Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 36

Written by Digging for Gold, Music

And just like that, the first chapter of AM Gold in the 1970s is over.

AM Gold: 1970

And just like that, the first chapter of AM Gold in the 1970s is over. But before we groove on into 1971, let’s take a moment to recall a time when Michael Jackson was famous for his music alone, and when the man who recorded a song called “Ahab the Arab” could also release a religious song and win a Grammy for it.

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The 5th Dimension, "One Less Bell To Answer"#17: The 5th Dimension, “One Less Bell To Answer” – #2 U.S., written by Bacharach/David in 1967 for Keely Smith.

David Lifton – Despite my overall sense of horror at Billy’s outfit, this is probably my favorite 5th Dimension song. They’re not treading that uncomfortable ground between hippie sentiment and R&B earthiness. This is pure supper club, and puts their harmonies to great use while being a fantastic star turn for Marilyn.

Jon Cummings – Of all the Bacharach/David tropes that drive me crazy, one of the most infuriating is David’s juxtaposition of mundanity (“One less egg to fry / One less man to pick up after”) with emotionalism — and the problem here is made worse by Bacharach’s “sophisticated” yet formless tune. Where’s the hook on this one? Nowhere to be found, which renders it OK as a show tune (indeed, it plays like one) but no good as a pop song, at least to my taste. If I want a laundry list of the things a singer won’t miss about their departed beloved, followed by a resigned, “Hell, I’m devastated anyway,” I’ll take “Bluer Than Blue” over this.

Jack Feerick – While the Supremes got less and less interesting as they devolved from a group to a Diana Ross vehicle, the 5D had a reverse trajectory, getting better as they went from being an Up With People-style ensemble to a showcase for Marilyn McCoo. Her delivery is a little prissy – that enunciation is so careful, so obviously a holdover from show-choir training – but geez, her tone is just gorgeous.

Tangent: I’ve been dipping in to the work of Rotary Connection, an early-70s psychedelic soul conglomerate that recorded for Chess; this is the outfit that gave Minnie Riperton her start. And, weirdly, it reminds me a little of the Fifth Dimension, if the 5D had done a carload of drugs and listened to a fuck-ton of Bowie. Which may not sound like a compliment to the 5D; but it does serve as a reminder that there was a lot of talent and a lot of potential there, once.

Dw. Dunphy – I love this song so much, and this went a long way in proving the 5th Dimension had more than one-hit (two-hit?) status in them. Marilyn McCoo proves again that she had what it took to really seize control of the spotlight and make it count for something. Sure, her phrasing is mannered, but they weren’t really shooting for the down-and-dirty soul market here, so that precise enunciation is kind of understandable. In a few more years, she and Billy Davis Jr. would be having their big smash as a duo (“You Don’t Have To Be A Star To Be In My Show”) which would give her a chance to sing with more freedom. For that freedom, the duo would later be punished by becoming the hosts of the TV show Solid Gold. Hell hath no fury…


Ray Stevens, "Everything Is Beautiful"#18: Ray Stevens, “Everything Is Beautiful” – #1 U.S., #6 U.K.; Ray’s first #1 and a Grammy winner for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Lifton – We’re getting this the day after the Grammys, so for all of you complaining about how out of touch the Grammys are these days (although it’s hard to argue that Adele didn’t deserve them), here’s some proof that it’s always been the case.

Feerick – There’s nothing more ghastly than the inevitable moment when a comedian decides it’s time to get soulful. If Ray Stevens was, for a while, the Jerry Lewis of country-pop, then this is his The Day the Clown Cried.

Dunphy – There is something superficially awesome about this song having received so much affirmation from the public and industry. This is, after all, the guy that brought us “Guitarzan” and later “The Streak.” This is just how the ’70s were. The guy that gave us “Convoy” later gave us Manheim Steamroller…okay, bad example.

So what is there to say about “Everything Is Beautiful” other than that? Possibly that there are at least fifty better songs from the timeframe that got totally screwed over by this airport-religious tract set to music, which is really all this is, with what almost sounds like Lawrence Welk’s squeaky-white house singers throwing down their squeaky-white soul behind him. It is “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” without the sentiment but all the sugar. If it makes you jittery and anxious later on, that’s probably only right. It’s a kind of painful harmlessness. Stevens may not have been joking when he recorded it, but “Everything Is Beautiful” is laughing at the listener’s expense…in a four-layered, peach-colored petticoat and a helmet-haircut.

Cummings – OK, here’s the easy-irony trope for 1970: Anytime you hear some cheeseball, way-too-happy song from that year, toss in a Kent State reference. In practice, it goes something like this: “On May 4, 1970, National Guard troops killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others during an antiwar protest at Kent State University in Ohio. Within three weeks, ‘Everything is Beautiful’ was the Number One song in the country. What you hear is the sound of the Silent Majority sticking their collective fingers in their collective ears and screaming ‘LA-LA-LA-LA-LA’ to drown out reality.”


Anne Murray, "Snowbird"#19: Anne Murray, “Snowbird” – #8 U.S., #23 U.K.; the first Gold single by a Canadian female solo artist.

Lifton – The Singing Turtleneck!

Feerick – Putting the “AM” in “AM Gold”!

Anne Murray’s voice really is lovely. She’s got great technique and tone. Too bad this song is so trite, and the arrangement so tacky; electric sitar? Chimes? And those bird-call strings – really, guys? Really?

Cummings –  I have nothing negative to say about this song. It’s so pretty and innocuous, I can’t summon the energy to  proclaim it lame or milquetoasty. And maybe that’s the point — it works as well as novocaine to dull the pain. Music to be piped into dentists’ offices during root canals.


Clarence Carter, "Patches"#20: Clarence Carter, “Patches” – #4 U.S., #2 U.K.; Grammy award for Best R&B Song.

Dunphy – Poor Kid Song Alert! “Patches” is coming!

Chris Holmes – I thought of you when I was putting this one together. Have at it my good man!

Lifton – I hear this song was based on Jason Hare’s childhood.

Dunphy – It’s not enough to comment on this song without reading the lyrics first. Drink them in. I SAID DRINK, DAMMIT!!

I was born and raised down in Alabama
On a farm way back up in the woods

I was so ragged that folks used to call me Patches
Papa used to tease me about it
‘Cause deep down inside he was hurt
‘Cause he’d done all he could

My papa was a great old man
I can see him with a shovel in his hands, see
Education he never had
He did wonders when the times got bad
The little money from the crops he raised
Barely paid the bills we made

For, life had kick him down to the ground
When he tried to get up
Life would kick him back down
One day Papa called me to his dyin’ bed
Put his hands on my shoulders
And in his tears he said

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

Two days later Papa passed away, and
I became a man that day
So I told Mama I was gonna quit school, but
She said that was Daddy’s strictest rule

So ev’ry mornin’ ‘fore I went to school
I fed the chickens and I chopped wood too
Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t go on
I wanted to leave, just run away from home
But I would remember what my daddy said
With tears in his eyes on his dyin’ bed

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
I tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest

Then one day a strong rain came
And washed all the crops away
And at the age of 13 I thought
I was carryin’ the weight of the
Whole world on my shoulders
And you know, Mama knew
What I was goin’ through, ’cause

Ev’ry day I had to work the fields
‘Cause that’s the only way we got our meals
You see, I was the oldest of the family
And ev’rybody else depended on me
Ev’ry night I heard my Mama pray
Lord, give him the strength to face another day

So years have passed and all the kids are grown
The angels took Mama to a brand new home
Lord knows, people, I shedded tears
But my daddy’s voice kept me through the years

Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

Oh, I can still hear Papa’s voice sayin’
Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
I’ve tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest

I can still hear Papa, what he said
Patches…

Shall I just go ahead and set you up with the suicide prevention hotline now?

Feerick – Damned postmodern fiction. Hey, Clarence, if I’d wanted a story that lacked any proper ending, I’d pick up the fucking New Yorker.

David Medsker – This is the same Clarence Carter who sang about strokin’ his woman a decade and change later?

Dunphy – (Shudders)

Probably. Guess he got over his martyr complex.

Cummings – Why is the first thing that jumps to mind John Amos’ departure from Good Times? (It should be noted that J.J. didn’t follow in Patches’ footsteps and become the “man of the family” — apparently, if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to say “Dy-no-MITE!” at least once per episode. Instead he just kept goofin’ around, which pissed Esther Rolle off so much that she left the show, too.) And thus ends my brief tangent on the subject of Stereotypical Black Family Experiences, of which “Patches” is a leading example.


Dionne Warwick, "I'll Never Fall In Love Again"#21: Dionne Warwick, “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” – #6 U.S.

Lifton – Wow, two Bacharach/David songs in the same week? As if Jon Cummings isn’t tortured enough lately.

Still, I like this one a lot. It’s from the Broadway show, “Promises, Promises,” a musical adaptation of The Apartment, which is my all-time favorite movie. Given how “Wives And Lovers” cringingly summed up the men-leering-at-their-secretaries vibe of the early-60s, it makes sense that they would write the songs for the show. Burt, control freak that he is, didn’t like the experience because he preferred the finished product of a record over a show that evolves over time and has musicians and actors coming into the show.

Feerick – From the early minimalism, Bacharach/David get, over the years, increasingly lush and pastiche-y. This time they’re “doing” bossa nova, right down to the piano stabs lifted from the Antonio Carlos Jobim playbook. Burt being Burt, though, he’s got to screw with the time signature – but it’s sounding increasingly like cleverness for the sake of cleverness, and the charm is wearing thin: Why would I want to listen to this when I could listen to genuine Jobim?

Cummings –  I’ve carried a soft spot for this song since childhood, because of the “enough germs to catch pneumonia” line. But Warwick’s laid-back nonchalance tips into disinterest through too much of this recording. She gives it no life whatsoever. Listen to Kristin Chenoweth sing it on the cast album from the Promises, Promises revival, with the combination of hurt, wistfulness and playfulness the song deserves. Warwick, by contrast, sounds thoroughly anesthetized. BTW, as long as we’re on the subject of Promises, Promises, a quick shout-out to the song I’d pick if you held a gun to my head and said, “Listen to some Bacharach/David!”: “Turkey Lurkey Time.”


The Jackson 5, "I'll Be There"#22: The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” – #1 U.S., #4 U.K.; the group’s fourth consecutive U.S. chart topper.

Feerick – I’m going to court charges of heresy and assert here that Jermaine steals this song right out from under Michael’s still-normally-proportioned nose. Whatever happened to that guy, anyway?

Lifton – Another one of those songs that announces itself as holy from the first notes. The standard line is that this shows that Michael was singing with an intelligence above his years. I say that was evident on “I Want You Back” in the way he seamlessly blends Levi, Smokey, and yes, even Diana into one performance, but that doesn’t take away anything from the beauty of this performance.

Cummings –  I was already ready to throttle Mariah Carey by 1992, but I happily put my animosity on hold for a few months while her version of this song rode the airwaves. “I’ll Be There” is just too great to resist. Imagine the breakthrough it must have represented for listeners back in ’70, who were no doubt starting to wonder if the J5 were one-trick ponies once “I Want You Back” was followed by “ABC’ and then “The Love You Save.” (Each of which is glorious in its own right — “The Love You Save” was my fave when I was 6 — but which must have begun to sound a bit same-y after six months of relentless airplay.) “I’ll Be There” showed off the drama of which Michael was capable (yes, Jermaine smokes here, too), and clued us in that his relevance was going to survive the dropping of his testicles. (If, in fact, that event ever happened.) All of that said, can someone please explain to me how to “bring salvation back”? And is it possible to do so if I’ve already brought sexy back, or is it too late?

Dunphy – “I’ll Be There” was the moment everything changed for the Jacksons. Sure, they were doing pretty well already hit-wise, but the striking similarity between those hits likely would have become much more apparent without this stylistic change-up. What works with this track? Well, Michael is doing his usual bang-up job, but as has already been more than stated Jermaine threatens to steal the show with his choruses (or are those bridges?), and just underneath him is this choirboy hymnal of “I’ll…be there…” that floats everything up to a new waterline. It is hard not to get a bit wrapped up in the Cult of Michael, but the J5 was pretty strong as a unit too.

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