If you have read anything on this blog before, it will have become mighty obvious that I am not exactly fresh out of high school. Not that I am eyeing up a glittery red Zimmer frame to buy with all the fervency of teenage girls spotting Justin Bieber, but I am not exactly fresh out of nappies.
So it will come as no surprise that the decade that I first started listening to music was the 1970s. That is, it’s the first decade where I made independent choices about what I wanted to listen to. Up to that point, I had listened to everyone from The Seekers to Nana Mouskouri and yes even a Christian artist called Evie, usually on the long trips we made up and down the Pacific Highway at least once a year from Grafton/Alstonville to Sydney to see my grandparents.
The 1970s were a decade where Progressive Rock, or Prog Rock (Frank Zappa, Foreigner and ELO) and Punk Rock (the Sex Pistols most famously) and Funk (Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and Kool & The Gang) and then of course, Disco (Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor and Lipps Inc.) ruled briefly but gloriously before giving way to the New Wave sounds of Blondie and The Knack.
And what was I listening to? Why ABBA. Yes of course ABBA. They bestrode the 1970s like a musical behemoth and I happily lapped up every single song they released, followed their every move (in a very delayed fashion, of course since this was in the primitive dark ages before the internet) and worshipped everything they did. I was, in effect, a one-band man. I couldn’t contemplate listening to anyone else.
Then an odd thing happened on the way to adulthood. I started listening to other music. I sampled Disco. Dived into New Wave … and started doing what all kids of my era were doing and started taping songs off the weekly Top 40 hits show, hoping to god that the announcer didn’t talk over the beginning or the end of the song. They always did alas but at least I had the song and I would play those songs over and over till the tape grew so over used that the bands began slurring their words, the melodies became caterwauls and the tape either caught in the deck or snapped.
The point was that I discovered all sorts of new music and took to listening to them like a duck to water. True to form, while I gravitated to some of the big hits, I also ended up liking all sorts of idiosyncratic bands that blipped on the radar and blipped off almost as quickly. So my mix tape ended up with more than a few One Hit Wonders sprinkled through it.
So in honour of my teenage obsession with music and the need to commit them to everlasting mix tapes (believe it or not, some do survive though I can no longer play them) here are some of the songs that came alive for me in that far off era, and the reasons why I liked them so much …
PATRICK HERNANDEZ – “Born To Be Alive”
How can this song not move you to a total, and complete surrender to the manic need to dance? From the opening notes, it roars out the gate, splaying glitter and glamour in its wake, and daring you to keep up.
From the moment I heard this song by Patrick Hernandez, a man born to a Spanish father and half-Italian/half-Austrian who grew up in France and had his albums produced in Belgium, I LOVED it. Total and utter adoration. It didn’t just move me to dance alone in my bedroom – there is no footage of this so thankfully it will never turn up on YouTube – it made me feel truly, goosebump-inducing alive.
I often connect with songs on an emotional level, given I am a highly emotional creature, but this song among a few I have heard in my life really moves me to action. I feel happy, joyous and damn near euphoric and apparently I wasn’t alone since the song, released in November 1978 was an almost instantaneous worldwide hit. It is reported (though not verified) that Hernandez garnered 52 gold and platinum records from more than 50 different countries by the end of 1979.
While his career after the massive success of “Born to be Alive” didn’t come anywhere near its stratospheric heights, he continued to tour and appear on other artists’ records.
Still if you are going to be forever defined by one song, then I can’t think of a better song than this one.
M – “Pop Musik”
Unless of course you decided to make your career with a song all about the history of pop music.
In which case, “Pop Musik” by the enigmatically named M aka Robin Scott, who sported a sexy line of tropical shirts and jackets, is just the song for you. Released in the UK initially it quickly zoomed to the number 2 position (12 May 1979) but couldn’t dislodge Art Garfunkel’s megabit “Bright Eyes” from the top spot.
With backing vocals by Brigit Novik, who appeared in the clip dressed in blue but had her voice mimed by two models as a sight gag, Scott had lofty ideals for what many might see as a catchy piece of pop ephemera:
“I was looking to make a fusion of various styles which somehow would summarise the last 25 years of pop music. It was a deliberate point I was trying to make. Whereas rock and roll had created a generation gap, disco was bringing people together on an enormous scale. That’s why I really wanted to make a simple, bland statement, which was, ‘All we’re talking about basically (is) pop music.” (super seventies.com)
While the album that followed, New York.London.Paris.Munich, was not a commercial success, the song went on to become a favourite of many musicians who have covered the song including Tricky , and Steve Osborne who used a techno remix of the song before each of the concerts on U2’s 1997-1998 Popmart tour. There was a CD of remixes by various artists released in 2009 to make the song’s 30th anniversary testament to its enduring popularity.
And making me, who loved listening to it over and over on weekends ensconced in my bedroom, absorbing every last quirky vocalisation and bouncy melodic flourish, feel very old.
RICKIE LEE JONES – “Chuck E’s In Live”
This song is most notably not disco you will discover the moment its languid jazz-pop sounds waft through the speakers.
It was the lead single from Rickie Lee Jones eponymous debut album, released in the U.S. spring of 1979 and went as high as number 4 on the charts. The album it hailed from reached number 3 and marked the start of a long career for this talented artist who has managed to move between pop, R & B, jazz, and blues with consummate ease.
I heard the song for the first time at the height of its chart success here in Australia where it raced straight to number 1. Oddly enough I was not usually enamoured of slower, more introspective songs as my first two choices will no doubt show, but there was something about the gentle meandering of this song and Jones’s unusual voice that had me hooked from almost the first listen.
As I noted earlier, she has gone on to a stellar career and is still much in demand, and one hit wonder is the last sobriquet you would give her, but I suspect this song is still fondly remembered by many people including yours truly as the Rickie Lee Jones song.
AMII STEWART – “Knock on Wood”
I was at one of my favourite restaurants, Smash Sausage Kitchen in Newtown last Sunday night, and the owner who is a lovely guy, played this song partway through the meal I was enjoying with my boyfriend and another good friend. He described it as the “best dance song ever” and frankly I would have to agree.
While I keep listening to new music all the time, and have become acquainted with quite a few songs since this disco gem was released in February 1979 (from an album by the same name), I can’t think of another song that draws me and so many others to the floor so quickly and with such fervour as this song.
A cover of a 1966 song by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, and performed by Eddie Floyd, the song was much covered by many artists including Otis Redding, and David Bowie. But it was in Amii Stewart‘s talented hands that the song caught the public’s imagination, hitting number 1 on the US dance pop charts.
Oddly enough despite peoples’ love of this song, the album it came from remains officially unreleased on CD as does its follow up, Paradise Bird. You can only hope that someone at her record company will realise their grave mistake and give this song, which is, according to Wikipedia, “a chromatic minor with a major tonic chord” (no, I have no idea what that means either but I like it regardless) the full release treatment it deserves.
JOE DOLCE (aka JOE DOLCE MUSIC THEATRE) – “Shaddap Your Face”
Yes I know. This is the “Who Lets the Dogs Out?”of 1980 but I must confess I find what was in essence a novelty song, strangely engaging and definitely memorable. It may be a case of nostalgia trumping good musical taste – that rarely happens to me – but I still find something sweet and quirky about this song.
If I am guilty of suffering a lapse in good taste by liking the song, then I am in good company … internationally. The song by American-born, Australian singer/songwriter (and you may be surprised to know poet and essayist), Joe Dolce broke all sorts of sales records. It screamed to number 1 in over 15 countries including Australia and the UK, selling in excess of 350,000 copies in the land down under and remaining its most successful Australian produced song for 32 years.
That’s quite an achievement for a song that I am sure many now see as a joke. But I prefer to see it as a cheeky very Australian song that was very much a product of a simpler, much less politically correct time, and as such I will treasure it as a song that makes up the canon of my childhood music.
Oh yes, and if you think I am going to ignore ABBA completely, you’re insane. Seriously have you not been paying attention? While it was released a good two years or so before the songs above, and isn’t necessarily my favourite ABBA song of all time – that honour belongs to “That’s Me” – “The Name of the Game” is a song that remains hauntingly evocative, beautiful and occupies a special place in my heart, arriving as it did just as my love of music exploded and grew into my current love affair with music of all kinds.
So yes it must make the Mixtape too. Happy listening to this gorgeous number.
I would love to know which 5 songs you would add to a 1970s mix tape?