Thanks to this week’s “Digging for Gold,” in which we look at the second batch of songs from AM Gold: 1979, you can now cross the words “shriveled testicles” off the list of phrases you thought you wouldn’t read on the internet today.
Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#6: David Naughton, “Makin’ It“ – #5 U.S., #44 U.K.
Dw. Dunphy – Does anyone here remember the sitcom Makin’ It, also starring David Naughton? I’m not sure whether this was intended as the theme song of that show, or they built the show around this song being a hit and then used it as a theme song. Either way, 1979 must have caught music listeners at a very vulnerable time because even today’s “girl/world” “heart/apart” “fire/desire” types may have privilege to roll their eyes at the chorus – “I’m makin’ it, I’ve got the chance I’m takin’ it, No more – no more fakin’ it, this time in life I’m makin’ it.”
I’ve got a cake, I’m bakin’ it. I’ve got a cat, I’m wakin’ it. My scalp is dry, I’m flakin’ it…and so forth. No worries for Naughton though; he’d bounce back with An American Werewolf In London, so the sitcom incident wasn’t such a hardship after all. But I have to ask the question: we’ve seen again during this series the songs that didn’t get included (probably too expensive to license) yet they found it impossible to leave “Makin’ It” off. It’s as if there was a 12 Angry Men kind of con-fab at Time-Life HQ and the goal was to figure out the other Elton John song they’d willingly pony up the cash for. Meanwhile, Henry Fonda is holding up the proceeding because, damn it, “Makin’ It” was a hit and if we’re to be true to the intent of the series, we damn well better include damned “Makin’ It,” dammit!
Where’s Lee J. Cobb when you need him?
David Medsker – I always associate this song with the movie Meatballs. It plays during some camp dance, right? Anyway, I remember people talking about how this was the first step in the ascent of David Naughton, and being a little confused by that. As Dunphy pointed out, this is a ridiculous song, from the cornball lyrics to the production. Also, Naughton’s vocal is buried in the mix. Red flag.
Jon Cummings – Dudes, I’m makin’ it nonstop. Is there a difference between this song and “Heaven on the 7th Floor”? I hate it far less than I ought to, I must admit; I like the video game noises up front, and the little “Listen everyone here” bridge is super-cute. Though my daughter walked in while I was playing it and immediately began singing, “I’m hatin’ it, this song just stinks, no fakin’ it.” So there’s that.
David Lifton – We’re talking about this in the middle of the Gangnam Style craze, where this stupid song has become a phenomenon worthy of public radio news stories, which is how I heard about it. And it got me thinking that all you have to do to have a global hit nowadays is a beat, some bragging, and a shoutout to all the sexy ladies. And then you hear “Makin’ It,” which isn’t really much more than that. And then you die a little inside.
I remember the show, Dunphy. I’m pretty sure it was after the song was a hit.
Mike Heyliger – And this is the way pop music has been for the past…60 or so years. How does this still surprise people?
As with most songs from the late Seventies that weren’t either super-pervasive or urban radio hits, I’ve only had the experience of hearing and appreciating this song retroactively (if appreciating is a word you can use in reference to this song.) It’s…harmless pop-disco fluff. Nothing more, nothing less. I think I downloaded (or stole) it after one of those I Love The ’70s VH-1 specials and haven’t given it a complete listen since.
Wasn’t this guy in An American Werewolf in London? Love that movie.
Lifton – Right, but it’s a tendency for adults to dismiss any new craze with, “There was nothing this bad or stupid when I was young,” when if you do the research, you’ll find plenty of examples. There’s almost nothing in today’s dance-pop market that doesn’t have an equivalent that can be found in disco.
Jack Feerick – Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!
Ahem. Seriously, though; here come the Eighties. This is the mating song of the upwardly-mobile — the Reagan Democrats, the white second- and third-generation Americans turning away from the traditional working-class politics of their parents and voting aspirationally, for the economic policies that benefit the millionaires they would have liked to be, rather than the service sector office drones they were — before they discovered that there was only so much room at the top.
Poor deluded bastard. He was better off just being a Pepper.
#7: Leif Garrett, “I Was Made for Dancin'” – U.S. #10, U.K. #4; Garrett’s final Top 20 American single.
Medsker – There’s a bit in the verses that makes me think of the part in Grease where Frankie Valli sings “There is a chance that we can make it so far,” but that is about the nicest thing I can say about this. My wife still loves it, though.
Cummings – We’ll get a couple of actual disco hits next week, but it’s kinda stupid that we’re stuck this week with this track being the closest thing to a 1979 dance song we get to discuss. That said, it’s not entirely terrible. If its central sentiment weren’t so inane, it would be rather … listenable. I can’t help it, though — I watch the video of Leif singing with that moptop and I immediately picture older, balder Leif singing next to him … and mug-shot Leif with heroin in his shoe … and Buddy from “Family” … and her mom … and the friend he paralyzed in that car crash when he was at the peak of his fame. Let’s face it, folks: Leif’s troubled life was NOT made for dancin’.
Lifton – Was there ever a Behind The Music that was in inverse proportion to the quality of the artist as much as Garrett’s? I had no idea about all the drug busts and the car accident. I just figured he had his 15 minutes and that was it.
Chris Holmes – I too knew little of Leif until he appeared on Behind the Music.
Heyliger – Wow. So this dude was a thing?
Lifton – When we talked about Shaun Cassidy a few months ago, I said I have two sisters who were the perfect age for Tiger Beat and 16 in the mid-to-late 1970s. So yes, Leif Garrett was not only most definitely a thing, but one of the biggest things around.
Medsker – Leif and this song have been saved for time immemorial, thanks to this performance of the song by Carol Burnett on The Muppet Show. (It’s starts around the 4:15 mark)
Feerick – This sounds like J-Pop to me — a little too hyper, too manic, to melodramatic for American standard. It’s like the theme song for a notional anime about a visual-kei rock star who is secretly the pilot of a ten-story tall super robot. Which, if it were real, might actually be enough to make me interested in Leif Garrett. But only just.
#8: Robert John, “Sad Eyes” – U.S. #1, U.K. #31
Dunphy – This is not a good song, but I find it is an okay song. It is pretty, provided you can get past the utter awfulness of the premise — these sorts of breakup songs, where it is all kind of treacly, slow-motion, and wistful parting glances tend to me to be complete BS. Yet what carries this through is that it is immensely competent and the chorus is an earworm. It acts as a bookend to Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” both tonally and in that sense that this is what happens when your relationship is built upon crippling co-dependence.
Medsker – Was never a fan of this one. Boys don’t really care for ballads, and when he goes into falsetto supernova at the end, I wanted to pull a Lane Meyer and throw the radio out of the car.
In retrospect, I view this song as one of the things that was born from the ’50s nostalgia that gripped the country in the late ’70s. Listening to the song as a grown-up, I can see why it was a hit. Decent verse, good chorus. I still hate the overblown vocal at the end, though.
Cummings – It’s terrible! It’s pretty! It’s terrible! It’s pretty! As is too often the case, Jason Hare captured the magic of “Sad Eyes” in a Mellow Gold column better than any of us will — and one of his bon mots mirrored the way I envisioned the song as a kid. I pictured a burly guy kneeling at Robert John’s feet in the recording studio, crushing his nutsack with a pair of pliers every time a particularly high note was required. Or maybe they did it with electrodes — but after Abu Ghraib that reference isn’t so funny. Which free-associates me over to this: Didn’t they use “Sad Eyes” along with the heavy metal to ear-bleed Noriega into submission?
Lifton – I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. And yet, it works out of sheer professionalism, both in the performances and the construction.
Heyliger – Plenty of exposure to Lite-FM as a kid has given me an unhealthy love for this song. I think I have two copies of it on 45. Sad.
Feerick – Musically, it’s a lot less limp than I recalled. That doo-wop one-to-the-bar electric guitar gives the rhythm some snap, with an echo right out of the U2 playbook.
Lyrically, it’s obnoxious mansplaining: ”Your feelings are wrong and you should not feel them — or at least, don’t make me watch while you do.” And he’s a cheater. What a catch! So much for that much-vaunted social trend of the Seventies, the rise of the Sensitive Guy.
#9: Randy VanWarmer, “Just When I Needed You Most” – #4 U.S., #11 U.K.
Dunphy – And this one just lays there like a lump, subsisting on a box of Ritz Crackers, moping about in boxer shorts and a t-shirt reading, “Randy and Cheryl Tiegs 4-ever” and making everyone alternately uncomfortable and homicidal. This is what the hedonistic ’70s singer/songwriter pop types had been reduced to — quivering, curled fetal, and making a butt-load of money doing it. I don’t know about you, but as a kid this song seemed bloody inescapable.
And can you imagine a name pinned to a song that was so radically mismatched? Nothing about this is gonna get your van warm, and you’s have to be quite the sad sack if “Just When I Needed You Most” make you feel Randy. (And here come the rabid, foaming VanWarmer fans over the horizon to tell me I’m wrong, I’m sure…)
Medsker – What does this guy call himself if he’s trying to be a pop star today? My vote: Rizzo Volkswagen.
So, so sensitive. Did guys suddenly think there was a competition over who’s the most sensitive? Between this and “Sometimes When We Touch,” I’m not sure which song is wussier. Having said that, it’s got quite a hook, unlike the Dan Hill song.
Cummings – “Boys don’t really care for ballads,” Medsker said earlier. Sigh … another blow to my apparently-not-burgeoning 13-year-old manhood, because I really cared for this song. Yup, it’s as wimpy as they come, and bits of it make me cringe now, but its sap appealed to me in the midst of the “Tragedy”/”Hot Stuff”/”Heart of Glass” assault of spring ’79. A couple years later, my friend John fell hard for VanWarmer’s didn’t-make-the-Top-40 hit “Suzi Found a Weapon,” which was a pretty cool track.
Medsker – I was a couple years younger, and not emotionally developed enough to understand or appreciate ballads. I should have qualified that statement.
Cummings – Too late for my shriveled testicles, but thanks anyway.
Dunphy – Terrific. Now I have a status report about Jon’s balls.
Lifton – I was working in a record store when Dolly Parton put out a cover of this, and I thought, “Goddamn it, Dolly. Was this really necessary?”
Dunphy – Dollytoe VanWarmer. Fifty Shades of Ick, Y’all.
Feerick – It’s unconscionably wimpified, but it’s an interesting collection of sounds — clean twelve-string, electric autoharp, upright bass, little hints of pedal steel and (if I’m not mistaken) EBow. It’s a strong, memorable melody, too.
In fact, this would be a perfect pop recording if you just toned down the phasing effects. And stripped away the synthesizers.
And, y’know, rewrote all the music and the lyrics. Other than that — perfect.
#10: Earth, Wind & Fire, “After the Love Has Gone” – #2 U.S., #4 U.K.
Michael Parr – All bow before the David Foster Key Changeâ„¢.
Medsker – Yikes. With the exception of the EWF song, this batch has not aged well.
Dunphy – The unassailable wisdom of David Medsker. You said it, brother.
Not their finest moment but still, it is EWF. It wouldn’t be for a few more decades before they could really screw things up. This song is “Sad Eyes” without Erica Kane; meaning that this is usually how the end of love kind of feels. Yes, it is still rather traumatic but also a kind of relief. Both parties knew something was wrong, and knew it for some time. What they didn’t know was how they were going to deal with it, this state of drifting apart. Eventually, it isn’t a matter of dealing with it so much as it deals with itself and you go on as before, a little sadder and a little warier, but there’s no emotional face-plant as in “Sad Eyes.” This just…is.
So on that level this is probably the most mature song of the week, but I cannot say it is EWF at their finest. By this time it would seem impossible this group was once a funk/fusion band, but you did what you had to do to survive the Seventies. Considering that, of these five, the only performers with any real name-recognition left is Earth Wind & Fire, I suppose they chose wisely.
Jeff Giles – Fortunately, the EWF song has aged well enough for ten songs.
Medsker – This still sounds fabulous to me. Not sure what else needs to be said.
Cummings – You gotta hand it to EWF. Even as “Boogie Wonderland” served as kindling for Disco Demolition Night — you gotta figure the 12″ of that song was flying ALL over Comiskey Park that evening — Maurice & Philip and the boys had the good sense to come out with a nice ballad, then lay low for a couple years until the Disco Sucks furor could calm down and they could come back in ’81 with “Let’s Groove.” Well played, gentlemen.
Lifton – Always loved this one. I didn’t realize Foster wrote it until Parr mentioned it, but his trademarks are all over it. As good a slow jam as you’ll hear.
Heyliger – Philip Bailey…best falsetto of all time? He’s definitely up there.
This is a great song, though. From the time when every funk band needed at least one easy listening ballad to cross over. Although EW&F were the one funk band that *never* needed any help crossing over! At any rate, “After The Love Has Gone” > “Still” and “Three Times a Lady,” though “Sail On” might fight it to a draw.
Feerick – When it’s done well, modulating from key to key is a hallmark of sophistication in pop songwriting. It’s not done particularly well here, giving ”After the Love” a bit of a Frankenstein feel. That single pounding transitional chord between sections — CLANG! — just highlights how stitched-together this is. All the parts are intact, but the seams couldn’t be more obvious.
And why, with the Phenix Horns at their disposal, are EWF using what sounds like a cheesy synth-horn patch in the first couple of choruses?
(If they are real horns, it’s even worse — like a vase of fresh-cut flowers so sickly that they look plastic.)
Giles – That CLANG! chord is a hallmark of the David Foster oeuvre. It makes me nostalgic for my youth.
Feerick – Know what makes me nostalgic for my youth? BEING FUCKING OLD. That’ll do it every time.
Giles – CLANG!
Terje Fjelde – Jack Feerick, I’m fuming! I swore I’d never say another word on anything David Foster-related on Popdose, but you make me feel like an ever-spiraling David Foster Key Changeâ„¢ or a raving mad Benny Mardones worshipper reading Jason Hare. Those are flugelhorns! Chet Baker. Burt Bacharach. Chuck-Man-Gione! And they’re wonderful. I hardly ever listen to music without at least one flugelhorn figure in the chorus and “After the Love Has Gone” is to blame for it. And the chords! There’s an internal logic to the progression of these chords that you rarely find in pop music. Sit down by the piano and try it out. It’s a religious experience. Shame on you, Feerick, for making me defend David Foster — again!
Feerick – I do it all for the fans, Terje. *blows kisses*