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.

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