Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SONG #98: I Love The Night Life

Alicia Bridges, Alicia Bridges, 1978

As you can probably tell, I spent some time tracking down the original artwork for the songs on the list.  This album cover was one of the most difficult to track down.  It's become a really obscure album, to the point where I couldn't tell you if there are any other worthwhile Alicia Bridges tracks.  It's probably a question I'm comfortable leaving unanswered.

When I was a really young kid, I loved disco.  To my eight year-old ears, there was no difference between Kiss and disco.  They were both melodic and fun, and so while I was in the Kiss Army and going to see Boston in concert, I also listened to Q107 out of Washington DC on my clock radio.  They played the top 40 almost exclusively, and in 1978, that was mostly disco, and I'd stay up until 2am with the sound barely on and my ear pressed to the speaker listening so I wouldn't wake up my folks.  My mom can sleep through a nuclear attack, but Dad slept like a terrified woodland creature.  Any noise-- ANY-- and he was up, on full red alert.  He was a formidable opponent, but over the years I learned how to listen to music and read until the wee hours.  (Now, of course, he's lost a little hearing, and he sleeps like an absolute log.  I think I could solder things in his room these days without bothering him.)  As a result, there are about a dozen disco songs that are part of my DNA, and this is one of them.  In fact, some days it is my favorite disco tune.

What did disco in was the repetition of the groove, I think-- by 1979, there were thousands of songs with the exact same beat at the same beats-per-minute.  Disco became so ubiquitous that it was no longer fun, and it burned itself out.  There was without question a racial element to the backlash as well.  Disco put white rock guitarists in the background for the first time since The Beatles, and people got pissed.  The "Disco Sucks" movement was pretty suspect, especially since eight years later those same angry white kids would turn the Beastie Boys into heroes for co-opting rap.  (I think rap has fallen prey to the same issues that befell disco, by the way-- how many more songs imitating Doggystyle do we need?  It's been almost twenty years, already-- can we please shake things up a bit?)  In any case, there was a moment when disco most definitely did not suck.  Instead, the best singers and players of the decade were making disco records (check out the bass on this tune, for example), and some rock bands made some great disco music (The Stones' "Miss You," anyone?)

"I Love The Night Life," I'd argue, could go in a time capsule with the Schoolhouse Rock DVD, a can of Billy Beer, an IUD, and a Doonesbury comic collection and sum up the feeling of the late 70s pretty well.  It captures the slickness and tired, jaded atmosphere that permeated America.  I remember feeling like everyone seemed bored in the late 70s, even as a kid-- the cocaine hangover was just starting to throb, the economy was in the toilet, Carter was struggling as a President, clothes were absolutely ridiculous, Happy Days was the funniest thing on TV (watch a Happy Days episode when you have a chance-- NO SHOW has aged more poorly.  Leave It To Beaver is an edgy dramedy by comparison.  Seriously!  Were we mentally ill?  I can't believe I was ever able to tolerate that show, let alone enjoy it)... it was not the best of times.  I remember making friends with a kid down the street who had three older brothers.  One drove a Camaro with racing flames and worked at a fish restaurant.  The second had a green AMC Gremlin and worked at Safeway.  The third had Scott Baio feathered hair and worked at an Orange Julius at the Severna Park mall.  They shared a bedroom, and they had in it:

a) the Farrah Fawcett Majors and Cheryl Tiegs posters that inspired puberty across this great land of ours;
b) a stereo with an 8 track player that had Frampton Comes Alive stuck in it, so they just kept listening to it;
c) some horrible skunkweed pot plants growing in the closet with a sad little gro-lamp;
d) a blacklight poster of the frog sitting at his desk saying "I'm so happy I could just sh-t";
e) an oil painting of the virgin Mary.

Little did I know I was visiting a museum.  Please understand-- they were HIP!  These were not ironic things purchased at a yard sale-- THIS IS WHAT COOL KIDS DID IN THE 70s.  Be thankful, younger readers.  Trust me.

Back to the song (it's a blog about songs, remember?)  Listen to the first ten seconds a few times and appreciate how muted it all is.  The drums are so laid-back, it almost sounds like an Al Green groove.  And there are those 70s electric keyboards and jazzy guitar tones.  The only other song that sounds more to me like 9pm New York City getting ready to go out is Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out."

Bridges does not have a great voice-- she's sharp in a few places-- but she's the perfect voice for this lyric.  It starts with a proto-feminist declaration:  "Please don't talk about love tonight / Please don't talk about sweet love."  She's been dogged, and rather than offering forgiveness, she's declaring independence.  "Please don't talk about all of the plans / We had for fixin' this broken romance."  It's the less dramatic, more realistic version of "I Will Survive."  In Gaynor's track, being left is operatic drama.  Here, you get the sense that Bridges has been here before and will be there again.  Besides, she has the solution for her pain:  "I want some action, I want to live / Action, I got so much to give / I want to give it / I want to get some too."  As long as she can hit the disco and get some, she'll be fine.  Does that not sum up the pre-AIDS sexual revolution?  If it feels good, do it... and then when it feels bad, take a deep breath, turn up the radio, and do it again.

I'm suggesting a dark undertone to the song, I know, but that's where the power comes from for me.  I fully believe her when she says "I love the nightlife / I got to boogie on the disco 'round."  In that four minutes on the floor, everything is fine.  The release of music and fun and casual intimacy is a genuine balm.  Sadly, life is not lived in four minutes arcs, and there's a next morning when you wake up and realize that you left all your money, morality and a piece of your soul at Studio 54 the night before.  We now call that moment the 80s.

Not that I had ANY idea about any of that in 1978, with my innocent little ear pressed to a mono AM speaker.  To me, it just sounded like fun and freedom.  I wanted that action to, whatever it was, somewhere away from my aluminum siding prefab house in the redneck suburbs of Annapolis.  Like so many 70s kids, we had no war to protest, no cultural revolution to fight.  We were safe, well fed, covered by health care, educated, and booooooorrrrrrrred.  I thank Alicia Bridges for letting me know that somewhere in the mysterious night hundreds of miles away, there was fun to be discovered as soon as I could grow up and join the party.

And you're welcome in advance for the clip-- truly classic.



  1. (gasp) BILLY BEER!

    The years have not been kind to the 70s, have they? I wonder what it says about our generation that our formative memories are all from that bizarre decade?

    Yes on the clip. Thank you so much for the clip. I (heart) the clip.

    But Jeff -- are you telling me that at the tender, innocent little age of 8 you were able not only to identify homegrown weed but also ascertain its quality? You held out on me for the whole 80s!!

    (I think I know now why Craiger sleeps so well these days.)

  2. I knew it was bad weed because they were always complaining that they couldn't get high off it. As you remember, I was quite the choirboy when it came to all that. :)

  3. He's right, Jeff's students and business associates ... the man was straight up straight edge.

  4. WOW that clip is gold. It starts with the driving scene from Taxi Driver and then has a woman who looks exactly like Billy idol circa 1987 in drag (in gold lemay no less), including short spiked hair and a very disturbing sneer and raised eyebrow. A little upsetting actually.

  5. Great find, Jeff, and yes a trip right down memory lane. What a deliciously understated arrangement the tune has: basically 96% bass with some of the tastiest clean rhythm pickup guitar lickin' i've heard in a while, lathered up with those haunting 70s strings...

    coulda lifted that sax solo straight from a springsteen record, huh? born to run was only 3 years prior.

    gimme ack shawn!

  6. Watched video again. As she sneers the first time I thought to myself: "who is this angry, short haired dwarf and why is it yelling at me?" Immediately stopped video.