Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon of the Duo Captain and Tennille pose for a portrait in 1980 in Los Angeles.
Toni Tennille and Daryl Dragon of the Duo Captain and Tennille pose for a portrait in 1980 in Los Angeles.
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Forever No. 1: Captain & Tennille's 'Do That to Me One More Time'

by Andrew Unterberger
January 08, 2019, 10:35am EST

Forever No. 1 is a new Billboard series that pays special tribute to the recently deceased artists who achieved the highest honor our charts have to offer -- a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single -- by taking an extended look back at the chart-topping songs that made them part of this exclusive club. Here, we again honor the late Daryl "The Captain" Dragon by diving into his and Toni Tennille's second No. 1 hit as Captain and Tennille, the 1979 slow jam "Do That to Me One More Time." 

If you mostly remember Captain & Tennille from their jaunty mid-'70s pop-rock love songs, the presence of 1979's "Do That to Me One More Time" as their second and final Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 could be a little jarring. The song mostly loses the complex keyboard layering and punchy rhythms that Daryl "The Captain" Dragon was best known for producing, in favor of a slow-and-low R&B groove, matched with one of the most sensual vocals and lyrics of any hit song from its era, courtesy of frontwoman Toni Tennille. 

"Do That" wasn't totally without precedent in the Captain & Tennille catalog. Their second hit, following the breakout chart-topper "Love Will Keep Us Together," was the No. 4-peaking "The Way I Want to Touch You," whose toggling between slow-paced, piano-led verses and a more urgent, full-band chorus, carried echoes of '70s singer-songwriters Carole King and Laura Nyro. But the song separated itself with Tennille's vocal -- breathy, yearning, alternately hushed and piercing -- which suggested a level of desire far beyond what most of the duo's soft-rock contemporaries were willing to commit to. It wasn't quite full R&B yet, but it suggested they might get there eventually. 

Beyond their levels of lust, "The Way" and "Do That" have another thing in common: They were both written by Toni Tennille. That made them somewhat anomalous in the duo's singles catalog, as most of their biggest hits were either covers (The Miracles' "Shop Around," Willis Allan Ramsey's "Muskrat Love") or penned by resurgent singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka ("Love Will Keep Us Together,"  "You Never Done It Like That," "Lonely Night (Angel Face)" -- the first two also co-written by Sedaka's longtime creative partner Howard Greenfield). But Tennille was hardly without chops of her own, having already written the music for the ecological rock production Mother Earth and proving herself an accomplished touring musician with the Beach Boys. And though it was only their second song to become a hit, "The Way" was actually Captain & Tennille's first official A-side release, helping them land their original deal with A&M Records. 

But of course, it was "Love Will Keep Us Together" that caught on first, snowballing into one of the biggest hits of the '70s, and setting the course for the duo's next couple years of massive popularity. By the late '70s, however, Captain & Tennille's hitmaking winning streak had more or less come to an end -- after five consecutive top five hits (not counting the No. 49-peaking Spanish version of "Love Will Keep Us Together"), only one of their next six singles even hit the top 10, 1978's No. 10-peaking "You Never Done It Like That." Their album sales made for an even more dire situation -- 1978's Dream peaked at a meager No. 131 on the Billboard 200 -- and the duo parted ways with A&M. 

Their choice for a new label would prove inspired: Casablanca Records, led by famed record exec Neil Bogart, which had struck gold in the disco era -- particularly with its biggest solo star, Donna Summer. The genre's breakout in the late '70s had completely shifted the center of popular music, and by 1979, well over half the year's No. 1 singles were disco. However, the end of 1979 also saw a return to prominence on the charts for big balladry, as smooth, synth-powered slow jams from Robert John and Styx topped the Hot 100 -- along with "Please Don't Go," the first major ballad for disco sensations KC & the Sunshine Band, and the first No. 1 hit of the 1980s. 

Captain & Tennille tried dipping a foot into disco with Make Your Move, their first album for Casablanca. The duo reinvented their image, with the formerly brunette Tennille going blonde and Dragon growing out a Burt Reynolds mustache, even ditching his trademark captain's hat on the LP cover and in promotional photos. The bubbling bass, glitching synths and insistent beat of "No Love in the Morning" got them at least halfway to the dance floor, while the stomping beat, fire-and-desire lyric and seven-minute runtime of "How Can You Be So Cold" saw Captain & Tennille fully committed to doing Moroder and Summer. That play-acting was taken even further with the album's barnstorming "Happy Together (A Fantasy)," which attempted to do with the Turtles' 1966 No. 1 hit what their labelmates had achieved with their version of Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park" a year earlier. 

But even with all these disco excursions, it was another song that caught the attention of Neil Bogart upon the Casablanca president's first visit to the then-married couple's home to hear Captain & Tennille's new material. "Do That to Me One More Time" was the final tune that the duo played for Bogart, not thinking much of it. "At the very end I said, 'Well, I'll play you this little tune. It's not much but it might make a good album cut,'" Tennille remembered to Fred Bronson for The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. "So I sat down at the electric piano and played 'Do That to Me One More Time.' Neil said, 'That's a smash! There's no doubt in my mind that's going to be your first single.'" 

It's not hard to see what drew him to the song: Aside from its instantly captivating melody -- like "Love Will Keep us Together," the song kicks right off with its title and strongest vocal hook -- "Do That to Me One More Time" was an instant attention-grabber for its lustful, borderline-explicit-sounding lyrical conceit. "The Way That I Want to Touch You" may have been decently suggestive, but for the most part, Captain & Tennille were seen as a wholesome pop-rock duo, family-friendly enough to be given their own hit primetime variety show on ABC. Tennille's opening insistence of "Do that to me one more time/ Once is never enough, with a man like you" didn't quite set off the censors, but it definitely said enough to let people know that the days of "Muskrat Love" were over for the duo. Her contralto croon also proved an ideal match for the ballad -- light and flexible enough to properly convey the song's sighing ecstasy, but strong and substantial enough to show that she's woman enough to handle the double shot of her baby's love

And the Captain, as the song's producer and primary instrumentalist, provides Tennille with the warm, lush backing track to properly sell the vocal's gleeful sense of overindulgence. Gauzy keys pair and harmonize with a pair of acoustic guitars, while a subtly busy bass line percolates throughout, anchoring the song and preventing it from ever becoming too wispy. In a sort of Captain & Tennille trademark, the song is briefly interrupted by an unusual instrumental solo -- in this case, sax legend Tom Scott (of Taxi Driver and "Listen to What the Man Said" fame) messing around on a lyricon, an electronic wind instrument briefly popular among fusion artists of the late '70s and early '80s. And of course, no song begging for one more go-round would be complete without a big key change before the final verse, or an extended outro that lets the rapture keep swirling and echoing for a final post-climactic minute to close. 

Bogart's instincts about "Do That to Me One More Time" were quickly proven correct, as the song debuted at No. 86 on the Hot 100 on the chart dated Oct. 20, 1979, quickly bounded into the top 40, and finally took over the top spot on Feb. 6, 1980, replacing Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" as the fourth No. 1 of the new decade. Perhaps just as notably, the song marked the duo's first appearance on Billboard's Hot Soul Singles chart (now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) -- reaching No. 58 in March of 1980 -- and even earned the duo an invitation to Soul Train, where Tennille talked with host Don Cornelius about their new album being "on the more sensual side," and related how to she had to abate her mother's fears that the "Do That" lyric was "something not quite right for a lady to write." 

Unfortunately, Captain & Tennille would not return to the R&B charts, and only grazed the Hot 100 afterwards: Follow-up single "Love on a Shoestring" was closer to the pair's mid-'70s style, but did not find similar success, peaking at No. 55 on the Hot 100, while the album's "Happy Together" fell well short of the benchmark set by Summer's chart-topping "MacArthur Park" cover, only hitting No. 53. Follow-up albums Keeping Our Love Warm (1980) and More Than Dancing (1982) failed to chart, and the duo went on hiatus, as Tennille launched a mildly successful solo career in the mid-'80s. 

It's tempting to wonder what Captain & Tennille's career would've been like if it had focused more on Tennille as an R&B-influenced singer-songwriter -- if, say, "The Way I Want to Touch You" had served as the pair's mold-setting breakout hit, rather than "Love Will Keep Us Together." Would they have thrived, rather than just survived, as disco took over top 40 in the late '70s? Would they be a fixture on quiet storm radio playlists today? Would they still -- in the words of their esteemed Soul Train host -- be "responsible for some of the biggest records ever made"? We'll never know, but at least we have "Do That to Me One More Time" to represent for that side of Captain & Tennille in the duo's Hot 100 legacy, and once will have to be enough in that respect.