Digging for Gold: The Time-Life “AM Gold” Series, Part 58
Oh my, it’s a Mellow Goldrush. Was this the week Mr. Hare was born or conceived? – Brian Boone
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#6: Lou Rawls, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” – #2 U.S., #10 U.K.
David Medsker - This will surely be the untouchable song of the week. Because really, who doesn’t wish they could replicate that unmistakable tone of Rawls’ when he sings “You’ll never find…”? I couldn’t name another song that he ever did, yet he has my undying respect for his performance here. Is that hypocritical?
Dw. Dunphy - The easy choice for song of the week, I don’t think most people (even then) pegged Lou Rawls as a soul-man. I still see him as strictly a jazz guy, but did he carry this one off without breaking a sweat! Once again, it’s a Philadelphia International release so you know it has serious soul value, but the backbeat was made for dancing, so it is not difficult to see the track’s crossover potential — soul pedigree, jazz vocal control, disco booty-shaking, pop chart dominance. Rawls wouldn’t be this prominent again until he became the “singing voice for Garfield” in the Garfield cartoon specials from the 1980s.
Jon Cummings - I’ve had a Rawls anthology for a couple years now, and I keep trying to find another “signature” moment in his career … and it’s really not there. His music is pleasant and smooth-edged, his voice is technically beyond reproach … and after three songs I inevitably want to turn it off and listen to somebody with more bite. In fact, Rawls’ twin career peaks amount to exactly four words — his indelible intonation of “You’ll never find,” as Medsker noted, and his response of “Ye-eah” to Sam Cooke’s call of “Ye-eah” during the choruses on “Bring It On Home to Me.” All of that said, however, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” is a gorgeous, brilliant piece of work.
Jack Feerick - One of the great and often-overlooked strains of African-American music — of American music in general, but of African-American music especially — is what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge.” It’s here in the faintly Latin percussion, in the tropicalia feel of the piano flourishes, and most of all in the drama and high romance of the vocals. Just marvelous.
David Lifton - I love telling people that Rawls was the second voice on “Bring It On Home To Me” because it shocks the hell out of them like it did me. Most of our opinions of Rawls were formed by Easter Seals telethon and this song, which is just about as perfect a disco song as you can get. The piano hook that after the first three notes that you always have to sing along with, the three distinct sections that start low and build – Damn, Gamble and Huff knew what the hell they were doing! And Rawls, so smooth and elegant, makes it seem like just another day in the studio.
#7: Elvin Bishop, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” – #3 U.S., #34 U.K.
Medsker - I am fully expecting this one to get its head bashed in, but there is something about a then-unknown Mickey Thomas’ vocal and that guitar (is that a pedal steel?) that hooked me.
Dunphy - Not as awful as it should have been, and Thomas sounds pretty good here. There were many years when I didn’t add up that this voice and the voice of latter Jefferson Starship were the same, even though it was plainly the same guy when considered retrospectively. Call it the Clark Kent/Superman effect. Bishop’s southern rock/blues sound masks Thomas’ identity to an extent. The lyrics on the other hand are typical of the times, finding the lothario getting in too deep off what, I presume, was just a one night stand. In the end, it’s not a painful listen. I wouldn’t vote it as great art either, but it gets the job done.
Cummings - This is the kind of smooth, white-boy Southern soul that was cross-format catnip on radio stations in my (Southern-but-not-TOO-Southern) part of the world when I was growing up, and therefore it received a healthy amount of airplay for years after its release. (I use the world “healthy” ill-advisedly here, I think.) Every syllable of Thomas’ vocal (probably the best thing he ever did), every slide of Bishop’s guitar is so familiar to me, you’d think it’s ingrained in my DNA — though, thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have passed along to my kids. I’m not a huge fan of it — it was always just sort of THERE, like the mountains or the mosquitoes — yet I could never imagine turning this off when it came on the radio.
Feerick - Mickey Thomas was not the only Elvin Bishop Band alum to end up in Jefferson Starship; drummer Donny Baldwin joined along with Thomas, and was thrown out of the band in 1990 after going apeshit crazy, attacking Thomas and breaking his face. (Literally. Shattered a bunch of bones, and Thomas required massive facial reconstruction surgery.) Drummers, man. You’ve got to watch out for ‘em.
Lifton - Yeah, this is one you definitely want to hate, partially because the title is cheesy but mostly because of Thomas’ mustache and his role in giving us the phrase, “Marconi played the mambo.” But then you listen to it and you think, “Yeah, this is pretty good.”
#8: Starbuck, “Moonlight Feels Right” – #3 U.S.; the group’s lone Top 40 single.
Feerick - Hey girl, your loverman is here from Maryland and he’s brought you a case of crabs.
Medsker - Anyone else think of “Rock Me Gently.” when they hear this? There’s something in the DNA – maybe both songs were made at the same lab. Both songs also, for the record, give me the willies.
Dunphy – Another one of those uncomfortable songs you shouldn’t listen to the lyrics of. This one, alongside Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” and Firefall’s “You Are The Woman” was the soundtrack to a family car trip to Valley Forge…not by choice. Our station wagon only had a radio and that was used mainly as something to shut up/drown out the noisy brats in the back seat (heh heh). As we crossed through NY-based radio from eastern New Jersey, into PA-based radio with the occasional south-Jersey station bleeding in, it seemed like these three songs kept popping up all day, over and over again. Maddening.
I’m still traumatized by my parents grooving on “Afternoon Delight.” (SHUDDERS)
“Moonlight Feels Right” is the audio example of “twaddle.” There is really no other way of describing the musicality of it, which sounds like cartoon character porn…(Think about it. “Oh, Popeye!” Bwaaah-bwaaah. “Agh-ak-ak-ak-akk!!” Bwooh-bwaaah.) This song is about as sexy as a box of oatmeal.
Cummings - Bland, tuneful, ubiquitous. Hard to hate, yet similarly difficult to love — though I do like the way the dude laughs. How many vibes solos have there been in rock-era pop? We used to call songs like this “news music,” because in those years radio stations would play happy-happy-joy-joy instrumental snippets to fill time between the last song of the hour and the launch of the network-news feed. That’s how I got to know Soulful Strut” and “Grazing in the Grass,” as well.
Lifton - I figured this would be another one of those that I had heard as a kid but didn’t know the name of, because the title sounded familiar. I don’t recall this one at all, which is probably for the better. What makes Adventures Through the Mines of Mellow Gold such a great series is how it deflates the concept of “Let’s get mellow and fuck” that forms the basis for the genre. It’s also why “Soft Rocked By Me” is one of my favorite Jonathan Coulton songs. When I hear songs like this, I always think, “Who the hell did this work on?” I can’t imagine any girl I’ve ever been interested in getting turned on by this. But then again, I’ve never taken Quaaludes. Maybe this song is why they got banned.
#9: England Dan & John Ford Coley, “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” – #2 U.S.
Medsker - Even the screenwriter of The Long Kiss Goodnight got the lyric in the chorus wrong (“I’m not talking ’bout movin’ in“). Still a fan of this one, both for the melody and the sentiment, the latter of which is something Paul Davis would capitalize on a few years later with “Cool Night.” Both songs are basically booty calls for snuggling. What an odd concept in retrospect.
Dunphy - In an age of Wiz Khalifa, Justin Bieber, and Nicki Minaj, could you ever imagine an act called England Dan and John Ford Coley catching a break today? I’m surprised they caught a break back then, but not shocked. This is the height of bloodless pleasantness, polite even, and has the ability to take whatever testosterone the listener has left in their system and boil it away into nothingness. Could I love you tonight? I don’t want to ravage your body or anything…I just want to curl up contentedly by your feet and occasionally shake my legs like I’m chasing a cat.
But still pleasant. I wouldn’t turn it off if I heard it on the radio, but I might think about joining a monastery.
Cummings - Everybody knows that warm winds DON’T blow the stars around, but still — I’m a complete sucker for the ED&JFC catalog. If it weren’t for “Get Closer,” I would swear that Dan, not Jim, was the more memorable of the Seals brothers. And, look — we can talk for hours about how the sentiments here are so tame they’d be buried under an avalanche of today’s pop crudity, but you gotta admit … at least ED&JFC had more balls than Bread.
Dunphy - Deep thought for this edition: Jon wins with “at least ED&JFC had more balls than Bread.”
Feerick - Actually, there are warm winds that blow the stars around — superheated cosmic winds, in fact, that emerge from the accretion disks of black holes, contributing to the formation and spatial dispersal of the stars in our galaxy. Which is kind of cool.
Cummings - Dammit, Jack, stop showing off. Besides, there are no black holes in Jesus’ universe. England Dan = Carl Sagan.
Dunphy - Jesus doesn’t want any of us for sun beams.
Feerick - I has never noticed before now that the female backing vocals on this song get louder and more insistent as the song goes on. They start off in a coo and end up strident. If the song had run a few more minutes, I reckon things might have gotten ugly; maybe he only wants to cuddle, but it’s pretty obvious what’s on her mind, and she’s not taking “No” for an answer.
Lifton - See above, but at least this one’s got a really nice tune to it and good harmonies. But can you think of any other song that’s not by Elton John that strains to fit the meter as much as this? “Movin’ in,” “windy park,” the overuse of “really.” Come on, guys. Take as much care with the lyrics as you do with your grooming.
#10: Gary Wright, “Dream Weaver” – #2 U.S.
Chris Holmes - I can seldom predict how a lot of the songs in these series are going to be handled, so I want to get in first on this one…
Unlike many of the gang here at Popdose I do not have a strong attachment to, nor a lot of fond memories of, listening to music on the radio. One of the few exceptions is this song, which was a staple on the late Alison Steele’s WXRK-FM overnight show in New York. The gooey synthesizers and Wright’s New Age-y lyrics fit the vibe that The Nightbird worked to create perfectly. In any other context, I probably would’ve approached “Dream Weaver” as a harmless, hokey artifact of the 1970s, rather like something from an alternate universe where Pink Floyd had no axes to grind with the world and just wanted to get mellow and non-confrontational, man. But instead, I developed a real fondness for it and can look past its glaring deficiencies with no effort. Indeed, I’m always happy to climb aboard the Dream Weaver train.
Medsker - For a brief period, this album was the future of music, and in fairness to Wright, you could see why. He pushed synthesizers in a way that no one dared to attempt in the pop market. I don’t know Wright’s subsequent material well enough to know exactly why he fell out of favor – I liked his 1981 hit “Really Wanna Know You” – so I’m not sure if a change in taste (punk, disco, new wave) were to blame, or if it’s something simple like, say, Wright simply being unable to follow up. But for this one shining moment, everything was coming up Milhouse.
Dunphy - The “great song if you don’t listen to the lyrics” track of the week, because the lyrics are embarrassing. Really, really embarrassing. Yet somehow you can’t not listen to it, and during its release you really couldn’t turn away, as those zoops and zaps and swarps and vizzles (God bless you, Dr. Seuss) were total pop music crack at that time. If Pink Floyd was into yoga, vegetarianism, and meditation at that time, they might have sounded a little like this, except that the “dream weaver” would have been about Roger Waters’ dead father.
Okay, I’m sorry for that last bit, but you know it is the truth.
(Addendum: I just read Chris’ write-up for “Dream Weaver” and I’m shocked we’re so on the same page with it. This will be about the most love the Floyd ever got from Popdose, methinks.)
Cummings - Music for laser shows, and spacey masturbatory fantasies. (“Dream Weaver” was still all over the radio, like some sort of spattered, alien milky substance, when puberty hit.) My enduring adoration for the song is reflected in the fact that it took a good three minutes for my thoughts to circle around to Wayne’s World. At the time I considered “Dream Weaver” far more mature a song than most everything else on the radio, and thought that liking it meant I was more mature as well; it took a while to recognize that lyrically it is, of course, nonsense. Like other children of the ’70s, I eventually had to reconcile Wright’s vision of the “Dream Weaver” with John Lennon’s, from the song “God,” which I didn’t hear until after his death. (The fact that Wright says he got the concept from a book given to him by George Harrison complicates matters further. And the fact that I once heard Wright sing the song during a concert by Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band muddies the water completely.)
One more thing: Since I doubt that we’re going to hear the equally brilliant “Love is Alive” in the coming weeks, it makes sense to pause for a moment and recognize the incredible bass-synth work on both that song and this one. Too much synth-based music overemphasized the treble end of the spectrum — Howard Jones, I’m looking at you — but the bass lines on these songs spring immediately to mind in all their melodicism and drama. Of course, in order to note those bass parts, one must wonder which of the two primary keyboardists on the album actually played those parts. Was it Wright? Or was it … David Foster?
Medsker - How many people have sampled the bass line for “Love Is Alive”? 3rd Bass, at the very least, but there are surely others. And according to Wiki, Jim Keltner played the drums. Of course he did.
Feerick – That is a pretty funky synth-bass, and what’s interesting is that, beneath all the whooshes and fizzes, the spine of this tune is a good ol’ Fender Rhodes and a primo Jim Keltner shuffle. It’s worth remembering that the dominant paradigm for keyboard-based pop at this time time was stuff like Traffic — still with a heavy element of blues and jazz. Kraftwerk were making records already, but for the most part synthesizers were still just an instrument, not yet a genre. Gary may have done himself up like the poor man’s Brian Eno, but he was making pop with synthesizers, rather than synth-pop as such. This radio edit cuts the thing to pieces, though, and it suffers from missing the more atmospheric bits.
Cummings - Absolutely — which is why I called up the full-length immediately. “Dream Weaver” is one of those songs for which, when it comes on the radio, I wait tensely to find out which version is being played — and know exactly when the first ugly cut is coming, if it’s coming.
Lifton - I don’t seem to have the love of this one like you all do. Not even the association of Donna Dixon in Wayne’s World can make me like this. Granted, that could also be because she sleeps with Dan Ackroyd, but still.