Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Exile’s “Kiss You All Over”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in September 1978
In the last quarter of the most dance-crazy year since “The Twist” ruled, this Kentucky act took this mildly bopping bit of country rock love-me-down to #1. What followed it is interesting: succeeding it was Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City,” also produced by Mike Chapman, specialist in the sanitation of outre trends who would score a hefty payday overseeing Blondie’s post-CBGB rehab. After Anne Murray’s somnolent “You Needed Me” followed it to the top, perhaps veteran chart worker assumed the Gibb brothers’ death grip had loosened. Wrong. Donna Summer got her first #1 with “MacArthur Park,” Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond regretted that no one sent flowers despite not being in the same city, and, at last, Chic released the biggest selling single in Atlantic Records’ history teaching the world how to freak out.
If “Kiss You All Over” represented the best of the resistance, then the revelers at The Anvil could continue the tootin’. After a wordless intro that lasts as long as the line outside Studio 54, followed by the mournful peal of a string synth, Jimmy Stokley unbuttons his shirt, shows off his medallion, and starts to huff. He’s got poetry to share: “You’re not just another lover/Every time you’re with me, baby, I can’t believe it’s true.” Meanwhile the synth strings get mixed higher while Stokely and co-vocalist J.P. Pennington stay low and the drums keep a metronomic beat that in three years later I can imagine Val Garay or some other L.A. hep cat replacing with a machine.
I suspect these eerie electronic touches wowed audiences in 1978, like they did a couple years earlier when the watery tape manipulations of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” served as accompaniment to the fumbling of teens in parked cars. And there’s hints — faint, no doubt — of what Queen did with “Another One Bites the Dust. These filigrees coded as “disco” too. By the end of the decade many country crossover acts flirted with electronics (Rosanne Cash and “Seven Year Ache”) or reconfigured songs with electronic foundations: think Conway Titty’s smash cover of Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand.” But Stokley’s performance is more slobber than savor; here’s another example of a performance equivalent to the image above. Easy on, easy off, quick as a flick of her tongue…you’re a walking turn-on. And the track boasts as much friction as butter-covered margarine. Give Exile this: they make Dr. Hook sound like Cluster.
Like many of these sincere gross-outs, the follow-ups weren’t easy to come by. “You Thrill Me” stopped cold at #40, but country radio was ready for beards and love. In the mid-eighties Exile scored seven-that’s-right-seven #1 singles on the country singles chart; their last of ten was 1987’s “I Can’t Get Close Enough.” Look at those titles — at least the dudes didn’t lack for consistency.