I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes. I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale. Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not. In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey. I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site. With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment.
As likely as it is for a general tune to get stuck in my head, sometimes the subject matter of a particular song needles itself in there over time. And that isn’t always good thing, at first. When I was young, car rides meant music, and car music was either extra, extra lite rock or classical. It took me many years to learn to appreciate either, so the “adult contemporary” stuff really grated on my nerves for a time. I couldn’t stand the “bird song” (“Close to You” by the Carpenters), the “pineapple song” (“Escape [The Pina Colada Song]” by Rupert Holmes), or the song I’m talking about here, the “camel song” – “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur.
“Why is she singing about camels??” I once asked my parents. They rightly ignored my silly question because I’m sure even they didn’t know..though they probably did. Hell, I’m not even sure Maria Muldaur knew…though, she probably did too. Years later I learned that everyone apparently believed it was about sex, and maybe that’s why my parents remained tacit about the whole affair. Desert? Cactus? Sex? Sure, why not.
Problem is, the “camel song” is insanely catchy and very hummable (pun intended, I guess), and it reeks of early 70s charm with a beautifully quiet guitar bridge and Muldaur’s unusual voice. Yes, her voice…I remember that too from ye olde days. Many unique voices came out of 70s music, and Muldaur’s was definitely one of them. Strong yet breathy, almost twangy and punctuated. And she wasn’t afraid to show off her…uh…range? No…not range. Just…um, well…she wasn’t afraid to twist her voice. To hear what I mean, above is the radio version of the song and below is a live version. Give them each a listen and see if you can’t pick out her, uh…talents in the live version.
I’ll be honest, even now, when I listen to the camel song, I’m not sure that I like it. It’s a song that I respect, and I admire Muldaur’s success, but I don’t know that “Midnight at the Oasis” would be on my, say, top 10 list of songs form the 70s. Still, I bought it specifically for my “smooth” 70s-80s playlist because it defines my coming to terms with “adult contemporary” music. Its playful insinuations capture well the waning spirit of the Sexual Revolution. The fantastical imagery and being in a desert oasis with sheiks and harems and, yes, camels, draws to light fashion inspirations of the era, as well as that desire to be any place else than a scandalous and depressed America.
“Midnight at the Oasis” is one of those songs that grows on you, and it’s still growing on me. You don’t need to have a 70s or early 80s frame of reference to appreciate it (though maybe it helps a little), because you probably won’t like it the first time you hear it. But give it some time and you will. Promise. …maybe.