Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

(Pictured: George Harrison, doing an interview publicizing his album Thirty-Three and 1/3, circa 1977.)

I am entirely irrational about the songs on the radio during the winter of 1977. Most of them sound great to me, and you can’t persuade me otherwise, even if you use evidence and logic. So I got lost in the American Top 40 show from February 12, 1977, which was rebroadcast recently.

39. “Crackerbox Palace”/George Harrison. It’s appropriate that in a season when I felt alive in a way I never had before—head over heels in love for the first time—that Harrison’s latest hit sounded more alive than anything he’d done in years. (Video from 1976 directed by Eric Idle here.)

37. “Moody Blue”/Elvis Presley. I liked “Moody Blue” then and I like it now, although in the pantheon of Elvitude, it’s a trifle. What strikes me now is how old Elvis sounds. He would have been only 41 when he recorded it, on a portable rig in the Jungle Room at Graceland, but he sounds far less vital than he did earlier in the 70s. In February, we did not know what would happen to him in August.

31. “Somebody to Love”/Queen
22. “Boogie Child”/Bee Gees
This edition of AT40 contains a couple of strange technical glitches. By this point in the show’s history, Casey recorded his voice tracks separately and they were spliced into the show with the records. His introduction of “Somebody to Love” plays over the acapella vocal opening. Later, “Boogie Child” comes on a full two seconds early, over the end of a “hits from coast to coast” jingle. I wonder if these errors were left over from 1977, or if they came about during the modern remastering process—but either way, I wonder how they possibly got left in.

27. “The Things We Do for Love”/10cc. Although the words talk about what it takes for a long relationship to endure, the music is pure first-time rush.

21. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”/Donny and Marie. Casey notes that “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” is D&M’s fourth straight cover of a classic duet, but it’s one they should never have attempted. Although Donny manages to channel as much Marvin Gaye as he can, Marie is far too white to get anywhere near Tammi Terrell. But never mind: none of the radio stations we listened to in the winter of 1977 were playing it anyway.

16. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA
15. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart
14. “Night Moves”/Bob Seger

A wondrous three-set, broken up by a commercial break in 1977 but part of a single segment on the repeat. She and I adored “Dancing Queen.” I have written before how “Year of the Cat” puts me back into her car (a sweet ’66 Mustang) on our way to adventure. Our night moves were different from Seger’s, who sang “I used her, she used me, but neither one cared.” But like he did in 1977, I too would eventually find myself thinking how strange the night moves, with autumn closing in.

13. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow
10. “Lost Without Your Love”/Bread

As I have mentioned many times before, the radio frequently spoke to us—and for us—back in the day. But sometimes what it said we did not hear, not right away.

9. “I Like Dreamin'”/Kenny Nolan. In High Fidelity, Nick Hornby wondered what it does to the human psyche to listen to thousands of love songs, over and over for years on end. It led Kenny Nolan to ecstatically describe a dream world so perfect that reality couldn’t touch it. I was about to say that “I Like Dreamin'” was as sappy as 1977 got, until I remembered that David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up on Us” was a week away from hitting the Top 40.

1. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor. As so often happens on charts of the 1970s, the #1 song is a fizzle compared to the rest of the chart. The performance and production on “Torn Between Two Lovers” are so bland they make Anne Murray sound like Janis Joplin, but the lyric is arguably hip. In an era when people were exploring all kinds of new social arrangements, having two lovers and not wanting to give either one of them up is not scandalous as much as it’s just another way to live.

For an entirely different look at the week of February 12, 1977, visit this post at Mitchell Hadley’s site, It’s About TV.

3 responses

  1. Ah, George, the perm and the knit sweater weren’t working for you. (In the photo behind him at left, does he not look vaguely like Lou Reed?)

  2. recently heard Presley’s “Way Down” from this time period and he barely gets through the record. But….he cut Timi Yuro’s “Hurt” and sang the hell out of it, because, well he WAS hurt at that time and like you say we didn’t know what would happen to him in a few months.

  3. That Osmond cover of “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” has absolutely no soul. For the most part, the whole Osmond family should never have attempted Motown, but especially when it was down to Donny & Marie.
    Love your posts.

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