Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 15
It’s perhaps comforting to know that — judging by the chart positions of this batch of tunes from 1965 — we would have been just as out of step with pop music 46 years ago as we are now. Why do we say that? Because our favorite song from this week’s installment of Digging for Gold is easily the lowest-charting of the bunch. What’s your favorite?
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#11: The Righteous Brothers, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” – #1 U.S., #1 U.K.; written by Spector/Mann/Weil
Dw. Dunphy - What a way to start things off. This week’s list has stone cold classics and “guilty pleasures” alike (sort of). This one obviously can do no wrong — big wall of sound, Orbison-worthy drama, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. To say anything wrong about this is to be totally un-American, soulless and probably makes you a space invader from a soulless, un-American planet.
Jon Cummings - This is the leadoff track for us this week, but it’s track #11 on the ’65 “AM Gold” CD. In the journalism trade, this is what we call “burying the lede.” This is one of the great pop singles of all time. It’s also the perfect showcase for the blend of Bill Medley’s guttural moans and Bobby Hatfield’s ethereal high-tenor voice. The Righteous Brothers achieved, with two crazy-different male voices, the sort of hyper-emotional (and even hyper-sexual) dynamic that one could usually only find with a male-female combination. (Hall & Oates, bless their blue-eyed souls, couldn’t match that dynamic on their ’80 version, though their valiant effort is still a great recording in its own right.) I hate to say it, but I’ve always been a nay-sayer on the supposed benefits to this song provided by Spector’s Wall of Sound. I would love to hear a pared-down, cleaned-up version that allows Hatfield to emerge a bit more from the murk. (Phil did wonders for all sorts of other acts — I just don’t think he did the Righteous Brothers justice.)
David Lifton - I only agree with you about this in theory because every time I hear a Diane Warren piece of shit I want to blame Spector for perfecting Orbison’s start-quiet-finish-big model here. But then I hear Medley and Hatfield trade “baby’s” back-and-forth and it’s all forgiven.
Jack Feerick - The things you notice, listening to a well-mastered recording on a decent pair of headphones, instead of blaring out of a tinny car radio. Bill Medley’s curious enunciation in the quiet bits (had he recently endured dental surgery?), the nervous tremolo on the strings, the wicked slap-echo on the tambourine, the low buzzing brass, the distant bongos (!) on the breakdown. This is why I’m enjoying this series so much — it’s a chance to give a close, detailed examination to songs that I’ve heard a million times, but maybe never listened to.
Too many apostrophes in the title, though. Elocution, Messrs. Righteous, elocution!
Chris Holmes - This is one of those songs that I remember hearing as a kid, before I was really even into music. It always sounded larger than life to me, and of course I can now thank Phil Spector. I’m really not a big fan of the Wall of Sound, but it works to perfection here. And I can just picture Brian Wilson furiously taking notes while listening to this – “Ah, that’s what the tambourines should sound like!”
And can I just add here that “blue-eyed soul” is one of the dumbest terms in music?
#12: The Miracles, “The Tracks of My Tears” - #16 U.S., #9 U.K.
Dunphy - Wrap it up with a bow, ’cause it is perfect. If his past songs didn’t make it clear that Smokey Robinson was the leader of the group, this sure did, and the lyrics probably didn’t get more poignant that year. Hasn’t everyone tried to fake it through the pain of a breakup, with all the props and stoicism one could muster, but in the end it’s all there? You just have to look close enough.
Cummings - Linda Ronstadt, get out of my head!! Because of my age, this is one of several Smokey songs that I heard first in cover versions … “Shop Around,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” “More Love” … “Going to a Go-Go.” For that reason, I’ll defy 30 years of consensus (including my own resentment of the boomers) and say, thank goodness for The Big Chill — or at least the soundtrack, which forced the original greatness of “Tracks of My Tears” and “I Second That Emotion” upon us Gen-Xers. This is such a brilliant lyric! It is an absolute crime, an oozing pustule on the history of pop music, that Johnny Rivers charted higher with this song than the Miracles did.
Lifton - Pete Townshend once said that he wrote “Substitute” because he loved the way Smokey sang that word in the second verse of this. But yeah, this is as close to holy as anything gets for me. That Marv Tarplin guitar figure that opens this song says, “Everybody be quiet now. Something incredible is about to happen.” And it does.
Feerick - Confession time: This is probably my favorite of all Motown songs and I’ve sung it live for years, and if I ever go on Idol or The Voice, this is my audition song. (What, like you haven’t got your audition song picked out?) So as I listen, I can’t help but focus on the differences between the slow, stripped-down voice-and-guitar version I do and the original recording.
It’s a beautiful record, but not a perfect one. The bridge is, for my money, the heart of the song, but the way it’s recorded, it sounds like an afterthought — the band literally stops dead, and there’s this moment like, “Oh shit, there’s supposed to be a bridge here, isn’t there?”
Holmes - Well if we’re making confessions here, I’ll offer mine. Other than “Tears of a Clown” I’ve never really been a big Miracles/Smokey fan. I would never deny the man’s immense talent and contributions to American music, but very little of their material moves me. This song is a perfect example — it all sounds very nice but to my ears it just kind of plods along.
I think I enjoy hearing other artists work with Smokey’s material more, now that I think about it.
Cummings - Are you sure that’s not just the face lifts and botox talking? (His, not yours…) Smokey is such a fright mask these days that it’s easy to downgrade his prime-of-life achievements based on his lack of eyelids alone. But still…I agree that there was a lot of Miracles dreck in the ’60s, but I think there’s something ecstatic about Smokey’s vocals on his best songs. Including this one. Like the sound of a man who can’t help but smile through his tears as he hears cash registers ringing.
#13: Gary Lewis & The Playboys, “This Diamond Ring” - #1 U.S.; Song is credited to Gary Lewis & the Playboys though none of the Playboys played their instruments on the recording and Lewis’ vocals were heavily supported by Ron Hicklin’s overdubs.
Dunphy - Essentially, this is the same song as “Tracks of My Tears” thematically, and Gary Lewis is not even in the same zip code let alone the ballpark…but I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too generous, but this song still has it’s charm. Just as Smokey’s bluffing his way through the pain, Lewis is trying to get rid of the reminders, and he pulls it off. If the song was as well-written as Smokey’s, it wouldn’t work, but because you hear so much of Gary’s dad in his voice (“Hey LAY-dee!!”) the residue of corn comes off more sincere than it ought. I like it. Love would be too strong though.
Cummings - Though written by Americans (including Al Kooper, a pop-music Forrest Gump if there ever was one — how do you go from writing this to playing the Hammond on “Like a Rolling Stone” within six months?), “This Diamond Ring” has a distinctly British Invasion feel to it, which largely explains its outsize success in the winter of ’65. (If you played this song, “I’m Telling You Now,” and ”I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” for a focus group of ’60s-pop novices and asked which one was sung by Jerry Lewis’ kid, the results would be all over the map.) It’s a good song — charming, like Dw. says — and Gary was lucky to have his name attached to it. It’s hard to believe he wound up with seven straight Top 10s, beginning with this one – especially since “Count Me In” is the only other song of his that I can stand.
Lifton - I’ve always thought this was a bad recording of a good song. There’s no emotion in either the performance or the arrangement. Slow it down a bit and find someone who can bring out the heartache that’s in the lyric and you’d have something better.
Feerick - I love the weird production bits on this — all the reverb and tremolo guitars, like Joe Meek trying to do a Wall of Sound on the cheap, with a five-piece band trying to conjure magic from the machines alone.
I always thought it was huge missed opportunity that Gary Lewis didn’t tap the Sales brothers out of Tony and the Tigers (and later of various David Bowie projects, including Tin Machine) to be his rhythm section. Borscht Belt Scion Supergroup!
Holmes - I love the transition from C minor to G-flat major just before the chorus (I had to look that up on Wikipedia, so if it’s wrong take it up with them), but this sounds like the engineer sped the tape up just a bit. It’s rather unnerving.
#14: The Fortunes, “You’ve Got Your Troubles” - #7 U.S., #2 U.K.
Dunphy - I’m a fan of The Fortunes. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” is a personal favorite, and there’s some nice bite in the harmonies on this song’s bridge that give this tune a little something extra. Plus, there’s something about it that feels like the song could have made it in ’69/’70 as well as 1965. Change up the vocals with a chubby-mouth sound like B.J. Thomas or Hamilton, Joe Frank and Yo Mama, it might fit right in.
Cummings - This is pretty much cookie-cutter stuff. The best part is the trumpet solo with the plucked guitar underneath, followed by the brief counterpoint vocal in the last chorus bridge. Otherwise, thorougly undistinguished.
Lifton - I like to think that every era of pop music has its Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a band that had solid hits that fit nicely on the radio and still sound good, but you wouldn’t miss if you never heard again. This fits that mold.
Feerick - Beatlemania meets the Doc Severinson Orchestra. It’s very slick, though, and there are some interesting ideas at play. The quodlibet section — where there are two separate vocal melodies going at once — seems like something that sneaked in as a late addition, or maybe as a carryover from an earlier draft of the song. Either way, I would have liked to hear more of that.
Holmes - I like it, but then I’m already on record as being a sucker for interesting vocal harmonies. I just wouldn’t go out of my way to hear it again.
#15: The Seekers, “I’ll Never Find Another You” - #4 U.S., #1 U.K. and the best-selling U.K. single of ’65
Dunphy - I don’t ascribe to the whole “guilty pleasures” description because if you enjoy it, why should you be guilty? Having said that, I find myself ever so itchy saying I enjoy “I’ll Never Find Another You,” but I can’t turn it off either. The “feminine voice” was handled with a kind of brassy, strident style that was totally out of sync with everything else then. Usually you had they coy, cooing voice or the wispy, crying voice, but this group’s Judith Durham, Mama Cass and Mary Travers weren’t afraid to belt. That’s nice.
Cummings - What a cliche fest! THIS was the biggest UK single of the year? Sheesh! Well, the Seekers might not have taught the world to sing (that was the NEW Seekers, in ’71, featuring one member of this group … but they obviously filled the radio gap between Peter, Paul & Mary and the Mamas & the Papas.
Lifton - This reminds me of another song that I think we talked about, also kind of a melodramatic folk song. But I’m looking at the track listings and I can’t find it. I guess that explains how I feel about this one.
Feerick - You know, when you’ve got “The Carnival Is Over” as one bookend of your career and “Georgy Girl” as the other, everything else is going to come off as filler. Oh, it sounds great — I like the “La Bamba” head-fake of the intro, and the vocal blend is as exquisite as ever — but that only serve to emphasize how dull the song is.
It makes me a little sad, knowing how very good the Seekers could be. If they’d had better and more consistent material, they might have been one of the all-time greats.
Holmes - My tolerance for material like this is very limited. “Puff the Magic Dragon” got in because I liked it when I was a kid. I think even if I had heard this back then I would’ve been bored to tears.
#16: The Vogues, “You’re the One” - #4 U.S.; cover of the Petula Clark original
Dunphy - Of all the songs on this list, this is the one that doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s fine, and it isn’t awful like some earlier entries in this series, but there’s something so rushed and forcibly snappy about it, it feels like an extended commercial jingle than a song not meant to sell anything.
“You’re the one that gets my clothes so bright, you’re my Clorox White!”
Of course, it’s not The Vogues’ fault as they didn’t write the thing, but here’s where my generosity starts to flag a bit. Having said that, I’d listen to this over Dickey Patches any time.
Cummings - This song’s OK, if rather generic. Heard in the context of an “AM Gold” comp, following upon the last two songs, its presence here smacks of Time-Life suits with accountant visors saying, ”We’re paying a bundle for rights fees on this CD — what can we get for cheap to get the running time up over an hour?”
Lifton - Good point. It’s not bad but I would have preferred if they could get the far superior “Five O’Clock World.”
Feerick - A trifle, yeah — but when the lead vocal lets rip on the chorus, it’s marvelous. Pure joyous release.
Holmes - Oof. Well, the Petula Clark original is good at least.
We started this week off with one of the great songs of the 20th century, and end with… this. I’m kind of depressed now.