Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 32
As hard as it is to believe, dear friends, we’ve reached the end of the 1960s. That means we’re roughly at the halfway point on our journey through Time-Life’s AM Gold series, which runs all the way through 1979. And what a long, strange trip it’s been so far. Well, long anyway.
For those who make a point to check in every week, thank you! We hope you’ll stick with us as we break on through to the other decade of AM Gold. And if this is your first visit to “Digging for Gold,” why not spend some time catching up?
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#17: Smith, “Baby It’s You” – #5 U.S.
Jack Feerick – Wow, Morrissey sure sounded different back in the day!
Seriously, this is pretty great. You know how Dusty Springfield gets when she’s all hot ‘n’ bothered? Gayle McCormick starts from that level and just works up from there. The opening guitar lick sounds just enough like Cymande’s “Bra” to make me wish the groove was just a little more funky than it manages — oh, what might have been! — but yeah. Pretty great.
Chris Holmes - Gayle McCormick turns in a decent vocal approximation of Dusty Springfield during the verses, but like Jack said she really starts cooking on those choruses. I find the arrangement to be just a little too fussy for my liking.
Jon Cummings - And for our weekly dose of Bacharach, we get… something groovy! Yes, Bacharach composed “Baby It’s You,” shortly before what I (alone) view as his descent into AC dross. To be honest, I’d never heard this recording before (not having seen Grindhouse, in which it appears as a Tarantino-soundtrack special) … though, of course, I’m as familiar as everyone else with the Shirelles and the Beatles’ versions. But Smith certainly do the song some bluesy justice, in a Joplin-lite, Vanilla Fudge-sing-”You Keep Me Hangin’ On” kind of way.
Dw. Dunphy - Why the heck can’t I recall “Baby It’s You”? Somebody hum a few bars, will ya?
If I have an overwhelming gripe with Time-Life’s choices, it’s that there have been a lot of tracks that haven’t withstood time. Sure, they were hits in their day and are technically applicable, but there have been more than a few times where I had to hunt back to hear these songs. It has the effect of being filler in a greatest hits collection, with Time-Life spreading their wares over a swath of discs just to make the set SO BIG.
Dan Wiencek - That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Every song is somebody’s favorite. Even leaving aside rights/permissions issues, the point of sets like this isn’t really to present a curated, representative sampling of the music of a particular time. It’s an appeal to nostalgia, plain and simple. That’s why they tend to advertise them in half-hour-long infomercials at three in the morning, hosted by Peter Noone. “Hey, aging Boomer! Remember hearing this on your dashboard radio for a week in 1969? Well, you do now!”
Dunphy - Well, that and Peter Noone could be had for a bag of pretzels and a cup of coffee.
I Kid! We Love The Nooner!
Feerick - I’m more a fan of the Morning Glory, myself; but pray, continue.
Dunphy – It’s just that at this stage they could have had a more concise set and then, on top of that, released the “But Wait There’s More” collection of also-rans. If you sign on to the set, you’ll be stuck with those sets anyway, so why water down the primary collection?
Or, in other words, waah wahh waah, Dw. needs something to complain about.
It reminds me of the old K-Tel and Ronco albums that would cram 16 Golden Greats onto one LP, but only 13 songs were much and three were regional, head-scratching, what-the-Sam-Hill “hits.”
David Lifton - I don’t mind the also-rans. I mean, most of them aren’t very good, but most of these songs are either part of our DNA or we’re listening to them again with adult ears that I like getting to hear a handful of songs I don’t know at all.
My first thought when I started watching the video was, “Debbie Harry in her little-known hippiechick phase.” But I’m torn on this version. I dug the vibe, but I don’t think it suited the song very well. When The Beatles covered it, Lennon added a soul singer’s torment to a lightweight pop song. McCormick is just adding volume and bluster with no real purpose.
#18: The Cuff Links, “Tracy” – #9 U.S., #4 U.K.
Dunphy - From Wikipedia:
“The Cuff Links were an American rock/pop studio group from Staten Island, New York. The band had a U.S. No. 9 hit in 1969 with “Tracy”, with rich harmonised vocals provided entirely by Ron Dante. The track was produced as part of a series of recording sessions – sometimes as many as six in a day – by Dante, with the songs released under a variety of band names.”
Yeah, like Barry Manilow?
(He said, cheekily nodding to Dante’s early work with the piano playing sensation from the 1970s.)
((co-sung by James Patterson.))
Lifton – Wait, so Dante had Top Ten hits under two aliases in the same year? I’m not sure if that’s awesome or awful.
But let’s not also forget Dante’s previous contribution to Popdose.
Feerick – Yeah, it’s the guy from the Archies, but it sounds more like a preview of the Partridge Family a year ahead of schedule. It sounds like what it is: an old person’s idea of teen-pop, written by two cigar-chewing hacks in their forties. Seriously: these songwriters are the same guys who wrote “Catch a Falling Star” and “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Their pop sensibilities were still late-1950s. You know — for kids!
You know how in the movies, the kids will turn on the radio and there’s always some generic pop song for them to dance to, later to be interrupted by a plot-specific new bulletin? This is that song.
Holmes - I like Vanilla Wafers enough, but don’t usually go out of my way to buy them. This song is a Vanilla Wafer, is the point I’m making.
Cummings - Funny you should imagine a generic pop song in a teen movie. When I hear “Tracy” (or especially “Love (Can Make You Happy),” from last week’s column) I immediately think of that scene in “Grace of My Heart” when Patsy Kensit is supervising a girl group singing an utterly generic ’60sish song for a “Shindig”-type show. Anyway, “Tracy” is some relatively high-class bubblegum, and if the geniuses behind AM Gold couldn’t be bothered to track down the rights to some Bobby Sherman’s early hits for this CD, then the Cuff Links are as good a stand-in as anything else.
#19: The Brooklyn Bridge, “The Worst That Could Happen” – #3 U.S.
Feerick - Can’t even judge this musically because I simply cannot muster any sympathy for the protagonist. Hey, jagoff — if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it, end of story.
Dunphy - If songs had massive subtitles like, seemingly, every book now being published, the subtitle for this song would be “How the American male took for granted his importance in the lives of women, and the women who couldn’t sit around and wait for them to make a decision.”
It would also likely read, “Co-Written by James Patterson.”
Holmes – The most interesting thing about this song is that it made Clear Channel’s list of verboten songs post-9/11. I suppose it was because of the title? What Clear Channel stations were playing this in 2001 anyway?
I will say that Johnny Maestro sounds pretty damn good here, and good for him for finding success years after his time with the Crests.
Cummings - This single, of a song written by Jimmy Webb, is a nice updating of late-’50s R&B to reflect the musical advances of the intervening decade. (As opposed to, say, the shameless grave-robbing represented in last week’s column by Jay & the Americans’ “This Magic Moment.”) Brooklyn Bridge featured Johnny Maestro, the lead vocalist from the ’50s group the Crests (whose biggest hit, “16 Candles,” was co-written by “Baby It’s You” lyricist Luther Dixon) — so it’s a relatively impressive achievement that Maestro adapted so nicely to this track’s very-’60s arrangement. (By the way, while Jack and Dw. have noted their lack of sympathy for the protagonist’s second-verse declaration “I’ll never get married / You know that’s not my style,” it should be noted that in the FIRST verse he says he’s heard that “this time you really mean it” and “this time you’re really sure,” which suggests it was SHE who couldn’t commit to HIM in the first place — with or without marriage. Just sayin’…)
Lifton – For some reason, I tend to equate this with “Lightning Strikes” by Lou Christie. The songs don’t sound anything alike, but Christie and Johnny Maestro are so distinctly Italian-American in their vocal stylings, so they take me back to the sounds of the Long Island pizza parlors of my childhood. Yeah, the lyrics don’t leave much sympathy from our point of view, but damn, this is a great piece of music, and an arrangement to match.
I had heard about the Clear Channel thing, Chris. I thought it might have had something to do with the proximity of the Brooklyn Bridge to the Twin Towers and how you’d always see the two of them in pictures. Therefore, any mention of Brooklyn Bridge could be seen as being insensitive or something.
#20: Tommy James & The Shondells, “Crimson and Clover” – #1 U.S.
Feerick - Mighty as it is, this is inescapably one of those songs where the production is the real star of the record. Vibrolux = the stuttering vocal sample of 1969.
Dunphy - We’re trippy, dude! Trippy! Whooo, listen to that warbly vocal, like we’re high as kites! Whoooo!
I’ve heard several covers of the tune and like all the covers (including Joan Jett’s) much better than the original. I haven’t got a clue what this means from anyone of them, as it all just sounds like lyrical imagery being thrown at the wall like so much Felix Unger’s plateful of linguini.
It is that vocal distortion that made it popular (I surmise) in its time that makes it so ridiculous today. Twenty years from now they will likely say the same thing about songs with Auto Tune. I won’t care by then because, twenty years from now, I’ll likely be pooping in an adult diaper.
Holmes - I guess Tommy’s baby got tired of doing the Hanky Panky and started dropping acid instead. I would too if I had to listen to the Shondells, who scored with some of the decade’s most grating hits.
Cummings - Jack says “the production is the real star of the record” … which is ironic, because James never got to complete production on it. Roulette label exec Morris Levy (most famous now for suing John Lennon over “You Can’t Do That,” then releasing an early version of Lennon’s “Rock & Roll” album as part of the settlement) had taken James’ rough cut to WLS radio in Chicago, and the station’s sneaky programmers dubbed the acetate and began playing it on the air. It proved so popular that Levy wouldn’t let James touch it again before releasing the proper single. Anyway, “C&C” is a monument to late-’60s pop ambition, and certainly deserves its place in the pantheon. The extended version from the Shondells’ album, featuring lots more processed-guitar riffs, is worth finding if you’ve never heard it.
Lifton - Never liked this one, not even when Joan Jett covered it.
#21: The Turtles, “You Showed Me” – #6 U.S., the group’s final Top 40 U.S. single.
Feerick - Very nice. Dreamy, slightly melancholy, with a modal melody that sounds like some long-lost French cabaret song — I wouldn’t have pegged it as a Jim McGuinn tune. The synthesizer in the background just makes it all the more otherworldly.
That single sleeve though — GAHHHH! Please, don’t show me those!
Dunphy - Written (or co-written, can’t recall for sure) by the Byrds’ Gene Clark, this song highlights everything the Turtles were good at (lovely harmonies) and minimizes the inherent flaws (a leaning toward the insipid). Flo & Eddie (Kaylan & Volman) sound awesome here, and sees off the vocal-group pop music of the ’60s quite gracefully. For the next few years, we were going to be getting a lot of exaggerated inflections in our vocals; some for good, much for ill.
The Lightning Seeds did a sample-heavy but nicely respectable cover of the tune as well.
David Medsker - Has anyone mentioned the trouble De La Soul got in for sampling that Turtles song on 3 Feet High and Rising?
Holmes - Outstanding vocals harmonies, which are complemented by those beautiful strings. Apparently I’m not the first to notice that.
Cummings - This ain’t no “Happy Together (or “Elenore”), but it’s got a nice, haunting quality about it. It’s an interesting blend – the lyric has an early-British-Invasion simplicity (though I know it was Byrds-written), while Flo & Eddie do a fantastic job of using those swirling synth-strings to update the arrangement and play up the juxtaposition of major and minor chords at which Gene Clark was so skilled. Kanye knows a good arrangement when he hears it.
David Allen Jones - Regarding “You Showed Me”, Howard Kaylan posted a link to this and wrote this on Facebook/Twitter:
Wow. this is a rare one. I’ve never seen it before. Live at Miss Teen Canada 1969-70.
Just thought I’d share…
Lifton - I hated The Turtles when I as a kid, but with wisdom I’ve come to see how many cool and subtle things were in those hits. And yeah, Gene Clark was a very underrated songwriter.
#22: The Youngbloods, “Get Together” – #5 U.S.
Feerick – You mean Chris Gaines didn’t write this? Or was it Garth Brooks? No?
Everybody knows the chorus of this, but did you ever listen to the verses? I never had, ’til just now, and had never realized just how explicitly Christian it is. Love one another, right now — because the Glorious Appearing is on its way, and then it will be too late! Repent! Repent!
Musically: If the Buffalo Springfield loved Jesus, they’d sound like this. That’s a recommendation.
Dunphy - Did I mention vocal inflections? I know these are probably a handful of young Southern gentlemen attentively trying to keep from choking to death on their own drawl, but damn, y’all. Have a drink of water or something before you sing. What the heck is a “Co-moah pippo-naow” anyway?
The song is not bad. I like it but can’t say I love it. It was reflecting something happening in the culture at the time, when the Jesus freaks were beginning to splinter from the increasingly disaffected flower children who were starting to see cynicism creeping in. The Youngbloods aren’t too lyrically far afield from Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky,” and act as a precursor to the Biblical pop-theater coming down the line a couple years later with Godspell (“Day By Day”) and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
The benefit for these performers is that if they were called on the carpet for being too spiritually-based, they could say they were high off their nut and were singing about peace, love and peyote visions (you could probably get there with “Spirit In The Sky,” methinks).
Still, this kind of hambone-slurping vocal technique would become more and more prevalent in the early 1970′s, until the Laurel Canyon set would reintroduce pretty, and more intelligible voices back into pop.
Holmes - The arrangement is nice and Byrds-ish, which is never a bad thing. I imagine the sentiment of this song resonated much more strongly in ’69, as America seemed to be tearing itself apart. But it’s been co-opted and commercialized so much since then that it’s completely toothless now. Not to mention that I can never hear this song without thinking of Stan’s song about hybrid cars from a classic South Park episode.
Cummings - Jack and Dw., you’re both off on a weird tangent while discussing this song. For one thing, it dates to the early ’60s, was first recorded as a pure folk song by the Kingston Trio, was first a hit in ’65 for the We Five (whose “You Were On My Mind” we covered a while back), and became a full-fledged hippie anthem in ’67 (when the Youngbloods recorded it). The fact that it reached its chart peak in late ’69 had to do not with an increase in fundamentalism among the Silent Majority, but quite the opposite — it had been used in a commercial by the National Conference of Christians & Jews as a plea for cross-denominational tolerance and understanding. The overt spiritual overtones you hear in “Get Together” certainly should spark some conversation — not about the splintering of Jesus freaks from flower children, but about the spiritual superiority of “counterculture” values to those of the culture they were countering. Interestingly, Dunphy compares “Get Together” to “Spirit in the Sky,” partly (I assume) because of the latter song’s multiple references to Jesus — but, as a corollary to what I’m saying about “Get Together,” the Jewish (and not “for Jesus”) Norman Greenbaum has long maintained that he wrote “Spirit in the Sky” to embody hippie values and aesthetics, not Christian ones.
In any case, “Get Together” (like “Spirit in the Sky”) is pretty much above reproach, as far as I’m concerned. Which makes it worth noting that “Get Together” was the second song on this week’s list to have been deemed “lyrically questionable” by Clear Channel after 9/11. (“Spirit in the Sky” was thus designated, as well.) The other song on our list to have been flagged? “The Worst That Could Happen,” of course. What on earth were those Clear Channel assholes thinking?
Lifton - I love how the Byrds-like meandering in the verse is juxtaposed by the directness of the chorus. For years I couldn’t hear this without recalling being bombarded by the “Freedom Rock” commercials on MTV in the late ’80s. Thankfully it was supplanted a few years later when it was playing on my car radio during a post-gig makeout session with a girl I had met at the same gig the week before. Let’s just say it fit the mood well.