In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
A funny thing about ’70s pop: Even as the music became safer and less threatening, it also got a whole lot more frank about sex. In the ’60s, even a wild and dangerous band like the Rolling Stones had to hide sex-talk in allusion and veiled metaphor — and when they did come out with something as obviously horny as “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” they couldn’t get any radio play with it. But when Bread came out with “Make It With You,” a soft and pillowy 1970 song that is 100% for-sure about fucking, they took it to #1.
There’s a story that the mother of Bread frontman David Gates once gave a radio interview where she accidentally revealed that she’d misheard the title of her son’s big hit. She said that she was happy that he was doing well but that she couldn’t understand why he had to call the song “Naked With You.” But honestly, Gates might as well have called it “Naked With You.” It would’ve been about the same thing, and it would’ve also been slightly more honest.
Gates grew up in Tulsa, playing in bar bands with future Wrecking Crew standout Leon Russell. Like Russell, Gates moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s, becoming a studio musician and occasional songwriter. (He wrote “Popsicles And Icicles,” a hit for the girl group the Murmaids. It peaked at #3, and it’s a 7.) He formed Bread in 1968 and signed with Elektra and released a not-that-successful debut album a year later.
“Make It With You,” the big breakthrough for both Gates and Bread, was slow and strummy and pretty in a completely generic way. In the slightest hint of a Southwestern twang, Gates made his proposition in lofty terms: “Dreams, they’re for those who sleep / Life is for us to keep.” It’s an old story: We only get one life, we need to seize our moment, baby let’s turn the light off. Cue the soft-focus strings.
It’s not a terrible song, and there’s a whole lot of rich musicianship in its arrangement, but it’s also about as generic as it gets. And there’s something truly depressing about the way it strips away any nervous excitement from the act of sex, turning it into nothing more than a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. And sure, sex can be that, but you’re not going to get much of a song out of it when you sing about it that way.
We are about to encounter so many songs like this in this column. The soft-beige sex-amble was a ’70s staple. And most of those songs were absolute fucking garbage. Pop music in 2019 has its own problems, but we’re at least mostly done with flocking en masse to songs like this one.
BONUS BEATS: Dusty Springfield recorded a version of “Make It With You” during the Dusty In Memphis sessions. It wouldn’t have been an album highlight, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than Bread’s take. Here’s her version: