The Bellamy Brothers first came on the scene in 1975 with a pleasant if absolutely white-bread country-pop hit called “Let Your Love Flow.” The kind of music they made was soon redefined as country, and for most of the next two decades it was hard to listen to a country station for long without hearing one of their radio-friendly hits, often enlivened, like those of Jimmy Buffett, with attenuated Caribbean beats. Most had a good detail or two, like the “redneck girl” with “her name on the back of her belt.” The brothers still tour good-sized venues, and they’re coming to EMU’s Pease Auditorium on Sunday, October 19.
So they were pretty close to the often-mentioned middle of the road. But in American culture there are strange layers running underneath that surface, and the Bellamy Brothers exemplified one: a rampant sensualism that can turn funny, slightly desperate, or occasionally very dark. Several of their biggest songs represent men hitting on women in cocktail lounges, and the line for which they may be best known—”If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”—was taken from a Groucho Marx quip. “I’m a doctor, I’m a lawyer, I’m a movie star. I’m an astronaut, and I own this bar,” runs another of their major hits, titled “I’d Lie to You for Your Love.” In “I Love Her Mind,” they praise a lover who “always thinks of new ways to take me from the heat into the fire”—and managed to get the line “Poets always dwell on all the things that can be seen” onto country radio.
The sly undercurrent in the brothers’ music emerges on a few occasions into full-blown social commentary of a kind that remains rare in country music. “Kids of the Baby Boom” laments the plans of those “here in the land of milk and honey/Counting our chickens way too soon.” And “Old Hippie” tells of a man whose arc of life began when “they sent him off to Vietnam on his senior trip.” The old hippie shows up in two sequels to the original song, most recently just last year in “Old Hippie III (Saved).” Yes, these aging sensualists have gotten religion. I just hope they haven’t lost their edge.