Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gold Digging, part 4: Pop Treasures

I have to admit things have been a bit slow around here lately (lousy obligations of the real world). So I figure what better way to break up this recent posting drought then to start the second half of my ongoing A.M. Gold mining expedition. We're cracking open a whole new three CD set, "Radio Hits '69-'74". It's a curiously specific title considering this collection's usually ambiguous and ill defined categorizing. However, fans of unspecific musical compiling, will still be satisfactorily left in the dark by the first CD from the set "Pop Treasures". I'm going to assume it's some sort combination of types of songs found in the previously reviewed "Pop Classics" CD and "Top 40 Treasures" CD, all apparently within the boundaries of 1969 to 1974.

Well, time to dig in!:

1. "Little Willy" - Sweet (1973) #3
Sweet is definitely up there in my personal list of historic bands I would have liked to have been a part of. Mixing the funnest parts of glam rock and bubble gum pop with a dash of early heavy metal, these guys always looked like they were having a good time racking up hits on both sides of the ocean and never taking themselves too seriously. "Little Willy" is a classic A.M. Gold rocker with all the proper ingredients: big hooks, crunchy riffs, and a catchy sing-a-long chorus. Is it just me or is this whole song an extended metaphor for someone trying to keep down an erection ("Little Willy, Willy won't go home")? It seems pretty blatant to me.

2. "Come and Get Your Love" - Redbone (1974) #5
While I admire the fact that "Come and Get Your Love" by the rare Native American band Redbone is the biggest Native American related billboard hit aside from Paul Revere & the Raiders' classic 1971 chart topper (and Victor karaoke classic) "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)", I still am not a fan of the song. It's just an unamendable oil and water situation. I think it all goes back to the traumatizing childhood experience of listening to my sister play her Real McCoy album which included their awful Eurotrash dance cover day and night. Hearing that first before the original just turned me off to the song all together. Perhaps in another life the situation will be reversed and I'll be down with the bone.

3. "Precious and Few" - Climax (1972) #3
It's a decent song but found it overall to be a bit too soft for my tastes. The beginning of this song inexplicably reminds me of the beginning of "Cherish" by the Association. They also share a similar mellow theme of adoring the receiver of the lyrics. This similarity however works against "Precious and Few" since it always causes it to be unfairly compared with the superior "Cherish". Overall not a bad effort, but the Climax I prefer will still be with a K, Y, and two XXes.

4. "Don't Pull Your Love Out" - Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds (1971) #4
This was definitely a bona fide, straight up A.M. Gold discovery for me! I couldn't get it out my head for a week; pure 24 carat A.M. Gold from the slick production to the snappy rolling chorus! Kudos to the hi making law firm of Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds. My theory is that the best pop songs about heartbreak fit in two distinct categories: they can either be over-the-top, totally bombastic, epic tragedies (a la "The Worst That Could Happen") or, as with this case, perplexingly upbeat songs with tones completely opposite from their subject matter. The protagonist of the sing is begging for the woman not to leave him and crumble his entire world, yet it's delivered with a good time, easy vibe. Awesome!

5. "Last Song" - Edward Bear (1972) #3
Had the technology existed in 1972 for people to make personal mix compilations for each other, I suspect there would have been many a break up mixes with "Last Song" as the literal last song on the mix. There's a soft, weepy, sappy melancholy in it, but it actually keeps a open a sliver of hope by mentioning that they still love the person. It's another quality A.M. Gold track and an exemplary example of its genre. The only thing that could improve its standing would if the band Edward Bear actually had a real life bear member, had a pet bear, or at the very least had some sort of bear costume/image thing going like Teddybears.

6. "Sylvia's Mother" - Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show (1972) #5
I really can't decide how to read "Sylvia's Mother". There's no question that's it's an awful song. However, it straddles an incredibly tenuous line between just plain awful and so awful that it actually becomes interesting; and I can't determine which side of the line it falls under. While nowhere near great, it does fit that deliciously tragic and overblown part of my great pop heartbreak song dichotomy; the stakes are high enough and the whole song is sung in this outrageous, irritating whine. However even at its most bombastic moments you have that ridiculous interjection by the telephone operator asking for more money for the call that makes me wonder if this whole song is just some bad joke or parody. Given the fact that it was written by quirky, poet, writer, and general Renaissance man Shel Silverstein, I have my reservations.

7. "Sweet Mary" - Wadsworth Mansion (1971) #7
This is just a fun, breezy, slice of pop gold. I can just imagine what life must have been like, driving around early 70's America in your giant, domestic automobile with the top down, the turbulence of Vietnam and the 60s rolling to an end and the disillusionment of the Watergate scandal a distant few years away. This song has a total Three Dog Night quality to it with the harmonies and the slight gospel inspired set up. It is almost as though Wadsworth Mansion broke into their recording studio and grabbed the first hit they could find. It is definately a smart move on the part of the band to emulate the sounds of the greatest A.M. Gold band of all time at the height of their powers. Unfortunately, while Three Dog Night managed to squeeze out a dozen or so gold albums and even more top 40 hits, Wadsworth Mansion faded away into the great A.M. Gold either,

8. "Garden Party" - Ricky Nelson (1972) #6
Ricky Nelson's final big hit coincided with Chuck Berry's #1 for "My Ding-a-Ling" as songs by previously forgotten 50's artists that suddenly became top ten hits in 1972. I like the smooth, country flavored, story song quality of "Garden Party". It sounds like a shorter version of "American Pie" in that it seems to have the same kind of dense metaphors and personal references. Interestingly enough, the titular garden party refers to a bad experience at a concert he gave at Madison Square Garden; it really adds a lot of context to the song. Despite all the introspective subject matter I still immaturely construe the line in the chorus, "you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself" as dirty.

9. "Signs" - Five Man Electrical Band (1971) #3
Now "Signs" is a textbook example of a song being so thoroughly in the awful territory that it actually becomes a good song. The ridiculous self righteousness oozing out of every pore of this song, despite the best intentions of its creators, can never be taken seriously. Taken without its important "message" and in this non-serious context, the song become quite fun. It definitely makes for a entertaining sing-a-long with everyone trying to sound more righteously indignant than the other. I also think that, despite the date of its release, this song still has a more 60s (albeit fake and hollow 60s) protest feel to it, so I wouldn't personally categorize it in the A.M. Gold genre.

10. "Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?" - Hurricane Smith (1972) #3
This is totally one of those "only in the 70s" kind of hits. You got this lifelong British sound engineer who in his late 40s decides to start recording his own music under the pseudonym, Hurricane Smith, and suddenly he's got a transatlantic hit with a song that sounds like a 30's standard. Did I also mention his voice sounds like a Muppet and he looks like a slightly less unattractive Jim Croce? It's an amazing triumph. At first I was totally turned off by this odd little tune but against all odds, much like its original unlikely climb up the charts, it totally won me over, little by little, listening after listening. It also looks like two tons of fun to do on the karaoke machine.

11. "Everything is Beautiful" - Ray Stevens (1970) #1
It's interesting to note that this is actually the first number one single on the album thus far. Compared to the three other #1 loaded compilations I've reviewed this is quite a change indeed. That being said, this song straight up sucks. Ray Stevens strays away from his quirky, novelty bread and butter and makes a lame hamfisted "message" song and is somehow rewarded with one of the biggest hits of his career. While any song with a child chorus is almost always a deal breaker for me, the worst part of the song for me is the subtle condescending feeling I get from the lyrics. I know it's all about tolerance and seeing the beauty of all things, but the "everything is beautiful in its own way" just comes off a bit smug in my book. It sounds like "yeah X is beautiful but by their own inferior standards rather than in my own eyes". I don't know, I'm probably reading way too much into it. You definately wouldn't get this sort of ambiguity with "The Streak"

12. "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" - Steam (1969) #1
The selection of this apt closer seems to indicate that perhaps there might have been some attention paid to the arrangement of these tracks this album! We can only dream! As for the song itself, it's good but at one point I might have liked it more. It's overuse as a stadium crowd pleaser and official tauting anthem of departing individuals has sort of taken a lot of the sheen of the song. It's not longer a song, it's a Jock Jam, whose ubiquity puts it into a whole different category of music and standards by which it should be judged. As for the above album cover? Just about the gayest thing this side of Orleans.

I must say "Pop Treasures" was quite a departure from what I've been used to from the previous A.M. Gold set. It was definitely a more varied and deeper catalog of hits, with less chart toppers and more classic hidden gems. Perhaps they should have gone with "Pop Gems". The track listing was generally strong and the small handful of disappointments were made up by the new quality finds. I'm looking forward to all the other potential hits from 1969 to 1974, the "Golden Age" of A.M. Gold.

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