Take Me to the River
Rock & Roll Books
Night Moves: Pop Music in the Late '70sby Don Breithaupt and Jeff Breithaupt
St. Martin's Griffin, 216 pp., $13.95 (paper)
"Golden Years," "Happy Days," and "Boogie Nights" -- the titles say it all about a time when "Get Together" had become "Get Down" and we had traded Earth Shoes for "Boogie Woogie Dancin' Shoes." The Breithaupts are experts in the field of Seventies music the same way many of us are -- we lived it during a time when the words to a song could change the outcome of our lives.
Night Moves is a scream. On one single page three of the most loathsome examples of Seventies pap -- I mean pop -- are discussed: "Silly Love Songs," "Baby, What a Big Surprise," and "Afternoon Delight." The perpetrators of "Afternoon Delight," the Starland Vocal Band, won a Grammy as Best New Artist in 1976, then took their rightful place in oblivion. Then came "Dancing Queen," which, while regarded by some as the nadir of pop music, is one of the purest examples of pop from a group (ABBA) that defined pop on a worldwide basis. The book is as opinionated, considering the subject matter. The authors go to town on disco, but, like most critics, are dismissive of the genre. They point out that in 1979, more than half of all records sold were disco records, and follow it by saying, "Disco vaporized at the decade's end." But how, as Anthony Haden-Guest said in The Last Party, "could disco be dead, when [Madonna] hadn't even had a hit yet?"
Night Moves is written in a funny, chatty style, with Monty Python-ish asides and illustrated with photos of the authors from the period and posters from concerts in Canada, where they hail from. The Canadian slant can be vaguely off-putting -- the Bay City Rollers simply weren't that influential -- but the research put into this endeavor is obvious. The appendices are hysterical: a list of live double-albums from 1976-79 (there are more than 60!), movie and TV show themes that became hits (more than three pages' worth), Grammy winners, Rolling Stone magazine covers, and Saturday Night Live. But the era is catalogued in amusing chapters that group the songs by style or sentiment rather than by year, providing a better overall view of the trends. It was a time that was pre-AIDS ("Heck, pre-herpes," the authors say), and the height of a decade that was rapidly giving way to an even more dangerous and excessive self-indulgence -- the Eighties. A worthy and entertaining read.