one of the first vinyl tragedies in my young life (see this post for details). Even after the dramatic warping, I had to repurchase the single immediately because I loved this song so much. Now I find it rather screechy. But it’s still better than Selena Gomez’s ham-fisted remake for the soundtrack of Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie. Even my daughter, who was a huge fan of Selena until she (Selena, not my daughter) became the Bieb’s arm candy, didn’t like the “Magic” remake.
Lifton - Wow, I completely forgot this one. I remember hearing this a lot at the time, so I probably dug it. After all, what six-year old kid doesn’t love magic?
Bolin - Like Lifton, I couldn’t place this song by looking at the group and title, but it all came back to me with the first few notes. In my opinion, this is the best ELO song that ELO didn’t actually create. Great catchy chorus, nice use of handclaps and “la la la” background vocals, and just enough crunch to the guitars that the thing doesn’t slide off into bubblegum shmaltz. Also love the contrast of the eighth notes being sung in the verses versus the laid back chorus.
#5: Sweet, “Ballroom Blitz” – #5 U.S., #2 U.K.; originally charted in the U.K. in 1973.
Feerick – One of these things is not like the others…
This song scared the piss out of me when I was a kid, with that opening scream and the echoey bits before the chorus. Now I hear it as more campy than threatening, but it still makes me uneasy, in a good way — plenty of tension and release between the drum rolls and the hard metallic guitars, and those voices are still pretty extraordinary.
Seriously, though — how the hell did this end up on AM Gold?
Dunphy - Not one of my favorite Sweet tunes, but it is okay. Makes me want to sing “Let’s do the Time Warp again” to it though.
Medsker - You just reminded me that I still haven’t played any Sweet for my kids. Amending that tonight. My son is exactly like I was at his age, which means he will eat this up just like I did.
Dunphy - It wasn’t “Ballroom Blitz” but one of my favorite 45s from youth was “Fox On The Run” backed with “Burn On The Flame.” Gadzooks, I couldn’t have been more than nine years old at that time? That was a fun period though, where you were just getting the Bowie-artsy phase butting up against the glam/hard-rock hybrids of KISS among others.
Cummings - To Jack’s point, the inclusion of “Ballroom Blitz” might occasion a revisiting of our discussion about how these CDs came to include what they do, and exclude what they do. This track certainly doesn’t belong in this series. It’s too … good. And rockin’. And practically subversive. But as we’ve proceeded from ’73 through this early stage in the ’75 disc — my first years as a music fan — I’ve often found myself thinking about the songs that aren’t here that help define the years in question. The Stevie songs, the Elton songs, “Band on the Run,” etc. I know all about the rights-acquisition stuff, but honestly — if they can get Diana Ross on these discs, why not Stevie? Couldn’t Elton have been paid off for one or two tracks? (Heaven knows the man has repackaged himself, on recordings and otherwise, enough times.)
Anyway, as for “Ballroom Blitz,” I thought I was very grown-up for loving this song when I was 9. And as the song came out in the middle of my Hitler/WWII phase, I thought it was cool that there was a song on the charts with the word “blitz” in the title. I quickly came to think of this song as being of a piece with “Radar Love,” for some reason — hey, why wasn’t “Radar Love” on the ’74 edition of AM Gold? I can think of four or five songs it could easily have replaced, and amped up the hip-cheese factor.
Chris Holmes - Ah, but “Your Song” was part of AM Gold: 1970. Of course we covered that back in winter, so it’s an understandable oversight.
Dunphy - I was about to say that as well…and Time-Life probably paid top dollar for using it, too. I know they have repurposed its value a couple times as I think it appears on their Soft Rock and Singer/Songwriter collections as well.
It’s one of the more telling points against their series of CD sets; there are some artists who were ubiquitous during these times yet are noticeably absent and the only reason has to be the money. Then you have some that just keep coming back and back and (is this the third “back”? One, two…oh) back like Three Dog Night.
But that kind of has its own logic. AM Gold serves a purpose for filling up pop music holes left by one-hit wonders and stars that have drifted out of the fame universe. Yet if I wanted Stevie Wonder or Elton John, I’d be very happy with their full Greatest Hits combos. For completeness, the Time-Life sets may fail, but that is completeness of their own assumed mission.
Cummings - I remembered the inclusion of “Your Song,” but to me that just makes the exclusion of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” or “Philadelphia Freedom” (my first purchased 45) all the more egregious. Of course, anybody with any understanding of these comps knows they’re not going to include much by the very biggest artists, and that’s really OK … though one does wonder why practically any Motown has been fair game, but not Stevie or post-1970 Marvin. (Stevie must own his own publishing.)
I just snuck a look at the AM Gold volumes that aren’t year-specific, to see why we haven’t gotten a chance to cover songs like “Lean on Me” or “Kung Fu Fighting,” or anything by the Carpenters. Of course, all those are on catch-all discs like “Early ’70s Classics.” Which begs the question, what would one have to pay to purchase the entire AM Gold oeuvre? I just looked on eBay, and somebody was selling off 16 AM Golds along with 15 Guitar Rocks for about $270.
Lifton - One of the older boys that used to beat me up was a Sweet fan, so I couldn’t appreciate this song’s coolness until long after I had dealt with the trauma. I love the quasi-breakdown just before the chorus, which Weezer ripped off for “If You Want To.” Was this before or after Rocky Horror Picture Show debuted on stage England?
Bolin - Goddamn you Tia Carrere for ruining this song for me! Actually, I still really like this song. A wonderful slab of glam fun. Great guitar riff, and really cool contrast in the laid back vocals in the verses compared to the insanity in the rest of the song. Plus, you have to love a song with a spoken opening like that. Question: Do you think Prince was familiar with the song? The opening back and forth really brings to mind Wendy and Lisa’s repartee at the start of “Computer Blue”.
And Dave, this song and the debut of Rocky Horror are almost simultaneous: Rocky Horror debuted in the West end in June 1973, and “Ballroom Blitz” was likely recorded somewhere around that same time because it was released in the UK in September 1973 (two years before it became a single in the US and Canada).