Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pop Tops

Good old George "Hannibal" Peppard on The A Team used to exult, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

I was thinking of that quote while sliding down Perring Parkway on the way to work in the morning.  At the time, I was listening to Elvis sing "Suspicious Minds," and it struck me that when people work together, they can really pull off some wondrous things.

It was between 4 and 7 on the morning of January 23, 1969 when a group of musicians gathered with The King in Chips Moman's American Sound Studios in Memphis, TN to cut this record.  Since I am not Marilu Henner, I can't tell you exactly where I was during those hours, but since I was a senior in high school at the time, I can pretty well state with certainty that I was not engaged in any form of studying.  It was a Thursday morning, and I was probably resting up in preparation for a big weekend of hanging around the firehouse.  Down on Elvis Presley Boulevard, E was in the midst of a nice career recovery at the time; the month before, his '68 Comeback special had been on TV and we all got to see that he had not forsaken his music for the sake of dumb movies where he played playboys and cowboys and Indians.  The single was released in the fall of '69, following "In The Ghetto" on the Billboard charts, and it was E's final #1 record during his lifetime.  The followup was "Don't Cry Daddy."

The producer of "Suspicious Minds" was Felton Jarvis, and he came up with an idea that was to confound disc jockeys the world over.  At 3:33 of the song, the instrumentals and voices fade out, leading half-awake jocks to spin around, grab their headphones and prepare to do a time-and-temp check, only to realize that the song had another minute to play.  This is the second most popular way to fool a disc jockey, the first, of course, being to call on the phone and promise to bring a sub and some snackage down to the station, and then not to do so.  That one never gets old.

If you will, go here and listen to the song and enjoy all of its many aspects.  What I was saying about when a plan comes together is that:  all those horn players, guitarists, drummers, others in the session were once kids whose parents sent them off to horn, guitar, drum or whatever lessons.  All that practice, all those years of playing scales and earning scale paid off early in the morning almost 42 years ago.

Same for the vocalists.  That plaintive female voice backing the King?  Her name was Donna Jean Godchaux, and she went on to become a member of the Grateful Dead.  It's only right that she went from singing for Elvis to singing for the Dead, since Elvis was hip before there were hippies.  

On the other hand, in 1965 the Beach Boys released their version of Bobby Freeman's hit "Do You Wanna Dance?" Curiously, Brian Wilson, leader of the group, allowed his brother Dennis, the drummer, to sing lead on this song, but it's hardly a masterpiece of production.  Dennis's vocals sound a little thin, and then when the chorus comes up, it's a sonic wash of texture - led by Brian, who produced it.  On the second verse, Dennis goes to sing, "Do you wanna dance, under the moonlight, kiss me kiss me all through the night..." but momentarily mixes up and thinks it's the verse where he's to sing "...squeeze me squeeze me" so it comes out "...skiss me kiss me."  And Brian left it that way!  Was Brian attempting to show up his younger brother, who was the only surfer in the family, a popular athlete who was regarded as being way cooler than Brian? After all, Dennis had to go to their mom and have her force Brian to let him in the group in the first place! Listen here and tell me what you think. 

I sure can read a lot into pop tunes from the 1960's, but man, don't they all sound sweet?

No comments: