Tuesday afternoon, I pointed the nose of the family SUV north, toward Fort Benton, for a long-planned visit with the Chouteau County Friends of the Library. And, I’m sorry to say, I made a huge logistical blunder.
Twenty miles into the trip — too far to turn back but still 200 miles from my destination — I realized that I had exactly one CD. The one in the player. The one I’d been listening to for weeks. The one with at least two songs marred by skips.
What could I do? I pressed on.
At Eddie’s Corner, the junction known to all who venture into central Montana, I stopped for bodily relief and provisions. And I found this:
Oh, HELL, yes! Schlock rock would be my salvation.
Here’s the track listing, with my mini-review of each song:
1. “You’re No Good,” Linda Ronstadt. Every day, and twice on Saturday.
2. “Jackie Blue,” Ozark Mountain Daredevils. I have no beef.
3. “That’s the Way (I Like It),” K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Skip.
4. “Must of Got Lost,” J Geils Band. Meh.
5. “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” War. Once is enough.
7. “Philadelphia Freedom,” Elton John. A big, fat yes.
8. “Black Water,” Doobie Brothers. A nice slice of the seventies.
9. “Love is a Rose,” Linda Ronstadt. I’m always in favor of Linda, but this isn’t a particularly strong example of her work.
10. “How Long,” Ace. Sure. Yeah. Okay.
11. “Dance With Me,” Orleans. Acceptable in strict moderation.
12. “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s become a parody, but it’s good southern-friend stuff.
13. “You Are So Beautiful,” Joe Cocker. A keeper.
14. “Feel Like Makin Love,” Bad Company. Heard it too many times.
15. “Lady Marmalade,” LaBelle. Funk yeah!
16. “Pick Up the Pieces,” Average White Band. Skip.
17. “Island Girl,” Elton John. This song, which I’ll listen to in full any time it comes on because of John’s hooks, pisses me off in more ways than I can possibly describe. Another blog post, perhaps.
18. “Some Kind of Wonderful,” Grand Funk. Eh.
19. “The Hustle,” Van McCoy. Absolute garbage.
20. “Let’s Do It Again,” The Staple Singers. Yeah, okay.
You may have noticed by now that one song is missing — song No. 6, the best on the album, and yet a song so affected by two flaws that I think of its missed potential rather than the considerable sweet spot that it absolutely occupies.
The song: “Sister Golden Hair,” by America.
You know the song:
This tune, an earworm if there ever was one, is so close to being the perfect soft-pop gem that it kills me to deny it entry into the pantheon of greatness. Listen to that clip, if you haven’t already. The tuneful intro, the earnest vocals, the deft changes in tempo. It does everything a great song is supposed to do; it moves you around the emotional spectrum, and it hooks like a one-armed boxer. Like I said, it’s almost perfect.
But perfect it ain’t. Two big reasons:
First, the title is just horrible, and it’s made worse by adding the word “surprise” in the body of the song. “Sister Golden Hair Surprise” sounds like a misadventure in baking, man. It sounds like a surprise I don’t want. “Would you like another slice of Sister Golden Hair Surprise?” “No, thanks, I’ve had plenty.” And it’s not like those words really mean anything or have some sonic value that couldn’t be replicated by better-chosen words. I don’t care how spot-on the rest of a song is. When you screw up the title and two parts of the lyrics, you’ve devalued the work.
Finally, the extended shoo-bop outro is a poor-fitting add-on, like a wooden outhouse behind a steel-and-glass office building. It sounds, to these ears, that Gerry Beckley and the boys didn’t know how to end their song, so they just do this weird jam thing. End the song! Just end it. You have a near perfect song and you’re spoiling it by not knowing when it should come to an end. You see this a lot, in all kinds of artistic endeavors. It’s like people don’t know how to edit anymore. They just keep going and going, assaulting your ears or your eyes with nonsense, until finally you scream, “Please, for the love of all that is holy, just bring this to an