(Hot damn, it’s a new post.)
It’s been nearly five months since I wrote anything about my Desert Island list here. And I guess it’s because I wonder whether it ‘s interesting to anyone but me. It’s not packed with forgotten gems that never made it on the radio, or unknown acts that never got their due. It’s not calculated to impress anybody with my quirky taste, unless you think that being a Top-40 nerd is quirky. I have been living with some of the songs for more than 40 years, from the AM radio in the bedroom I shared with my brother at home to the iPod on which I have loaded road music for use in my wife’s car, and I keep coming back to them when I could be listening to other stuff. Here are five (more than five, actually) from the Desert Island list that I haven’t written about yet, all of which were on the radio in Septembers gone by, and in no particular order.
“Who Do You Think You Are”/Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (1974). The best of all descriptions of this song is in the liner notes of the Rhino Super Hits of the 70s volume that includes it: “the great lost Buckinghams record.” Just as they did with “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” in the summer of ’74, the Heywoods’ cover version outperformed a British original. “Who Do You Think You Are” was cut by both Jigsaw (of “Sky High” fame) and a band called Candlewick Green, whose version just missed the Top 20 in the UK. The Heywoods’ version has a drive the Candlewick Green version lacks, and it polishes the hooks until they sparkle like diamonds.
“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”/Chicago (1973). There are actually three Chicago songs on my list, none of which I have written about: “Beginnings,” “Dialogue,” and this. “Beginnings” is ambitious and magisterial. Both “Dialogue” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” are records made great by building tension and then releasing it: “Dialogue” at the end of Part 1, when Peter Cetera sings, “I always thought that everything was fine” before a single electric guitar starts Part 2, and again at the end, when “we can make it happen” is stopped in mid-syllable, and “Feelin’ Stronger” after its stupendous bridge, about 2:30 in. In those ways and several others, both records prove that it’s the little things that matter. “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” is also one of the greatest top-of-the-hour songs in radio. (For what it’s worth, this sounds like a 45 version—more bass, more punch.)
“Beautiful Sunday”/Daniel Boone (1972). Another pleasure I have felt guilty about for years, although I’m trying to get over it. If you can’t figure out why a person might find some charm in this, maybe we shouldn’t be seeing each other anymore.
“Jimmy Loves Mary Anne”/Looking Glass (1973). No guilt here. This is a record we’ve praised repeatedly in the past, and for good reason: It’s cooler than all of us on the best day any of us ever had. Somebody’s blog—and I’m sorry to say I forget whose—tipped me to the fact that the guitar solo on the record gets its unique sound thanks to a Leslie amplifier, normally heard powering the Hammond B3 organ.
“Maggie May”/Rod Stewart (1971). There are two Rod Stewart songs on the list, both of which hit in the fall, “Maggie May” and “You Wear It Well,” a smartly observed lyric about the power of memory, which charted a year later. I have frequently pondered the arc of “Maggie May” in my life—when I bought the 45 at the age of 11, it was because I liked it on the radio. I really didn’t get the lyrics beyond the sound of them. It remained a favorite for the next 30-plus years, always welcome on my radio shows and on record or CD. When I began fooling around with the idea of music as memoir in the mid 1990s, I seized upon the line “It’s late September and I really should be back at school” as especially resonant, autumn being the season in which everything began. Today, a couple of weeks shy of 40 years since the song hit Number One, I realize that “Maggie May” performs, for those of us who love it, the function great art is supposed to perform: It tells us who we are. And who we’ve been. And now that we’re 40 years older, who we’re going to be.