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.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image