Some weeks there are multiple tracks from our AM Gold series deemed good enough to make the all-important Spotify playlist. Oh sure, there may be a few dissenting opinions about some songs. That’s kind of what this ongoing discussion is all about. This week one track gets in, and it wasn’t even close for the other five. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
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#11: Dionne Warwick, “This Girl’s In Love With You” – #7 U.K.
David Lifton – It’s strange that they went with Dionne’s version instead of Herb Alpert’s more famous original take from a year earlier. This is OK but I prefer Alpert’s. It’s cheesy as hell but I love the crescendoes and the crashing piano part.
Jack Feerick – More musical pointillism from Burt ‘n’ Hal, this time with a country-shuffle beat, complete with fake Floyd Cramer piano runs. As with “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” it’s funny to hear Bacharach and David doing a pop pastiche, because they’re usually out in front of the curve. It’s like hearing Stravinsky doing hank Williams.
Say, d’you figure that’s a real kazoo, or a $500-an-hour session horn player mimicking a kazoo?
Jon Cummings – Of all the BachaCrap we’ve covered, this must be the nadir. Herb Alpert’s original version — recorded after Herb asked Burt whether he had any unused songs sitting around (which might lead one to believe that Burt wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about “This Guy’s” himself) — was an inexplicable #1. Herb’s singing is just amateurish, though I suppose it matched the comatose tune and banal lyrics. But Dionne, who probably intended the song as album filler (since it had already been a hit), simply sounds bored on her version. And why not? It’s dreadful. I’m going to stop bashing on this song now, lest I get too worked up, but not before I note that our extended Bacharach-fest in this column has made me renege on my long-held certainty that Jim Morrison was the most overrated musical artist of the ’60s.
#12: Oliver, “Good Morning Starshine” – #3 U.S.
Lifton – Regardless of my feelings about Hair (especially this song), it was definitely a great business decision to allow pop singers to record covers. The songs are capturing a moment rather than advancing the story, so they don’t need the context of the show to stand on their own (as opposed to, say, “Send In The Clowns”). Without these songs being as successful as they were, I doubt the show could have lasted as long as it did on Broadway.
Feerick – Roma, roma ma, Ga ga, ooh la la…
I’d forgotten the African feel of this arrangement — all the percussion and Zulu guitars, and is that a thumb piano I hear? Steel drums, maybe? It’s slower than I remember, too — with a kind of lazy, post-coital bliss. Which is appropriate, I guess.
You know that feeling, though — when it’s too late to sleep, maybe even into the wee hours of the morning, and maybe you have to work in a few hours and maybe you don’t, but you’ve been up all night and not thinking about the morning, thinking only about each other, and it’s afterward and you’re warm and happy, physically exhausted but not sleepy, not yet, and everything is so quiet, so quiet; the trains that run by all the time have stopped, and there is no sound of traffic, and you get up and stretch and stand at the window and there’s a pale radiance of pre-dawn, and your lover’s skin looks like mother-of-pearl in the light of the dying moon coming through the glass, and you look away and look down and there’s a deer as God is my witness, a deer come from who knows where, grazing at the bushes outside your building, so unlikely that it may as well be a unicorn, and you call your lover from the bed to come and see, and for a long moment it’s just the two of you in the pallid light in the presence of a private miracle.
You know that feeling, right? That’s the feeling that “Good Morning Starshine” utterly fails to capture. Note to Rado and Ragni: “lazy and stupid” is not the same as “innocent.” And Oliver, God bless him, sings it way too hard.
Cummings – The song is a trifle, built almost entirely on two nice bars of melody and a lot of lyrical mumbo-jumbo; and Oliver’s performance is massively overblown — particularly those ridiculously extended background notes. Yet somehow it’s easy to understand the appeal of “Good Morning Starshine,” simply because its message is so facile and positive. Those commenters on YouTube who reminisce about singing the song to their newborns can’t be denied their sentimentality, and it would be rude for us to try. (BTW, Jack, I don’t hear anything African in it — except, perhaps, a dippy hippy’s not-close approximation of what an African chant sounds like. But Hair was billed as “a tribal rock musical,” wasn’t it? Why were both Hair and Woodstock able to get away with use of the word “tribe”? No wonder Russell Means and Leonard Peltier got so pissed off during the early ’70s…)
#13: Jay & The Americans, “This Magic Moment” – #6 U.S.
Lifton – I can never hear anything by Jay & The Americans without thinking of the stories about when Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were in their touring band before forming Steely Dan. They’d take bets nightly on whether or not Jay would hit the high note on “Cara Mia.” Other times, just for fun, they’d play the song down half a step without telling the guitarist so Jay would get mad at him for being out of tune.
Feerick – “This Magic Moment” passed, for Jay and the Americans, in about 1958, never to return.
Cummings – The Drifters’ original hit really should have been enough. It’s a great song to hear on the radio, or as a sock-hop cliche in American Graffiti or Grease. But in comparison with the original, J&tA’s version sounds (at best) like a Johnny Rivers knockoff — and (at worst) like one of those anonymous cover versions that appeared on sub-K-Tel hits anthologies (Adam VIII, anyone?). The fact that J&tA’s charted higher with the song (in 1969!) than the Drifters did takes the crime into Pat Boone territory.
#14: The 5th Dimension, “Wedding Bell Blues” – #1 U.S., #16 U.K.
Lifton – Well, at least there are no sassafras and moonbeams in this one.
Cummings – My favorite 5th Dimension track, and an irresistible backstory. We talked back in 1968 (when dealing with the 5D’s “Stoned Soul Picnic”) about the mystery of Laura Nyro’s longstanding cult appeal, and while I’m not as much a naysayer as some of you guys, I’ve never been entranced by much of her music (or any of her albums). However, the melody line behind the phrase “But am I ever gonna see my wedding day?” is perfect in its plaintiveness, and Marilyn McCoo’s voice has never been on better display than it is here. PLUS, there’s that backstory: Nyro wrote the song back in ’66, and threw the name “Bill” in there for no particular reason. Then, a couple years later, the 5D’s producer suggested they record the song — at a time when McCoo and Billy Davis had become engaged, but hadn’t gotten around to setting a date. I’m a huge sucker for serendipity like that — not to mention the bookend that “Wedding Bell Blues” provides to “You Don’t Have to Be a Star,” which I adored when I was 11.
And yet … if we’ve already got the Cowsills’ “Hair,” Three Dog Night’s “Easy to Be Hard,” and “Good Morning Starshine” on this edition of AM Gold, why did the bozos at Time-Life not just go ahead and put “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” on here as well, instead of saving it for the “’60s Generation” set that we’ll probably never get around to covering while I’m alive? Ah, marketing…
Feerick – In other woids, just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold, a poy-son can develop a cold.
#15: Junior Walker & The All Stars, “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” – #4 U.S., #13 U.K.
Lifton – A brief respite from the detritus in this installment. Yeah, it lacks the intensity of “Shotgun” and “Roadrunner” but it still sounds pretty good.
Feerick – It seems like a long way from “Shotgun” to this, but really, both of them are less songs per se than chants on which to hang sax solos. “What Does It Take” just happens to have a couple more chords.
Cummings – Isn’t this song heard much more frequently as an instrumental these days? I hadn’t heard the lead vocals from this track in years, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the context in which the instrumental hook is (or was) heard all the time, pretty recently. Somebody help me out. In any case, the vocals are kind of a mess, but that hook is a classic right up there with “Tighten Up” or “Soulful Strut” (or “Shotgun,” for that matter).
#16: Mercy, “Love (Can Make You Happy)” – #2 U.S.
Lifton – It’s been a while since we’ve had a song that I had never heard before. Or maybe I had, and I fell asleep after about a minute of this piece of crap.
Feerick – For me, this song succeeds (where, say, ”Good Morning Starshine” fails) in capturing the honey-drenched daze of new romance. Simplicity doesn’t have to be simplistic, and “Love” manages to be plain-spoken without being insulting — all while the gender ambiguity of the lead voice adds a little shading; maybe “Love,” like love itself, isn’t so simple after all.
Cummings – The first minute of this song features the words “sunshine,” “flowers” and “love,” which made it suitable for pop radio in 1969, in a monkeys-with-typewriters sort of way. Musically, it’s kind of like “Crimson and Clover” after a lobotomy. This song (and the group) were featured in a B movie called “Fireball Jungle” — which, if you think about it, doesn’t seem like a very good idea at all … a fireball in a jungle? Anyway, an interesting little twist to Mercy’s one-hit-wonder status: Wikipedia says that following the initial success of “Love” on an indie label, an LP emerged featuring the original single along with a batch of other songs by a quickly formed act called “the Mercy.” A lawsuit pulled that record off the shelves, and the original Mercy got a Warner Bros. contract and a one-way ticket to chart oblivion. Though the band’s leader, Jack Sigler, continued to trot out a version of the group as a touring act as recently as 2005.