As many of you who read me will know, I was far too young to be caught up in the whole fanatical David Cassidy vs. Donny Osmonds/The Osmonds imbroglio, and in coming to think of it I doubt that even if I was the right age, I would have been all that interested; neither are my type. So I can write here with some objectivity about this rivalry, mainly that it was an ersatz Cowsills vs. the white Jackson 5 and that this is how the 60s were evolving into the 70s. This is odd in retrospect, and produced some remarkable singles.
One of them was this song – the only hit song in a genre full of car worship to be actively against them. The environmental movement – pardon me, the ecological movement – was still fresh at this time and it mainly looked at everything and said that it was polluted. Visual pollution, noise pollution and a host of variants were all in the news, perhaps to distract from something else in American life? The still-going Vietnam war, perhaps, or…something happening right there in D.C. itself? The car – in my experience the early 70s car was a huge station wagon or a big hulking thing that used a lot of gas, took up a lot of space (I think of the car Cannon used to drive around) and was a kind of symbol of US dominance. In our own family we had a French car, a Renault 16, which my father bought as he was tall and needed the legroom, plus it was French and that always counted for something with him. There were compact VW beetles that were noisy and reliable and got good mileage, not to mention VW vans, but for Americans a car was a second home by now, and the roomier and sleeker, the better.
So it is a surprise to hear these clean-cut Mormons talking about the insanity of cars, their never-ending proliferation and how many there are and how many more there will be. This was before the oil crisis, before the gas guzzlers were traded in for the smaller cars (the Pinto being one that, um, didn’t last) – so this is actually a prescient call for a more reasonable way of getting around, if not giving up driving a car for good and using some other means of transportation. The US was about to haplessly go into a period of confusion and recession and general breakdown the likes of which had never been contemplated; faced with such big problems, they started to take little things seriously, perhaps realizing that in fact they weren’t that little to begin with. In the 70s the personal became the political (and after assassination after assassination and Vietnam dragging on, that attitude is understandable) and everyone can agree on the importance of clean streets*, bald eagles and ‘Turn down that music, if that’s what you call music.’ Indeed in retrospect this aspect of the 70s is the one that has had the biggest effect (outside of various liberation movements) in making the modern world the bicycle-friendly pesticide-free use-your-own bag no artificial anything paradise it is today. (Cough.) The horses are still out there (SUVs, for the most part) and they are still crazy, even if going at the 55mph speed limit, which in my experience is about how fast they can go without losing traction.
If anyone is reading this wants to know, I don’t drive, I don’t know how to drive (terribly glamourous I know) mainly because my spatial relations w/r/t a car/van/truck would be useless; I bump into enough pedestrians as it is and would no doubt bump into vehicles too, and seeing how other drivers drive here in London (either in a slackerly way as if it’s a Sunday or in a way that can best be described as ‘opportunistic’) doesn’t make me confident I could learn here either. (My main spatial skill as such is map-reading; I am a born navigator, as is my mom, who never got her licence, as driving in Silverlake is…scary**.) But I digress…
Apart from the ecological aspects, this was and is a rockin' song in the best sense; loud, weirdly noisy (that horse's neigh done by Donny Osmond himself and later sampled by Pop Will Eat Itself for their epic "Def Con One" and just plain exciting in a way that a little kid could understand. This is rock 'n' roll just as much as any of the big Four, and by itself it fully justifies the Osmond mania of the time (complete with the band having to be smuggled in to the Top of the Pops studios to perform it). I would love to hear Neil Young cover it.
Next up: what is he saying? Steve McQueen? What?
*A lot of environmental songs from this era have other meanings in them, such as the Philadelphia All-Stars’ “Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto” which about a lot more than beautifying your block by planting a garden, though it’s about that too.
**Those of you who know how hilly it can get know what I’m talking about. Imagine being at the very top of Baxter Drive and feeling the ground give way and you can see why my mom said ‘no thank you.’ I was in the backseat at the time, of course (and this was in 1972).