The Golden Age of joyful pop music and soaring harmonies was the 1960s, and its hard to surpass this flight of fancy by Spanky and Our Gang, charting in 1967. Probably one of the last fluffy tidbits before ‘meaningful’ music, heavy metal, and psychedelic rock took over.
Listening to what passes for popular music these days, one could be forgiven for thinking all the talented musicians passed from the earth sometime during the Reagan Administration–really it was the talented music industry executives. The only antidote to such a depressing thought is the abundant treasures on youtube.
The Icelandic keyboard goddess, known as vkgoeswild on youtube, turned her attention to Deep Purple’s penultimate effort, their album Machine Head.
The song Lazy, a call and answer improvisation between Ritchie Blackmore’s Stratocaster and Jon Lord’s Hammond B3 organ, is a foot-stomping vehicle of virtuosity, and VK wowed me after curiosity drove me to see just what the heck a single keyboard could do with that song–and I am astonished.
I also included the original from Machine Head. Listening to it as I write this–wow!
Ok, the headline takes some artistic license. I can authoritatively tell you that the real birth of disco was the 1974 Hues Corporation crossover hit, Rock the Boat. But Steve was part of disco history nonetheless.
In his late teens or early 20s, Steve was working Criteria Studio in Florida as a sound engineer in the late 70s. Around 1976-77, the Bee Gees went to “Funky Chateau” studio in France hoping to record their next hit. After three weeks of dinking around in the studio, they came back to America with nothing they really liked except for a bit of drum track. They then went to Criteria to finish up the song.
Well, a few years ago, on a trip to Colombia, I had a 6 hour layover in Miami. Steve picked me up and took me to a studio next to Criteria set up by some former Criteria engineers. Standing in the lobby among the gold records on the wall, I noticed the Stayin Alive gold record. I told Steve that I had read that the Bee Gees used a two bar section of 2″ tape, 20 feet long, joined the ends together and looped it in the tape for the entire song. A junior engineer at the other end of the room held up a broomstick for a tape reel to spin on so it wouldn’t get tangled up as it looped.
In a shocked voice Steve asked “WHO TOLD YOU THAT?” I explained about the article. He relaxed and with a wry grin said “I was the one holding that broomstick.” He didn’t know that the story had been made public.
I asked the questions I always had about gold records. Well, they are not made out of gold, they are records spray painted gold. Had the studio guys ever tried to play one–yes they had put one on a turntable and it did play music. It turns out the gold painted record is not actually the album it represents. When a record company has a hit, each record is a source of revenue, not to waste a sale and hang on the wall. They would find a non-hit record with the same number of tracks, stick a label in the center, and use that for the gold record.
This drum loop was also used on ‘More Than a Woman’, and Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’.
He took me to lunch in a small modest seafood place just down the road from Criteria, and as I sat there, I imagined that Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, and many others had likely eaten there while on break from recording. That visit to the studio, and the stories he told, were more exciting to me than a trip to disney is for a kid.
Both the single and album of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ became one of my favorite songs and albums over a period of years, and almost against my will, in the decades following its 1975 release. Through the good graces of high school friends, I attended many great rock concerts from 1974 to 1977. Led Zeppelin, Robin Trower, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, The Who, and the Guess Who.
Prior to many of these concerts, and I remember it most clearly in the old Met Center, the Front of Hall guys would play this meditative album over the sound system until the act came on stage. I recall not liking it at the time, and when you are eagerly awaiting the explosion of of Whole Lotta Love, ambient music rankles.
It seemed the album was omnipresent during my high school years of 1975 to 1977. A couple of classmates and cross country teammates were obsessed with it and quoted lyrics in the school hallways and made much of the admittedly brilliant ‘burning man’ cover art, and the deeper philosophical implications thereof.
In the fullness of time, I learned the album was inspired by Syd Barrett, an original Pink Floyd band member, who was stricken with schizophrenia and was unable to continue as a musician. It was a song of loss, longing, melancholy. Ironically, while the band was mixing down the album, Syd visited the studio but was so disruptive they escorted him out–begging the question of just how badly did they wish he was there. Floyd’s prior effort, ‘Dark side of the Moon’ also took inspiration from Syd’s illness, the moon being associated with lunacy in former times.
And a few years ago, it became linked to my dearly departed friend, Steve Gursky. More on this remarkable man in other posts, but I will simply note that his brother, Loren, played the song on acoustic guitar and sang it at Steve’s funeral gathering. He said it was the hardest song he ever had to play, but that he just had to do it for his older brother.
And I now present you with another priceless treasure from youtube, a cover of the song from an extremely talented young woman–even more melancholy than the Pink Floyd version, if such a thing can be humanly possible. She has put multiple versions of it on youtube. She started with the sheet music, and now appears to have memorised it. Looks like its getting under her skin too.
This is for you, Steve. I truly do wish you were here.
For me, the pop/folk/rock of the 1960s was joyful in a way that has never been replicated. In my mind, conveyance of joy in popular music is a historical concept replaced with today’s obsession with darker emotions and debasement of the flesh.
I haven’t linked to any youtube yet in this blog, but I will give it a try here. Youtube has become not just a treasure chest of 60s music, but rather a city full of treasure the likes of which one can never fully explore. For your enjoyment I present this sugary snack from Cyrcle, Turn Down Day, a sound alike to their greatest achievement, the wonderful Red Rubber Ball.
A couple of notes here. It may be the limitations of my ears or mind, but I really prefer simple music in terms of number of instruments and singers. This simplicity was due to technological limitations of the era, when a premier studio counted itself lucky to have a three track tape recorder.
The item I really enjoyed in this video (the lack of microphones indicating lip-sync to their studio recording), is the small and typical early to mid-60s drum kit. a snare and hi hat, one mounted tom, one floor tom, and a single ride cymbal. And look how the drummer has managed to dramatize his 16ths on the ride by swinging his arm while swatting out quarters on the snare.
Since I mentioned Red Rubber Ball, I found another tasty morsel, a live performance of this song. Again, the drummer is of interest as I have always felt the drum shuffle was a key element of this song’s success. In a live setting, their soaring harmonies are rougher but also less sterile than the studio effort. I will also mention my lust of the gibson 335 one of the guys is playing. This video is said to be a 1966 performance, and the longer hair and less formal clothing indicates this to be about the last moment of mountain stream purity in pop music before the psychedelic influence that transforms pop music in 1967.
PS. Well, holy socks, Batman! The videos show up with an image preview–that’s as good as it gets.