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.
Ace – “How Long”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #3 in May 1975
A musical bounty hunter contracted to add soul to pabulum, singer-keyboardist spent the seventies and eighties doing whatever was necessary. He sang Squeeze’s “Tempted,” joined Mike + the Mechanics and sang “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” and “The Living Years,” the latter coming soon to an #LMFAO post near you. Out of nowhere the solo “Don’t Shed a Tear” hit the top ten in 1988. He co-wrote the Eagles’ “Love Will Keep Us Alive.” For a number of years Carrack lived well dependent on the record industry machine and publishing for royalties. I suspect “How Long” helps him pay for the Upper East Side loft. As catchy as mono, “How Long” encapsulates so many attitudes about how men in the stagflation era regarded monogamy that I regret Erica Jong and Ellen Wills wrote no responses.
Nine-tenths of songs are fever dreams about infidelity, explaining the infidelity, decrying the infidelity; what distinguished the male 1970s material when it blew up pop was a timid raising of the white flag before the battle had been joined, or, rather, the men assumed the battle was lost, hence the etiolated musical settings. After a promising start dependent on a two-note bass run, the damn Fender Rhodes enters — the bane of the seventies, in any man’s hands not Bryan Ferry’s a signifier of introspection; something about the dusky tones even when the player tapped the high notes suggested a burrowing, a withdrawal. Carrack luckily is the best part of “How Long”: its writer mitigates the cumulative impact of its passive aggressive mush by bending a note here, hurrying through a phrase there. But its mildewed hurt defeats him; “How Long” can’t stop sounding like a song written by a teenager, a lucky teenager. Gold diggers, you can’t beat’em. Just once I’d like to hear a song about a man with money who loses the girl to a pauper: imagine Pretty in Pink‘s Blane losing Andie to Duckie if he were straight, or to Annie Potts’ Iona if she swung that way.
Yet “How Long” also limns a idea of adulthood that in 1975 was still a commodity on the charts, pop and country and R&B and otherwise. Although Carrack has claimed it’s about moonlighting band members, no one outside Ace heard “How Long” as anything but a cuckold’s lament. By the time he sang “Tempted” a half decade later he demonstrated that he had the kind of imagination inseparable from empathy and curiosity: he played the cheater, running through Chris Difford’s grocery list of details: toothbrush, pajamas, shoes, a reflection in a mirror darkly. Missing from the list: the boring guitar solo in “How Long.”