(Pictured: the Spinners on The Midnight Special, circa 1975.)
I was in the car the other day, and on the run. On the run from work I don’t want to do, from decisions I don’t know how to make, from the clutter in my office, from my stupid face in the mirror. Casey Kasem and I hit the road for the last part of the AT40 show from October 25, 1975.
There were some solid songs in the second half of the show: “S.O.S.,” “Low Rider,” “Lady Blue,” “It Only Takes a Minute,” “Ballroom Blitz,” “Who Loves You.” Casey busted out some good trivia: Chicago has the most Top-10 hits without reaching #1, and Elton John’s “Island Girl” (which jumped from #36 to #8) is his 13th Top-10, moving him ahead of the Carpenters for the most Top 10s in the 70s. He noted Linda Ronstadt’s double-sided hit at #12 and played “Love Is a Rose” instead of “Heat Wave” (which showed up as an optional extra later in the hour), and he reminded us that the Ritchie Family’s “Brazil” is a remake of the 1943 Xavier Cugat hit. For the second time this week, he mentioned his work outside of AT40, plugging the made-for-TV movie The Night That Panicked America, scheduled for Halloween night, in which he had a small role.
All very interesting, yes. Enough to dispel the gloom, no.
We all have days when we wonder what the hell we’re doing, or how in the world we got to where we find ourselves. What we’ve accomplished looks shaky or worse, and what we’ve left undone looms large. Life seems like spiral of accidents, because nobody would actually plan to fk things up so badly.
“They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” by the Spinners is my favorite single of all time. It’s been #1 since sometime in the late 80s, when it displaced “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations—one morning on the way to work I played them side-by-side several times just to see which one I liked better, and it was the Spinners by a nose. Although Joe Jefferson, Bruce Hawes and Charlie Simmons purportedly wrote it to criticize the way Gamble and Huff took half of the songwriting royalties on every song even if they had nothing to do with the writing of it (“Games people play / Night or day they’re just not matchin’ / What they should do”), it’s more broadly about missing the boat and wondering how to deal with the disappointment. Prospects brighten for a moment (“Smiling as she came / Calling out my name / So I’d know where to go”) . . . but the brightness doesn’t last. As the song heads to the fade, the games people play still “keep me feelin’ blue,” and “right, wrong, they just can’t stop it.”
Although I am a car singer of long experience, I rarely do so at the top of my lungs, but I’m doing it now.
And then Casey follows “Games People Play” with the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes,” which is about a woman who has to live with the choices she made, but who regrets not having made different ones: “Did she get tired, or did she just get lazy? / She’s so far gone she feels just like a fool.”
I sing along with that one, too.
The Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” is next, then John Denver’s “Calypso,” and finally Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood” at #1 for a third straight week. I dial back the singing because none of them are quite so squarely in the emotional wheelhouse of a man on the run, except for bringing back memories of other times, when he didn’t want to run so fast, or so far.
I pull back into my driveway as the show ends. I have run as far as I can on this day. Running hasn’t solved a goddamn thing, because it generally doesn’t. But the gloom lifted slightly for a few minutes, and that’s the best I’m gonna get today.