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Friday, September 21, 2018

Songs of '78: "Le Freak"

Considering how dominant disco was in 1978--as I noted way back in February, it was unavoidable that year--not a lot of disco stands out in my memories, whether real or reconstructed, of what I was listening to on the radio that year. Some of that has to do with the stations I was listening to, of course, and probably some of it had to do with the thoroughly white, partly rural, partly suburban, and entirely nerdy person that my post-pubescent self was turning into. From loud pop-rock to introspective soft-rock, I drank it in--but dance music? The Bee Gees, of course, and I suppose Barry Manilow if you squint--and if you accept David Byrne's word for it, disco was always lurking around his post-punk Talking Heads stuff as well. But generally speaking, my appreciation of everything that disco was a part of then and what it has become since--soul, funk, R&B, and more--was still some years off back in 1978.

With one exception: Chic's "Le Freak." I never owned the album this came off--looking at the track listing, I've probably never listened to the whole thing through--and it wasn't until I was an adult and started paying closer attention to the producers and session musicians on the recordings I liked that I realized what a musical genius Niles Rodgers is. So how is it that this particular disco song, released forty years ago today, made it into my head? I think, in retrospect, it has to be Bernie Edwards's bass line. I mean, just listen. Isn't just the best you've ever heard? I kind of think so.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Songs of '78: "Beast of Burden"

Twice before I've showcased my love for Some Girls. There are songs that came out in 1978--whether I remember listening to them on the radio 40 years ago, or have built them retroactively into my memories of that year--while I love more than any of these Rolling Stones tunes, that's for certain. But the album as a whole holds, nonetheless, an untouchable mystique too it, I think. In fact, Some Girls embodies my Platonic vision of the Stones--Mick, Keith, Ron, Bill, and Charlie, having survived the 1970s (almost!), all of them still standing, still in possession of that bluesy energy, that sexual power, that rock and roll groove, that English naughtiness which launched them into the stratosphere with their great albums of the late 1960s. I will respectfully listen to and often really like just about any recordings by the Stones, from the mid-1960s up through the mid-1990s--but it is this album, which Jagger mainly conceived and orchestrated alone (Richards was dealing with the fall-out of his arrest for drug possession in Canada), reflecting influences of punk and funk and the times in general, that I think represents their peak. And "Beast of Burden," released as a single 40 years ago today, just might be its peak track.

It's interesting that "Beast" was mainly written by Richards, though Jagger played with the lyrics and the tempo, turning it into the slow, almost-but-never-quite punky jam which we know and love. It was certainly the first Rolling Stones song I memorized, and I make no apologies to singing it, shamelessly and at great volume along with the song as it came off my precious Some Girls tape as I drove Melissa somewhere on a date way back in 1993. She married me, so it must work at least a little bit. So Mick, Keith, and everyone else--thanks!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Songs of '78: "Time Passages"

"Time Passages," the first song released from--and the first song in the track listing of--Al Stewart's album of the same name, is probably responsible, more than any other single song, for this list's existence and my constant return to pop music and the radio for four decades of life (so far). It was the first piece of music I ever purchased (a tape cassette, the other songs on which I can barely remember, but which I destroyed from years of listening to this one song and then rewinding and listening to it again, probably hundreds of times over the years), and no other song from my early radio-listening years has stayed with me so constantly, being renewed in my memory in association with dozens of particular moments. I can remember thinking about "Time Passages" while watching clouds drop lower along the Wasatch Mountains just east of BYU's campus in Provo, UT, while I was there as an undergraduate. I can remember thinking about it while driving a moving truck along a mostly empty Ohio interstate, late in the afternoon, with my then-new wife and an old friend asleep in the front seat beside me. I can remember thinking about it while holding Melissa's and my first child--Megan, then about 10 days old and asleep in my arms--as I sat on the futon in our second apartment in Washington DC while I was in graduate school, and wondered: what the hell have we gotten ourselves into? I remember this song so damn much.

Why? What is it about this jazzy, lyrically folky, smooth piece of 70s soft rock that enabled it to send roots deeper into my musical consciousness than probably any other song I have ever heard? Hard to say. Maybe it was because, on some level, even as a 9 and 10-year-old, my consciousness was tuned to reflection and regret. Even as a little kid I was weirdly conscious of the passage of time--not in a morbid way, but one that left me thinking about how all was transitory; that there was always going to be another thing after this one. I suppose the mature Christian belief I hold to today, the faith that there is a God who is the Author of our existence--and that, as such, everything I say or do is secondary, an addendum, to the real business of my being here, which is by no means tied to any particular work I may do--was perhaps fated. Maybe I was bound to end up thinking this way, because I was the sort of person who, as a child, could hear a simple romantic lyric of longing like "The things you lean on are the things that don't last," and think to myself: oh yeah, that's the truth.

Oh well. Who knows? Forty years ago on this day, Al Stewart released a song, and it's a beautiful one, whether it makes your mind run deep or not. There was no video for it, but this live concert footage is wonderful. The fact that Stewart, at the conclusion of this passionate rendition of his humble little song, promises to be back in 20 minutes and then just causally walks off the stage fills me with a kind of bittersweet delight. Just about a perfect exit, says I. Would that we all could do the same.