Great lost hit: Billy and the Beaters, “I Can Take Care Of Myself” (1981)

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(Above: The Rhino re-release had a picture sleeve. I don’t think the original did.)

Early summer of 1981 wasn’t a whole lot of fun for me. I was in-between seventh and eighth grades, and – I keep threatening to write about this – junior high school was probably my least favorite time in life. Major league baseball went on strike that summer, leaving no games to watch.  This coincided with me going away to camp in downstate Illinois, so spending a week in a media void wasn’t as awful as it could have been.

The other day in the car I heard the 80s channel on Sirius XM doing another one of their countdowns – from June of 1981 – and I had a genuine “oh, wow” moment. Over the years I’ve amassed several thousand records and even more digital copies of tracks, so it’s unusual for me to have the “oh wow.”  But “I Can Take Care Of Myself” accomplished just that.

We all know Billy Vera from “At This Moment,” a song that Billy and the Beaters recorded in 1981 that was dug out by the producers of the TV sitcom Family Ties in 1986 for inclusion in an episode. The popularity of that show and the scene led Rhino Records to re-release “At This Moment,” which stalled on the charts at #79 in 1981. The re-issue went all the way to #1 and stayed there for two weeks. The B-side of the re-issue was this one, a fun song in its own right.

What we don’t necessarily remember about Billy Vera is that by 1981 he was already a veteran performer. After writing for performers like Fats Domino, The Shirelles, and Ricky Nelson, he worked on his singing career.  He had his first release on Atlantic records at age 22, “Storybook Children,” which missed the Top 40 in early 1968. His second record, “Country Girl – City Man,” also a duet with Judy Clay, did chart at #36. The third tune that year, “With Pen In Hand,” narrowly missed the Top 40. That was it for Billy for a while.  He turned his talent to songwriting, and “I Really Got the Feeling” went on to be a #1 Country hit for Dolly Parton.

“I Can Take Care of Myself” featured its own video, which was a bit of a novelty. Music video was just coming into the mainstream as MTV would launch a few weeks later in the beginning of August of 1981.  There’s an asterisk that needs to be placed on the MTV anniversary, though – everyone points to August 1, 1981 and the airing of “Video Killed the Radio Star” as the launch of the network, but everyone forgets that the channel was aired on just one cable system in New Jersey, so it’s unlikely many people outside the network actually saw the launch. Of course, by 1982, it’s a moot point as MTV was widespread. Still, filmed performances of songs made up most of the early videos. The clip for “I Can Take Care Of Myself” combines the feel of a Billy and the Beaters show with some careful editing to work through some of the jokes in the lyrics. Actual thought was put into crafting a video, not just a concert shot. (What also strikes me about the video is that Vera, who is 36 at the time this was shot, looks a whole lot older than that.)

In hearing the track again I had two thoughts:

-This sounds a little like a Billy Joel record. I probably thought that that’s who it was in 1981, as at age 12 I wasn’t, shall we say, fully refined in my tastes. It has the feel of “Modern Woman” if that song were slowed down.

-This sounds a LOT like Howard Jones’ “Everlasting Love,” which I played dozens of times at WJTW in 1989 when it came out. I think if you play them back-to-back – which I need to do sometime if I get back on GVSU’s student station – the similarities are obvious, and Howard owes a tip of the cap for having the bigger hit. (“Everlasting Love” hit #12, while “I Can Take Care Of Myself” stalled at #39 – just enough for Casey to throw it into the countdown for a week.)

In any case, it was fun to find this one again, and should I, for some inexplicable reason, decide to make a 1981 summer mixtape, it would have to go on there.

See if you remember it. You can hear “I Can Take Care Of Myself” by clicking here.

 

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