It was probably inevitable that we’d hit a bit of a speed bump in our journey through Time-Life’s AM Gold, and today is that bump. Only one song from this week’s batch of six made it out unscathed from the critical lens of the Popdose staff. At least in the case of the Monkees it isn’t really their fault. Having one of the biggest songs co-opted by Smash Mouth (aka The Guy Fieri of Music) shouldn’t count against them, but it does.
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#11: Percy Sledge, “When a Man Loves a Woman” – #1 U.S. Hot 100 and R&B, #4 U.K.
Jon Cummings – I’m on record with the fact that I can’t stand Percy Sledge’s voice. The song itself is wonderful, with an astonishingly resonant lyric; the horns are brilliant; the arrangement generally is fantastic. Percy sounds like he’s being stretched on a rack.
Jack Feerick – But that’s the point! The agony! The emotion! The raw power! Percy Sledge — even the name sounds superhuman — he cannot be contained by your petty mortal notions of “pitch.”
And the arrangement is totally built to showcase him. The electric organ in the intro is feeble, tinny — then Percy comes roaring in and blows the song up all by himself. There are other big moments in the song — the entry of the guitar, the horns at the end — but that voice, God, that voice; Percy brings the song to a climax within the first ten seconds and sustains that peak all the way through. Just staggering.
David Lifton – I once read an interview with Jerry Wexler where he took pride in how everything on Atlantic was always in tune. The interviewer pointed out this song. Wexler responded with, “Yeah, we made an exception there because everything else sounded so good.”
Fuck Michael Bolton’s version.
#12: The Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love” – #1 U.S., #3 U.K., from the Holland/Dozier/Holland team
Cummings - The bassline that launched a thousand hits, and one of Diana’s least-mannered vocals — though, as I’ve said here before, I can’t help but hear in her voice that perpetual fake-smile that begs white people to love her. The songwriting here seems simply effortless — and I mean that in the most complimentary way. It’s one of those (many) Motown hits that seemed to descend straight from the heaven I don’t believe in. H-D-H really knew how to crank ‘em out.
Chris Holmes - Simply brilliant. It’s already such a fantastic arrangement, but James Jamerson’s bass playing is really the engine that makes the whole thing go. The way he stays about a half-beat ahead of each measure adds a bit of tension to the track and makes it seem to move a lot faster than it already does.
Lifton - It’s not just the bassline, it’s everything. I once spent about a week picking this song apart. The music stays within a five-chord pocket but is constantly moving so it sounds more complex than that. The interplay of the guitars – one moving the rhythm, the other in staccato bursts – is the essence of Motown’s pop-soul aesthetic. Starting on the chorus was an HDH specialty (“Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Bernadette”) and the way it moves into the verse (starting on a iii chord? Who the hell does that?) the first two times is made only more astonishing by the two-bar pause before the third. Check out this version with Diana’s vocals removed and you can not only hear the music, but also lightness of the background vocals.
Fuck Phil Collins’ version.
Feerick – Annnnnnd the illusion of the Supremes as a group starts to dissolve. It starts with Berry riding the faders in the control booth, pushing Mary and Flo into inaudibility; its ends with airbrushing them out of the old photographs.
#13: The Monkees, “I’m a Believer” – #1 U.S. and U.K., written by Neil Diamond
Dw. Dunphy - For me, this is a great song that has been destroyed by omnipresence. I can’t listen to it with an objective mind. It has been colored by every listening experience possible, one too many wedding sing-a-longs, and frequent telethon usage. It’s a shame too because it is a nice song. I just can’t stand to hear it anymore.
The same goes for another Diamond composition: “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t know who decided to make the “oh-oh-oh’s” a ritual, or who added the “so good, so good, so good” chant. All I know is I want them dead.
Feerick - It’s a Red Sox thing. A Jersey boy like you wouldn’t understand.
Cummings - Ruined by Smash Mouth and Shrek, if you ask me, but there’s still something really great about this recording. The bridge is hooky yet underplayed, and I can never hear it without imagining the go-go dancers on “Shindig” or some such show I never watched shaking their fringe-skirted booties. Still gotta love Dolenz’ understated vocal, particularly in comparison to SM/Donkey — the way he breathes, “Aaaaaah, love was out to get me” is priceless. What can I say? When it comes to the Prefab Four, I’m a … stepping stone, at least.
Lifton - This one has aged really well. A perfect LA pop confection, and Dolenz is a much better singer than he’s ever gotten credit for.
Fuck Smash Mouth’s version. And as long as we’re talking about “Sweet Caroline,” fuck the Red Sox, too.
Feerick – Way to kick a man when he’s down, Dave. If you see Theo, tell him we said “Hi.” And ask him if he — if he ever, you know — thinks about us.
#14: The Chiffons, “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” – #10 U.S., #31 U.K.
Cummings - The Chiffons were already an anachronism by this point, three years removed from their last Top 30 hit. So how did this happen? I can’t figure it. The song is annoying and largely tuneless — except for that title line, which no doubt will remain embedded in my brain through an undoubtedly restless night. And sometimes that’s all it takes for a single to climb the charts.
Holmes - Yes, this seems horribly dated and quaint compared to other songs on this volume, but I love it just the same. I do have one small hangup with this song, and it’s that the lead vocals (Judy Craig?) remind me way too much of Paula Abdul.
I did not realize until today that the Chiffons opened for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1964. Wow.
Lifton – Good call, Chris. I never made the Paula Abdul connection before, but now I can hear it. It’s thin and unsure of pitch. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its charms. This sounds like it should be used ironically in a montage in some hipster comedy.
Fuck the version of this one that’s playing in my head with Paula Abdul singing it.
Dunphy - I have to go with Jon on this one. We start with “He’s a sweet talkin’ guy, he’s a sweet talkin’ guy,” then to “he’s a sweet talkin’, sweet talkin’, sweet talkin’, sweet talkin’ guyyyyy,” then the backups are singing, “Stay away from him, stay away from him, stay away from him.”
This isn’t a song. It’s a study in Tourette’s.
#15: The Association, “Cherish” – #1 U.S., the group’s second Top 10 single and first #1
Cummings - ”Countless” is the word I’d use to descri-hibe (Bom, bom. Bom bom.) All the vocalists required to get this song’s syrupy vi-hibe (vi-HI-hi-hi-HI-hi-HIIIIIIIBE)
Feerick – “Cherish” may be the word you use to describe this behavior, Mr. Association: however, this court has no choice but to define it as “stalking.”
Lifton - I grew up hating this song much as Cummings describes. Years later I came to appreciate the vocal arrangement, especially at the end, but yeah, it’s still way too saccharine.
#16: Gary Lewis & The Playboys, “She’s Just My Style” – #3 U.S.
Cummings - This fits somewhere on the Beach Boys-to-Bay City Rollers spectrum, I suppose. But it’s extraordinary to me that Gary “Nepotism Rules!” Lewis’ not-ready-for-drive-time voice was tolerated through seven straight Top 10 singles, of which this was number five. The chorus is unarguably catchy, but honestly, wasn’t there a rock combo at every high school in America with a better lead singer than ol’ Gary during 1966?
Feerick – Gary Lewis lives in my neck of the woods these days, and the local paper did a story on him last year — a “where are they now” kind of thing. He came off as a really nice guy, actually — very down-to-earth, not bitter at all. Cool fella. Level-headed and humble.
I mean, listening to this it’s obvious he’s got a lot to be humble about. But still.
Lifton - Fuck Gary Lewis’ version.