Monday, October 26, 2009


"I'm All Out of Love" / Air Supply

Frankly, I don't know if I can cover this all in just one week...but I've been beseiged lately by screeching echoes of the 1980s, quite possibly the worst decade in the history of pop music. I'm not just talking disco (hey, I liked the Pointer Sisters and Donna Summer), the goofy excesses of New Wave and power pop, or even heavy metal (which, as you may well guess, I am constitutionally incapable of listening to). No, the stuff that's been haunting me is the truly awful Top-40 radio hits of the era, with MTV serving as an accessory to the crime. . . .

Surely no band in the 1980s did more to lower the quality of mainstream pop than Air Supply. The term "soft rock" had to be invented to explain what this duo -- English singer/guitarist Graham Russell and Australian singer Russell Hitchcock -- were doing to the noble art of the pop song. Well, okay, the Bee Gees had already pointed that bus downhill (remember "How Deep Is Your Love"?) but Air Supply took off the parking brake and stomped on the accelerator.

This hit single came out in 1980, starting the decade with an anguished whimper. It came from their megahit LP Lost in Love, which also gave the world the unforgettable (and oh how I've tried to forget it) "Every Woman in the World." Two years later they would assault the airwaves again with "Even the Nights Are Better," and would top even these abominations in 1985 with the excruciating "Power of Love (You Are My Lady)."

The Air Supply formula was simple: Take two saccharine tenor voices; have them wail in close harmony about passionate love, using only superlatives and ultimatums; load up the tracks with bombastic strings and whaling percussion; and whip it all up in a sea of doubled vocals and reverb. Got a chorus? Repeat it at least four times, building the volume and the frenzy each time.

Unlike most of their big hits, "All Out Of Love" is a break-up song, which just meant that the singers could wail a little more miserably. The story, however, is pretty vague -- at first it just seems like he's away on a trip ("I'm lying alone with my head on the phone [OUCH!] / Thinking of you till it hurts"), but in the chorus, it seems that they've totally split up: "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you / I know you were right, believing for so long / I'm all out of love, what am I without you / I can't be too late to say that I was so wrong." Hmmm. So she was the one who held it together, he was a schmuck, and now he's trying to get her back.

In the second verse, however, he's pleading with her to come carry him home (from where? why can't he carry his own self home?). So perhaps they're just on a self-imposed "break." (Why does that term always make me think of Ross and Rachel from Friends?). "What would you say if I called on you now," he wheedles, "and said that I can't hold on?" The self pity is almost unbearable. And then there's that odd bridge, where he whimpers over and over, "What are you thinking of?" I just don't get what that has to do with anything.

Well, it wouldn't be the first pop song with a muddled story line. But that seems like an awful cheat, given the overblown emotion of that pompous production. After all, it was the 80s, the era of big hair, wide lapels, shoulder pads, and platform shoes; no wonder pop music also became a grandiose cartoon of itself. The sad thing is, I feel as if this era sucked love dry of all genuine romance, leaving pop music with only two modes: crude sex (hip hop) and neurosis (indie pop). What a shame.


Mel said...

Im 20 and to be honest my favourite music era is the late sixties. i know someone who is older but thinks the eighties is better, to be honest I do not get that. Please post lots of stuff on the Kinks too!

Holly A Hughes said...

To be honest, I don't get that either. The late sixties are my era too, and the Kinks...I have to restrain myself from making this entire blog about the Kinks!

I am trying to be very reasonable and fair by giving the 1980s their due. I have to admit that this was the decade that virtually killed my interest in pop music. (Even the Kinks went seriously downhill in the 80s, IMO.) But now I'm staring the demon in the face and writing about the tackiest of all the 80s music. Will I emerge from the other side unscathed?

wwolfe said...

One sad thing about records like this is that they were the worst kind of cheapening of what Phil Spector did with the Righteous Brothers on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Take all the most obvious aspects of the Wall of Sound, and Mann/Weil's songwriting, and debase it all to the nth degree. It sold, but thankfully it didn't last. Not that this song's permanent address in the dustbin of history makes my memory of it any less painful.

Carabella said...

ewwwww, the worst non passion non music stuff ever...breathing their supply of H20 could likely do in my musical soul. Sometimes I just have to flee the musak in the stores, a quivering wreck, fighting off nausea.