Friday, July 29, 2011

Nothing Left to Lose: The Animals: "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"

The promise of rock 'n' roll - and of all music in general - is that it can liberate the individual. Rock in particular is the ultimate democratic music in that just about anyone with some skill can play it and music lessons are not strictly necessary. Thus it is that people can free themselves just by having the guts to go onstage and play, play and play until they get heard. If you want freedom enough you will go through just about anything to get it, and the same goes for rock*. Who knows how many dubious parents watched as their sons and daughters set off for musical glory, though I am guessing they were mostly supportive as well, since music is like a bug - it cannot be helped, and the need to play and sing is as strong as other primal urges...

...all of which is to say here we are in Newcastle, with a band who undoubtedly had music as their one way out; it surprised me to find out they didn't write this song, as it is so much their story. And yet once heard it became everyone's song, from the UK to the US to soldiers in Vietnam, for whom this was an anthem. The imperative to break the chains and start up fresh and GET OUT are fuelled by the tense, rough vibe of the song and Burdon's compassionate and loud pleas. Can things really go on as they are? Can a young man go off to join the Freedom Riders, only to come back and find his girl's parents watching The Black & White Minstrel Show? Generations were slamming into each other all over the place and the intractability of the older generation was threatening to smother the younger - they simply HAD to break free, because 1965 wasn't 1945 or even 1955 (how much of UK culture refuses to comprehend this, I wonder).

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote this for the Righteous Brothers; then Mann was going to record it himself, only to have this come out first (due to Allen Klein's giving a copy of the demo to Mickie Most). From New York to Newcastle the message was sent and received, and heard and understood worldwide. In the above clip the Animals seem to be in a post-Shindig!-riot Victorian museum - bad boys they may have been, but freedom perceived and freedom not-quite-within-reach could make anyone angry. And one way or another this song spoke to many everywhere yearning for escape, even if they had no real expectation of it, just kids with transistor radios under their pillows, listening and biding their time. Freedom is there, you just have to be determined enough to take it. How to escape, though; that's the thing.

*There is a wide manly sentimental streak in rock that forgives and tolerates a great deal; in the Sixties the liberation was on all fronts, which of course caused some to overdo it. The repercussions of those excesses caught up with some faster than others.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Off: The Yardbirds: "Heart Full of Soul"

And now, an important crossroads...this blog has, effectively, reached the mid-point of the Sixties itself. Merseybeat is effectively gone, folk rock is on the rise, and guitarists are starting to buy gadgets that make their instruments sound different - the days of slashing speakers are over, and the fuzz box becomes the first of many pedal effects every band either has already or is going to get soon. Not only are guitars amplified now, but they are sounding warmer, fuzzier and dirtier, in part because guitarists like to experiment and in part because other instruments are starting to attract their attention. In the case of The Yardbirds, they wanted a sitar on this song, but Jeff Beck couldn't quite master it in time, so he got a fuzz box and made his guitar sound like one instead. Clearly, merely playing a song in the suddenly old-fashioned way isn't quite enough anymore.

And thus at this near-legendary point in time, the blues roughness that so many UK bands (The Yardbirds coming up following the wake of The Rolling Stones, who are about to launch their own fuzz box anthem) wanted to get into their songs is just there, and every garage band everywhere immediately saves up its nickles to get one, either in sheer imitation or because they want to make themselves sound even dirtier and rougher than their UK counterparts.

The song itself is by Graham Gouldman* and it has odd echoes and a rather menacing vocal from Keith Relf - his girl is gone, he has no idea where she is and he seems to be talking to someone - WHO? - about how he will never make her sad, "if she'll have me back again." Pretty basic stuff, but between the acidity of the guitar and Relf's voice there is something indeed beyond mere love here - it is as if his pleading is desperate yet cool at the same time, Relf trying to be suave behind his sunglasses while he's actually nearly crying. There is a creeping aloofness coming into rock at this time** and the tensions here for once aren't between a squaresville singer and his band but within the singer's psyche itself, as his band dutifully try to play what he can't sing. And the screaming girls want to put him out of his misery, as they do with all groups at nearly any time. But it's now that the whole decade slides into a harder, louder and rougher phase and the concepts of what is "pop" and what is "rock" start to become more and self-evident - though at this time it's all still pop, no matter what effects are used. For now.

*He also wrote their hit "For Your Love" which has a harpsichord on it (you see what I mean?) - a song that one member of the group deemed too "pop" and so he left in a huff to play the blues for a year amongst other purists. His name? Eric Clapton.

**Check out the near-magisterial aloofness of The Byrds, who were #1 at this time.

Having Fun, Feeling Numb: The Everly Brothers: "The Price of Love"

The persistence of certain Fifties acts in the Sixties is interesting, mainly because pop music was so young there (I'm guessing) was barely a perception of time passing - I'm not sure when 'oldies' became 'oldies' as such, but then I tend to think of musical time as being quite different from regular that the Everlys here seem to be rocking away as usual, only the context for what they are doing has changed.

Before they'd be onstage by themselves, or with a band, but here there's a near-riot going on, a riot that comes out of a mixture of joy and determination. It is as if - and this is just the feeling I get here - that through partying and having fun something is being avoided, but also there is a real joy in immersing yourself in the music that can't be denied. All this next to a song wherein a man who has lost in love is himself determinedly drinking and dancing with every girl he meets, but it's no good, the cost of his heartbreak cannot be paid that way, no matter how he tries. He's having fun trying, but he always ends up alone, with bittersweet memories and a vague sense that some things can't be solved by throwing yourself into fun. He has to think, but who in this time really wants to do that very much?

And so they are in time with this song they wrote themselves, still popular in the US and becoming even more popular in the UK; the Everlys still have that marmalade sting in their voices and doesn't the song sound...Beatles-influenced? Which would only make sense as they influenced the Beatles in the first place. What goes around comes around, or perhaps doesn't need to go anywhere in the first place...

"The Price of Love" came second to Elvis, another Fifties survivor - however, next we go back to the New, to a group whose importance and fame never quite matched up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We Two Are One: Peter and Gordon: "True Love Ways"

Another facet of the British Invasion - quite apart from the groups only pirate radio could fully embrace, such as Them or The Kinks - were nice earnest young men with longish hair who made dreamy music with sometimes extreme lyrics. (The lyrics to "A World Without Love" are sung sweetly, but there is menace in them, too.) Peter* and Gordon met at Westminster School** and found they sounded pretty good together; there was more luck in that Peter's sister Jane was going out with...Paul McCartney, who in turn gave the duo a few songs that he felt would suit them. Whether McCartney suggested they record this Buddy Holly song I don't know; it could be they were Holly fans already, and so needed no urging.

The original was a song Holly wrote for his wife as a wedding gift; their relationship was a brief but intense one (he asked her to marry him on their first date). It was recorded two months later, just months again before he died. The figure of Holly hangs heavy over music in the Sixties, sparkling and twangling in a pure way that marks it out as something to strive for, and a modest hand always works best in this endeavor. Peter and Gordon don't have a saxophone or harp on hand - the extra decorative touches of the Fifties are discarded - it's the more standard piano and drums, with some strings to keep the sweetness of the original. It is a poignant song - even without knowing Holly's fate - and a reminder as to how important and popular Holly was, years after his death. The possible mush of the song is undercut by Peter and Gordon's voices, Gordon's slight Scots accent coming through to give gravity to what could have been, in other hands, something bland or dull. I can imagine this being a last dance song, the sort of song that gets dedicated to others on the radio - a fine antidote to the new-barriers-being-broken-every-day hustle of Sixties pop.

This is the part of the British Invasion that tends to be forgotten - the side that didn't hit people upside the head, but rather ruled the heart and made people want to make music in the first place - for the beauty of the thing. Next there is another duo who no doubt inspired Peter and Gordon to begin with, as '65 goes ever-so-slightly backwards.

*Once Peter and Gordon ended Peter Asher went on to produce Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor; Linda had a hit with "You're No Good" which was written by the same man who wrote "Game of Love." It is a small world.

**You might be surprised at the number of musicians who went there; everyone from Thomas Dolby to Mika, Shane McGowan to Dido.

Past, Present and Future: Them: "Here Comes The Night"

Once again we are with a man who is alone, looking out the window. There is someone he is thinking of, and there she is...

...he used to try to interest her in things, please her as best he could; movies, cafes, just hanging around his place listening to jazz and blues sides. But for whatever reason, maybe he was fooling himself, maybe she was fooling him, it ended. He knows that she left him for another guy, one who maybe dressed a bit sharper or had a different accent - is she really that superficial? Then he checks himself, wonders if he isn't just as superficial, in his ways. Would he have wanted her had she worn a bandeau or had green eyes? He can't move away from the window, knowing it is wrong but unable to stop. He won't do anything, as he watches them go along, watches them go in and turn the light on; it is all too vivid and he cannot stop now, but it is as if he is watching himself. Another version of himself, veritably a doppelganger, not in looks but in results. She is swinging from man to man as if she were at a dance and there is nothing that can be done about it. All this time the night encroaches, he is alone, things are getting darker and darker...all the time he veers between the emptiness of the night and the near-puppet-like show he is watching, too hapless and just plain down to do much of anything but maybe drink and listen to the blues...


This is the first time this blog has gone to Northern Ireland, Belfast in particular, and politics aside (or perhaps...not), there is a point to the shifts in the song from the dreaded and inevitable night and the girl and her guy, going about their affair - it can be said that any area with tensions will create great music, not that anyone really wants tensions, of course. Van Morrison grew up in a house full of music courtesy of his father's varied record collection of country, blues, jazz and folk and was playing guitar from 11, saxophone a few years later and he started playing in bands as soon as anyone would have him. But above all this is his voice; here he brings in the whole scope of jealousy, doubt, resentment and acceptance. He blows hot and cool, is self-reflective, bitchy and oddly warm. Sung by someone else this could be ho-hum; however Them* make it a full picture even though we are there with the man as he watches, keeps watching even though he shouldn't. Unlike other songs, he does not wish he could be with her still, but then why does he watch if she did him wrong? This is what the night cannot answer, and he cannot answer himself, either. The song is a big illustrated question mark. There is no way out of this, besides the growing darkness...

The b-side to this is a rough blues called "All For Myself" (written by Morrison; "Here Comes The Night" is by Bert Berns). It is the answer to the a-side, or maybe the true feelings he has and knows he shouldn't have, despite himself. I mention it as I had assumed (wrongly) that "Gloria" was the b-side here, a song that is the direct opposite of "Here Comes The Night" - there he sits and anticipates her arrival, her every action, before they meet; but he is in much the same place, and the anticipation is just as exciting as her being with him, maybe even more so. He is saved in this song by her presence, just as here he is somehow lost, unable to see anything in the darkness besides her. I will mention it anyway as it is Morrison's gift to garage bands everywhere, and eventually would be turned on its head by this woman, who in '65 is still a fan and not yet a performer.

*"Them" are mostly studio musicians here, including a young Jimmy Page on guitar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

One of These Men Is Not Like The Others: Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders: "Game of Love"

In '65 the explosion of '64 was deepened and widened; groups still had chances to hop in for their moment of glory while the British Invasion was still fresh, and Wayne Fontana (named after Elvis' drummer, btw) and his Mindbenders - who had only been going for a couple of years, with middling success - had their one big hit with this song. Now, the song is simply a come-on in a jaunty frat house way, the sort of song that is dumb and probably sounds best if you're a bit sideways. (So much of the British Invasion sounds, in retrospect, to be a big loud and Other distraction for Americans trying not to think about Vietnam and other societal ills; this was a #1 in the US.)

But if you notice, there is an element of schism here, Fontana trying his best to be as American as possible, Eric Stewart (the other singer) sticking Popsicle sticks in the spokes of Fontana's bike. You just know in watching this that there isn't going to be another follow-up smash, as while Stewart isn't exactly making fun of Fontana (this isn't as bad as Poole vs. Tremeloes), there is something going on that is somehow proof that the weirdness of the Sixties has begun, and once again the lead singer is left out. The Mindbenders went on to some success (with "Groovy Kind of Love") and Stewart and later band member Graham Gouldman eventually started 10cc. This song is the seed for them, or one of them anyway, and I like to think of it as a Friendly Forebears song (written by Clint Ballard Jr. who also wrote "You're No Good" and "I'm Alive"), so cliched and obvious that it almost makes fun of itself as it goes along, and Stewart gets this.

It is as if pop is both able to be the straight man and the sly stand-up at the same time here, a doubling effect that will grow more complex as the decade goes on. Of course I can say this with the benefit of hindsight; in '65 this was in the top ten in the UK at a time when the chart was in flux - on one side the deceased Jim Reeves, Val Doonican and The Seekers and on the other, The Kinks and The Animals; this kind of genial dumbness was getting squeezed out, though being fundamentally indestructible it will, thank goodness, never go away. The pirates win out next time, however, with a song that would never be played on "official" radio.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Singer, Not Her Song: Cilla Black: "You've Lost That Loving Feeling'"

There are certain things which seem to be near-iron rules in pop, and one of them is that cover versions that are the most effective have to have the right arrangements and sentiment, but more than that they have to have the appropriate singer(s) or there isn't much point to them. They end up being, even if everyone is trying really hard, giving their best, a bit awkward and perhaps dubious, as if someone is trying to pull a fast one over on the public.

Black's got a fine voice for a lot of songs but here she seems out of place, as if she is singing the song as close to its US version while remaining sturdily British in her noble sentiment. George Martin wanted to do something different with this, but it is not, ironically, different enough to really matter in any way. The Righteous Brothers did not get their name by holding back emotionally - the agonized high "PLE-EE-AASE" in their version is unthinkable here, maybe because Martin felt it unsuitable for Black to let loose; I don't know.

The near-apocalyptic storm of the original is something that should be approached (if it is to be covered) in an oblique way; this sounds as if Martin & Co. were far too close to it to be able to hear it any other way. There are many great covers of songs but for some reason this one comes to mind as taking a well-known original and making it new, as Ezra Pound would say, and giving the song a new life as well. In the end, Black's version was trumped by the original, as 1965, that snake of a year, slowly but surely began to change what was (the early 60s) into what was going to come, which at this point is still unthinkable...for now.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lend Your Voice: Petula Clark: "Downtown"

The man, in the dark, after he cries and perhaps is a bit cold and numb, turns on the radio, and hears this.

He is perhaps warmed by it, by the simple piano and then the unveiled band behind her, as if the city's core itself were made of music, bright and shiny and capable of lifting even the most tired and bedraggled soul. Of course he resists and tries to pretend that what is on offer - all the distractions - are beneath him or beside the point. But then it filters through slowly that it is just being out there that matters. He does not have to do anything but go and walk and look, really look and let himself become part of a greater whole. There is no great mystery to it, or conspiracy. Yes, the city is yours too. Do with it as you will. And yes, I am there, you might meet me, and we can exist, if only for a while. The city knows no time or particular emotion; it is what it is, and it accepts you, whoever you are.

It is easy to feel as if you don't mean very much, but then you can turn it around and say, it's just a city, of course; and cities are made of people. The idea of "life" making you lonely is no joke, and the city can only act as a bandage at first, while the real work goes on underneath. But all reviving souls need a distraction, and the city is there for you, if you can stand the "noise and the hurry."

Losing yourself to find yourself; getting rid of loneliness by becoming part of the lonely crowd - these are primal Sixties ideas and gathering together in order to do something good is a natural when there is a sudden boom in people who are young and don't have much else to do; but this song goes deeper than just addressing gawky, awkward wallflowers and hermits to go out and learn to socialize. In Canada a man the same age as Clark heard this song and was struck by it, and it was something of a soundtrack to his own outings, wherein he began to think of the voices of others - the sound of the crowd, if you will - as instruments in and of themselves, interweaving, contradicting, supporting, that the flow of life itself was music.

This was far beyond producer/songwriter Tony Hatch's idea of course - he simply wanted to get the song finished (it was, in the men's room minutes before recording) and give Clark a hit in English (she was doing much better in France than the UK at this point). It was a fragment he played for her at first, something he'd written hoping it would be recorded by The Drifters; Clark immediately recognized it was for her, and Hatch had only a few days to finish it. So in a way she is pouring herself into this song, singing directly to you to join her, in a way that is not just pretty or elegant but a personal invitation. There is a small clause in her "might" at the end, but this is because so many will turn out that she may not be able to see you. The song gives confidence to the listener that s/he will not be alone, whatever happens, and that includes the shattered man, gathering pieces of himself, recognizing himself in others, and others in himself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Can He Do It?: Gene Pitney: "I'm Gonna Be Strong"

Here is a different type of intensity altogether. In pop there are just a few singers who can start at a certain pitch and then move higher; there are even fewer who can go higher than that, to a place almost no one goes, because it is either physically or emotionally impossible for them to get there. Watching Gene Pitney perform this song is not unlike watching someone perform some great feat, such as crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope or climbing a skyscraper bare-handed. Even as you watch him you can't quite believe what you are hearing, even though he is in perfect control the whole time and may well be enjoying himself, just as mastering any art is both a pleasure and a serious matter at the same time.

This puts Pitney in a very special place; he zeroes in on a moment when the decision is made - no matter what happens, I will not show how much I hurt; I just won't - with almost sun's-rays-through-magnifying-glass intensity. His whole concern is in fooling her, but he cannot fool himself, is burning up inside, and she will never know. Unlike Smokey Robinson, he does not cry out for recognition of his disguised hurt; this is almost like backstage pep-talk before the big performance. Are we, the audience, convinced it will happen, that he will be strong enough to part without showing any emotions? Or will he, like Nick Cave*, give in at the last moment? There is no way of knowing, save for the last and most heroic effort in the song, put in by Pitney himself - his leaping "CRY" at the end, going up two ocataves where songwriter Barry Mann just put in a steady high note (Mann didn't believe Pitney could do it, but then he did & that was that). So maybe he does pull it off, but there is no escaping how much torment there is in doing so, the moment she has gone he stands a little stunned perhaps, not bowing or waving, because there is no energy left for even those small gestures. (Such gestures would be inappropriate, anyway.)

Pitney emboldened a whole generation of singers to simply go there - you may suffer in the meantime but there is no choice in the matter - if he can do it, so can you, and the results will be more than worth it. (This is the closest thing to an aria this blog has encountered in some time; I wonder if people threw flowers onstage when he performed.) Marc Almond certainly heard him growing up (he duets with him here), as did, unmistakably, Billy MacKenzie (astonishing all present at the end of this).

Thus '64 draws to a close, proud and exhausted and emotionally drained; but there is one consolation left, and it is not found in isolation.

*Cave is also a big Pitney fan; I can only wonder what he thinks of this, for instance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Loud Hard Fast Rules: The Kinks: "All Day and All Of The Night"

The origins of genres of music are always murky; from the primordial mud that is this song - which rattles the foundations of rock itself - many things will flow, aided and abetted by other songs from The Beatles and bands we have yet to meet in this blog. This song the LEAPS out at you, it cannot and will not be resisted; there is something more than a little obsessive about the lyrics and the choppy way they are sung (choppy to go with the power chords) in what sounds like a big broom closet. This is rock pounced upon with glee (you can hear their joy in the break, in Dave Davies' no-holds-barred solo), as if rock itself was just invented last week and its almighty power to stun ears and energize listeners was there for the taking by anybody, even some young men from Muswell Hill.

And what are the results? Screaming chaos, at first, but you just know that garage bands across the world made yet another racket to bug their parents, some digging the speed (and thence to punk) and others the distortion and LOUDNESS (punk again but also heavy metal). Nobody knew about the latter at the time and a 'punk' was someone usually found on American cop shows (wearing a windbreaker/sneer and up to no good). The sheer attack of this song must have taken The Beatles and DC5 aback; but The Kinks themselves probably knew they could not just write knock-'em-out songs like this for long without being bored and/or out of fashion. Meanwhile I can see Mods dancing to this, future guitar heroes jumping on their beds with their air guitars, lots of play on pirate radio and lots of screaming girls caught between the relentless energy of the song and the slight smile in Ray Davies' voice, as if he knows he's wrong, but OH how it feels so right. Is obsession always such a bad thing?

All By Myself: The Supremes: "Where Did Our Love Go"

At first it was horrible, but at least she had been able to cry. Now she was blank; a blank, numb figure out in the humid, swampy city dense with foliage and trees dropping ripe fruits. There was a chance, a window, but it was closed now, he gave her the things he was going to give her and then walked away, plain as that. The blankness didn't go away, despite all she could do to distract it, and the city seemed quiet, still, her steps the only thing she could really hear. He said he would call, and now she could wait.

It was all she could do. The voices urged her to look, to keep looking, but there was nothing to really find. The wall-like air was like a mobile prison. Others did things, but all she could hear were her own steps, solitary in the street, in the shops, in the museum; and it wasn't supposed to be this way at all. Everything had been so perfect it had been making her giddy, but now she could only smile wanly. A city full of monuments to greatness sopped up her need to belong, if only temporarily, to something. He said he would call; this promise seemed unlikely but she had to hang on to it, even if she knew he wouldn't. She had no way to write to him, and anyhow, writing was what had gotten her into trouble in the first place; he was away on the weekend and was unreachable. So she sat and looked out the window, her godmother once again apologizing for the heat. But the heat wasn't the problem. What had happened? She could not just sit and mope, but had to go out there and lose herself, before heading back on the train, where her sadness would slowly turn into anger, then defiance. In truth, it already was, and she was determined to enjoy herself, heat or no. But the underlying sadness was slow to go away.


To an American's eyes, the early 60s UK charts seem rather resistant to Motown; it is as if some unknown force is keeping its relentless hit machine at bay. However with The Supremes the UK finally succumbs and (according to the NME) this nearly got to the top. It is only appropriate it did so well, as the clapping comes right out of the stomping of "Bits and Pieces" - as does the general lyrical misery, though the angry march of the DC5 turns into the desolate clomping cheer of this song, one that The Marvelettes had turned down for sounding too childish; and they warned The Supremes not to take Holland-Dozier-Holland's orders (for they wrote the song) without a fight; thus they made the song simpler and thus more sophisticated. It stands for a failed relationship, to be sure, but it also mourns for something indefinable that has been lost, happiness perhaps, innocence most certainly. Something has been thrown out and the rest of the 60s is merely a process of trying to replace it, if that is possible. Could music itself be the answer?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Raggedy Ann: The Four Seasons: "Rag Doll"

And now we hit the streets of Newark, New Jersey: a place I passed by while on a train once, to see a sign proclaiming "Newark Makes - The World Takes." By far the biggest band out of Newark in the 60s was The Four Seasons (indeed they were the Popstrological leaders of 1962) and I sometimes wish people paid more attention to their work in full*, as opposed to the fine-but-stagey Jersey Boys version, but their combination of compassion and toughness that came from the streets (this song was inspired by a street girl who cleaned Bob Gaudio's windshield and was tipped generously by him, to her astonishment) and thus was real in a way that even the fabled Brill Building songwriters sometimes couldn't muster. Gaudio and Crewe wrote this song immediately, and of course it went to #1 in the US.

That his family is the only thing from stopping him from getting involved with her points to the generational divide that would tear up the nation (in truth, it already was), though the love-thwarted-by-families situation is as old as the proverbial hills itself. She is pretty, she is poor, but she is not objectified; somehow in the "AAAAAAAAAHHHHs" and "OOOOOHHHs" of Valli & Co. there is a tenderness that shows empathy rather than any kind of condescension. The song, if you will, is a loving gaze towards the girl as opposed to a mere glance, and in a way it is as much a protest song as "Have I The Right?" (lest we forget we are still in the Age of Meek), only the divide alluded to there is unspoken (because it was illegal). So much love in the air, so much frustration, so much need: in essence, the 50s as a concept is dying, and so many butterflies are wriggling desperately trying to be free. The next song takes us back to the NMEchart for a long-overdue trip to Detroit, where the British Invasion is being repelled successfully, just as it was in Newark.

*The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette (1968) album, for instance, which took inspiration from local papers in post-riot Newark; as intense and rewarding an experience as you'd expect.

Chop Chop: Brian Poole and Tremeloes, The: "Someone Someone"

The taste of the British public puzzles me at times; I cannot tell, for instance, if this song did well because it is so utterly inoffensive as to have no character at all, or because of the performance here, wherein the singer - a drip of a man, judging by this - is more or less ignored/mocked by his own band. The song - a post-Holly Crickets b-side - is thin gruel to begin with, but some singers have ways of taking inane songs and making them mean something; Mr. Poole doesn't. Perhaps the Tremeloes know something that he doesn't?

In any case, this serves as an inter-band example of the schism happening in UK pop, wherein some people are solid as sides of beef (eventually Poole went back to his original calling, being a butcher*) and others are all about the giddy enjoyment of just being there, like chefs being happy at their work. I am amazed that this song - on evidence a big hit - did better at the time than "My Guy" or "Chapel of Love" - but then time has a way of figuring out what is worth keeping around and separating the temporarily useful (as a last-dance song, for instance) from the ultimately not necessary in the long run. The 60s are heating up to a sizzle and there is no time for warmed-up leftovers like this.

*Instead of being a butcher of songs, some might say, though on evidence he sings songs as if he has already put them in the cooler.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Young Girl Shall Lead Them: Millie Small: "My Boy Lollipop"

Where there is a will (and some willing backers) there is a way; and so it was that pirate radio began, Radio Caroline the rebellious daughter playing her records just loud enough off the southern English coast to get the attention of not just the aforementioned bored teenagers but their moms as well. It all started when one man couldn't get his artist (Georgie Fame) on to the playlist at Radio Luxembourg; he got an old passenger ferry and rigged it up to be a floating station, complete with places for the DJs and staff to eat, hang out, and sleep (as best they could).

The monotony of British state radio was broken up, as suddenly pop was available not just for an hour but all day, and into the night. The effect on the charts was not immediately apparent; but here we are in May of '64 and all of a sudden there is a veritable English civil war going on between the government's idea of proper music (Vera Lynn, Mr. Acker Bilk) and what the public wanted to hear. (This is also when the old-school Rockers and the hip young Mods had a huge and in some ways parallel fight, the Mods being the pirate stations, of course.)

The old order was indeed being challenged and millions listened to Caroline and others as they sprang up around the coast; and this song was the first proof of their power. It is a song as sweet and swinging as the object of Millie's affections - and importantly for this blog, it's not from the US or UK but Jamaica. The wave of late 50s immigrants brought their music with them - bluebeat, ska - and with this massive hit pop music in the UK essentially changed overnight, even if the musicians themselves didn't always prosper. Was the UK ready for a different beat*? OH yes it was, and Caroline was instrumental in getting this heard and thus giving the fledgling Island label its sea legs. The kids and moms (not to mention Mods) were most definitely alright. Would the government find a way to fight back? Soon, but not this year...

*Late in '64 The Beatles showed their effortless cool in picking up ska and doing it their way; it would take reggae to bring a lot of other UK musicians into the Jamaican groove.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That Stunning Moment: The Hollies: "Just One Look"

She looks at him and somehow knows; love is a baffling mystery, sometimes, but there is no bafflement here. Spring has arrived, the rush of love is in the air, birds hop from branch to branch and even the puddles seem to shine with happiness. She is being pulled to him, tugged, and she states her case finely and satisfiedly, as if she has just completed a rather difficult knot and is admiring what she has accomplished. She is not in a dream, this is real, and he is it.

Thus goes the original, co-written sung by Doris Troy; a hit in the US but not in the UK, where a band from Manchester who were always on the lookout for a good song decided to record it, and lo and behold they had a big hit.

The one characteristic The Hollies have over everyone else (save for The Beatles, of course) is their harmonies. They are strong and almost overpowering, as loud as the DC5 are in their own way. "Bright" is a word that is used to describe it, but "blinding" might be another, more apt word. It is a high, keening sound - there is no bottom to it, so to speak - that soars and uplifts, and I can imagine for some it can be wearying, because when you hear them you have no choice - you are up there with them, whether you want to be there, or not. This rather stupefying effect has to be managed carefully, but it fits this song, about total fixation and resulting ecstasy, very well*. It may be because of this quality of theirs that I get to write about The Hollies several times, but in their inimitable way they give a drama and sweetness to the charts, along with their dazzling vocal skills. But as we see next, just being able to sing in harmony is not enough, for some...

*Just over a decade from now another band from Manchester will take stupefying harmonies to another level; here "Just One Look" gets a whole different meaning.

Back To The Future: The Bachelors: "I Believe"

This song represents the growing chasm in the listening experience of, say, an eager 13-year-old listening to the BBC. S/he wants the Dave Clark Five or Manfred Mann or Rolling Stones, but they are only broadcast on just a couple of shows - Brian Matthew's Saturday Club or on Alan Freeman's show, or perhaps wedged into an otherwise uninteresting and not at all funny 'comedy' programme - but this is what the poor teenager gets. It is totally representative of the music that is broadcast by government-approved-and-funded radio, in that the grannies in Arbroath are happy to hear it and buy it.

Who are these grannies? Well, apart from any literal ones, they are anyone who likes good, clean-cut songs sung by good, clean-cut bands and singers; music that is solid and earnest and four-square, music which would make a fine background to a church picnic or family outing. If you think, dear readers, that we are being sucked back into the 50s here, you would be right. The stentorian delivery; the sudden and unwelcome reappearance of the awed choir in the background; the fact that this song in its original version was a huge hit (thebiggest, in fact) from the 50s in the first place - all this hit the grannies quite hard, whether they were young or old. I can imagine young Louis Walsh (proof you don't have to be an actual granny to be one) loving this and even using it as a template of sorts for later Irish boy bands he would manage to come; fellow granny Simon Cowell was too young at the time, but The Bachelors were a big group (they did have that boy band appeal) and even he must have noticed them as a boy.

There is one segment of the audience I have not accounted for yet, however - the large Irish population in Liverpool and Manchester, to whom The Bachelors would appeal on a whole other level - good solid men, to be sure, but Irish and therefore loved, right alongside Jim Reeves. This north-south split will manifest itself in several ways as the decades pass, but let us return to the bored teenager, stuck listening to, in effect, their parents' radio, if not their grandparents'. In the US, s/he thinks, there are stations that play pop music all day! Why can't there be anything like that here?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pop Rocks: Dave Clark Five: "Bits and Pieces"

As big as The Beatles were, you can't invade a country alone successfully for too long; and so Tottenham's own took up the fight to give garage bands across America a new song to practice and soundproofing to test, because this is by far the LOUDEST of any song I've written about so far. Dave Clark (drummer and obv. bandleader; Mike Smith, keyboards, led the yelling and stomping) put his drum set right up front onstage and this relentless pounding and yelling is a portent of all other stomping classics to come, in both this decade and the next. There may not be a lot here to chew on, metaphorically, but this band's forte was being heard first and foremost - there was nothing subtle about them, how could there be? He's in misery, can't tell day from night, she's dumped him and he just can't pull himself together. If this song means anything, it is release, and maybe a gaining of energy from sharing that release with others. That this should be done with smiling faces and coordinated suits (complete with Beatlesque group bow at the end) shows that pop was still regarded as 'light' entertainment at the time, the tv appearances no doubt neater and tidier than their live shows; gradually the dissonance between these two will start to show, even as conventional radio is about to have its own headaches. Pop rocks, rock pops, and it is all too much for those who thought it was going to blow over once the kids 'grew up.'

Nevertheless, I cannot overemphasize how big the DC5 were in the USA and worldwide, leading to their own movie (Catch Us If You Can) and to this later cover, which in turn leads to this proud induction. The British Invasion of the US has just begun, and garages across the land begin to get busy...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

End of An Era: Gerry and the Pacemakers: "I'm The One"

It is odd to hear a song for the first time - as I have with this one - and know almost to the minute when it was a hit, and seeing this (with Gerry looking like a relative of Mike Myers; for all I know they are related) confirms that this was the era when people would sing about loneliness and possible broken hearts with smiles on their faces, because though he is down he's confident she will indeed see that he is the one; the upbeat smiley Mersey sound almost insisted on smiling no matter what, after all.

I wonder sometimes if the naturally more modest or shy folks ever really cottoned on to the bright cheer of this period, instead clutching their folk records and staying away from the raucous sounds from upstairs; or perhaps they were into the blues, man, and had no time for mere pop (though they may have bought this, out at the same time). These good-natured professional Liverpudlians were huge - only The Beatles could eclipse them - and yet by now there are a myriad of new bands flooding into the charts in The Beatles' wake, and the new is driving out the old with alarming swiftness. Gerry and the Pacemakers only had two other hits beyond this, fading out just as the other bands began to take hold; The Beatles must have seen this happen and heard a clock ticking on their own careers, but were too busy dealing with endless recording and touring to maybe comprehend the change. The party had just begun, with some of the arrived-early-leave-early types going elsewhere, and for the first time for a while, we go back to London next for a new band who have their own sound.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let The World Know: Swinging Blue Jeans, The: "Hippy Hippy Shake"

After great complexity and grief, something is needed to clear the mind, refresh the soul and encourage people to just let go and make fools of themselves; the world may be different now, but life does, indeed, go on. That the song makes almost no sense is almost a necessity (as Lester Bangs writes, "...rock and roll is at its core merely a bunch of raving shit, its utterly hysterical transience and intrinsic worthlessness the not-quite-paradoxical source of its vitality") and of course it's a cover version, pumped up on a desperate need for release. The sickness of "Hippy Hippy Shake" is something that doesn't need a cure because it is the cure for numbed-out grief, a positive sign of being ALIVE, dammit. Then, once the shaking stops, some people can go back to however they were, maybe a little abashed, perhaps. For some though, this is just the start of the high-octane Sixties, when anything goes. The Merseybeat boom is at its peak, about to take over the world, effectively. So why not dance?