Welcome back to yet another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! We’re a day early this week, since I thought that combining Mellow Gold with Mellowmas tomorrow would be enough to make jasonhare.com explode. However, this does NOT mean that you shouldn’t go over to Jefito’s today for the Ninth Day Of Mellowmas, because today, Jeff’s got THE Mellowmas track of the season – it was actually recorded in the right era! Go! And come back afterwards!
So I don’t know if you’re all Mellowed out, what with these posts plus Mellowmas every day (and we still have three wonderful days to go!). However, we must give some well-deserved Mellow Props to Terje, who last week discussed his disturbing Mellow dream: Christopher Cross, Peter Cetera and Stephen Bishop covering “Good King Wenceslas/We Three Kings” – as a barbershop acapella trio – in tights, no less. (His dream, not mine.)
I know. You’re shivering already. But would you believe me if I told you it went further? If you’re subscribed to the comments, you may have seen this already:
I strongly recommend clicking above and checking out that sucker at full size. Terje, you scare the hell out of me, but that is some impressive work. As Jeff astutely noted, you have created the official picture of Mellowmas!
Now that none of us can get that image out of our minds, let’s get Mellow, shall we?
Sammy Johns – Chevy Van (download)
First and foremost, we must give thanks to the donor (and fan) of this track – Ms. Betty Rocker of Betty Rocker’s Music Pantry. What? You haven’t visited The Pantry? What the hell’s wrong with you? She’s serving up great music, recipes, and pop culture commentary. Go! I’ll be here waiting.
I imagine that many of these Mellow Gold songs bring us back to another time, another place – probably a point in our youth that we’ve now romanticized beyond compare – but this song may really call up some great memories of special times. Because who among us doesn’t long for the days when we could pick up some chick on the side of the road, get laid, then drop her hippie ass off in some podunk town? Oh, those were the days, my friends. That was when “free love” meant something! Jesus, between “Chevy Van” and “Afternoon Delight,” the charts of the mid-70s couldn’t have been greater advocates of loose sex!
Sammy Johns’ career started when he was just a teenager in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, where he founded a group known as The Devilles. The band had modest local success, and after ten years together, Johns moved to Atlanta to forge ahead with a solo career. He signed to the General Recording Coroporation’s GRC label in 1973, and released his eponymous debut album in 1974. The first single from the record, “Early Morning Love,” was a minor hit, but it was “Chevy Van,” released the next year, that drove (get it? ha.) Johns to the height of his popularity.
“Chevy Van” peaked at #5 in early May of 1975. Now, I don’t remember 1975 very well (being that I was -2 at the time), but maybe some of you could enlighten us as to whether the popularity of this song really was due to the country being pretty sexed up at the time. I’ll tell you this, however: Chevrolet’s van sales went through the roof after this song.
The tune was so popular that Johns signed with Warner-Curb the next year, and a movie, loosely based on the free-love style of “Chevy Van,” was released, with Johns contributing his signature song (as well as “Early Morning Love”) to the soundtrack. Originally titled (yes, it’s true) “Chevy Van,” the movie ultimately called “The Van” was released in 1977.
If you’re not familiar with the intense plot of “The Van,” here’s an edited snippet, from its Wikipedia entry:
After Bobby and his best friend Jack graduate from high school Bobby decides to spend his well earned money, that he earned from working at a car wash, to buy a van, not just any Van, but a hyped-up Chevy Van, complete with waterbed, toaster and television, Bobby feels confident that he can take over the town for the night and get the girl of his dreams…After trying to force sex on a girl and after making love to a girl who turns out to be a prostitute, Bobby tries for some bigger game and goes after a girl from his high school called Tina (played by Deborah White) and at the same time is drawn to the movies antagonist Dugan’s girlfriend, Sally…Bobby ignores his feelings and makes love with a very large girl called Bertha …however he is once more interrupted along the course after he winds up having sex with Dugan’s girl Sally…
Oh my God. BEST MOVIE EVER. Seriously, this movie is the inspiration for Road Trip, Europtrip, Harold And Kumar…and yet I’ve never heard it mentioned before. Plus, it features the very first film appearance of Danny DeVito – thankfully, not as a sex fiend, but as Bobby’s boss. And, of course, Sammy Johns’ mellow, venereal disease-promoting hit is all over the movie. The best part, though, is that the van in the movie is a Dodge.
“Chevy Van” remained Johns’ biggest hit. How could you beat it, really? I’m thankful he never went the pathetic route and re-recorded (coughMARDONEScough) or tried for a sequel, like “She gave me a reacharound in my Nissan Bluebird” or anything like that. Johns did go on to other successes: signing with Elektra in ’82, he released a few more singles, including “Common Man,” which was re-recorded by country singer John Conlee, and became a hit. Suddenly Johns was in the songwriting business, with his most notable tune being “America,” with the brilliant lyric “And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too/And the red man is right, to expect a little from you/Promise and then follow through, America,” recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1985.
What’s Johns up to now? Honestly, I have no clue. I imagine he’s got herpes. If you have any information, please enlighten us.
England Dan & John Ford Coley – I’d Really Love To See You Tonight (download)
I’m really excited about this one. It’s been on my Mellow Gold list for eons. Why? Because there’s nothing that’s not Mellow Gold about it: from the lyrics to the music to the look of the artists themselves, it’s 100% wimpy. Oh man, do I love this song. First, here are My Top Five Interesting Facts About England Dan And John Ford Coley:
1) They’re complete posers. England Dan got his moniker because he liked to pretend he was British. John Ford Coley’s real name is John Colley. He changed the last name so people wouldn’t pronounce it incorrectly, and “Ford” isn’t even CLOSE to being part of his name at all. They came up with the name after nothing else was working for them.
2) They weren’t always wusses. No, Ford and
Colley Coley were friends and co-musicians from a very early age, but made their first dent as members of a rock/R&B hybrid group called Southwest F.O.B. Eventually, Ford and Coley started acting as the opening act for the band, but in acoustic duo format, and realized that they were way, way gentler than they thought they were – and the audience dug it. (This is just like Mike and I, except they had talent.) Of course, England Dan had it in his blood – his brother is Jim Seals of Seals & Crofts. (We’ll be covering them – come summer, obviously.)
3) The famous Mellow label, Herb Alpert’s A&M, picked ’em up. Two albums. No hits.
4) A&M dropped ’em. Still, the fact that they made two albums before getting dropped is, again, a sign of the times. For four years, they simply performed, unable to get a record deal.
5) Their most famous song got them re-signed – and it wasn’t their song to begin with. Nope, it was written by a gentleman named Parker McGee. (Love that name.) Sensing they were on to something wimpy, they played their demo version to a number of record companies. Atlantic Records heard it and turned ’em down, but the man in the adjoining office – Doug Morris, head of Big Tree Records (and now, like, the most powerful man in the universe) – heard the song and offered them a contract.
And so, “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” became the group’s most massive hit. No, not their only hit (I know you smartasses will be quick to name the others in the comments), but certainly their biggest hit: the first of their four Adult Contemporary #1s, and their closest call to #1 (#2 in late September 1976). Did it deserve to be their biggest hit? Granted, I’ve only heard a couple, but I’m going to go with SHIT YES for this one. And now, we talk about why it’s Mellow Gold. (Not like I need to tell you, but…)
First of all, look at these guys. LOOK AT THEM!
Exactly what you expected, right?
Second of all, musical quality: gentle piano, mimicked by light acoustic guitar strumming, sweet, sweet string section, a solid, lower harmony echoing the chorus, and ladies crooning in the background: “I’m not talkin’ ’bout changin’…..liiiiife!” There’s just a little electric guitar riffin’ in the chorus and bridge, but it’s unobtrusive and low in the mix. Great little fills. Do you hear what I’m talking about, people? Does it get any mellower? Well, only if you look at the lyrics.
Hello, yeah, it’s been a while.
Not much, how ’bout you?
I’m not sure why I called,
I guess I really just wanted to talk to you.
Wait, wha?…oh, he’s talking to her on the phone. Three lines in and already he’s wussin’ it up. “I’m not sure” and “I guess” are not phrases of a man who’s going to do anything stronger with a woman than, oh, I don’t know, watch television. (Foreshadowing!)
And I was thinking maybe later on,
We could get together for a while.
It’s been such a long time,
And I really do miss your smile.
“Maybe?” Dude, take your nuts in your hand and tell her what you really want! Oh wait, I forget. You don’t want her cooter. You really just do miss her smile. This is sad. And I love the way you say the word “while.” You know those actors who really pronounce their w’s? This guy is one of them. It’s “fhuile.” Love it.
I’m not talking ’bout moving in,
And I don’t want to change your life.
But there’s a warm wind blowing,
The stars are out, and I’d really love to see you tonight.
Wait a minute. I’m not talkin’ ’bout moving in? Really? That’s what he’s saying? Because for the first 10 years of having heard of this song, I would have sworn on a Bible that he was saying “I’m not talkin’ ’bout the linen.” What does that mean? No clue. But I really thought that’s what he was saying. In fact, I remember belting this song at the top of my lungs in front of 6 of my roommates at college, and not one of them disagreed with me talking (or, I guess, not talking) ’bout the linen.
We could go walking through a windy park,
Or take a drive along the beach.
Or stay at home and watch t.v.
You see, it really doesn’t matter much to me.
You guys haven’t heard Mike speak, but nobody says that second line, specifically the word “beach,” the way he does. He does a specific dialect of Mellowese. It has a croon in it. It’s fantastic.
There’s so much wrong with this stanza. First of all, why does the park have to be windy? Is this a dealbreaker for you, if it’s not windy? Does the rest not matter much to you, except for the wind? And let’s talk about “or stay at home and watch t.v., you see, it really doesn’t matter much to me.” Okay. First of all, talking about watching t.v. in a song is not going to get you anywhere other than giggling at Potsie’s latest antics on “Happy Days” while sitting on separate ends of the couch. Which apparently you’re fine with. (To be fair, Anson Williams was a hoot!) Second of all, “it really doesn’t matter much to me” – this is the musical equivalent of the “I don’t know, what do you wanna do?” conversation that you had with your significant other, which ended in the two of you driving each other batshit and ultimately doing nothing.
I won’t ask for promises,
So you won’t have to lie.
We’ve both played that game before,
Say I love you, then say goodbye.
How nice. He’s let her off the hook. He doesn’t care that she’s inherently a lying bitch – no! It’s like they always say: if you don’t want the answer, don’t ask the question. Well done, England Dan. Denial’s the way to a commitment. Oh, but wait, that’s right – he doesn’t want a commitment. Nor does he want a one night stand. All this guy wants to do is sit around and watch t.v. with a chick. Can someone tell me why he put on the freaking big-collared suit in the first place? Just wear sweatpants!
There is so much wrong with this song. And by “there is so much wrong,” I mean “there is so much right.” Because it may not make sense to us in the here and now, but in the smooth ’70s, this track on the AM dial made all the sense in the world. It was a cool night for England Dan and his lady, Secaucus Jane.
That’s it. I’m spent. Between this and Mellowmas, I’m done for the week. That sound you just heard was my wife walking out the door, looking for a real man. I’m taking a break. Have a great one and see you soon!