The Captain & Tennille exploded on the music scene in 1975 with a spirited, ubiquitous cover of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” as infectious a pop song as was ever recorded as well as a Grammy-winning, number-one record. Toni Tennille, she of the soaring voice, warm, down home demeanor and era-defining bowl haircut (which I still affectionately refer to as “The Tennille”), and (ex) husband Daryl Dragon, the introverted keyboardist with the hat collection, briefly filled the pop culture vacuum that had been left by the jarring divorce of America’s erstwhile first couple of song, Sonny & Cher. Their brand of feel good, positive pop (called “Middle of the Road” or “Easy Listening” back then) was, perhaps, the predominant sound of pop radio until it was crushed by the stiletto heel of Disco and punk rock’s combat boots a bit later in the decade. But for at least two or three years, the Captain & Tennille were major hit makers.
The duo created slick adult contemporary pop records for their label A&M records. Their songs were made for shopping malls and AM radio, and in short order they scored an impressive seven top-ten hits throughout the Bicentennial and beyond with songs like “The Way That I Want to Touch You,” “Do That To Me One More Time” (their last hit and another number-one), “Shop Around,” “Lonely Nights (Angel Face),” “You Never Done it Like That” and, most curiously, a cover of America’s “Muskrat Love” for which the Captain’s adroit noodling on the synthesizer effectively dramatized a conversation between “Sammy” and “Susie,” said titular muskrats. In addition to the soundtrack of my grade school years, Toni Tennille also provided me with a wonderfully positive thought that I would like to pass along to you.
Like the Bonos, the Captain & Tennille followed their radio success to a weekly network variety show that did very well for a season. The duo’s fortunes began to fade in 1977, when Toni and Daryl, in an unfortunate O. Henry-esque plot twist, electively abdicated their hit TV show to focus more on their music just as radio’s growing interest in Disco and New Wave music reached critical mass, leaving mainstream artists Toni and Darryl and their brethren (Helen Reddy, The Carpenters, John Denver, to name a few) holding a bottle of poppers and wondering how they went to the right address and ended up at the wrong party.
I am proud to say that in addition really being a fan of their music, there were a few other things about Toni and Daryl that spoke to me as a kid. One was the mies-en-scene of the Come In From The Rain album cover, which, like Jaime Sommer’s house on Bionic Woman, depicted my fantasy of an idyllic, cozy, treehouse, and forever influenced my design aesthetic. The visual was but an extension of the Captain & Tennille gestalt: positive, warm, filled with love.
During my miserable seventh-grade year, I would literally spend hours staring at this image, the result being that I not only internalized every detail of the room, but created the sensation of actually stepping out of my sadness in suburban New Jersey and into their welcoming space; perhaps the first-ever recorded example of an adolescent boy self-medicating with a “lifestyle transplant.” Everything just seemed better inside their album cover: exposed brick; a roaring fire; a wide-planked wood floor; a crimson Deco sofa with a tufted back; amber light; copper pots peppered about; a tea tray with delectable homemade treats artfully displayed on a multi-tiered serving piece; and Toni (me?), in my Frye boots, nestled perfectly and contentedly at the feet of a loving husband while our bulldogs dozed. (One of the really great things about the Captain was, though a formidable musician, Toni had the charisma – the result being that you could project whomever you wanted him to be on top of him. This functioned like color forms for the gay junior higher school set. For me he was Travolta.)
I met Toni once—actually just a few years ago—with Natalie Cole backstage at Carnegie Hall at a tribute to Neil Sedaka. She looked the same: like a neighbor down the street—the kind your mom trusted when there was a problem and who always took care of you on Halloween. I took the opportunity to introduce myself and told her I’d always admired her.
After the show, I remembered something Toni had said that I read many years ago. Asked several years after their career peak if she felt angry or bitter that their outsize multi-media success didn’t last longer, Toni replied with the sanguine, glass-half-full practicality that defines her, “You know, we invested conservatively and we had a really good run. I’m really grateful.” Trust, If it were me, you can bet I would be pissed that after all my hard work and living a clean life that radio changed and Neil Bogart died and Casablanca Records probably spent the Captain & Tennille’s promotion budget on cocaine. Yeah, I’d be pissed, but not Toni.
The Tennille glass-half-full approach continues to periodically present itself to me. Just yesterday, after six months of on and off obsession as to what song the melody for R. City and Adam Levine’s late-2015 number one hit “Locked Away” was almost identical to, I hit upon it: its chorus is nearly identical to the verse of Toni’s 1980 number one hit “Do That to Me One More Time.” I tweeted Toni immediately asking her if she’d heard it and received the classiest reply you could imagine: “Yes I have,” she replied, ” … the writers acknowledged the influence + gave me credit and I’m appreciative.” Imagine that? Appreciative even though someone stole her melody! It was perfectly punctuated and just, well, just so Toni.
Nowadays, I try to put a little of that Tennille spirit in each of my days. If you’re ever feeling a bit down and need a little pick me up, listen to any of her classic records. I especially like Song of Joy.
It is in this generous spirit, I want to share an authentic recipe for Toni Tennille’s Rice Creole Dish that will, like its namesake, be easy and pleasant.
Toni Tennille’s Rice Creole Dish
Red ripe tomatoes (Italian Style, or small cherry tomatoes. Large ones may be used but must be chopped small)
Brown Rice (washed)
Mild Cheddar Cheese (Alta-Dena raw milk cheese, if available in your are)
Spike (if not available, use any seasoning salt)
Cayenne Pepper to Taste
Sauté 2 chopped onions in olive oil until golden brown. Add 1 chopped bell pepper and 3-4 pieces chopped celery and simmer until tender crisp. Add 3 cups of chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer until tomatoes cook down and become liquefied. Add 1 cup (washed) brown rice along with the juice of ½ lemon, 2 tablespoons sweet basil. Add cayenne pepper, Spike or seasoning to taste. Bring all ingredients to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 45 minutes. Remove lid and add cheese to top. Place under broiler to brown cheese, or replace lid and let cheese melt through.
Note: Above ingredients may be increased according to personal taste, such as spices.