Mundane Beauty

So I’m driving home from the radio station the other night listening to the vintage American Top 40 show when Casey plays “Old Fashioned Boy” by Stallion, and I am suddenly transported back to the spring of 1977, when the song spent a couple of weeks on the Top 40 and got a little bit of play on the stations I was listening to back then. It’s slick, hooky, AM-radio pop that, if it were a confection, would be cotton candy, because it melts away to nothing so fast and it leaves you wondering where it went. Here’s YouTube DJ Music Mike to play it for you.

As I listened to it for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long, the verse, the refrain, the solo, the key change, and the refrain to the fade, I was struck by just how many records like it I dug back then. Lots of bands used that light, tasteful, adult guitar sound to greater advantage than Stallion did—Pablo Cruise and Player spring to mind, although their records were generally less busy than Stallion’s. Also unlike Stallion, each of those bands has a song on my Desert Island list.

Pablo Cruise had a bit of credibility as an album-oriented act thanks to their first two albums, their self-titled 1975 release and Lifeline in 1976. But they broke through as pop stars in 1977 with A Place in the Sun and the single “Whatcha Gonna Do,” which rose into the Top 10 late that summer. Here it is, from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, featuring the most impressive collection of white-guy Afros you’ve seen in a long time. It rocks a bit harder live than it does on record.

Another band of similar musical weight came along just as “Whatcha Gonna Do” was moving into recurrents. Player hit #1 early in 1978 with “Baby Come Back,” a nice-enough radio record, but the one that I am taking along to the Desert Island came that summer: “This Time I’m in It for Love.”  It probably appealed to me more on the basis of the lyrics than the music—the incurable teenage romantic in me liked the idea of refusing to settle for anything less than the real thing. It, too, has that same light guitar sound, the opposite of what guitar gods like Clapton and Page were doing, something that sounds to me now like the distilled essence of the late 70s.

(Another Player song, “Prisoner of Your Love,” probably ought to be on the Desert Island list. Despite being an absolute hook-monster, it made it only as high as Number 27 in Billboard in the fall of 1978, when I adored it.)

Recommended Reading: It’s often noted that the transition to CDs and now to downloads has caused us to miss out on the distinctive pleasures of album art. But until yesterday, I don’t think anybody had noticed how we’ve also lost “the mundane beauty of blank cassette tape insert cards.” Tip of the baseball cap yet again to Dangerous Minds, which needs to be a regular stop on your Internet rounds. It’s one of the most consistently fascinating websites I know of. (If you’re on Twitter, follow Richard Metzger.)

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6 responses

  1. I saw Pablo Cruise in concert at Milwaukee County Stadium in August 1978 on a bill with the Steve Miller Band and The Eagles. Pablo Cruise rocked out on “Watcha Gonna Do.”

  2. I’ve been listening to a lot of the ’70s station on Sirius. I’ve found that there are a lot of songs I know and the songs here and there that I wouldn’t have recognized by title alone, but, as soon as I hear a bit, I remember the song (but maybe hazily).

    Then, there’s stuff like that Stallion song which I’ve never heard before, but it most definitely sounds like 1977.

  3. When I first started listening to AT40 there would often be one song every few weeks that I never heard anywhere but AT40. In March and April of 1977, there seemed to be one every week. In addition to the Stallion song, there were “hits” by Cerrone (Love In ‘C’ Minor), Facts Of Life (Sometimes), Ambrosia (Magical Mystery Tour), Silvetti (Spring Rain), John Travolta (All Strung Out On You), Andrea True Connection (N.Y., You Got Me Dancing), Q (Dancin’ Man), Firefall (Cinderella) and John Denver (My Sweet Lady) that I only heard on AT40.

  4. [...] was one of those generic pop-rock groups that proliferated throughout the 1970s, capable of one great single before returning to the void from which they sprang, in Stallion’s case, [...]

  5. Re: Player. They also had a great near-hit with “If Looks Could Kill” in 1982. That was definitely one I tracked down for the iPod.

  6. Oh, and Pablo Cruise had a number of hook-monsters as you call them that I loved: “Don’t Want to Live Without It,” “I Want You Tonight,” “Cool Love.” As generic ’70s pop-rock bands go, they were among the best.

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