Thursday, July 12, 2012

Love, Persistent Love: The New Seekers: "Never Ending Song of Love"

Well now, isn't it about time for a happy love song?  The sometimes-grim realism of early 70s music on either side of the Atlantic was buoyed up by some of the more clappy/acoustic/granola folk-rock imaginable, this being a prime example.  In this summer of '71 (was it a hot one? I don't quite remember) the public wanted something that was clearly upbeat, joyous, celebratory - as if to push away any looming darkness, or to just forget about it in the summer sun. 

This song was written by one Delaney Bramlett, a singer-songwriter who, along with his wife Bonnie and their Friends, had the original hit with this in the US; if this song has a countryish tinge, that's because Bramlett was from Mississippi and hung out with Mac Davis, Leon Russell and J.J. Cale, amongst others, as he worked as a session musician/songwriter in the mid-60s, and in the late 60s Eric Clapton joined his group and learned a lot from him*; Clapton's first solo album from 1970 is the fruit of that time, before he went off to hang out with some other musicians from the South.  I used to own that album and it has a slyness - imagine The New Seekers doing "After Midnight" and you'll see what I mean - that would be, well, wrong here.  The New Seekers were just a slightly more rock version of The Seekers, after all, and meant to be wholesome family entertainment; more rousing sing-a-longs and fewer laments, but still no room for the down-home blues Clapton wanted and perhaps needed to dive into at this time.  This shows, rather neatly, the division between the sunshine/smiley-faced pop - all sweetness and light - and the various shadows and glories of rock, which was, as previously mentioned, going through its Classic phase about now, all serious and grown up and just verging on decadence.

The New Seekers never wanted or needed that; here they strum and call out like rebel nuns and (seeing as how this was #2 for over a month) made an awful lot of people quite happy.  (I can imagine this being an earworm, for sure.)  These guys weren't interested in drugs, they just wanted to teach the world to sing, perhaps a bit ambitiously, "in perfect harmony."  (I suppose drugs became popular once people realized such harmony was harder to achieve than expected.)  This kind of pop - almost unimaginable now and most certainly in The Void, stamped "cheery folk rock, Australian division" is a sign of lost innocence; the more anxious songs from this year still get some attention, but this pledge of fidelity and love is lost, a kind of relic from a time when utopian ideas and groups of men and women would sing together unironically and affectionately.  (That ABBA are essentially doing the same kind of thing in Sweden at this time should be noted; they will eventually take this kind of thing to places The New Seekers probably wouldn't go - but I am getting ahead of myself.) 

The worlds of rock and pop are indeed spinning off in different directions, or (confusingly, I know) gradually coming together, unified by artists like Bramlett who could do any kind of song needed for any artist, folk to pop to rock; The New Seekers are Clapton's Australians cousins in this case, though the next time we get to them, dear readers, they'll be doing something definitely pop and Clapton will be more than knee-deep in the blues. 

Next up:  one more for the truckers...  


*He gave Clapton the confidence to really sing (he was still a bit nervous about it, I guess).  He also taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar, hence "My Sweet Lord" sounds like a country song gone to India via "He's So Fine." 

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