Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gold Digging, part 2: Pop Classics

Our decadent swim through the guilder filled Money Bin that is my recently purchased A.M. Gold box sets continues with the indistinguishably titled "Pop Classics" CD. What important distinctions are there between the carefully chosen tracks of "Pop Classics" and the cautiously arranged songs from the previous CD, "Radio Gems"? Only the compilation experts at Time-Life Music know the true answer.

Get ready for another dozen, classic, shimmering golden hits:

1. "Magic" - Pilot (1975) #5
For anyone around my age, your first exposure this song was while watching "Happy Gilmore" (it was also the first time I heard "Tuesday's Gone" by Lynard Skynard). I think AT&T also used it in a bunch of commercials a la "All Around the World". It's really one of the great A.M. Gold standards; a lighthearted, bouncy three minutes of fun with a really distinctive sound. 70's pop rock at its finest. Had the band just created a diluted copy single of "Magic" (aka the Ace of Base maneuver) it would have been enough to gotten them that elusive second U.S. hit.

2. "Rock Me Gently" - Andy Kim (1974) #1
First off, you wouldn't believe the disappointment I felt when I learned that Andy Kim was not a fellow Korean. You just can't go around with a last name like Kim (original name Andrew Youakim) and not expect some confusion; it's like that "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry thought Donna Chang was a Chinese woman. With that being said, the Candian Neil Diamond doppelganger certainly crafted one quality hit with "Rock Me Gently". I've really gotten into this song as of late. I love the funky bass, the cheesy not-so-subtle innuendo, the reckless use of "baby"s, and the awesome build up by the end. It's all pure gold. Those not previously familiar with the song may also recognize it from last year's psychedelic Jeep commercial.

3. "Delta Dawn" - Helen Reddy (1973) #1
Conventional wisdom would indicate that I should hate most of Helen Reddy's work. As an unrepentant misogynist I should be turned off by her female empowerment messages. As a non-fan of "traditional" female vocalists I should be turned off to her overall sound. However, despite those personal impediments, I still inexplicably enjoy "Delta Dawn". Country-fried, pseudo-gospel ballads always get to me. Also, on a more subtle level, this song always reminds me of the totally underrated entrance music to former WWE Female wrestling champion, the late Bertha Faye.

4. "Knock Three Times" - Tony Orlando and Dawn (1971) #1
What collection of 70's pop would be complete without at least one Tony Orlando and Dawn song. Oddly enough the CD only credits Dawn as the artists. What's not to absolutely love about this song? The tale of hopeful romance, the enthusiastic crooning of Tony Orlando, the ingenious call and response (a device so clearly lacking in today's modern pop songs); it all adds up to an intoxicating combination. Even without looking at the other cds, I am fairly sure that this won't be the last Tony Orlando and Dawn song to make the collection.

5. "Rhinestone Cowboy" - Glenn Campbell (1975) #1
I remember seeing the Jon Lovitz spoof "High School High" (in theaters no less!) and watching the scene where the white and nerdy Lovitz offers the DJ at the school dance his record of "Rhinestone Cowboy" and all the black youth being awkwardly frozen by the Glen Campbell tune. For years after that, "Rhinestone Cowboy" became for me the sonic embodiment of out of touch, comically lame, white guy music. That may very well still be the case. However, it still doesn't change the fact that it's a solid tune. Glen Campbell's legendary vocals, the soaring crescendos, the fact that this is probably the only top 40 hit with the word "rhinestone" in the title, all contribute to its glistening gold qualities.

6. "Baby Come Back" - Player (1978) #1
The song is a bit too plodding for my taste and I find myself waiting too eagerly for the pay off chorus, but overall it's a decent single. I do however give much praise to the ingenious use of the song in a series of recent advertisements for Swiffer products. The ads (deemed the 70th best pop culture item of 2008 by Utz) really are the perfect example of how to make a ubiquitous, overplayed, campaign for a unremarkable product without annoying everyone. They're short, they show the product, and are clever without being obnoxiously snarky. I for one will now forever associate this song with sad looking brooms and mops.

7. "Hot Child in the City" - Nick Gilder (1978) #1
Seriously, how many people after hearing this song thought that the singer was a chick? I still have to remind myself occasionally that Nick Gilder is a man (a particularly effeminate looking man, but a man no less). In the vein of Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight", it's one of those songs with a pop sound that belies its darker subject matter (something about runaway children turning tricks I think). Like "Afternoon Delight", it's also a spectacular golden one hit wonder.

8. "Sad Eyes" - Robert John (1979) #1
The parade of number one hits continues! They should have just replaced the trace non-number one songs with a few more chart toppers and renamed the cd "Number One Hits". For a song called "Sad Eyes" I feel like it could have been sadder. There was a great opportunity for some real emotional power given the set up. Unfortunately I wasn't buying the sadness as much as I should have. This song sort of a more subdued, less enthusiastic, watered down version of "Lights" by Journey.

9. "Sentimental Lady" - Bob Welch (1978) #8
Bob Welch's musical ties with Fleetwood Mac (one of my least favorite bands of all time) and the carry over that sound into "Sentimental Lady" (which was originally recorded by the band) is the main reason, I find it to be a forgettable record. I haven't heard the rest of his work, but until I come across something better, he will maintain his firm position behind 1990 AL Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch in my "Famous Bob Welches" depth chart.

10. "Come Back When You Grow Up" - Bobby Vee and the Strangers (1967) #3
A classic tune from Bobby Vee's large collection of top 40 hits, but it seems a bit too old sounding in tone to be considered a true A.M. Gold single. Despite the date of its release, there's an earnest, innocent sound to it that seems more like a pre-Beatles pop tune, like something Bobby Vinton or a Ricky Nelson would have put out. I'm not saying its bad or anything, it just seems a bit out of place.

11. "Traces" - Classics IV (1969) #2
Here's a broken heart pop song with a sufficient amount of emotional gravitas. While an extra helping of gravitas would have done nothing but improve it, it still featured enough feeling to make it a keeper in my book. It was a smooth trip throughout and I especially dug the sexy sax coming in to drive the point home. A quality effort from the band with one of the worst names in all of rock (honestly, it comes off like "Leonard Part VI").

12. "Honey" - Bobby Goldsboro (1968) #1
The cd concludes with another number one hit and, boy, did they ever pick a number one to end with! "Honey" is one of those bombastic train wrecks of a song that somehow manages to simultaneously be both one of the worst pop songs ever made and a outrageous smashing success (think "MacArthur Park"). Of course, knowing my peculiar tastes, this song is right up my alley. The lyrics are ridiculously detailed, yet meaningless. The story is contrived and manipulative. The music is overwrought and pretentiously inflated. The singing is, in contrast, oddly cold and almost robotic in its lack of emotions. It all adds up to one of the biggest hits of 1968 and one of the most fascinating songs I've ever heard.

The final conclusion about "Pop Classics" is that it's essentially a tale of two sides. Roughly the first half of the cd is for me all killer Gold. By the time it rolls around to the last half it sort of dips into a forgettable, overly weepy prom night 1979 territory. I was however impressed by the high amount of number one singles. It's nice to know Time-Live Music likes to put in the big hits of the era. Combining the two contrasting halves of the album, I have to call it a push and say it was an average disc overall.

4 comments:

  1. "Honey" got voted the worst song of all time in some CNN poll a couple years back, back in the halcyon pre-Obama/depression days when there was no actual news going on in the world to report. Not my personal choice, but I respect the thought.

    Adam Sandler movies provided a pretty solid education in 70s rock/pop across the board. There's also the use of ELO's "Telephone Line" in Billy Madison, Exile's "Kiss You All Over" in Happy Gilmore, and the entire Styx catalogue in Big Daddy.

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  2. from whence does your hatred for fleetwood mac come from? i mean, i'm no Buddy to Buckingham but its just the way you phrase it - "least favorite bands of all time". sounds so final. will ms. nicks' vocals never touch your heart and bring you to a more solid, wiccan, plane? think before you blog, ok?

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  3. It's a case where the sums are a lot better than the whole itself. I find all the solo work of its members far more tolerable than the actual band's work itself.

    Maybe if I listen to "Tusk" I'll find something I like but anything from the Fleetwood Mac/Rumours era will always suck to me.

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