Saturday, March 23, 2013

She would cook their dreams while they were dreaming

Ok, this is definitely guilty pleasure time.   My obsession with the songs of Jimmy Webb has led down many strange alleys, including the pop song cycle "The Magic Garden" by the Fifth Dimension, Thelma Houston's "Sunshower", and Mr. Webb's ongoing work with Art Garfunkel and Glen Campbell.  But by far the oddest of his collaborations was his second album with Richard Harris.  "The Yard Went On Forever" from 1969 was the follow up to the previous year's "A Tramp Shining", itself (in)famous for the #2 US hit "MacArthur Park".  I will not be an apologist for that song as it has always touched a soft spot in my heart with its florid imagery of wanting and loss.

So the 45rpm single released from TYWOF was the title song, and it seems clear that Mr. Webb was on a mission to top the over-the-top production of his previous hit with Mr. Harris  Based on the results I would say he succeeded in spades.   The lyric content alone takes this one into another dimension.  The domestic bliss of Kansas City/Nagasaki housewives and their ironing boards is shattered by all sorts of natural disasters - tornadoes, volcanoes, etc.  Since Jimmy spent a considerable part of his youth in Oklahoma, I understand his meaning here.  A perfectly tranquil day in the life can quickly turn into a crazy scurrying for the shelter during twister season.  

Here is an excerpt from the 4 1/2 star review of The Yard Went On Forever at  AllMusic
"the lyrics are dazzling in their cascading imagery, the music is richer and more vividly conceived and recorded, and the entire album works magnificently, juxtaposing grandeur of expression and intimacy of feeling at different moments..."

Musically the song serves as the prelude and source of the musical motifs for the rest of the album.   The opening two note piano chord in its highest register becomes a recurring theme throughout.  And then a gospel choir quietly enters with "Is everybody safe?  Has everybody got a place to hide?".  This is a foreshadowing of the destruction that is to come.  Then Richard Harris enters with a lovely verse (thankfully written well within his range) that warns of the singing of women from around the world (Pompeii, Kansas City) as their worlds come to an end.  At the words "on doomsday" a staccato orchestral section comes shrieking as a lead in to a children's choir singing words from Psalm 130 and the Catholic mass:

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine
Donae nobis pacem

As this repeated section dies away, the true center of the song enters, and for a brief few minutes calm and order are restored to the universe.  But tranquility can only last so long, so the opening sections come back for another round of the end of the world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Making it all right with me

The  Hollies took a sideways journey after the departure of Graham Nash.  They released an album "Hollies Sing Dylan" which sank like a stone.  Six months later came "Hollies Sing Hollies" which was 100% written by band members.   Almost equally negelected, though the US version contained their big hit single from the same period "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother".  The next two albums showed tremendous growth which was immediately severed when lead singer Allan Clarke left for a solo career.  But just before his departure they recorded Clarke's "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress".  Reports vary as to whether any of the other Hollies are even on the record.

So they found a new lead singer, husky deep voiced Swede Mikael Rickfors.  They released a single "The Baby" in early 1972 on Polydor, a new label for them.  Their previous record company Parlophone released "Long Cool Woman" at the same time, and although it barely scraped the charts in the UK it become a gigantic #2 hit in the US.   Their new single did slightly better in the UK but was completely overwhelmed elsewhere by "Long Cool Woman".

The remaining members refocused around Rickfor's dark sound and in late 1972 released what I consider to be their finest record, "Romany".   Alternating between folky ballads and hard rockers, it constructs a mood piece that holds together from start to finish. The only single released from this LP is "Magic Woman Touch", and it blends the Hollies harmonies of olden days with a 70's folk rock sound.   Mikael's voice is the antithesis of Alan Clarke.   Like a smoky fine aged Scotch, it grabs hold and won't let go.   This tantalizing tune speaks to the magic chemicals that are produced by what we call "love".   Who hasn't experienced that rush that becomes all consuming?

I know there's been a change in me
Ask me why I don't know
My friends no longer speak to me
Pass me by I don't know

Cast your spell upon me one more time
I wanna feel your magic woman touch

The promise of this fine album came to naught.  A second LP with Rickfors was released only in Germany (thanks to my brother John for getting me a copy - it is quite good).  Then pressures from the record company brought back Allan Clarke, which sent Rickfors back to Sweden.  Such a waste.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

your mama calls you Billy your father calls you silly

In 1971 The Hollies released a glam / hard rock single about a cross dressing rock 'n roll singer.  "Hey Willy" was their only foray into this territory and it really is a hoot.  With a Led Zeppelin-ish rhythm section and guitar riff, it really does not amount to much but there are some charms to be found.   Foremost is the crazy drumming from Bobby Elliott, one of the most unsung rock drummers ever.   Some of his fills are just amazing, a 'la Keith Moon.

The lyrics are obviously poking fun at the Bowie/Bolan, and the sentiment expressed reminds me of The Guess Who's "Glamour Boy", a big poke in the eye at the whole glam/glitter movement.

Hey baby you're dressing like a lady
The fellows call you Sadie
but you really are a pretty one

You don't care what they say about your hair
'Cos the bank man's smilin'
every time he sees you comin' yeh

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yet the years haven't really been wasted

What 60s Brit Pop group had a 1970 hit with the following opening line?

"Oh Woman get your head out of curlers.  Time to get your butt out of bed"

Well of course that would be the recently Graham Nash-less Hollies with there little ode to all things redneck, "Gasoline Alley Bred".   In fact it made it to number 14 in the UK charts, although it did not even dent the top 100 in the US.  It is absolutely one of my favorite 70s Hollies numbers.  In my estimation it is way better than "Long Cool Woman" because you actually get to hear the trademark three part Hollies harmonies in the chorus.   And furthermore it offered a great chance to hear Mr. Nash's replacement - Terry Sylvester - who trades the verse lines with Allan Clarke.  He has a fine strong voice and it fits in perfectly with the Hollies sound.  There is that snazzy little piano plinking that accentuates the end of each of the lines in the chorus.  And best of all, Tony Hicks serves up some really lovely guitar work, including the unforgettable opening picking routine.

This was released about the same time as their LP "Confessions of The Mind", known in the US as "Moving Finger" with a different running order.  Until this week I had not listened to the album in years.   Well ladies and gents, let me say that it is really a fine piece of work.  Studded with killer string and horn arrangements, a few rockers, and those Hollies harmonies, it is truly one of their finer moments in the long play variety.  Not quite up there in my estimation with "Romany" but certainly it all hangs together as a piece.

How much do I love this song?  When their voices swell in the lead up to the chorus each time around, I get goose bumps.  Furthermore there is a little coda with a high chorus of "gasoline... gasoline alley" that just hits me in the right spot.  To add to the charming pathos, the lyrics make it clear that the protagonist knows that he and the little woman are forever trapped by their roots.

"I know that we could have made it.  We had ideas in our heads.    And I wish somehow we could have saved it.  But we're Gasoline Alley bred."