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Everybody Will Be Happy Nowadays: “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People

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This Way To The Eighties, Don’t All Rush At Once: “Double Vision” by Foreigner

A Disaffection, Or Fight Against Same: “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty

Even as a young teenager growing up in Lanarkshire, I was always listening out for music that sounded out of kilter, whether it was George Crumb’s Makrokosmos III (the closing section of which I heard on a Saturday afternoon on Radio 3) or anything which “irrupted” the top forty. From the first time that I heard “Baker Street” on the radio – I think it was Dougie Donnelly on Radio Clyde – I was immediately hooked, mentally noting that this song seemed to go as much against the grain of a standard pop record as anything coming out of punk or New Wave, and was probably just as angry, if not angrier.
For forty years I harboured the notion – and this was from a time when visiting London, never mind living and working in it, was still a distant pipedream – that the song encapsulated the situation of the displaced Scotsman, marooned in a world he doesn’t really like or perhaps even understand. Make no mistake, this is undeniably a Scottish record, and seemingly all about someone determined…

What Someone Does To Help Keep Someone Else Alive: “The Closer I Get To You” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

Superficially there’s not much to go on as far as “The Closer I Get To You” is concerned. Written by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, both former Miles Davis sidemen and at the time members of Roberta Flack’s working band, it’s a pleasant but unremarkable augur of eighties smoothness, the arrangement so docile that it is practically static, with two distinctive voices offering only a hint of their full capabilities. One might remark that Anita Baker – not to mention Alexander O’Neal - would do this kind of thing far more successfully in the eighties.
But then I discovered the background to the record. Originally the song was intended for Flack to sing alone, but her manager David Franklin suggested expanding it to a duet with her old friend Donny Hathaway. Now Hathaway was in a bad way, even in 1977-8 – he was suffering serious bouts of clinical depression as well as associated mood swings. In addition, because of his psychological issues he was unable to travel from Chicago to New York…

Irony? Isn’t That A Metal, Like Goldy And Silvery?: “Short People” by Randy Newman

In retrospect you can see why “Short People” broke so big at the time; it was undeniably catchy with a confident and agreeable strut comparable with John Sebastian’s then-recent “Welcome Back” and having assorted Eagles on backing vocals didn’t hurt its chances either.
That having been said, I think the (to some, including its writer and performer) unexpected commercial success of the song did something to Randy Newman, altered his view of the world. Prior to “Short People” he had established himself as a well-respected singer, pianist and songwriter with a yen towards saying the unsayable under the staunch shield of “character studies.” The song “Sail Away” is a far more frightening con trick of an invitation to hell than Robert Helpmann’s Child Catcher pretending to sell ice creams, all the more so because of its surface of serenity. Good Old Boys examines the decline of the South – though born an Angeleno, Newman spent his formative years being raised in New Orleans – from the poi…

When The Lights Are Low You Can’t Tell What Colour Her Eyes Are: “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle

A torch song with enough country content to ensure that it crossed over – its writer Richard Leigh originally had Shirley Bassey in mind to sing it, but Gayle’s producer Allen Reynolds exclaimed “Shirley Bassey my ass, I want that song!” – “Brown Eyes,” as sung by the actually blue-eyed Crystal Gayle, makes for a quiet, meditative end to its year. With Hargus “Pig” Robbins’ cocktail piano line, Gayle’s persuasively authoritative delivery – some might describe her voice as “pure” but that adjective has no place in the vocabulary of music writers – and a seemingly endless outro which cunningly disguises the fact that the song clocks in at just over two-and-a-half minutes. No wonder Gayle went on to work with Tom Waits; “Brown Eyes” suggests that she was already warming up for One From The Heart.
Date Record Made Number Two: 26 November 1977 Number Of Weeks At Number Two: 3 Record At Number One: “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone UK Chart Position: 5

Does The Presence Of Number Two Require The Existence Of Number One?: “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave

I don’t think you’d be able to get away with that introduction now – rippling harp, jazz drums and guitar chords, before the band settle into the song. These days everything has to be in your face, hook upfront and immediate (or so it would seem, but then you stumble across something extraordinary such as Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE,” possibly the most musically extreme recording to make the top twenty since “Death Disco”).
None of this subtracts from the friendly power of “Boogie Nights” which goes about its funk-pop business with complete, if subtle, confidence. It was Heatwave’s first single and gave immediate notice of the compositional genius who was Rod Temperton. When Temperton died three years ago, Gilles Peterson made it known that in his personal pantheon of songwriters, the man was second only to Lennon and McCartney.
Or perhaps he was better. The sublime nature of “Boogie Nights” lies in its open-eyed nature. Where does all that stuff come from – those knowing harmonic tra…