It’s safe to say that there’s at least one or two bona fide classics in this week’s AM Gold wrapup. And then there are a few tracks that were certainly huge in 1965, but haven’t really stood the test of time. At least in the eyes of the esteemed Popdose staff. Feel free to give us what for in the comments section if you disagree.
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#6: Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, “The Game of Love” – #1 U.S., #2 U.K.
David Lifton – British Invasion by numbers: Four or five British white boys with Beatles haircuts playing an approximation of American R&B, complete (or should I say “compleat?”) with some Bo Diddley on the bridge. It doesn’t matter that the lyric is silly or the lead singer has no character in his voice. It’s what those crazy kids were listening to back then. But I like the rhythm guitar part and the drumming.
Matt Springer – Part of the recurring theme for me in participating in this series is that it forces a close examination of so many songs that were part of the fabric of background noise throughout my life, especially on the “oldies” stations that were popular throughout the past twenty years. I am certain this was in heavy rotation on Magic 104.3 throughout my formative years, and so it became the kind of song you know without really knowing it.
It’s a slice of shit, really; catchy as a virus that will make you want to chop off your own ears. I hate hate hate the “lyrics,” such as they are. Musically it’s the kind of song where you suspect the gathered players could find a decent groove if they wanted to, but instead they’ve chosen this inane jerky stop-start structure that they must know on some level will tear up the charts.
Dw. Dunphy – Here’s a contrast of two equally goofball songs strung back-to-back, both artists hailing from the UK. One works, the other doesn’t. “The Game Of Love” sounds like the lyrics were written by a drunken wife-beater. “You better start cooking that dinner, ’cause the purpose of a woman is to love a man!” Paired with the jaunty music, it is really difficult to enjoy on any level, even on reflexive irony.
Lifton – Yeah, and that second verse about Adam and Eve is laughable, too. Now compare it with the similar verse in “Pink Cadillac,” but that’s only because we’ve done something like 14 of these and I don’t think I’ve mentioned Springsteen once.
Jack Feerick – If one could apply truth-in-advertising laws to band names, I’d be filing a lawsuit right now; the name “Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders” promises a blown-out Vegas-style lounge lizard leading an acid-jam freakbeat combo, but fails to deliver either.
That being said, I dig the herky-jerky anti-groove of this song. It’s always a sign that musical movement (in this case rock ‘n’ roll) is maturing when its signifiers begin to get subverted. It would be fatuous to suggest that Zappa and Captain Beefheart were directly influenced by the likes of Wayne Fontana, but what the Mindbenders are doing on “The Game of Love” is not a million miles from the more melodic moments of Trout Mask Replica.
Jon Cummings – Just imagine how this puppy jumped out of the radio back in ’65! Between the trebly guitar riffs and the bass singer booming “LOVE” every few seconds, “The Game of Love” was engineered to sound perfect on a transistor radio (and, perhaps, nowhere else). No other piece of information is required to explain its success. Having emerged from a pre-Walkman childhood, I can just picture sitting in the park, or on the beach, and suddenly hearing that “LOVE” emanate from somebody’s radio four or five blankets down from mine — and then obsessively scanning the radio dial until I heard the song for myself. That’s what pop radio should be. Still, since most of you guys don’t like this song much, let’s have at it: Which song titled “The Game of Love” is the best one? This, Santana’s, or Katrina and the Waves’? My vote is for Katrina — love that song!
Lifton – One of pop’s “Only Nixon could go to China” moments. Only these three could make something this irredeemably cheesy and creepy and still so irresistible. Maybe it’s because they’re all in on the joke.
Chris Holmes – I was never a big fan of this and I find Tom Jones to be irredeemably cheesy (which of course made him a perfect choice to sing the Thunderball theme). And any chance for redemption on this track was ruined after I heard comedian John Mulaney’s bit about playing it 21 times in a row and infuriating his fellow diner patrons.
Springer – Like Roy Orbison, I think Tom Jones has a voice mighty enough to have brought him into opera in another era. Instead, we get this. And that dichotomy is why I love pop music.
Dunphy – This one is total kitsch-goof, Jones knows it, rolls with what is essentially Bacharach & David doing their usual French cabaret-styled sound, and proceeds to vamp all over it. That separates “What’s New, Pussycat” from “The Game of Love.” Nobody’s taking it too seriously.
Feerick – Pop’s biggest-selling avant-gardiste, Burt Bacharach, is doing the same kind of rhythmic deconstruction here as the Mindbenders, only (to my ears) not as well. I’d rather listen to Trout Mask Replica than this.
Cummings – Between “What the World Needs Now,” which we discussed last week, and this horror, “AM Gold 1965” isn’t exactly burnishing the Bacharach/David legacy, is it? I have to admit that I’ve never gotten Tom Jones’ appeal — his vocals are so forced, his stage demeanor so wooden, and I definitely don’t understand how women found him so sexy they’d throw their panties on the stage. “What’s New Pussycat?” just makes me want to throw up. I hate it so much that I’ve never gone near the film, which otherwise is right in my wheelhouse (Sellers, O’Toole, written by Woody Allen).
Robert Cashill – I love the song “What’s New, Pussycat,” which gets the movie off to a lively start — then the whole thing pretty much dies, despite a few inspired bits. (Jones also sang the title song to that same year’s Thunderball.) It was great fun hearing him sing it live in Las Vegas; the way he emphasized “pussycat lips” was hilarious.
#8: The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Do You Believe in Magic?” – #9 U.S., the first of seven consecutive Top 10 American singles
Lifton – I have a friend who thinks The Lovin’ Spoonful were one of the definitive and most subversive groups of their time, but I’ve never thought of them anything other than a band that had a few delightfully breezy pop hits. This is a helluva debut, though.
Holmes – Subversive? Not quite. But their best (IMO) song is yet to come…
Springer – Here’s a song you hear for decades and it does become musical wall-to-wall carpeting. But one day you listen, really listen, and you do hear the magic. There’s something ephemeral that comes together here, and I pin it onto that little chiming lead guitar riff that threads its way into every open moment in the music. I don’t know if it’s especially innovative or subversive, but I don’t think you have to be either to create a great pop song.
Dunphy – Unlike a lot of the folks in our group, I have to say this hasn’t aged particularly well. Then again, I’ve never ascribed to the idea that music could accomplish more than enjoyment, so songs that advertise the power of “rock and roll” tend to fall flat for me anyway. Plus, I have horrible visions of John Sebastian and the rest of Spoonfuls jerking around in some ridiculous ’60s dance, smiling idiotically, and that just makes me want to lash out.
Lifton – I’ll agree there’s a cheeseball factor to the lyrics. It gives it the feeling of the type of song your elementary school music teacher would play to show you that he/she “gets” rock and roll. But I also think that its lightness is charming, and I love the way Sebastian sings the second verse (the “listen” at 0:38 is wonderful). Maybe that’s why it’s lasted longer than a lot of the self-serious songs about how great rock is, like “Kids Wanna Rock” or “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me,” because we’ve done something like 14 of these and I don’t think I’ve mentioned Billy Joel once.
Feerick – Just a couple of years down the line and Sebastian would be tripping balls onstage at Woodstock, and his whimsy would be curdled and sour. But this is great — breezy and bittersweet. By invoking a simpler past of old-time movies and 50s rock ‘n’ roll, “Do You Believe” celebrates the magic of youth — but it’s implicit that youth is fleeting, and magic fades, so love while you can. It creates its own nostalgia as it goes along, which is a neat trick.
Was this band’s name a heroin reference?
Holmes – Wikipedia sez: The band’s name was inspired by some lines in a song of Mississippi John Hurt called the “Coffee Blues.” John Sebastian credits Fritz Richmond for suggesting the name.
Feerick – Oh, right. Like you can trust them old blues guys.
Cummings – What Dunphy finds dated, I’ll continue to find timeless. As the father of a pre-teen girl, I’ve been hearing “Do You Believe in Magic” quite a lot in recent years, thanks to the Disney Channel and a version by the duo Aly & AJ that is actually quite good, for what it is. As much as I love “Summer in the City,” which I assume we’ll hear on the ’66 edition of “AM Gold,” if you gave me just one nickel for the jukebox I’d use it on this song instead.
#9: The Beach Boys, “California Girls” – #3 U.S.
Lifton – Really, Mike? This is one of the lyrics you’re so proud of that you sued your cousin to make sure you got proper credit? Fuck you. One day, we’re going to be visited by aliens who have never heard rock music. When that happens, I’m going to play them this song, knowing that the first words out of their mouths will be, “Yeah, Brian’s the genius here.”
Springer – The first 22 seconds of this song might be my favorite music ever recorded. Also, fuck Mike Love.
Holmes – It’s like Brian was throwing a teaser out there, and giving people a hint of what he was about to unload with Pet Sounds the next year.
Dunphy – I’d like to think that in some alternate universe, Mike Love wrote the music too, the song was testimony to his douchebaguettery and years of him trying to pass himself off as anything less than an opportunistic parasite were magically made non-existent.
The song’s nice though.
Feerick – To the usual chorus of FUs, let me add a special dedication: Fuck David Lee Roth. I DIG GIRLS! WAHHHEEEEEAHHH! Gimme a bottle of anything and a glazed doughnut — to GO! HUMMULA-BEBBELA-ZUMMALA-HUMMULA-HUMMULA-ZUMMULA-BEBBELA-BOP!
Cummings – The obsessions of music journalists… I despise Mike Love as much as the next guy, but with all that wasted typing about the personalities involved, the song has mostly gotten lost here. I suppose that’s because the importance of “California Girls” is pretty much a given, but it’s probably still worth saying something about it. Apart from “Good Vibrations,” maybe, this is the Beach Boys’ most iconic single. And that’s saying something. Think of all the pop culture that spins around it — from “Back in the USSR” to Katy Perry, and that’s just for starters.
And then think of the generations of kids from around the world who grow up with a particular set of ideas about California … and its girls … based on these lyrics. I know I did. And even as I have wanted desperately, at several points in my life, to hate everything about the Beach Boys — from the damage done to Brian’s psyche to the James Watt connection during the ’80s, to fucking Mike Love — eventually it has to come back to a song like “California Girls,” which is going to outlive us all.
#10: Barbara Lewis, “Make Me Your Baby” – #11 U.S.
Lifton – As I said a few months ago when we talked about “Hello Stranger,” I hear this and I want to make out with somebody.
Springer – So this one’s basically “if we go steady, I’ll give you head,” right?
Feerick – This song sounds huge. Like, cathedral-sized. Those drums could crush your skull.
Cummings – This is, or at least should be, the reason why a comp like “AM Gold” exists. We’re down here at the bottom of this week’s column, having riffed on four ubiquitous songs that we each probably didn’t even need to listen to one more time before writing about them. And now, suddenly, here’s a very nice track I’d never heard before, a single that didn’t even make the Top 10 and is therefore pretty much lost to the ages (at least as far as oldies radio is concerned, having reserved only one slot on the playlist for Ms. Lewis). But back in the fall of ’65, kids were listening to “Make Me Your Baby” at least once or twice for every three times they heard “Yesterday” (which topped the charts that season) — and if I’m buying an oldies compilation, that opportunity to discover something that was pretty darn popular, but is lost now, interests me a lot more than owning a fourth or fifth copy of “Do You Believe in Magic” or “California Girls.”
All of which is one way of saying, thank goodness for single-track downloads. As for “Make Me Your Baby,” Barbara Lewis certainly didn’t have the most expressive or exciting voice out there, but she attached herself to some terrific songs, and this track has a nice build. That thudding drum sound, backing Lewis’ mellifluous vocal, seems to mark a point on the girl-group sound’s inexorable slide toward Adult Contemporary.