Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Higher Love: Lou Christie: "I'm Gonna Make You Mine"

Now, a zen question. When is a bubblegum song not a bubblegum song? When it comes accompanied by this startling video. There is nothing colorful about it; you can imagine that even if it were in color, it would be a palette of grays, blues and browns - and yet here we are in an industrial landscape, with a song about romantic determination, a handsome young man ambling about, in the cold evidently, with no one else around...

...and since he is from Pittsburgh, I am guessing that this is where the video was shot; as if to say, this is where I'm from. The song doesn't need the visuals of course, but the utter groundedness here points to something Christie would do in a couple years' time - release an album about the US called Paint America Love. Tony Romeo, a bubblegum producer straight out of the Buddah Records corral, wrote "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" and contributed two songs to Paint America Love; the rest were written by Christie and his constant co-writer, Twyla Herbert, a songwriter/mystic in the best Stevie Nicks tradition. I point to the album in part because there's only so many songs about romantic love anyone can sing (Christie's biggest hit being the octave-leaping "Lightning Strikes" where he indeed sounds as if he's being controlled by Mother Nature*), even songs as slightly intimidating as this one. (To those who are free souls, he sounds awfully controlling; but it's not that far from Motown's "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," for instance.)

But Paint America Love is about Christie's love for a beleaguered and polluted nation, one that needs a big hug and even if it's not SMiLE, exactly, it is a statement, and a moving one, that I didn't expect to be nearly as good as it is. ("Campus Rest" and "Waco" are my favorites but all the songs are great, even the ecological "Paper Song.") Bubblegum-like as this song might be, Christie had greater ideas in mind for his music than others, and there is a warmth to his voice (even at his high range) that is somehow reassuring.

Not everyone stepped from doing a Buddah pop song to a disarmingly great album, but he did; the young man from Pittsburgh stayed true to himself, and moved that romantic love up to embrace a whole country. Never mind that not everyone heard it at the time; it has and will keep finding the right ears.

Next, a return to the underworld, before all hell breaks loose.

*Funny how Dr. Paglia, who champions all things Italian-American in particular, never mentions Lou Christie, who by 1971 was putting his real last name, Sacco, after his stage name.

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