Certainly you’ve noticed by now that we have good weeks and bad weeks here on Digging for Gold. This is definitely one of the good weeks.
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#11: Maureen McGovern, “The Morning After” – #1 U.S.; aka the Love Theme from The Poseidon Adventure, winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Jack Feerick – I haven’t heard this in forever, and I never realized that McGovern’s voice is pure British folk diva. She’s totally got that Sandy Denny/Linda Thompson thing going on here. Despite her great pipes, the style is a bad fit with the Hollywood schmaltz of the song.
Now I’m kind of imagining “It’s Just the Motion” as the theme to an imaginary shipwreck movie.
Jon Cummings – Maybe I’m just a sucker for sinking-boat theme songs, but I find “The Morning After” enormously effective. By tossing in a number of words and phrases that echo not only the film’s themes, but its plot points — “hold on through the night,” “find the sunshine,” “right outside the storm,” “cross the bridge together,” “climb,” “not too late while we’re living,” etc. — it indelibly represents the film, to the extent that one imagines Gene Hackman’s radical priest breaking into it on numerous occasions. Of course, if he did I’d like to hear some lyrics that are even more on point. “There’s got to be a morning after / (to Pamela Sue Martin) You’ll have to lose most of your skirt / (to Shelley Winters) Get your fat ass across that catwalk / (to Ernest Borgnine) Shut your big yap, you stupid lunk.” Or something like that.
Dw. Dunphy – There’s only one dud on this week’s list and, lookee lookee, here we go. For me this song is as blood-curdling as Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and I can imagine James Cameron actively looking for something that would act as a parallel to this song from The Poseidon Adventure for Titanic. The similarities are there, from the opening plaintive warbling to the steroidal belting toward the end, and the notes of manipulation are threaded all throughout. McGovern can sing, but there are so many things going against her including the massive ham shank that constitutes these lyrics, and that tendency to over-sing them, that it all is translated as the song’s writers and performer shouting to the audience, “ARE YOU CRYING YET?”
David Lifton – One of those songs I was hoping to go through life without ever hearing again. Fuck you, Chris Holmes. Right in the ear.
#12: Four Tops, “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” – #4 U.S.; originally recorded by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.
Feerick – Oh, that’s the stuff. The lyrics are essentially a litany of love song clichés — though the description of lovers going together “like pages in a letter” is fresh and charming — with some old-school Motown Yoda syntax: “She means to me a lot,” indeed. State of the art soul, sweet congas, and an early appearance of the Shaft guitar style. What’s not to love?
Cummings – Well, now I can only hear this as a Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds song. Of course they did it first! Maybe the Four Tops should have done an entire album — “Songs of HJF&R” — because I bet Levi would have torn it up on “Don’t Pull Your Love” and “Fallin’ in Love” (or as blasted Dw. calls it, “Fawin’ in Luv”) as well. Apart from that, my concern about this song is that it underplays its premise. “To make her happy doesn’t take a lot.” That’s just not very interesting, I’m afraid, and it’s a small sentiment that’s not really worthy of Levi’s big voice. I think about this song and I quickly juxtapose it with Eddie Murphy’s imitation of Teddy Pendergrass singing, “YOU got, YOU got, YOU got what I NEED!”
Dunphy – When a song and a performer (or performers) are meant to be together, it happens. There isn’t a whole lot to be said about this other than, if you’ve heard it you know why it is perfect. If you haven’t, you’re probably a raccoon or armadillo or something. (Seriously, how could you not know this song?)
Lifton – The performances and production are so great that you don’t even realize that it’s a weak song.
#13: Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You” – #6 U.S., #8 U.K.
David Medsker – Didn’t this song originally begin as a joke? If so, that’s a pretty good joke.
Feerick – In which Gerry Rafferty invents the Traveling Wilburys a decade early by copping both Bob Dylan’s vocal style and George Harrison’s slide guitar sound. (In fact, for years I thought this was Harrison.)
Cummings – Instead of listening to this through the prism of Michael Madsen and chopped-off ears, let’s consider the fact that Leiber & Stoller produced the single, which I never knew until I looked it up just now. Somehow it makes sense, because suddenly I’m finding connections between this song and the Clovers’ hits (and not just the use of the word “clown”).
Dunphy – We’ve already established that I’m a huge fan of Gerry Rafferty’s musical output, and while this song leads more to Bob Dylan’s slack-jawed folk than his own, more lush-sounding pop confections, there is no reason not to just go ahead and love it for all its scruffy, can-banging charm. Less loveable is how (in my opinion) Sheryl Crow photocopied whole musical concepts from this and grafted them onto the inferior “All I Wanna Do.” Crow’s defenders will be enraged for my audacity for saying it, but the two do sound awfully familiar.
Lifton – It was always fun performing this song in bars in the post-Reservoir Dogs early ’90s.
#14: The Spinners, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” – #4 U.S., #11 U.K.
Medsker – I will never tire of this song. As I said in the Love Songs piece, I felt like I knew what it was like to be in love when I would hear this on the radio. And it sounded like a fantastic state of mind. The strings and the horns, those soulful, tasteful vocals, both male and female…this song is just perfect.
Feerick – It’s all well and good to complain that they don’t make records like this anymore. The real issue is that there’s no place to hear them anymore. We lost so much when we lost Soul Train. That show was practically a public service.
Cummings – Get a satellite radio, Jack! I hear all the Spinners I can handle, at least when my wife isn’t bitching at me, “Can’t we listen to something that was made in the last 30 years?”
Feerick – I’m pretty sure that’s what “They don’t make records like this anymore” means, Jon, but maybe I should look it up on Urban dictionary or something.
Anyway: The Spinners had such a light touch, such feathery harmonies and falsettos, that I didn’t realize for a long time that they were an all-male group. Aimee Mann’s old band ‘Til Tuesday used to do a killer cover of this live.
Medsker – Shit, I never knew that. I saw ‘Til Tuesday cover “Ana Ng” and “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” but I may have died on the spot if I had heard them do the Spinners. *hits YouTube*
Feerick – Already checked. Sorry, no joy.
Cummings – If you put greatest-hits CDs by the Spinners, the Commodores, and Earth, Wind & Fire next to each other on a shelf, I’d reach for the Spinners 7 times out of 10 — partly because they haven’t been quite as overplayed through the years, but mostly because Philippe Wynne and Bobby Smith’s voices are so idiosyncratic. I love Smith’s asides (the tossed-off “that’s right” in the first verse here is just killer) and Wynne’s enunciation.
Dunphy – The Spinners don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve because, even though we all know each and every one of their hits, the majority out there probably think they were done by some other group. Let’s get it straight once and for all. The Spinners recorded this song, “I’ll Be Around,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” “Mighty Love,” “Then Came You” with Dionne Warwick, “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play),” and “Rubberband Man.” You probably should have them all in one format or another.
Medsker – Rhino released this killer Spinners compilation in the ’90s. I’m so glad I bought that, because there hasn’t been anything like it on the market since.
Lifton – Do any of you have a song that you always associate with a cover version you saw performed once that was so awful that it ruined the awesomeness of the original, even 20 years later?
No? Just me then? Crap.
Medsker – Do tell, who ruined this song for you?
Lifton – It was an anonymous band at a fair or something, all fake, dopey smiles and bad dancing.
#15: Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Midnight Train to Georgia” – #1 U.S., #10 U.K.; won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus.
Cummings – Matthew Bolin had some interesting things to say about this just recently, so instead of gushing about how much I love it, I’ll rhapsodize instead about the awesome “Doonesbury” strip that Garry Trudeau devoted to the Pips one Sunday morning in 1974, which you can find here. It was one of the first non-Peanuts comics I remember paying attention to as a 8-year-old, and it sent me off in search of “Doonesbury” collections at the library. Between those books, the Watergate hearings, and a coffee-table book about the Nazis that I’ve discussed on Popdose before, my parents could teach a seminar (if they were alive) on “Cultural Artifacts To Which an 8-Year-Old Oughtn’t Be Exposed, Lest He Become a Precocious Twit.”
Dunphy – Was the ’70s THE best decade for soul-pop? I want to say it was the Sixties, but we keep seeing these massive classics rolling out from Philadelphia International, Motown, Atlantic, and smaller labels — it makes you wonder which decade had more of a profound impact. I think Gladys Knight is just the best, and repeat as I’ve said often already, how she doesn’t receive the reverence several of her contemporaries had enjoyed I will never know. “Midnight Train to Georgia” and Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” are two legendary soul songs, and if Vicky Lawrence’s “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” wasn’t so…annoying…we could have had a Georgian hat-trick.
Wait, how about Ray Charles covering “Georgia On My Mind”? Ahhh, hat-trick achieved!
Feerick – This is part of the tiny American songbook subcategory of Failure Songs. There are a lot of great songs about being young and ready to take on the world, but precious few about what happens when you realize it ain’t gonna happen: How do you go on? Do you just try to adjust to your new reality,? Do you freeze up and self-destruct? Or do you do the hardest thing and swallow your pride and crawl back to where you started from?
“Dock of the Bay” was another great Failure Song. Say, Otis “left his home in Georgia” to come to San Francisco in the first place… you don’t suppose…
Lifton – In the mid ’70s, Gladys Knight and the Pips were always on variety shows or telethons, so I have a lot of memories of seeing the Pips in funky suits dancing in the background and just being ridiculous. And “Pips” is a funny word for a kid, so as I got to adolescence it was hard to take this seriously. Then one day in my early-20s I heard it in the right frame of mind and Gladys’ vocal knocked me right on my ass. The way she finishes off the song – “My word, his world” is simply astonishing and heartbreaking.
Dunphy – Telethons. Yes they do have the capacity to mess your career up. Although Maureen McGovern probably wasn’t destined for longterm pop charts residences, I can see her now, mugging for the cameras and beseeching the audience to “give to Jerry’s Kids.” Then she would walk over to the piano where Marvin Hamlisch was seated, thereby drastically reducing the value of the piano on the open market because Marvin Hamlisch was using it. And then she’d sing some big Broadway kind of song about dying and dead children and how you, you heartless dirtbag, should do something to help.
Gladys Knight and her silly Pips, when you think about it, probably got off easy in comparison.
Lifton – Don’t badmouth Marvin Hamlisch around me, Dunphy.
Dunphy – He stinks.
Lifton – You anti-Semite bastard.
Jeff Giles – I sense a Rock Court post in the offing.
Dunphy – Marvin Hamlisch is as far from rock as…well, as far as I am from rock. That’s damn far.
And I’d wager seven-out-of-ten Jews would rather Marvin Hamlisch be a Mormon.
Lifton – Huh? Dude’s got Streisand’s direct line. He’s a hero to my people.
Medsker – All I can hear while reading this is Eddie Murphy. “Hey Hamlisch, who needs you? You’re fired.”
Dunphy – All I hear when I think about Hamlisch is the music that plays after Martin Short shouts, “Gimme a ‘C,’ a bouncy ‘C’!”
Lifton – “Dw. Dunphy he’s quite a guy
He stands about oh-so high
He makes the people laughs and dat’s a good ting!
Dah dah doo doo and all that crap”