rock me, very softly (Part Two)

First, let me say that the first installment of the Movin’ EZ mix generated more email than I’ve ever gotten regarding a specific entry in the history of the blog. Which is a pretty tremendous feat, considering I’m a semi-blogger who isn’t afraid to tackle the hot-button, email-generating issues of the day, from your favorite kind of tiny chocolate to the sometimes hilarious ineptitude of wedding florists. See? I take no prisoners!

So, here it is. “Movin’ EZ, Volume 2: On the Wings of Cheese,” sixteen more tracks of whack that prove the sequel can be even sweeter than the original. Particularly if the sequel is packed to the gills with all things Hall and/or Oates.Song: “We’ve Only Just Begun”Artist: The CarpentersSample lyric: “Sharing horizons that are new to us / Watching the signs along the way / Talking it over, just the two of us / Working together day to day / Together.”Why it’s awesome: First of all, listen to that woman’s voice. Second of all, the lyrics are classic, boilerplate wonder-cheese. Third, and by far most important, it takes a special kind of easy listening classic to quietly insist, “It must ROCK! But with no instrument more percussive than the tambourine. Is that doable?” Yes, Karen. Yes, it is. From the first notes of the insistent, piano-and-clarinet-scored, “the entirety of the 70s are taking you in their strong strong arms and spooning the stress right out of you” opening, it’s clear we’re among easy listening royalty. The transcendent chord changes into the chorus (I wish I were kidding but I’m not) clinch this as this band’s best song, and just when you think it’s rocking too hard to move as easy as you’d originally hoped for, the end collapses into a syrupy final chord, made up entirely of piano, clarinet, and a string orchestra. Take THAT, “Close to You.”Song: “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend’”Artist: Kenny Loggins and Stevie NicksSample lyric: “Sweet love’s showin’ us a heavenly light / Never seen such a beautiful sight / See love glowin’ on us every night / I know forever we’ll be doin’ it right.”Why it’s awesome: Kenny brings Stevie right down to his level on this one, the two of them crafting her best, most coherent piece of chilled-out musicianship in years, a streak that would last until her forty-seventh acoustic remake of “Landslide” twenty years later. The slick song overproduces the cocaine voice right out of her, as all great soft rock did to its singers, making her sound like a proper lady who would like nothing more than to show off some heavenly light with the power of her sweet love. And you can mock the fact that the official title of the song places the word “friend” in what appears to be sarcastic quotes all you want…I defy you to hear this song once and get the words “doin’ it doin’ it doin’ it” out of your head.Song: “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”Artist: Christopher CrossSample lyric: “If you get caught between the moon and New York City / The best that you can do is fall in love.”Why it’s awesome: Try this expression on for size: “Academy Award winner Christopher Cross.” That’s right. This song won this man an Oscar, as the theme song for the “He’s so drunk that you’ll fall down…laughing!” Dudley Moore film, Arthur. Co-written by four people (Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Peter Allen, and Cross), this song has found more writers attempting to take credit for it than Mozart’s Requiem (personally, I think Salieri was responsible for the killer couplet, “Livin’ his life one day at a time / He’s showing himself a really good time”). And who knows who really contributed what, but I will tell you one thing: that wailing sax solo in the middle is pure, vintage, 100% late-era Bacharach. But more on him and his legend later. As far as the creaky, overly-literal lyrics, well, I’ve observed on the blog before that “It’s as if Christopher Cross thought himself some kind of Greek Chorus for the movie, and if not for him, we wouldn’t understand this deeply impenetrable tale of Dudley Moore drinking and then falling. It would be like if someone had written a theme song for Pretty Woman just called, ‘(The Character Julia Roberts Plays In This Movie) Spreads Her Legs For Cash, Y’all.’”Song: “Biggest Part of Me”Artist: AmbrosiaSample lyric: “Make a wish, baby / Well and I will make it come true / Make a list, baby / Of things I’ll do for you.”Why it’s awesome: It’s a little soon on the heels of “Arthur’s Theme” to praise a song based on its killer wailing sax solo, but I just can’t help it. This call-and-response ode to wishes and lists finds a slickly overproduced (duh) choir of men reminding the lead singer what a fabulous lady he’s found for himself and how great that is. Shockingly, the version of the song I have seems to have the bridge edited out, which means we miss the section in which Mr. Ambrosia promises love for an eternity, a sentiment I feel we didn’t adequately glean from approximately seventeen other verses of him singing about his endless and unstoppable love. If someone wrote a song this stalker-y about me, I would phone that shit into the police. Who I would call. And be put on hold. Where the hold music would be this song.Song: “How Long”Artist: Paul CarrackSample lyric: “How long has this been going on?”Why it’s awesome: Here’s me, learning something new every day. I’ve loved this song for as long as I can remember, but I’ve always thought that the “always” during which I started loving it was upon its release, which I had guessed was around 1990. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that this song was classic 70s cheese, a hit for Paul Carrack’s band “Ace,” and not a latter-career solo effort that competed for radio airplay with “Wild Wild West” and “Walk the Dinosaur.” This was all before Paul floated into Squeeze, sang lead on their most famous song, and disappeared, only to NOT resurface years later with a hit called “How Long.” Because that song had already been recorded.Song: “If This is It”Artist: Huey Lewis & The NewsSample lyric: “You been thinkin’ / I’ve been drinkin’ / We both know that it’s just not right.”Why it’s awesome: I’m not saying that I’m a Huey Lewis “fan,” per se. All I’m saying is that I owned a couple of albums of his (and the News) as a kid. And that I rank him as number two on my list of “Bands I Wish I Had Seen In Concert During Their Prime” (right after the Jackson 5). And that I might have seen Duets. And that I know that he had a cameo in Back to the Future, one of the most Lewis-heavy movies of all time, in which I can recite verbatim his single line of dialogue (“It’s just too loud”). And that I’m currently collecting contributions to open a Lewis-themed chain restaurant called “The Newsroom,” where we’ll offer menu items such as “‘Heart and Sole,’ spiced with ‘Back in Thyme,’ served on a bed of ‘Doin’ It All For My Baby’ greens.” All I’m saying is that only one of those things isn’t true.Song: “How Deep is Your Love”Artist: The Bee GeesSample lyric: “You come to me on a summer breeze / Keep me warm in your love and you softly leave.”Why it’s awesome: Hey, iTunes? What the eff, not having this song in your store? Do you know what you made me do? You made me check all of the shared music on my office network, find someone who had this song on her iTunes, and walk up to this unsuspecting stranger with a flash drive, insisting, “I need you to give me a song.” Because without said song, I would not have had the cornerstone piece of music required for this volume of the playlist. Without “How Deep is Your Love,” the rest of the songs collapse around me, like so many shattered dreams. Anyway, sorry, Kelly. And, thanks. And, hi. You’re very pretty. I promise I’m not crazy.Song: “You’re So Vain”Artist: Carly SimonSample lyric: “You prob’ly think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”Why it’s awesome: Finally — FINALLY — we’ve reached the best and brightest in soft-rock fuck you music, a song that asserts, “You are an arrogant motherfucker, motherfucker,” yet somehow without ever getting out of control. And the words. Oh, the words! The evocative, truth-spewing, woman-scorned words! The yacht! The visit to Saratoga! The total eclipse of the sun! The clouds in my coffee! Whatever “gavotte” means! It’s those words — that highest-brow version of what a lovesick eighth grader writes on the brown-paper-shopping-bag cover of her social studies textbook — that has led to years of speculation as to whom this song is actually about. Carly even famously auctioned off the name to one lucky NBC Sports president in 2003, which…wow, fifty grand? That seems like a lot. Especially considering this: if your parents got divorced in the 70s or 80s, like mine did, your mom still thinks this song is about your dad.Song: “Rich Girl”Artist: Hall & OatesSample lyric: “Say money money won’t get you too far, get you too far.”Why it’s awesome: Smoother than 80s powerhouses “Kiss is on My List” and “Private Eyes,” yet far more groovy than the inert “Sara Smile,” it’s the perfect vintage of delicious, aged Movin’ EZ cheese. You can rely on the old man’s money. You can rely on the old man’s money.Song: “We’re in this Love Together”Artist: Al JarreauSample lyric: “Like berries on the vine / They get sweeter all the time.”Why it’s awesome: This, ladies and gentlemen of the 70s, is where we separate the boys from the leisure-suited men. This song is so unremittingly easy it almost lapses into smooth jazz territory, and this is only a fine line worth straddling it you fall on the correct side of it. This side. The smooth jazz station in my hometown (CD 101.9) might even play this song, but they would play an instrumental cover version featuring Kenny G. on soprano sax in place of the vocal line. Except you must never hear that version. Because you must never listen to smooth jazz radio. Like I have any grounds for musical elitism after painstakingly dramaturging thirty-two easy listening songs.Song: “Just Once”Artist: James IngramSample lyric: “Just once / Can we find a way to finally make it right / To make the magic last for more than just one night?”Why it’s awesome: It’s “On the Wings of Love.” But better. If, indeed, such a thing could exist.Song: “On the Wings of Love”Artist: Jeffrey OsbourneSample lyric: “You look at me and I begin to melt / Just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt.”Why it’s awesome: The song that launched a thousand American Idol auditions, the synth-y string arrangements soar almost as high as the song’s nine verses of “No, baby, I really love you” poetry.Song: “Steal Away”Artist: Robbie DupreeSample lyric: “Why don’t we steal away / Into the night / I know it ain’t right.”Why it’s awesome: Do you like Wilco? In real life, when I’m not listening to this music, I do, quite a bit. In their song “Red-Eyed and Blue” (Being There, Disc 1), they rip off the chord progression of “Steal Away,” chord for chord, in a way that can’t even be a coincidence. Then they employ the help of some sleigh bells. And then they whistle, thus making that song somehow even more cheesy than “Steal Away.” Thanks, Wilco.Song: “Just the Two of Us”Artist: Bill WithersSample lyric: “Good things might come to those who wait / Not for those who wait too late.”Why it’s awesome: You know it. You can’t help but sing along. And you’re glad that you’ve just downloaded the radio-friendly single version and NOT the original album version that was so relaxed it somehow allowed a three-and-a-half minute steel drum solo to slip on by.Song: “Careless Whisper”Artist: George MichaelSample lyric: “Guilty feet have got no rhythm.”Why it’s awesome: Duh.Song: “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”Artist: B.J. ThomasSample lyric: “I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining.”Why it’s awesome: And, finally, a silly little sentimental favorite. Just for me. It’s older than most of the other songs and sung by a man named B.J., but it was written by Burt Bacharah. And he’s the best. One day I feel that I will meet him, and he will tell me how nice it is to meet me, and then he’ll tell me what I’ve always secretly known about Burt Bacharach: that he is, in fact, my biological father. And then he’ll adopt me and give me crazy “I wrote every song released ever” money and we’ll invite all of my friends over for a big party, because that’s what friends are for. And then I’ll turn the whole story of a lonely kid searching for his dad into a heartwarming screenplay, one that will be turned into the most successful film of all time, scored in its entirety by my dad, Burt Bacharach. For obvious reasons, the film will no longer be able to go by its original working title: Bacharach Mountain.

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