I can tell ‘Good Vibrations’ has been played a lot, it pops and clicks all the way through – although there are no scratches, and it never jumps – and the paper sleeve is in a bit of a state.
This is one of the singles i think I heard being played when I was a kid, but I’m not sure*. It certainly wasn’t played as much as ‘Hotel California’ or ‘American Pie’, but nothing was (until mum’s Barbara Streisand phase in the early 1980s).
The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”
For such an upbeat track, ‘Good Vibrations’ has an unexpected air of melancholy. It starts in a minor key ‘I… love the colourful clothes she wears…‘, and quickly moves to major chords, but even during those ecstatic stacked harmonies – good! Good! GOOD! – it seems somehow sad, like the minor chords have stained the positivity, uncertainty spilling out over the three and a half minutes.
The song almost seems like instant nostalgia, knowing that this perfect summer, this perfect girl, this happiness, is fleeting. Is the ‘she’ of the song even real?
*I suppose I could just phone him and ask, but that takes all the fun out of it.
This was one item in Dad’s vinyl collection I was determined that I, and not my brother, would take possession of.
The main reason was ‘Paint it, black’ which I remembered was on there, which is a fantastic tune. Plus you can’t go wrong with punctuation in rock song titles*
I’d forgotten what else was on it. That was a bit silly.
(I can’t get no) Satisfaction is on there, one of the greatest singles ever according to Rolling Stone (only beaten to #1 by Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’). I hadn’t owned any Stones until this vinyl, so actually hearing this song properly, at a decent (ie, slightly excessive) volume was an exhilarating experience.
There are a few tracks I don’t love – ‘Come On’ is merely ok, ‘Have you seen your mother…’ is a bit of a mess, Lady Jane is a bit embarrassing.
On the other hand, ‘Get off of my cloud’ and ’19th Nervous Breakdown’ are stonking great songs, it’s amazing how much vitality is contained within these grooves, even though guitars are out of tune, the mixes are unbalanced, and things are distorted. This stuff is alive!
The track listing:
Have you seen your mother, baby, standing in the shadow?
Paint it, black
It’s all over now
The last time
Heart of stone
Not fade away
(I can’t get no) Satisfaction
Get off of my cloud
As tears go by
19th nervous breakdown
Time is on my side
Little red rooster
*See also The Cardigans’ “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer”
Some 60’s records get played over and over again, like ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ (you know the sort of record), and others just seem to have disappeared. I hadn’t even heard of this song until The Damned released their version in 1986, and got to #3 in the charts, and I’ve not heard it since.
‘Eloise’ by Barry Ryan
This is a properly mad record.
Barry’s singing starts off mildly frantic and breathlessly over-enunciated, and 5 minutes later he’s sounding like a man with his extremities on fire and a gun to his head. The music is similarly ridiculous, arranged to within an inch of its life, with parping horn sections, angelic choirs, two drummers (one in each ear) and ending with a climax balancing on top of another, larger climax, balanced on a pyramid made of loud bits.
I’m not a Who fan, I’ve heard loads of songs over the years (Mostly ‘Substitute’ and ‘My Generation’, over and over) so while I’ve heard loads, I’ve not really listened. Dad must have been quite a Who fan back then, the boxes of vinyl he dropped off a few months back has quite a few 60’s Who singles.
He must have played this one a lot, as it sounds terrible – even after a good clean – a record played almost to death. Even though it’s a bit tinny and distorted, this rocks. It rocks in a propulsive, chaotic – that’s not just Keith Moon, either, it’s all of them – even punk-ish way. Christ knows what this sounded like back in 1967.
It’s good to know that at some point in the distant past, my Dad – who hasn’t listened to anything more challenging than Don Henley for the past decade – once listened to music this raucous.
Note: It is the mono version I’ve been listening to. The YouTube version is stereo, and that sounds a bit sterile in comparison. I’ve included both, see what you think.
Going through Dad’s old singles, I’m surprised at how much R&B there is. These days it seems he mostly listens to Don Henley. Back then – his late teens, early twenties – there was a fair bit of soul: some Marvin, Pickett, Smokey, Supremes, and a couple of singles by The Isley Brothers.
This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) – The Isley Brothers
The Isley brothers may not one of the first bands you think of when you think of Soul/R&B , but they’ve been having hits since the 1950’s, and are amazingly still going (although they are now down to just 2 members, the others lost to death, illness or religion).
This was their second big hit, from the brief time they were signed to Tamla and had Lamont and Dozier writing, and the Funk Brothers playing. A lot of Motown and Tamla singles from this time sound similar, not surprising when they were written and played – and often produced – by the same few people. The real character of the piece comes from the singer, in this case Ronald Isley, and what a singer he is. His voice is silky smooth, but not too smooth, there’s a bit of grit in there too.
A few hit-free years after this, they left Motown to (re)start their own label and had a big hit with ‘It’s your thing‘, which is ridiculously funky, and which went on to sell a million copies, which singles could do back in those days.
They did things differently back in the 60’s, things no sane person would even attempt these days. A six-minute four-section orchestral song sung by a man who can’t sing, with a central metaphor comparing a lost love to a cake? Yeah, why not.
Dad would have been about 20 when this came out, and it’s hard to imagine a 20-year-old buying something like this today. I’ve no idea what today’s equivalent would even sound like.
MacArthur Park by Richard Harris
The song was written by Jimmy Webb, probably better known for ‘Wichita Lineman’, another song with an unlikely metaphor at the centre. Although the cake references seem a bit odd, he claims it all represents actual things – “Those lyrics were all very real to me: there was nothing psychedelic about it.” he told the Los Angeles Times.
I’ll be honest with you, Richard Harris wouldn’t have been my first choice of singer. He sings like the worst kind of hammy singing actor* You could argue that at least you can understand everything he sings, he carefully enunciates every syllable, although the notes waver as if sung by a timid lamb perched on a tumble drier. But he gives it his all, even if he can’t quite get the high notes.
It was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and was a big hit when Donna summer covered it a decade later, with a disco version that was even longer.
Yet, it’s frequently cited as one of the worst songs ever written. I think that’s a bit harsh. It’s a bit overblown, and to my jaded cynical 21st century ears, a bit silly. But it is all tackled sincerely by all involved, and it beautifully arranged (although the ‘groovy’ uptempo section I could live without) and the melody is great. You just can’t help but be impressed.
There was a rather dubious idea going around a few years back: ‘Guilty pleasures’, those records that you like but don’t feel you could admit to in polite (or cool) company. This is one: ‘Never let her slip away’ by Andrew Gold, and I think it’s bloody marvelous. So there.
‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ by Andrew Gold
I’m not sure if there is something wrong about having a proper tune, or merely that the pop music of the 70’s is somehow embarrassing. Fair enough, there was some absolute dross released in that decade, but there is dross in every decade. I lived through the 80’s, and I’m still in therapy for that accidental slap-bass overdose I suffered in 1983.
I don’t remember Dad playing this at the time (I would have just turned 7) but then I don’t recall Mum singing ‘Summertime’ to me as a baby, and I grew up to love that song. Who knows what lies buried in the subconscious for that day in your mid-forties, when Dad drops off three large boxes of vinyl?
This has a tune, a proper melody, like proper songwriters write: it snakes about, it gently soars, it changes key (slightly*), and importantly it is a love song with lyrics that don’t make you want to be sick.
I think one of the reasons it works is that it’s not addressed to the object of his affection, which is usually a recipe for disaster (and nausea) – “I talked to my baby on the telephone long-distance, I never would have guessed I could miss someone so bad” – he sings, wistfully, over major-seventh chords. And I’m a big fan of wistful, and major-seventh chords. He continues – “I’m a little bit dizzy, I’m a little bit scared, I never felt this much aware, that I love her..” – and I’m reliably informed that love is in fact a bit like that.
When I first put this single on my nearly-new record deck, my memory told me to expect some electric piano. I thought there was a law that all singer-songwriters had to play electric piano in the 70’s, but it seems I was wrong.
This starts with a lovely crunchy drum machine shuffle rhythm – ahead of its time in a way – and then instead of the Fender Rhodes I was expecting, I get warm polyphonic synthesizers (an Oberheim or a Prophet 5, maybe?) playing the chords and the bass line. The record is warm and open sounding**. Lovely. He’s not trying to be cool, or edgy or any of that crap.
This is a feel-good record.
What better reason to listen to music, ’cause it’s good for you, and it would really make you happy?
*Ok, technically a modulation but you didn’t come here for lessons in music theory , did you?
**We get some great backing vocals as the song develops – fantastic doo-wop style falsetto on the second chorus – which are alleged to be by Freddie Mercury, although other sites contradict Wikipedia by claiming it is Timothy Schmidt and JD Souther.***
***Queen were one of the first bands I got into, I know some of the early stuff inside-out, and I know Freddie would have easily sung these complex multi-part harmonies, and he was a friend of Andrew Gold, but the voices just don’t sound like him. Unless he was deliberately trying to not sound like himself. Oh, I don’t know.