Wednesday, August 04, 2010

8/4/10 - Songs of the Summer, #39-40: "Shadow Dancing" and "Hot Stuff"

The Master List

Top Song of 1978: "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb


One very interesting aspect of the rock-to-disco transition at the top of the summer pop charts is the increasing fluidity of masculine sexuality from the singers. Elvis was all primal sexuality, his quivering baritone a direct carnal plea. Gradually, different aspects of male sexuality emerged, from Brian Hyland and Mick Jagger's smirky leering to the itchy plea for rapture of Bobby Lewis to the leonine caveman primitivism of the Troggs and the Guess Who.

All of these are clearly and identifiably male; different aspects and expressions of dudes' desires for women. As we move into the disco era, however, a certain gender fluidity begins to creep in. So, in "Shadow Dancing", you hear the first instance on the summer #1s of the kind of androgynous vocal styling that Prince and Michael Jackson would later perfect in the '80s; a kind of polysexual expression of desire that can read as both/either male/female.

Which is all an elaborate way of saying that Andy Gibb and the rest of the Brothers Gibb absolutely destroy on this song. The Bee Gees are fantastic vocal stylists, and their harmonized falsettos are both unmistakable and slightly otherworldly. Based on the evidence of the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees, it can really help to harmonize with siblings; maybe there's something about the simpatico nature of the voices that help them blend even more effectively. But Andy's lead does bear special mention, as he brings a high, breathy delivery to the song that reads as much more female than the singing in any earlier summer #1s (by male singers). Listen to the way he sings the first line, the "You got me looking at that heaven in your eyes/I was chasing your direction/I was telling you no lies". Vocally, it uses an old trope - the male chasing the female, unable to resist his desire for her. But musically, Gibb sounds vulnerable and fluttery, deploying vibrato and singing in the upper part of his range in a way that makes it sound as though he's the object of desire. When his brothers come in with their unmistakable high falsetto backing vocals, the gender dynamics collapse further. Michael Jackson would follow this road down the rabbit hole, but the Bee Gees were there a full decade earlier.


Maybe it's disco Stockholm Syndrome, maybe it's just the fact that both songs on this entry are fantastic songs, but I'm kind of sad that there will only be one more disco entry before the schizo '80s hits arrive. "Hot Stuff" shows another potential branch on disco's evolutionary tree; it amps up the intensity and mechanical aggression that lies beneath the surface of disco's sonic characteristics.

For one thing, it's a pretty fast song, comparatively, giving it a certain breathless quality that dovetails nicely with the raw desire of the lyrics. Second, the guitar/horn/synth power chord "thing" that opens the song before the funk guitar and melodic synth line kick in lays down a wall of sound that makes the song sound large and imposing before it even gets started. Third, the guitar solo halfway through the song also presages '80s pop metal both sonically and melodically, continuing the motif of aggression laid out earlier in the song.

Plus, Donna Summer really sings the hell out of the song. "Hot Stuff", vocally, is like the photo negative of "Shadow Dancing"; lyrically, it's an expression of need, but the way Summer sings it makes it sound like she's out on prowl, actualizing her desire. The fluidity of sexuality is made explicit, also, in the second verse, where she declares that she'll sleep with a woman or white man if that's what it takes.

EDIT: Whoa boy, did I mishear some lyrics. Scratch that. "wild man." Not quite as subversive. (Good looking out, A)

And, as a metaphor, "Hot Stuff" is about as subtle as Warrant's "Cherry Pie".

1 comment:

ariyele said...

um, on hot stuff, i think you are mishearing some lyrics my dear.
i don't get any mention of a woman---and i think when you hear "white man" ol'girl is actually saying "wild man." check it out. and if so, make some corrections; stat!