Driving home from dinner with my wife and oldest son the other night our local Oldies station played a fantastic run of (albeitly cheesy) mid-’70s songs that my wife and I probably too enthusiastically pointed out to our son captured the time when we were the age of his younger brother, who was not with us on this drive. I can’t remember the killer run of hits, but it kicked off with “Young Americans” and included “We’re an American Band” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”
“What a titan John Lennon was,” I marveled in my head, privately, “to be able to inject such a suspect disco-boogie romp with so much energy and cool!” I felt a tear building in my left eye as that song faded while memories of that era continued to blare, as I anticipated what the
DJ computer would spin next…
My mid-’70s memory lane run came to an abrupt end as a shitty, processed ’80s rhythm track faded up with a sound I can only tolerate in Marvin Gaye‘s “Sexual Healing.” I already knew it wasn’t going to be “Sexual Healing,” but like Jimmy Carter witnessing a somewhat free election in a recently totalitarian state, I felt I had to stick with it until I could accurately report on the improprieties.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” was the song emerging from that gated intro. I can’t stand that song. I can’t stand that it became some anthem of empowerment. It sounds like crap, thanks to its characteristically ’80s production. Tina Turner sings as if she’s not quite able to make out the backing track. Her vocal tone and rhythm have little relationship to the music. This is a common problem I have with Tina Turner, who never gets criticized for the complete lack of subtlety Janis Joplin made her trademark. My favorite Tina Turner performance is her hyperventilating take on “Proud Mary.” Again, she sings way ahead of the beat and shows little interest in the song’s backing track, but she’s so out there that she’s exciting and unintentionally funny. Her approach fails to excite or humor me on he giant comeback hit. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is the musical equivalent of an unexpected, overconfident, attention-hogging party guest.
“Who dragged her along?”http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1o87v
Forcing myself to listen to this song again, in its entirety, while watching images of people with hairdos and clothing that annoy me as much as the song, I have to be honest: I really hate the ’80s. The song is better than a lot of other terrible hits from that era. Turner’s vocals still bug me, but maybe she was wise to sing her ass off and ignore the backing track.
I had wrongly wanted to punch Mark Knopfler all these years for the production, but it turns out English songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Lyle wrote and produced the track and deserved my scorn. The song had been offered to a number of other acts, including Cliff Richard and Donna Summer, before Turner struck gold with it. My research took me to this 1960s slice of pop-psych by The Twilights, for whom Britten was the lead guitarist. This song, “9.50,” is really good! I’ll cut Britten a break and let him enjoy his songwriting riches.
Co-writer Lyle came of musical age in a Scottish duo Gallagher and Lyle, which was first signed to write for Apple Records. They next took part in a 1970 band called McGuinness Flint. Here are Gallagher and Lyle performing one of their songs as part of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. Pretty cool as well. May you, too, Mr. Lyle, enjoy your songwriting riches!