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In the '70s, liking the hits would get you hit

April 22, 2013

I was listening to ’70s music last week. It wasn’t entirely my fault, because the alt-country station I normally listen to was airing some protracted interview, and aging, rehabbed cowboys aren’t always the most effective form of entertainment.

So for some reason, I got the idea that I’d switch over to the station that plays all the hits from when I was an early teen to see if the pop music of the day was really as bad as I remembered it to be.

Teen music is complex, and quite possibly regional.

The first song up was “Baby What a Big Surprise,” by Chicago. I secretly liked that song when I was 14 or whatever, but I wasn’t allowed to say so.

Because where I grew up, kids who liked Chicago got the snot beaten out of them. I have no idea why. And Chicago was hugely popular nationwide, so it must have just been in my little corner of the earth — a corner where calling someone “college boy” was not intended as a compliment — that it was frowned upon.

The station rolled through a few other nondescript ’70s flotsam and jetsam: “Have You Ever Been Mellow,” by Olivia Newton John (you wouldn’t get beaten up for liking ONJ, but it was only because the other kids didn’t want to touch you with their fist or anything else); something by The Jacksons that wasn’t really on my radar at the time; “Best of My Love” by the Emotions; “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave — or “Heatwave” by Boogie Nights, we were never really sure.

And I was just about to hunt down another station because, as Bryce Harper would say, this is clown music, bro. But then Bruce Springsteen came on with “Prove It All Night” and this convinced me to hang on a little longer.

There were bands that would get you hit as a kid, but there were also bands that we were required to like: Led Zeppelin, Edgar Winter and — well, that was pretty much it. And if you didn’t like them? You would get hit, obviously.

Of course, we realized that a lot of ’70s music was bad even at the time. Like Magnet and Steel by someone whose name I have forgotten. “You are a magnet and I am steel.” Sheesh.

So we would make up new lyrics, such as “You are a vacuum and I am dust,” or “You are a trailer park and I am a tornado.” I think I’ve heard a modern day equivalent that goes something along the lines of, “You are e coli and I am room temperature beef.”

“Hold the Line” by Toto almost earned the station an instant disqualification right there on the spot. I hated it then, and I hate it now.

“It’s not in the words that you told me

It’s not in the way you say you’re mine

It’s not in the way that you came back to me

It’s not in the way that your love set me free

It’s not in the way you look or the things that you say that you do.”

Well if it’s not all that, then what is it? Apparently it would be this:

“It’s all about the way you do the things you do

The way you do it

You’ve got to hold it

Hold it

Hold the line

Love isn’t always on time.”

If there are dumber lyrics, then I’m a giraffe. I mean, not like the “Le Freak” by Chic was Wordsworth or anything, but please.

Although the odd thing is that a lot of tunes I despised at age 15 don’t sound so bad. Boz Skaggs, for example, sounds borderline inoffensive now that he’s 30 years in the rear view mirror. And I can say that without fear of getting hit.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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