Saturday, May 24, 2014

1970s Mix Tape

Proof that music snobs are made, not born?


While housecleaning recently, I came across an old cassette tape (brand name "Compact Cassette") on which I taped music off the radio, with a few additional songs from my family's (mostly my sister's) record collection. The technical process was this: I held up my rectangular Panasonic cassette player next to the radio, or the stereo speaker, as the case may be. That was the only method I had to record music until high school, when I gained access to a stereo with a built-in cassette player. (My parents eventually got one, but I was pretty close to graduating by then).

The latest-released song on this compilation came out in February 1979, shortly after I turned 14, so it couldn't have been recorded earlier than that.

What kills me about this artifact is that it provides evidence I liked all these songs enough to tape them. I can't imagine actually wanting to listen to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" on purpose, but at one point, I must have. To be fair, my options were very limited. We had a few TV channels, a few radio stations (country and "Top 40"), and a few places that sold a limited amount of records. I read CREEM magazine whenever I could, but really, that only frustrated me, because even if I heard about bands, that didn't mean I had any way to hear them. 

However, we are now in the streaming/instant download age, so you can gain much quicker access (thanks, YouTube!) to some songs I can't believe I ever liked, a few I think are pretty good, and some I had completely forgotten ever existed.

Side A

Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? -  Rod Stewart (1978)
The echoey lo-fi effect of the recording actually makes me like this song a little bit more I normally would. Fortunately, this was the pre-music video era, so I had no idea how un-sexy I was going to find Rod Stewart. I must have been a fan, because we had "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" on 45, and I'm pretty sure I'm the one who bought it. That came out in 1976, so by this time I was an old hand at songs in which Rod is trying to get someone to have sex with him. Today, of course, I have a lot of respect for his model railroading, which is a very cool rock star pasttime.

Last Night (I Didn't Get to Sleep at All) - The 5th Dimension (1972)
This was an oldie, which apparently was still being played on the radio. There's a little bit of female masochism in the lyrics, pining for an ex, but this is one I don't feel any hipster embarrassment about at all. They were actually good.

Home in the Sky - Cat Stevens (1974)
I wrote all the song titles on the cassette, and this is one that didn't sound familiar at all. I recognized Cat Stevens' voice right away, though, and listening to it, especially the chorus, there was a faint bell. "Come the morning, I'll be far from here/Slowly rising in another sphere/Old world goodbye/'Cause I'll be home in the sky in the morning/Bye-bye." Is he ... dying? Huh. Not sure I realized that at the time. Still, those are better lyrics than "Music is a lady that I still love."

Takin' Care of Business - Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974)
This was another oldie, but come on, I still love it, for reasons which are self-evident.

Lay Down Sally - Eric Clapton (this was recorded from a 45) (1977)
Not a Clapton fan, and thought I never was, but here it is. Even at the time, I think I questioned just how hard he'd been "trying all night long just to talk" to her. Frankly, I think Sally was thinking, "that was fun and all, but I can take care of my worries myself, thank you very much."

I Don't Know If It's Right  - Evelyn "Champagne" King (just a snippet) (1978)

"I don't know if I should/Give my love to you when I know you're no good." Oh, Evelyn, you know the answer to your question! 

Part-Time Love - Elton John (1978)
And I also doubt the validity of the statement that "You, me, and everybody's got a part-time love." I'm not sure if it was the pop music of the '70s, or just the general atmosphere of the whole decade, but the moral bar seems to be set a little low here.

I Will Still Love You - Stonebolt (1978) (started in progress)
Now, this is really a find! The melodramatic stylings of Stonebolt, whoever they were, make me want to run out and buy their t-shirt, if there was one. Strap yourself in: "When the moooon disappears forever/And the suuuun shines electric blue/When the mountains and trees tumble into the seas/To rest there for eternity/No matter what you do/I will still love you." Just, wow.

Last Episode at Hienton (taped from album Elton John) (1970)
I can hear the crackle on this one! Which, sorry, doesn't exist on your YouTube version. I was a huge fan of Elton's first few albums (Empty Sky and Elton John), and I also loved all his songs about prostitutes and spree killers ("Island Girl" and the unjustly obscure "Ticking"). This is a song I always thought was incredibly romantic, although I'm not sure I really got why her "thighs were the cushions/Of my love and yours for each other," or why that made Valerie a woman. Geez, sometimes I think the Peters Brothers were right -- it is all about drugs and sex. Of course, I don't think there's anything wrong with that ...

Your Song (also taped from album Elton John) (1970)
An oddly "greatest hits" choice in this company, so not much to say about it.

Jet - Paul McCartney and Wings (starts in progress, cuts out) (1974)
You know, why on earth did he mistake the major for a lady suffragette? This has puzzled me since at least 1974, although I haven't lost any sleep over it. A blog post here makes an intriguing case that it's all a play on David Bowie, which would be fantastic if it were true. Even if it's not, it's a pretty brilliant idea. Sadly, I wouldn't hear "Suffragette City" until 1983 ... but at least I would be on my way to becoming a music snob by then. Whew.

Side B

Lotta Love - Nicolette Larson (starts in progress) (1978)
Starts in mid-verse, with "So if you are out there waiting, I hope you show up soon." Kind of funny considering how long it would take my future husband to show up. Since he's 6 years younger than me, though, it's probably just as well I didn't know about him when I was 14. I wouldn't know what to make of that.

Forever in Blue Jeans - Neil Diamond (1979)
Oh, god, I really can't believe this one. I remember a conversation at the local tavern when this played on the jukebox, and we were all like: "Honey's sweet, but it ain't nothing next to baby's treat? WTH?" There's more single entendre, with"tonight by the fire, all alone, you and I/nothing around but the sound of my heart and your sighs." I also get a kick out of the formal "If you'll pardon me, I'd like to say" something about how they'll be forever in blue jeans.

No No Song - Ringo Starr (taped from 45) (1975)
We didn't have DARE back then, but we did have anti-drug classes in which we learned that "horse" was a euphemism for heroin, and other useful information. A friend and I had a dance routine to this song, which I believe involved some miming of smoking, sniffing, and moonshine drinking. We could have been a PSA!

Le Freak - Chic (1978)
I got sick of this song, and other dance songs of the era, but it's definitely come around the other side, and now I quite like it! It was sort of disappointing that disco had fizzled out by the time I was old enough to go to one. Thank goodness for First Avenue's "Club Degenerate."

Only the Good Die Young - Billy Joel (1977)
Another song trying to talk a girl out of her virginity! That theme is a perennial favorite. I've quibbled about many Billy Joel tunes: I cringe every time I hear him say "punk rock" in that "We Didn't Start the Fire" song, and "Uptown Girl" was only redeemed by Ashes to Ashes. But I do have a fondness for this one. It's fun, and his sales pitch of "I might as well be the one" shows he's not taking it too seriously.

Pinball Wizard - Elton John (1975)
Suddenly we're on a roll. Three songs in a row that are perfectly tolerable! Because I knew this version first, I've always thought of it as the "real" one, instead of the Who's.

This is Love - Paul Anka (1978)
Yup, it was too good to last. This is pure schmaltz, musically and lyrically, about a couple of friends who "were like sister and brother." Until suddenly: "Last night was wild/Together til dawn/And something entirely different was born," with the result that "I can't work/I can't eat/I can't sleep any more." From the Complete Incapacitation School of Romance. Sigh.

Stumblin' In - Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman (1979)
I'd completely forgotten about this song, too, but it came back to me. The metaphor of "foolishly laying our hearts on a table" is quite a mental picture, but I've watched a lot of Friday the 13th movies between then and now, so it might not be their fault.

Heart of Glass - Blondie (1979)
I definitely bought 1980's "Call Me" on 45, but I didn't remember having any particular feeling about this big hit. Still, if you're going to tape disco songs off the radio, you could do worse than Blondie.

All I See is Your Face - Dan Hill (1978)
Another amazing find. Not only is this more impassioned emoting from the man who brought us the all-time kitsch classic "Sometimes When We Touch," but the two singles were released the same year. Was he trying to kill us? Here he's pining over the woman who left him: "A stranger touches me and all I can feel is your embrace/A stranger looks my way, and all I ever see is your face." For some reason, the memorable part to me was "I've got my songs to protect me" -- yeah, I wouldn't count on that.

Lotta Love - Nicolette Larson (1978)
We wrap up with another incomplete version of "Lotta Love." I must have figured having two parts of it were better than none. What I really remember about this song from the time is that she had really long hair; I'm surprised to learn that Neil Young actually wrote it! It seems too cute and peppy for me, much less for him.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my life in audio form.