396. ‘If You Leave Me Now’, by Chicago

The term ‘soft rock’ is one that makes me squirm. It’s not my favourite genre – I like my rock to, well, rock (*devil horns emoji*) – and soft rock can feel like rock ‘n’ roll with all the fun stripped away. But, as the late seventies loom, it is a genre we may have to get used at the top of the charts.

If You Leave Me Now, by Chicago (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 7th – 28th November 1976

Anyway, I say that soft rock is ‘often’ no fun – dull, earnest and very vanilla – but not ‘always’. For sometimes there are soft rock hits like this one. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is a record that makes you feel as if you are being dipped in a vat of warm, melted chocolate. It is a big hug of a song, possibly the ultimate last-dance-of-the-night disc.

If you leave me now, You’ll take away the biggest part of me… the singer croons, but not in a Bing Crosby way. A creamier, more modern style of crooning. Then, prepare your falsettos: Ooh-ooh-ooh no, Baby please don’t go… There are soft horns, and strings, and a guitar being gently plucked.

The singer is pleading with his lover, not to be rash, or hasty. Not to do what they’ll regret in the morning. A love like ours is love that’s hard to find… How could we let it slip away…? He’s trying to lull his partner into staying, by stupefying her with this impossibly gentle, lush music. It’s a lullaby, really, for want of a better description.

Which means I shouldn’t be enjoying this song, not really. I should find it slow, and dull. But, while it hasn’t made me a fully converted soft-rock, MOR fan; you can’t deny a record this well-made and performed. What makes it even more impressive, is that with this type of music it is so easy to overdo the schmaltz (think Engelbert doing his worst on ‘Release Me’, or even Pussycat laying the cheese on a bit thick in the previous #1). Chicago pitch it just right, and create a classic of the genre.

I’m sure I recall an advert from ten/fifteen years back, in which an animated cherry lip-synced to this song. Or I may have dreamt it, and urgently need said dream analysed by a professional. If the advert does exist, then it’s a sign of how ‘If You Leave Me Now’ has softly slipped ‘tween the sheets of our shared consciousness. I’d bet most people could sing along to the chorus on this one, and I’d also wager it’s still on heavy-rotation on Magic and Smooth FM. It’s been covered by our friends Brotherhood of Man, the Isley Brothers, and Boyz II Men, twice.

Chicago were – are – from Chicago, Illinois. I love the confidence of that: screw it, we’ll just name ourselves after our hometown, which just happens to be the 3rd biggest city in the country. I know very little about them, other than that their albums are almost all titled as numbers (this was off ‘Chicago X’, their tenth album). As of 2018, they are a ten-piece with three original members still hanging on in there, on album XXXVII.

To finish, I’d like to note the fun coincidence of having a song named after a US state knocked off top spot by a band named after a US city. How cool’s that? That’s the sort of analysis you won’t be getting anywhere else. Onwards…

395. ‘Mississippi’, by Pussycat

Following on from ‘Dancing Queen’ is a daunting task, but someone had to do it. In the autumn of 1976, that task fell to Pussycat, and their sole #1 record, ‘Mississippi’.

Mississippi, by Pussycat (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 10th October – 7th November 1976

It’s a gentle intro, a slice of soft country rock, that puts me in mind of the Eagles at their blandest, or Matthews Southern Comfort’s ‘Woodstock’ from earlier in the decade. In the past year or so, country and western has become something of an established presence at the top of the charts, from Tammy Wynette to J.J. Barrie to this…

But when the vocals come in, we move from country to schmaltzy. Well you can hear a country song from far, When someone plays a honky-tonk guitar… It’s a tribute to country music, an ode to the genre, and a love-letter to the USA’s most famous river. Mississippi, I remember you… Whenever I should go away, I’ll be longing for the day…

It’s the sort of song that you start to forget before it’s even finished. It’s very gentle, a pleasant enough stroll down the middle of the road, but it’s a bit dull. It makes you yearn for ABBA… But that’s not fair. We can’t go comparing songs to what went before! It is too long, though. I’ll state that with conviction. Times were four and a half minutes was record-breaking; now it seems to be the standard.

By the end, the band are bemoaning the fact that rock ‘n’ roll took over from C&W. The country song forever lost its soul, When the guitar player turned to rock and roll… Except, that’s patently not true. Rock ‘n’ roll was born from country (and jazz and the blues) – rock ‘n’ roll is country – plus here we are, with a country song at number one… So it can’t be that dead. We flutter to a finish, and I remain underwhelmed.

Pussycat were a Dutch band – which perhaps explains the schlager-heavy feel that this record has (they also, perhaps inevitably, recorded a version in German.) They were a seven piece, with what looks like three girls and four boys… (To be fair, they all have long hair and frills in the pictures I can find!) The best way I can describe them is like looking at a picture of ABBA after you’ve had a blow to the head. Still, they officially make 1976 the year of the mixed-gender pop group, after Brotherhood of Man and our aforementioned Swedes.

‘Mississippi’ was written by the band with the Bee Gees ‘Massachusetts’ in mind, and you can really hear the influence. Plus, it gives us our second #1 single named after a US State (and I’m happy to hear suggestions of others to come/that I’ve missed). They scored one more minor hit in the UK following this, but remained big in the Netherlands well into the ‘80s.

To finish, I think I have to crown ‘Pussycat’ as the worst band name to feature on this blog. It’s just… a ‘no’ from me. And Spotify seems to agree, as they have erroneously grouped this group’s back-catalogue with a trip-hop group of the same name, who’s last album was titled ‘Sexy Bondage Domination’…