Lay Down Sally by Eric Clapton (RSO, 1978)


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.

Saturday Night by Bay City Rollers (Arista, 1976)


In the late 70s, Saturday night was acquiring a huge reputation for itself. It spawned two variety shows in 1975 – Saturday Night Live and Saturday Night Live with Howard CosellSaturday Night Fever – a little indie movie that took over 1978 with one of the biggest soundtracks of all time and of course the pop song, Saturday Night from the Scottish band, The Bay City Rollers, which hit #1 in early 1976. [The group actually performed Saturday Night on Saturday Night Live on a Saturday night.]

My 70s Saturday nights were a constant struggle to see how much TV I could watch and for how long, especially as I got older. I knew I didn’t have much leeway with the parents. But if they decided to go out dancing, meet friends, attend key parties, whatever, I knew I could work our babysitter, Loretta, over for a few extra hours. I loved those Saturdays when I knew my folks were going out. That meant I could pick out any TV dinner I wanted when we went shopping at Pathmark. Jolly Rogers made my favorite ones with the most variety and the best dessert. Man, I’d be thinking about that all day. Oh the power of the aluminum-flavered Salisbury steak and apple cobbler. What I should have focused on was figuring out how to watch Saturday Night Live. I knew I could push through the Love Boat, but I just could never make it past the Fantasy Island opening credits. And if Loretta’s boyfriend snuck over, I might not even glimpse Julie’s mug through the porthole. But I digress….

Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers actually written, recorded and released in the UK in 1973 and bombed. The Rollers replaced their lead singer with Les McKeown and within a few months, Rollermania took over. They had 6 straight Top hits, 2 of them hitting #1 before making their debut in the US with Saturday Night. Ironically it never charted in England, while becoming their biggest hit here. Do we dig the weekend more than the Brits? Are we a sucker for chants or any song that requires spelling?

The Rollers got huge and folks wore tartan knickers in their honor. Thankfully that didn’t last long and soon they imploded, although they kept releasing albums into the early 80s and even hosted a Saturday morning show in 1978 called The Krofft Superstar Hour, 2 years too late. I still watched it like anyone who comes upon a car accident. But by then it was over and Rod Stewart kindly asked for his Scottish plaid back, so he could ask folks if they though he was sexy….

(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Someone Done Somebody Wrong Song by B.J. Thomas (ABC, 1975)


The born-again Christian phenomena, although it still exists today, was a uniquely 70s experience. A generation that took every drug imaginable combined with search for self-fulfillment went completely out of control as the decade wore on and needed something or someone to help them get their shit straight. Why not bow down, admit you’re lowly and give in to a higher power? You could call yourself a ‘born again’ and start a new life with a new family and pretend that you weren’t snorting lines off of a teenage prostitute’s ass at behind a truck stop in Des Moines just a few months earlier. Plus you could help all of those other wayward sinners without the realization that you were a hypocrite, mostly because you turned off 99% of your brain.

B.J. Thomas was a popular singer who would pop out a Top 10 hit every few years since his cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry back in 1966. And once he had his first #1, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, he added some wealth to his fame. But by the time ‘Wrong Song‘ hit #1 in late April 1975, he was on the verge of going broke.

You see Billy Joe was pushing those royalty checks up his nose and into his veins and chasing the dragon. In fact by making ‘Wrong Song‘ a Gold-certified 45, we probably kept that junkie life going for him a little longer. But broke and busted B.J. did what many out of control hedonists did and gave himself up to Jesus and the Myrrh record label. That is usually the kiss of death for an artist, but sometimes it does allow you cross over to the more forgiving Country chart, which he did in the late 70s/early 80s. Luckily for him, he planted the seeds to that new career here with this song.

The ‘Wrong Song’ was the song with the longest official title to ever hit #1 and it eventually sailed to top in Nashville as well. With its soft shuffle and perfectly in its place steel guitar solo, lots of folks dropped a dime in the jukebox to hear it and proceeded to stare into their mug of Schaefer. Or sashay onto the floor with a stranger to ease the pain of missing their baby. (In a perfect world, Please Mr. Please would have been on the B-side) Good to know that a percentage of that dough went to B.J. hanging out with Captain Jack.

I like to break this out at a karaoke bar after a bunch of drunk girls get finished slurring and screaming Love Shack. It doesn’t just bring the mood down. It usually gets those girls to leave, so they can get home safely. When I sing it, my mind wanders back to the 2nd floor of the J.C. Penney’s in Bay Shore, standing in line at the customer service department with my Grandma, restless and fidgety, until the opening guitar strum and Billy Joe soothingly lets us know it’s lonely out tonight…..

Nice To Be With You by Gallery (Sussex, 1972)


In 1972, during a stagnated economy, America had to choose what was more valuable – a Diamond or Gold? We all know diamonds are forever and are a girl’s best friend. We should remember (but never do) that diamonds aren’t a very rare mineral, but that they’re value only reflects a cornered market by DeBeers company (that and a few armless miners) But I digress….

When it comes to Neil Diamond & Jim Gold, leader of the pop band, Gallery, we can clearly see who the winner is. But in that fateful of 1972. Gold & Diamond duked it out for pop glory, both charting 3 Top 40 hits. While Neil had a number #1 that year with the sleepy Song Sung Blue, Jim and his band clearly had more energy and charisma starting with their Top 5 hit, Nice To Be With You. The track was produced by guitarist Dennis ‘Scorpio’ Coffey and fittingly the 45 went gold.

The reason I bring up the Diamond/Gold comparison is not just because Jim sounds uncannily like Neil. Listen to the song next it comes up on some 70s hits station and I’ll guarantee you, you’ll think it’s Neil before you realize it’s not. Also if you search online for Nice To Be With You, count how many links you get to Neil Diamond. The fact that he covers Sunday & Me on the Nice To Be With You LP really doesn’t help set himself apart either.

The song itself is very simple and catchy, the way a good pop song should be, hitting you right off the bat with the chorus, the way an old Motown song would. And who doesn’t dig the couplet ‘ I got the notion you’re causing commotion in my soul?’ Right on, Jim. And who wouldn’t think it’s nice to hear someone say that they’re gonna please you in every way? Check out how Jim digs this chic.

At night I call your name
Darkness fills my room.
I’m only dreamin’ about the time I’m gonna be with you

Sounds like Jim is having a party of one in his bedroom. Save yourself, Jim. She’s gonna please you in every way

Verse 2 is boring though. Lots of you’re there for me, I’m there for you, blah blah blah. Where did horny Jim and freakazoid girlfriend go? Must be out looking for Mr. Goodbar…

Everything Is Beautiful by Ray Stevens (1970, Barnaby)


Whenever I hear this song, I have this fuzzy memory of singing it during a Church service with the pastor, a tall Paul Williams lookalike leading the way. They were Lutherans and it was the 70s, so why not invite some ‘rock’ into tho worship. Then again I’m wondering if I’m making it up. Maybe I did sing this in Sunday school. Or maybe I just think I did, because this song just lends itself to that vibe. Then again maybe it was sang through the decade by the idealists, who remembered that time when the song represented hope and a simple message of togetherness, knocking those cynical Canadians, The Guess Who out of the top sport with their caustic American Woman.

To me, it’s more of a testament to the people who bought into this song and the singer who released. For, the earnest Everything Is Beautiful was recorded by novelty singer, Ray Stevens. If you want me to put this in context on how this strange this is, imagine ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic singing Wind Beneath My Wings, from the movie, Beaches [that song really did need an accordion solo]. You wouldn’t get 15 seconds into it before you laughed it off. And it’s not as if Ray made a permanent change in type of tunes he started performing. He wrote and sang The Streak, just 4 years later and boogity-boogity’d his way to #1 again.

Now Ray is not a great singer, but a good one and he puts his all into Everything Is Beautiful. But how did the public take the guy, who recorded Gitarzan just the year before, seriously and not absolutely vomit and throw tomatoes when the record starts off with a children’s chorus of Jesus Loves the Little Children? Are you kidding me? Bravo folks. I don’t know how you kept a straight face. Ray even won a Grammy for Best Pop song, Male. I’m not dissing Ray, but in a year that saw great popular songs from Mark Lindsey (Arizona) and Edwin Starr (War) even Tom Jones (Without Love(There Is Nothing)), let alone John Lennon’s Instant Karma, how does Ray even stand a chance? Was Bobby Sherman too radical? Just more proof that the Grammys are a joke.

Although I will say for Ray, getting in some lyrics about loving the long hairs and people of color was a bold move, even in 1970. So the fact that this was universally accepted was a coup for him. I just wonder if the joke was on us. Not that last part, but the whole Hippie, everything’s great, love each other sentiment. I wonder if Ray thought to himself, I’m going to write the best novelty song of all by playing it so serious, no one knows I’m kidding. Kind of like a gospel Andy Kaufman, if you will. I’ll think about that the next time I hear this song get to its 3rd key change and Ray vamps on beau-ti-fu-ooo-ulll and wonder if he was snickering inside.

I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You by Alan Parsons Project (Arista, 1977)


Alan Parsons had a well-known pedigree in the early 70s. He had worked at Abbey Road studios as an engineer working the Beatles’ Let It Be and Abbey Road LPs. But it was his work with Pink Floyd, first on Atom Heart Mother in 1970 and then on Dark Side of The Moon in 1973, which raised his status as an engineer legend. He also received his first Grammy nomination for Best Engineered album. He would begin producing as well as engineering starting with the English band, Pilot which had a Top hit in 1975, Magic. Alan would engineer the first two Ambrosia LPs, getting 2 more Grammy nods. But all of this was a warm for a different ‘project’ he had in mind.

In 1976 took himself off the market and focused on the Alan Parsons Project, a group which would release 11 albums of prog-pop, each one a themed after a specific concept. [Alan did produce Al Stewart’s Year Of The Cat & Time Passages, but otherwise, it was all about APP]. His 2nd album, I Robot, was based on science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov’s first 2 books of his Robot series, The Caves of Steel and the Naked Sun, as well as his short stories, I, Robot, exploring a world that was slowly becoming more dependent on technology.

The first single was I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You which gave us the feelings from the robot’s point of view, comparing himself to the human, saying in effect, you may be better than me, you may be smarter than me, but I don’t want to be you. Every time I hear this track, I’m surprised it never rose higher than #36 on the charts. Backed by the members of Pilot, singer Lenny Zakatek, who would also sing of later APP hits gives a soulful reading over a dark, chunky disco beat. With its ominous Rhodes chords slinking in and then sliding the song out, you would never hear this in a disco, but you may hear in the background of a bar scene on Baretta. Then again it may make you wanna dance the robot.

All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople (Columbia, 1972)


It’s easy to hear this song and think it’s one of David Bowie’s and you would be almost correct. But he wrote and produced it, specifically for one of his favorite UK bands, Mott The Hoople, which was on the verge of splitting. David gave them this song and helped them record a new LP, which also included one of the first covers of the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane. Bowie easily could have recorded it and broke out into the US mainstream with this one, but instead, was a generous bloke.

It would be another 3 years before Bowie would have his first Top 40 hit in the US. That’s right, Mott The Hoople broke through in the US before David Bowie. Of course Bowie was garnering lots of critical praise and his LPs were getting notice. But his singles weren’t getting played until Space Oddity in 1973. Maybe Mott’s success was what David needed to get radio’s attention. It sure didn’t help Mott very much. Though this single climbed to #37, they never had any more chart hits and member Mick Ralphs left the band to form the blander (and obviously more mainstream) Bad Company. That said, All The Young Dudes stands as an all-time Glam rock anthem, a tune that says and Ian Hunter can sing this anywhere and get folks to open their lighters, sway side to side and sing along.

Mott The Hoople obviously had a strong influence of other bands. They’re name-checked by Queen in Now I’m Here (and then leapfrogged them in success) as well as in Reunion’s 1974 Top 10, Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me). The song itself namechecks the Beatles, the Stones and T-Rex.

By the way the band’s name came from Guy Stevens who worked at Island Records and became the group’s manager. He got it from the title of a 1966 book by Willard Manus, from which a Hoople is a ‘square’ or mainstream guy, the ‘man’ if you will. Mott was an ex-hippie who would have probably sang this song when it came on the radio saying the kids are alright, man.

Painted Ladies by Ian Thomas (Janus, 1974)


Ian Thomas decided to trade in his job at the Canadian Broadcast Center, programming CanCon, and decided to pursue the other side. He was rewarded with a Juno for most promising singer in 1974, as well as a Top 5 hit in Canada called Painted Ladies, which also crossed the border into the US Top 40, strutting up to #34. Ian was the older brother of Dave Thomas of SCTV and 1/2 of the McKenzie Brothers, who had their own US hit in 1982 with Rush’s Geddy Lee called Take Off. Neither would have additional hits in America. So how many other Canadian brothers had US Top 40 hits as completely separate artists?

Painted Ladies starts out with hard funky clavinet lick and quickly mellowing with an offbeat acoustic guitar strum. Then Ian tells a story about setting off alone into the deep dark city, ignoring the streetcars and planes and the rain pounding down. What would be the cure for such loneliness and despair? Why a good old-fashioned hooker, that’s all. And a bottle of wine…wait Ian, you don’t have to get them drunk first. You just hand them some cash. But poor Ian, they took all his money, like he knew they would. That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The music and long fade out echo the melancholy and the bad times continue for Ian, missing home, getting drunker and poorer, although he insists he’s feeling fine, momma. What a hoser!

You Needed Me by Anne Murray (Capitol, 1978)


There are certain songs that you hear that immediately take you to a golden sunny day, a perfect 72 degrees, blue sky, light breeze kind of afternoon, whether it’s because you equate that song with good times or because it was popular during that one memorable summer. Or there’s just something about it that has a warm happy feel that just makes you relax and have fun. You Needed Me is not one of those songs. You cannot listen to this song outside. It will ruin your day and fill it with grays and browns and endless barrels of self-doubt and pity.

I’m convinced that there was a record number of hookups by shocked people in 1978, as in ‘I can’t believe I’m with this person’, to which this song immediately spoke to them. Or we were so broken down during the 70s that our optimism of ‘we can change the world’ disintegrated into ‘Does anyone give a shit anymore? Oh you do? Nice.’ This song is like the long Indian tear streaking down Iron Eyes Cody’s face as someone throws a bag of garbage at his feet. Like a bowl of marshmallows that have heated up and melted into a sticky mess that you can’t get out of.

Canadian singer Anne Murray was spitting out Country pop hits for 10 years before she just went ‘fuck it’ in 1978 and stopped trying any more. That’s when the hits starting pouring out. [Note to you kids out there. Current pop stars start their career with that moment rather than waste 10 precious years] Anne decided to jump into the deep side of soft rock pool with concrete block strapped to her feet. That made her an unlikely recipient of a #1 1978 hit in the middle of Bee Gees-RSO discopalooza that was monopolizing the charts.

Anne seems like a nice lady and is a legend in Canada, but her vocals on this song are so lifeless and bland, I swear I can hear her doze off in between the verses. But maybe that’s the brilliance of Anne. Since there’s hardly an emotion, we have no idea if she’s saying thank you to this guy or completely ridiculing him. ” I cried a tear. You wiped it dry. Stop touching me!” You can tell this is where someone like Shania Twain built her ‘it looks like country, but sounds like mellow rock crap’ career.

And I know Anne didn’t write these lyrics, but how the hell did she sing them with such a straight face?

I was confused, you cleared my mind
I sold my soul, you bought it back for me
And held me up and gave me dignity
Somehow you needed me

She sold her soul? To whom? The devil I presume. So what do you have to do to buy back a soul from the devil, besides keeping a lot of mouthwash handy?

You gave me strength to stand alone again
To face the world out on my own again
You put me high upon a pedestal
So high that I could almost see eternity
You needed me, you needed me

Thank you for helping me so that I don’t have to hang out with you. And thanks for worshiping me so much, that I almost I died. I got a feeling they sang this song at many Synanon retreats.

You held my hand when it was cold
When I was lost you took me home
You gave me hope when I was at the end
And turned my lies back into truth again
You even called me “friend”

I would love to know how to turn lies into truth. That’s a trick not even George Constanza could perform.

So basically it sounds like Anne was a crazy bitch, did tons of drug, showed up at her job at Burger Chef constantly loaded, had sex with every bi-ped she encountered, money laundered, dealt in human trafficking, ripped tags off of mattresses, you name it. But this guy didn’t care, because he needed her. He needed her. Man how screwed up is that guy? Run Anne run!

Right Time Of The Night by Jennifer Warnes (Arista, 1977)


Quick trivia question: Which artist has sang on the most number of songs to win an Academy Award for Best Original song? That’s right, Jennifer Warnes with 3 (It Goes Like It Goes, Up Where We Belong, (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life). And although she doesn’t have any of that hardware on her mantel, I’m sure she’s quite satisfied knowing it was her performance that put the song over the top and got those writers their award. In fact I’m sure Jennifer is pleased to have the career she’s had. Many singers don’t have a #1 song to boast about: she has two. And it only took her 10 years to have her first hit single, which she parlayed into another 10 years of success.

Jennifer got her start in music working in the LA folk scene in the mid-to-late 60s, making connections with musicians like Jose Feliciano and a comedy show writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. After a short stint as a background singer on said show, she got a record contract with Parrot and put out 2 albums in the late 60s to little fanfare. It was during the turn of the decade when she met singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen and began singing back up on tours and albums for him. Another album came and went in 1972 and Jennifer waited for the next opportunity.

That came in 1976 via Clive Davis who was now running Arista Records, which was owing much of their success to emergence of soft rock balladeers, such as Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester. Jennifer worked her mellow alto into a solid LP ready for release. But Clive didn’t hear any hits and yada, yada, yada….you know where this story is going. A last minute addition to Jennifer’s Arista debut came in the form of a song written by Peter McCann and recorded by a pre-fame John Travolta 4 years earlier. The lyrics Peter wrote were deemed a little too masculine. So lines like:

We’ll go drinkin’ in some heavy bar
I’ll take you night ridin’ in my chevy car
When it’s me and you baby
We could think of somethin’ to do

were changed to the more feminine:

No use cryin’ when the shadows fall
Night bird’s callin’, and he says it all
You and me baby
We could think of somethin’ to do

OK, let’s compare the two. The guy version assumes that the couple is gonna get drunk, drive to a remote spot and get it on. Yes, it’s the guy’s suggestion, but it sounds like they may have had this plan before. Why couldn’t Jennifer couldn’t sing those lyrics? She’s already coming on to the guy and telling him the time is right to make love.

The lady’s version starts off with a denial of tears. Ok, who’s tears are you talking about? If someone in this equation is bawling, then it’s definitely not the right time for, um, balling. And what other night bird is there except an owl? And if he’s chirping Who? Who?, what exactly is he trying to say? Or maybe he’s just crunching on a Tootsie Pop.

Regardless I think the original lyrics were fine and more in tune with this song’s country leanings. Rock that pedal steel…Weeeee-oooooh! In fact Jennifer took this 45 into the Country Top 20 as well as Top 10 Pop and #1 Adult Contemporary and secured her place as one of the Whitest songs to bump uglies to. Know anyone who was conceived in early May 1977 aka the right time?