Have your sex

Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It OnHAPPY SEPTEMBER! MY, how time flies. I’m just back from a wonderful retreat and have lots of things to tell you about it, but want to give it a couple days to settle first. Instead, I’ll expound a little more on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On (1973), as promised.

Popular opinion might look to Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” (1975) as the first pop hit to feature—how do I put this politely?—realistic sexual sounds; but, great and sexy as that song is, others, uh, came earlier. The Chakachas’ “Jungle Fever” (1972) is the first one I know about. Of course, as a tween, I didn’t know what I was hearing at the time.

I didn’t know much more by the time “Pillow Talk” by Sylvia came out in 1973 (for that matter, I didn’t have a clue about “Little Willy,” which was popular at the same time, either). All this background is to say that I didn’t appreciate Marvin Gaye’s sexy album nearly as much when it was released as I do now.

I remember a friend at school—this was freshman year of high school—thinking it was pretty scandalous when “You Sure Love to Ball” came out as a single; I had still not heard the song, nor had I learned of that particular intransitive verb yet, innocent that I was, though I figured it all out pretty quickly from the context. (To my credit, I at least knew an intransitive verb when I saw one.)

Chakachas: Jungle FeverThey didn’t play that kind of music on the radio where I grew up, and the song never cracked the top 40, so I didn’t even get to hear Casey Kasem play it on Sunday mornings. I can just imagine him introducing it, though. I’m sure he’d have had something clever to say like, “That’s Madeline and Fred Ross you hear getting it on in the intro to Marvin Gaye’s new single, debuting this week at number thirty-nine. And now, on with the countdown.”

Marvin tells us that in the liner notes to the album, which he wrote himself. I’ll reproduce the best of those below because they’re just too good not to share. But first, could anyone but Marvin get away with the grammatical double-dealing he displays on the album’s last cut, “Just to Keep You Satisfied”?

It’s too late for you and me
It’s too late for you and I
Much too late for you to cry

It’s too late for you and me
Much too late for you and I
It’s too late for you and me
Much too late for you to cry, baby

I’ve heard recording artists get it right, and I’ve heard them get it wrong. This is the only instance I know of where the singer does it both ways to cover all bases. He’s assured of having the right (and wrong) grammar in there somewhere, and I guess that makes Marvin one of those “glass half-full” kind of guys. Which brings me back to the liner notes:

Marvin GayeI can’t see anything wrong with sex between consenting anybodies. I think we make far too much of it. After all, one’s genitals are just one important part of the magnificent human body. I have no argument with the essential part they play in the reproduction of the species; however, the reproductive process has been assured by the pleasure both parties receive when they engage in it.

I contend that SEX IS SEX and LOVE IS LOVE. When combined, they work well together, if two people are of about the same mind. But, they are really two discrete needs and should be treated as such. Time and space will not permit me to expound further, especially in the area of the psyche. I don’t believe in overly moralistic philosophies. Have your sex, it can be very exciting, if you’re lucky.

I hope the music that I present here makes you lucky.

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Not much, how ’bout you?

England Dan and John Ford ColeyI thought you all could use a break from the serious blog posts, so this week I decided to write about something that doesn’t matter at all: England Dan and John Ford Coley.

It’s sad to belong to someone else
When the right one comes along

I will say their “It’s Sad to Belong” would make an excellent theme song to next year’s SAD party. The lesson? Hold out for the one you deserve.

Did you know that Dan was the brother of Jim Seals of that other long-haired, leisure-suit-wearing, easy-listening male duo of the 70s, Seals and Crofts? Are you surprised? Both groups sang about warm breezes blowing. No relation to Loggins and Messina.

Don’t let me catch you dissing S&C, though. The first real (that is, without a parent bringing me) concert I ever went to was Seals and Crofts at the Providence Civic Center (now known as Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Did you ever notice that if you move the D in “Dunkin'” it becomes “Unkind Donuts”? I digress.), so I have a little sentimental fondness for them. Yes, they toured. I can’t remember who the opening act was. I just remember they were really awful.

I played The Best of England Dan and John Ford Coley (1979) the other day as part of my obsessive project, the mandatory playing of every record in my collection in reverse chronological order. You know how I feel about these artists who release a greatest hits album before they’ve got enough hit songs to fill even one side…and sorry, but calling it “best of” doesn’t absolve you from filling it with hits. These guys fall into that category, but maybe they felt like they’d never have another hit. They were right, but was that prescient or did they just stop trying?

Providence Civic Center from The Family GuyTo be fair, Dan and John did have one more song hit the charts, barely, in 1980, “Just Tell Me You Love Me.” I’ve never heard of it either. They didn’t even bother to put it on their Best of…Volume 2 (1981)There are no hits on that one. None. That may be a record.

Aside from that dubious honor, I think the most notable thing you can say about ED&JFC is that their song titles are almost all complete, grammatically correct sentences, some of them quite long. With the lone exception of “Gone Too Far,” all of their chart hits — even the ones nobody’s heard of — have titles that stand as independent clauses:

I can’t say for sure if England Dan and John Ford Coley rise above every other recording act in this respect or not. Where is Casey Kasem when you need him? He’d have the answer at his fingertips, even if it meant making it up.

Jerri Blank meets the Go-Go’s

Sometimes you think things matter, then they don’t. Not compared to the big things. Case in point: There was something really important I just had to talk about last weekend. It got put off, but you know what? I now realize it was no big deal. Really. We can all forget about it.

Far more important: What’s the goddamn apostrophe doing in “Go-Go’s”? And more shocking: Why didn’t I notice before now? I was playing the group’s second album just the other night as part of my obsessive project of listening to every record in my collection in reverse chronological order, and it suddenly occurred to me: These crazy, madcap girls don’t know how to spell! Good thing their “Vacation” isn’t a remake of Connie Francis’s, where you have to spell the word!

(I was going to say “the Go-Gos’ second album” up above, but how would they spell that? Go-Go’s’? Go-Go’s’s? Cripes.)

The B-52s had the same issue. They used to spell their name with an apostrophe, but had the good sense to realize the error of their ways (albeit some 30 years into their music career) and change it. Maybe the Go-Go’s [sic] eventually would have changed their spelling too had their career survived more than a couple of years.

I do love them. (I love a lot of people with bad spelling and grammar skills…just not as much.) They probably thought, as they were learning to play their instruments and putting the group together, that spelling didn’t matter. This was new wave, fer godsakes!

Jerri BlankThe whole thing puts me in mind of a favorite episode of Strangers with Candy, where the main character, Jerri Blank (a 46-year-old high school freshman played by Amy Sedaris), tries out for cheerleader even though she can’t read. You might wonder, as my friend Marsha did upon viewing the episode for the first time, what the hell difference that makes. You find out when Jerri thinks “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y” spells “win!” and then “fandango?” and then “hobocamp.” I split a gut first time I heard that, and so did Marsha. Comedy at its best.

What was I talking about? Never mind. Not that important compared to news that the group just got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Guess how it’s spelled?

I’ll be there, but if I don’t…

"I'll Be There" by the Jackson Five“I’ll Be There” is a lovely song. It was the Jackson Five‘s fourth consecutive #1 record, the first down-tempo one, and their biggest hit. I recently shared the video of it with someone who was feeling down and alone, and like to think it made that person feel better.

Leave it to me to point out that it’s not perfectly grammatically correct. You can forgive it since the sentiment in the song is so heartfelt and Michael Jackson was just a kid at the time he sang it…not that he wrote the song — that was the Motown guys, Berry Gordy, et al. — but still.

In the last verse, Michael sings,

If you should ever find someone new
I know he better be good to you
‘Cause if he doesn’t, I’ll be there

“If he doesn’t”? Shouldn’t that be “’cause if he isn’t” good to you? Or is there some Gary, Indiana, dialectal thing going on here?

Jackson Five Love SongsIt also always struck me as odd when he follows that with “just look over your shoulders, honey, ooh,” and not just because it was an adult idea coming from a 12-year-old kid (who, ironically, had more than a few 12-year-old ideas as an adult…but let’s not go there). Who looks over both of their shoulders? Barring a broken neck, we tend to look over one shoulder at a time. Maybe he means look over one shoulder and then the other.

I dunno. Seems to me you shouldn’t have to look twice to see if Michael Jackson’s really got your back.

Instrumentally speaking

How many words can there be in an instrumental song before it stops being an instrumental? Purists might say zero, but I think that’s wrong.

There were a lot of big hits in the mid-1970s that pushed the instrumental envelope. Seems that folks wanting to record an instrumental just couldn’t resist throwing a few words in there for good measure. It’s a disco thing:

Silver Convention

  • TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB (#1, 1974) has 8 or 9 different words, depending on if you count the “doo”s, and they come at the very end of the song. The Three Degrees, who sing those words, do get credit on the record label, though, so I’d say this is a borderline case.
  • Similar are the two huge Eurodisco hits by Silver Convention: “Fly Robin Fly” (#1, 1975) and “Get Up and Boogie” (#2 [and #1 in Canada, for what it’s worth], 1976). Each only has 6 different words — 11 between them since they both say “up,” which, coincidentally, is also the number of dance moves known by the group’s members — though they’re interspersed throughout the two songs, so they actually feel less “instrumental” to me than “TSOP” does. (The videos are both to die for, though. Be sure to watch! Who knew “Fly Robin Fly” was about motorcycles?)
  • The Ritchie Family’s “Brazil” (#11, 1975), which just might be the quintessential disco hit, has 7 to 10 words, depending on whether you count the various exclamations of “whoo,” “ooh,” and “d-d-dit.”
  • Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band (#1, 1974), has just the 4 words in the title, unless you count “uh-huh” as well. I think we’ve crossed the line here into undisputed instrumental territory.
  • And, let’s not forget the 98% word-free “The Hustle” by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony (#1, 1975). Do it!

I think this may help explain in part the backlash against disco that came a bit later: these songs have words, but, with the possible exception of “Get Up and Boogie,” they’re not really saying anything. Come to think of it, you could say the same about most other big disco hits having more words: KC & the Sunshine Band’s entire repertoire comes to mind. (I love them, mind you.)

To come up with big hits having fewer than 3 words, which I think you’d be hard-pressed to call non-instrumentals, we need to reach farther backward or forward in musical history:

Pee Wee's platforms

  • Wipe Out” by the Surfaris (#2, 1963), as we all know, just says “wipe out.” Grammatically, it could even be 1 word if used as a noun, but we’ll count this as 2 since that’s how it’s written on the record label. And they only say it once, right at the beginning of the song, after a maniacal laugh that I don’t really know how to count. This wins the prize for getting all the words out of the way the fastest: 4 seconds.
  • The most famous song with just 1 word in it has got to be “Tequila” by the Champs (#1, 1958). They say it 3 times.

Much as had happened a decade earlier, synthpop in the 1980s (and electronica right after) ushered in a whole new crop of near-instrumentals. I’m sure there are lots more, but here are a couple of my favorites:

Cuna de Lobos

  • Legs” by the Art of Noise (1985) has just the one word, and it’s a short one at that. What a good song! Their “Moments in Love” (1983) has only the 3 words, and they’re pretty indistinct. That one resurfaced later in a Mexican soap opera — I want to say Cuna de Lobos, but don’t quote me on that.
  • I was thinking the 1-word song with the shortest word was “Go” by Moby (1991). They say it quite a few times — how many varies depending on which of the dozens of versions of the song you’re listening to. Did you know he’s got a whole album with nothing but versions of “Go” on it? I generally like Moby, but I gotta tell ya, it’s not easy listening to that whole thing. Anyway, then I remembered it also says “aaaya” about 100 times, so never mind. I’d still call it an instrumental though.

That leaves just one question: what about yodeling?

Happy Apostrophes Day

New Yorker Cartoon: Two mommies

I thought this New Yorker cartoon was pretty cute. The kid is right. Of course, to avoid any controversy, the holiday could be written using the attributive “Mothers” sans apostrophe, but then that wouldn’t really make your own individual mother — or mothers, as the case may be — feel all that special, would it?

This got me thinking whether there are “official” names of the holidays and whether they use the attributive: Veterans Day, for example — you would sound pretty silly calling it “Veteran’s Day” unless, I suppose, you had just one favorite veteran. “Veterans’ Day” includes them all, but then it sounds like it’s their day and they’re all supposed to go out to brunch or NASCAR or something together like we’d do with our moms…and sorry, but most of them are dead.

This is an example of where the attributive makes good sense. That is, the noun “veterans” is really functioning more as an adjective modifying “day” than as a possessive. As it turns out, there are official names for federal holidays — is anyone really surprised? — and this one’s “Veterans Day.” Good call, whoever called that.

What about Presidents Day, you ask? George WashingtonWhen it used to fall on George Washington’s birthday, “President’s” might have made some sense, except it wasn’t called “President’s Day” back then, was it? That would be kind of like calling World War I “World War I” while it was still going on.

No, that name for the holiday became popular only when it was moved to fall between Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays starting in 1971. So, now that we are honoring two presidents, or the ones born in February, or even all presidents if we’re feeling especially generous, or maybe all but a few, “Presidents’ Day” or “Presidents Day” would make more sense.

So, what is that February holiday now officially called? Brace yourself, kids:
Washington’s Birthday.

Punctuation matters.

The famously scant “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” — to use the punctuation and spelling on both the record’s label and picture sleeve — of Bryan Hyland’s #1 hit from 1960 is embarrassingly skimpy when it comes to those itsy-bitsy commas and hyphens.

I know 1960 is a little outside my main era of musical expertise. I wasn’t yet buying records or diagramming sentences, but I was at least alive when the song came out. Barely.

With a song title that long — it was the longest-titled #1 hit until “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” topped the charts in 1975 — you need some guideposts.

For starters, “itsy-bitsy” is spelled with a hyphen, according to Merriam-Webster, as is “teeny-weeny” (and it’s spelled with ys not ies). And since the two hyphenated terms are interchangeable, meaning basically the same thing, they should have a comma between them. “Polka-dot” is also hyphenated when used as an adjective, or is written as two words when a noun…so, either way, it’s wrong here (but not as wrong as “polk-a-dot,” which I found somewhere).

But that’s nuttin’. The real question is, are the polka dots yellow or is the bikini yellow with some other color dots? (For that matter, is the bikini itsy-bitsy and teeny-weeny or are the dots?) My take on it is that the bikini is very small and has yellow dots, but without some punctuational help, there’s really no way to know for sure since we didn’t have music videos back then.

(I wonder if my infant brain was already forming these questions of dots and bikinis when this song would come wafting over my bassinet from the radio in my parents’ Fall River tenement half a century ago?)

The sheet music doesn’t help. A Google images search returns a split decision, but leans toward the bikini being yellow. As I see it, for this bikini to be yellow, you’d want to have a comma after “yellow.”

For the bikini and not the dots to be really small, you’d ideally want to see a comma after “weeny.” But then, we all know from the context of the song that it’s the bikini that’s embarrassingly small. I mean, really, who gets embarrassed over the size of dots?