PM Pick

"Moonlight Feels Right"

I was a bit surprised to discover that this 1976 AM pop classic has its own website but then I shouldn't have been, because I found it in preparing to write my own paean to the song, the lone hit by Starbuck, from Atlanta. (I'm not sure if the band is named for the Battlestar Galactica character, but it seems plausible.) The picture of them is worth seeing, because it exudes the kind of bearded, mellow maleness that reached its apogee in the 1970s and which their hit delivers in spades. If you don't know the song, it's bongo-driven synth-pop (back when synth pop meant "Dream Weaver" rather than "People Are People" or "Don't You Want Me") with priceless dopey lyrics, which deserve to be quoted in full:

The wind blew some luck in my direction

I caught it in my hands today

I finally made a tricky French connection

You winked and gave me your o.k.

I'll take you on a trip beside the ocean

And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay

Ain't nothing like the sky to dose a potion

The moon'll send you on your way

Moonlight feels right

Moonlight feels right

We'll lay back and observe the constellations

And watch the moon smilin bright

I'll play the radio on southern stations

Cause southern belles are hell at night

You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss

Class of seven four gold ring

The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss

To make the tide rise again

We'll see the sun come up on Sunday morning

And watch it fade the moon away

I guess you know I'm giving you a warning

Cause me and moon are itching to play

I'll take you on a trip beside the ocean

And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay

Ain't nothin like the sky to dose a potion

The moon'll send you on your way

Imagine those words delivered in a leering drawl and insert an epic marimba solo, and you have a pretty good idea of what's happening with this song. "Ain't nothin' like the sky to dose a potion" always starts me wondering what the hell is going on, but the second verse is what takes this over the top for me: "The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss to make the tide rise again"? This is sublime nonsense, a perfectly paradoxical combination of trying too hard and not really giving a shit.

And that seems to be the quintessential idea evoked by the 1970s when we regard them with nostalgia: people working really strenuously to seem laid-back, people stressing out about relaxing. In the 1970s it became incumbent on everyone to visibly live a "lifestyle". For perhaps the first time, relaxation itself became a medium for competitive consumption, and the imperative to be casual swept through the culture, generating effluvia like this song in its wake. My friend Brandon Young calls this genre "hot-tub music," what he imagined former student protester types of the 1960s, newly mature and family laden and cynically hedonistic, would play at 70s suburban backyard parties, when the smell of sneakily smoked joints and the promise of spouse swapping were in the air. Think Fleetwood Mac's Rumours album, the Peter Asher–produced Linda Ronstadt records, Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," Walter Egan's "Magnet and Steel," the works of Little River Band, Mac Davis and England Dan and John Ford Coley, Lobo's "I'd Love You to Want Me", "Just Remember I Love You" by Firefall -- immaculately recorded love songs that disguise the inevitable messiness of real feelings; ballads that push earnest sincerity into the realm of camp; crisp, seductive melodies from anonymous groups that come and go like so many sensuous and empty one-night stands, shimmering beyond coherence, barely surpressing the desperation: "I'm not talking about movin' in and I don't want to change your life, but there's a warm wind blowing the stars around, and I'd really love to see you tonight."

Starbuck should earn pop-radio immortality for evoking the hot-tub spirit better than anyone -- the syrupy, simpering synth-note fills (Mweow, mweow), the little chuckles in the vocal, and the aimless cruising and lunar imagery in the lyrics all work to conjure cocaine-snorting couples waiting for something to happen, waiting to get the nerve to make a move or perhaps hoping they'll all lose it. In its way this song encapsulates an entire generation staring down adulthood, waiting to see if it would blink, if it would reveal some gaps in which a sense of freedom could be retained in the face of its mounting sense of responsibility and disillusionment. There she is, a nubile coed, class of '74, hitchhiking by the ocean, looking to catch a ride and have a good time, and she'll let you dose her potion and play your southern stations and she won't ever stop and make you question whether or not what you're doing "feels right." This was what was left of the dream of freedom by bicentennial 1976: meeting this woman, or perhaps even more distressing, being this woman.

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