Phil Collins was but a lad of 15 years in 1966, when this next group of songs hit the American and British singles charts. So it stands to reason that he drew on his formative teenage years when he chose to cover the Mindbenders’ “A Groovy Kind of Love” in 1988 for the Buster soundtrack. Pity the poor Mindbenders, whose song hit #2 but has since been obscured by Collins’ chart-topping version.
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#6: Dusty Springfield, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” – #4 U.S., #1 U.K.; her highest-charting single
Jack Feerick – I like this kind of gambit; start with an arrangement that’s way over-the-top — kettledrums, screaming horns, fat strings — then drop your singer in the middle and let her fight her way out. It’s a great way to show off the guts and technique of your leading lady, and Dusty does not disappoint.
Chris Holmes – More than any other song, this is the one that made me fall in love with Dusty. And for me, it’s only been topped by her reading of “The Look of Love.” But as for this track, I think she finally found an arrangement powerful enough to match her voice.
Dw. Dunphy – This song is the very definition of “breathtaking” — one of those few, rare times when song and singer collide and the result is not a mess. On the contrary, it is almost like a prophecy fulfilled.
Jon Cummings – I’ve always thought the verses are much more interesting than the choruses here, that the transitions from verse to chorus are too disjointed (both lyrically and in the arrangement), and that the “Believe me! Believe me!” conclusion to the choruses is lazy lyric writing. All of that said, this is one powerful single! Dusty’s vocal is just explosive. I like the fact that it was Dusty herself who initiated the composition of English-language lyrics to go with the Italian melody — and that she recorded her vocal in a stairwell to get the right acoustics. Despite the laziness and disjointedness I complained about, it says a lot about the power of the song (or the power of Dusty’s voice) that the track is so moving with a lyric written by two first-time writers — the producer of “Ready Steady Go!” and the manager of the Yardbirds.
David Lifton – I love that Elvis Presley had this in his set in the 1970s. I don’t know if he felt a connection to the lyric or simply thought it was a melody that he suited his voice so well, but at least it shows that he wasn’t completely lost in the fog in the mid-1960s. And don’t think I’d let this one pass without mentioning that gorgeous key change from the minor to the parallel major when the verse goes into the chorus.
#7: The Mindbenders, “A Groovy Kind of Love” – #2 U.S. and U.K.; the group’s first single without Wayne Fontana
Feerick – Dig those bolero snare rolls, and the way the verses are built around them. Once again, the Mindbenders are using the rhythm section as a compositional tool, rather than simply as a motor.
Holmes – I kid you not, if you look up some of the YouTube videos for this, people ask in the comments section if Phil Collins was in the Mindbenders.
Dunphy – I don’t hate this but, God help me, Phil Collins did it better.
Cummings – Put me in the “Phil Collins did it better” camp as well, though I think his version is too austere. The story behind this single has something for everybody. There’s the fact that its lyric was written by Carol Bayer (later Sager), who later became Burt Bacharach’s second major (if lesser) songwriting partner — and the fact that the lyric was written specifically to exploit the then-new word “groovy.” It reminds me of a funny story Tom Hanks told surrounding the making of You’ve Got Mail, in which he praised Nora Ephron for her then-timely adaptation of The Shop Around the Corner and she responded something like this: “Yes, it works well. We need to finish this movie in the next 15 minutes.” Then there’s the history of the Mindbenders following Wayne Fontana’s departure, in which Eric Stewart took over on vocals and led the group through its demise — culminating in a gig at a bar in Cardiff where the band arrived to find a bill listing the once-chart-topping act only as the “support group.” (Paging Spinal Tap!)
Lifton – I’ve always hated this song. The melody is practically a nursery rhyme. Anybody who’s ever sat down at a piano could pick it out in five minutes. I get what Jack is saying about the rhythm, but it’s not enough to save the song.
#8: Cher, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” – #2 U.S., #3 U.K.; her most successful single of the ’60s
Feerick – I don’t even want to talk about Cher (or, as that record sleeve would have it, Chèr) — she’s the least interesting part of the song, not much more than an enthusiastic amateur here, and her cries of “Hey!” are cringe-worthy — but let’s talk about the instrumental track which so clearly outclasses her.
Specifically, I want to talk about the way arrangers had always used certain instruments as a shorthand for certain ethnicities. When pop had its sunny-Italy phase in the ’50s, there were mandolins all over “Que Sera Sera” and “Hot Diggity Boom Ziggity,” for instance. “Bang Bang” is all over the map — Spanish guitars, a Russian dance in the middle, and that heartbreaking gypsy violin. An early pan-ethnic mash-up?
Holmes – The more I hear this song, the less I like it. You nailed it on the “Hey!” part, particularly that last one. She totally ran out of gas after just three of those. Still, it sounds positively golden compared to this absolute abomination:
That’s like some outtake from Stayin’ Alive‘s production of Satan’s Alley.
Dunphy – Cher should be grateful for the 1970s because, otherwise, all she’d have to lean on would be Sonny Bono and this song. Inconsequential bucket of blah.
Cummings – I never gave much thought to this song — probably only heard it once or twice — but now I’m immediately struck by the connection between it and her big hits of the ’70s. The kinda-sorta-swarthy arrangement and instrumentation to play up Cher’s ethnicity, the melodrama in Cher’s vocal, etc. It’s interesting that, with Sonny having written this one, Cher pursued similar songs by other writers during the ’70s. It makes me think of Bonnie Raitt’s complaints about the song pitches she used to get after the Nick of Time album, and how the songwriters would put slide-guitar solos on the demos to cue her that theirs would be perfect “Bonnie Raitt songs.” Anyway, I want to hear Stevie Wonder’s version of “Bang Bang” — and, having fished around on YouTube after watching this clip, I want desperately to get Cher’s 1999 concert version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” out of my memory.
Lifton – I like to think Sonny knew that this wasn’t a great song, so he worked up an inventive arrangement for it. Apparently it worked from a commercial standpoint, but I still don’t like it.
#9: The Happenings, “See You in September” – #3 U.S.
Feerick – Well, it’s been a couple of years since we had one of these separation anxiety ballads, hasn’t it? This one amps up the inherent drama of the topic and goes full-bore theatrical. It sounds like a number from a never-produced Off-Broadway musical about VD. Well, to me, anyway.
Holmes – I enjoy this in part for its unabashed quaintness and squareness. We’re on the doorstep of the Summer of Love, and this is a cool blast of teen puppy love angst right out of the ’50s. Oh, and it absolutely improves on the original by the Tempos.
Dunphy – Bizarrely, I always thought this was the Four Seasons. I don’t hate the Four Seasons, but I have none of their recordings, that is by choice, and that says a lot about how I feel about this song.
Cummings – “There is danger in the summer moon above”! Just when you thought it was safe to go back out the front door… The brilliant thing about the Happenings’ version (at least it was brilliant for the mid-’60s) is that they (along with Four Seasons guru Bob Crewe) took a nice song that had been done quite clunkily by the Tempos and turned it into a Beach Boys/FS knockoff. It’s definitely got more of a summertime flavor, as pop music has defined “summertime flavor,” than the original. That chorus is a total earworm.
Dunphy – [“There is danger in the summer moon above”! Just when you thought it was safe to go back out the front door…]
If we can just get someone to whine this annoyingly, we may yet have an entry for the next Twilight soundtrack.
Feerick – Well, it’s not like this kind of thing doesn’t still get plenty of airplay. And frankly I’d say that Brendan James is plenty annoying…
Lifton – A good piece of disposable AM summer pop. It doesn’t quite reach the Beach Boys level, but it’s a passable Four Seasons impression.
#10: Dionne Warwick, “Message to Michael” – #8 U.S.; written by Bacharach/David, although they reportedly were against Warwick recording it.
Feerick – The story is true, and it’s a great one — both Bacharach and Hal David asked Warwick not to record it, as it was originally written for a man to sing; the title was “Message to Martha,” and David couldn’t imagine swapping it out with a man’s name, as the only name he could think of that would work with the rhythm was “Michael,” and he hated that name. It was recorded a bunch of times before Dionne tackled it, mostly by men, and a couple of translated versions had hit the European charts. Dionne actually cut it in Paris, with French musicians, without the involvement of Burt and Hal.
Anyway, I like this. I admire a lot of the other Warwick/Bacharach records, but I genuinely like this. This one grooves right along, and although the vocal technique is as formidable as ever, it sounds loose and natural.
You know how sometimes you attach a meaning to a song after the fact? When I was listening to this recently, I started thinking about Michael Jackson, and it made me sad. There’s a guy who could have used a little more unconditional love in his life.
Holmes – This is the least fussy Bacharach/David tune I’ve heard yet in this series, and Dionne nails it perfectly. It doesn’t announce its greatness, rather it just pulls up a comfy chair and lets you enjoy it all casual-like.
Dunphy – It’s okay, but I’ll swim against the tide and say I like her other Bacharach/David tunes better.
Cummings – Sorry, but I don’t buy this at all. Dionne, with all her sophistication, hardly sounds like someone who’s ever SEEN a “Kentucky bluebird,” much less pined away from her rural home for a guy who’d lit out for N’awlins. The song itself doesn’t ring true, either, and the arrangement doesn’t begin to fit the sentiment. Were Bacharach & David consciously trying to fuse a country lyric onto an AC tune? I’ve been the resident naysayer on Bacharach/David/Warwick throughout this series, but even so…this is silly.
Lifton – I only know this one from Lou Johnson’s beautiful version on the Bacharach box set, and yeah, I agree that it sounds better coming from a man’s point of view.