Sunday, April 27, 2014
WE INTERRUPT YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED “RADIO” PROGRAMMING FOR THIS LATE-BREAKING “CASE FOR” POST! YOU WILL BE RETURNED TO YOUR "RADIO" LISTENING MOMENTARILY . . .
On the one hand, it might seem like The Association is a band that has a long way to go to have a good case made for them. Their ensemble singing in the midst of the changing ‘60s rock landscape, moving ever farther away from the innocent days of the Four Seasons in the early ‘60s to the grittier sounds of the psychedelic era, certainly shortened their lifespan. And it would be very understandable to dismiss them if you knew them only for “Cherish,” one of the most cloyingly sappy #1 songs of the ‘60s, if not of the entire rock era. If that was all The Association had going for them, there wouldn’t be much of a case to made. But as it turns out, on the same album that “Cherish” leads off Side 2, Side 1 ends with “Along Comes Mary,” a relatively hip — emphasis on “relatively” — little nugget that not so obliquely references the joys of marijuana. It’s catchy, and hints at an ability to get groovy that “Cherish” doesn't even whisper a suggestion of.
Where that hint leads to something of real musical worth is, in my mind, their 1967 album, Insight Out. Aside from containing two of the best non-Beatles pop singles of the ‘60s, “Windy” and “Never My Love,” the album has two lost gems of Summer of Love psychedelia, “Reputation” and “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’”; a passably decent war protest song, “Requiem for the Masses”; a quirky psychedelic vaudeville song (how many bands can claim that?), “Wasn’t It a Bit Like Now (Parallel ’23)”; and an assortment of other melodically appealing songs well-informed by the classic pop sound of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they match that level of greatness, the songs exhibit a similar perfectionist feel). Insight Out is a lesser-known masterpiece of baroque pop, and one can’t help but imagine that it had a big influence on the sound of ‘80s baroque bands such as The Three O’Clock and later on the likes of such Elephant 6 Collective bands as Beulah and Olivia Tremor Control.
But since my case for The Association is based primarily on this album, let's let the music do the talking now. I encourage you to listen to these gems before you write the band off as hopeless sapsters, rather than the influential baroque popsters they actually were. [Click the song titles to hear the songs.]
First, the uncannily cool “Wasn’t It a Bit Like Now” — even if the first minute or so doesn’t grab you, wait for the second half, where they come roaring back with a groovy riff and verse that Austin Powers would have gone bonkers for.
Wasn't It a Bit Like Now
Then there’s the massive hit, “Windy,” one of the great happy pop songs of the era, rivaling Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song.” It’s a wonder — written by Ruthann Friedman — the propulsive beat of which can’t help but bring a smile to all but the most jaded music fans.
Next up is a cover of a Tim Hardin composition, “Reputation,” where they show some true rock chops and show themselves able to truly get into a Jefferson Airplane-like frame of mind. I love this song.
Then there’s “Never My Love,” which manages to be everything that I think “Cherish” wanted to be but was too cheesy to achieve: A truly gorgeous melody and romantic lyrics that don’t get mucked up by the ensemble singing. In my mind, one of the great love songs of all time.
Never My Love
Next is “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’,” a cover of a little-known psychedelic song by The Flower Pot (a Spinal Tap-worthy pseudonym for session musician Mike Deasy, who played on Pet Sounds and scads of other ‘60s records). Instead of linking to the song directly here, I’d like to direct you to my primary blog, Reselect.com, for an August 2011 post where you’ll find a more detailed writeup on "Wantin' Ain't Gettin'," as well as the beginnings of my defense of The Association as a whole.
Finally, one great, final track from their next album, Birthday, released in 1968: “Like Always,” one of their most freewheeling and organically cool songs, period. It trips along, intentionally lazily in the verse, but features a chorus full of beautiful Beach Boys-style harmonies, and then suddenly switches gears for a stunning vocal round. A really fantastic piece of ‘60s pop.
Hopefully, after listening to these, you've gained more of an appreciation for the talents of The Association. Admittedly, I grew up with Insight Out and Birthday, so I've had more time to soak them in, but there's a lot of stuff I liked as a kid that hasn't aged nearly as well, so there's more to it than that.
[Purchase Insight Out]