Just to clear up any possible confusion about this week’s look at AM Gold: 1972. The man you hear singing “Nice to Be With You” is in fact not Neil Diamond, but Gallery lead singer/songwriter Jim Gold. Clear? OK, let’s continue.
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#6: The 5th Dimension, “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” – #8 U.S.
Jack Feerick – I’m suffering some serious 5D fatigue here; I think I’ve run out of interesting things to say about them, except that they do get better as they go along. And that truly, the 70s were the golden age of the parenthetical song subtitle.
David Lifton – This isn’t as strong as the last few 5D songs we’ve discussed. There’s something stilted about it, both in the arrangement and Marilyn’s delivery.
By the way, check out their Wikipedia page to see how many people they’ve brought in over the years to replace Marilyn and Billy (but mostly Marilyn). It’s like Spinal Tap drummers, although you have to wonder who’s the obsessive fan that has chronicled how many times Joyce Wright Pearce has been in the band.
Jon Cummings – The title line here is so memorable, such an earworm, that between listenings it’s easy to forget the rest of the song is such a flaccid, incoherent undertaking. I spent this entire listen thinking, Couldn’t they have found anything better for Marilyn to wrap those pipes around?
Dw. Dunphy – I see I’m going to need to buy a 5D collection soon. Almost every track we’ve discussed by them has made me feel pretty good. This is no exception, and not just because I have chronic insomnia. If you’re coming to the 5D looking for life-changing lyrics, you’ve already made your fatal mistake. This group is all about pretty-sounding pop, and “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” accomplishes that handily. Again, Marilyn McCoo is a great and under-appreciated singer who isn’t really working too hard on this track. Then again, she doesn’t really have to. This isn’t a meaty soul ballad such as Aretha or Gladys Knight would do, and to expect that is to forget that the Fifth Dimension never was that kind of outfit.
#7: Gallery, “Nice to Be With You” – #4 U.S.
Feerick – Nice is such a feeble word; but before it meant ”pleasant,” it meant ”precise or accurate.” This song could have used a little more precision — a single pungent, earthy image. Instead it’s all vagueries and generalities, making for a strangely lukewarm love song.
Dunphy – The song that launched a thousand K-Tel collections, and only recently did I learn it was not, in fact, Neil Diamond.
Lifton – Throughout this series I’ve often tried to find a modern equivalent, mainly as a way of saying, “See, pop music of a bygone era wasn’t necessarily better than today’s crap.” The equivalent to this is James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” It’s a song that dumb, unimaginative guys can play for their dumb, unimaginative girlfriends when they want to go laid.
Cummings – Another great chorus hook with nothing to stand upon — which is why the song works so much better as a four-second snippet in the middle of a TV-compilation advert (which is where I first heard it). In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if folks like the compilers of TV-pitched series like “AM Gold,” when in the midst of track selection, sometimes consider songs based solely on the sellability of that snippet.
David Medsker – So, this isn’t Neil Diamond?
Cummings – Christ, give Neil some credit! In ’72 he was on the tour that would result in the Hot August Night album, and his big hit that year was … “Song Sung Blue.” Dammit, I hate when I undercut my own arguments with stupid facts! Still, at least “Song Sung Blue” made a nice lullaby … and “Play Me,” which is a pretty sophisticated single, came out in ’72 as well. In any case, Neil didn’t become as brain-dead as “Nice To Be With You,” on a consistent basis, until after he made The Jazz Singer.
Dunphy – You mean…this?
Cummings – That picture has disturbed me since I was a kid. It’s hard to tell whether he’s newly comatose, and about to fall backward with a thud, or whether he’s merely too stoned to understand why he can’t find his three-foot shlong. (Note to Neil: It’s a tenth that size, and it’s inside your pants…)
#8: Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, “Garden Party” – #6 U.S., #41 U.K.; Nelson’s first Top 20 since 1963.
Feerick – Wait a minute — Yoko brought her walrus? I thought the walrus was Paul! Wasn’t that a clue for us all? Or was “Glass Onion” a false flag operation, and Lennon employing the double bluff? I wouldn’t put it past him. He was a tricksy bastard, always playing the game three steps ahead. But I digress.
I don’t know how to feel about the last verse’s poke at Chuck Berry — where Rick kinda sneers at the old man for trotting out the same old songs and putting on the same old show. Yeah, Chuck was always a crowd-pleaser and (by 1972, anyway) a self-conscious nostalgia act, but the man had bills to pay — and he didn’t have a TV star Dad to negotiate his residuals. It’s all well and good that you’d rather drive a truck, Little Ricky, but some people don’t have the same options you do.
Cummings – Of course, Chuck had a #1 hit at the very same time “Garden Party” was riding the charts. So, if he hadn’t been too busy installing video cameras above the ladies-room toilets at Berry Park, Chuck might have phoned Rick up and asked, “Who’s got the bigger ding-a-ling now, motherfucker?”
Lifton – There was a time I liked this because it was easy-going and talked about Dylan and Lennon. Now it makes me, as Samuel L. Jackson famously said, go the fuck to sleep.
Cummings – “Garden Party” = “Freedom ’90.” It also equals John Fogerty’s entire post-1971 career, which makes it fitting that the man covered it a couple years ago. Mostly, though, I’m with Lifton — once you get past the novelty of the first-person narrative, you’re left with the inevitable sense that “If this molasses-paced country-pop is the best you’ve got, you poor little fool, maybe you should drive a truck.”
Dunphy – Not to get political, but I will. The vibe I get off of this is what I got when Mitt Romney went south, put on jeans, said “y’all” a lot and ate biscuits and cheesy grits. In other words, there is such an intolerable air of posing here that I reject it outright. It was like crooner Rick saw that the Byrds, and Gram Parsons, and so many other acts reinventing the twang, and so he jumped on that train too. His insertions of “Yoko” and “her Walrus,” among others, comes not from disdain of their airs, but seemingly from a bitterness that “the kids” wouldn’t include him. “Yeah, well y’all suck anyways, and I’d rather drive a truck,” says Cowboy Rick in the song.
Let’s get one thing straight. Rick Nelson had several hit songs, was the co-star of a popular sitcom that was a cornerstone of classic television, was a teen idol who attracted lots of attention to himself, and this sort of poo-poohing stinks of sour grapes, not of any cultural criticism of pop culture hypocrisy. Given an unlocked gate, Nelson would gladly have been a part of that garden party, and not just a critic of it.
#9: Lobo, “I’d Love You to Want Me” – #2 U.S., #5 U.K.
Feerick – ”I’d love you … to want … me!“ (sound of a 10,000 screaming Japanese teenyboppers)
Well, no. Interesting mainly for its verse melody, which sounds vaguely like Franco-Belgian chanson, like Jacques Brel — ”Seasons in the Sun,” or somesuch — and the eerie keening background vox.
Lifton – This is for people who thought Gallery was cool but wanted a bit more wordplay.
Cummings – “I’d Love You To Want Me” — “…the way that I’m a-want you.” Oh, sorry — wrong song. Lobo (real name Roland Lavoie, which explains the change to “Lobo”) was in a band in 1962 with Gram Parsons AND Jim Stafford. Wasn’t David Gates available?
Dunphy – “I’d Love You to Want Me”…
…but I lost my bolt and nuts in a thresher.
…but my parole officer won’t let me.
…but I was installing video cameras over the women’s bathroom stalls in Berry Park.
…but Enos has my heart and soul. Oh, Enos!
Gaah. Sherriff Lobo was B.J. and the Bear. Enos was Dukes of Hazzard (and I don’t think I should say out loud that Lobo wants B.J.).
Lifton – Dunphy, you dipstick!
#10: Climax, “Precious and Few” – #3 U.S.
Feerick – Very much a throwback to the likes of the Association. Wants to be swoony, but comes off as insufferably clingy.
”Precious and few are the moments we two can sha-a-are / Since the judge ruled that I must stay at least fifty feet away from yo-o-o-ou…”
Dunphy – This is such a non-song. It’s like the writing process for a song that never got completed, and after a couple pitchers of beer the group (or whatever Climax was) decided, “Why don’t we just repeat the primary idea again and again, do a chord gearshift, a couple slow-downs for dramatic tension, and have our Vegas backup singers close it out? There. Problem solved. Fill up my mug already.”
Medsker – I love me some mellow gold, but even I put “Precious and Few” on the Rex Smith end of the mellow gold spectrum. (Note: not the good end.)
Lifton – Yeah, it borrows everything from “Cherish” while doing just enough to make it not plagiarism. Strange that the lead singer, Sonny Geraci, was also the lead singer of The Outsiders of “Time Won’t Let Me” fame.
But there has to be an official Mellow Gold name for wide-eyed, sensitive guy face Geraci makes in the video. Jason, have you ever come up with one?
Medsker – Here’s the snarky one-liner for “Precious and Few”: if I wanted to listen to a song with the line ‘Can’t find my way back home,’ I’ll listen to ‘Can’t Find My Way Home.'”
Cummings – Sorry, I love this sing. Adore it! I loved it so much as a kid that I still have vivid memories of my attempts to track down a single in the years after it was a hit. (I didn’t start spending my own money on singles til ’75.) I remember countless disappointments as I sifted through the racks of 45s at every record store I encountered, only to find dividers that skipped right past “Climax” on the way to “Climax Blues Band.” Finally I found a copy of “Precious and Few” at a thrift shop somewhere — and while the vinyl was hopelessly shredded, to the point where there was as much fuzz as music emerging from the speakers, I was overjoyed to have it in my possession. And then I went back out and resumed the search for whatever else I was obsessing over at the time. (Most likely “Who Do You Think You Are,” which, as I have written before, was my childhood holy grail.)