(Pictured: the Eagles, circa 1977.)
A few years ago some Internet site I was reading suggested that your life’s theme song is the one that was #1 on your 18th birthday. But there is no goddamn way I’m accepting “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb. I would, however, take the #1 song on my 17th birthday: “New Kid in Town” by the Eagles, which hit the top 40 years ago this weekend, on February 26, 1977.
“New Kid in Town” crashed into the Billboard Hot 100 at #48 during the week of December 18, 1976, although its first appearance at ARSA is on a survey from KHJ in Los Angeles dated November 30. During Christmas week, it zoomed to #20, where it remained a second week during Billboard‘s annual holiday chart freeze. The holiday seems to have slowed its momentum a little; it went 16-12-7-6-4-2-2 before hitting the top at the end of February. It didn’t stick around long after its single week at the top, going back to #2, then 14-27-51 (during the week of March 26) and out.
The hit music from the winter of 1977 is to me a wondrous thing, as I have written before. It’s the soundtrack of being in love for the first time (with somebody who loved me back), and every song is a snapshot pulling me vividly back to those days. She likes ABBA, and I like “Dancing Queen” because she likes “Dancing Queen.” Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” comes on the console stereo in her living room as we play board games at the nearby kitchen table. Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” will eternally put me in the front seat of her car, the radio blasting as we go on some Saturday afternoon adventure. And Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England” plays as we fall into each other’s arms on the couch in her basement. “Night Moves,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Evergreen,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Crackerbox Palace”—these and others will echo through my life and hers for decades to come, though in 1977, neither of us can yet comprehend so much time.
On the record chart, the seasons are always changing, and songs that we’ll identify with an awakening spring are new in the Top 40 during this still-winter week, including “So In To You” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section and “Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes. A future #1 song, the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” is new on the Hot 100 at #72. (Three weeks from now, “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town” will essentially swap positions in the Top 40, the former jumping from #35 to #19, the latter falling from #14 to #27.) Also new on the Hot 100 during the week of February 26 is Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You,” another future #1 song. In a season when I am completely irrational about the songs I love—love beyond understanding that is impossible to explain in words—I may be the most irrational about “When I Need You.”
But back to “New Kid in Town.” Then and now, I dig the easy-rockin’ feel of it (one of the Eagles’ loveliest melodies and arrangements), it feeds my electric piano jones, and Glenn Frey sings beautifully.
What I thought of the words back then, I don’t know. Now, they seem remarkably sad: you’ve had your moment, when you’re the one everybody wants, but your moment will someday pass. “They will never forget you til somebody new comes along.” And before you’ve had the chance to adjust to your obsolescence, it becomes even more devastating. Somebody notices that “he’s holding her, and you’re still around.”
You’re still around? Why do you stay when you’re no longer wanted?
I have learned plenty about obsolescence and disappointment in 40 years. But I have also learned that the Eagles got a big thing wrong in “New Kid in Town”: you don’t have to forget, nor be forgotten, just because somebody new comes along. Not as long as the music that soundtracks your life never stops playing.