Monday, January 09, 2006

Top 5: Mojo Mystery

Twenty-six years ago, as the 1970s changed into the 1980s, I was a little baby disc jockey in Dubuque, Iowa. I'd been working at an AM/FM combo there since the previous April, and by this time I was holding down the night shift on either Saturday or Sunday, and sometimes both. The shift was six hours of playin' those country hits until the AM station signed off at midnight, and two more hours after that, tending the automation on the top 40 FM. Then I'd get in my car and drive the half-hour back to the dorm at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville--usually with the radio tuned to another Dubuque top 40 station that operated 24 hours a day.

Often, one of my Platteville mates would be on the air there. There were two who worked weekend overnights. One had worked on the air at an album-rock station in Milwaukee, and another, who cultivated a Prince-of-Darkness vibe on the air in Platteville (and, come to think of it, off the air, too) had musical tastes that favored bands few others at school had even heard of. So to hear them playing this sort of thing--the Top Five from the Billboard chart during this week in 1980--made the rides home a wee bit surreal. (As if driving home through the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night wasn't surreal enough.)

5. "Do That to Me One More Time"/The Captain and Tennille. I have to admit that Toni Tennille does a nice job of capturing a languid, post-coital mood on this record, although strangely chaste at the same time: a bit like a long-married PTA mom who was pleasantly surprised to get off. However, for his solo, the Captain opts for a series of keyboard farts that tend to spoil the mood. All in all, a much-reviled record, for very good reasons.

4. "Send One Your Love"/Stevie Wonder.
A love song so lightweight and inconsequential that as soon as you hear it or think of it, it disappears. Yup, it's gone.

3. "Rock With You"/Michael Jackson. The second single from Off the Wall, and more early evidence of the heights Jackson would scale in the 1980s. I heard this on the radio again the other day, and it remains one of his most accessible and enjoyable singles.

2. "Escape (the Pina Colada Song)"/Rupert Holmes. Holmes would become quite the Renaissance man by the 90s--adding novelist, creator of a Broadway show, and creator of a TV series to his singer/songwriter credentials. His hit singles ("Escape," "Him," and "Answering Machine") were cute little playlets a notch above the average top 40 hit--too cute, I think. You remember the storyline of "Escape," right? Bored husband arranges a tryst through a personal ad, only to discover that the trysting partner is his own wife? If I were in his shoes and I'd seen the wife walk into the bar, I would not have treated it as a romantic epiphany. I'd have been on the floor or out the door quicker than you could say "divorce court."

1. "Please Don't Go"/KC and the Sunshine Band. After all these years, I can't hear this song without feeling as though I'm back behind the wheel of my '74 Hornet sometime after 2AM, driving up U.S. 151, heading back to Platteville. I'd been in college a little over a year, had just been elected program director of the campus radio station, was taking a full credit load, and on top of working a paying radio gig, I was also trying to win a certain girl away from her boyfriend. With all of that happening at once, life seemed bigger and more vivid than it ever had before, and as I look back now, probably bigger and more vivid than it would ever be again. And somehow, all of that has been rolled up into this uncharacteristic KC hit, a song of love and desperation recorded by an otherwise happy-go-lucky disco group.

You wouldn't think something like "Please Don't Go" could possess a time-traveling mojo so powerful. But if there's one thing listening back to old records has taught me, it's this: Mojo is a mystery.


At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first six months of 1980 seemed like an extension of the 1970s. Summer of 1980 thru all of 1981 was like a buffer...the music on the radio was a departure from disco. The music of the 1980s seemed to arrive in 1982 with hits from Ray Parker Jr ("The Other Woman"), J. Geils Band ("Freeze Frame"), Paul Davis ("'65 Love Affair") and newcomers Huey Lewis and the News, Tommy Tutone, Asia, and Aldo Nova. Oh, and let's not forget The Go-Go's, The Motels, and A Flock of Seagulls-- provided
you've haven't been tortured enough by their music.

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That early 80s period was pretty uncomfortable. The Top 40 flat sucked a lot of the time, especially during the period you mention. It's the rise of the MTV bands that saved it, and "Thriller."


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