It’s tough to figure the moment when I became officially into music as a kid, Top 40 specifically. There was always music playing in my house, in the car, at my school, in department stores and supermarkets, doctors offices, and from kids playing their radios outside. But the Spring of 1978 sticks out in my head for some reason. Whenever I heard Feels So Good or Baby Come Back, I get sucked into a wormhole of time travel and placed in my backyard between our red barnyard-like shed and a yellow blooming forsythia.
Looking back through my parents stack of 45s, a good deal of them came from this time period. I can remember my parents coming back from shopping and having a stack that they immediately cued up on the stereo: Natalie Cole’s Our Love and Samantha Sang’s Emotion led the mix. I get the feeling that things were rocky between my folks and that my dad thought a trip to Record World might help my mom forget whatever dumb shit he did. The power of music is such that it sometimes did.
One 45 I remember making that trip back home was Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally and I have no idea why. We didn’t really listen to Clapton’s music, but then again this song really didn’t represent what Clapton had been about. I knew my dad was a closet country fan and loved to fiddle around on his acoustic guitar, but this was still a weird choice for guy who hardly bought any music.
Regardless, this track took Eric back into the Top 5, 4 years after his breakthrough smash, I Shot The Sheriff and was another hit for the when you’re hot you hot RSO label, while also crossing over to the Country charts. But if Eric had kicked his heroin habit by the time he recorded this, you’d never know it from his performance. He sings like he’s a mile away from the mic and then suddenly gets closer and falls. I wouldn’t rank his guitar playing or solos on this high either, even if he was. It almost feels like he stops and looks around to see where he is or that he isn’t sure whether to even do a solo. Slowhand was definitely the right name for this LP.
I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s a weird entry in a catalogue that’s full of so many passionate soul and blues influenced rock songs. Of course this is the guy who would also turn Layla into the aural version of Sominex in 1992. Adding to the strangeness is the song itself. For starters, the title Lay Down Sally doesn’t sound very romantic or grammatically correct. And when Marcy Levy, who is a background singer and should be in the background, loudly comes in on the ‘dontcha ever leave’ part and takes over the chorus, it makes you feel like Sally might be in more trouble than she realizes, like a menage about to go horribly wrong, especially since there might be an unwilling participant. Marcy, take your hand off the door lock. Why can’t she just sit down if you just want to talk to her? Why does she have to ‘lay [lie] down’? There’s no difference from a ‘what’s your sign’ come on at a disco to this song. It makes Eric come off like some sleazy lounge lizard with a faux-Southern drawl who’s more likely to pass out if and when Sally does eventually lie down.