Monday, 30 June 2014

Jerry Keller 'Here Comes Summer'

Chart Peak: 1
This was Jerry's only Hit in Britain. It was No. 1 for one week in October (!) 1959 and he wrote the song himself.
Another out-of-time summer hit to close out the album, and needless to say a song called 'Here Comes Summer' should have been a hit even earlier than most summer songs. Perhaps people were looking forward to the summer of 1960? Timing aside, this is actually rather a nice example of the kind of light pop that emerged in the gap between the initial rock and roll era and the sixties beat groups. It doesn't have the same sort of bite or wit as 'Summertime Blues' but it has an easy-going charm and just the merest hint of sauciness as he boasts that double-features at the drive-in give him an opportunity to spend more time with the lady who "makes my flat-top curl". I shan't comment on whether "if she's willing, we'll go steady right away" is meant to be euphemistic, but really it doesn't matter anyway. This is another shot of teenage optimism, well-produced and just the right length. It's a brilliant piece of sequencing too, strumming away in undemanding cheerfulness and ending just in time to leave you wanting more.

So, you may want to listen to the album again straight away, in which case time to plug the playlists again: Spotify and Deezer, now featuring all the non-Beatles tracks for your chart-eligible pleasure. Secondhand copies of the album are available, possibly for less money than acquiring every track individually, and of course you can also obtain the 2014 Now That's What I Call Summer that led me to write these posts in the first place, I hope you enjoyed them.

Meanwhile, it'll probably be July by the time you read this, I'll be back soon with a main-series album.

Available on: The Very Best Of

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Monkees 'Daydream Believer'

Chart Peak: 5
A perfect Summer Hit in every way... apart from the fact that it was in the chart at Christmas(!) 1967, 'Daydream Believer' actually peaked at No. 5 in January 1968. The track was an American No. 1 and did return to the U.K. Top 40 in April 1980 as part of The Monkees EP.
I'm not sure why it's only 29 tracks in that the sleeve notes spot that some of these "summer" tracks were charting at the wrong time of year, but they are indeed correct on both that and the song's re-emergence on their EP that peaked at 33 in 1980.  In fact the song was back in the US Top 100 later in 1986 in connection with a hits collection, and I guess that would have been the time I remember hearing it on the radio a lot in my primary school days. Whilst this particular retrospective coincided with a reunion of the three members who weren't independently wealthy, Monkees best-ofs seem to emerge on an almost fortnightly basis. Perhaps this is a sign of the odd position they now occupy in pop history, both terribly cool to the knowledgeable and yet still carrying a burden of naffness to others, whilst also massive pop faves who induce nostalgia to many of a certain generation. Indeed, my mum was a (very) young Monkees fan back in the 1960s, whilst I had a boss who was only slightly older and hated them because they were a manufactured band. That of course they were but to be honest, in those days there weren't many who weren't.

Certainly, even though they were only a couple of years into their career, the group were already chafing at the limitations of their original roles, particularly the two who were actually experienced musicians. This particular track was of course a showcase for Davy Jones who wasn't an instrumentalist nor even a notably good singer, though he still had standards, as the testy studio talk on the intro (not included in the video, but it is on the edit used on this album) demonstrates. Apparently he thought this was the wrong key for his voice and wasn't a fan of the song either, perhaps unfairly. To be sure, they were making more interesting music in this era under their own steam, with the likes of 'Goin Down' and 'Randy Scouse Git', but they weren't really the Beatles and didn't really have the ability to sustain a serious pop career without outside help, certainly not at the work-rate required of them. Taken on its own merits, this song is OK but not brilliant, a slightly hokey attempt to play on Davy's English charm which still mentions a "homecoming queen" in the chorus. There's an audible jadedness beyond the initial dialogue, both from the singer and the backing musicians, but if you don't listen too carefully it sounds cheery enough and it's clear how the song had a second lease of life as a football chant.

Available on: Monkeemania: The Very Best Of The Monkees

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Lovin' Spoonful 'Daydream'

Chart Peak: 2
The first of two Summer Hits from John, Zal, Steve and Joe, 'Daydream' made No.2 in Britain and America in May 1966.
Strange but true, there are two Lovin' Spoonful songs out of the 30 on this album and they're right next to each other. The way the sleevenotes are phrased seems to imply that they were written before the album was sequenced, don't they?

Anyway, of the two big Spoonful hits this is the one I remember hearing more of when I was a kid, possibly because it was a slightly bigger hit but I suspect more because it doesn't have a title that ties it into one season and so got the lion's share of airplay as an oldie. That said, I haven't heard it for a long time.

The trouble with this song is that it seems a bit too determinedly laid-back, almost aggressively relaxed. Obviously, this is partly because it's really about smoking various substances, but also it seems to be one of those examples of people who are just a bit too insistent that you chill out and relax as if it turns into a sort of inverse macho contest. I'm a pretty relaxed - or, some might say, lazy - person generally, but there's nothing less relaxing than being told to take it easy, man. I guess this is trying to do something similar to 'Groovin' at the top of the album, but it doesn't quite convince me, though it's not unpleasant. At least it's nowhere near as annoying as their other Top 40 single, 'Nashville Cats'.

Available on: Very Best Of The Lovin' Spoonful

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Lovin' Spoonful 'Summer In The City'

Chart Peak: 1
The follow-up to 'Daydream', this track made No. 8 in August 1966. It was also an American No. 1 and was originally a poem written by John Sebastian's brother.
One of my favourite summer tracks, mainly because it's so ambivalent. Sure we're all pleased to see the summer when it first arrives but after a few days isn't there a little part of all of us that starts to get a bit tired of the heat as we pack ourselves onto trains and spend our days in offices and classrooms? That was of course even more the case in the days before widespread air-conditioning in Britain. Matthew Sebastian neatly sums up the physical manifestations of summer days "Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty" and hints at the impatient mood that can sometimes develop: he then contrasts this with the pleasures of a summer night, when the world seems a lot more open and welcoming. I went for a walk to the park after 9pm just the other day and it was great that it was still light enough to see then.

The song is greatly improved by its musical setting, even if they do have to sing it twice to make it up to a commercially viable length. John Sebastian's staccato electric piano part gives the song a hook before the rest of the arrangement kicks in, and there's a palpable contrast between the tension of the "day" verses and the lighter, more open-sounding "night" bridge. Like 'Lazy Sunday', it's also a great sound effect track, with the subtle use of jackhammers and traffic noises representing the irritation without actually becoming irritating themselves. For me the only flaw of the track musically is that they seem to run out of ideas at the end, sounding like they're going to a big finish that never arrives and fading almost as if they're shy.

Available on: Summer In The City - The Collection

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Small Faces 'Lazy Sunday'

Chart Peak:
The group's 9th Top 20 Hit, 'Lay Sunday' made No.2 in May 1968. Like many of their previous Hits it was written by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. The song made a brief return to the Top 40 in April 1976.
Sorry, the audio in that original video seems to be out of phase. There's also a video for the 1976 re-issue which has better sound quality. It doesn't look quite right to see such a Sixties-sounding track performed by people who are clearly in the Seventies, but at least Steve Marriott does some good pantomiming.

A song that seems fated to be confused with 'Sunny Afternoon' throughout posterity, 'Lazy Sunday' shares that song's ironic overtones, coming over as both a celebration and a parody of British psychedelic pop of the era, and of their own cockney image; certainly no couplet seems to sum up the style better than the juxtaposition of "Here we all are sitting in a rainbow/Cor blimey! Allo Mrs Jones, how's your Bert's lumbago?". On the whole, British songwriters in the Sixties seemed a bit more grounded than many of their North American counterparts, who gave the impression of taking the hippie thing more seriously. I guess they're taking advantage of increasing permissiveness by mentioning a toilet in the song too, I'm sure that would have been taboo not long before. You can see a similar thing in their previous hit 'Itchycoo Park' as they mock-seriously croon "feed the ducks with a bun", but this ups the ante slightly by being part of the mock-concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, which is trailed here with the reference to the moon.

What I'd never really noticed before is that whilst Marriott starts the song in his exaggerated Cockney character, by the end he's back to the soul-oriented vocal that first made the band famous as an R&B act. Although he obviously wasn't really from Memphis, in the context of this song and their career, it feels like he's actually trying the shed the persona as he exclaims "there's nothing to stop me from feeling this way". A song that pulls into a lot of directions at once but is saved by the tight performance and arrangement, with sound effects emphasising the humour but not becoming distractingly gimmicky. As much as I'm more of Kinks than a Small Faces fan generally, I do like this one more than 'Sunny Afternoon'.

Available on: Small Faces: Ultimate Collection

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mungo Jerry 'In The Summertime'

Chart Peak: 1
One of the few groups to have 2 No. 1 singles with their first 2 Hits, Mungo Jerry were at the top of the UK charts for 7 weeks form Mid-June to the beginning of August 1970 with 'In The Summertime'.
As of Summer 1986, it was still pretty unusual to have topped the chart with your first two chart singles; George Michael had recently achieved this with his first two solo singles, though of course there were Wham! releases before and between them, and of course Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Gerry And The Pacemakers could also make this claim. You could make a case for Gary Numan if you count his hit with Tubeway Army too, but it's happened many more times since: just off the top of my heard there's the Spice Girls, Westlife, Jive Bunny, Arctic Monkeys, Leona Lewis... What's particularly remarkable about Mungo Jerry is that they might be the act fewest people remember doing this; when I was a kid in the 80s, they'd become a running joke of a one-hit wonder like Carl Douglas, and 'Baby Jump' must rank among the most forgotten chart-toppers of the 1970s if not of all time. Just as well, really, it's rubbish.

Whatever you might say about 'In The Summertime', it's not rubbish, but it certainly feels dated now. Admittedly it was aiming at a sort of retro sound even at the time, with its jug-band arrangement (it must be one of the very few Number One singles that actually features somebody blowing into a bottle) and mouth percussion. The lyric also seems to equate its subjects with an earlier generation of wandering minstrels. And yet the production is very redolent of its time, with Ray Dorset's haphazardly double-tracked vocal something that would only have been technically possible a few years earlier, whilst the stereo mix which features here (and which I presume was on the original 45) pans the vocal across the stereo spectrum. Of course the engine sound effects also anchor the song pretty firmly in the 20th century, and the lyric openly advocates drink-driving (at 125 miles per hour!) which is not something you'd expect to hear nowadays; the song has of course been licensed to some road safety adverts since. The song has now become such a familiar part of summer it seems almost irrelevant to try and form an opinion on it, and indeed its sheer ubiquity has spoilt it a bit. It no longer feels as easy-going and light-hearted as I think it's meant to.

Available on: Magic Summertime

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cliff Richard 'The Day I Met Marie'

Chart Peak: 10
Cliff's 34th Top 10 single in Britain, 'Marie' was a top 10 Hit in September 1967.
And so Cliff returns with the onerous task of following the Beatles. Arguably he's doing so in more ways than one because by 1967 he had to move with the times and whilst you couldn't call this psychedelic, they're clearly trying for something of a "Summer Of Love" feel, with the music veering from the hazy, dreamy verses to the brass-band enhanced chorus section. Although it would presumably have been recorded before Sgt. Pepper or 'Excerpt From A Teenage Opera' came out, those sorts of sounds were clearly in the air in British pop at the time.

What may come as even more of a surprise to 21st-century listeners who know Cliff only by reputation is the lyric of this song. It's be stretching a point to call it sexy, but there's a definite erotic charge to the tale of Cliff waking up lying in the hay and recalling the mysterious Marie who "came to touch him" and who kissed his brow and told him to go to sleep. Even though the exact details of what preceded the brow-kissing are elided, it changed our protagonist's life somehow. You could see this as a companion to 'Summer The First Time' earlier on this album, except that it strikes a different mood, wistful where Goldsboro is merely boastful. At least this protagonist recognises how lucky he is. Also, and I'm not afraid to say this, this is much better sung. Actually, that's pretty faint praise, so I'll go further: this is a genuinely good vocal performance. two and a quarter minutes it comes to a sudden halt, the sort of trick that was emblematic of its era but also suits the song's meaning. We all know Cliff has made some terrible records in his time, but this isn't actually one of them.

Here's the link I forgot to include in yesterday's post about 'Here Comes The Sun': an isolated section from the backing track with the Moog, strings and handclaps only. I've edited the post to add this but I know not everyone will see that.

Available on: Dansette Days & Jukebox Nights [+Digital Booklet]