70s AOR – Still Creepy After All These Years
Lately, it’s been the 70s Creep-Out Mix that’s been blowing up the hi-fi around the Glorious Noise HQ. A home-made compilation long thought to be lost to movers, car crashes, or simple human error, the 70s Creep-Out Mix was recently unearthed by its maker, and has found new life in and around the GLONO offices. The CD visits the entire canon of 1970s AOR, and includes both the perennial radio hit, as well as the one-off moment of long-haired, acoustic genius that could have only existed in the decade previous to Rayon, skinny ties and MTV. In an imaginary field of long green grass, where the men are bell bottom’d and the women go bra-less, the pop wonder of Badfinger’s “No Matter What” lies next to the bizarro production of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” The former – barely making the decade at 1970 – presents rhythms that would define the decade’s AM-centric pop music. The latter, arriving in May of 1975, was a balladic freak-out that suggested the sounds of Inspiration Point on Alpha Centauri. It’s the wac convergence of tracks like these that define the creepy nature of the Mix, and in turn, the climate of pop music in the 1970s.
Nowadays, in the sophisticated 21st century, hipster revisionists are split over the influence of the tracks that make up the Creep-Out Mix. On one hand are the ironicists, who smirk at the songs’ saccharine production, over-indulgent harmonies and production, and the general geeky-ness of the era’s artists. On the other side of the aisle are the appreciators – the people who hear the beauty in the underpinning melody of King Harvest’s “Dancing In The Moonlight.” (Noted softie Jeff Tweedy makes mention of this phenomenon in Derek Phillips’ recent Wilco article.) The best part about this argument? No one’s right. There’s no question that Sammy Johns’ “Chevy Van” could be the cheesiest song this side of Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch.” But it’s the emotions and vibes expressed in Johns’ song (#5 in 1975!) that typify the creepy-ness of the 70s Creep-Out Mix. “‘Cause like a picture she was layin’ there/Moonlight dancin’ off her hair/She woke up and took me by the hand/She’s gonna love me in my Chevy Van” – here’s the punchline – “And that’s alright with me.” Johns’ casual, holy-shit-can-you-believe-this-is-happening-to-me vocal – “Her long leeeeeeeegs were tan and brooooooown” – makes the contemporary listener wince with laughter, while at the same time wish that it was still possible to write a hit pop song about hooking up with a beautiful hitchhiker. Even the ironicists admit that, yeah, that would be all right with them.
Ray Stevens is not included on The 70s Creep-Out Mix. “The Streak” is the kind of novelty that belongs on a mix compiling hokey tracks from each decade into one, succinctly un-purchasable compact disc. But songs like the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue;” Seals & Crofts’ “Diamond Girl;” and some classics from the Eagles’ middle 70s period – these are the tracks that make up the Mix that has transformed GLONO’s offices into a landscape of burnt sienna, orange floral patterns, and fondue. Keep in mind that this is not an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, the 70s Creep-Out Mix is as creepy as it is simply because its vibes ring so soundly here in our enlightened decade. Of course the ironicists will crap on this. They’ll accuse the appreciators of layering their own sardonic acceptance of these songs in faux “this is so stupid it’s cool” politics. But that’s simply not the case. There is something intangible in the songs collected on the Creep-Out Mix, something almost scary in the pretension-less approach to making music laid bare in its boundaries, that still somehow suggests otherwise. Everyone knows that the Eagles were (and perhaps still are) the most commercial group on the face of the Earth. And yet, there’s a spooky feeling of coolness that takes over the room when their Creep-Out moment happens. And that’s what keeps the Mix in the rotation.
There isn’t a lot of mystery in popular music today. Usually it boils down to a simple choice – sucks or not. The music that dominated AM (and later FM) pop radio in the 1970s was able to straddle the line between hokey and genius, to create some of the Creepiest fucking music ever made.