Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The 100 Best Singles In My Head
Nos. 56-60

For better or worse, my musical tastes were born out of the British Invasion, so it's no surprise I'm hitting a run of mid-60s English rock in the heart of my list -- and no surprise that I've already written about so many of today's songs. Some of these bands belong to that elite group of artists who've nabbed more than one spot on my list (guess which); others are more in the category of one-hit wonders, but as my write-ups explain, don't dismiss them so quickly.

[Click on the highlighted links to read my earlier posts on those songs]

56. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" / The Animals (1965)
The last great Animals single to be recorded with Alan Price on organ -- and oh, it's a sizzler.

57. "Sunshine Superman" / Donovan (1966)
So many great Donovan tracks, it was hard to choose just one. (I'm prepared now for the onslaught of comments telling me which Donovan tracks you thought were better.) But in the end I had to go for "Sunshine Superman" because it encompasses everything we loved him for -- folkie innocence, hippie psychedelia, and a nifty world music groove.

58. "Time of the Season" / The Zombies (1969)

Thank goodness I've got links for the rest of today's songs -- that leaves me plenty of room to write about this song. As many of you know, I go weak in the knees whenever I think about the Zombies. They weren't around very long -- in fact they broke up a full year before this single was released. Fun facts to know and tell: Wikipedia tells me that it was rock & roll zelig Al Kooper, who'd recently become an A&R exec at Columbia Records, that pushed to lift this track from their 1968 farewell album Odessey and Oracle and put it out as a 45. How cruelly ironic, then, that it turned out to be their best-selling single ever, at least in the U.S. (The Zombies were one British Invasion band that didn't really catch on over here, though I can say I was a Zombies fan from the get-go.)
Talk about the Spookiness Quotient -- this song is simply drenched with it. Some songs just deserve to be heard in the dark, late at night, and this is one of them. That mysterously tip-toeing bass line, the descending triplet on the organ, strange little percussion accents like bumps in the night -- dig that one repeated tic, a lightning-swift combo of block clap, cymbal, and gasp (sounds like somebody's being whipped down in the dungeon). Above all, it's Colin Blunstone's other-worldly voice, doubled and echoed until it sounds like it's coming from some parallel dimension. And on the second verse, all those overlapping voices, falsettos and booming baritones, coming out of the woodwork like a spirits at a seance: "What's your name? (What's your name?) / Who's your daddy? (Who's your daddy?)/ (HE RICH) Is he rich like me-ee? / Has he taken (Has he taken) / any time (any time) / (TO SHOW) To show you what you need to live?" It's like an allusive, coded conversation, something heard through a wall maybe; we have no idea what they're talking about. In the bridge, the imaginary voices take the lead: "(Tell it to me slowly!) / Tell you what?/ (I really want to know). . . " Then they all chime in together in thick clotted sacral harmonies for the refrain: "It's the time / For the see-ea-son for loving," ending on a VERY disturbing chord. After which, off goes Rod Argent's lunatic, inspired organ solo -- I've got to think that Al Kooper was grooving on that. The baroque textures of this song tap into so many dark psychological states -- it makes me think of time travel, of drug trips, of haunted houses, of black magic, of kinky sex, of mad wives locked in the attic, of evil clowns and malevolent ventriloquist's dummies coming to life. You know, like The Twilight Zone on acid, with a script by Ray Bradbury, directed by David Lynch, starring Jeremy Irons and Amanda Plummer. Gothic and stylish, a pure class act.

"Concrete and Clay" / Unit 4 + 2 (1966)
Ah, just listen to that cowbell intro. A fluky hit, catapulted from obscurity by pirate radio stations (raise your hand if you saw the film Pirate Radio, a.k.a. The Boat That Rocked), this irresistible little swinger was best listened to on a transistor radio snuggled underneath your pillow. Few songs transport me back as totally as this one does.

60. "A World Without Love" / Peter & Gordon (1964)
The fact that this song was written by Paul McCartney is one-hundred-percent beside the point. I adored Peter Asher, and the heavenly harmonies on this record were pop perfection.


Bob in CT said...

"Concrete and Clay", what a great choice. It was a semi-hit here but seemingly quickly forgotten, though not by me. I love the rare times when I hear this song on the radio, as I loved hearing it in 1966.

"Time Of The Season" is one of the winners off the superb and underrated Odessey and Oracle album, filled with Zombies magic.

Donovan, Peter & Gordon and The Animals, all part of that incredible era. I'd put my money on the Animals having multiple entries on your Top 100 since they released a number of killer 45s.

Holly A Hughes said...

You just may be right about the Animals. . . ::)

Ask someone if they've ever heard a song by Unit 4 + 2, they'll probably say no. Ask if they've ever heard a song called "Concrete and Clay," they'll say no. But the minute they hear that intro, they'll cry out, "This song?? I LOVE THIS SONG!!"

Deborah said...

Please...don't let me be misunderstood, but the Animals were never one of my faves. Don't know why, but I'm sure it would come out in therapy. :-)
Same here for Concrete and Clay, I'm always glad to hear it!!
Love the rest!!!

Holly A Hughes said...

Doesn't like the ANIMALS? *shakes head in disbelief* I see. I see. Lie down on my couch, please, so we can discuss this further.. . . We may need to try hypnosis!

hot stix said...

LOVE 'Concrete and Clay'!!! I had forgotten about it till I watched 'Rushmore'...hey, Peter and Gordon are on that soundtrack too!

p.s. Be sure to tell me how you liked 'Smashing Time' when you see it...

hot stix said...

AAhhh snap! I meant Chad and Jeremy, not Peter and Gordon...mixing my duos up..sheesh!

Alex said...

Best "Time of the Season" description ever!

(And loving the rest of the countdown, too).

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, Alex! I gotta say, it's an inspiring track to write about.

And hotstix, I have to admit, I mix up those two duos all the time too. Love 'em both, but there ARE similarities . . .

sman said...

Nice connection between #s 58 and 59: Unit 4 + 2 had Russ Ballard and Bob Henrit as two of its members, both of whom later played in Argent.

Holly A Hughes said...

And let's connect #56 as well -- Jim Rodford, Rod Argent's cousin who was the bassist in Argent (and later also in the Kinks), played in a later incarnation of the Animals.

Mary said...

'Concrete and Clay' is just one of many songs of the Sixties that would never have made it without offshore radio airplay.

It was a big hit in the Radio London Fab Forty and if you follow the link below, I've written a feature about the song and the band.


Mary Payne
Radio London Webmaster

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow, thanks for that link, Mary. Such an excellent project! (Check it out, guys!) I've added your stream to my favorites list -- how cool to hear all those old gems dredged up again.

Vivalabeat said...

Oh my, I love all the songs and I have them in my iPod right now. :) I don't even know which song would be my most favorite, I just love them all.

wwolfe said...

What a fine description of "Time of the Season"! I love both "That mysterously tip-toeing bass line," and "It's like an allusive, coded conversation, something heard through a wall." Plus, "rock and roll Zelig" is the perfect description of Al Kooper. Have you ever had a chance to see the Zombies in the movie "Bunny Lake Is Missing"? it's a very good movie, but I have to confess my first priority whenever I see it is the Zombies' big moment.

Holly A Hughes said...

But of course, Bunny Lake is a honey of a film. The Zombies moment never lasts as long as I want it to, though. (Have I ever mentioned what an insane crush I have on Colin Blunstone?) Someday I'd love to screen a film festival of all those mid-60s British films where pop groups made guest appearances.