Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Don't Say That You Love Me!": The Strangest, Greatest Top 10 Hit Ever?

How does a three-man, two-woman band follow-up a smash musical soap opera that produces four Top 10 hits and becomes one of the biggest hits of the decade? If the group is Fleetwood Mac (whose 1977 magnum opus Rumours is one of the 10 best-selling albums of any decade), it goes sort of bat-shit crazy.

With "Tusk," the title track and first single from its 1979 follow-up, FM continued its Top 10 streak (which would stop at six, with "Sara," Tusk's seond single) by pulling out the salad bowl and tossing in tribal beats, spooky multi-layered whisper-to-a-scream vocals, cryptic lyrics about romantic jealousy, and, naturally, horns, courtesy of the University of Southern California's Trojan Marching Band. It not only reached No. 8 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart; it also helped land the group on the cover of People magazine.

Sure oddities had made it into the Top 10 before, and plenty more would go on to get there. (Among the more recent entries: Britney Spears' "Gimme More" -- Who else could follow-up the most ridiculed "live" TV performance ever with a No. 3 single?; and anything by Busta Rhymes -- No other rapper this side of Eminem merges hardcore hip hop and hip-hop humor so confidently, singularly and, frequently, strangely.) And there have been even more Top 10 hits that are so terrible they make us wonder, "Why? How?" -- regardless of their adherence to mainstream pop songcraft. (Discuss amongst yourselves!)

At the height of discomania, the unique beat of "Tusk" (provided, in part, by a marching band, for God's sake!), which, shockingly, has never been co-opted by contemporary DJs or by rappers as a sample, went completely against the prevailing sound of the time -- or really, of any time. And that's the great beauty of the odd-yet-compelling song: Its strangeness should have kept it out of the Top 10 but probably ended up sending it there instead.


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