Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 65
We hope you’ve been enjoying our collective journey through the fields of AM Gold so far, because the end is nearly in sight. This week we start 1978, which means there will be only seven more installments after this. But enough of that, let’s get going!
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#1: Nick Gilder, “Hot Child in the City” – #1 U.S.
Dw. Dunphy - Slightly sleazy pop tune with a huge singalong chorus. I like it and wouldn’t turn it off if it was on the radio, but it’s generic qualities are pretty evident. A song I regularly confuse it with, Billy Idol’s “Hot In The City” would debut a couple years later on the exact same record label (being Chrysalis). The primary theme here is scoring with some sexy little chippie you pick up on an evening in the gritty, grimy city — whichever city you choose will do. If there is a major problem with the track (and for some it is not a problem at all) is that aside from the chorus the whole is pretty unmemorable. Decent pop tune from the Seventies, but still unmemorable.
And of course he rhymes “city” with “pretty.”
Jon Cummings - I have a love/hate relationship with this song. Always have. Mostly because of Nick’s voice, which sometimes attracts me like catnip and others repels me like nails on a chalkboard. I find something very ’70s-disco-glam about the whole enterprise, which (again) is sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative. The guitar hook is a very good thing though … all the time.
Jack Feerick - I like this one for those very reasons, oddly. The androgyny of the voice is part of the sell for me; in fact, a couple of years ago a friend of mine sent me a cover (which of course I can’t find now) of this sung by a woman, which was very effective. And the relaxed tempo, the laziness of the groove, just feels like Summer to me — when it’s too damn hot for anyone to be bothered.
That extends to the vocal performance, too, which is nicely offhanded — unlike the Billy Idol record that Dunphy mentioned, which is all hard labor and hambone. A solid seven out of ten.
David Lifton - Even as a kid I knew this was awful.
#2: Sweet, “Love Is Like Oxygen” – #8 U.S., #9 U.K.
Dunphy - Sweet was trying to carve out a new path with this song, which is very different than their hard rock/glam tracks like “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On The Run.” The harmonies with scraping, embedded falsettos are still present, as are the occasional power chord punches, but this song tonally has more in common with (dare I say it) Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” sans kick-ass soloing than their own body of work — which is just about right for the time period. Prog bands were just beginning to streamline their sounds, coming more into the AOR world and starting to experience newfound tolerance and acceptance. It seems only reasonable that the rockers would veer into that same arena. The song is not hard to listen to, but that slightly vaudevillian piano is a far cry from their previous guitar hero theatricality.
Feerick – That big theatrical intro, which recurs as a break, is pure John Barry Bond-movie stuff. More of that, please, and less of the plodding riff-o-rama. Nice crunchy tone on the guitars, but the descending/ascending hook is dull as ditchwater.
Cummings - This is one of my fave songs of ’78 and, really, the decade in general. No, it doesn’t have quite the same glam-rock edge that “Blitz” and “Fox” have, but the cross-cutting between the balladic verses, the processed-vocal choruses and the crunchy-guitar hook make this song Three Times The Fun. BTW, I had never noticed this before, but has anyone else ever noticed that the melody toward the end of the verses is quite similar to “In the Year 2525″? And, going off on a complete two-degrees-of-separation tangent since we’re talking about 1978, wouldn’t it have been cool if the Zager from Zager & Evans was the Michael Zager who sang “Let’s All Chant”?
Lifton - Great hooks, and I love that the chorus uses minor chords, but I don’t think it’s as strong as the other two big Sweet songs.
#3: Boston, “Don’t Look Back” – #4 U.S., #43 U.K.
Dunphy - There’s nothing wrong with this at all. Tom Scholz is a control freak, and he has been interviewed enough to confirm it himself, but man did he create a sound. I prefer the whole of the Don’t Look Back album to their monster debut because it always seemed to me to be a more serious effort. The debut was a party record, as good as it was, and the messages on it almost always superficial. On this album, you did have the positive vibe on this the title track, but you also have the “I’m getting by” aspect of “Used To Bad News,” and probably their best and most underrated song, “A Man I’ll Never Be.”
But I’m straying off-point: on the track “Don’t Look Back” I do not hear a single misstep. The guitars are still magnificent and God rest Brad Delp whose voice was one of, if not the, greatest rock voices of all time. A song this orchestrated should not be as instantly rewarding as it is, but the verses are almost chorus-worthy and the chorus itself is like the theme of an action movie. You get energized by just listening to it which, supposedly, what rock was meant to do.
Cummings - Critiquing this song is like diving into U.S. Steel’s 1954 annual report to see why profits were only $28 billion instead of $29 billion. Or like analyzing the ’72 Dolphins to learn why they only outscored opponents by 214 points, rather than 225. (I pulled the U.S. Steel numbers out of my ass, but the Dolphins numbers are real.) The worst thing that can be said about “Don’t Look Back” is that it sounded like a completely natural progression from the best songs on the debut album, rather than any kind of great leap forward artistically. And considering that those songs, like this one, are unquestioned classics, that “worst thing” is plenty good enough.
Feerick – Yup. It’s a perfectly machine-tooled thrill ride. Everything calculated for maximum excitement, from the tone of the guitars to the way the harmonies are stacked, the build-ups and breakdowns. As sleek and efficiently-constructed as this machine is, though, I love that Scholz still finds room for some purely decorative touches — the choked-off palm-mutes of the riff, those crashing pick-slides that he’s has always loved so much. When Jerry Lee Lewis would rake his hands down the piano keyboard in a glissando, it served no compositional purpose — it was all about the visceral kick. Same thing here. If you want it to be cool, you can’t just build a musical performance vehicle — you’ve got to put tail fins on it, too.
Lifton - I’m glad I’m not the only other unabashed lover of Boston’s first album here, and this was good enough to be on the debut. Dunphy’s right: every inch of tape is perfectly realized to hit you with idea after idea, and the execution is flawless.
#4: John Paul Young, “Love Is in the Air” – #7 U.S., #5 U.K.
Dunphy - I wouldn’t say this pop samba confection is energizing rock and roll, but I will say I’ve always had a soft spot for it’s slightly melted, gooey charms. It was unintentional, but the track was practically born to be a commercial jingle and so it is now decades later, but it has that quality of instant memorability and insinuation. A generation will see this and Modern English’s “I Melt With You” as nothing BUT jingles, but for this particular tune, I can dig it. It’s got superficial style of adhesive-backed class, but I’d rather hear it any day over the tunes we had on this list last week.
Cummings - There’s not a whole lot here, but what IS here is pretty spectacular. What I love about this song is that it’s unabashedly about romance, not sex, which was kinda unusual for a disco track. Of course, apart from the relentless tambourine and the plinky keyboards running underneath the verses, this is about as much a “disco” song as is Ian Matthews’ “Shake It,” another great song from ’78.
Lifton - I didn’t know until clicking on the link that this was written and produced by George Young of the Easybeats and brother of Angus and Malcolm. I’m kind of with Cummings in that they make a lot out of nothing, but it’s not enough to make me like it. Go back to what I said about how KC and the Sunshine Band were proof that, with a good disco arrangement, you didn’t need character in your voice to have a hit.
Feerick – If by “lack of character” you mean, “Yo, it’s a little pitchy, dawg,” then I would agree. Young aspires to sound like a lounge lizard, but he can’t quite manage even to hit the notes on this little nothing of a melody. He just sounds desperate, coked-up, and sleazy. You can smell the flop-sweat of a late-night meat-market bar from every note.
#5: Bob Welch, “Sentimental Lady” – #8 U.S.
Dunphy - Difficult to write this one after Welch’s suicide earlier in the year. Most people don’t know he was in Fleetwood Mac. Most people don’t know this WAS a Fleetwood Mac tune before Welch reclaimed it for his solo career. His path never meaningfully crossed the Buckingham Nicks era, which to the majority was the only era for the group (the band was more likely to cover Peter Green’s “Oh Well” than any of Welch’s contributions), but you can hear Christine McVie backing up on this tune with Lindsey Buckingham also on vocals, and pitching a hand on guitars. I go back and forth on what version I like better. This one is slicker than the one from 1972′s Bare Trees album, but at times this song sounds like it needs to be slick. I waver depending on my mood.
I don’t mean to be mean, or to speak ill of the dead, but as good as this song is you can absolutely see why Welch didn’t catch on as a solo artist with longevity. Physically he was a lanky fellow with that oddly sunken face. Vocally he had more of a laid-back L.A. vocalist thing happening than his edgy Mac replacements. They were going to move into the Eighties with a lot of force, while he was kind of floating in and floating right back out. “Sentimental Lady” winds up being a pop tune struggling not to be a progenitor of smooth-jazz, but it is an agreeable ride nonetheless.
Feerick - A perfect Halloween single. Judging by that sleeve, Bob Welch was the first zombie rock star, and the eating of brains will commence shortly.
Chris Holmes - I prefer the Bare Trees take of “Sentimental Lady” by a wide margin.
Cummings - I’m here to tell ya, I’ve never listened to the original version of “Sentimental Lady.” I’m going to do so right now, and I’ll be right back …
OK, I’m back. The original certainly has its odd charms, but the remake was obviously better as a single — the vocals are more consistently on key, that awful backing vocal is gone from the chorus, etc. I’ll agree with Dw. on Welch’s long-range prospects as a solo act; even if he had made radio-friendly music after 1979, he never would have made it through the MTV buzzsaw. He did have a really nice run there, though, with “Ebony Eyes” and “Hot Love, Cold World.”
Lifton - Welch’s recent death got me to listen to this, which resulted in the standard “Oh, that’s what song this was” reaction. Every once in a while the melody of the pre-chorus would get stick in my head and I could never place it.
Holmes – The original cut of “Sentimental Lady” was my gateway to pre-Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, and I am a better person for it.
Jeff Giles - Damn you, Dunphy.