Editor’s note: We begin a weekly exploration today of lesser-known charting songs that never crept into the Top 20, songs that for whatever reason couldn’t muster critical mass, songs that were … almost hits …
This sound, in the dead of night, comes rushing out of my radio — a tornadic gust of horns. Then there follows a devastatingly cool lyric, amid a suave and spacious groove. But who is it? 45 seconds in, I finally peg “Can’t Hide Love” as the new Earth Wind and Fire song; I knew Maurice White’s “yow” anywhere.
Still, it was clear from the first that “Can’t Hide Love” would be something completely different from the anthematic joys of Earth Wind and Fire’s most recent pair of Top 5 hits, “Sing a Song” and “Shining Star.” That’s no doubt why this song (composed by Louisiana native Skip Scarborough, who also wrote Anita Baker’s “Giving You the Best that I Got” and Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” among others), could get no higher than No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976.
Philip Bailey’s impossibly angelic falsetto arrives next for a sensual call-and-response, while Verdine White, Larry Dunn and Co. do positively nasty things with the score. As the voices continue to tangle and untangle, it occurs to me now that they sound like lovers. I don’t think I could have come up with this word for it back then, but “Can’t Hide Love” was … sexy. And it was just getting started. Already enraptured, and thus beginning to dread the inevitable let down of the DJ’s next selection — be that “I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow, “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers, or some other such 1976 trifle — I remember what came next like it just happened a moment ago.
I am sitting in my room, the room of my youth. The room that had the hand-me-down black-and-white TV, which had been rolled down the hall and into my closet after my parents got a new color set. I could never get the curtains all the way closed, so there was always a sliver of light running down one wall. I’ve got the radio sitting on my chest, with the tiny detachable speakers held up to either ear. It’s late, and I’m supposed to be asleep. Not listening to the radio. Two leaves sway back and forth, across that sliver of light, almost in time.
If I inched the volume up even a little bit more, I risked that tinny sound reaching out into the hall, reaching my father, and then it’s all over. But “Can’t Hide Love” keeps building, getting bigger and bigger and (somehow) bigger still. And as Earth Wind and Fire’s wordless chorus rises, and the horns burst out again, Lord help me, I start to turn it up. I never want that sound to end. In fact, I keep turning it up, as “Can’t Hide Love” fades, until the next song comes on, and — this happened all the time back then, before the advent of segmented radio formatting, back when anything went — it couldn’t possibly be worse: “All By Myself,” by Eric Carmen, with its wrist-slashingly maudlin piano.
I cut it off, and sat in grim silence, plotting how long it would take me to gather the money I’d need to buy Gratitude, the explosively great EWF live set that had “Can’t Hide Love” attached as a studio bonus track. Oh, and saying awful, awful things about Eric Carmen, safely under my breath.