Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Camp Songs: The Final Pair

When you read this post, I will most likely be in a faculty workshop at my school. I will be hearing the voices of speakers and thinking about what I did not do on my summer vacation. I am a bit unnerved, because for the first time ever, I am not ready to give up summer and meet my clientele on Monday.

I will not always have summer, but I can always have summer music, if I choose to. And long ago, I chose to keep the music of various summers close to my heart. Today, I am going to talk about two songs from distant summers.

First, I want to ask you to ponder this question: To what degree are all of our favorite songs colored by, and chosen on the basis of, positive experiences we associate with them? If you were hung by your thumbs over a vat of burning oil while “I Will Survive” was playing repeatedly at a deafness-inducing level, would that song be less likely to become one of your favorites?

OK, I chose a bad song to place in that scenario. Try “Let It Be.” As for “I Will Survive,” I hated it when it was playing at all of the parties in the spring of 1979, and then, when I went to Colima, Colima, Mexico for a spectacular summer as an exchange student, the song was just hitting the air there. So I got a double dose, and its association with a great summer did not increase my warm feelings for the song.

Consider “I Will Survive” a control for the hypothesis; two other songs I heard for the first time that summer, “Deliver Your Children” by Wings and “Don’t Forget to Remember” by the Bee Gees, hold very nostalgic spots in my sentimental soul. Thus, I ascribe association with good times a lesser role than I might have before I thought about it, and that defeats my justification for liking the two songs I am about to present to you.

Both of these songs came into my life while I was at Good Fellow Camp in Porter, Indiana. One is from June, 1972, the other from June, 1973. As I have mentioned before, being at camp kept me from buying singles, and these were gone by the time I got home. Both are by One-Hit Wonders; the second is what I call a One-Week Wonder. Both of them take me back instantly to camp; I can even smell the disinfectant they used in the Central John (yes, that’s what they called it).

At Camp Good Fellow, on arrival day and departure day, the administration played WLS over the loudspeakers, which usually blared only “Reveille” and “Taps.” On the day in 1972 that I left camp, I noted to myself that the song they were playing, “How Do You Do?” by Mouth & MacNeal (Philips 40715), was going to have to be my next purchase. I failed to gather the necessary coinage before my next shopping trip, and the record was lost to my collection. Not to my mind, though.

In the summer of 1983, I was delivering pizzas in Indianapolis for a national chain that was very popular in that time period. My 1981 Chevette had only an AM radio, so I could listen to WMLF, “The Music of Your Life,” which played early 1950s pop, and an oldies station whose call letters I cannot recall, which covered 1955-1975.

I was ready to pull into a driveway with a pizza when the first notes of the guitar opening to “How Do You Do?” came on. I gasped. I truly had not heard the song since 1972, but my recognition was instantaneous. I had 15 minutes to get the pizza to its new home, so I didn’t turn in. I drove until the song ended. If that was your pizza, I apologize.

The second song embodies the true spirit of being a One-Week Wonder, as it climbed to #40 in its one week. It was in its tenth week in the Hot 100 when it crept to #40, and it spent five weeks sliding back out of the charts. The song was “Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road (Kama Sutra 569).

This song got its airplay while I was at camp, and I never did get a radio reminder after 1973. The last time I heard it was on New Year’s Eve that year, when the DJ played it as a teaser for the WLS Top 89 Countdown for 1973. (It didn’t make it.) How could a song that peaked at #40 be a candidate for the annual Top 89 at a station that realistically used a Top 20 format?

“Back When My Hair Was Short” overachieved in Chicago. It spent 5 weeks on the WLS Top 30, charting at 25-26-25-29-17, before the station realized the song had stalled nationally and stopped playing it. During those five weeks, I heard it a lot, and I liked it a reasonable amount. In fact, I wanted to own it badly enough that I was an early buyer of the 3-CD Buddah Box, a compilation of Buddah/Kama Sutra hits. (They failed to include “Do You Know What Time It Is?” by the P-Nut Gallery. I’m still annoyed by that omission.)

I knew from the liner notes of the Rhino Have a Nice Day series that “How Do You Do?” did not meet their standards for essential, eternal pop music. I can acknowledge that opinion. On the radio, as I was driving home from my high-school reunion, WGN (Chicago) overnight hosts Steve and Johnnie referred to “Back When My Hair Was Short” as a “good bad song.” I never knew that particular song was bad, perhaps because neither the pundits nor the radio guys told me so.

I ignored the Rhino opinion. After all, they used a short edit of “How Do You Do?” on their compilation, and I had to dole out cash for a 2-CD Mouth & MacNeal import compilation to get the full-length version. So I spent about $40 for that song, and $30 for Gunhill Road’s opus. Oh, and before I got “How Do You Do?” on CD, a DJ told me his station’s copy was on a CD called Dutch Treats. The CD was out of print, but I got a cassette copy for $20. So make that $60 spent on a song Rhino dismissed.

Why would I pay so much to own these two songs? I am not sure. I liked the guitar of the Mouth & MacNeal song, and apart from the awkwardness of the lyrics, the theme of rejuvenating a love relationship seemed perfectly cheery to me. And Gunhill Road? I got the point of that one as well. Love. I think darn near all songs are about love, except for “I Will Survive.”

Mouth & MacNeal were a Dutch duo, Willem “Mouth” Duyn and Sjoukje Van’t Spijker, who used the stage name “Maggie MacNeal” for reasons that escape me, though I’m always glad when people pretend to be Irish. “Mouth” seems to have taken that name because of the big nature of his voice. The nickname is short for Big Mouth, a name under which Duyn recorded (with Little Eve) after he and Maggie split up.

Apart from this hit song, they charted once more in the U.S., with “Hey, You Love,” which peaked at #82 later in 1972. According to the compilation I bought, they had a string of hits in the Netherlands; “Hey, You Love” was actually released in Europe before “How Do You Do?”

“How Do You Do?” was written by Hans van Hemert and Henricus (Harry) van Hoof, H being a very important letter to the Dutch. Van Hemert produced the recording; he is still making records and creating music acts. Maggie (born 1950) is still singing. Mouth (born 1937) died of a heart attack in 2004, age 67.

Providing scintillating tidbits about Gunhill Road is more of a challenge, but not too bad. The trio was made up of Glenn Leopold, Gil Roman and Steven Goldrich. The song I sought for so long was first recorded with lyrics that talked too much about drugs to be radio-friendly, so they reworked the song to be about Love for the single release. The producer of their second (1972) album was none other than Kenny Rogers, who sang and played bass. The album earned a remix and a rerelease in 1973, which allowed the single to chart. Kenny isn’t listed as a producer for the single.

Leopold wrote all of the Gunhill Road material, and he has landed on his feet since that time: He writes Scooby-Doo films, Smurfs, Jonny Quest and Fantastic Four episodes, and he contributed music to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998). Gil Roman is still playing guitar, in San Francisco, and Steven Goldrich is invisible to me.

I’m hoping you like these summer tunes for what they are. To add to your enjoyment, I’m adding competing videos made for “How Do You Do?” In one of them, Mouth pretends to be using a violin and its bow to row an invisible boat. Wow.

There are no “real” videos for “Back When My Hair Was Short” on YouTube, but you can see the artwork for their albums and singles on this video.

That’s it for now. For Saturday, I’ll bring you a single that could have sent me to the emergency room. Now, it’s time for bed, because my three days of workshops start at 7am.

Mouth & MacNeal, How Do You Do?

Gunhill Road, Back When My Hair Was Short

1 comment:

jb said...

Great post, and a couple of great songs, although I'd consider "How Do You Do" a good bad song more so than "Back When My Hair Was Short."

"How Do You Do" has a peculiar power of time transportation, as you note here, and we're not the only people who've said so. Shameless plug: I wrote a little about it here: http://jabartlett.wordpress.com/2007/07/07/one-day-in-your-life-july-7-1972/

Keep up the good work.