Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #26

Captain & Tennille – Love Will Keep Us Together

From the mid-1970s into the early 1980s, New Year’s Day would always find me doing the same thing. Around noon, I would set myself down next to a radio and spend the remaining half of the day listening as CJCB counted down the top 100 songs of the year just ended. I think they picked it up from a station in Toronto, but it wasn’t CHUM-FM, and whoever was compiling it wasn’t following the RPM chart. It was a critical part of my musical life, a clearing of the deck before the exciting new sounds to come.

The songs were mixed in with little anecdotes and sometimes interview snippets. I learned – and have never forgotten – the story behind “I Don’t Like Mondays”. The announcer told me in 1978 that The Rolling Stones were the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. (I had thought it was Kiss.) I also heard – though I’ve never been able to verify that this actually happened – that Al Stewart claimed to make dance music for people with two left feet. My brain is littered with trivia from those long ago January 1s.

The countdown also meant learning that some of the songs I loved best weren’t as widely adored by others, or others that I hated were in fact monster hits. I really disliked Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”, so its place at the top of 1981’s chart befuddled me. (I am so not the same listener I was in my youth – “Bette Davis Eyes” rocks!) There would be a delicious tension as the top 10 were counted down and one mega hit after another fell short of the top spot. I was devastated when the 1976 countdown found my beloved Bay City Rollers and “Saturday Night” falling to Wings’ unquestionably drecky “Silly Love Songs”. The 1977 countdown was the oddest, when a song I’d pretty much already forgotten – Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You” – came out of nowhere to take the top spot.

But in 1975, everything went as the music gods intended. The top song of the year was “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain & Tennille. And I was very okay with that.

1975 seems like a pretty decent year for pop music. There were a lot of songs that hold up well today: “Jive Talkin'” by the Bee Gees. Neil Sedaka (with a helping hand from Elton John) and “Bad Blood”. “Ballroom Blitz”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Nights on Broadway”, “Fame”, “Only Women Bleed”. Not a bad start. But look a little deeper into the top 100 and things get sketchy. There are hits from The Carpenters, Barry Manilow, Paul Anka, Olivia Newton-John, Frankie Valli. There were a lot of lame tracks in heavy rotation that year. And I liked a lot of them.

The lamest of the lame – and therefore champion of that most lame of musical years – was the married team of Captain & Tennille and “Love Will Keep Us Together”. And I loved that song. I don’t think it was my favourite of the year – “Magic” by Pilot had a serious hold on me – but it was up there. Listening to it now, I can’t really make sense of it. The best explanation is that I was probably a pretty lame 11-year-old. I’ll defer further comment to those who remember me from then.

Yet, as I listen to it now, the song starts to get under my skin again, and it really is something of a masterful pop confection. There’s a simple piano hook and weird little fuzzy synth notes that catch your attention, anchored by Toni Tennille’s sweet but potent voice. Neil Sedaka wrote the song, but his version is sluggish and more discrete, missing the energy that Toni brings. It also lacks the Brill Building feel of Neil’s roots, but Captain & Tennille capture that air a bit with their girl-group background singers. The production from Captain Daryl Dragon is smart, putting the vocal front and centre and most instruments lower in the mix, emphasizing the cheery positivity of the song. The tempo change with jangly piano – again, very subtle, a little trick in the back of your brain – when she sings “young and beautiful” picks up the energy just when it starts to become too familiar, and if you don’t get chills every time Toni hits a run of “I will”s, especially the last one, then you just aren’t listening closely enough.

This was Captain & Tennille’s first song to get wide release, and they never flew so high again – who could? – but they remained reliable hit makers for several years, including giving us the delightfully bizarre soft core “Muskrat Love”. Their marriage was long-lasting but not a happy one, yet they remained on friendly terms afterwards, and Toni was at his bedside when Daryl passed in 2019. You can put your own spin on the title of their biggest hit for a line to end this piece.

Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #16

Dickie Goodman – Mr. Jaws

I don’t know if any young people will read this, but I’m here to perform a service for them if they do. The next time someone of your parents’ or grandparents’ generation makes a snotty comment about the music you love – and they will – I want you to play “Mr. Jaws” for them, and leave the room. It’s the ultimate mic drop.

Now, when I was 11 years old, I loved “Mr. Jaws”. But I had a good excuse: I was 11. Who else was listening to this and thinking they wanted more? An army of 11-year-olds couldn’t have pushed a song to number 4 on Billboard and number 1 on Cash Box. (We didn’t do much better in Canada – it reached number 13 on RPM’s chart.) Who were those people who called into radio station request lines and picked this over, say, Neil Sedaka’s magnificent “Bad Blood”, which knocked it from the top of Cash Box’s chart? Or who went to the local record store and put down $1.29 for this rather than one of the great songs that “Mr. Jaws” uses clips from, like “Jive Talkin’” or “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, or pretty much anything else in the store? Why?

If you don’t remember, we were all a bit nuts over sharks in 1975. “Jaws” was the first real movie blockbuster, dominating the culture that summer, and it definitely had a lot of us looking at the ocean differently. I didn’t even see it until it came to our local drive-in in the summer of 1976, but just knowing it existed – knowing that sharks ATE PEOPLE! – made me wary of the ocean, and I can’t say that’s ever really changed (I feel a bit anxious just remembering it now). But “Mr. Jaws”? Shouldn’t there be a limit to fanaticism? Imagine if something similar were done in our era for Harry Potter or The Avengers. Would we even notice, let alone stream it? Once, maybe, out of curiosity, but we might also skip it after the first few seconds. That may say more about our attention spans than the quality of the track, but even if streaming didn’t exist, we sure as hell wouldn’t get in our cars and trek down to Sam the Record Man (R.I.P.) for the latest parody record.

None of this is to disrespect Goodman. His “break-in” style of sampling was ahead of its time, and he made a nice career out of it, charting tracks (it feels wrong to call them songs) for over 20 years. He didn’t really make any money from it, since, as hip hop artists were to later learn, creators don’t much like it when other people repurpose their stuff. According to his children, financial problems were likely a factor when Goodman killed himself at 55.

As campy as it is, “Mr. Jaws” still has a few good bits. My favourite is when Goodman asks the shark why nothing seems to hurt him, and he responds with the whispered “Big boys don’t cry” from 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”, which is pretty brilliant.

And here’s a confession. I was so in thrall of what Goodman was doing that when he took a shot at “Star Wars” two years later, I decided to do the same. The ambition is mind-numbing to consider: my record collection was a bunch of K-tel compilations and maybe two dozen 45s, and my recording device was a small tape recorder. I would record my question, position the microphone next to my stereo speakers, start the song and wait to hit the “record” button right before the lyric I wanted came on. If I was too early or too late, I’d rewind and try again. The man hours that went into that thing – which got close to 10 minutes long as I recall – is astonishing. The lesson from this: never underestimate the power of a nerd on a mission. Which is maybe something you could say about Goodman, too.