Muskrat Love by Captain & Tennille (A&M, 1976)


Daryl “Captain” Dragon recently passed away. As a duo with Toni Tennille, they racked up 9 Top 40 songs between 1975-1980, 7 were Top Ten hits, 2 were #1. They created smiley upbeat keyboard-driven pop songs and some mellow key-party ballads during a cynically and uncertain economic post-Watergate economy. But the song that they are remembered most for is Muskrat Love. It didn’t have to be that way. Many feel that this song is a crime against humanity. If you were alive in 1976 then you are implicit in this crime. Let’s list the other suspects:

Willis Alan Ramsey – This song was written and recorded by Ramsey in 1972, under its original title Muskrat Candlelight. I don’t definitively know what inspired him to write this, but I assume he was high as shit watching a Deputy Dawg cartoon marathon and just happened to have a guitar in his hand. Take a listen:

OK not bad for a post-hippie singer-songwriter campfire jingle-jangle about a couple of freaky water rodents, probably a backlash from of all those Jesus is Love mu-mu wearing wannabes Willis encountered at those Dallas, Texas open mic nights. He has had his songs covered by Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffet and Widespread Panic to name a few and he’s still going today so the song could have stayed quiet with him as an album track and all would have been fine. That takes me to my next suspects:

America – These guys were on a roll with a string of hits – A Horse With No Name, I Need You, Ventura Highway. They must have been getting pretty cocky with their success because they heard Willis’ song and thought, “Hey that’s good. But it’s missing some that Beckley-Peek-Bunnell three-part harmony magic.” (spoiler alert – it wasn’t) Retitled Muskrat Love, America released it as the first single from their album, Hat Trick and it tanked. They should have seen this as divine intervention.

In order to save their career, they had to bring in the guy who produced Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. Had America not recorded this at all, the following suspect would have never heard it playing on the radio:

Toni Tennille – I’m not going to pick on Toni too much. She was a fine singer and the only honorary “Beach Girl” in the Beach Boys. She just had a momentary lapse of reason when she heard this and said to her partner Daryl, “We should add this into our nightclub setlist.” This was in 1973, so it’s her fault for not picking from the other classics and standards already written from the past decades. I guess I can understand that as they climbed the ladder to pop stardom they wanted something in their act to stick out. But someone should have stopped this, such as:

The Crowd at the Smokehouse Restaurant in Encino, CA – This was where Toni & Daryl perfected their nightclub act. I don’t know what C&T’s live version of Muskrat sounded like, but for anyone who clapped after they performed it, you are all enablers. This was their cry for help and you ignored it. Which brings me to:

Daryl Dragon – At any time, he could have said “Fuck this. I’m not recording this shit.”  throwing an E-Mu synth at the wall to emphasize his point. Or maybe Toni had a Svengali-like hold on him where if she touched him on the shoulder, it rendered him speechless.


It’s also possible that he couldn’t take it anymore – the idiotic vanilla variety show, the stupid itchy captain’s hat, the bulldogs shitting everywhere – and he just snapped and said, ” You wanna get crazy? Let’s get crazy. How about I take my Mini-Moog and make it sound like the muskrats are bangin’ in a storm drain? Then we’ll press the 45s so that sound loops over and over as the record fades but the sound never ends. HAHAHAHAHA!” [cue lightning strike]

Again it could have been just forgotten as an album cut. They had already released 2 hit singles. Why not just leave it alone? Which leads to me to my final subject:

Herb Alpert – This is all his fault. He had the winning touchdown in his hands and dropped it, so to speak. He had a chance to change the song’s trajectory forever, so direct your ire at him.

Thinking that Muskrat Candlelight had a good melody but some dumb ass lyrics, Herb wrote new words to the song, changed the title to Sun Down and had his wife Lani Hall record and release it.

Why was this not a hit? It was on A&M Records. Herb, that’s your label. Whatever happened to payola? No need to grow a conscience now. Finish the job. Don’t you think we all wish we could go back in time and disrupt the night that got Hitler’s mom got pregnant with him?

Ok maybe it’s not the same thing, but I’m also not letting Herb off the hook, because which record label allowed C&T to release Muskrat as the 3rd single from Song Of Joy, hmm? That’s right. A&M Records. You had the power to stop it again Herb, but you let it happen. We all just bought the Pet Rock. You knew we were vulnerable. How could you?

I like to imagine a world without Muskrat Love.  Everything would be different. Maybe Captain & Tennille would have taken more risks in the 80s and had some New Wave-styled hits and Metropolis-inspired videos on MTV. Maybe Kurt Cobain asks Daryl to produce In Utero and he sits in with Kurt and a newly reunited Nirvana on the album’s 20th-anniversary tour. Maybe they discover a musician named Richard Hall and change his name to Moby, who in turn inducts them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the ‘Godparents’ of modern EDM, followed by a 7-minute electronic version of Love Will Keep Us Together with Daft Punk and Sheryl Crow, Daryl’s 3rd wife. The polar ice caps stop melting and CO2 emissions are at their lowest recorded levels. No one has ever heard of Columbine High School outside of Colorado and this post ceases to exist because I’m too busy curing cancer. That’s the world I want to live in.

Bonus: In 1975 Neil Sedaka hits #1 with Laughter in the Rain on Rocket Records, owned by Elton John who sings backup on Neil Sedaka‘s Bad Blood which is replaced at #1 by Island Girl from Elton John whose #2 song Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me featured backing vocals from Toni Tennille, who with the Captain hit #1 with Love Will Keep Us Together while I’m Not In Love was in the Top 10 by 10cc, who played on the original recording of Love Will Keep Us Together by Neil Sedaka.

OK here it is if you wanna hear it:



Rise by Herb Alpert (A&M, 1979)

After being one of the biggest artists of the 1960s, Herb Alpert didn’t have a song of his hit the Top 40 until the last 4 months of the decade. It rose all the way to #1, making Herb the first artist to have a #1 song as a vocalist and a #1 song as an instrumental. In fact I’m not sure anyone else has even duplicated this feat or ever will.

The story of Rise starts in early 1979 when the 3M company gave A&M records a brand new 32-track digital recorder to experiment with. Herb decided to try out this top-of-the-line equipment pby recording some new material. Someone suggested to disco versions of his old catalog, like The Lonely Bull, but that sounded pretty cheesy to Herb. That’s when he got a call from his cousin, the aptly named Randy Badazz. Aptly named, because he handed the man that once outsold the Beatles during the 60s, a funky tune written with his buddy, Andy Armer, that would extend Herb’s fortunes through the next 20 years.

Herb dug Rise, bu thought it might be a little too fast for his crowd. So he slowed the tempo from the coke-fueled 120 BPM down to the Arthur-Murray-dance-lessons speed of 100 BPM. But the switch worked and it created a nice steady groove for Herb to blow his Spanish horn to. You could couples dance to it. You could pump up the bass in your low-rider to it. Or you could wind down a romantic evening to it. It went #1 on the Pop & Adult Contemporary charts and Top 10 on the Disco & R&B charts. A nice little crossover. But as good as the tune was, it needed a little help to get there. And it got some in the creepiest way possible.

Anthony Geary was an actor who got his big break on the soap opera, General Hospital, in 1978. His character, Luke Spencer, was a college student running the Campus Disco, when he first met, Laura Webber. His character was brought in to help break-up Laura’s marriage and add some youth to the show. His character would fall in love with her and slowly torture her at the same time, once almost causing her to die in a car accident. But his big scene was around the corner. He was about to confess his love to Laura by raping her. Yes, you read that right.

The writers on the show planned a big rape scene. I’m not playing this up – that’s what they called it. In fact it was gonna be pretty brutal until they toned it down (whatever that means). Geary suggested to the music director of the show that play this new song by Herb Alpert called Rise during the scene. It worked, at least from their end. The rape was big news and everyone wanted to know what song Laura was raped to. Again I’m not making this up. And whenever Laura replayed the rape in her mind, there was Herb’s trumpet – da da da da daaaaaaaaa da da da-dee daaaaaaa.

Flash over to Herb’s office in the late Summer of 1979. Someone tells him, ‘Man your song is really moving up the charts. People are diggin’ it.’ Here’s Mr Whipped Cream & other Delights, Mr. This Guy’s In Love With You, finally climbing back with a hit on his hands, due to its popularity during a fictional rape scene. General Hospital didn’t back down for a long time either. They played it up as much as they could. And when the Luke & Laura characters became so popular, they tried to turn the rape into a seductive moment. Nice try, sickos. You had a rape victim fall in love with her raper using Herb’s song as a backdrop for hundreds of thousands of impressionable young girls or whoever watches that crap. And they had to know this was wrong, cause they had the actors go to counseling sessions before they filmed the scene. Guess that sensitivity didn’t extend to their audience.

Maybe the song would have been popular on its own. Maybe not. Most people probably thought Herb Alpert was a square in 1979. Didn’t hurt that his song was played daily for weeks on a popular soap opera, this before MTV. But man, how icky!

If Herb was uncomfortable being associated with that, imagine how he felt being linked to Notorious BIG’s hit Hypnotize which Puff Daddy sampled, days after he was shot and killed in a drive-by. Now he was making money on a dead guy’s song.

I think about my life in a new house in a new neighborhood in a new school, trying to make new friends. Rise brings back Fall colors and slowly disappearing warm breezes. A quiet and questioning young boy adjusting to his surroundings in 3rd grade, creating a soundtrack of his own.