Preamble: In which Time-Life’s track selection for AM Gold is increasingly called into question…
Jon Cummings – Before we begin dissecting individual tracks here, may I begin by discussing how the singles we’re about to discuss (and the AM Gold: 1967 CD, as a whole) generally seem out of sync with our collective memory of ’67? The good folks at Time-Life had an opportunity — and perhaps a responsibility — to offer up something of a historical document here, a CD that would encapsulate a moment when pop music truly seemed to be driving the cultural conversation. Up to this point, the AM Gold series has reflected the musical trends and tone of its times at least somewhat thoughtfully, considering its inherent limitations (no Beatles, no Stones, no Atlantic/Stax soul). Unfortunately, even with those limitations in mind, the ’67 edition is a soggy mess compared to the vibrant pop/rock scene that sparks the modern imagination (and serves as the soundtrack for all that grainy footage of Vietnam, race riots and the Summer of Love).
Perhaps with this CD we’ve reached the dividing line where, because of music-rights issues or because the folks who buy these anthology CDs are more your Marilyn Quayle type than your Murphy Brown type, series like AM Gold simply cannot adequately reflect the tumultuous times that were accompanied by late-’60s pop. Then again, maybe our compilers just screwed up. I mean, OK, there’s going to be no “All You Need is Love” or “Let’s Spend the Night Together” or even “Respect” here — but there are plenty of hits from ’67 whose rights Time-Life easily could have obtained, but didn’t. I’m thinking of “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” or “Groovin'” or even frickin’ “Incense and Peppermints.” Even amongst the tracks that ARE here, why is “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and the Motown stuff buried in the middle of the CD, and why is the only vaguely socially conscious song on the whole set, “Ode to Billy Joe,” bringing up the rear? (Well, I know the answer to that — because it’s such a dirge. How did Murray the K do the transitions from “Ode” to “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” I wonder?
Dw. Dunphy – Those tracks you mentioned were reserved for other Time-Life sets. Guaranteed. AM Gold is making a distinction especially for this year because, there was so much to mine, they could create an entirely separate series for subscribers.
Chris Holmes – I think that sounds about right. Time-Life had an inordinate amount of compilation series aimed at different markets, of which AM Gold was just one. It seems to me that up until at least the mid ’70s, AM Gold tends to highlight the lighter fare. If you don’t mind the awful blue background, there’s an excellent listing of Time-Life comps here.
Cummings – You guys are definitely right about Time-Life’s target marketing with these sets — and I honestly can’t imagine how they all sell. But there is plenty of overlap amongst them — for example, there’s a CD in the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Era” series that’s devoted specifically to the Supremes, who also have numerous songs on the “Classic Rhythm & Blues” and even “Classic Rock” series, as well as “AM Gold.” So it’s not as though the series are mutually exclusive, or that including a song like “San Francisco” on one series would have precluded it being featured here as well. If someone could explain the economics of the anthology business, I would appreciate it — from Time-Life to Rhino to those cheap CDs they sell at the gas station, all of which seem to have no problem procuring the rights to “Happy Together.”
Anyway, I suppose it’s also worth noting that FM radio really started taking off in ’67 — it attracted more listeners than AM by 1970 — and so this volume of AM Gold marks the place where pop music on the AM dial became even more dominated by adult-oriented songs and acts as the kids began switching over to the FM band.
(Spotify users, you can subscribe to our Best of AM Gold playlist, which is updated regularly.)
#1: The 5th Dimension, “Up, Up and Away” – #7 U.S., #18 Canada; the group’s first Top 10 single and second Top 20.
Jon Cummings – The Fifth Dimension are starring in a new series on IFC, “The Whitest Black Kids You Know.” 1967 was the year of “Respect,” it was the year of “Soul Man,” it was the year Otis blew up at Monterey (and then crashed in Madison) — and we begin with a hit by an all-black act that is throroughly soul-free. Sigh … I knew that Jimmy Webb wrote this song — but what I didn’t know is that the record was co-produced by Johnny Rivers, who had made the Fifth Dimension the first big signing to his new Soul City label. Of course, that only enriches the irony of this song’s soullessness, considering that Rivers spent ’67 enriching himself as a barely-more-credible ’60s equivalent of Pat Boone, with top-10, white-boy versions of “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” and “Tracks of My Tears.”
Dunphy – I’ve always enjoyed the 5th Dimension’s rather pale version of soul (sole?) and even though this track sounds like it could have been several TV theme songs, there is something so bland, innocuous but pleasant about it that I have a hard time being mad at it. It would be like kicking Santa in the gift sack even though it wasn’t his fault that you didn’t get the slotcar racing set.
David Medsker – All my life, I had no idea the Fifth Dimension were black.
Cummings – Well, exactly. It’s OK, David … all is forgiven … you don’t have to be a star to be in our show…
Tony Redman – I hated that the 5th Dimension took Superman’s catchphrase and turned it into this bland, gooey song (although it’s probably the kind of music that Superman would have listened to at the time).
Cummings – Superman would NOT have listened to the Fifth Dimension. Remember, only in his guise as Clark Kent was he a nerd. As for what music Supe DID listen to when he retreated to his Bedroom of Solitude and put the headphones on … of course there’s a whole newsgroup forum devoted to the subject. I like the idea that he listened to Metallica. But if we’re talking about the late ’60s … Hendrix? Vanilla Fudge? Moby Grape?
Redman – For what it’s worth, somebody in that forum did mention that Supes sang “Up Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon” in an old Starman comic, so I guess we’re BOTH right!
David Lifton – A pretty astonishing piece of music with all of those dynamic shifts in only two-and-a-half minutes and a brilliant vocal arrangement, but the lyric makes me want to throttle Jimmy Webb.
And I can’t hear anything by the 5th Dimension without getting flashbacks of when Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. were hosts of Solid Gold. But hey, they’re still seemingly happily married after over 40 years of marriage, so more power to them.
#2: The Turtles, “Happy Together” – #1 U.S., #12 U.K.; this song knocked “Penny Lane” out of the top spot in America and stayed there for three weeks.
Cummings – This song is miles above any of our meager attempts to critique it. It is a rare song that has descended into cliche via overuse, yet retained every ounce of its charm. Is there anyone out there who’s ever been unhappy to hear “Happy Together” when it came on? (Apart from Flo and Eddie, of course, who have been forced to live with it every night of their lives ever since.) The story of how Flo and Eddie were so pissed off by record-company demands to replicate “Happy Together” that they wrote the imbecilic (yet still wonderful) “Elenore” is one of the great stories in pop-music history.
Dunphy – I don’t want the repetition, the overplayed status, the fact that it was essentially the theme for Ernest Goes To Camp to spoil this song, but it does. It does.
Redman – I remember reading an interview with either Howard Kaylan or Rick Volman about how misunderstood this song is. It’s actually a very sad song. The singer is obsessed with somebody, but can’t tell her. (“Imagine me and you. I do.”) Knowing that mindset, if you strip the music away and just read the lyrics, you’ll find that it’s just a perkier version of “Every Breath You Take.”
Dunphy – I like “Eleanore” better than “Happy Together,” and knowing that it was recorded to get the label monkey off their backs explains the “You’re my pride and joy, etc.” line quite a bit.
“We have to find something to replace the etc. in the work lyrics before we record this thing.”
“Really? I just got a call from the label. They want to know how ‘Happy 2Gether’ is coming along, so screw ’em! Etc. stays in!”
Cummings – The “et cetera” wasn’t a work lyric — it was an intentional move. “You want us to stifle our creativity and give you ‘Happy 2gether?’ (nice, by the way, Dw.!) Well, here, we’ll give you a chipper melody and the most inane lyric ever!”
Lifton – I can never hear this song without thinking of this.
#3: The Monkees, “Daydream Believer” – #1 U.S., #5 U.K.; the Monkees’ third American chart-topper.
Cummings – Following up on my comments at the top of this column, it’s a shame that the Monkees song chosen for this edition wasn’t the more socially relevant “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Still, “Daydream Believer” is irresistible, even if its forever accompanied in the memory by that hippie-dippy dance Davy does in the video. The song was written by John Stewart, whose gruff voice I would never want to hear singing it. Dammit!
Lifton – I’ll see your John Stewart and raise you Paul Westerberg.
Dunphy – I like this song but I can’t take it seriously. Both this and “I’m a Believer” are such a part of my childhood that when I was in high school, and suddenly the Monkees were back and they were being shoved in my face, I recoiled with aversion. All I can see is Davy Jones with that stupid grin and that asinine rubber-legs dance of his to make his bell-bottom cuffs shake, and it makes me want to hit several somethings.
Redman – Wow, no love for the Davy dance? Is it any cooler when Axl Rose does it?
Cummings – If Davy would sing “Paradise City,” I’d put up with the dance.
Dunphy – I wouldn’t. That boy has a demon in him and those legs have gotta go.
Cummings – Just goes to show, there are no original ideas anymore … either in terms of Axl imitating Davy, or us thinking we’ve hit on something new by noticing it …
Dunphy – Two words: coke seizures.
Holmes – These are all good-to-excellent songs, but the only one I can listen to on a regular basis is “Dedicated.” I just could never learn to appreciate the Monkees other than from a distance. Every time I hear one of their songs I can’t but wonder how much better they would be if the Beatles did them.
Dunphy – I will say this — Mickey Dolenz is a heck of a singer and I always wondered what he would have done with a really risky solo venture. That won’t ever happen.
But Jones…gah, there’s just something about him that irks me to no end. He’s like Austin Powers without the whimsy.
Redman – I agree with you there, Dw. I’ve mentioned before that when Dolenz sang more rock/blues type material that his voice reminded me a lot of Grace Slick.
Cummings – Maybe it was Dolenz singing “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”?
#4: The Mamas & the Papas, “Dedicated to the One I Love” – #2 U.S. and U.K.; originally released by The “5” Royales and covered by the Shirelles in 1961 (which hit #3).
Cummings – Before you guys launch back into your “how evil is John Philips?” shtick, can we pause for a sec to acknowledge how friggin’ AWESOME this single is? I always forget in between listenings, for some reason — maybe because I think of it as the Shirelles’ song, and think about how much I hate “Creeque Alley” and “Words of Love,” which surround this song on the Mamas & Papas comp I listen to the most. But their version of “Dedicated” is a pure distillation of folk-rock, circa ’67 — taking an already-appreciated song and turning it into a standard, with those soaring harmonies reminding the listener of the Weavers while the calliope-style keyboards plant the single firmly in its time and place. BTW, the most popular YouTube clip of this single includes footage of a lip-synched performance (from Ed Sullivan, probably) that starts on a tight shot of Michelle as she sings the opening lines — which must have left 20 million viewers wondering, “How can so much echo emerge from that waif-like body?”
Dunphy – John Phillips can kiss my live, white fat ass. Scarily, he might have.
Okay, cheap shot. The harmonies are great, Mama Cass rules the roost, yeah, yeah. I still have difficulties going on.
Redman – The Shirelles’ version of this song is great, but the harmonies in this version make it even better. The Mamas and Papas’ songs always had this cool stereo separation in them, with most of the lead vocals on one side and the music and backup vocals on the other. You could do karaoke with them before people even know what karaoke was!
Lifton – I can’t believe that, in all of our discussions about John Phillips and all the atrocities he may or may not have committed, we have never mentioned that stupid hat he always wore.
#5: The Young Rascals, “How Can I Be Sure” – #4 U.S.; the group’s fourth Top 10 in the U.S., and covered in 1972 by David Cassidy (who reached #1 in the U.K.).
Cummings – “How can I be sure / In a world that’s constantly changing…” Actually, dudes, this song sounds like the world hasn’t changed much at all since the early ’50s, with all that accordion and strings and whatnot. Allow me to repeat myself: Why would the Time-Life exec-producers choose not to put the #1 single “Groovin'” on this anthology — a song that, while itself something of a trifle, at least reflects far better the lingo (and therefore the youth culture) of its time — but instead include this song that could have been released in ’62 or ’57 or ’52? I don’t get it.
Dunphy – Jeez, I thought this was Little Anthony.
Redman – The most annoying backup vocals: when they go “WHOH-oh-oh-oh-OH,oh-oh-oh-OH, oh-oh-oh-OH.” They sound like they spent too much time on that carnival ride that spins you around until you want to puke.
Lifton – I’ll go against the grain and praise it. I love the chromatic descending bassline and how it flows into that section where the melody settles a little more comfortably into the waltz tempo. And I guess this is my own suburban New York upbringing talking, but I also love the, for lack of a better word, Italianness of it – especially in the accordion and Eddie Brigati’s vocal. I don’t often use music as a nostalgia exercise, but when I hear this I envision myself in my favorite pizza parlor in my hometown.