Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Baby, Now That I've Found You" / The Foundations

I've had it up to HERE with my slow computer and its small hard drive -- I finally ordered a new one, which should be arriving next week. Once it comes, I promise I'll begin to post mp3s so you can all listen properly to the songs I write about. But if you're of a certain age, I'm betting you know this song already.

A few nights ago, this came on the sound system at an Italian restaurant we were eating at in our neighborhood, and it triggered an immediate, visceral response in me. I can remember singing this song at the top of my lungs when I was an adolescent, madly in love with some gangly boy or other (the name Bruce Jordan rings a bell). It came out in the fall of 1967, and I'll bet I assumed it was a Motown song: It certainly had all the earmarks -- the handclaps, the horn section, the passionate r&b lead vocals.

In fact, however, this was a British band, though it wasn't a bunch of white English boys pretending to be soul singers. No, the Foundations were Britian's first multiethnic group, with West Indians and even a Sri Lankan joining the English musicians in the band. (And here I thought all that had started in the early 80s with the English Beat). Their better-known song is probably "Build Me Up, Buttercup," but that one sounds definitely more pop and less soul. By the time they recorded that (1968) the original vocalist, Trinidadian Clem Curtis, had left and was replaced by a chap from Barbados, Colin Young. Ain't the British Empire grand?

In this earlier single, though, the sound is still pure soul, and I love it to death. The conceit is simple: a guy has found a girl and intends to hang onto her, even though his prospects are dicey. As a female listener, I responded intensely to the idea that a guy was willing to expend energy to keep a relationship together -- how refreshing!

The structure of this song is radical: It starts out with a chorus, and spins back around to that chorus over and over, with a kind of emphatic persistence that's perfect for the song's theme. "Baby," Curtis begins, leaning lovingly into that long sustained vowel sound, "now that I've found you I can't let you go / I'll build my world around you." Oh, ladies, this is music to our ears. A man expressing naked need? It must be a soul record. He shifts from those long statements into short urgent messages -- "I need you so / Baby, even though /You don't need me / You don't need me." Ah, there's the killer. He has to repeat it, as if he can't believe it. This chick has this guy wrapped around her finger, and she doesn't even appreciate it! This triggers what I like to think of as the Offstage Response -- we the listeners are dying to butt in, to divert this guy's devotion to our own service.

We move to a single verse, classic call and response, for the explication, as the singer describes how he first fell in love and the back-up guys underscore his persistence. Melodically, however, the sweet spot of this song is the bridge, when Curtis chromatically croons: "Spent a lifetime looking for somebody / To give me love like you." The key shifts in to minor as he regretfully adds, "Now you've told me that you wanna leave me," only to burst out willfully, "Darling, I just / Can't let you!" and swings into those exuberant chorus again -- twice, before he reiterates that bridge and then hammers away with the chorus again. It's as if saying it will make it so. Baby I need you Baby I need you Baby I need you!

Fellas, let me tell you, we women are sick and tired of doing all the heavy lifting. What we really want is to find a guy who'll cling to us like a bur, who's made an intelligent choice and chooses ME. This is intoxicating. All the brakes are off, passion is rocketing into the sky, and the man is the one expressing lifelong devotion. Of course it's a pop song; of course it's just hormones making him think this is a now-and-forever kind of love. Do I care? No; I want to believe that he is true. I didn't attach this song to the particular singer (did I even know who Clem Curtis was when this song came out?), but I adopted this song's ferocity and made it my own. Singing along in the back of a car, I could split into two: I was the singer, and I was the one the song was being sung to. It's two and a half minutes of raw romantic lust, with horns, and I defy you to resist its infectious charm.

Baby, Now That I've Found You sample


Clutch Cargo said...

That's one that I somehow overlooked when it was on the charts. I suppose there was such wonderful music challenging it at that time that it somehow slipped by me and into the cracks. But I recently heard a wonderful version by Alison Kraus which made me finally realize just how powerful a song it actually is. You're on a roll, Holly!
Clutch Crashcup Banister

wwolfe said...

It must have been fun for the songwriters when they hit upon this melody. They must have known it was a hit - that's just an unstoppable tune.

Holly A Hughes said...

Crash, I just checked out the Alison Krauss version -- you're right, it is tasty. She gives it a whole new spin. (A great example of a gender switch making something a whole new song.)

Yeah, they must have known they had a winner when this came together. Of course, songwriters have been led astray by such a feeling before!