From The Backseat Of A Turquoise Gremlin

Paloma was sweet enough to set me up with a Sirius satellite radio for Christmas to help tamp down the existential angst of the commute for me.

It is the ’70s channel, conveniently nestled between its ’60s and ’80s counterparts, to which I often gravitate. Though I am decidedly a child of the ’80s, enough of that childhood took place in the ’70s that the decade of shag carpet and disco is hardly terra incognita.

I was two as the decade began and twelve as it concluded. Music was just beginning to be of interest to me in the period after disco had crashed and burned. It wouldn’t be until the first couple years of the next decade – the ’80s – that my interest in music became more than passive.

Yet there’s something about the music of the ’70s that makes for a good commute.

The Sirius ’70s channel plays, so far as I can tell, songs that made the US Top 40 in Billboard during the decade. So, here and there are songs that I don’t recognize when the title pops up on the dashboard screen.

Often, the mystery song will click when it hits the chorus and I will think, oh, yeah, I know this.

(White Plains’ My Baby Loves Lovin’ )

Now and then, there will be a song that, though it was a hit and I might have head it at the time, I don’t recall ever hearing.

(Vanity Fair’s Hitchin’ A Ride)

So, most of the playlist is familiar, but there are surprises. It’s that mix – I think – that has drawn me to the station.

And, unlike the stuff that I grew up with in the ’80s when I was listening to the radio obsessively, even many of the big hits of the decade that get played on Sirius’ ’70s channel are songs I’ve probably heard less than some of the minor hits of the ’80s.

Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold might have been a #4 hit in 1970, but I suspect that I heard something like Planet P Project’s Why Me? considerably more during the summer of 1983 despite that song not even making the Top 40.

Even now, I doubt that I’ve heard Band Of Gold as many times as Why Me?, which was constantly on the radio as I was listening thirty years ago. I have no recollection of hearing the former in 1970.

And though the ’70s – like the ’80s – have certainly been unfairly maligned, hearing Hot Chocolate’s Every 1s A Winner, 10cc’s The Things We Do For Love, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, and The Knack’s Good Girls Don’t (as I did on the commute one morning this past week) works well enough for me.

Inspired by whiteray over at Echoes In The Wind, I thought I’d peruse one of the Billboard Hot 100 charts from the earliest parts of my childhood and see if there was much I actually remember hearing at the time.

So, here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s chart
during this week in 1971
when I was three and whatever music I was hearing was likely from the backseat of the family’s Gremlin…

The Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
from Gold

One of my earliest memories of music is The Carpenters and I can effortlessly picture sitting in the back seat of the Gremlin and there always being something on the radio from the duo. Maybe it’s because the song was a Springtime hit or maybe I’m channeling the lyric and vibe of the song, but it does make me think of overcast skies.

Paloma actually bumped into songwriter Paul Williams who co-wrote the song not long ago. Apparently, he is not tall.

Carole King – It’s Too Late
from Tapestry

Not surprisingly, the songs that I do remember hearing from forty years ago are by some of the most popular acts of the time and Tapestry would, for a time, hold the distinction of being the biggest-selling album of all time.

(not that Carole King’s place in pop music history would be any less secure had she never released anything as an artist)

The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)
from Have A Nice Decade

About all I knew about Native Americans in 1971 would have been from whatever Westerns I had seen and the anti-littering PSA featuring Iron Eyes Cody that debuted that Spring.

Though the message behind The Raiders’ smash Indian Reservation was likely lost on me then, I vividly recall loving the groove of the song at the time.

T. Rex – Hot Love
from The Legend Of T. Rex

Despite tooling around in a stylish turquoise Gremlin, the parentals were quite pedestrian and, based on the music that I remember hearing, the radio must have been tuned to light rock stations. So, no, I can’t imagine hearing Hot Love in 1971.

And I would wager a lot of folks listening to the radio at the time missed out on hearing Hot Love, too, as T. Rex’ massive success in their UK homeland was largely ignored here in the States.

(maybe everyone’s parents were tooling around in turquoise Gremlins and listening to light rock in ’71)

But, the song gets included here as it’s just so damned catchy and hearing it instantly and without fail improves my mood.

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8 Responses to From The Backseat Of A Turquoise Gremlin

  1. whiteray says:

    Love that Gremlin! A friend of mine drove one that was yellow with black stripes. And long ago, an AMC Hornet – a close cousin of the Gremlin – made itself at home in my driveway. Good tunes, too!

  2. J.A. Bartlett says:

    I occasionally find myself listening to the Sirius/XM 70s channel, although not as devotedly as I listened to the pre-merger Sirius 70s channel, which had a slightly broader library and less obnoxious production. The “70s on 7” jingles are the worst I’ve ever heard on any radio station anywhere, and they must be spiking the station’s coffee with speed–they’re going for a 70s Top 40 vibe with the jocks, but they come off more as parody than homage.

    That said, the station is a reliable shot of adrenaline on the road, day or night.

    • At least the jingles are brief. I spend an hour with the station each day, so I haven’t quite figured out how broad their library is (aside from hearing Three Dog Night’s The Show Must Go On enough that I am already burned out on a song I didn’t know six months ago)

  3. Perplexio says:

    I’ve got a couple of T-Rex albums– Electric Warrior and Rabbit Fighter that I kind of dig but I don’t get what all the praise is for. Maybe culturally one has to be British to fully appreciate Marc Bolan’s musical contributions to the world… Or maybe one just has to be a bigger fan of glam than I tend to be. I do dig 20th Century Boy and Get It On but those have become classic rock staples and are probably 2 of T-Rex’s most popular songs on this side of the pond.

  4. Perplexio says:

    PS: Speaking of Gremlins (of the AMC variety, not the 80s horror/comedy variety) whenever I listen to Tower of Power’s 1974 album, Back to Oakland I’m transported to the hills overlooking Oakland & SF circa 1974. For some reason I picture myself sitting in the front seat of a Gremlin watching the sun set over the hills. While there are other albums that I’d describe as “transportive”, TOP’s Back to Oakland is the only album I’ve ever listened to that’s transported me to an error that precedes my birth… and it’s certainly the only album that transports me anywhere in an imaginary AMC Gremlin.

  5. Perplexio says:

    it transports me to an “era”, not an “error”… that’s my brain using its iPhone-esque auto-complete function.

    • barelyawakeinfrogpajamas says:

      I have far too much T. Rex (courtesy of a half dozen promos I got when the stuff was reissued in the ’90s). I could whittle it down to an album’s worth of stuff that would be essential.

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