Author Archives: humanizingthevacuum

Ranking the #1 adult contemporary hits of 1981

To reward ABBA for having the best adult contemporary hit in 1981 is like rewarding Reagan for running the best Republican campaign. Tight, inexorable, nuanced, “The Winner Takes It All” defines “adult.” And Dolly Parton, who knows something about tight, nuanced, and inexorable, realized the surest way to score points on serious economic travails is to compose and sing a funny song about it.

The rest of this list adjusts to post-disco environs. Two years ago I dismissed “All Those Years Ago” as one of the worst songs ever. The chirp of the synthesized arrangement — like period public television bumpers — and the awkwardness with which George Harrison the singer fits George Harrison the lyricist to the arrangement still chills me; but in this company “All Those Years Ago” is a Buzzcocks number. “Smokey Mountain Rain” is fine, but I’ll take “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World,” the following year’s “Any Day Now” and especially 1983’s “Stranger in My House,” which shows Ronnie Milsap has a temper if you cuckold him. But I love the backup singers on Neil Diamond’s supermarket favorite “Yesterday’s Songs.” Continue reading

Ways of seeing: ‘Varda by Agnès’ honors breadth of great filmmaker

By the time of her death of cancer at ninety, Agnès Varda had become among cinephiles a Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Betty White: a touchstone beloved for her accomplishments, which were formidable, as much as for keeping up with a new generation of film audiences. 2017’s Oscar-nominated Faces Places signaled her new cultural ascendancy. But her genuine interest in the young — mentoring and listening — fueled several examples of her most lasting work. In Varda by Agnès, these audiences can appreciate Varda as a polymath: a muralist, installation artist, photographer. Her last completed film does what a good documentary should: send you racing out of the theater to stream what you missed. Continue reading

Ranking the #1 adult contemporary hits of 1979-1980

It took a while, but Barbra Streisand gave a pop performance worthy of her considerable prowess. Patient, menacing, “Woman in Love” is the ubermensch of performances: it builds inexorably to a deserved climax; I can imagine Bryan Ferry having a hit with it. Disco backlash? Sure. Yet Barry Gibb in fluffy hair, unbuttoned shirt, and white blouse appeared on Streisand’s best-selling pop album. I had to combine two years because 1979 was such slim pickings, and “Woman in Love” flattens the competition. As usual with a Gibb composition, though, I wouldn’t pay attention to a through-line in the lyrics; to parse meaning line by line is like taking T.S.Eliot’s footnotes for The Waste Land seriously.

The rest of the bunch is content to raise their hands and behave. “Lite disco studio pop with hippy frills” describes Nicolette Larson’s billowy curtain cover of Neil Young’s ditty. She doesn’t sing with nuance or even much charm, but it’s catchy and, well, how about the flute solo?! Here’s one I forgot: Teri DeSario with K.C.’s cover of “Yes, I’m Ready.” Here’s one I knew not a bar: Tommy James’ “Three Times in Love,” yet another strummy Carter-era ode to loving a sixteen-year-old girl in a way that’ll get you in prison.

The sickly “Little Jeannie” and its defenders baffle me.

The Hague

Maxine Nightingale – Lead Me On
Dan Fogelberg – Longer
Orsa Lia – I Never Said I Love You
Kenny Rogers – Lady
Barry Manilow – When I Wanted You
Spyro Gyra – Morning Dance
Leo Sayer – More Than Words Can Say


Air Supply – Lost in Love”
Elton John – Mama Can’t Buy You Love
Kenny Rogers – She Believes in Me
Elton John – Little Jeannie
Teri DeSario with K.C. – Yes, I’m Ready
Chuck Mangione – Give It All You Got
Poco – Crazy Love
Christopher Cross – Never Be the Same
Anne Murray – I Just Fall in Love Again
Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
Dionne Warwick – No Night So Long
Anne Murray – Daydream Believer

Sound, Solid

England Dan & John Ford Coley – Love Is the Answer
John David Souther – You’re Only Lonely
Herb Alpert – Rise
Pure Prairie League – Let Me Love You Tonight
Anne Murray – Shadows in the Moonlight
Bette Midler – The Rose
Nicolette Larson – Lotta Love
Randy VanWarmer – Just When I Needed You Most

Good to Great

Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love
Dionne Warwick – Déjà Vu
Olivia Newton-John – Magic
Billy Joel – Don’t Ask Me Why

Singles 2/21

The dullest week of 2020 could only muster a middling endorsement of Waxahatchee. Lil Wayne’s best album in years has more idiosyncratic material. Billie Eilish singing and co-writing a James Bond theme represents a clash of sensibilities that doesn’t generate the necessary frisson. And son on.

Click on links for full reviews. Continue reading

Bernie Sanders wins Nevada caucus


Sanders’s advantage in Nevada was overwhelming, with substantial leads in nearly every demographic group, allowing him to set down a marker in the first state with a significant share of nonwhite voters. Sanders expanded the electorate by attracting relatively large numbers of first-time caucus-goers, providing momentum as the race shifts into a critical stretch over the next 10 days.

He prevailed among those with college degrees and those without; those living in union and nonunion households; and in every age group except those over 65. He won more than half of Hispanic caucus-goers — almost four times as much support as his nearest rival, former vice president Joe Biden — and even narrowly prevailed among those who identified as moderate or conservative. Despite attacks on his health proposal by the powerful Culinary Union, he won in caucus sites filled with union members.

One state, of course, and using the blighted caucus system, but I cannot deny the magnitude of the victory. Even moderate Hispanic Dems voted for Sanders. Continue reading

The best of Powell and Pressburger

Creating films whose sensibilities and textures suggested Kenneth Grahame directed by Fritz Lang, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as The Archers dominated British cinema in the period before and after World War II. They tested their fealty to an idea of Englishness with dollies, Expressionistic angles, and florid dialogue; they encouraged fulsome performances from their casts. I have to pump myself to watch a Powell-Pressburger; although the films reward (and then some) constant viewing, their tonalities, as I wrote, can alienate like good Brecht. Consequently, The Red Shoes doesn’t excite me much, nor the beloved kids film The Thief of Baghdad (or is it?). Give me I Know Where I’m Going!, with career-best work by Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey flirting in the Hebrides.

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