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« Lotsa Magazines | Main | Words, Visuals, Sex and Girls »

September 28, 2005

Bad Pop

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Long ago, some visitors expressed surprise when I mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for music fans in the mid and late 1970s to think that pop music had run its course. Many of the punk rockers I hung out with, for instance, were convinced that punk rock was pop music's self-immolation, that the time had come for pop to die a natural death, and that new kinds of music would soon replace it.

For an illustration of one major reason why this belief was so widespread, check out this list of the top 100 hits from 1976, the year FvB and I graduated from college. Man, that was one seriously bad era in pop music.



posted by Michael at September 28, 2005


I'm pleased to observe that no. 28 is "Right Back Where We Started From" by Maxine Nightingale. I remember that song playing over the closing credits to "Slapshot", the Paul Newman vehicle about a minor league hockey team. One of those "raunchy" seventies comedies predating the Animal House era. I have a special fondness for these trashy yet gritty sevetnies movies and that song at the end really struck an emotional chord. Now I know who it's by and that it was a hit at the time the movie was out.

Posted by: dan g. on September 28, 2005 12:21 PM

Glad to see that there's another person out there who remembers (and liked) "Slapshot." I hate to admit it, but a lot of those songs sound pretty good today, compared to what my students listen to (I teach at a midwester University).

Posted by: tschafer on September 28, 2005 12:26 PM

"Slapshot" was a lot of fun, wasn't it? I notice that Amazon sells the DVD for a good price. Hmm, my One-Click finger is feeling itchy ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2005 12:37 PM

"Take It to the Limit" by the Eagles wasn't all bad. Otherwise, this list is genuinely hilarious, and shocking when one considers that in 1969 (just 7 years earlier!) the top ten albums had the Stones, the Beatles, the Temptations, Creeedence Clearwater Revival, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

What's totally horribly shocking to me is that "Silly Love Songs" (which I always considered the absolute nadir of Paul McCartney's solo career and made Lennon's song "How Do You Sleep?" quite prophetic) was ever NUMBER ONE!!


Posted by: annette on September 28, 2005 1:07 PM

A list of the top pop songs looks bizarre for any year.

However, if you look at the top albums released in 1976, the music wasn't so bad. The Ramones debut album, Tom Petty's debut album, Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia, The Eagles' Hotel California, ZZ Top's best Tejas, Frank Zappa's Zoot Allures, Santana's Amigos, Bob Marley's Rastaman Vibration. While 1976 wasn't 1991 or 1969, overall, it wasn't that bad.

Posted by: Ron on September 28, 2005 1:14 PM

I think it was one day in 1976 that I turned off my car radio on my ride home. It finally dawned on me that after a hard day at work (at my first, wildly un-glamorous job) I'd really rather listen to freeway noise than the godawful slop that was getting spewed out of radios in that era.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 28, 2005 4:24 PM

I know all 100 of these songs intimately well. Out of them, 50 Ways, take the money and run, fooled around and fell in love and That's The Way I Like It are the ones I can still stand.

Actually I thought I will Survive was the same year, but I guess I was wrong.

If you want some fun, try listening to Evolution Control Committee's Chart Sweep Mp3s. Here's the first one 1950s-1970s , and the second one 1970s-1990s . They play up to 5 seconds of every Billboard Top 10 from the 1950s to the 1990's. It is fascinating, exhausting, terrifying. Warning: these mp3's are both HUGE (50 mb)

After listening to both mp3s, I came to the conclusion that by and large music from the 1980s just was unremarkable. 1970s came out a little better.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 28, 2005 4:58 PM

To give you a sense of how much this year meant to me, I listened to two local radio stations give their top 76 hits countdown at year's end. I listened to both, Don't Go Breaking My Heart won the first one, Afternoon Delight won the other one. Silly Love Songs was number 2 on both. Silly Love songs was really catchy. I heard it on the radio and said, omigod, I have to get that song! Same with afternoon delight, I remember very distinctively the time I first heard that song (No, I cannot stand either song).

As a juvenile, I made my own "Top 76" countdown after hearing the radio show. I picked Don't Go Breaking my heart, afternoon delight, dreamweaver, theme from swat (loved that one!) and i think baby I love your way was up there.

I looked at the list for 1977 and 1978, and gosh, I know all of those too. From 1980, I know practically none of the songs until 1995 (when I was a peace corps volunteer teaching at a university). During that time, I became acquainted with the Top 40 songs all over again. Funny how you either are extremely focused on Top 40 or totally indifferent to it.

IBID on the "sucky songs but ok albums" comments above. I'm sure lots of unknown bands put great songs out then too that we don't identify with the year because they weren't sold as singles. Top 40 songs need an immediate hook. I once jokingly said that the first 10 seconds of a 3 minute single gives a pretty good idea of whether it will be a chartbuster. Fortunately though nobody listens to Top 40 radio anymore.

On another note, at my gym, they have a radio station that plays like only 10 songs ad nauseum. I don't remember things being that monotonous in the 1970s.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 28, 2005 5:43 PM

Yeah. I was born in 1976, and well past the single mindset by high school. Just a few weeks ago I was listing for a surprisingly well-informed 18-year-old the "real best songs" of Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, Stone Temple Pilots, and the like.

Singles are a particular type of earworm, selected to catch on in a few seconds without exposure to a body of the artist's work. But really, isn't this a chief characteristic distinguishing Mozart from, say, Mahler? Different patterns take different amounts of repetition, conscious effort, emotional motivation, and context to stick in memory. But there are long-term tradeoffs for the instantly catchy. I'd recognize "Love To Love You Baby" pretty quickly, but I wouldn't have a clue who sang it or what any lyrics were outside of the title, and certainly wouldn't be prone to recommending it or even referencing it (outside of this post, of course).

Posted by: J. Goard on September 28, 2005 9:48 PM

I find it interesting the way that electronic-digital culture and pop music seem to go hand in hand. It's a bit of a surprise the way it's worked out. People who saw digital electronics coming (Glenn Gould, McLuhan) tended to be accurate about a number of things -- the way it moved control from the producer to the consumer, for instance, and how that control was itself a creative steering wheel -- remixing, tuning your sonic universe to suit yourself, etc. And how it would undermine the autonomous work of art, the lonely genius, all that. And they seem to have been right about how one effect would be to dramatically enlarge the sonic landscape. I think what they didn't anticipate (unless I'm misremembering) is that 99.9% of it would be set to a techno or hiphop beat. As far as I can tell, what's happened in music as music has gotten ever more electronic isn't that barriers between pop and folk and classical etc have melted, it's that pop has so enlarged its scope that it's become a gigantic, self-sufficient universe. The sounds that I hear on the rare occasions when I visit downtown and avant-gardey places are really pretty amazing these days. They're often moody, evocative, and weird snatches of soundscapes more than traditional pop-crafted tunes. Meanwhile traditional values and pleasures have become viewed as stodgy; they even seem to be hard to perceive for people who have grown up on electronic values. They literally don't seem to see anything there. Another reason I suspect traditional culture (a lot of which I love) is going to become more and more irrelevant-seeming ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2005 10:33 AM

Meh. Snobs.

Look, these are all GREAT songs:

2. Don't Go Breaking My Heart, Elton John and Kiki Dee
4. December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night), Four Seasons
5. Play That Funky Music, Wild Cherry
8. 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon
9. Love Is Alive, Gary Wright
11. Sara Smile, Daryl Hall and John Oates
16. Get Close, Seals and Crofts
18. Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
23. Love Hurts, Nazareth
25. Take It To The Limit, Eagles
33. Golden Years, David Bowie
37. Dreamweaver, Gary Wright
48. If You Leave Me Now, Chicago
50. Show Me The Way, Peter Frampton
51. Dream On, Aerosmith
59. Sing A Song, Earth, Wind and Fire
64. Saturday Night, Bay City Rollers
65. Island Girl, Elton John
70. Evil Woman, Electric Light Orchestra
76. Fox On The Run, Sweet
77. Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac
78. Got To Get You Into My Life, Beatles
81. She's Gone, Daryl Hall and John Oates
83. You're My Best Friend, Queen
84. With Your Love, Jefferson Starship
85. Slow Ride, Foghat
89. Baby, I Love Your Way, Peter Frampton
96. Rock And Roll All Nite, Kiss
97. The Boys Are Back In Town, Thin Lizzy
98. Take The Money And Run, Steve Miller Band
99. Squeeze Box, The Who

If these count as bad music, then there is no good music.

I mean, C'mon, who doesn't lip sync along with "Love Squirts" (aka 23. Love Hurts) when no one's looking?

Posted by: Yahmdallah on September 29, 2005 2:09 PM

I don't! But..."Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen and "Baby I Love Your Way" by Frampton might induce me to. Or at least to not change the radio station. Thank goodness you didn't list "Silly Love Songs" as great music.

Posted by: annette on September 29, 2005 2:29 PM

Plus there's that thing with pop music: in many ways it doesn't matter of it's "good" or not (and what's "good" anyway, especially where pop culture goes). Is it catchy? Hummable? Does it call up good memories? Does it put a smile on your face? Is it campily amusing?

But even with all those considerations open, "Silly Love Songs" would still be a hard one to forgive!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2005 2:37 PM

Yeah. I think Linda (may she rest in peace) would sing more out of tune than usual during that song just to be that way.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on September 29, 2005 3:46 PM

Squeeze Box by The Who and You're my best friend by Queen are not even close to the best these bands have to offer. Yahmdallah's list is very unconvincing although I think Dream On is a great song.

Posted by: jult52 on September 30, 2005 9:43 AM

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