Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sing it Now While You Still Have a Song

by baad lamb

1975. Pop radio. Year of the Captain and Tennille and the Three Degrees. The meteoric rise of Barry Manilow, and the beginning of the long, slow descent into irrelevance of Elton John. FM radio was not yet micro-segregated by style and target market, nor corporate-pre-recorded and computerized, with identical set lists broadcast to 150 “local” stations across the country. Waybackthen, actual local stations still had local program directors and DJs that could determined what would be played and how often. But they did have the occasional syndicated show, and Sunday nights meant one thing - well two: First, evening church service (mandatory), and then, trying to rush my mother away from the lingering old folks (“it’s called ‘fellowship’, honey”) as fast as possible to catch as much as possible of American Top 40 (or Casey-mental-Kasem, as my brother preferred to call him). Why? Because there were songs that had important positions and they needed to be recorded in notebooks. With luck, I might get at least the top 25 songs of the week written down.
Disco, Fire, Proust and video after the jump...

From any perspective, 1975 pop radio was amazingly eclectic. All on the same station, Olivia Newton John would ask “Have You Never Been Mellow?”, and Sweet would answer back with “Ballroom Blitz”. Fire seemed to be a mini-theme, although the songs themselves were vastly different: Bass-tastic funk from the Ohio Players “Fire”, schmaltzy drivel from Michael Murphy’s “Wildfire”, and the catchy chorus-and guitar-riffs from one-hit wonder Dwight Twilly Band’s “I’m on Fire”. Adding to the mix, even Alice Cooper appeared, their wife-battering “Only Women Bleed”, snuck on the charts disguised as a soft pretty ballad, casting dark eye-makeup shade over Paul Anka’s happy promise “One Man Woman-One Woman Man”.

As the youngest of many siblings, 1975 was also the year the radio stopped being about “their” music and became MY music. Real, true, can’t-call-it-anything-else-but DISCO debuted on the charts: “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor, “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band, and the song that launched a thousand hips -“The Hustle” by Van McCoy. But more memorable to my newly pricked-up ears were the cochlea-candy of songs like Bowie’s “Fame”, with its tricky changes and distorted vocals; Queen’s “Killer Queen” (I couldn’t figure out what her “moway shandon” was or why she kept it in a pretty cabinet, but those harmonies!, that super-chunky guitar sound!); and snippets of soon-to-be-called “ambient” music, as in the dreamscape echo-whoosh-reverb production (especially the bridge) in 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”. Those were the sounds that I went searching for, and soon turned the dial left where the AOR and college stations lived. Now it was albums that I cared about, and very soon on my music shelf, the space for little records with the big hole would be eclipsed by the big records with the little hole.

Of course, as years progressed, formats changed as fast as musical tastes, and singles, albums and CDs have long been packed away in boxes buried in storage. I doubt I could remember what I own, and doubt I could find anything if I wanted to. In fact, I remember almost nothing now, unless I write it down. Which leads us to the proustian madeleine that triggered this trip down musical-memory lane:

     A) I saw Joe’s post on aging rock stars.
     B) After following the link and looking at the pictures, I had reactions similar to many, most notably, “THAT’S Grace Slick???!”
     C) I saw the link in the comments section by NYC Girl to a more sympathetic picture and post on Ms. Slick and followed it.
     D) In that post, even the name of the song mentioned, “Fast Buck Freddie,” meant nothing to me, but I remembered well that in our LOCAL music market (not nationally), Jefferson Starship’s “Red Octopus”, which it was from, was deemed the number one album for the year 1975, so I pushed play.

From the opening power chord, I remembered. Every. Single. Word. I remembered the opening violin riffs, the vocal ad-libs and vibrato and drawn out words (“how loo-oo-oo-ong”), the authoritative urgency, the questioning tone of the ending where she goes back up a note instead of landing on the more comfortable home note. All these things contribute to what was possibly Grace Slick’s best vocal since “Somebody to Love”, and every part was as vivid and clear in my head as if I had played it every day for the last 35 years…
“I was thinking that I should be singing along”
I did not own Red Octopus, and really did not like the hit single from it “Miracles”, although I liked the sax and violin parts. Yet hiding in my head, this entire insignificant song “Fast Buck Freddie”, that I would never have been able to dredge up on my own, was sitting in its black-mold spotted cardboard storage box, waiting to be opened, placed over a spindle, and have a penny-weighted needle dropped on it. 

From the bridge:
“How long, how long would you like it? 
How long, how long will it be?” 
And from the chorus:
“Coming on while it’s still soft and warm”
“Sing it now while you still have a song”
Looking back, perhaps it was not so insignificant, after all.
Billboard's top 100 for the year 1975
Fast Buck Freddie Lyrics Here


  1. It was the start of high school that really got me into MY music, starting with Simon & Garfunkel. Maybe you too, although '75 was the year I graduated college and started teaching. I took a look at that Billboard list, and I have ten of those songs on my iPod—not "Fast Buck Freddie," though (and certainly not "Wildfire" ;-) ). There may have been five songs on that list that I didn't know.

    Sure brings back memories. That's what makes any music so valuable to us, I think, because so much of it is really pretty bad and we still love it.

  2. I remember exactly when you figured out Moway Shandon. We were in St Thomas at a restaurant and I ordered some to celebrate your birthday. Such a country boy!

    I am inclined not to tolerate any further comments disparaging Wildfire which is one of the finest songs ever written.

  3. Tony, how do you feel about Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey?"

  4. Dearest one, Thanks to your influence, I have grown to love the Carpenters almost as much as you now appreciate Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, or the Talking Heads. But Wildfire: right up there with "Feelings" (appropriately, also from 1975), for worst giant hit song ever. Michael Murphy did do a good song, though, -political, bluesy and sung with real conviction in his voice (all polar opposites of Wildfire). It was called Geronimo's Cadillac. I highly recommend it.

  5. Dear Birdie and Baad, How the two of you can possible link the flawless Wildfire to the loathsome Scylla and Carybdis of pop: Honey and Feelings, is beyond me.

    Wildfire is mysterious, evocative, mournful, ethereal, unique, captivating and unforgettable.

  6. Birdie, If there is anything that can time-stamp your brain and hold a box full of memories, it seems to be music. The where/when associations that come pouring out when you hear a song you haven't heard in a very long time (good or bad) are just amazing. I was not yet in even in high school, and "Freddie" was not a hit, and was only a minor song on FM radio at the time, but it dug itself so deep a hole in my brain (again, I don't really know why) all the memories of that time are still pouring out.
    I'm sure Oliver Sacks can explain it.

  7. and for some real fun, watch this:

    At one point, it makes fall-off-your-chair-hilarious use of the central prop to depict the blizzard. In it's own way, this video does the song justice.

  8. Tony, your undoubtedly big-eyed defense of this classic has moved me to tears. You are right. And those teenage girls of my school were right when they clutched their radios to their breasts and tearfully exclaimed, "Isn't this SAD?"

  9. My 6th grade teacher used Wildfire to explain narrative structure to us.... and got real pissed off when we didn't appreciate it.

    True story.