Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 35
It can be tough to muster up strong emotions for a lot of the selections from AM Gold. After all, these were largely pop songs meant to be pleasantly enjoyed. Fun, if not ultimately disposable.
And then there’s “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry.
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#11: Brook Benton, “Rainy Night In Georgia” – #4 U.S., and Benton’s first Top 10 single since 1963.
Dw. Dunphy - I love this song. It is such an obvious carry-over from the 1960s that you would not be faulted for believing it was older than it actually was, but every time I hear it I just sink into it. Benton sings with such feeling and intent that it is very difficult to realize he is not a bigger influence on music than he is now. As such, I’d imagine you know the song so much more readily than who sang it.
Jack Feerick - Now this is more like it. Songwriting, voice and production all working together wonderfully. Simple, intimate, and unpretentious – the finest lonesome hobo song this side of Tom Waits.
Jon Cummings - Probably in the top 5 greatest of all soul ballads, and Benton’s performance is so fully lived-in that you believe every single note. I’d like to find it difficult to believe that “Rainy Night in Georgia” didn’t make the country chart as well – it did, eventually, in a version by Bocephus in ’74 — because if you never saw Benton’s name or the color of his skin, you could swear that the singer was Conway Twitty. Which, of course, makes it entirely appropriate that Twitty sang a beautiful rendition of the song (with Sam Moore) on the “Rhythm, Country and Blues” comp that came out at the height of the early-’90s country revival. That album was mostly a missed opportunity, but it was redeemed by the Twitty/Moore track and by Al Green and Lyle Lovett’s jovial version of “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away.”
David Medsker - It’s difficult for me to reconcile these five songs becoming hits within the same year. We begin with this pretty soul song – let’s hear it for the baritone! – the kind of song that has gone largely forgotten (but shouldn’t) and will likely never be written again (but should). Sigh.
David Lifton - Yeah, I loved that Conway Twitty/Sam Moore version, too. The beauty of southern soul songs like this and “Dark End Of The Street” is how they’re as much influenced by country as by the blues. I didn’t realize until just now it was written by Tony Joe White, which kind of makes sense.
#12: Mungo Jerry, “In the Summertime” – #3 U.S., #1 U.K.
Dunphy - I HATE THIS SONG.
I HATE THIS SONG.
I HATE THIS SONG.
(Where was I? Oh, yeah…)
I HATE THIS SONG.
God help me, this is the laziest nugget of rat snot ever to drop. And smug. There is a smugness to the whole thing that makes me want to pick up a bag of hammers and assail the collective Jerry and beat them-him-whatever. What in the world would cause people in 1970 to think this was worth their time? AAaagggrrrggghhhhhh…
I HATE THIS SONG.
Feerick - I cannot, of course, condone the song’s advocacy of drunk driving, but I actually sorta like its odd, quasi-jug-band sound. Even at 2:55, though, it seems a little overstretched. Its charms are slight, and it could have lost a couple of repeats without suffering.
Cummings - Where’s Rumpleteazer? Actually, the singer from Mungo Jerry (Ray Dorset) looks so much like a character from “Cats” (the ‘frobeard!) that somebody is now going to have to prove to me that Andrew Lloyd Webber didn’t get the whole idea from him. Anyway, I don’t share Dw.’s intense loathing for this song — I just can’t imagine being a Top 40 DJ and surviving its chart run. It’s nice to hear once a year or so, but crikey — every two or three hours for a couple months? I’m pretty sure I would have been jamming record needles into my ears. BTW, I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe at the song’s 1 percent-versus-99 percent sentiment in the lines, “If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal / If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel.” What’s the deal, Mitt — poor girls don’t deserve a bite to eat before you escort them into the back seat?
Dunphy - I love that you have somehow tied in Cats with this song. It fully justifies the bile that is swelling up for it, like a hairball I’m about to barf onto the linoleum.
Medsker - I’m just below Dunphy with regard to my dislike for this song. If someone asks me what my least favorite song is, my snap answer is “What’s Up,” but truth be told, this isn’t far behind. And just look at them in that video. Sure, that’s what hippies looked like at the time, but they don’t just look like hippies – they look homeless. But we’re talking about the song here, and it is not good.
Feerick - Maybe not. But “What’s Up” is a million times worse. It’s not even a fair comparison.
Lifton - I’m pretty much with Dunphy on my contempt for this one. It’s folk music for people who don’t like folk music, like those people who hate country music but “Desperado” is one of their favorite songs. And, since I’m writing this on a cold, lonely, February morning, why do you only have women on your mind in the summertime?
#13: The Guess Who, “Share the Land” – #10 U.S.
Chris Holmes - Yeah yeah yeah, insert Three Dog Night joke here. But look, this single (and the album of the same name) are damn fine. At least for awhile, the Guess Who proved perfectly capable of carrying on without Randy Bachman. Of course, it took two guitarists to do so, but whatever.
And kids, remember to register your band name right away, lest the fucking bassist drive it into the ground with one ill-conceived cash-in tour after another.
Dunphy - Known to almost no one as the “Guess What You’re Not Probably Getting Tonight, Drunken Boomers!”
Since [Burton] Cummings is still touring solo, people should be aware to wait for the real thing.
Feerick - When Righteousness comes blazing from the sky in the fullness of time and the world is all remade, when Justice and Peace shall kiss – probably with tongues – and we all shall see the glory of the coming of the Lord, I can only hope it sounds better than this plodding, earnest load of hippie hokum, As Emma Goldman almost said, if I can’t rock out, you can keep your fucking revolution.
Cummings - This track is the sound of a band trying to grow up and be socially relevant … and doing OK artistically, I suppose, even if the commercial results for both the singles and LP were probably disappointing. Something about this song and “Hand Me Down World” have always sat wrong with me — perhaps because I regarded the Guess Who as too faceless to merit any interest in their social messages. All in all, if I’m choosing post-Bachmann Guess Who or BTO, I’ll go with the stuttering every time.
Medsker - For a band with a singer as powerful as Burton Cummings, why do I dislike them so much? The verses to this song are rather nice, slightly dark and moody. Then that arm-waving chorus comes in, and for whatever reason it just irritates the shit out of me. Were they the world’s first populist band? Maybe that’s why I don’t like them. And yet, I like Journey, for the most part. Go figure.
Lifton - I always think this should be used as a punchline for being, as Feerick says, an “plodding, earnest load of hippie hokum.” But there’s something about it I find endearing, probably because of Cummings’ vocals.
#14: Dawn, “Candida” – #3 U.S., #9 U.K.
Feerick - Musically and sociologically, there’s a clear bright line to be drawn from “The Streets of El Paso” to “Come a Little Bit Closer” to this, and from there to ABBA’s “Fernando” and onwards through time to Gaga’s “Alejandro.” It’s a line as clear and bright as the light of the thousand suns with whose fury I loathe this piece of hacky horseshit.
Cummings - It will probably surprise nobody who reads (or writes for) this column regularly — and gets frustrated with my frequent trolling of informational minutiae, at the expense of describing how a song makes me FEEL — to hear that I write my contributions with several reference books close at hand, along with Wikipedia and other websites open on my browser. Well, here’s an instance in which the reference materials require some sifting through — and all because, while Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles book lists the legendary songwriter Ellie Greenwich (“Da Do Ron Ron,” “Leader of the Pack,” “River Deep, Mountain High”) as one of Tony Orlando’s original backing vocalists in Dawn, Wikipedia doesn’t mention her at all, while Fred Bronson, in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, skirts the issue of Dawn’s earliest roots entirely.
Well, as best I can figure it based on an amalgamation of bits from several different sources (including the no-doubt definitive “Bubblegum University” website), it seems that Toni Wine, who co-wrote “Candida” after quitting the Archies (in what must have been a major dust-up over milkshakes), enlisted Greenwich to sing backup on a demo of “Candida” — and after the track wound up in the hands of Bell Records, Orlando was approached to replace the lead vocalist on the track. Abracadabra, alakazam, a pop hit was born, as the demo (with Orlando’s vocal) was released and hit the top 5. Thelma and Joyce became attached to Orlando’s various hips a bit later on – but when, exactly? Two weeks from now, I’ll be back with more important research, trying to ascertain the lineage of “Knock Three Times” (which also is a big mess) as we begin to discuss 1971. Oh – and how does “Candida” make me FEEL? Well, it kinda sounds like the Drifters. I have nothing else to say on the subject.
Dunphy - Later on, Dawn would remake this song and call it “Knock Three Times.” It’s the exact same song, I tell you!
If we’re really looking at the schmutz that was passing for 1970s pop at that moment, this isn’t terrible. Not great, but not terrible. It sounds like a track made by committee, and if the accounts are correct it pretty much is true. If you don’t think about it too much, it passes you by, the chorus hook gets stuck in your brain, but is not too painful. I’m not saying this is a classic song but I am saying it is better than Sugarloaf.
Medsker - I…I got nothing. Can’t defend it, can’t criticize it. Move on, people, nothing to see here.
Lifton - I was so prepared to hate this, given that I blame childhood exposure to Tony Orlando for my fear of mustaches. But it’s another one that’s too innocuous, and “Knock Three Times” was much more successful. I’ll give this one a pass. It was 1970, after all.
#15: R. Dean Taylor, “Indiana Wants Me” – #5 U.S., #2 U.K.
Feerick - Man, that’s a lot of gunfire at the fadeout. Who knew that writing a crappy, uninvolving story-song was a capital offense?
Cummings - In which our protagonist goes on the lam after shooting a man for verbally trashing his girl. It’s all kinda sweet and (anti)heroic — until the gunshots start ricocheting. Taylor apparently was inspired by the film “Bonnie and Clyde,” at least for the song’s closing rain of artillery. Taylor was an early signee to Motown’s subsidiary label for white artists, Rare Earth; he previously had been a house songwriter at Motown, penning such hits as “Love Child” as part of an interracial production team Berry Gordy bizarrely named “the Clan.”
Dunphy - And here’s another song that I will half-heartedly defend. It’s a stupid tune, when you boil it down, the whitest pre-cursor to Gangsta Rap ever with a hot-headed white boy getting popped by the end, but the tune itself is nicely harmless.
I’ll admit that when I was young, I only heard the radio version that omitted the poorly recorded gunshot hail of bullets at the end. (I can imagine someone in the studio dropping the needle on a sound effects record while recording the track, and then getting a big fat check for it. Now that’s the real crime here!) Without that sound effect, you may be unlikely to pay the lyrics much attention (probably best that way), and will only recall the chorus of “Indiana wants me; Lord, I can’t go back there…”
So I assumed he was running away from a girl he got pregnant.
Years later, I was appalled when I heard the gunshot version and thought, “Good God, did he shoot the girl he knocked up?” Then I finally truly listened to the lyrics and realized, huh, this isn’t that good.
Medsker - I seem to be the only one who finds redeeming qualities here. What a strange little song, like the missing link between the Everly Brothers and power pop. Great, simple two-part vocals and pretty strings, and then there are all these awful sound effects punctuating the whole ‘fugitive on the run’ aspect to the lyrics, and completely ruining the mood. I hear a lot of the Rembrandts in this song. Take that any way you like.
Lifton - I agree about the prettiness of the tune and the quality of the arrangement, but its purpose is to make us feel for the plight of the narrator. “If ever a man needed dyin,’ he did/No one had a right to say what he said about you.” We’re a long way from “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
#16: Tee Set, “Ma Belle Amie” – #5 U.S.; originally a hit in the group’s native Netherlands in 1969.
Feerick – I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I found this one all kinds of fun. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before, but to me it has odd echoes of early-80s two-tone. All the passing chords and modulations seem like a bit much, but I like the way it seems to wander off and lose itself before ending up right back at the start.
Cummings - This is atrocious. I’d like to reach through the computer and grab 1970′s radio listeners by the throat. “You were a child of the sun and the sky and the deep blue sea” … what the hell does that mean? I mean, you can be an airbender, a waterbender or a firebender, but not all three! (Sorry, too much time spent watching NickToons with my son a few years ago.) Maybe we’re supposed to cut these guys a break because they’re Dutch and therefore are ESL types
– but if ABBA could pull off “Waterloo” their first time out, and Blue Swede could credibly intone “ooga-chocka,” then dammit, what’s Tee Set’s excuse for lyrics as bad as these?
Feerick – A child of the sun and the sky and the deep blue sea… Maybe she’s the Green-Eyed Lady‘s sister?
Dunphy – Ma belle amie
You were a child of the sun
And the sky and the deep blue sea
(You were homeless)
Ma belle amie
Apres tous les beaux jours
Je te dis merci merci
(At least the weather’s nice, baby. Thanks.)
You were the answer of all my questions
Before we’re through
I want to tell you that I adore you
And always do
That you amaze me by leaving me now
And start a-new
Ma belle amie I’m in love with you
(Thanks for the sex last night. You’re hot. What do you mean, you’re going?)
Let the bells ring
Let the birds sing
Let’s all give my substitute a big cheer
(It is 1970 and I’m going to be very supportive of the next fella that plows you.)
Let the bells ring
Let the birds sing
For the man after him waits here
For the man after him waits here
(You’ll be wanting my “stuff” soon enough. Go off and get your new man. You’ll be back for this primo sausage.)
((I believe this song should be re-titled “The Myth Of Syphilis”))
Medsker - My daughter’s name is Amy. I hope no one writes her a song like this. Awfully catchy, though. I wonder if Neil Hannon had this song in his head when he wrote “Neapolitan Girl,” since both are about, um, free-spirited women.
Lifton - The best thing I can say about this is that it’s a one-minute song stretched out to three minutes by repetition, so after one spin you’ve actually heard it three times, which gives you enough perspective to properly call it a piece of shit.