Friday, October 14, 2016

U Is For....

26 artists, A to Z. 

Unit 4 + 2 /  "Concrete and Clay"

Ever heard of this band? Possibly not, but you might recognize the track – it hit Number One in the UK for one week in 1965 (and a respectable #28 in the US). If not an underground hit, this was at least an offshore hit, one of the first of many otherwise obscure singles vaulted onto the charts by the pirate radio stations that anchored in offshore British waters to defy the BBC’s stranglehold. (If you haven't seen the movie Pirate Radio, you must.)

Originally a quartet called Unit Four, they became Unit Four + 2 when two more guys joined the group. (Duh.) After their first two singles bombed, they hired two ringers – guitarist Russ Ballard and drummer Bob Henrit, who'd played in earlier bands with 4+2 founder Brian Parker and guitarist Buster Meikle. (Ballard and Henrit were Zeligs of British rock; they were later in Argent, with Zombies organist Rod Argent, and Henrit was also in the mid-80s Kinks.) That was a brilliant move, for it was their contributions that made this song.

Dig that syncopated intro, just a cowbell and triangle, like footsteps ringing along a pavement. Henrit's percussion proceeds to lay down a distinctive, twitchy bossa nova rhythm; then a guitar jumps in, skittering up and down the scale with Spanish-style fingering -- Russ Ballard’s handiwork. Four measures and I’m dancing already.

There's a nifty sort of call-and-response thing going on too, as the verse alternates between the lead singer and the back-ups,  their punchy baritones punctuated by his sweet legato tenor: “You to me / Are sweet as roses in the morning / You to me / Are soft as summer rain at dawn / In love we share / That something rare.” How sappy that love poem imagery would sound, if it weren’t for that catchy beat.

The chorus is standard folk music stuff, with swelling Seekers-like harmonies and the usual imagery (urban v. nature, close-up v. panorama, the transient v. the eternal): “The sidewalk in the street / The concrete and the clay beneath my feet / Begins to crumble / But love will never die / Because we’ll see the mountains tumble / Before we say goodbye.” Then it morphs into a tender Bobby Vinton vein -- “My love and I / Will be / in love eternally” -- with the back-ups’ swooning ooohs. But that chunky rhythm saves it, yoking together all these different musical modes, infusing them with that happy, irresistible beat.

Unfortunately, lightning never struck again. Their follow-up single, “You’ve Never Been In Love Like This Before,” barely charted in the U.S.; the mountains are still standing, but Unit 4 + 2 vanished into the mists of time. They’ve left this footprint, though, and it’s a gem.

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