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.
How can a song about married sex be sleazy? If two people have committed to spend their lives together, and if they remain really into each other, that should be a beautiful thing. Pop music is an art form where musicians regularly treat random one-night hookups with religious levels of ecstasy. That’s normal. We’re used to it. But the Captain & Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time,” the rare #1 hit about a long-term in-love committed couple banging each other, makes the whole thing sound cheap and illicit and uncomfortable and wrong. It’s the kind of thing that might scare you away from the entire idea of marriage.
The Captain & Tennille, two touring Beach Boys keyboardists who’d met while working on a rock musical, weren’t quite married yet when they first hit #1 with 1975’s putrid “Love Will Keep Us Together.” From there, they had a string of hits, hosted a network variety show, and temporarily became pillars of the pop establishment. They were a big enough deal, for instance, to perform at the White House for Gerald Ford and Queen Elizabeth during the Bicentennial celebrations. But the rise of disco did them no favors. By the end of 1976, the Captain & Tennille were no longer Billboard mainstays. Over the next few years, they only scored one Billboard top-10 hit, the 1978 track “You Never Done It Like That.” (That song peaked at #10; it’s a 5.)
Toward the end of the ’70s, the Captain & Tennille no longer felt at home at A&M, the label that had initially brought them to fame. They left for Casablanca, the mostly-disco label run by onetime bubblegum baron Neil Bogart. Casablanca was the home of flashier acts like Donna Summer and KISS, and maybe that’s why the Captain & Tennille tried out a new image, moving toward disco with the 1979 LP Make Your Move. Daryl Dragon, the Captain, grew out a bushy mustache and stopped rocking the doofy boating hat that had been his trademark. Toni Tennille went blonde. And the duo scored their second #1 with a song that, very plainly, was about fucking.
Most of the Captain & Tennille’s big hits, “Love Will Keep Us Together” included, came from outside songwriters. But Toni Tennille wrote the duo’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” follow-up, the lightly suggestive 1975 ballad “The Way I Want To Touch You.” (“The Way I Want To Touch You” peaked at #4; it’s a 3.) Years later, she also wrote “Do That To Me One More Time.” When she came up with it, Tennille didn’t think much of the song. But when she played it for her new label boss Neil Bogart, he declared that it would be their first single for the label.
At least on paper, “Do That To Me One More Time” is all about passion and desire. The lyrics are simple enough. Whatever the Captain is doing, Tennille wants her to keep doing it: “Do that to me one more time/ Once is never enough with a man like you.” But “Do That To Me One More Time” doesn’t sound passionate. It sounds like watery goo.
Tennille sings “Do That To Me One More Time” with no intensity, leaning instead into her self-impressed Broadway-style vocal pirouettes. She comes off like a dirt-mall Streisand, all control and no urgency. The music, which the Captain produced, is ugly and antiseptic late-’70s easy-listening nothingness: electric-piano purrs, acoustic-guitar noodles, thuddingly obvious string crescendos. Tom Scott, the in-demand smooth-sax session player, shows up to play a solo on the Lyricon, an electronic flute-looking doohickey, and it’s a truly unpleasant sound. (The bass playing is rich and intricate, though. I’ll give it that.) Married sex deserves better.
The Captain & Tennille’s comeback was short-lived. After “Do That To Me One More Time,” none of their singles even made it into the top 40. Toni Tennille hosted a syndicated talk show for a couple of years and went on to some success as a stage actress. The Captain kept doing occasional work with old buddies like the Beach Boys and the Carpenters. The duo played on the nostalgia circuit for years, until they divorced in 2014. Shortly afterward, Tennille wrote a memoir that was partly about how Dragon had always been cold and distant with her. But they remained friends, and Tennille was with the Captain when he died of kidney failure last year.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Captain & Tennille singing “Do That To Me One More Time” in a 2001 Sprint PCS commercial:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: The dancehall duo R. City interpolated the melody from “Do That To Me One More Time” on their 2015 Adam Levine collab “Locked Away.” Here’s the video:
(“Locked Away” peaked at #6; it’s a 6. As a member of Maroon 5, Adam Levine will eventually appear in this column.)