Cultural Consumption: 1/18/24

Time to get Crackin'

Cultural Consumption: 1/18/24
Not-quite recreation of a Very Strange Album Cover

Busy times at the day job right now, friends — the sky is dark as I write this and dinner approaches, so please forgive me if this ends up being shorter than the usual daily post. I'll also be traveling for work next week, so Cultural Consumption may be published later than normal (and be more scattered besides). On the other hand, what the hell, maybe you won't even notice a difference.

On to the subject at hand, which is the album Special Touch, released in 1978 by the band Crackin'. Crackin' what, you ask? Well, I'm not sure, to be honest with you. Crackin' at the blurry line between funk, soul, and smooth, yachty pop, I guess? Even if that wasn't what they were after, it's what they did — and while I suspect this album, the band's third, probably isn't considered their best, they were definitely crackin' here.

I admittedly don't know a ton about Crackin'. If I'm remembering right, I encountered their work through the annual Twitter (fuck X) exercise known as MWE, short for Music Writing Exercise. The brainchild of writer Gary Suarez, it runs (or ran?) throughout February; the challenge is to listen to one album that's new to you every day in February, and then tweet about it. I took part a couple of times during the depth of my "I no longer feel like a music writer" years, and aside from being a great exercise, it's a fantastic opportunity — if you keep track of the MWE hashtag, you'll definitely be exposed to a long list of artists and albums you've never heard of. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the first Crackin' record (1975's descriptively titled Crackin') was my entry point, and the band's been on my "ones to check out" list ever since.

By the time Crackin' got around to Special Touch, they'd made their way from their original Bay Area stomping grounds to Los Angeles, and hooked up with producer Michael Omartian along the way. If, like me, you're a deeply dorky student of this stuff, you'll know that in 1978, Omartian was standing at the crossroads between his early years as a Hall & Oates sideman and his future working the boards for multiplatinum acts like Christopher Cross and Peter Cetera. Although Omartian would eventually become sort of a poor man's David Foster, it's well worth noting that unlike Foster, Omartian wasn't ever really a guy who'd truly impose his own aesthetic on an act; instead, he was a producer who was fairly adept when it came to sussing out prevailing trends and tailoring his records to match.

Special Touch is a fine example. I have no idea what Crackin' sounded like as a live act, but based on this album, I can only assume they could have been easily slotted in with any of the kinda R&B, kinda rock, kinda adult contemporary acts that floated across various radio formats in the late '70s and early '80s. They could have been Champaign, or they could have been Orleans. They were definitely decidedly easy to listen to here, with the notable exception of the jailbait ode "Too Young," which includes the deeply ill-advised chorus "Too young to care, too old to dare / Too young to share, too old, no fair" as well as the skin-crawling couplet "I noticed how Polanski fell / Your anatomy is so heavenly."

What are you looking at? I didn't write this stuff. Moving on. That one pervy song aside, this is tastefully funky stuff, with the emphasis on tasteful. Put this record on repeat throughout the day and you'll be sent on an audio odyssey that includes everything from roller rink-worthy numbers like "Double Love" to Kool & the Gang-adjacent shit like the slap bass-infused, stankface-inducing "I Can't Wait Forever" and bearskin rug sexytime ballads like "On the Wing." After listening to "Too Young," I don't really want to think about what they meant by Special Touch, but I'm not gonna lie — I've listened to this album at least half a dozen times today, and I kinda love it.

Watching: Moonlighting S5 E10, "When Girls Collide," which begins with a Demi Moore cameo set to the strains of Roxy Music's "Avalon" and goes on to kick-start Virginia Madsen's short arc on the show as Maddie's cousin Annie, who embarks on a brief affair with David despite the fact that she has a husband at home. It's also notable for a sight gag involving a Die Hard poster being torn down behind David and Annie while they're out on a date. I know there are Moonlighting fans who feel like there was a bigger plan for Annie before ABC canceled the show, and at least with this episode, they make you want to believe it — this is one of the fifth season's better installments.

Reading: William Diehl's 27, in which a Hitler-loving actor is recruited by the Furher to commit various nefarious acts, ultimately including infiltrating the United States — at which point a feckless playboy named Francis Scott Keegan, heartbroken over his girlfriend's death at the hands of the Nazis, is himself recruited to foil Hitler's plot. Despite having a history degree, I am not now and have never been a big fan of historical fiction; on the other hand, based on the description I've given here, it's probably pretty clear that this is historical only in the loosest of ways. Like the rest of Diehl's stuff, it's also pulpy as hell, so I'm looking forward to sailing the seas of cheese I last navigated when I read this upon its release in 1990.

Around the Bend: Tomorrow's post will be a new installment of New Music Friday, accessible only to paid subscribers — and on Saturday, we'll have the return of Bootleg City, which finds newly elected Mayor Matt Wardlaw bestowing our fair citizens with a whopping bounty of goodness that you will not want to miss.