Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 48
That’s a wrap on AM Gold: 1973. This week may not offer a lot, but it does have David Foster!
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#16: Seals & Crofts, “Diamond Girl” – #6 U.S.
David Lifton - The newest installment in my ongoing series, “I Never Knew The Name Of That Song I Used To Hear As A Kid.” Again, this is another example of a song that starts on the chorus because the verse is unmemorable. The chorus isn’t much better, but at least it’s tighter and has those good harmonies. I like that bluesy phrase that finishes out the verse, and the instrumental sections have a sub-Steely Dan feel to it, but overall I could go another 30 years without hearing it and not give a damn.
Jon Cummings - This song still sounds fantastic coming out of a radio — or, at least, the first minute or so does. Lifton, you’re right about the verses, as far as the lyrics go — they’re so inconsequential, and at times downright nonsensical, that I’d prefer if they had just scatted (or mumbled) their way through them. But I love the little bit of drama in the opening verse lines, and the keyboards are wonderful throughout (hellooooooo, David Paich!). In fact, the keys remind me of on an Atlanta Rhythm Section single, which is a good thing, though it has nothing to do with Paich. S&C’s greatest hits album was one of the few pop records my dad owned when I began playing albums obsessively at age 8, so “Diamond Girl,” like “”Summer Breeze” and even “King of Nothing,” got a lot of needle drops.
Jack Feerick - Standard Steely Dan-lite sound, but with a little bit of Van Morrison swagger in the melody. Nice. If anything, it’s a step up from “Summer Breeze.” Muscle is a relative term when discussing institutionalized wimp-rock like S&C, but this has a touch of it. Relatively speaking.
And guys, c’mon: nobody listened to the lyrics in ’70s.
Dw. Dunphy - The comparisons to Steely Dan seem to dominate the conversation, but I disagree in part. The Dan liked to mix that smooth, jazzy sound with a hint of weirdness, adding wordplay that flies over your head but probably means, “We’ll get drunk, high, and engage in statutory rape” (“Hey Nineteen”). “Diamond Girl” has very little in the way of creative wordplay. “Diamond girl, you sure do shine” just means, “You’re hot.” And that’s how I feel about this song in general, that it wants to be seen as something smooth and classy and above-board, but it is actually a load of dressed-up plainness. We recently covered “Summer Breeze.” Where that one succeeds and this doesn’t is that track isn’t trying as hard as this one is. And “radiant child” is such an awkward line.
#17: Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning” – #1 U.S., #9 U.K.
Lifton - Hey look, she’s singing on this one! Of course, she has to do her little speaking thing, which undercuts the crescendo, but it’s over quickly enough. This is a stupid song, but at least she sounds engaged in it, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
Dunphy - In order to conquer the Diana Ross, I have to learn to think like a Diana Ross. And, whenever possible, to look like one.
Lifton - You’ve never seen me when I’m out on the town Saturday night, Dunphy.
Cummings - This is the rare Diana/Supremes song that I can stand, mostly because I love the build from ballad to uptempo halfway between the verses and the bridges. The spoken part, as usual, makes my head want to explode, but the bridge melody makes up for it. This song’s co-author, Michael Masser, went on to have a hand in a lot of pseudo-soul/AC diva-dreck, from “The Greatest Love of All” to “Tonight I Celebrate My Love” to “Miss You Like Crazy” to “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.” None of those songs have much of any “soul” in them, and nor does “Touch Me” — which made it sound quite natural juxtaposed with Helen Reddy and Maureen McGovern and “My Love” (yeah, I went there) on lite-pop stations in 1973.
Feerick - Does it say something awful about me as a person that I like Diana best when she sounds a little bit bruised?
Dunphy - Ross is on the right track from moving from Monologue Disease with this song, which is quite pretty but altogether unremarkable. It comes, it goes, something happened in-between but you’ve already forgotten it. I think our next round of Miss Diana is with “Love Hangover,” so that’s well into the disco era where speak-sing is seldom heard.
#18: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, “The Cover of the ‘Rolling Stone’” – #6 U.S.
Lifton - Goddamit, Shel. Why did you have to write this?
Cummings - It’s a thin line between stupid and clever, isn’t it? This song comes down on the stupid side, for me, but it comes with a cute story (Dr. Hook making the cover, with the headline “What’s-Their-Names Make the Cover”) — and then there’s the true immortality the song achieved when the members of Stillwater broke into it during Almost Famous, right before Kate Hudson got a tube down her throat. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.
Feerick – Ah, the old conflict between commercial success and artistic credibility!
This probably sounded pretty hilarious in 1973 — but then, so did Cheech and Chong, and we know how well that has aged. It goes down okay if I imagine it being performed by the house band from The Muppet Show. And it’s a reminder that children were still an important part of the music market — especially the singles market — in the early 1970s.
Dunphy - I never want to hear this song again.
#19: B.W. Stevenson, “My Maria” – #9 U.S.
Dunphy - B.W. Stevenson sings “My Maria” like Jim Croce sings “Operator” – “Mah – MO – REE – Uh” and while the song isn’t the most awful thing I’ve ever heard, I’ve no overpowering urge to go get anything B.W. Stevenson has done based upon it. How depressing it must be to not only be filler on a compilation, but filler on a Time-Life compilation. “We’ve got nothing but the very best of each pop music era…except for the the musical equivalent of pink slime to help us stretch these out.”
Lifton - Come on, Dunphy. It’s a little pedestrian, but this isn’t a bad early ’70s country pop song at all, and the falsetto in the chorus is a bit of a surprise. I’d rather listen to this than most of B.J. Thomas’ hits.
Cummings - This is the second single from the ’73 edition of AM Gold that has since been overshadowed by a cover version. (The first was “Drift Away,” of course, though hopefully we’ll all soon forget MFing Uncle Cracker.) Brooks and Dunn did justice to “My Maria” back in ’96 — Kix Brooks’ voice is a dead ringer for Stevenson’s, anyway — and got a massive country hit out of it. It’s insubstantial, but the chorus soars in that way that makes catching a snippet of it through the window of a passing car a real treat.
Feerick - Did my iPod skip backwards? I think I’m listening to “Shambala” again. And not just because the same guy wrote both songs… more like, he wrote one song, and two sets of lyrics.
Dunphy - I’ll concede. I would much rather listen to this than “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” but that’s like saying “Poke one eye instead of both of them.” The song on it’s own isn’t bad but something about Stevenson’s delivery nags at me. The “Lion Sleeps Tonight” yodel in the chorus is cool though, and probably went a very long way in keeping the listener hooked in. Without it, there isn’t much here but “Alabama Man singing about his chick.”
#20: Skylark, “Wildflower” – #9 U.S.
Dunphy - “Wildflower” kept reminding me of Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry” which isn’t really saying much about Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry.”
Lifton - I’ll defer to our resident David Foster expert, Terje Fjelde, on this. I have little to say about “Wildflower” other than express, once again, my issues with the smarmy use of the word “lady” in soft rock songs.
Cummings - The version of this song by jazz saxophonist Hank Crawford has spawned several hip-hop samples, from Tupac to Eminem. Which would be more interesting if there were anything ELSE interesting about this song. But there’s not, to me at least. I’m sure that whole rock intro-into-Gary Puckett AC thang was radio catnip in its day, but I just think it’s icky.
Feerick – From Wikipedia: “…CKLW, a Canadian radio station in Windsor, ON, played ‘Wildflower,’ at that time an album cut, repeatedly for three months in an effort to satisfy the Canadian government’s requirements for Canadian content. During that period, it was the only radio station in North America to have the song on its playlist.”
You know, I don’t usually buy the conservative argument that Affirmative Action programs inevitably lead to the promotion of unqualified applicants simply to fill a quota, but the success of this song is enough to make me reconsider my opinion.
Dunphy - Meh. Isaac Hayes rocked the whole hard-edge opening to soul ballad thing long before Skylark started cryin’ about their “lay-day.”
“I will pick her from the garden to be mine” reminds me of the poster from (I think) Motel Hell where outside of the motel is a “garden” of hands sticking up out of the ground. The tagline: “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”
#21: Art Garfunkel, “All I Know” – #9 U.S.
Lifton - If there was ever a voice built for Jimmy Webb melodies, it’s Art Garfunkel’s. His trademark light touch means he doesn’t oversing it even at its most dramatic moments. Listen to how the falsetto trails off in the bridge. And you’ve got Larry Knechtel on piano basically reprising his “Bridge Over Troubled Water” part. None of that justifies the schmaltz, and I can hear a thousand bad cabaret singers ruining it back before this faded into obscurity, but sometimes a few master strokes can make something worthwhile.
Cummings - I wonder how many times I’ve written into the Popdose archives one of my favorite phrases, “like being lowered slowly into a vat of molasses”? Let’s see … only once, apparently, in relation to Dickey Lee’s song “Patches” in this column about a year ago. Well, the phrase pretty much applies to Artie’s entire solo career. Which goes to show, I suppose, what a phenomenal songwriter Paul is (as if we needed additional proof) … that he could put an edge to something so thoroughly rounded off, put a semblance of a boner on something so uniformly flaccid, as Artie’s voice.
Feerick - Arthur Garfunkel is truly one of nature’s freaks; what mad God would put that lovely, soaring voice into the body of such a horrible, unpleasant little man?
Anyway. Restraint is a dicey word when talking about Garfunkel — the raw emotionalism is part of his appeal — but “All I Know” scales great heights of drama without quite tipping over into histrionics. And it’s got some of my favorite sounds in it — backwards cymbals and massive, distant guitars, like a full-blast Marshall stack recorded from five miles away. It’s really quite wonderful.
Dunphy - For me, this song saves the week. Say what you will about Garfunkel, but when he is given proper material he sells it. This is his best post-Simon song in my opinion, and part of that comes from Jimmy Webb’s deft handling of earnestness without mawkishness. Art handles it wonderfully and makes it soar toward the massive ending. Now contrast that with something lightweight and unimpressive like “Breakaway” where all the most tedious aspects of the adult-contemporary sound were falling one on top of the other. Maybe I am a sucker for those quasi-operatic moments, but give me a little drama over the common Muzak and I’m happy. “All I Know” is totally dramatic.