Wow, has it really been twenty short weeks since this series debuted? Can we possibly last for another twenty? Well even if we can’t, we made it through another year at least. Here are the final five tracks from AM Gold: 1966.
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#17: The Lovin’ Spoonful, “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” – #10 U.S.
Chris Holmes – I feel compelled to chime in and declare my love for this song. As long as I’ve been listening to music I’ve also been singing along to it (when it wouldn’t cause me even more social awkwardness), and the melodies here are just so damn fun to sing. It sounds completely unassuming on the surface, but this really is an expert piece of songwriting and arranging.
Dw. Dunphy – Good grief, I just recalled this one. You’re right, this is a sweet little tune; so sweet that it escaped my biases against the Spoonful. For the life of me, I kept thinking this was some other band.
Jon Cummings – A nice guitar part, a sweet doodle-a-doodle-a keyboard part underneath … but otherwise there’s really not much here. The production is a bit murky, the descending melodic line sounds better as an instrumental than with Sebastian’s vocals, and generally it sounds like something’s missing. A chorus, perhaps? Listening to the badly separated stereo versions of this track available on YouTube, and comparing them to a mono version I have, it seems that whoever did the stereo mixes didn’t do the Spoonful any favors.
David Lifton – A great pop song, but one I don’t have much to say about other than point out how the progression in the verse doesn’t resolve on the V, like most musically simple songs do, but the IV with the V in the bass. I can’t think of too many songs I don’t like that do that.
#18: The Seekers, “Georgy Girl” – #2 U.S., #3 U.K., nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (it was part of the film of the same name)
Dunphy – I know every song on this list, I’m sure, but at the moment the only ones I can “hear” in my head are “Georgy Girl” and “Soul and Inspiration.” I’ll have to check them when I get home tonight to a computer with a soundcard.
“Georgy Girl” is a bouncy tune and I’m sure people love it, and have every right to. For me though, it means nothing. I’ve heard it in just about every context, from commercial jingles to punchlines on the Simpsons, to just the constant play it once got on AM radio all the way up into the very-early-’80s. Now it strikes me as less than audio wallpaper — if you stare at it, it is kind of pretty and well-crafted, but you don’t have much cause to stare at it at all.
Cummings – This may be the most on-the-nose film theme ever, written for the very quirky British melodrama that made Lynn Redgrave a star (sorta). The melody certainly is singable, and no doubt sounded great coming out of the radio at the time the film was out, even if the lyrics lose almost all their meaning when taken out of context. At least the lyric for the single was edited down from the multiple versions that dot the film and are even MORE on-the-nose, including a final rendition (after Georgy has come out the other side of two love triangles with a wealthy husband and a baby that isn’t her own) that goes, “Who needs a perfect lover when you’re a mother at heart? / Better try to tell yourself that you got your way / Now you’ve got a future planned for you / At least he’s a millionaire … You’re rich, Georgy Girl!” Bleah.
Lifton – You know how when you “Awesome” a song at turntable.fm the heads move from side-to-side? That’s what this song always makes me do. It’s so infectious and bouncy, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s awesome. Cummings is right. It’s too close to the movie to really stand outside of it. You can’t take the lyrics and put them to your own life, unless you’re living the same life as Georgy.
#19: The New Vaudeville Band, “Winchester Cathedral” – #1 U.S., #4 U.K.; the band was formed by songwriter Geoff Stephens specifically to record this song.
Cummings – If this had come out in 1974, I’m pretty sure my 8-year-old self would have loved it the way I loved (and still love) the horrid Number Ones of that year. However, without such nostalgic attachment to “Winchester Cathedral,” I can only send a message back to the pop listenership of 1966: “What the fuck were you thinking?” Several times throughout this series I’ve hinted around the fact that when I don’t immediately recognize the appeal of a song on one of these CDs, I try to imagine it emerging from a transistor radio on a beach somewhere — and in that context, the vaudevillian instrumentation and megaphone-like vocalization on this song makes its appeal quite plain. (Every decade needs its equivalent of “Mambo No. 5” or Taco’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” I suppose.) Unfortunately for that rationale, “Winchester Cathedral” topped the charts in December, when few people were at the beach … which renders the whole thing inexplicable once more. Anyway, the best fact I know about this song is something I just saw on Wikipedia, which is that LaWanda Page (Aunt Esther on “Sanford and Son”) used to do a comedy routine in which a dead man’s butt sang “Winchester Cathedral” after a mortician removed a champagne cork from it.
Dunphy – “Winchester Cathedral” is the theme song from some really bad ’60s movie where everyone looks like they’re high, the mens’ ties are the width of a fat man’s suit and Terry Thomas is pinching the bridge of his nose and saying, “Oh dear, how in the world did it ever come to this?” It is, in every way, what was right and wrong about this era — right because they would give a tune like this the time of day, but wrong because it is a stupid, cornball, twee basket of suck.
David Allen Jones – Geez, not a lot of love for “Winchester” around here! I always kinda liked it, but maybe that’s just my rose-colored glasses side.
Holmes – I appreciate it on a nostalgic/ironic level, but it really is quite hokey. Strangely enough, I have a Kiss bootleg where they perform a cover in concert. Very odd.
Lifton – I hate this.
#20: Petula Clark, “My Love” – #1 U.S., #4 U.K., her third Top 10 U.S. single
Dunphy – I probably should be loving “My Love” but I’m not. This is not “Downtown” or “Don’t Sleep In The Subway.” It’s very bouncy. Too bouncy. In fact, it wasn’t until now that I realized it was Petula Clark, partially because when I see the title, I automatically flash upon Paul McCartney, but also because this tune could have been done by any British Bird of that time period. It’s just indistinct and…too…damned…BOUNCY.
Cummings – Somebody set the metronome to click too frequently during the recording session here. It’s not just “bouncy,” Dw., it’s rushed — as though they tried it at one tempo, it came in at 3:05 (a number chosen only for its Billy Joel connotation), and the producer thought, “We won’t get on the radio unless we’re under three minutes.” More problematically, Petula seems incapable of projecting any emotional attachment to the song at this speed. I’ve always found her vocal on “Downtown” strangely riveting — maybe it’s that the song is a lecture/advice column, and her accent gives it some hot-schoolmarmish credibility — but here she sounds like she’s singing karaoke on her own recording. All of that said, it’s got a great melody and a teenybopper-friendly (if cliche-ridden) lyric, and if we’re going to rank the mid-’60s Number Ones with “my” in the title — which I always find myself doing, for some reason — then “My Love” places a solid second behind “My Girl,” and ahead of “My Guy.”
Lifton – A few times in this series we’ve had songs that I would hear on oldies radio when I was younger, but didn’t know who sang it (or forgot it if I did know). It’s a thoroughly professional job by Clark and the Wrecking Crew (that snare drum sound gives it away as being Hal Blaine), but this always struck as a lazy song. It starts on the chorus, which turns out to be a couple of seconds longer than the verse. Either one of those is usually a sign that the verse is an afterthought, but together it’s telling. And there’s a key change before the second verse, which at least shows that they were at least trying to breathe some life into a weak song.
#21: The Righteous Brothers, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” – #1 U.S., #15 U.K.
Dunphy – “Soul and Inspiration” is very much “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling – Part Two” and I like it for all the reasons I like its predecessor, but in hindsight, the composition is so obviously an attempt to pull from that same well. Still, whatever they’re doing works, even when it ought not to. I should either be busting a gut, rolling an eye, or groaning when Bobby Hatfield is doing his “You’re my reason…for laughing, for crying, for living, and for dying” bit. Yet it comes off much more earnest and less wimpy and pathetic than it otherwise could have. Others who have attempted such blatantly overwrought lyrics during this time couldn’t make it work half as well.
Cummings – Whose bright idea was all that echo? I mean, jeez, Billy and Bobby, I don’t care if you’re haunted by visions of Spector waving a gun around — now that you’re producing yourselves, please shit or get off the pot, because I’m sick of you guys singing in the bathroom. Actually, upon closer examination “Soul and Inspiration” doesn’t track as closely with “Lovin’ Feelin'” as, say, “”It’s the Same Old Song” does with “I Can’t Help Myself” or “Bernadette” does with “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” At least not until that last bridge, for which Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil should be suing themselves for millions. In any case, I think it’s a shame that the production (and that bridge) have left so many latter-day listeners thinking it’s a knockoff — and speaking of Latter Day, it’s also a shame that there’s never been a Wall of Sound-free cover version any more popular than Donny & Marie’s in 1977.
Lifton – Who cares whether they were trying to recreate the success of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin?” The important thing is that they came really, really close. While the song isn’t as good, I love that the chorus starts on a higher note than the last note of the verse, which isn’t the case on “Lovin’ Feelin’.” It gives it more of a gospel feeling, reaching towards the heavens, only to be brought back down to Earth on the last line.
#22: B.J. Thomas, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” – #8 U.S., written by Hank Williams.
Cummings – Every time I hear Thomas’ voice I veer wildly between being impressed and sickened by its smoothness. I want to know how this became a hit, considering its odd lineage (released first on Pacemaker Records in ’64, then by Sceptor in early ’66) and the fact that his band, the Triumphs, were listed on the single. I figure it was first a regional hit around Houston, where he grew up. Anyway, this sounds like one of the kind of smooth-country retreads that became fashionable around the release of “Urban Cowboy” in 1980, so I guess Thomas was way ahead of his time. Of course, thinking about Thomas at a moment I had YouTube access sent me scurrying to hear “As Long As We Got Each Other,” the theme to “Growing Pains.” I never knew that Dusty Springfield replaced Jennifer Warnes as his duet partner for the Season 4 version of that song — though Jennifer was back for Season 5. Aaaaaaaannnnnndddddd there goes another piece of vital information out of my brain (somebody’s birthday, probably), replaced by yet another piece of inane pop-culture trivia.
Dunphy – In his effort to smooth out the original song, B.J. Thomas has pulled the blues out of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and made it safe for pizza parlor jukeboxes. Those backing horn punches are yet another addition to the late ’60s/early ’70s list of sounds that probably don’t need re-visitation. Thomas has somehow mashed up Hank Williams with the Bee Gees’ “All My Sorrow,” lumped it with his hambone Hamilton, Joe Frank, Reynolds voice and served up a scoopful of I Don’t Give A Damn.
Cummings – I can’t decide whether you have defiled Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, or the word “hambone.” For the record, I’ll take “Don’t Pull Your Love” or “Fallin’ in Love” over any of B.J.’s hits — except maybe that one with Katharine Ross on a bicycle…
Dunphy – At the merest mention of the song title, all I hear in my head now is, “Babeh, babeh, faw’in in luv, ahm faw’in in luv agin…”
Lifton – One of those songs so perfect that is almost impossible to screw up. But dammit, Thomas finds a way to do it.