Sometimes while driving I'll completely give up on new music and switch to the oldies station. There's much to be said about the craftsmanship of old hit radio songs, even if you're sick of them, or haven't let them permeate your consciousness for a couple of decades.
At some point, a song will come on that I haven't heard since I was a child and all kinds of wheels and gears will turn in my brain, forming a number of random opinions, having nothing to do with whether the song is "good," "bad" or even if I like it. I'm glad I have this ability to think about music in terms of how it's put together and what it "means" in terms of musical expression. It's only since I reached my 40s that I'm able to form any kind of intelligent opinion about music at all (sorry, anyone who read my music reviews of the early 80s--it was all instinct and gut emotion on my part). I don't know if it's because some part of my brain just woke up one day not too long ago, or it's a combination of my years of music listening and playing coagulating into one big thought-process brew. Heady.
Anyway, the 70s kicked ass for radio hits. The era also produced some really regrettable embarrassments, but if any of the following songs come on while I'm driving around—they will stay on 'til we reach the end, even if I have to sit in a parking lot, listening for another minute or so. They all share some excellent production values, intense emotional feelings, and weird dynamics that have everything to do with the 70s, yet have outlasted that era on a some mysterious musical level.
Walter Egan - Magnet and Steel, 1978. Egan and Stevie Nicks had an intimate relationship around this time and he wrote this song with her in mind. That's her singing backup although the video features a stand-in lip-sync'er. Because I finally own a car with decent speakers I noticed for the first time today that there's a toy piano plinking away under the chorus. Egan claims producer Lindsey Buckingham was most likely behind the piano, which was a SchoenHut toy piano played by Steven Hague, who went on to produce Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, The Pet Shop Boys, Jane Wiedlin and Dusty Springfield. The Internet: font of knowledge.
Pretend you're me, sitting in a car, listening to this and thinking, is that a toy piano...? Is Buckingham undermining the emotions experienced by his former girlfriend and her new singer/songwriter boyfriend, with a plinky little toy? Probably.
Sniff'n'the Tears - Driver's Seat, 1978. One hit only for this British band, but people love this song for its fresh sound, predating new wave. The reverb on lead vocals is well-used, as is the queer little synthesizer flourishes throughout (I use "queer" as a synonym for "odd." Why didn't I just use "odd?" Sometimes only the word "queer" will do).
Gary Wright - Love is Alive, 1976. Sure it is. The genius behind Dream Weaver could not hope to recreate his radio hits in a live show, but this live clip is awesome nonetheless. Hand-held synthesizers and a cowbell-playing backup singer wearing a silk wrap will always work for me on some entertainment level. Studio version is below. His soul's like a wheel that's turning because his love is alive. Believe it.