While the Music Still Goes On

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(Pictured: ABBA on The Midnight Special, 1976.)

The other night, the gods of shuffle cranked out the following songs for me, all in a row:

“Rose of Cimarron”/Poco. The title track from the band’s 1976 album, beautifully sung by Paul Cotton and Timothy B. Schmit. I don’t especially care for the slow instrumental outro, but the five minutes before we get to that are something to have on hand when the space aliens arrive and ask why they shouldn’t vaporize the lot of us.

“Prisoner of Your Love”/Player. In January 1978, Player’s “Baby Come Back” hit #1 and became one of the founding documents of yacht rock. That summer, “This Time I’m in It for Love,” which is even more yacht-rockier than “Baby Come Back,” hit #10. In the fall of 1978, “Prisoner of Your Love” was their third single, making #27. It’s far different from the other two, with an instrumental hook for the ages, and is best heard in its full-length album version, which has more of what you came in the door for.

“Taurus”/Dennis Coffey. I can’t say it better than I did a couple of years ago: “Coffey rocks like crazy on “Taurus,”  as if he were trying to hold off the Great Mellowing of the 70s all by himself. Dude is on fire.”

“Sleeping With the Television On”/Billy Joel. This is the great lost Billy Joel single, and I am now in my 38th year—since the release of Glass Houses in 1980—of trying to turn it into a hit. My quest was vindicated in 2015 when Vulture ranked 121 Billy Joel songs from worst to first and placed it at #4.

“Cherry Hill Park”/Billy Joe Royal. “In the daytime Mary Hill was a teaser / But come the nighttime she was such a pleaser.” It’s left to the imagination why all the boys got eager eyes watching her on the merry-go-round, or precisely why she was such a thrill after dark. “Cherry Hill Park” proves once again that the best storytelling is as much about what you leave out as what you put in.

“Bang-a-Boomerang”/ABBA. Atlantic, ABBA’s North American label, released Greatest Hits in September 1976, at a time when ABBA had scored only four hits on the American chart: “Waterloo,” “S.O.S.,” “I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do,” and “Mamma Mia.” Their then-current single, “Fernando” also appeared on the album, but the rest of it—nine other songs—were mostly unknown over here. One of them, “Bang-a-Boomerang,” has a rather convoluted history. In 1974. Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson had given it to another act on their record label, who recorded it in Swedish and saw it become a modest hit in Sweden. In 1975, ABBA cut their own version in English with the same backing track their labelmates had used. It was released a single in France with “S.O.S.” on the B-side and was not an especially big hit there or anywhere else, but it ended up on the Greatest Hits album just the same.

Several of the nine songs that were new to American listeners in 1976 are pretty damn good: “Dance (While the Music Still Goes On),” “Ring Ring,” and “Another Town, Another Train” among them. But “Bang-a-Boomerang” is the best of them, and not just that: it’s the perfect ABBA record. “Dancing Queen” usually gets that title, and deservedly so. While “Bang-a-Boomerang” wasn’t the hit “Dancing Queen” was, it contains everything that’s great about ABBA in three minutes just as “Dancing Queen” does. And while “Dancing Queen” is one of the most joyful records ever made, “Bang-a-Boomerang” might be even more so. Listen to the bridge and the final reprise starting at about the 2:25 mark in the video with “And if you’re warm and tender / I kiss you return to sender / Please surrender” and tell me that moment is not every bit as spectacular as the last “you can dance / you can jam” in “Dancing Queen.”

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2 responses

  1. RE: Billy Joel’s “Sleeping With the Television On” and the Entire “Glass Houses” Album

    I’ve always maintained that there is a fascinating article waiting to be written about (or, at the very least, an interesting playlist that can be derived from) the efforts of aging 1970s soft-rockers to directly confront the challenge of a new generation of Punk and New Wave rockers in the early 1980s. “Glass Houses,” to my ears, was Joel’s pretty-successful attempt to incorporate elements of New Wave into his music, Elvis Costello in particular. “Sleeping With the Television On” and “Sometimes a Fantasy” are personal favorites. I’m also fond of Linda Ronstadt’s “Mad Love” album as well as Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” single and the related “Lawyers in Love” album.

    You could also throw in some stuff from “McCartney II,” Shaun Cassidy’s “WASP” album, Robert Palmer’s “Clues,” Joni Mitchell’s “Wild Things Run Fast,” John Hiatt’s “Slug Line,” Pete Townshend’s “Empty Glass,” Frida’s (ex-ABBA) “I Know There’s Something Going On,” Don Henley’s “Johnny Can’t Read,” Robert Plant’s “In the Mood,” and some Buckingham stuff on Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” or “Mirage” (or “Holiday Road”). Hall & Oates’ new wave transformation was so successful that I actually think they fall outside of this category. I’m sure there are countless, less-successful (and far more embarrassing) examples of 1970s success stories whose attempts to meet new wave fall distinctly flat.

  2. Re: Player. As much as I like their 1978 hits, my favorite is their near-miss from 1982, “If Looks Could Kill.” Every time that comes up on shuffle, it gets turned way up.

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