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.
Imagine the balls. Imagine the ridiculous, outsized confidence it must take to tell a girl that you know she’s falling in love with you, that you can just sense it. And imagine the chutzpah it must take to, in the same breath, tell her, no, sorry, that’s not going to happen.
That’s what Mac Davis does on “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” his sole #1 hit. “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” is a strange, queasy time-capsule of a song, one that makes it clear just how much of the early-’70s sexual revolution was really just a case of dudes finding excuses to get laid without consequences. “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” is not a fuck-and-run song like Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl).” It’s needier than that. It’s more of a let’s-keep-fucking-but-don’t-expect-anything-from-me song.
Mac Davis came from Lubbock, Texas, and he was a music-business functionary long before he was a star. In college, Davis fronted an Atlanta rock band called the Zotz. From there, he moved into record promotions, working for Vee Jay and then for Liberty Records. After that, he worked for Nancy Sinatra’s company Boots Enterprises. He played on her records and in her live shows, and then he started writing songs for her publishing company. Some of those songs caught on.
Shortly after he recorded his ’68 comeback TV special, Elvis Presley took a liking to Davis’ songs, and he recorded a bunch of them, including “Memories,” “A Little Less Conversation,” and the massive and cloyingly effective smash “In The Ghetto.” (“In The Ghetto” peaked at #3 in 1969. It’s an 8.) Davis also wrote hits for O.C. Smith, Kenny Rogers And The First Edition, and the dreaded Bobby Goldsboro. Davis kicked off his solo career in 1970, and he was 30 by the time “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” took him to #1.
At least ostensibly, Mac Davis was a country singer, but “Baby, Let’s Get Hooked On Me” isn’t an even remotely country song. Instead, it’s pure chintzy ’70s AM-gold: stately guitar noodles, canned backing vocals, melodramatic strings. It’s hard to even hear much of a Southern accent in all the smarmy faux-sincerity of Davis’ voice. As pop music, “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” works. It builds up to a big, swelling chorus, and it hits pleasantly big notes without drawing too much attention to itself. But it also foregrounds its lyrics. And that’s unfortunate, since those lyrics are just genuinely appalling.
Here’s how Davis, crooning softly and romantically, opens his sole #1 hit: “Girl, you’re getting that look in your eyes / And it’s starting to worry me / I ain’t ready for no family ties / Nobody’s gonna hurry me.” Here’s how he compliments her: “You’re a hot-blooded woman-child, and it’s warm where you’re touching me.” He rhymes the song’s title with “I’ll just use you, then I’ll set you free.”
Plenty of Davis’ ’70s-pop peers sang about casual sex, but they had the common decency to make it sound like a romantic adventure. Davis, on the other hand, sounds absolutely disgusted at the prospect of spending non-sex time with this particular woman. And yet he also attempts, clumsily, to pull her closer while he pushes her away. Consider the inherent contradiction here: “Just keep it friendly, girl, cuz I don’t wanna leave / Don’t start clinging to me, girl, cuz I can’t breathe.”
Davis, I’m guessing, did not consider what he was saying. There’s no self-awareness to “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me.” Davis gives no indication that he realizes that he’s the one clinging onto her, or that “keep it friendly” sounds like some grotesque innuendo. Instead, he sounds sincere, even as he sings this avowedly anti-sincerity song.
Davis would go on to host a variety show, because of course he would. He was built for the format. He also made a bunch of country hits and launched an acting career that’s still going, in some capacity, today. (Most recently, he was Big Jack in 2017’s Where The Fast Lane Ends, a movie made for the targeted-at-rural-folks cable channel RFD-TV.) But unlike virtually every other slice of once-huge ’70s-pop cheese, “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me” has left no legacy. Nobody covers it. Nobody samples it. Nobody puts it on movie soundtracks. We, as a society, have collectively decided to leave that shit in 1972. This was the correct decision.
BONUS BEATS: Mac Davis’ acting career started off pretty well. In his first movie, he was the second lead in the 1979 Nick Nolte football movie North Dallas Forty, which I’ve never seen but which a lot of people seem to like. Here’s the scene where Nolte wakes Davis up by stuffing a jockstrap in his face: