I am astonished at what was happening with music in 1977. That was the year that punk broke into the mainstream with The Sex Pistols and The Clash both releasing classic albums. Disco was cresting in popularity with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Seminal albums by Television, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Bob Marley, Kraftwerk, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Billy Joel, and even Meatloaf were released that year. Other albums like Aja from Steely Dan and Rumors by Fleetwood Mac epitomized the state of mainstream rock in 1977. Hip Hop was taking its first baby steps in parties in New York City. So what was the biggest hit of the year? You Light up My Life by Debby Boone held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for 10 weeks.
These days, any mention of You light up My Life to music connoisseurs is bound to elicit eye rolling and possibly a sneer in response. “That’s why punk music had to come around, crap like that is unforgivable.”
Before I explain why I don’t share that sentiment I just want to make sure everyone understands that I know that it is pure pop cheese. It is maudlin, it is syrupy. I don’t have a problem with Boone’s dedication of the song to her, “Lord and Savior,” but for many that just adds to the cringeworthyness of the song.
If I think all of those things are true, why do I not think that this is exactly what punk was made to combat? Surely it’s easy to see how Debby Boone and the Sex Pistols are on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Well sure. Stylistically, politically, and personally they don’t have anything in common. I do think that what saves You Light up My Life is that it is honest. There is an authenticity to it that comes through. She believes it and absolutely nailed that performance. Most of us are hardwired to detect phonies. Debby Boone wasn’t one and that resonated with the public.
No, in my mind punk was musically rebelling against the likes of Captain and Tennille, Pablo Cruise, and all the other countless acts that peddled similar soulless, contrived material. There’s no question that You Light up My Life was made to be sold but Boone’s performance is what made it hit the stratosphere. That honesty is what it has in common with Anarchy in the UK.
I firmly believe that if more pop music had been made with the same honesty as You Light up My Life, the punk movement wouldn’t have been as necessary from a musical standpoint. Hate on Debby Boone for what she represents if you must but don’t saddle her with reason that punk had to come and bloody some noses…