American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/28/80: Rupert Holmes, “Answering Machine”

Funds for music purchases in the first half of my teen years were pretty limited, mostly derived from a weekly allowance, and perhaps the occasional odd job for a neighbor or my grandparents. I was 16 in the spring of 1980, able to drive, but real, though only passing, gainful employment was still a few months away. Whether by design or accident, vinyl for me then tended to come in the 7″ variety–there was definitely higher confidence one was getting something one really liked that way. I think I had maybe just a half-dozen LPs at the time.

I’d been a regular consumer of Dad’s Stereo Review magazines for about two years. Accurate or not, it seemed that Best of the Month and Recordings of Special Merit selections all too frequently were by artists I wasn’t hearing on the radio stations I tuned to. My money was too precious for leaps of faith. But in the April 1980 issue, one highlighted review caught my eye.

Over the previous few months, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” and “Him” had both impressed me reasonably, enough to at least entertain the thought of buying Holmes’s album. While I’m sure I didn’t pay attention that the reviewer was not from SR‘s regular stable, Partners in Crime did become the first LP I purchased due to a thumbs-up in Stereo Review (but far from the last, which was probably Suzanne Vega, more than six years later).

On the whole, I recall being a little disappointed after getting PiC home. Mitz notes ‘sparse production,’ and he’s right–the first two singles were a little more fleshed out, less sterile than most of the other tracks. The relatively naïve and sheltered me was taken aback at first at the kinky inclinations noted in the title song, and the rampant horniness of all the characters in “Lunch Hour” (which I liked a lot, nonetheless). Still, I listened to–and enjoyed–it enough to have songs like “Nearsighted,” “The People That You Never Get To Love,” and “Get Outta Yourself” stick in my head over the years.

The real discovery, though, was song two on side two, the one that soon became the LP’s third single. A clever, if slight, tale about the shortcomings of modern technology, “Answering Machine” made me glad in the end I’d bought the album. While I had to have known about such marvels by the summer of 1980, I’m thinking my parents didn’t get an answering machine until they moved to Florence a few years later. I didn’t have any reason to own one until I began apartment life after my first year of grad school, in 1987.

Wife and son got a kick out of listening to me sing along with Rupert this past Saturday afternoon, the tune sitting at its peak of #32. Afterward, Ben noted that Holmes’s “I’m so sorry” begins with the same intervals that Hall and Oates later used to spell out the title of “Method of Modern Love.” The kid’s got an ear for 80s music…

Did you ever notice, though, that the entire unfortunate situation would have been avoided had both parties realized that their machines gave callers just twenty seconds of message time?

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