The idea of being super started to take over by the late 70s. It was not just for comic book heroes, expanded grocery stores or the Concorde. It was one thing to be successful but to be considered a superstar raised you to another strata few had ever been. Whatever feelings of invincibility one felt they were just as soon matched with time pressures, fan burdens, company managers and egos so out of control that by the end of the decade, a lot of these groups crashed and burned or at the very least didn’t want to be around each other anymore.
By 1980, The Eagles, Steely Dan, and the Doobie Brothers put out their last recorded output for a while as some of the members of those bands decided to explore other musical avenues. (Fleetwood Mac needed a similar break, and after recharging the batteries they would get back together from time to time.)
Luckily for us fans we ended up with more music than before. The Eagles would get back together 14 years later with Hell Freezes Over. The Doobie Brothers would only need 9 years until Cycles, but Michael McDonald never rejoined the band. And even though Steely Dan started touring again in the mid-90s after a multi decade drought of concerts, it would be a solid 20 years for their next album, Two Against Nature, which won a Grammy for Album of The Year. Good things come to those who wait….
Here’s a montage of 1980s West Coast solo acts spawned from popular 70s bands:
The first single from Toto’s second album, Hydra, in 1979, was the band’s second Top 40 hit when it peaked at #26 in early 1980. Written by David Paich, this soft yet funky keyboard-driven jam featured lead vocals by Steve Lukather and a very jazzy solo on the outro by him.
Many have wondered what the title refers to. Rumors abounded that someone in the band had been dating Barbara Feldon – Agent 99 on Get Smart – and it was written about her. That turned out to be not true. [Coincidentally, Barbara Feldon released a 45 in 1966 called 99.] Some say that 99 is about a girl who’s almost perfect but is not quite 100. Again, false. And it’s not about Wayne Gretzky either. Or the number of beer bottles on the wall.
David Paich actually wrote the song as a tribute to George Lucas’ first film, THX-1138. This film takes place many centuries in the future where people live in a totalitarian state and are referred to by a number. Thus it’s a fantasy love song to an imagined someone in that world with the number 99. Why 99? It probably just sounds right. (Two more Top 40 songs in the 1980s would have 99 in the title – Prince’s 1999 and Nena’s 99Luftballons.)
Toto didn’t play the song live for many years, mainly because Luke didn’t like it much. As it peaked in the Winter of 79-80, I personally enjoyed hearing it on the radio. When I heard it come through the car speakers, I felt the music breathe a fantasy world into my head while I stared out through frosted windows at the cold, dreary skies and leafless trees.
The song’s video reflects the film that inspired it by everyone wearing white jumpsuits with the lens a tinge out of focus. I think most videos back then were made for $20 and took 30 minutes to film. Check it out for yourself:
I don’t know. But one thing that has lasted a very long time is the career of Michael McDonald. Since his early days with Del-Rays, Michael has been entertaining folks for almost 50 years. So let’s celebrate the birthday of one of our true national treasures with a deep cut from his first solo LP in 1982, If That’s What It Takes:
And here’s Michael and Kenny singing a big hit they wrote together: