For me, 1976 was the year.
I started listening to the radio, I started buying records (45s anyway), I started wondering what I had possibly missed. If what I was hearing every day was so overwhelming what had the past yielded?
Soon after, I started tracking backwards, searching.
Soon after that, tracking backwards became about the only thing worth doing. The present began to yield less and less. The future held no promise.
But there was a sweet spot, right there in the first half of 1976 (such a terrible year, I was later told, over and over, that it made punk necessary) when I couldn’t keep up with what went by, hour after hour, right there on Top 40 radio beaming out of southern Alabama.
I certainly didn’t have the money to buy more than a tiny fraction of what I loved.
So, for that brief little window of time, I stored musical memories. Songs I heard a handful of times played in my head, sometimes for years, until I could track them down on records. I might write about some of those songs later–I’m sure the whole “Diamonds in the Shade” concept sprang from that experience, the moment when I realized great things could come and go on the radio without leaving an impact on seemingly anyone but me.
I learned not to talk about it. People worried enough about me as it was. But I kept them in my head.
I kept looking.
As the years went by, and I tracked down literally every single one of those records: Kiki Dee’s “Once A Fool,” Billy Ocean’s “Love Really Hurts Without You,” and “L.O.D.,” Marmalade’s “Walking a Tightrope,” and oh so many more, I had a variety of deja vu experiences. Some were as great as I remembered, some almost so, some not at all.
But, whatever the final outcome, I always had one advantage aiding musical memory: I actually had a name attached to the records.
It helps. Believe me.
There was one record on that list which did not come attached with a name.
It didn’t come attached with a name because, the only time I heard it, the dee-jay didn’t say who it was by.
I didn’t worry too much at first. I remembered a line. I would recognize the song the next time it came on. Dee-jays usually gave out names with songs back then (almost the last moment when they did so). I would catch it later.
And there would be a later, because there was no way that song wasn’t going to be a hit! It was catchy and it didn’t quite sound like anything else. In those days (again, almost the last days when this was so) that was the way of hit-making. Make it catchy. Make it not quite like anything else.
I never heard the song on the radio again. I never heard anybody say who it was by.
So, as the years went by, I only had that single line, playing in my head. Thirteen words and a snatch of melody.
“You see the trouble with me,” the line went, “I can’t do nothin’ without my baby.”
Yeah, that was it. That was all of it.
You try setting out after a song based on that.
It wasn’t the words that were not quite like anything else. The words were exactly like everything else. And you can’t look up much based on a bit of sound pressed to your brain stem. Not in this world.
I accepted that those thirteen words may or may not have formed part of the record’s title. Over time, I somehow convinced myself they didn’t, maybe because looking under the “Y” (in case it started with “You See”), “T” (in case it started with “The Trouble”) and “I” (in case it started with “I Can’t”) sections of literally hundreds of alphabetized 45 bins across a good portion of the United States didn’t yield a single bite.
Eventually, I gave up. The CD revolution came along. The few on my “mystery list from ’76” that I hadn’t tracked down on 45 became available on disc. A beach music collection here, a bubble gum collection there. Turned out there were more fellow obsessives out there than I thought. Almost every one of those records had fans who had ended up working for small reissue labels catering to their fellow wanderers.
The world moved on. That melody would still come in my head now and again, but it happened less and less. To be honest, there came a moment when I didn’t bother looking anymore. I didn’t exactly give up hope–I just lost faith in my ability to make a discovery happen.
I might hear it again some day, I might not. Nothing unusual in that. Everybody who chases sounds has had some sort of similar experience. Sometimes it ends happily, sometimes it doesn’t end at all (which is the definition of “unhappily” when you are chasing sounds).
That was the state of my little buried memory in the Year of Our Lord, 2000 A.D. when I purchased a greatest hits package by an artist who had, in fact, been far more famous than any of the others I chased. Had, in fact, had a solid three-year run of smashes going back when I started listening to the radio in December of 1975.
I’m guessing that was why the dee-jay felt no need to identify his new release, back in the first few month’s of 1976. Surely, anybody who was listening to the Top 40 in those days didn’t need to be told who this guy was.
Probably they didn’t. Unless they had only started listening to the radio a few months before. Then they might need a little help.
Of course, even so, the dee-jay could hardly be blamed. There was no way to know that particular record was going to break the singer’s string of nine straight top ten R&B hits, and fail to reach the American pop chart at all (as each of the previous nine had done, with most reaching the top ten). There was no way to know that the singer’s incredible hot streak (hot by any standard, incredibly hot for a three-hundred-pound black man who sold himself as a Love God) was going to end with that record– a record that was capable of sticking deep enough in the mind of a teenage white boy that, a quarter of a century later, when he heard the first chords of the lost sound (chords he did not remember until that very moment) coming through the speakers on the other side of the house (whence he was folding towels whilst listening to the new stack of CDs), he started running towards the sound, laughing maniacally, shouting “That’ s it! That’s it!” long before Barry White sang “You see the trouble with me, I can’t do nothin’ without my baby!”
History takes strange turns. These days, I can look on the internet and see that “You See the Trouble With Me” was a hit all over Europe, #2 in the UK, even #14 on the American R&B chart. I can also see that it failed to make the Hot 100 on the U.S. pop chart.
I’ve got a sort of running theme in my head which this blog allows me to indulge. It concerns the search for “where it all went wrong.”
Barry White actually went on to have a few more big hits, even a couple of big pop hits.
But in the “where it all went wrong” debate, you could do worse than start right here with this record going nowhere. Because it still doesn’t make one bit of sense.
And if you’re wondering whether Barry himself knew the record’s value (this if from 1990)…
Barry White’s still waiting for his first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nomination. Just in case you think nothing ever really went wrong to begin with.