Saturday, January 22, 2011


I actually did a shuffle on Wednesday, but it turned out lousy -- somehow the gremlins in my computer picked out every third-rate song I'd downloaded for reasons I can't even remember. So here, instead, is a twist on the shuffle idea -- ten songs in a row that I heard on Sirius/XM's Sixties on Six channel.

1. "Sweet Blindness" / The Fifth Dimension
From Stoned Soul Picnic (1968)
Mister Pleasant has recently reawakened my interest in these guys, especially when they do Laura Nyro songs (I'm a confirmed Nyro-phyte).  They swing, but they don't lose the song's edgy, racy spirit. "Don't let Daddy hear it / He don't believe in the gin mill spirit" -- up with teenage alcoholism!  And the drunkest refrain ever: "Come on baby do a slow float / You're a good-looking riverboat." Yassss.

2. "The House of the Rising Sun" / The Animals
Single 1964; included on The Best of the Animals
Of course, next to this classic song about the road to perdition, the kids in "Sweet Blindness" are model citizens...
3. "Listen People" / Herman's Hermits
From When the Boys Meet the Girls (1966)
The link here is Mickie Most, who -- hard to believe -- produced both the Animals and Herman's Hermits.  In the height of their American fame, Peter Noone and the boys didn't even release this as a single in the UK, but in the US it hit #3. This nifty little Graham Gouldman tune redeems its soppy earnest verse ("Listen, people / To what I say") with a snappy backbeat chorus ("Everybody's got to love somebody sometime.") 

4. "Build Me Up Buttercup" / The Foundations
From The Foundations (1968)
One of the greatest Motown singles ever to be released outside of Motown -- in England, yet!

5. "I Say A Little Prayer" / Aretha Franklin
From Aretha Now (1968)
And now the Queen of Motown gives a master class.  A Bacharach-David standard, mellow as Malibu ("The moment I wake up / Before I put on my make-up . . . At work I just take time ./ And all through my coffee break time") -- until Aretha unleashes her gospel pipes and starts to testify. Well, it is about praying, isn't it?  By the end, she's scatting all over the place, laying down five layers of syncopation, transforming it into free-form jazz.  And that, folks, is how it's done. 

6. "Windy" / The Association
From Insight Out (1967)
Not my favorite Association tune -- I greatly prefer "Along Comes Mary" -- this track has great harmonies, but such dopey lyrics. I mean, come on -- "Who's tripping down the streets of the city / Smilin' at everybody she sees / Who's reaching out to capture a moment / Everyone knows it's Windy" -- even by Flower Power standards, that's way too cutesy. And I hate the way I have to chair dance with that syncopation in the chorus...

7. "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town" / Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
From Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town (1969)
Now, this is where I'd normally just change channels.  Not just because it's country -- I like some country -- but because Kenny Rogers' gravelly croon infuriates me.  I have so successfully avoided this song, it wasn't until today -- compelled by the Shuffle to stick it out -- that I finally listened enough to realize it's about a disabled Vietnam vet whose wife is stepping out on him.  "It wasn't me that started that old crazy Asian war" -- well, boohoo. Opportunistic songwriting at its worst.

8. "Catch A Wave" / The Beach Boys
From Surfer Girl (1963)
Classic classic classic. That tripping beat, the passed-around vocals, the explosion of harmonies in the chorus -- divine. Okay, so Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who ever surfed; so much for "So take a lesson from a top-notch surfer boy."  And yes, these too are dopey lyrics -- like "You paddle out turn around and raise / And baby that's all there is to the coastline craze" or "They'll eat their words with a fork and spoon / And watch 'em, they'll hit the road and all be surfin' soon." But you don't come to Brian Wilson for the lyrics.  He rises above them every time.

9. "Magic Carpet Ride" / Steppenwolf
From Steppenwolf the Second (1968)
Whoa.  The jump from "Catch a Wave" to "Magic Carpet Ride" epitomizes how much music changed in the Sixties, from jangly rock-pop to churning psychedelia. As sun-kissed and clean as the Beach Boys' sound is, Steppenwolf's is just as smoky and dirty. But it's an insanely good track, full of tempo changes and texture shifts.  Dig that wicked minor-key organ progression on the bridge -- "Close your eyes, girl / Look inside, girl / Let the sound take you away" -- a contact high.  Yes, this song is about drugs.  Was there ever a doubt? 

10. "Undun" / Guess Who
From Canned Wheat (1969)
This one blew me away -- sure, I'd heard it a million times on the radio or in movie soundtracks, but I had no idea this song was by Guess Who.  The same guys who strut their macho way through "American Woman"?  The same guys who croon the Bread-like "These Eyes"?  A pack of Canadians -- not only that, but Manitobans? But for this song -- originally the B-side to something called "Laughing" -- they went tripping, pulling out the spooky reverb and a psychedelic organ part worthy of the Zombies.  Burton Cummings' vocal is unforgettable on this. You learn something new every day.


Betty C. said...

This is a fabulous list...a lot of songs I listened to right as I was getting into music. I remember waiting for them to play on my transistor radio, and/or following Casey Kacem's (sp.?) American Top 40 with baited breath.

"Build Me Up Buttercup" was definitely a big favorite, up there with "Crimson and Clover" in my early discovery of the force of pop music...

Uncle E said...

The success of Kenny Rogers, along with what's his name of Rocky Mountain High fame, have always baffled me. However, I had the owner of an ad agency tell me a tale of meeting Kenny Rogers that while it didn't make me run out and buy "The Gambler", it did give me a moments pause of THE MAN himself. She was doing a charity event at the fairgrounds and Kenny was the headliner. A little boy with autism wanted to meet him and he came out of his trailer, invited him in, autographed a whole bunch of stuff for him and actually sang him a song, making his year. I think of him more benignly nowadays because of that. Crappy music doesn't necessarily mean a crappy human being. And Build Me Up Buttercup was used to great effect in the movie There's Something About Mary, especially in the closing credits. Great selection!

wwolfe said...

I love Roger Hawkins' drumming on Aretha's version of "I Say a Little Prayer." I like that this song became the unofficial anthem of wives and girlfriends with husbnads and boyfriends in Vietnam. It gives a resonance to the lyrics that Hal David didn't necessarily put there.

Anonymous said...

On the weekend when Frank Sinatra died, a network pulled out an old special he had done circa 1970 which featured The Fifth Dimension.
Sinatra sang with them, not only on "Sweet Blindness," but also on "Stone Soul Picnic."

They were at their very height, with Billy so fine and Marilyn so beautiful. Florence had her own beauty and Lamont and Ron rounded out what was then and will always be the perfect LOOKING group.

Sinatra mugged it up just a little on the tunes but was gracious as were The Fifth Dimension toward The Chairman.

...could never find this clip on the internet, though.

But that, that was a time.