May 06, 2013

The enduring relevance of Captain and Tennille

By Brian Caulfield *
You can tell from the title that this column will border on the frivolous, but given the tragedies our nation experienced last month, which still leave open wounds, I thought that a brief treatment of a light topic may be appropriate.

If you’re a person of a certain age who listened to radio in the ‘70s, or are younger but have heard your parents play those “oldies,” you may be familiar with the group Captain & Tennille. The star was Toni Tennille, a tall, thin, perky singer whose stage presence was offset by her expressionless husband/keyboard player, whose one distinguishing characteristic was the captain’s hat on his head. He was famous for saying nothing on stage, even when prompted by his wife or various talk show hosts.

In 1975 they hit it big with Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which had the peppy refrain, “I will, I will, I will!” – that is, Toni will be faithful to the Captain and pull him back when those “sweet talking girls” try to lure him. The song was on every radio that year, when I was a college campus freshman, and it symbolized for me everything that was wrong with the culture at the time. The poppish quality, the surface affection and affectation of the performers, the constant repetition and the saccharine sound that seemed to come out of a tin can all represented for me a huge turn back in music.

I had grown up with the Beatles as they moved from the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” of “She Loves You” to the deep resonance of “I read the news today, oh boy” of “A Day in the Life.” My brothers and I “discovered” the rising bands on FM and studied the lyrics of classical-based groups like Renaissance and the “Quadrophenia” rock opera of The Who. I was by no means a hippie or fan of Woodstock (more about sex, drugs and irresponsibility than music, I thought) but I did spend many hours pondering what Jim Morrison meant by his “fragile eggshell mind” and studying Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery.”

Captain & Tennille’s syrupy lyrics that included “Muskrat Love,” “The Way I Want to Touch You,” and “Can’t Stop Dancin’” just didn’t match the serious rock proferred by my preferred bands.
So it was somewhat a surprise to me when I was listening to the 70s station not too long ago and felt a deep nostalgia and appreciation upon hearing those peppy chords of the Captain’s keyboard introducing “Love Will Keep Us Together.” I was almost embarrassed that I did not change the station and stuck with Toni’s upbeat, Southern-teased singing. Now in my 50s, I had left rock behind long ago in favor of classical music and liturgical chant, and I suddenly saw the wisdom in the simple innocence of the Captain & Tennille song. Pop music today, as I catch snippets of it on the radio, seems so dull, adulterated, repetitive, hyper-sexualized and self-referencing – the cyclical droning and hysterics of Katy Perry, the hoarse boredom of Sheryl Crowe, the two notes and me-mine lyrics of Taylor Swift, or the look-at-me stardom of Justin Bieber.

Late have I come to realize that Captain & Tennille have a more positive and enduring legacy than so many of the deep and important rockers of their era. Forty years later, the Captain and his gal sound hopeful and youthful in a way that today’s rockers – young as they are – can barely imagine and never match.
Brian Caulfield is editor of the website Fathers for Good, an initiative by the Knights of Columbus that features regular articles, videos and other multimedia on the subject of Christian fatherhood. A father of two young boys, Brian writes on the spiritual truths found in daily life and the issues men face while striving to live out their vocation.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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