It was the same old song, only now it was completely different.
I was fiddling around on YouTube the other day and I wound up going back in time and reliving some personal history.
I was listening to a block of songs by Bobby “Blue” Bland, a fabulous blues singer whose name I had known for years, but whose work had only recently caught my attention after I saw The Lincoln Lawyer and heard Bobby singing “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” over the opening credits.
Bobby does an excellent job with this song and it really sets the mood for the film.
I felt like I should know the song and the singer and the fact that I didn’t know either one sent me scurrying straight to the Internet.
YouTube was only too obliging, hooking me up with one Bobby tune after another. The standouts include “Members Only,” “I Ain’t Gonna Be the First to Cry,” and “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me).”
I felt like an explorer discovering a lost civilization. Yes, obviously millions of people know Bobby “Blue” Bland and my so-called “discovery” was strictly a one-person affair. But that’s the power of great music—it makes you feel as if it’s been written just for you.
And then a song called “It’s Not the Spotlight” came on and I stopped everything I was doing.
“If I ever feel the light again shinin' down on me,
I don't have to tell you how welcome it will be…”
This tune sounded really familiar. I was almost certain that I had heard it before, but I didn’t know where or when.
“I felt the light before, but I let it slip away,
But I still keep on believin' that it'll come back some day…”
This was so strange. I knew nothing of Bobby’s work, so how could I possibly know this song? I decided to poke around to see where I might have come crossed paths with this tune. And then I remembered.
Feel the Light
I first heard Rod Stewart do “It’s Not the Spotlight” on his 1975 album Atlantic Crossing. I was a freshman in college back then and this was one of the first LPs I ever bought.
Bear in mind that this was a record—not a CD or a download, but an actual vinyl disc. And I loved it so much.
The album is divided into a fast side and slow side and in addition to “It’s Not the Spotlight,” the recordtracks also includes “Three Time Loser,” “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” and a slow version of the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine.”
Back then “It’s Not the Spotlight” was not my favorite track by any means. I didn’t dislike it. I just didn’t think that much of it.
But that all changed when I heard Bobby’s version. No disrespect to Rod Stewart—I’m a tremendous fan—but Bobby really owns this song.
“It ain't the spotlight,
It ain't the candlelight,
It ain't the streetlights,
Of some old street of dreams…”
The line about letting the light slip away is particularly painful because this guy lost a beautiful relationship—something I can certainly relate to—and that, despite all this hopeful talk, he will never again see the light shining in his lover’s eyes.
The song was co-written by Gerry Goffin, the one-time husband of Carole King, with whom he co-wrote some of the biggest hits of the Sixties, including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Loco-Motion.”
Their story is dramatized in the Broadway show Beautiful, which my sister and I saw last year when our aunt from California came into town.
The play depicts Goffin as a talented but troubled man who is constantly sleeping with other women. Carole King finally gets fed up and divorces him and I’m wondering if Goffin wrote “It's Not the Spotlight” after he realized how much he had lost.
That was quite a ride I took, traveling back to the Seventies, bouncing over to Broadway and coming back to the present.
It was long walk down the street of dreams.