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.
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.
Dad recently had a long-overdue clear out of his double garage, which isn’t where he keeps the car, as there is no room. He had threatened for years to offload his vinyl collection on my and my brother, and this year he finally did it.
It’s not a huge collection of records, but there’s some good stuff in there. There’s also some terrible stuff in there, which I’m going to leave in the box.
There have been some disagreements with my brother about who gets what, but mostly our tastes differ enough that things haven’t got nasty. He was adamant that he was having the ‘Strawberry fields/Penny lane’ single, and ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP. This leaves me with all the rest of the Beatles stuff. Including this one:
‘Ticket to Ride’ by The Beatles 7″ single
I don’t own much Beatles stuff (White album, Revolver. That’s it.) so I’ve not really heard much of their stuff, not since my 70’s childhood when they were on the radio all the time, or so it seemed. I’ve certainly not really listened to the songs, not properly.
This one comes bursting out of the speakers, sounding not unlike a less weird ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ with a better melody, and some great harmonies.
Someone once said that the secret of The Beatles’ best songs was that something happens every 5 seconds or so, either a harmony, a guitar hook, a drum fill, a standout lyric or even another section to the song*. It goes something like this:
Rickenbacker jangle – burst of drums – singing starts almost straight away – harmonies come on second line – harmonies move up a notch on 3rd line – chorus comes in – last line of chorus harmonies move up a notch – etc etc** . The ideas never stop, and your ears aren’t given any time to get bored as there’s a new thing along in a few seconds. Ok, it helps that the melodies were pretty good.
Copyright reasons (I’m guessing) mean that the YouTube videos are blocked or taken down, so this is the best I could find. But you know how this goes anyway, don’t you?
* In this case the “I don’t know why she’s riding so high..” bit, that’s not only different from the verse and the chorus, but has a wildly different drum rhythm. I’d say it was the middle eight, except they play it twice.
**I was going to go through the track and list everything – with timings – but that would be almost as tedious to read as it would be for me to do, and turntables don’t have pause buttons… so I didn’t.
Retro is usually bad news. Retro is the sound of top 40 radio hits ‘in a Motown style’. Retro is the sound of Paul Weller, for god’s sake don’t start me on Paul Weller…
The Soundcarriers are retro of the other stripe, closer to the ethos of Toe Rag studio’s refusal to use post-60’s gear, Bernard Butler’s refusal to use synths (including Hammond organs) or closer maybe to The La’s insistence that the 60’s mixer have 60’s dust on it. Possibly not as mad as that last one, though.
'Harmonium' by The Soundcarreirs
Their press-release mentions people like David Axlerod, symphonic psychedelic types from the 60’s. Which I can hear in the music, but it doesn’t sound all that American to my ears. I’d place it more with The Zombies and all those English bands caught on the cusp of beat-group and something a bit more out there. Man. You know the kind: the arrangement is slightly over the top, too much for what gear they have, the singer(s) are slightly out of tune and they can’t afford to do another take, it’s being mixed in real-time and the engineer is struggling to keep it all together…
The first thing that will strike you about this record is how damned dirty it sounds. It is filthy. They claim that everything went through valves and otherwise analogue signal paths, and I have no reason to doubt them: everything has a warm hazy sound like some 60’s vinyl album you found of your Dad’s, everything has that old compression sound that they probably nicked from Joe Meek records.
The second thing you’ll notice, is how young they are. I’d guess late 20s, early 30s. This makes sense, anyone who was any good in the 60s who still makes records, makes records using Protools or whatever, a pristine graveyard of vibe and feel, probably with nasty digital synths on it, and slap bass. I’d guess that a lot of kids growing up in the 80s listened to Rick Astley and Bros, and wondered why the vinyl they played out of their parent’s collections sounded so much more… alive. And I’m guessing that The Soundcarriers were those kids.
Listen to: Caught By The Sun or Time Will Come from the album ‘Harmonium’