Without any further ado — well, without any ado, really — let’s get right into it. Here’s the third group of tracks from Time-Life’s AM Gold: 1967 compilation.
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#11: Aaron Neville, “Tell It Like It Is“ – #2 U.S. Hot 100, #1 U.S. R&B; Neville’s highest charting on the Hot 100.
Jon Cummings – We’re all supposed to revere the Meters/Neville Brothers/Aaron as seminal artists of the ’60s, progenitors of New Orleans soul, yada yada yada. I’ve never been able to do so, in practice — I never could drum up any interest in their music, and I saw the brothers in NYC sometime in the mid-’90s and was bored to death. That said … “Tell It Like It Is” is the real shit, one of the great songs — and one of the great vocal performances — of the last century. That first chorus bridge, with the horns building — “If you are serious / Don’t play with my heart, it makes me furious / But if you want me to love you, baby I will” — still sends chills up my spine. It’s succinct, yet impossibly dramatic.
Dw. Dunphy – Remember when Aaron Neville didn’t sing like his cell phone was losing bars?
I really like this song, but it gets me a bit riled up too, knowing that apparently that monstrous mole on Aaron’s face has been causing him to lose signal all these years. I mean, listen to this. The guy has (had?) such a great voice.
David Lifton – I had never realized that this song came out in 1967. I had always thought it was older than that. It’s one of those songs like “People Get Ready” that don’t seem to have been written, but materialized one unknown day. It has such an eternal quality to it.
#12: The Association, “Windy” – #1 U.S., the group’s second chart-topper.
Cummings – This is perhaps the first song from this entire series that was still a staple on Top 40 radio, even as a 7-year-old “recurrent” (as they say in the biz), when I first started paying attention around 1974. And why not? It’s lighter than air! “Windy” is a great radio hit, even though the main vocalist is so emotion-free — it might as well be Hal from “2001” doing the singing — and the closing female (?) vocals aren’t very good, either. The harmonies are tremendous, as they always were with the Association, and the song is just so damn snappy.
Dunphy – Some more great voices, but this song is the definition of inconsequential. I have a theory that large numbers of bands back in the 1960’s AM Pop realm were actively shooting for getting a TV theme song. That’s all this is, when you think about it: the theme from a fictitious sitcom named “Windy,” much in the same vein as “Gidget” or “That Girl” or “The Flying Nun,” possessed harlot that she was.
Windy has dreams and ambitions but she also wants to be with the love of her life, chisel-jawed Mitch (played by Chad Everett). Can she have both in uptight suburban California Cul-De-Sacville? Who’s tripping down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she sees, shopping with her best friend Sunny (one so true!)? Everyone knows it’s Windy.
Lifton – Like “Cherish,” you have to admire the vocal arrangement even if you don’t particularly liking the song. Do we get “Never My Love” in this series at any point? That one’s really pretty.
Chris Holmes – It’s on the The Late ’60s disc, so if we keep going past 1979 then we’ll cover it.
#13: Petula Clark, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” – #5 U.S., #12 U.K.; Clark’s last U.S. Top 10 single.
Cummings – I never want to like this song when it comes on, but I can’t help myself. It takes a dramatic trope that’s quite common to pop songs — the lovers’ quarrel, the “foolish pride,” etc. — and puts a quirky little upbeat twist on it. The jauntiness of the tune makes it clear the stakes aren’t awfully high — the dude’s obviously not thinking of leaving for good, he’s just a drama queen looking to make a point (like he always does) — and our Pet is telling him to lay off the dramatics, take off his mac and come to bed. The chorus has a nice “Pet Sounds” quality to it, the strings and kettle drums of the bridge replaced by that plinky piano. And Pet gives her vocal a lot more personality than she did on either of her big hits we’ve already covered, “Downtown” and “My Love.” All in all, very charming, if not very rock’n’roll.
Dunphy – A lot more melancholy than Petula’s previous tracks and, in a way a lot better, too. I always had a sense that she could wring out real pathos and drama when given the opportunity, but was commonly relegated to standard ‘British bird’ pop tunes that women seemed stuck with at the time. The folkies were trying to make a break from that. Dusty Springfield succeeded, and eventually Grace (Darby) Slick would stick dynamite underneath the notion of the lovelorn, dutifully cooing pop femme.
As for this track, where “Windy” was a TV theme song, this is a moment from a musical comedy, appearing just after the first-act showstopper where the lover storms from the apartment (or in this case, the flat). These sorts of sublimations of other musical forms would be changing quickly; I suspect the next year, 1968, will find the flower-power movement finally unavoidable and you’ll see even the most standard-oriented acts edging toward the tie-dye.
Lifton – I don’t think I ever knew the verses to this. The chorus always stuck in my head to negative effect. Hey Feerick, how many wars did this song end?
#14: Bobby Vee and the Strangers, “Come Back When You Grow Up” – #3 U.S., Vee’s last U.S. Top 20.
Cummings – How did this happen? Bobby hadn’t sniffed the Top 40 in four years when this song came out, and it’s (if anything) less sophisticated a record than his last Top Tenner, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” had been back in ’62. In fact, “Come Back When You Grow Up” sounds like a refugee from ’63, an inferior rehash of “Go Away Little Girl.” I do like that little guitar hook, and the way Bobby momentarily turns on a growl as he sings “your wide-eyed innoncence” — but other than that this single barely registers a pulse. What was it doing on pop radio in 1967?
Lifton – Blech. Another one to keep away from Tarantino.
#15: The Stone Poneys, “Different Drum” – #13 U.S., written by Mike Nesmith.
Cummings – I don’t know much (had to do it, since both Aaron and La Ronstadt are among this week’s victims), but I know that “Different Drum” still sounds wildly out of place on my old “Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits” album. Don’t get me wrong … it’s not that I knock it — in fact, I’ve loved this track since I was little, and I particularly love the couplet that starts with what I just wrote and ends with “It’s just that I am not in the market…” — but while the vocal tone is obviously Linda’s, her phrasing has nothing in common with the plaintive waif who sang “Long, Long Time” three years later. In fact, her belting sounds like she’s mimicking Mama Cass — a concept I had never put together until just now, as I listened to this song in the context of an “AM Gold” CD that also features “Dedicated to the One I Love” and another Cass imitator, Spanky McFarlane. The harpsichord adds to the Ms & Ps overtones — without it, and with less of the belting and more of the coyness Ronstadt was so capable of — “Different Drum” might have sounded more like the country song that its good-old-boy-gone-Hollywood composer probably intended it to be.
Dunphy – I like this song. This preface is required because everything I say afterward would indicate that I don’t like the song, but let us be clear. I wouldn’t turn this song off if it came on the radio.
But “Poneys”? Really? “Poneys”?
And Linda Ronstadt is working overtime to sound like anyone but Linda Ronstadt here, isn’t she? This alone marks a major transformation in her career when she starts working with Peter Asher, Warren Zevon and, heck, all the rest of the Laurel Canyoneros. Gone are the big Mary Travers sweeps and swoops. Had she not found that alternate comfort zone, the song would likely have been forgotten, becoming one of those “where the heck did that come from” moments we’ve stumbled across in this series from time to time. “Different Drum” is a very pretty tune but thoroughly a product of it’s time and, I’ve convinced, only achieves the status it has now because of Ronstadt’s stardom in the 1970’s.
Now, divorce the performance from the lyrics and remember this was written by Mike Nesmith, and the track totally becomes a manifesto against his Pre-Fab-Four stardom with The Monkees. Anyone who didn’t expect him to bolt from that organization didn’t know he wrote this song, that’s for damn skippy.
Lifton – There was an awful lot of harpsichord on AM radio in 1967, wasn’t there? I was never a Linda Ronstadt fan, and once you hear the originals there’s really no need to listen to her. But this is a spectacular song that has grown on me over the years, and it’s probably the only one of her hits that benefit from gender-bending (certainly much more than “Tumblin’ Dice”). It sounds fairly misogynist coming from a man, but in a woman’s hands, it fits more in line with the Sexual Revolution. And I like the idea of a woman referring to a man as “pretty.”
#16: Harpers Bizarre, “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” – #13 U.S. Hot 100.
Cummings – From the great tradition of pop coattail-riding — “Are you not gonna release that as a single? Do you mind if I do? Thanks very much — I’ll be off to the bank now!” — that stretches from Joe Dowell (Elvis’ “Wooden Heart”) to Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas (les Beatles’ “Do You Want to Know a Secret”) and beyond. To ears that came of age post-1970, this arrangement sounds like it was created for Sesame Street, or maybe “Free To Be … You And Me.” It begins as something like chamber pop, but eventually careens past bubblegum and lands squarely in the realm of children’s music — particularly in that instrumental break that follows the first round of “ba-da-da-da’s.” Nevertheless, it’s an undeniably great song that needed to be on the radio, and it charted higher than the song Simon & Garfunkel decided to release instead at the time (“At the Zoo”). The album Harper’s Bizarre recorded to capitalize on this single also included two songs by Leon Russell and three from Randy Newman’s debut album … as well as a version of “Peter and the Wolf.” (Children’s music!)
Dunphy – I’m a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan, but this song has always irritated me. It is so freaking twee. It was twee before twee was twee, mate.
Harpers Bizarre then goes and makes it twee-er with whisper-singing. This is the kind of stuff that created the counter-counter-culture; those folks that wanted to rip the flowers from your hair and pee on them, then kick you in the hacky sack. “Why you harshing my mellow, my brother?” they ask as I break out the high-pressure hoses to wash the stink of patchouli and inadequate bum-wiping off of them.
Holmes – OK, so I’m not the only one. This song gets an instant skip from me just about every time it pops up. I’m just going to pretend the Harpers Bizarre version never even happened.
Dunphy – I think most people are going to agree this was either Paul Simon’s most subversive attempt at mockery or a stab at selling out for some groovy gold. Either way, I’d rather floss with sandpaper than listen to it.
Cummings – I would argue that Simon probably considered this a throwaway at the time — and, considering his disdain for much of his early work, he probably now thinks less of it than you guys do. But while it’s simple-minded in the context of Simon’s other work, it’s not out of character with the general intellect of pop radio in 1967 (or any other year, for that matter). Which is why Harper’s Bizarre, or at least the puppetmasters behind the group, were smart to sniff out its commercial potential after S&G decided not to release it. It’s a snappy tune with a lyric focused on the most happenin’ word of the mid-’60s. I won’t go TOO far to defend a song that nonsensically features the word “dappled,” but I’ll go that far.
Lifton – Simon & Garfunkel were such a huge part of my pop music upbringing that I probably didn’t hear this until I was in my 20s. I used to always sing this to myself when my family would go into New York City via the 59th Street Bridge, starting at the Swingline stapler factory. Then I’d move on to the Taxi theme. So it’s kind of hard for me to criticize something that’s associated with such a happy memory, even if it’s not one of Paul Simon’s most timeless songs.