A song becomes a smash hit due to any number of factors – catchiness, songcraft, a dynamite hook. “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” the number one 1976 soft-rocker by American duo England Dan & John Ford Coley had all those attributes in spades, but according to Coley, what really put it over the top was the garbled lyrical passage in the chorus.
“The reason it became so big was that nobody could understand what we were singing so they made up their own words,” said the 68-year-old Coley in a drawl that reveals his Texas origins.
He was referring to the line launching the sing-along chorus that climaxes with “I’d really love to see you tonight.” You’ve all heard it, and like most listeners the first hundred times or so you’ve scratched your heads and wondered what they’re singing after “I’m not talking about....”
“People would sing ‘I’m not talking about millennium’ or ‘I’m not talking about M&Ms.’ It was always very clear to me, but then again, I was singing it,” Coley added during a recent phone call from his Charleston, South Carolina home.
The “aha” moment for many a baby boomer was discovering the real words were “I’m not talking about moving in” – a pick-up line that was probably oft repeated in the pre-AIDS era singles bar scene.
Whether Coley’s popularity theory is accurate or whether it was just its ’70s sensitive- guy karaoke charm, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” caught the attention of a shell-shocked record-buying public that was primarily weaned on the big-hair arena rock and the platform-shoes disco of the mid-‘70s. And it thrust the duo into the pop spotlight, paving the way for another five Top 40 singles before they went their separate ways in 1980.
Coley, who will be arriving in Israel over Passover to perform for the second time here, said that the next few years were difficult ones as he attempted to transition to solo artist.
“I arrogantly assumed that I was a lot bigger than Dan, but it didn’t work out for me the way I anticipated. As half a group, record companies just weren’t that interested, especially since Dan was considered the voice of the group while I was mainly doing harmonies,” said Coley. “I recorded an album for A&M but it didn’t have the impact we were looking for. Honestly I just floundered there for a while trying to figure out what to do. It was truly a struggle.”
While England Dan (the younger brother of Jim Seals, half of another big ‘70s soft rock duo, Seals and Crofts) returned to his real name, Dan Seals, and went on to sustain a successful country music career before his death in 2009 from cancer, Coley branched out into acting, and raising horses with his wife and children. It was only in the late 1990s that he was thrust back into the music scene, albeit from a very external source.
“I got so fed up with both the film and music industry that I said enough is enough, and spent a long time raising horses.
Then one day I got a call from my agent, asking if I was performing in the New York area,” said Coley.
“When I told him of course not, he said that that meant there was a guy running around claiming to be me, doing concerts, TV appearances and raising quite a storm.
My attitude at first was, ‘if you really want to be me, then come on down to my farm and help me with these bales of hay.’” But Coley eventually took action, the impostor was arrested and the case ended up being featured on one of those TV crime reality shows. The momentary return to the limelight prompted Coley to test the performing waters again and he’s never looked back.
Mixing country, pop, folk and rock in an earnest singer/songwriter vein, Coley refuses to live in the past. His latest album, Eclectic, perfectly encapsulates his ability to modernize a classic ‘70s sound that recalls America and the Eagles.
“I have been pigeonholed my entire life, that’s why I called the record Eclectic,” he said. “Even at the beginning, Dan and I would go to record companies and play them our songs and they would go, ‘wait, what are you? Rock, country, folk?’ And we would go, ‘yes, as a matter of fact, we are all of that.’” That’s what fans will hear when Coley takes the stage on April 13 at Kfar Haruv in the Golan where he will headline a benefit for the Golan Heights chapter of ILAN, the Israel Foundation for Handicapped Children.
Last year on his third visit to Israel, Coley performed at the Arad Festival, an event he recalled with enthusiasm.
“It was such a thrill for me to play in Israel,” said Coley, a longtime Christian supporter of the country. “I’ll never forget when a woman brought over a little boy around three, and he reached over touched me on the face and whispered to me ‘your music makes the trees move.’ I get touched by things like that. I’m an old man, I’m allowed to.”
Coley’s connection to Israel has been strong since his youth, when he forged a strong emotional bond while following the events of the Six Day War as a high school student in Texas.
“I remember sitting in my friend’s car listening on the radio to the news about the war as it unfolded. And I remember specifically when the Old City and the Western Wall were liberated,” he said.
“I started reading and studying everything I could about Israel – The Source by James Michener, O’Jerusalem, Golda Meir’s biography. At one point, I joked that I was either going to have to stop reading all these books or I was going to have to convert to Judaism,” he said with a laugh.
The conversion never happened, but after a period in the 1970s following the Baha’i faith that Seals introduced him to via Seals and Crofts, Coley strengthened his commitment to Christianity and his support for Israel.
The ILAN show will feature other performers and among the audience members will be many of the children helped by the organization, something that fills Coley with delight.
“I used to do a lot of shows for the Special Olympics and I just love being around those kids, they are the sweetest in the world,” he said. “When I was asked to do this show for ILAN to raise money for something that’s so worthwhile, and learned that the kids were going to be at the show, I got so excited.”
For old-timers, rest assured that Coley will be performing the English Dan & John Ford Coley standards, including “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” preceded by some playful ribbing.
“I like to tell lots of stories, and I talk about that song and the mystery in the chorus. We have some fun with it,” he said.
But in the end, everyone sings along with it, just like it was 1976.