Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer of Steed, Part 2

This Saturday post, coming on Sunday, is late because of out-of-town connectivity issues, and not because I was too busy primping for my 30th high-school reunion. Honest. Sorry about the delay. Before I start the post, I'd like to mention also that I am participating in the Vinyl Record Day blogswarm on Tuesday, August 12. You will find links to other participants here if this happens to be the music blog you check out first. And now, the Saturday evening post:

The summer of 1970 was waning when one of the best Eternal Summer singles hit the charts. Bobby Bloom's only Top 40 hit, "Montego Bay" (L&R/MGM 157), joined the rotation at WLS in Chicago just as the final echoes of "Lay a Little Lovin' on Me" faded from the air. I was home, back at school, when "Montego Bay" arrived on the scene, so I managed to get a copy of this gem while it was in the store.

I relate the song to Steed Records because Bobby Bloom worked with Jeff Barry at Steed, and Jeff co-wrote and produced the song. Bobby and Robin McNamara often contributed backing vocals to each other's songs.

If you're familiar with Jeff's production work beginning (perhaps) with "Iko Iko" by the Dixie Cups, you understand how important percussion has been to his overall sound, and especially Caribbean rhythms. (To paint the complete picture, I should note that Neil Diamond's version of "La Bamba," produced by Jeff and Ellie Greenwich, sounds pretty much like "Cherry, Cherry" and thus is not a successful foray into the world of Latin percussion.)

"Montego Bay" should, of course, have a Caribbean feel, and its authenticity owes a lot to the real-life experiences that led to the writing of the song. More on that in a moment.

As was the case with Andy Kim's "Baby, I Love You," Jeff recorded all of the percussion for "Montego Bay" one instrument at a time. The result is an extremely clean recording with great separation. He and Bobby Bloom recorded the song with no additional musicians at all.

What first attracted me to the song was the mention of an MG in the first verse. My dad bought a baby-blue MGB convertible in 1970, and we tooled around Northwest Indiana in that thing. I remember a trip to the Big Wheel restaurant at the Gary-Merrillville border for chocolate sundaes. We sorted out a lot of our relationship then, what it would be with my mother gone. The reality that you really needed two MGBs, one to drive and one to leave with the mechanic, didn't keep me from loving that car. And there was Bobby Bloom, singing about driving one in Jamaica.

Since I already owned a Jeff Barry single, finding his name on "Montego Bay" was an added treat. This knowledge, in fact, helped cement his position as my most admired songwriter/producer, coming as it did on the heels of "Sugar, Sugar."

The song itself doesn't strike me as a bubblegum tune, despite its link to two purveyors of the genre. Bobby Bloom and Jeff Barry were talking about experiences they had had separately in Jamaica, and Jeff helped Bobby mold specific real-life references into the striking visual imagery that makes up the lyrics. The song is catchy, but the discussion of deliveries of cool rum is not aimed at teens.

The song has an added feature, a promo clip that is actually one of the earliest modern-form music videos I have ever seen. By that I mean that the video doesn't merely show Bobby Bloom lip-synching the song on a stage; money was spent to put him (and a camera operator) in the water, Bobby in a canoe, paddling as he lip-synched. Very 1980s MTV, very beautiful surroundings. Check it out:

The events of Bobby Bloom's life were not always so beautiful. Born in 1946, by age 23 he was known as a recording engineer as well as a music producer and songwriter. He was a friend of Vini Poncia, who later produced work by Kiss. One of the songs he co-wrote with Jeff Barry, "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom)," was turned into a Top 40 hit by the Staple Singers. Bobby contributed to the latter-day Monkees album Changes with the Barry-Bloom compositions "You're So Good to Me" and "Ticket on a Ferry Ride." He helped put Kama Sutra and Buddah Records together.

On February 28, 1974, he was shot to death "under mysterious circumstances." The shooting seems to have been accidental, but the culprit never was identified. The shooting silenced a good guy with a great voice.

We do have "Montego Bay." In case you are one of the dozen or so people who have not heard the song, here it is. And on Wednesday, I'll bring you the flip side of perhaps the last new single I ever bought. Look for the Vinyl Record Day post Tuesday as well. See you then!

Bobby Bloom, Montego Bay

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