Friday, May 23, 2008

An Oldie, 1970 Style

My perspective on what constitutes an “oldie” has changed over time. When I was 11, the Chicago “oldies” station, WIND, played songs from ten to fifteen years before. That pretty much took things back to the beginning of the Rock Era, so there was nowhere else to go. Now, if you play fifteen-year-old songs, you’re talking Nirvana. To me, that doesn’t seem like an oldie.

I got a very fresh perspective on oldies today, Friday, May 23. My Spanish students were making videos of skits they had written as a final project. One pair included a long sequence that pictures them throwing a baseball around. They chose “Peace of Mind” by Boston for the audio. I found it a perfectly rational choice.

Today, the film’s director stopped by to check on his grade, and he mentioned that he and his partner had wanted to learn the song so they could play it themselves to impress me further. The other guy couldn’t get the acoustic guitar licks down, so they just used the recording. “It’s a pretty good song,” this student said.

The way he said it made me realize he had just discovered “Peace of Mind.” That reminded me of the day my brother Jeff, listening to Aerosmith in 1988, said, “I heard they had a few hits a long time ago.” And, no kidding, someone once said in my presence, “That’s the band Paul McCartney was in before Wings.”

For the first but not last time this year, I am going to visit the summer of 1970. The song I am presenting today isn’t from the summer; it was an “oldie” by then. In 1970 parlance, that means it had spent several months out of the rotation on WLS. Its final week in the Top 40 was February 21, 1970. It had reached #10 in its ten-week chart run, but I hadn’t paid it much attention, because my mind was focused elsewhere in the weeks following my mother’s death in January.

The song, “Jingle Jangle” by the Archies (Kirshner 5002), reached my ears on a hot August evening (you expected me to say “night”), and finally it registered with me as a song I would enjoy from then on.

1970 was a year of understandable turmoil in my world. As soon as school ended, my dad sent me to visit his sister in Loogootee, Indiana, a stone’s throw from Shoals, where his parents lived. My Aunt Jenny and her husband, Uncle Eddie, lived on a farm with their three sons. I learned about chickens, piglets, electric fences, and walking behind horses without letting them know you’re there. One of the boys owned “Sugar, Sugar,” so there was good music. I was there when the radio stopped playing “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and segued into the next Creedence hit, “Up Around the Bend.”

Then it was back to Gary to visit my mom’s mom for a while. I got terribly homesick while I was there, even though Grandma made me the best breakfasts I have ever had and was marvelous company. I was still there when Father’s Day rolled around, and I didn’t hear any music at all during that stretch.

The music scene picked up for me again at the end of July and into August, when I moved about ten blocks to the home of Aunt Eileen, her husband, Uncle Jim, and my cousins Jim and Bob. The boys slept upstairs on a wide-open second-floor; Bob’s bed sat in a cubbyhole with a window that overlooked Kentucky Street. It was all very cozy.

One week in August, I’ll go into the music Bob and I heard on WLS at night. He left the radio on when the lights went out, something I had never thought of before. He developed a game in which we competed to see who could name the songs first as they came on. Though Bob is five years older than I am, I did a pretty good job of guessing the tunes. Good enough that he recalled my prowess when I visited his house seventeen years later.

Among the songs WLS played a lot that won’t be part of the blog were “The Love You Save,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “Hitchin’ a Ride.” Songs I associate particularly with that time were “Ball of Confusion” and the “Overture from Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude. I won’t forget “Big Yellow Taxi” by the Neighborhood, because Bob thought they were singing “Take down a bank, put up a parking lot.”

WLS had a very tight playlist, so I can recall just two oldies playing during those after-hours radio sessions. One was “Down in the Boondocks” by Billy Joe Royal, from 1965. I had never heard it before, so I thought it was new. Of course, they didn’t play it again. The other “oldie” was “Jingle Jangle.”

I remembered that song well, but it hadn’t given me as much joy as “Sugar, Sugar.” On that August evening, though, I recognized it from the first guitar chord, and I heard the song for the “second first” time. I could see that it had the same upbeat attitude as “The Love You Save,” a song I adored. My friends and I were amazed that a local group, the Jackson Five, had become so big. At this time, I was staying 19 blocks from the Jacksons’ former Gary home. Now, hearing “Jingle Jangle” from the perspective of having heard “ABC” and “The Love You Save” all spring and summer, I found merit in its cheeriness.

That one summer play as an “oldie” affected me enough that I bought the single when I got home later in August. I can see from looking at the label that, on one occasion in 1970 or 1971, I did another of my record censuses in which I wrote numbers on the labels so I could tell how many 45s I had. I may have alphabetized the records by this time, because “Jingle Jangle” was single number 3.

The song is a Barry/Kim composition, whereas the flip, “Justine,” is credited solely to Jeff Barry. Jeff is listed on the record as producer, with Don Kirshner as production supervisor. Donnie Kirshner’s career is pretty well-known, but maybe not to everyone: He was a key figure in the Brill Building heyday of the early 1960s, and his connections made him a natural choice to develop music for the Monkees. He brought Jeff Barry on board for that project, then they both moved on to create the Archies. He developed Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert for late-night TV around 1973, and he signed the band Kansas to his Kirshner label.

The recording was unusual for an Archies record. Ron Dante says the tune was originally meant to feature Toni Wine as the lead vocalist, so the track was recorded in her range. She sings the intro in her “Veronica” voice, but thereafter her voice comes to the fore only in counterpoint in the choruses.

What Ron did to get around the key difficulties was sing the verses in a whispery falsetto. By contrast, Jeff Barry used his deepest bass to sing “Oh, come on” in the bridge. Andy Kim is in there on the choruses, along with any number of his and Jeff’s usual suspects. I don’t have an exact list of who sang on “Jingle Jangle.”

Whenever I hear the song now, it transports me to my cousins’ bedroom in the Glen Park section of Gary. It’s dark, my cousin Bob has fallen asleep, and I am processing the changes in my world while the music flows through me. I have never been one (perhaps because I predate the video era) to like a song just because it’s paired with a great video. But sometimes my mind creates its own videos, and those images can put a decent song over the hump into the “essential” category. The decision by WLS to slip “Jingle Jangle” back onto the airwaves for one last play made all the difference for that song’s legacy in my memories.

After “Sugar, Sugar” and “Jingle Jangle,” I know some cynicism remains about the validity of cartoon bands. To counteract the sweetness of those two songs, I want to include the most serious of the Archies tunes. “A Summer Prayer for Peace” was not released in the United States, but it hit #1 in South Africa. Ron and Jeff went into the studio alone and put it together. With summer approaching in the Northern Hemisphere, save in Minnesota and perhaps Winnipeg, I’d like to repost this “oldie” that I used in a February essay. As I said then, you have to update the population numbers, but everything else is far too relevant.

Next week I will be celebrating the birthday of a jazz saxophonist you probably don’t know. He takes us back to the early caithiseach 45s after these past two weeks of Barry/Kim music. I’ll see you Wednesday!

Archies, Jingle Jangle

Archies, A Summer Prayer for Peace

4 comments:

Rachael said...

Hello, you must have grown up in the same gen area I did, and just about at the same time. Ref to Gary and Chicago radio stations...I lived in the Brunswick area of Gary the 1st 16 yrs of my life, moving a little south to a neighboring community in 1971. I was a Monkees fan in the late 60's. When they lost popularity, the Chicago stations WLS and WCFL had this listener hooked, lol. And FM radio was called 'underground' yet.

Isn't it crazy how all these things have changed so much? I am still living elsewhere in the area today, and now the oldies station is 94.7 - I listen to it because I find they play these songs you mention from the 60's and early 70's that I grew up on. Such a freshness all the music had then...I agree that to say Nirvana and others from only the 90's is not quite 'oldies', is it. And just this week in the news was talk of dj Larry Lujack returning to the airwaves, though I don't know all the details. Dick Biondi is on that 94.7 in an evening slot. I'm sure you have heard of them if you listened back then to the radio. Ah for those stress-free days of our youth, eh?

caithiseach said...

Hi Rachael,

I lived on Monroe St. in Glen Park for three months, then moved south. I attended MHS. I remember the dichotomy betwween WLS-AM (Top 40) and WLS-FM (complete Easy Listening). If Lujack comes back, I'll have the internet linked to him. I was pleased to see Biondi is back as well.

Drop me an email if you want, and we can compare notes.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, "A Summer Prayer For Peace" certainly was released domestically. I'm surprised it wasn't number one over here and more than surprised it hit number one in South Africa of all places.

caithiseach said...

Yes, it was released on Kirshner 5014 in 1971. Thanks for adding that fact to the mix. I too am surprised it didn't have more success--I tried it out on some college students now, and they thought it was a very effective piece.