Tuesday, May 29, 2007

“Groovy Kind of Love” / The Mindbenders


When I first heard Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders’ 1965 hit “Game of Love,” I thought they were Americans -- that name, Wayne Fontana, had such a New Jersey ring to it, and then there was the song’s doo-wop chorus, with its unforgettable low bass – “Love / [love] / Love / [love] / La-la-la-la-la-love”. But they were, in fact, from Manchester, England, and once Fontana split to launch a solo career, the remaining Mindbenders came into their own as a British band. Guitarist Eric Stewart was promoted to lead vocals, and he was no slouch either (he’d later form 10cc with Graham Gouldman). With cruel irony, in early 1966 the Mindbenders promptly scored a #2 hit on both sides of the Atlantic with “Groovy Kind of Love,” bigger than anything Fontana would do on his own.

Like a lot of British Beat material, this song was first recorded by an American girl group, in this case Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells. It was written by a very young pair of American songwriters, Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager, specifically trying to riff on the new slang word “groovy,” putting their lyrics to a melody stolen – or at least loosely borrowed – from a Clementi sonatina in G major. (I played that one for my piano lessons; you’d hardly recognize the theme once the Mindbenders were done with it.)

We were already moving into psychedelia by this point; the lazy shuffling rhythm of “Groovy Kind of Love” definitely sounds narcotized. (Quite different from LaBelle’s heart-flinging rendition.) The lyrics meander like stream of consciousness, or stoned babbling, with a woozy solipsistic logic: “When I'm feeling blue / All I have to do is / Take a look at you / Then I'm not so blue.” Well, duh. Or this verse: “Any time you want to / You can turn me on to / Anything you want to / Any time at all.” But given Stewart’s vague, sweet delivery (not to mention the coded association of the phrase “turn me on”), it works surprisingly well. Other patches of the lyrics pull you suddenly into physical close-ups: “When you're close to me / I can feel your heartbeat / I can hear you breathing in my ear,” or “When I kiss your lips / Ooh, I start to shiver / Can't control the quivering inside,” a carnal immediacy that's unsettlingly sexy. But everything is wound up happily at the end of every verse: “Wouldn't you agree / Baby you and me / Got a groovy kind of love / [Groovy kind of love] / We got a groovy kind of love / [Groovy kind of love].” That falsetto back-up echo, that’s the crowning touch; it’s damn near perfection.

The fuzzy guitar intro (nothing too fancy, but definitely groovy), repeated in the middle break, steers us in the direction of the new psychedelic sound, helping the Mindbenders at last to live up to their psychotropic name. Still, much about this song is standard Beat stuff – the earnest double-tracked vocals, the soft back-up ooh’s, the sibilant drums, a harmless touch of keyboards. It’s one of those songs that’s almost impossible to dislike, unpretentious and cheery, with a hook to die for. It was a nifty radio-ready hit -- the Mindbenders deserved to chart with it.

In the 80s, Phil Collins desecrated this song with his own hectic, strained rendition. If the Collins version is all you know, shame on you – and check out the Mindbenders’ version NOW.

Groovy Kind of Love sample


G12 said...

I know both versins, I just don't think there's much of a song there. Its like reaching for air - its pretty enough, just not a great song.

Interestingly, on the British Invasion CD your link takes us to - The Walker Brothers appear - I could wear California wasn't in the UK! Lazy compilers or "Well, they play in Britain, who's gonna know?"

Holly A Hughes said...

The liner notes justify the Walker Brothers (I happen to own that compilation) because they recorded that track in the UK. Pretty dodgy, I agree. But "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" is an excellent track; I forgive them.

Reaching for air -- exactly! But at least the Mindbenders didn't try to make it sound momentous, like Phil Collins did. And hearing it over and over again on the radio in 1966, you couldn't help grooving on it.

Julie said...

The Phil Collins version did nothing for me, but I do like this version. I hadn't stopped to consider the lyrics, though. I was happier with it before I had.