A quick anecdote before we start today: on Saturday, Mike and I did one of our “Acoustic ’80s” gigs. In between songs, we somehow wound up mentioning Little River Band, which was met with unexpected enthusiasm from the crowd. Mike started playing the opening of “Reminiscing,” and before we knew it, we were doing the entire song (I had no idea I knew all the words). The crowd response made it clear that we’ll have to do a Mellow Gold acoustic duo evening at some point in time. Stay tuned.
Silver – Wham Bam (download)
I need to make something very clear to you right now: I did not pick this song. I’d never heard of it before, none of you had mentioned it in the comments, and I never received any e-mails requesting this song. Rather, this song picked me. It showed up on my iPod last Wednesday as I was running for a morning bus, and I was blown away that I had never heard it before (there are only 9,319 songs on my iPod, after all, a number that doesn’t even make sense to me), and that nobody ever requested it. This song may be more on the pop side of mellow, but it’s mellow. And even better, there’s some great, truly classic record label drama behind this song. I can’t wait to share it with you.
But clearly, the first question on your mind is: who the hell is Silver, and why should I give a shit? That’s an excellent question, especially since the band’s Wiki page doesn’t even bother to list all the members. For the record, though, the members were:
John Batdorf (of the duo Batdorf & Rodney, and I’m scared to see what you’ll write about them in the comments)
Brent Mydland (who eventually became “the new guy” in the Grateful Dead)
Tom Leadon (Bernie Leadon’s brother)
Steve Oates (John’s brother…okay, I’m making this one up. This guy’s not even in the band.)
Greg Collier (who?)
Harry Stinson (wha?)
And yes, THE Phil Hartman designed their record cover.
To quote Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, it’s like a Who’s Who of Who Cares.
There’s not much to say about these guys. They formed, put out this one album, and then broke up. “Wham Bam,” also known as “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang,” was their only hit, peaking at #16 in August of 1976. Although it’s often labeled as “bubblegum,” I think it has plenty of the traits we’ve come to love from our Mellow Gold tunes.
Lots of strings……check!
Limp backing vocals….check!
Stupid lyrics in the verses….check!
Even stupider lyrics in the chorus….check check check check check!
Let’s look at some of these. I won’t torture you too much with the lyrics, I promise. Just the first four lines.
Starry nights, sunny days
I always thought that love should be that way
Then comes a time that you’re ridden with doubt
You’ve loved all you can and now you’re all loved out
That’s right: “You’ve loved all you can and now you’re all loved out.” That’s just painful. And I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t point out the shitty chorus.
We got a wham (!) bam (!) shang-a-lang and a sha-la-la-la-la-la thing
Those exclamation points in there are to replace the strings that attack in between those words, by the way. I consider them to be part of the lyrics.
What the hell are these guys talking about? What does it mean? What point were they trying to get across? Next time Jessica and I have another one of our fights (“It’s McD or me!”), I’ll grab her by the arm, look her deep in the eyes, and inform her that she can’t possibly leave me. Not with all that we have together. After all, doesn’t she realize what she’d be giving up? We got a wham (!) bam (!) shang-a-lang and a sha-la-la-la-la-la thing. And then I’ll watch her run the hell out the door, never to return.
But here’s the real problem I’m having: I can’t get this chorus out of my head. The critics are right: it definitely is a bubblegum pop song. They sound like The Archies (who also had a shang-a-lang in one of their songs). I’ve been singing it for the past week, kinda groovin’ in my chair, and sticking my hand up in the air each time the strings attack in the chorus.
Don’t get me started on the rest of the lyrics. They’re inane. Pointless. Idiotic. Most Mellow Gold lyrics are pathetically impassioned. That’s not the case here. Just stupidity, repeated for three and-a-half minutes.
Sometimes I feel bad ripping on songs like these, but I’m not feeling any remorse over this one. You know why? Well, remember the story of Climax Blues Band and “I Love You” – how all of the members, save for one, hated “I Love You?” Well, this is kinda like that, except everyone in Silver hated “Wham Bam.” And you know who gets the blame? John Batdorf, who put fame and fortune above musical quality as a career goal. I know all of this because I’ve read Batdorf’s extensive history of Batdorf & Rodney, which includes Silver. It’s an interesting read, but it’s long, so here are the important parts.
Batdorf & Rodney were an acoustic duo known for their inspired instrumental jams. After having some success under the tutelage of Ahmet Ertegun, the guys broke up, only to reunite and sign with Clive Davis over at Arista. Davis had just experienced great success in getting Barry Manilow to record “Mandy,” a song that Manilow despised, but nonetheless was a gigantic hit. Batdorf & Rodney, eager to finally get the fame and fortune they desired, acquiesced to Davis’ desires, which included recording outside material and slicing the guitar solos out of all of their songs for their upcoming album. As Batdorf puts it, “it’s hard to argue with the man who made Barry Manilow a superstar…the album sold more than our previous albums so we went with it and kept our creative disagreements to a minimum.” And that, my friends, is how John Batdorf sold his soul.
So Davis brought them this song called “Somewhere In The Night,” which he knew was about to be released by Helen Reddy (and if Alan O’Day’s name just popped into your head, you are a true fan of this website). Davis wanted to get the single out before Reddy’s version did. Batdorf loved the song, but there was a catch: the duo had to also record “Wham Bam,” a song Davis was convinced would be a hit. Batdorf hated the idea and despised the song, but by now you know what Batdorf chose to do.
The duo recorded both songs, and Davis decided he didn’t care for Rodney’s parts. He had an outsider sing on “Somewhere In The Night,” and had Batdorf double track his vocal over Rodney’s on “Wham Bam.” Still, fame was on its way, right? They couldn’t possibly give up now!
“Somewhere In The Night” debuted at #80, but Reddy’s management figured out what was going on, and told the radio stations that they’d never get a song by Reddy again if they continued to play the Batdorf & Rodney version. The stations caved, and the duo’s song was dropped. Reddy’s version went to #19, but guess who brought it all the way to #9 in January of 1979? Barry Manilow. LOVE IT!
Rodney – and I have no idea why it took him this long – was fed up, and the duo split. Batdorf formed Silver, and…well, I’ll let Batdorf tell it:
Clive heard us and told us if we released “Wham Bam” as Silver’s first single he would sign us to an album deal. What choice did we have? (Jason’s note: I dunno, walk away with what was left of your pride and dignity?) We replaced Mark’s parts and went on to cut the album. The single was a big hit but the album sounded nothing like the single and we didn’t draw well. We were a West coast sounding band with a stupid bubble gum single.
When it came time for Silver’s second album, Davis again wanted the group to bend to his will. Batdorf refused. The group eventually dissolved, and that was the last anybody ever heard of Silver.
If you’re still with me after all this text…is that a great story or what? In all honesty, I doubt I would have done anything different from Batdorf. I’ve done some pretty stupid things for money. Hell, I’ve done some pretty stupid things on this website. Still, it’s interesting to see how a string of fucked-up priorities led to this lame, yet ultimately successful tune.
See you next week for another Adventure Through The Mines of Mellow Gold!