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.
Peter Cetera – “Glory of Love”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in August 1986
In The Karate Kid Part II, Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) fights jet lag, puberty, and a fearsome Okinawan opponent in what looked like an hibache joint within Mount Fuji yet Peter Cetera sings the theme song. Such exertions called for, say, Lemmy Motörhead, John Lydon, Prince, or Peter Murphy. But Cetera wasn’t wearing his Bauhaus T-shirt, the source of his superpower, in the studio when recording “Glory of Love.”
Appearing at the dawn of the Me Decade as a sprawling fusion collective whose albums revisionists haven’t yet turned into forgotten Earth, Wind & Fire masterpieces, Chicago had a pop instinct that it tried to shoo away, as if to avoid a contact high. Then bassist Peter Cetera had other ideas—softer ones. The band scored its first #1 with the MOR evergreen “If You Leave Me Now,” a song that coaxes out hatred in my readers like few do; every time I’ve opened the suggestions box “If You Leave Me Now” flattens the competition 2 to 1.
Why it does I’m not sure. Thanks to well-placed brass punctuation and a lilt that I might say fuck it and call winsome, “If You Leave Me Now” had no problem settling comfortably amid Ambrosia, the Doobie Brothers, and Carly Simon. A bloodless coup ensued. Cetera and producer David Foster, the latter pretending like Boz Scaggs was a bad trip, co-wrote “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration” and a series of faster non-entities that someone played. Seduced by the lure of milk-white solo stardom, Cetera left the group he had done so much to disembowel, although with “Look Away” and “I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love” guitarist Bill Champlin was ready to do his part in turning the remaining organs into a paste; and replacement bassist Jason Scheff with “Will You Still Love Me?” and “What Kind of Man Would I Be?”
1986 was good to Peter Cetera—the decade’s second most schizoid pop year after 1984. “West End Girls,” “Kiss,” “Rock Me Amadeus,” “Addicted to Love,” and “Live to Tell” hit #1 in the same quarter! Sandwiched between Peter Gabriel’s humpin’ around pseudo-Stax “Sledgehammer” and Madonna’s fucking-with-Tipper-Gore anthem “Papa Don’t Preach” in the late summer was “Glory of Love,” pledging its troth to the kind of courtly love that Ronald Reagan might have approved. When Cetera sings, “I am a man. Who will fight. For your ho-nah,” he doesn’t sound like Galahad—he sounds like George Schultz. No one on earth could believe he could pick up the sword without putting out his back. The spongy synth string presets offer no resistance, no tension, no presence.
But the High Reagan year 1986 was like that: Ric Ocasek, that known romantic fool, appeared in the video for “Emotion in Motion” with magic horses, princesses, and pools that steam. If the most desiccated of new wave avatars could debase himself thusly, what hope had we for Cetera? And he wasn’t done yet. Secular America met Amy Grant when she joined him for the winter #1 “Next Time I Fall in Love,” then egged her on as she surpassed him in pathos and craft several years later with 1991’s magnificent Heart in Motion. Now there was a woman who would fight for your ho-nah.