Thursday, December 22, 2011

Boy Toy: The Foundations: "Build Me Up Buttercup"

And so we come to the end of 1968; it may have been a year for worldwide revolution, but for this blog it clearly has been a year of relationships, whether they are viewed nostalgically as with O’Connor or tormentingly, like Ryan. This song sits about halfway between those two extremes, in that the man clearly loves the woman but is disappointed by her actions, or rather inactions. He loves her but those inactions speak volumes about her attitude, which is decidedly blasé. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for him to still be attracted to her, and he himself questions why he needs her; he doesn’t understand himself, nor does he understand her, save that she thinks of him as a "toy." Perhaps it is because he is so desperate that she stands him up, forgets to call, and “mess(es) him around.” His aching “ooo-OOOH”s are as much about his pain as physical longing, and I don’t know if it is perverse of me to guess that maybe he secretly likes being in love with someone so unpredictable; someone who is very much like the butterfly girl in “Jesamine” who irritates and is yet still inherently lovable.

The song is upbeat, led by piano and horns, a radio staple to this day** as it is cheery, even though it depicts a man at the end of his proverbial rope, the singer almost screaming “WHY” at each chorus, maybe to her, maybe rhetorically as he stares at the clock*, runs to the door, looks imploringly at the phone...wondering about his fate and telling her how much he loves her.

He believes one day he will win her over, but I don’t know if this one-sided relationship has much of a chance; no matter how many “hey hey hey”s and no matter how loud he gets, this woman’s inability to commit, even to something as simple as a phone call, must mean there is either something about her he doesn’t know (not that he has any suspicions in the song) or that maybe, as the saying goes, she just isn’t that into him and he, poor sap, is trying to get pears from an oak tree. (I am not ignoring the obvious implications about her building up his expectations either; those yelps of his are from thwarted desire, and in between this and him not even knowing why he’s attracted to her, something awkward and unpleasant might just happen.)

The Foundations’ previous hit points to a sort of theme here of hapless pointless attachment (“Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”) and this need to be with someone – even if it’s not reciprocated – kind of hints at what is to come. If the Summer of Love was all about love as a universal solvent, then in ’68 love came back down to the dogged and irrational personal perspective, wherein men have feelings for women that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but they are true and genuine and that – that realness – is what counts. 1969 is going to take that realness all over the place, as the decade ends and everyone has their final say on what counts.

*Sloan do an excellent song on the bonus EP of One Chord To Another called “Stood Up,” all about a guy who is left in a café, watching the clock…

**If I sound a little...arms-length about this song, it's because I associate it with a compilation I heard way too much in a situation that I didn't exactly enjoy. As much as I try to be fair to songs, some have been drummed into me in a way that doesn't make me think of them with automatic enthusiasm. I should note that it was written by Mike d'Abo (lead singer with Manfred Mann) and Tony Macaulay, who helped to write "Baby, Now That I've Found You." I should also note that The Foundations were the first multi-racial group to hit it big in the UK, at a time when (inexplicable to me) The Black and White Minstrel Show was still on tv. The struggle was still definitely continuing...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How We Used To Live: Des O'Connor: "One Two Three O'Leary"

And now we return to the NME number twos for a song that was written by Barry Mason and Michael Carr, and performed by all-round entertainer (comedian, singer, tv chat show host) Des O'Connor. That something so utterly and completely sedate could jostle its way to the top amongst The Scaffold, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Love Sculpture just shows how fragmented the pop audience was, and how well a song like this could do.

It is a quiet song, a song about innocence and first love, harpsichord-led and gently going down memory lane, and it has nothing to do with liberation or freedom and everything to do with recalling a different time; a time when they were both young but also when the "wildwood" was theirs and everything seemed magical*.

To some this might seem a bit soppy, and O'Connor himself didn't think much of his singing, but pure, 100% proof nostalgia like this always does well in the holiday season, when thoughts turn to loved ones, and Mary here clearly is loved, even if it is so long ago that the narrator (if pressed - he isn't, here) doesn't know where she is now. Now is just a vantage point to then, and then is what is fixed in the narrator's mind. This song could appeal to anyone, I guess, but it is the generation just before the Housewives of Valium Court that it hits directly - those who remember life before & during WWII, those who suffered through it and take refuge in utterly peaceful and genteel music and find most rock too ugly and loud. (The harpsichord is what makes this a 'modern' sounding song, as baroque meets old guard pop.) As songs about love from this year go, this is thankfully free of death; an oasis of calm, even if it is a cul-de-sac.

From the rock vantage point O'Connor seems out of place; however, I should mention a much more 'hip' song that O'Connor did that he himself could stand: "Dick-A-Dum-Dum" is total London silliness as interpreted by Jim Dale, but shows more signs of life from O'Connor because of its humor. (And yes, whenever I hear 'the Buckingham beat' I think of Fleetwood Mac. I'm predictable that way.)

As '68 closes, we have more girl trouble ahead; beyond that, 1969 looms, the final year, as the 60s turns to look at itself.

*The game played in question is fully described here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Flesh Succeeds: Nina Simone: "Ain't Got No/I Got Life/Do What You Gotta Do"

After great grief, there has to be a stock-taking; a simple assertion of what and who you are. It is a painful thing to realize that you don't have things, that what you once had is gone; you have to rejoice in what you do have and make the most of it, while you can.

Nina Simone's recording of this song* came just a month or so after Dr. King's assassination, a time of anger, a time when a purpose that seemed unstoppable had to be buoyed up and sustained. Simone was no stranger to covering songs from musicals and besides the gospel-style music I am guessing she picked this one (actually a medley of two songs from the first act of HAIR) as it directly addresses the loss everyone was feeling...that they had nothing left - nothing external, not even a name. The eternal value of the person and his/her right - freedom - that was all that was left. It is like hearing a birth in reverse; everything, even the mother, is absent. Life is the main thing; it is the only thing. That no one can take away, though as the story in HAIR runs, even that is a debatable point...

But Simone's voice, astringent and fierce, makes it sound as if life is at the same time a base line from which to start and something that is hers, as if she had in fact created herself. The burden of not having anything becomes a blessing of a clean slate, again rejoicing in the physical body (HAIR is a very physical show, from its title on down) and the life all of these parts lead together to make up a human being (not unlike this song, which is also one of liberation). The body as a weapon; the body as an ultimate assertion of something that cannot be lost, unless there is death...and this is a song, ultimately, of life over death, of life over the "measly little world" (cf. Hendrix) that would tie it down. It is also an angry though - as if all these losses were unnecessary in the first place, robbings that have left the person with nothing more than themselves.

"Do What You Gotta Do" is a Jimmy Webb song, which is to say it's about freedom and love and how they clash. It is another song as well about how she knows she's hard to love and her heart is her own; this is self-possession on another level. If he has to be free, well, that seems inevitable; 'they' are against him and she loves him more than they ever will. Instead of being deadly fierce here Simone trembles and admits vulnerability, not as a virtue in and of itself but as a symbol, paradoxically, of strength; she is strong enough to love and let go and may never get to see him again...because there is something bigger out there that he has to do - follow his "dappled dreams" that she understands, even if no one else does.

In the first song, she asserts her freedom; in the second, she honors the freedom and needs of someone else. As the 60s come to a close, it seems freedom is the ultimate right and the ultimate gift; but there is another side to them, that wants a sense of belonging and attachment, a side that is less HAIRand more Grease. In the swirling and confusing late 60s, some basic truths have to will out first, and the toughness and quiet sorrow and acceptance here are and were the best ways for riding out a difficult period.

Simone strode in, better equipped than most to handle the situation; and Alan "Fluff" Freeman's support of this is how it got, improbably, into the UK chart in the first place**. Next we go back to the old guard, for a song about love and loss...

*The version I've posted isn't the single one that has applause from the April 7th concert mixed in, presumably to make it 'flow' as a total album ('Nuff Said!) I can only wonder if, years later, a certain producer remembered this and did his own live-to-studio tinkering for this classic (for all I know it was influenced by her; Elton certainly respected her, as anyone would).

**I am still puzzled as to how this, also a cover of a song from HAIR, only got to #11; I guess it was just the times. I still find it overwhelmingly moving...more evidence, I'm guessing, of my American childhood.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Kind of Seizure: Barry Ryan: "Eloise"

We have had songs before where, clearly, a line was being drawn between the present and the past; songs which, once they get out into the general world of pop, charts and listeners' ears, prepare them for what is to come, and inspire a few to follow...this is one of those songs; it's a dangerous song, as well.

Songs like this usually come from bands that are already fairly well known (The Beatles did it several times) or from the most unexpected of corners, those who are brand new or are determined, to quote Ezra Pound, to make it new.

Avant-MOR, a term I've used enough, is simply taking regular middle-of-the-road balladry down a strange lane or two, until something like "MacArthur Park" or "Montague Terrace (In Blue)" - songs that take lyrical and emotional flight, whether they are anguished or secure. This takes guts - in a way it is too easy to just sing the same songs, essentially, over and over again - and the skill to pull it off. There is no halfway point here, no way to just say 'let's just be a little avant-garde' - this is unvarnished stuff emotionally despite the high production values.

Twins Paul and Barry Ryan were popstar pin-up types in the mid-60s; Paul suffered too much stress performing live, though, so the two decided that Paul would write the songs and Barry would sing them; in this way there is already a doubling effect, as if two men had one voice. Paul had heard and absorbed "MacArthur Park" and wanted to do something like it; not a neat song that would be something a mailman would hum, but a proper EPIC song that would unashamedly give voice to something far bigger and uncontrollable, that would gallop along, at first dramatically, then pause as if to recall reality, if only for a second or two, and then speed into a maelstrom that makes much of UK music in '68 sound as if it is asleep.

Which is to say, this is not baroque at all but romantic, the kind of romanticism where emotions are high-pitched to the point of hysteria; wild, as if she has loved him and spurned him but he will not give up, he cannot give up as he has no other point in living.

This is a dangerous song. I'll explain what I mean: we've had Cupid before, and The Casuals had that experience too, if a bit stronger, but I must go back to Joseph Campbell to explain the difference between those and "Eloise":

“The troubadours were the nobility of Provence and then later other parts of France and Europe. In Germany they’re known as the Minnesingers, the singers of love. Minne is the medieval German word for love. The period for the troubadours is the 12th century. The troubadours were very much interested in the psychology of love. And they’re the first ones in the West who really thought of love the way we do now — as a person-to-person relationship.

Before that, love was simply Eros, the god who excites you to sexual desire. This is not the experience of falling in love the way the troubadours understood it. Eros is much more impersonal than falling in love. You see, people didn’t know about Amor. Amor is something personal that the troubadours recognized.

The troubadours recognized Amor as the highest spiritual experience. With Amor we have a purely personal ideal. The kind of seizure that comes from the meeting of the eyes, as they say in the troubadour tradition, is a person-to-person experience. That’s completely contrary to everything the Church stood for (in medieval Europe).

You know, the usual marriage in traditional cultures was arranged for by the families. It wasn’t a person-to-person decision at all. In the Middle Ages, that was the kind of (impersonal) marriage that was sanctified by the Church. And so the troubadour idea of real person-to-person Amor was very dangerous.”

Or, as Bill Moyers summed it up: "The point of all these pioneers in love is that they decided to be the author and means of their own self-fulfillment, that the realization of love is to be nature’s noblest work, and that they were going to take their wisdom from their own experience and not from dogma, politics, or any current concepts of social good.”

Even if Barry Ryan didn't know it, Paul had written a troubadour's song for him, a song of obsession, which didn't care for taste, politeness or anything modest. People think of courtly love as being stuffy and formal, but once the true origins of it are recalled and understood, the whole notion of The Summer of Love as revolutionary begins to make sense. Love goes against everything here, including common sense and even sanity (at the end when he sings about not being "there" I am not sure if he means not with her or not in her heart). Ryan sings like there's pretty much no tomorrow, attacking the song and freaking out at the end, passionate and fierce, the go-faster guitars and AAAAHHHHs of the backing singers forever egging him on.

Because it was now nearly 1969 and with that finality ahead, there was nothing to lose. Revolution wasn't just in the air, it was the air; the cute, the maudlin, the merely okay were not enough now. Not when songs like this and this* were in the top ten at the same time; not when Hendrix was singing about a coming apocalypse.

"Eloise" was a huge hit not just in the UK but all across Europe, in part because it was so unhinged ("Kitsch" was a later hit for Ryan, it being "a beautiful word"), and its follow-up, "Love Is Love" goes beyond even this lyrically to sum up love so totally that it's almost embarrassing. But that was the point; to go beyond what had come before, and belatedly to inspire those to come. Years later a certain band, wanting to do something big and memorable themselves, would be inspired by "Eloise" to write their own EPIC tune that would not just stomp all over their rivals but become one of the best-loved UK songs of all time; which is how Queen got to "Bohemian Rhapsody," itself a song that drew a line neatly between old and new rock, not to mention deliberate kitsch. The only way in which it differs is that the narrator there claims that nothing really "matters" to him, whereas the narrator in "Eloise" is so utterly focused that nothing besides her matters to him.

The drama of this song cannot be ignored; the sense that something out of the ordinary is happening, the sense that in hearing it you are participating, sharing his desperate need. Certainly a couple of boys in Dundee heard and absorbed it, coming up with their own 'popera' years later, with songs such as this. Here, as with "Eloise" I can only feel awe: this is what music is, what it is capable of, something beautiful and fearless and intense. Music that comes from somewhere else.

In a way there is nothing after this, though as '68 comes to a close there are a few more songs, pointers this way and that. But with this the Ryans abruptly took UK pop into a different world, a world that others would and did find inspiring, and I thank them for that.

*The Motown resurgence was due to Tony Blackburn on Radio 1 and the saintly Dave Godin, who were determined to get as much Motown in the charts as possible.

Love's In Control: The Casuals: "Jesamine"

As common as they seem now, musicians have been going on tv to compete against each other for promising stardom and riches for some time; The Casuals won Opportunity Knocks three times in 1965 and got a recording contract, but the public enthusiasm for them, as it does for so many in these situations, did not translate into an instant hit for their first single. Sure, people liked them, but not the song. And so they moved to Italy and had a career there doing Italian covers of English-language hits (they did The Bee Gees' "Massachusetts" for example). Then they changed their label from Fontana to Decca and got this hit, a cover of a song by The Bystanders written by Friendly Forbear* Marty Wilde and Ronnie Scott, the Bystanders' manager.

It sounds as if it was written and performed almost anonymously; there were no stars in this hard-working band, and it sounds very much as if the old-fashioned beat of the 50s is combined with the "butterfly child" 60s vibe of a man in love with a girl who is life and death to him, who "makes his life a dream" but doesn't seem to know what effect she has on him. It is a wistful song with a sense that beauty like this is ephemeral and a hesitancy to do anything lest she fly away, forever. The music circles around this dilemma elegantly, the music itself slowly settling and then soaring, aching to break free but not really able to; not yet, anyway. The awfulness of how he is "not really living" without her is balanced by his adoration of her, her opening his eyes being her real gift, again one she may not know she is giving.

If the previous song had the feeling of "Gee, this what falling in love is like - gosh, I'd better get used to it" then this is much closer to the near narcotic state it can have, wiping the mind clean of anything but the Other, making the rest of the world seem irrelevant and the lover can find nothing and be nothing without the beloved. Again, this might seem extreme, but the songwriters - even if published this under psedonyms - are right to emphasize the Romantic here, which The Summer of Love tried to make universal. This presents a truer sense of what nobility and vulnerability there is in love (especially, as here, one-sided & maybe even unrequited love); the next song will go far beyond this, and far beyond anything I've written about so far in terms of love's intensity and all the desperation those arrows can cause.

This song, by the way, like Leapy Lee's was The Casuals' only real hit; not to get too meta here, but it is as if Love itself was propelling these artists into the charts, to right a certain wrong. With this next song, it certainly sounds as if Love has got the reins.

*The name I use to describe anyone who has anything to do with New Pop before it actually starts; in this case, Wilde is Kim Wilde's father, so he is a literal forbear!

This Won't Hurt A Bit: Leapy Lee: "Little Arrows"

The experience of falling in love is, to say the least, an interesting one. It is swoony, it is perpetual, it puzzlingly either seems to grow over months or happens seemingly within seconds (or even weirder, both of these occur). To those of you who have yet to fall in love, all I can say is you certainly will know when it happens - it is an overwhelming experience and an understandably confusing one, because the world is being newly refreshed all around you, and this renewal is constant and suddenly the Other is magically everywhere.

After so many songs of death, sacrifice and sorrow this song is a very welcome reminder that, even in the chaos of '68, Cupid is still hard at work, his arrows scattering everywhere. Here these arrows are as common as the twirling maple seeds in Toronto, getting into hair and clothes; not even armour can stop them, so powerful are they.

While Leapy Lee is not exactly the first name you think of when the word "punctum" comes to mind, the piercing quality of those arrows cannot be denied. Falling in love makes you wake up; it makes you vulnerable; and to a certain extent, you have to be ready for love in order to fall into it*. Those arrows may be little but their accumulative power is awesome, and Leapy Lee (dressed much like Cat Stevens was) makes it sound like fun, kind of like winning the lottery. I can only attribute this to the songwriters, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood, who were country/pop writers and not opera composers after all - the lightheartedness here is a joy, a little inane to those who always take love Very Seriously, but a joy nonetheless. Because of its mythological basis this isn't bubblegum (bubblegum never presumes you know anything, or that you're over ten) but a kind of giddy, winking (though not knowing) embrace of Cupid, whose own character was naturally mischievous.

In a way this song is only for those who haven't fallen in love yet; it is fair warning for what is to come, though kind of a camouflage as well for what really happens, which feels less like being covered in arrows and more like a drug-like experience that doesn't let up...

Next up: more romance, courtesy of a Friendly Forbear.

*Erich Fromm says you have to know and respect yourself before you can love anyone else; not terribly romantic, but absolutely true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Family First and Last: O.C. Smith: "Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp"

In music, as in life, there is no greater figure of importance than the mother; and especially in music from the South, whether it be folk, country or soul. This is not apologetic or high falutin music; it says what it says as if to say that this is reality, as opposed to the often idealistic/nihilistic edges of rock. Mother is the bedrock of everything; there can be no criticism, because criticizing her is tantamount to criticizing everything else that surrounds you, and ultimately, yourself.

So when O.C. Smith tells the story of how his mother got to be a woman of the night, however exaggerated the tale (how could there be fourteen children who didn't understand adults' gossip?), it is at heart more a song about the pride of the family - the mother and the children - than any factual details. It's a pride that is defiant; the father is feckless, a drunk, who leaves them nothing (and unlike a future song, the children here don't ask about him) and having so many children to look after, she hangs up her "scarlet lamp" and brings them all up, on "chicken dumplings" and "goodnight kisses." Trying to figure out the logistics of how all this works is not the point; the mother loves her children and vice versa, and she dies (no indication how or why; since there's none I'm guessing old age/illness) and is remembered fondly by all of them. (Since they have a farm I guess some of the kids farm, but again that's not mentioned.) The song is about a boy who grows up and returns to his childhood home, defiant in his own way, but not looking to provoke a fight. He is proud - no one helped the family when he was growing up, and so I imagine it became like a military unit, self-sufficient and wary of outsiders. But again, there is no fuss; justified self-satisfaction is due, just as the roses on the mother's grave are due.

That this song was written by Dallas Frazier (who also wrote "Alley-Oop" and "Elvira"), a country songwriter, and done in a soul style seals the link between the two musics - blurs them really, as this song was also a hit for Kenny Rogers. There is, unlike "Honey," no pathos here, no clammy uneasiness; there is some grief that what happened had to happen, but it is not dwelled upon. That this song is at rock bottom about doing what you have to do in order to survive, a mother's sacrifice - well, no one is unfamiliar with that, no matter where you live, in the country or the city.

This song was a hit during a time when the charts could - and did - have just about anything and everything in them, from avant-MOR to easy listening to soul to rock to bubblegum; 1968 in singles was a swirling and sometimes (as we've seen) morbid look at life, life often seen in extremes, as if regular life was somehow not big enough to contain the feelings and tendencies of the time. Apart from all the strangeness, a song like this is like walking barefoot on grass; a reaffirmation of the fundamentals of life, even if that life is lived as the narrator's mother had to live hers. It also feeds into the 'back to basics' movement that had its rock counterpart in The Band, whose first album* caused a whole wave of prominent musicians to take a step back from psychedelic heaviness and get into something more subtle, acoustic and, well, soulful**.

Next up: a song about Cupid, because there have always been songs about him, thank goodness.

*The Band had no doubt played in many of the places O.C. Smith had played and knew both country and r&b intimately.

**There is a whole other wave of musicians in the UK who are coming up via the blues, but I will get to them in time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laugh Until You Cry: Bobby Goldsboro: "Honey"

There are certain songs that are disliked and then there are songs that are hated. Of the many songs I get to write about in this blog, this is one of the most hated, to the point where it is some people's least favorite song of all time, which is saying something.

That the song is hated so much at least shows that it touches something primal, and in this case that primal feeling is a surprising one: dignity. This song, which tries so hard to be heart-tugging and tear-wringing, gives us a "kinda dumb and kinda smart" figure whose death, just from that description (and the lament at the beginning, not to mention the funeral home 'your call is important to us' music) is beyond foretold: it's mandatory. Once again we are at home, seemingly outside, with a man who is telling his sorry tale to a 'friend' (presumably the audience, as this man doesn't have friends - I'll get to that in a second) who is given a description of a woman so utterly depressed and lonely, that tears may indeed be shed, though another emotion might come to the fore afterwards...

It is hard to kick, if only metaphorically, a man when he's down; the narrator here is sorry and trying to be "good" and misses Honey, but it is he who is himself the cause of his own misery. He laughs at her when she plants a tree; he, even though he's her husband, never seems to question why she might be crying, or even why she would wreck the car. She is, to him, "young at heart" and perhaps messed up in ways he can't understand, but his lack of curiosity or empathy are his undoing. Is her crying "needlessly" due to his lack of sensitivity, care? There is a coldness at the heart of this song that gives me the chills; placidly Goldsboro tells the pathetic tale of a woman who would literally rather die than live with a man who cannot give her the dignity of being a real, living person whose life is worth taking seriously. That he keeps saying he misses her and would be with her "if he could" doesn't help matters any; sure his life is an "empty stage," but by the end of the song he surely deserves his fate, and indeed is doomed to repeat his story again and again, about the "kinda dumb" girl he mocked and condescended to while she was alive, and now pathetically mourns*.

That this song was such a hit shows a few things: there's no accounting for taste, some people don't listen to lyrics, and that if they do the wash of sentiment can outweigh anything else. The dignity of the listener is ultimately what is offended here, as the audience is called upon to be sympathetic with a narrator who is lamenting a death that did not need to happen, one which he no doubt contributed to; marriage is unity, but there was no unity in this one and I can't help but feel that I am listening to a story narrated by a man who is more than "kinda dumb" myself.

Bobby Russell was responsible for writing this, though, and not Goldsboro (who, to his eternal credit, didn't think much of the song and had to, according to Randy Bachman, keep doing takes as he kept laughing during the recording - right at the end you can sort of hear a suppressed smile). Russell also wrote the only slightly less unbearable "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia"; Goldsboro went on to host his own tv show and have other, less maudlin, hits. Just why he recorded this I don't know; perhaps he was needled into it, and perhaps it was simply that he needed a hit...

That this was such a success (it got to #2 again in the UK in '75; I'm just posting about it the once) could only be explained by a nationwide sulky/self-pitying mood that this song plays into like a home run with men on all bases**; but even here not once does the narrator look at himself and try to figure out what went wrong, and my only (thankfully unnecessary) fear is that he will fall in love with another woman who is "young at heart" and he will be just as callous to her and the whole thing will happen all over again.

I wonder if any of the Housewives of Valium Court had their consciousness raised by this song; in the shared miseries of '68 something is stirring, even as the songs of women's deaths and woes continue to pile up.

Next up: A woman's gotta do what she's gotta do. I guess...

*This song reminds me, of all things, of the sadness that Thomas Carlyle had after his wife Jane's death; not that she killed herself, but that she had a miserable life with him (he read her journals after her death) and he never really appreciated the continual sadness and anger that she felt.

*This song was #1 in the US in the weeks after Dr. King's assassination; having this reach the top was just more misery than was needed.

Sophisticated Misery: Englebert Humperdinck: "A Man Without Love"

It is easy to see that on the same block as Marriott and his bothersome neighbors, the Housewives of Valium Court have their own method of escape; not just through doctor-approved medication but through daydreams. There he is, unable to leave the house as he is crying (and real men don't cry in public) over his lost love. It was, perhaps, a Mediterranean romance - Spain, Italy, somewhere where (the Housewives think) Romance is constantly in the air and a broken heart is seen not as a mere scratch or bruise but as a near-fatal condition that must be treated with respect.

Crying is a funny thing in songs; it's an easy enough thing to sing about, but if you have the wrong voice for it, it renders the emotional outpouring as something more or less as emotionally involving as trimming the hedge or kneading dough*. It requires a big voice to handle those big emotions, and if Englebert here sounds less than believable (compared to say, Roy Orbison) he at least has the appropriate voice for the song and its Italian origins. (The song was originally written by Roberto Livraghi, Daniele Pace & Mario Panzeri as "Quando M'innamoro" for the Sanremo Festival, an Italian song competition that was the inspiration for Eurovision; Barry Mason wrote English lyrics.) Part of the reason this works is simply that so many I'm-going-to-stay-right-here-and-mope songs** were Englebert's territory already, but there is a languorous smoothness here as well, and the Housewives could easily imagine him wearing his silk dressing gown and eating his eggs Benedict and being as elegant as hell, and still suffering.

Loneliness is indeed a cloak he wears, as a more avant-MOR balladeer would sing, and if he can't go outside he is in a way just as imprisoned as his intended audience; what may look like more fromage to some was more than likely reality for many. That it has a slightly too-sweet aura about it - like a kind of glaze - adds to the sealed-for-your-protection feeling of immobility he's felt since she went away, after that Mediterranean romance.

Still, this immobility is cozy in way - there is a reassuring gentleness and suaveness in the music that guarantees that once the narrator (who recognizes himself as one of many lonely men, a member of a tribe if you will) gets over his loss and goes outside, he is bound to meet another woman and Romance will bloom again. For now he cries and can't go outside, though, and while that seems harsh at least his suffering isn't as acute as the one in this song, a song that brings romantic agony's endless and near-morbid condition only too close to home***. (That it didn't get into the Top 40 in the UK could in part be because of its intensity; it could also be because Motown music wasn't as of yet being pushed that much by certain DJs and music folk.) The Housewives of Valium Court are comforted in their way by this shared misery, thinking and feeling the common "He's too beautiful to suffer!" as they pause after housework or during the baby's nap; that maybe in a few years they might think that way about themselves is possible, but at this point marginal. For now they sit and imagine the Mediterranean breezes, exotic romance, meeting a lovelorn man while strolling by the sea...

Next up: a song that lives, like other things, in infamy.

*Witness the completely emotionally non-involving Jason Derulo single "Fight For You" where when he sings about crying he sounds like a robot. The overuse of Toto's "Africa" doesn't help much either.

**As opposed to Tom Jones, who is forever trying to get home and never really managing it.

***Roger Penzabene, the lyricist, wrote the song about his marital troubles; he killed himself on New Year's Eve, 1967. The Summer of Love had many victims, and the heaviness of '67 was beginning to crush many in '68.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Caught Between Two Worlds: The Small Faces: "Lazy Sunday"

There is a type of guy that the UK specializes in: the bloke. A bloke is not quite a dude (US) or a hoser (Canada) but is something like both in that he is a guy that is a guy; in the UK I take it that the word 'bloke' means someone who is sociable enough, enjoys manly things or has a manly taste in things, and doesn't care for airs or fancies, most of the time. A great deal of music writing in the UK, from what I can tell, is aimed directly at these men, men who have an opinion as to what is and isn't music as strong as those gatekeepers of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in the US.

Which leads squarely to this song by The Small Faces, who are almost the uber bloke group*; from East London ('real' London as any bloke sees it), tussled and then broke free from dominating manager Don Arden, were drug-taking psychedelic mods who sang about getting high and got away with it. That they broke up (in part because they found themselves unable to do any songs from their hit album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake live, including this song) and reconfigured with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart to become The Faces is yet another confirming fact for any bloke that this was their band, fun-loving, unpretentious and devoted to R&B and a good time.

This song, however, follows a growing trend in this blog of singers who have to be coerced into singing songs and bands having songs released against their wishes; "Lazy Sunday" was recorded as a joke, never intended to be a single (it was, as you can tell, Steve Marriott complaining about his neighbors) and was resolutely pop when Marriott wanted the band to be more serious. The "tweedle dee bite"s and exaggerated accent (done because the Hollies taunted him about his not singing with much of a Cockney twang) are pure music hall near-farce, the neighbors complain about his loud ways while he just wants to space out and "drift away". The tug-of-war between the two worlds - the complaining outside world and the peaceful inner one - resolves with the rush of surf, bells, birds; either this is the world he wants to escape to, or he has given up on staying home (so much for laziness!) and gone to the seaside himself.

In this, Marriott is not just a guy in a band who likes to escape but an Everyman, and an Everylondoner at that. London is a big place and a crowded one; the jostle and crowding might be fine for some, but for others just one day where they can be themselves and not have any hassles is desperately needed. But there is no escaping from others, some complaining, some inquisitive, all interrupting the need to just veg out and do nothing. There's a smile on Marriott's face - you can just see it - in the song, and even if I don't understand all the lyrics ("To sing in the khazi while you suss out the moon" is a bit more intelligible to me than Spandau Ballet's "Stealing cake to eat the moon") but I can certainly understand his joy in "sitting in a rainbow" and feeling at one with the world, only to have that broken by someone banging on his door, stopping his groovin' and making his life miserable.

That the group then made an album they couldn't reproduce live shows the difficulties bands had in (on the one hand) wanting to make progressive, psychedelic, modern music and (on the other) being able to make any headway with a public that would just as soon have them do songs like this (and "Itchycoo Park") than anything more complex. The Beatles could do it simply because they had stopped touring, thus freeing them from having to really please any crowds anymore; but they and only they had that luxury - everyone else had to play live. (Marriott left the band as he felt they couldn't top Ogden; in the free-floating crap game that was UK rock, there were always a few other musicians to form a band with, and Marriott got together with Peter Frampton** to form Humble Pie, yet another de facto bloke group.)

If other people are a bother in this song, then its most famous offspring is a celebration of the many people who make up London, all going about their own business with one of them giving a running commentary (saying everything but "Gor blimey Mrs. Jones/How's old Bert's lumbago?" as Marriott asks here) on what he sees and what he does. Here instead of irritated next-door-neighbors there's a stronger sense of unity - everyone hand-in-hand - though the jostle and crowding are nearly palpable, so is the joy in feeling a part of something larger. But in '68 the joy is in escape, in separating one's self from others, especially if those others are not like you - the song is a joke but the generation gap here isn't, and even in relatively placid London there is a tension between the public and private, not to mention tensions within bands as to whether to stay pop or go rock. You cannot please everyone, the late 60s seems to be saying, and so escape to somewhere else more congenial is one solution. Not everyone can fit in...not even blokes, who tend to think they are normal. But at this time there's normal and normal...

Next up: another song about someone who wants to leave the house, but can't. Has The Summer of Love turned into the Spring of Agoraphobia?

*The ultimate uber bloke group is up for debate, but I'm guessing it's either The Who or The Rolling Stones. There are blokes who hate The Beatles, I have learned (I've learned many things since moving to the UK) so I can't include them.

**Frampton was in his own strange pop band at the time called The Herd; if you like the idea of mythological 60s pop, they are for you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Child Shall Lead Them: 1910 Fruitgum Company: "Simon Says"

And now we come - all of a sudden, like a sugar rush - to the wonderful world of bubblegum music, which was a haven for garage bands who liked to make music for drunk girls to dance to (to borrow from Franz Ferdinand) as opposed to far-out psychedelic blues jams for those who wanted to get high. One of the great joys of pop is the complete inanity of it, that it does not and really should not be taken so seriously; and as you can see there was a lack of cheery, perky songs around at this time.

So in come the bubblegum army to give the increasingly heavy late 60s a big lift. The biggest source of bubblegum was one Buddah Records, run by Neil Bogart (he who later gave the world KISS and The Village People) - he saw the success of the Monkees and wanted in on the action - luckily he met the producing powerhouse duo of Jerry Kasenetz and Steve Katz, who proceeded to work with the 1910 Fruitgum Company (an actual band from New Jersey, btw, and not just a pseudonym for themselves) to do this song. I cannot say much about it except that the various looks on the faces here show that while this may not be what the group first got together to do (the b-side is called, after all, "Reflections From the Looking Glass") but it was what the kids wanted and it was dumb fun and what is wrong with that? (This is yet perhaps another variation of the childlike qualities of psychedelia, with this game* winning out as little kids were simply too young for anything else.)

What was one way out of the 60s? Bubblegum was maybe not what the serious types would have thought up, but it persisted in the US and in the UK, feeding into and energizing other music to make this old thing called rock 'n' roll new again (bubblegum + rock = glam). As absolutely non-threatening as this song is, it helped to refocus some on what mattered - sweetness, youth and a lightness of touch that during this time in particular were sorely needed. It reassured people - even those who hated playing this game - that there was still a place for simplicity in music, if not out-and-out nonsense. This is playground stuff, but it's the roots for a lot of what is to come; in a way bubblegum is the roots of a lot of good things about the 70s, if by good you also mean silly, addictive, sweet and ridiculous. That's fine; in fact bubblegum may have even pushed the whole 'back to basics' '68 movement along in its own way, just as much as The Band. Who knows? Anything can happen when travelling back to square one.

*Whenever I had to play this game I did well until it got too fast and I invariably messed up; but this song never does speed up or play tricks. Bubblegum's too good-hearted for that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Death Becomes Him: Tom Jones: "Delilah"

There are many benefits of being a singer/songwriter, and one of them is that you don't look at the lyrics someone has given you and think to yourself, this is a joke, right?

But Les Reed and Barry Mason weren't kidding, so Jones dutifully sang it, and the public loved it and still do (particularly the Welsh Rugby Union and Stoke City fans). I am not sure if anyone concerned knew the word "camp" (as it had been recently specifically defined by Susan Sontag) but even your average mailman could sense in the oom-pah-pah rhythm and male-hysterical lyrics ("I was lost like a slave that no man could free") that this was, even for Jones, not a normal song. It is almost a Punch-and-Judy show-level song about insane jealousy, and the narrator's murderousness is caused by her "laughing" (I will leave it up to you to figure out why she is laughing). And so he stands at the end, the other man having of course already left, singing to her corpse, rehearsing his story for the police and thence the judge*...

That some members of the jury might be women is conveniently overlooked here, but not by this man, who knows full well what the song is about. It's about a man who is obsessed, a stalker; a man who considers the woman to be his even though she is no good for him (and he knows it). Alex Harvey digs into what Jones couldn't at the time - the unnerving self-justifications that make his begging for forgiveness hollow, the horror behind the drama, the flat face of a man who is not temporarily nuts but is deliberate, who would have killed her even if she hadn't been laughing.

But this is how things were in 1968 - an at heart grisly tale is done as a sing-a-long, grotesque and dramatic as a soap opera, while real deranged killers (Dr. King was assassinated while this was #2) were on the loose. Perhaps this song was one of the truer fruits of the Summer of Love, but I tend to think it is one that has gone sour, a twisted pleading yelp. As a song it is cheesy and I'm sure that Reed & Mason wrote it knowing the public would respond to its outrageous pantomime heart. (It also has, in the band and chorus, all of what would soon become Led Zeppelin, not to mention one Reg Dwight, aka Elton John, on piano.) In a way it is an oppositional #2 as well, sitting just under "Lady Madonna," a song where the only anger evident is in the sax solo, a precursor to another song I'll get to by McCartney about an ordinary woman's travails. But all is Drama with Jones as ever, and by now this is what his audience expects from him.

1968 was a year of violence, and in some way this song reflects that; it has lasted because it is easy for the terraces to sing on one part, and on another Jones himself does it in a jokey way now, as if to say, that era is gone. That may be true, but then it was another piece of the lurid and irrational end of the 60s, as idealism was giving way to despair and the decade was already being disowned by some as not being all it was cracked up to be (certainly the hippie scene of California was getting ugly). This song waltzes and and trots by it all, as if to say, in part, what do you expect? (The musical Cabaret had just started in London a month before; the uneasiness of that show reminds me of this song.)

Next up: the counterpart to all this madness, available at your local corner store.

*Jones was in prison waiting to be executed in a previous song, and here he is again, about to go through the whole rigmarole again. I can only assume a young Nick Cave was absorbing the sort-of song cycle at the time...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Lover's Discourse: The Four Tops: "Walk Away Renee"

Or, The Summer of Love With A Vengeance

"My language trembles with desire." Roland Barthes, "Talking" A Lover's Discourse

There are certain voices that can sing anything - and then there are grander voices that are best suited to whatever their voices most suggest. Holland-Dozier-Holland knew what Levi Stubbs' voice was capable of, what it could bear, and wrote songs for him and The Four Tops that only they could really sing. Stubbs' voice is big, pained, noble; it needed a setting and lyrics that could match it.

When H-D-H left Motown The Four Tops were (like everyone else H-D-H had worked with) at something of a loss for songs, when someone - I'm not sure who - found this and knew it would work. (I am writing about this, by the way, as a #2 hit on the NME chart.) I can well imagine them hearing to the original in '66 song by The Left Banke and being impressed by it; the singer is paralyzed with hopeless love. He is stationary, empty, and the world floods around him, the sky cries the tears he can't, the symbol of love - a heart on a wall with her & his names - haunts him. Because she can never be his, she may as well leave; he cannot follow her or even be near her. It is too much for him, he literally cannot stand it. The singer Steve Martin (and here we come to feeling The Four Tops understood) cannot help himself; he sounds as if he is singing from a fugue state, just conscious enough to sing, to say what little there is he can say, that can be expressed in words. The rest is taken up by strings, harpsichord, flute; the elegant and comforting touches around a terrible loss.

He is noble in recognizing what the situation is (she's not to blame; there's no blame here at all) and being able to sing it. (Renee was an actual person, a muse for the harpsichordist/lyricist Michael Brown, and she was present when the song was being recorded, but not during his playing; he was trembling and in no fit state to record when she was around, and he did his part later when she'd gone.)

So this is not mere infatuation or a crush; this is closer to the scary, sweaty but inspirational Robert Graves' The White Goddess situation, where the writer is almost driven to write out his profound and worshipful experiences*. That is the kind of urgency and agony that suited Stubbs' voice very very well, and the grief and baroque pop of the original also suited the Motown's continuing aim of being 'The Sound of Young America' - they had started recording in Los Angeles as well as Detroit in 1967 and the baroque/psychedelic sounds were starting to filter into the songs and production. (Think of "Reflections" by The Supremes or "More Love" by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.)

The version by The Four Tops sounds large and perhaps a bit rough compared to the original (there's no harpsichord or flute on it, that I can tell - horns and piano are dominant here). Stubbs dominates the song with his pauses, his soaring exclamations, as he is supported by his group and other backing singers. He isn't so much paralyzed as proclamatory; he is past the agony of the situation, sure, but not so much that every thing - the one way sign, the heart - are just reminders of what he can never have, and he sings about them as if (almost) he is wounded by them, like arrows. He can live without her, but he can never escape her, and the emptiness and literal signs of love will outlive him.

That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but this is a song about one man vs. the world, the awfulness of every particular thing as symbols of what he wants and cannot have. They are noble because they are his; no one will ever feel about them the way he does. For Brown they are actual, for Stubbs they are dramatic (that the song starts with 'And' implies there is something that could come before the lyric, but doesn't - the listener is thrown right into the thick of things). With each high "AWAY" she is willed further and further out of his life**; the song resolves on a downward graceful landing, a note of peace that points back to the beginning - starting with "And" means he will go on, it's not the end of the world, just the end of his possibility of requited love (which can seem like the end of the world, admittedly).

The crushing feeling here is the aftermath of love; the Summer of Love left many heartbroken and in '68 - a time of turmoil and trouble almost as soon as it started - is full of songs where emotion, not reason, come to the fore. From hope comes desire, and from thwarted or doomed desires come drama; an awful lot of drama is to come on this blog. But few of these songs are as cathartic as this one, which leaps immediately in to fill in the once empty air with a near-operatic song. Like I said, The Four Tops understood this, and by extension give the listener a compassionate hug, as well.

"How does love end? - Then it does end?" Roland Barthes, "The Ghost Ship" A Lover's Discourse

*Brown referred to his love for Renee as "mythological."

** The Four Tops did an Italian version of this called "L'Arcobaleno" ("Rainbow") - something else that can be admired but never reached.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We Are All Together: The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour EP

When an artistic movement helps to define an era, the era can – and often does – supersede the movement, leaving whoever is participating in it to their own devices until they can regain their bearings. The haze of ’67 was brought on in large part by The Beatles with “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” and Sgt. Pepper, and celebrated by “All You Need Is Love.” The Beatles didn’t invent psychedelic music, but without their success with it other bands wouldn’t have recorded some of the songs I have written about/mentioned recently.

Ian MacDonald describes the summer of ’67 as something of an egalitarian free-fall, a time when the movement was starting to show its cracks. The Rolling Stones were framed and put on trial and sentenced, pirate radio all but disappeared; The Man plc had had enough of the fun times, the party was over. If Charles Shaar Murray could write a piece about the public abuse of The Sex Pistols and call it “This Sure Ain’t The Summer of Love” then I should say that the Summer of Love itself wasn’t all that loving in the first place (and hence the worldwide rebellions of 1968 didn’t come out of nowhere).

For The Beatles it was as if they had been elevated to a status that made them godlike, which is pleasant enough if all is well. The artistic highs – writing and recording one of the greatest, if not the greatest single of all time, album ditto – led to a dual anxiety and laxness, neither of which are helpful in making music. Add to this the death of Brian Epstein in late August and you can see how Magical Mystery Tour was more or less going to be patchy, and if you factor in drugs and their lingering side effects then it is a wonder the thing – soundtrack and movie – were done at all. Most groups would take a good break and think things out before proceeding, but as pioneers The Beatles were naïve in their way; they had to keep going in order to keep existing at all, and had already begun the project when Epstein died. In a way it was griefwork, and if it sounds distracted then that’s a good reason why.

I should also mention the collapse of the SMiLE project of The Beach Boys, due to the pressures Brian Wilson had as he tried to get his recalcitrant band to work on something utterly different while fighting Capitol Records’ legal team at the same time. The sessions were legendary from the get-go, and The Beatles (because the two groups had the same publicist, Derek Taylor) must have heard some of them, though just what they heard I don’t know*. If SMiLE had been released in January of ’67 as planned then so much would have been different, but it wasn’t and The Beatles, in effect, had no competition**. This added to their laissez-faire attitude, one which didn’t really suit them. (They also of course had stopped touring – something no group would normally do unless they were about to break up or were taking a breather. They had a right to stop, but it took the fresh air out of the group, and in the long run I think they suffered for it.)

If the public – or at least a good section of it – turned away from psychedelia, it was because they could hear in it – even if the words made little sense – a rejection of the world as it stood, and unless they were also were part of the counterculture, that rejection would include themselves. That psychedelia did matter to many as not just meaning drugs but an embracing of such things as the I Ching, Tarot cards and so on as guides and symbols shows the longing for another order of things altogether, a sensing even that behind the modern world of new-fangled things was an older order that would feed the soul…that randomness was a way of making art as well, what with everything – every symbol, every card – meaning something, after all…

Before '67 for The Beatles, this randomness was a tool to inspire new songs; but now it became for them a way to just get things done, an end in itself. The I Ching is a profound work, however and not one to be taken lightly; the Tarot can be used to present situations and suggest the obstacles and solutions to them, rather than just being a series of medieval symbols that are pretty. I don’t know if they used either of these in their work, but it was in the air, and as with anything the more attention and care given to them, the more you get back. Again, laxness and anxiety are not helpful in harnessing these random (or some would say not-so-random) sources, when what is needed is calmness and concentration.

Magical Mystery Tour the tv movie was shown on Boxing Day; this EP preceded it by a few weeks. It has six songs, each one a little more strange than the previous – “Magical Mystery Tour” itself sounds like a tv show theme, hectic, full of brass, echoes, desperate for attention and winning it, because they are “DYING to take you away.” It is as if The Beatles are more or less kidnapping their audience, promising strangeness and beauty and whatever else they need in return. If it’s “an invitation” then it is one of the most demanding ones of all time; the audience has a right to feel uneasy.

Then, from the menacing “coming to TAKE YOU AWAY” it goes quiet and still; “The Fool On The Hill” observes the spinning world, oblivious to public opinion, simple in his way but wise as well. I don’t know if this comes (as IMac guesses) from The Fool in the Tarot, but if you know anything about that card you know he is going along his business, dog nipping at his heels – far from the lonely figure McCartney sings about. It is a gently sad song – is the fool a pitiable figure, or is he at one with the world, centred, while everyone else is mad? He is there perpetually, “day after day” and his naive and childlike nature are admirable but also kind of unnerving. No one seems to know him, like him, care for what he says – so I, anyway, tend to find this song a little off-putting, though lovely as well. (The recorder and other instruments suggest the medieval Tarot-like vibe of the song, far more than the lyrics.)

Flying” is a mellow instrumental ; it sounds uncannily like Stax, reminding me of Booker T & the MGs’ McLemore Avenue, which is their own laid-back take on Abbey Road. This sounds as if it is an homage to that label to me, with added mellotron; weightless as the title suggests, and proof that all the Beatles together could indeed write a song.

Blue Jay Way” is a song that Harrison wrote while in Los Angeles, waiting for Derek Taylor; he may have been listening to the SMiLEsessions before writing this, if only because the tempo changes are of the same sort. It is - like all of Harrison's songs at this time - based on Indian music, but instead of being enlightening, it sounds as if he is just being whiny, unable to just go to sleep when he wants to. This is what I mean by the chance element - being stuck waiting for someone - might seem like a good idea at the time for a song, but in reality it's not. Maybe he should have just meditated, gone to sleep, called someone up? But MMT needed songs, and so this was included...

Your Mother Should Know” may not seem very intimidating or strange, but the fact that it’s an unfinished song (musically it just meanders along pleasantly enough) adds to the unease that has been steadily building up. The idea of dancing to an old song – a song from “a long, long time ago” (the WWI era, perhaps?) verges on the vintagizing effect. This sounds cute – to throw away the present for the past – but as a song it lacks knowingness that The Beatles usually kept in their collective back pockets. Is it anti-Modern? Has time stopped? Are The Beatles now like Hamlet, in a world out of joint? I am not sure, but I do know that while they were recording this Brian Epstein dropped by to see how they were doing – the last time they were all together. The old world is gone, there is nothing new and so why not celebrate the past? Things are getting more and more confusing, and I can’t blame the UK audience for finding this a less than satisfactory ending for the movie.

None of these songs could prepare the listener for the next song, however; in it a threshold is crossed, and the palpable underlying dissatisfaction in so many psychedelic songs utterly explodes.

I Am The Walrus” is the point at which The Beatles justify this entire exercise. To say that it’s monumental is barely adequate; it is such a big song that as it ends you aren’t in the same place as when it started, and hence pop music isn’t in the same place, either. It warps and changes and surrounds the listener, inducing (I’m sure, because I feel it) in more delicate listeners dizziness and slight nausea. There is simply nowhere to hide. The lyrics are deliberate nonsense (Lennon wrote them to frustrate any hapless interpreters, so I am going to leave them alone) and they are sung with such disgust and venom that they cannot help but be scary. (Not as scary as the Blue Meanies, but pretty close.) Every key is hit here, every target Lennon can think of is included, and this howl is more than matched by Steve Race (orchestration) and George Martin in the slowly vertiginous alternating keys and general claustrophobic feeling. (The only thing that breaks up that is the pause for “Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun” which inspired Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne no end in Birmingham***.) The closest thing I’ve heard to it is “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” from SMiLE– that same repetitive churning, the same loudness, reflecting a world in chaos. Another small link is Lennon’s high “I’m CRYING” with Wilson’s “too tough to cry” in “Surf’s Up” – the nonsense of Lennon comes out of frustration/repression, whereas Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics are an expression of a collective memory, one where the child is father to the man. For better or for worse, Lennon spoke only for himself. (Another generation would bring their own energy to the song, of course.)

This was not pop music as usual and in a song that cries out against everything, some novelty – something new – must come to take its place. Lennon had caught up with McCartney on the avant-garde art front (thanks to Yoko Ono) and thus Lennon & McCartney then up the ante towards the end by baffling/assaulting the listener with the Mike Sammes Singers yelling, like cue-carded Village residents on drugs, “EveryBODY’s GOT ONE!” repeatedly while a live radio feed of King Lear is put into the mix, a record is scratched (the first time this happens on a single, I think – hello rap) and the cellos and horns keep blaring away. Gradually it fades away, as a whole world is falling apart. That this wasn't the last song in the movie makes sense, but on the EP it could only be at the end; because in more than one way, it is the end.

Out of the death of Brian Epstein came forth MMT, much like the unwanted liberation of Julie Vignon in Bleu - her husband's death eventually leads to her being discovered as a composer in her own right. The Beatles had already been in the process of finding their own voices, but with Epstein's death this was accelerated, with the attendant artistic egos coming out of what was once a gang bent on taking over the world. So the MMT stands as the last time The Beatles were indeed The Beatles; after this they began their lives as solo artists, the cover of their next album being blank, representing the effective clean slate they had been given, whether they wanted it or not.

So Magical Mystery Tour EP is a record of how they were caught up in the haze of '67, the death of Epstein, their own naivety that they could do anything and because they were The Beatles, it would be good. The grief and whimsy sit uneasily together, though, auguries of what is to come, just as in a couple of months another (overlapping?) tv audience will be outraged by this ending, one that includes "All You Need Is Love" and may or may not have the group itself as cameo masked figures. (They wanted McGoohan to direct MMT but he was too busy with The Prisoner to do so, and rightly figured they'd probably take over directing anyway.) Other groups would have done one more album to tie things up and then called it a day; but The Beatles had no leader (McCartney was their ringleader, as such, but there was no one outside the group to herd them) and thus lacked focus; they still had plenty of music to make, but after the movement, what was left for them? The times would now determine them, as much as the reverse; and the Magical Mystery Tour EP would be an indicator of everything to come, good, bad or indifferent.

Here we leave 1967 temporally, but it will come back, as ever when least expected, multi-colored and kaleidoscopic and celebratory. Why? In part because it is the year of the 60s when all held promise and so much was expected; expected in part because so many things had already happened. The intense flood of emotion and drama to come are the result of the feelings of being let down; of being betrayed. Maybe The Beatles continued on because others looked to them for The Answer; 1968 gives answers all right, but not the ones people wanted.

In a way that starts here too - MMT the movie was not praised in the UK at the time and people felt as if the Fab Four had let them down. Just the cultural weight of that alone would bring a new spin to '68 as if to say: the gods have clay feet. No one is perfect; better to enjoy the here-and-now-roughness of life than dream of an ideal world. So say we, The Beatles would have answered, born again, squinting in the new world's light; so say we.

*Paul McCartney visited Brian Wilson in April and played him “She’s Leaving Home” and guest-chomped on “Vega-Tables,” and generally encouraged him to “keep up.” The Beach Boys were able to salvage the SMiLE sessions and get Smiley Smile out of them, and then recorded Wild Honey in the same time The Beatles did Magical Mystery Tour. It seems unfair to compare the two groups, as ever, but these days Wild Honey gets a lot more love than MMT.

**The Rolling Stones were in disarray and both The Who and The Kinks were in states of transition from being Shel Talmy-vestibule-inhabiting loud rockers to being more thoughtful and rock-operatic.

***John Lennon once remarked that if The Beatles had continued they would have ended up like ELO, little knowing that once he’d died Jeff Lynne would produce “Free As A Bird.” There is no winning, sometimes…

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Same Old Song: Tom Jones: "I'm Coming Home"

As Christmas approaches, certain kinds of songs tend to get released; in '67 (as you'd expect) Tom Jones released a big ballad in full expectancy of getting to number one, as he had the previous Christmas.

As a song, it is about as close to what he wanted to do - be on Stax or Motown - but he can never really cut loose here and dig into the emotions of the song, due to the predictability of the music (it sounds just like you'd imagine it does). This catches Jones in his Las Vegas phase - big emotions, open shirts, otherwise sensible women throwing their underwear onstage, etc. That it's a song about a man who has done his woman wrong who is coming home - whether she wants him back or not - seems to get lost in the soaring voice and sense of familiarity the song has - hearing it for the first time, I already have felt like I've heard it before. That must have been the appeal he had - a handsome bad boy/man who wore his heart on his sleeve, who would repent and show his vulnerability, all the better to maintain his sex appeal...begging forgiveness, claiming his life is nothing without her...(this song may seem like it's translated from another language, but I believe it's Les Reed & Barry Mason, yet again)*...

...all that is fine, but something got in the way of this plea in getting to number one, which in this time of big sobbing ballads must have seemed like a sure thing. Unfortunately for Jones, those pesky Beatles had a hit single - far-out enough for psych fans but chirpy enough for those who thought they had perhaps forgotten how to do something uptempo. The Beatles were literally saying "Hello!" to a whole new crop of fans as well as their old ones, and no amount of manly confessing was able to get past that.

I would like - for a moment however - to look at the U.S. charts and see what was happening there, as a reminder of what else was going on. In the Cashbox chart's Top 40 for around this time are these songs: "Summer Rain" by Johnny Rivers, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" by Donovan, "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" by The Cowsills and "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin. So there definitely was something up at this time, reflective or active, but for whatever reason - again I am guessing the radio playlists - but there are hardly any sob story songs there, besides the Old Guard of Bobby Vinton and such.

So what is going to happen next? Can anything break through this Housewives of Valium Court drear? Has there been something lurking for months in the corner, something revolutionary that will once again make people look at their stereos in confusion and delight?

Well, YES. Did someone say, out of death comes new life?

*I feel it necessary to note that Scott Walker also has a single out for Christmas - the avant-MOR "Jackie." I wonder if Tom ever wanted to sing something like this? (The lines about having a bordello and a number one single may have cut a bit too close...)

In Public: Dave Clark Five: "Everybody Knows"

For some reason, in late '67 the charts start to go retrograde; there is hardly anything that could be called "forward" actually making much headway, and there are songs from the 40s creeping in, such as "Careless Hands" and "There Must Be A Way." Meanwhile, songs that pointed to the future, such as The Who's "I Can See For Miles" and Simon Dupree's "Kites" - songs that I should be writing about - didn't do nearly as well as songs like "Let The Heartaches Begin" by Long John Baldry (not a song he wanted to record), or "If The Whole World Stopped Loving" by Val Doonican.

In part this is due to hardly any competition from pirate radio; and radio thrives on variety. The charts at this time were like amber, with lively butterflies stuck in them, all the more obvious for their brilliant differences. Into this morass appear The Dave Clark Five, who needed a hit; they went to Les Reed & Barry Mason, reliable purveyors of songs to Englebert and Tom Jones and got a song from them, and hey presto, it was indeed a hit. The DC5 were not known for sitting down in frilly shirts and singing ballads about how they were crying and everyone could see; their usual singer, Mike Smith, was unsuited to this sob story, and thus Lenny Davidson does the job here.

The dilemma here for the group was that, unlike other groups who could adapt, psychedelia was just not meant for them; there was no way they could harness that big stompy beat of theirs to bucolic wanderings in parks or tales of fantastic happenings. And so they were reduced, as such, to this; they needed and got a hit. (They had not been in the top 10 since '65.) Thus the DC5 add, unhappily, to the ongoing sense of torpor in the chart - the summer is over, the nation is hunkering down for a ballad-heavy winter of stupor. I can see the empty bottles wine, the flickering candles, the exhaustion; it is as if the party is nearly over and hearts, oh hearts have been broken all over the place, and people are weeping in the streets.

The grooviness and enlightenment which '67 promised has nearly evaporated, though it still exists, waiting to spring up with just one ray of light. I can only shake my head at these charts; but then the radio situation was as such that the easy way out was almost always the one taken. And maybe a breather was necessary, after such excitement. But does it have to be so uniformly old-fashioned, dowdy even? What happened to rock 'n' roll, to anything silly or outrageous or gloriously weird? It's gone underground...for now...

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Language of Love: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich: "Zabadak"

And now we turn from earnest psychedelic pop to...earnest pop? Seeing how last time they were trying to instigate nothing more than erotic chaos, to a Greek beat no less, here there is percussion galore and an attack on...lyrics themselves?

This NME #2 is predictably sweeping and loopy and everything you'd want/expect from these guys, the sort of song that could get played, no problem, on the new Radio One. It's an awkward thing in songs always to point out (in words, of course) that lyrics/words have less meaning than feelings, that love itself is more important as a feeling than as something expressed. Love, as a band we'll be getting to again soon, is all anyone needs, and words just get in the way...

...and this of course opens up a whole bucket of worms as to how important language is in songs in general as opposed to the feeling the song is trying to promote - that ultimate goal, Love. Do lyrics in songs matter as much as they should? Do they matter at all, ultimately? Are they dispensable? Are they a necessary but unwelcome part of a song? Lyric writers have the annoying position of working for hours on songs, only to have the public mishear them, misunderstand them or just plain ignore them altogether, which can be irritating if the lyric writer is actually trying to get something across*. (There are people I know who only listen to music because of the lyrical content, and others who tend to see it as superfluous because music is their main thing, not words.)

Using words to explain that ultimately words aren't as important as you might think is very Friendly Forebear, and Ken Howard & Alan Blaikley must have realized this when writing it - as T.S. Eliot's puts it, "I gotta use words when I talk to you." Even in trying to escape from language and make it sound like a bunch of nonsense, there has to be some kernel of meaning or the listener is going to wonder why you bothered to say anything anyway. (Even, God bless them, The Trashmen were saying something with "Surfin' Bird" although it's never going to be seen as poetry.) Even if you go by the Bangsian notion that rock 'n' roll is nothing but a huge indestructible joke that will go on forever because it's at bottom it's all about THE PARTY, there is still that basic message to relate, in one way or another.

So when songwriters reflect on the relative unimportance of what they are writing, there is another wall casually knocked down; one between the listener and writer, who here is saying that the feeling of love - love as big as an ocean - dwarfs anything he could write, and maybe that's '67 hyperbole but also, just maybe, it's true. Words can do a lot, but they can also only do so much, and the indescribable is sensibly left that way, to a lot of percussion and grinning and general good vibes. This is Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's "All You Need Is Love"; but it's also saying that as a song it (in a way) is meaningless, next to the epic feeling that it's patiently pointing towards...

Next up: one last swim through balladsville, before the end...

*There are lyricists who love to write and others who leave it at the last minute, as for them it's a chore, not a pleasure (Jarvis Cocker and Rod Temperton are two I can name right off the bat). I wonder how many songs have been written where the words are seen as homework, something to just get done and over with.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backyard Trip: Traffic: "Hole In My Shoe"

As many a group found out in the late 60s, the key to success in a group was having a stable and happy group dynamic. This doesn't sound very sexy, but when you consider the groups that kept on going as opposed to those that didn't, those that did were able to continue because everyone was - more or less - content with what their role in the band was. If you have three people in a band who work together on songs and a third who comes in with a song in hand, expecting the others to play it just so then there's going to be problems.

Traffic were such a group; Jim Capaldi, Steve Winwood and Chris Wood wrote songs together (the first two wrote the previously mentioned "Paper Sun") and Dave Mason tended to write songs on his own, like this one. The other three didn't like it but recorded it anyway; I can guess it was a bit too whimsical for them. (Traffic were made up of musicians who had gone out to the countryside, away from the industrial Midlands, to, as they said back then, "get their heads together.") It has all the hallmarks of something almost too typical of the time - sitar (played by Mason), flute, lyrics that once again focus on water (is water the most psychedelic of the elements?), a young girl's narration straight out of a fairytale. The "elephant's eye" harks back to Oklahoma!, the unreal fields (strawberry?) full of tin soldiers, the passive voice wherein everything seems to be happening to him - the only thing he is sure of is that pesky hole that is letting in water...

...this does seem a bit cliched, but then being on a trip at this time was likely the same as having a mystical experience way back when; there are similar experiences and vocabularies you use to explain what is otherwise hard to describe to anyone else. But there is a fine line between using language others can understand and using language everyone has heard before. The psychedelic experience here is fantastical ("bubblegum tree" Mason sings, as if foreseeing the bubblegum pop explosion to come) and disconcerting, and it is only the literal hole in his shoe that is grounding him, perhaps keeping him from floating off to this other world altogether.

So this is not a song about complete absorption, but that tingling sensation that can be an anchor through an otherwise strange experience - and he ends up on his back, his coat getting wet, waking up much like the narrator of "Flowers in the Rain" in that he's outside and communing with nature, not airborne like the child narrator on the albatross, off to a place where the music plays loud.

This is psychedelia as genteel escapism, as opposed to psychedelia that has something to say, per se: it is always awkward when something that seems meaningful to you personally has to be explained to the masses, so Mason must have been gratified (though it irked the others) that this was their biggest hit. They wanted something a bit tougher lyrically and musically, I'd expect; but in the late hazy days of '67 the single-buying public wanted to digest psychedelia as a pastoral thing that didn't threaten their lives but gave them a window to a world where having wet feet was the biggest problem.

What was startling in the winter of '67 was by the fall an accepted commonplace. Dave Mason came and went in Traffic as they themselves ebbed and waned (Winwood formed Blind Faith with Eric Clapton for a while when the ever-embattled Cream broke up in late '68). As the music indeed got louder, bands found themselves in a dilemma - whether to make light "pop" music like this song or go into more complex and tougher territory, leaving behind anyone who just wanted a nice tune to hum on the way to work. '67 was a year when bands could have it all, but many had problems being all things to all single & album fans, and they had to make their choices. (Some had theirs made for them, such as Pink Floyd, whose most "pop" member was Syd Barrett, who was sidelined in the band and then formally left in '68.) The pop scene was changing and rock was the new thing - pop being left for The Housewives of Valium Court and kids who were young enough to enjoy psychedelic pop without asking too much of it.

Yes, the dreaded-by-some 'classic rock era' has by now begun, leaving the singles charts open to almost anything, as we shall see.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fantastic!: The Move: "Flowers In The Rain"

Imagine it's the early morning of September 30, 1967. It's 7am; you are just waking up when you hear this.

A whole world - save for rebellious Radio Caroline - has ended. The future - as brought to you by George Martin himself - has begun. Before I get to the main song here, I'm going to pause a bit and remember my own reaction to hearing Martin's piece...I must have first heard it in 2007, when I was haphazardly planning, along with Marcello's help, the music for our wedding. I wanted it to be launched with something dramatic, of my year, but also something warm and cozy. Something to say: a whole new world has been achieved, something that was a mere notion has grown into this - true love and hence, marriage. And I cried when I first heard it, so of course it was the only choice...

The first song played on the station was this one; thunder booms give way to a chirpy song which is about flowers, trees...and escaping the commitments of the world by immersing yourself in nature, even to the point of sleeping outdoors. Lost in fantasy, taking a break to realign priorities - all done to a typical march-beat that sounds anything but dreamy. In the video you can see them in their psychedelic finery, eating apples and reading comic books - there is something deliberately regressive going on here, another facet of the rebellious/childish part of UK 'hippie' music (as opposed to the more confrontational US version).

Or perhaps this nyah-nyah I'm going to watch flowers business is more rebellious than it seems? Perhaps some notions of a greater society will occur as the day passes? It is a huge leap to go from this to the current occupations across the UK - the only thing they have in common is their refusal to go 'indoors' and 'behave' normally. (Well, these ideas have to start somewhere.) But the group's manager promoted the single with a controversial postcard illustrated with a drawing of a naked Harold Wilson (then the Prime Minister) linking him to his secretary. The band were sued and forced to give their royalties from the song to charity, which shows that maybe egging The Man plc on isn't always the best idea. (To this day the group don't make any money from the song, which considering Wilson died in 1995 is kind of unfair.)

This, if you were to believe in omens, was a mixed one at best for Radio 1, and The Move themselves got rid of their manager and were shy to do anything quite so bold promotionally again. This song did give a certain young producer fresh from NYC - Tony Visconti - experience in arranging however (he did the woodwind and strings). And thus we take a step from the mid-60s to the late 60s and the increasing strangeness on one side of pop, just as the other becomes more and more uniform*. This got stuck behind new heartthrobs The Bee Gees' "Massachusetts" - the second record played that morning - and while it found friends in the chart ("Homburg" by Procol Harum, "From The Underworld" by The Herd) it must have seemed something of an understandable disappointment to the group, who (like so many 60s groups of this time) mutated away until The Move had a parallel band, Electric Light Orchestra, as a Wood side project. Psychedelia turned out to be much harder for groups to adapt than you might think - The Who didn't really 'go' psychedelic beyond clothes; The Rolling Stones' late '67 album wasn't...very...good...[though it has its champions]; The Kinks were busy with writing about English life in its strange normalcy.

The genteel oddballness of UK psychedelia is undoubtedly because the UK wasn't involved in Vietnam, and thus the listeners did not have the ugly fact of the war beyond news reports - whereas it was the daily life of every American, because of the draft and so on. (If you didn't know someone who was over there, chances were good you knew someone who did, and draft dodgers were rampant, as well.)

So a song about kipping in the garden and evading the requirements of daily life was all that was required or needed; sooner rather than later, though, the true cost of being on the outside of society was going to make for some astonishing music, music that more than lives up to the golden promise of "Theme One." The village of A Teenage Opera, the disturbing tidiness of "Penny Lane" suddenly come to life on tv, as if its creator was also creating his own psychedelic masterpiece, trying like Wilson, Wirtz or Wood to keep a handle on it, lest it suddenly gets scattered and lost...what, was that the sound of thunder again?

*"King Midas In Reverse" by The Hollies is a good example of this; it was Graham Nash's last stab at making the band more hip, but they - and their producer - weren't interested in getting further out, and so Nash left them the following year for the welcoming hippie world of Laurel Canyon.

Psychedelia Has A Right To Children: Keith West: " Excerpt From 'A Teenage Opera'"

Throughout the late summer a song has been steadily climbing up the charts, to rest at #2; it had the advantage of being played a lot (esp. on pirate radio) and being a narrative that could be understood by anyone - the sad passage of time, as experienced by not just one or two people, but a whole community. The sob stories that have just passed are merely personal - this is about a whole village losing its grocer.

How on earth could this have happened? Well, this is 1967 and we find ourselves at none other than Abbey Road with one Mark Wirtz, who had been hired by - remember him? - Norrie Paramor to work as an in-house producer for EMI. Wirtz was hip; he was responsible for Pink Floyd being signed by EMI and dug another underground group he saw playing at the same time - The In Crowd (soon to change its name to the even more underground Tomorrow), featuring guitarist Steve Howe and singer Keith West. He had had the musical idea of a teenage opera for some time and mentioned the Grocer Jack character to West, who promptly wrote the lyrics; the group recorded the song and it was a hit - (such a hit that for a while Keith West was a pin-up, much to his & Tomorrow's discomfort).

The song is as lush and orchestral and Beatles/Kinks inspired as you'd expect; West sings with compassion about an 82-year-old grocer who dies, the village's lack of food and the funeral, where the folks realize they should have been nicer to the old man. The most poignant and influential part of the song is the children's chorus - little girls who wonder where Grocer Jack is and want him back, even though their moms tell them he won't be back. I can't help it, their voices tug at me - the children are the voice of the village, missing Jack, helpless to change the way the whole village is going to have to operate. (The premise of the opera is that the songs are all sung to a young woman who must stay awake after a motorcycle accident; they are almost all songs about people in a village who are antiquated, about to disappear, if not gone already.)

That a song such as this did so well shows that the public maybe wasn't so scared of psychedelia as previously reported, if it's focused on an understandable narrative and has little kids singing on it. There was also the tantalizing idea of it being an 'excerpt' - that there was a lot to come and that a teenage opera was indeed possible. Wirtz found out, however, that the audience was maybe more fickle than expected (and he lost West's involvement, as he wanted to focus on Tomorrow), and while other singles appeared, none of them did that well and he soon stopped working on it in '68 to work on other things.

This is a pity, because had it been released (as it was in '96) it would have been the first real rock opera, complete with a whole cast of characters ("Auntie Mary's Dress Shop," "The Paranoiac Woodcutter," "[He's Our Dear Old] Weatherman," "Shy Boy*" to name a few). This year pretty much saw the flowering of the concept album - not to mention the album market in general, as the kids so happy to buy 45s in '63 had grown up and wanted something a bit more substantial. This - for all I know - would have done really well, but as Brian Wilson could have told Wirtz, doing something so concentrated and thematic is not easy. (The other lost album of 1967, The Beach Boys' SMiLE, surfaced first as bootlegs, then as a Brian Wilson album in 2004, and just now as an actual Beach Boys album.) A Teenage Opera was for some just as legendary - who knows what the talented Wirtz & Co. were getting up to at Abbey Road? (One Pete Townsend was certainly curious, and this in part inspired Tommy.)

What this song also cements is psychedelia's interest in and sympathy with children. This might seem a bit odd, but at heart it is the siding with the young instead of the old, the naive and hopeful as opposed to the tired and traditional. Children were to a point romanticized, but their spirit of adventurousness and tendency to blunt speech - then as now - meant they could at least be trusted, unlike the older generation who were - not to make a big point of it - square and didn't approve of anything the counterculture believed in, from pirate radio on down**.

There is also nostalgia; a whole world is disappearing and the spirit of the times is to reflect on this, to bring the old and new together in a mish-mash (think of the military-style jackets worn by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix) that somehow liberates the culture from the past, even as it's being remembered (anti-vintagizing). The village is changing, old customs and ways are going, ones that may be going for good, for all anyone knows.

Rock 'n' roll has now split between pop and rock; avant-MOR as pioneered by Scott Walker is appearing, alongside a new station the BBC is putting together to play what the pirates did - sort of. Its name is Radio 1, and with it the chances of Wirtz' concept album took a dive, as its listeners weren't as adventurous as the pirate ones. What did they want? The answer is next.

*Done by Kippington Lodge, with the lead singer, one Nick Lowe, making his debut.

**A personal anecdote: When I was two-and-a-half I 'ran away' (the gate was open and I left to walk down the sidewalk). My mother predictably was concerned and called the cops, who found me not that far away being guarded as I walked by...some counterculture guy who was looking after me on my little escapade. No one famous, though this was in Hollywood, so you never know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Loneliness Is Such A Drag: Tom Jones: "I'll Never Fall In Love Again"

Ah, and now to someone this here blogeuse will get to know only too well. Tom Jones was a star by this time, his anguished voice and more saucy demeanor a contrast to the more stolidly romantic Englebert. Jones is forever getting caught up in Drama, being deceived and luring other women into who knows what mischief in turn. Clearly here his girl has gone off with another man (how CAN she?) and he...sniff...knows he's never going to love...aggaainnnnn....a patently silly thing to sing, obviously, and the cheese that was in the fridge with Carr is plainly right on the table here for all to see.

That he had to drag himself through such songs was the secret misery of Jones' career; he wanted to be on Motown or Stax, he wanted to be the Welsh Solomon Burke, but The Man plc said there was hay to be made singing weepy ballads like this, which was written by...oh look who's here, it's Lonnie Donegan! Yes, this song marks the unexpected return of Donegan, who wrote and recorded this song in '62 and must have been delighted with Jones' hit version. Suddenly another facet of the complex world of music is revealed - Lonnie Donegan, inventor of punk rock, has this as a hit, in the US as well as in the UK. See? There is always an upside in the darkest of times; and late August '67 was the beginning of the last month of pirate radio, with the effective switchover being signalled by this song's great success (#2 for a month) as well as Englebert's next #1 - and there is hardly anything the Light Programme can't play in the Top Ten.

The Housewives of Valium Court are the audience that is being courted here, not the kids. The vivacity of the charts of just a few months ago has been swept away, and in that sweeping away the charts are confusing, the general tone is becoming more and more is as if it's the end of an era and everyone knows it, and Jones is just carrying that sorrow, unwittingly, for all who thought that Love could conquer all. It is a bittersweet time, one of "Itchycoo Park," and "The Day I Met Marie" and "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"; wistful songs about how enchantment is either fleeting or already gone. The Summer of Love isn't over just yet, but it certainly hasn't been all that it was cracked up to be - or perhaps it could have happened, had more people been less scared and more adventurous? The Housewives sat back and got gently drunk as Tom sang his song of woe - ah women, he's giving up on them now, for sure...while station after station packed up and brought their ships ashore. What now?

Don't Touch That Dial: Vikki Carr: "It Must Be Him (Seul Son Sur Etoile)"

And now we step, seemingly simultaneously, into the swanky world of international hotels and the less elegant rooms of that most put-upon figures in pop music, single girls. It is alternately grand and hysterical, tough (what other song of the period uses the word "chump"?) and maudlin. Carr sings the song as best she can (it was originally a song by Gilbert Becaud and Maurice Vidalin; the English lyrics are by Mack David, Hal David's older brother), giving a three-alarm-fire performance of desperation that nearly stood alone in the Top Ten against the invasion of strangeness and beauty that was the Summer of Love. You might wonder how something that reeks (if I can put it that way) of obsessive-compulsive behavior and disdain for others (that "puppet on a string" reference, as if she's in a position to judge) could be so successful, while songs like "See Emily Play," "Strange Brew," and "Paper Sun" didn't get to #2?

The answer is, that as receptive to psychedelia as the some of the British public were, there was a large segment that found it kind of...scary. Not hide-behind-the-sofa scary, but disturbing and weird nevertheless. (It should also be noted that psychedelia's greatest audience, from Sgt. Pepper on down, was in albums, not singles.) What was left for those who didn't dig the new scene, and who weren't crazy for Motown/Stax? Songs like this one, where our heroine has a relationship with the nameless/characterless "him" that makes you think she's virtually a prisoner of her love, unable to see how maybe if she just didn't answer the phone once and got out and mixed things up a little - instead of being so available - he might actually take some real interest in her. It is as if the whole world consisted of nothing but her and him, and all her praying and subsequent dashed hopes and wailing, etc. are all that matters.

This is yet another in I don't know how many songs of the 60s where the woman suffers and suffers and the song succeeds (commercially I mean; it was a big hit in the US as well) and it walks that very fine line between telling like it is and masochism. This puts Carr in the same unfortunate boat as Janis Joplin, who had to live with guys getting off on the pain in her songs - different crowd, of course, but the same dynamic is in place, whether it's in the glamorous world of Carr or the freaked-out one Joplin inhabited. (Oddly enough, they're both from Texas, of the same generation and may well have known of each other. Who knows?)

What is clear is that there are those who like the experimental and those who would just as soon hear a song of woe sung with unironical conviction; these two audiences don't crossover and the latter is taking over the singles chart, just as the former is taking over the albums. For some the 60s were just fine until about now; for others, it's just getting started. The generation gap is clear, and by the time the next song appears, pirate radio will be illegal and stations will begin to disappear from the dial. This lowest-common-denominator everyone-can-relate song will persist in the charts, the single woman's tormented relationship with her phone will also continue...but it's the sob stories that make the Summer of Love a lot less cool than it could have been, and it's not ending here...