Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunshine Lollipops -- Not

(I may be posting a bit less for the next few days -- I'm having connection problems.)

I always vowed never to become the sort of crabby old geezer who’d sit around yammering, “Ah, they don’t make rock’n’roll the way they used to! Why can’t they play something like ‘Heroin’? That was a pretty song, they don’t write songs like that anymore. It’s just a bunch of damn noise, what these kids are playing these days.”

So far I’ve managed to keep that vow. I take heart from Pete Townshend, who said when The Who were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame: “We don’t have to like hip-hop. We don’t even have to listen to it. All we have to do is get out of the way.” (I suppose the bleeped expletive was “fucking.”)

Today, however, I’m going to indulge in some shameless nostalgia, for music that got to me when I was in high school. I liked all sorts of things then, as I do now, from Led Zeppelin and the Mothers of Invention at the hard extreme to the Beatles, the Stones, Motown, and … the Association.

I’m surprised to find the Association classified as “sunshine pop”, for while I don’t deny the relentless cheeriness of songs like “Windy”, their music always had a shadowy side. Even their first hit, “Along Comes Mary” was hardly Leslie Gore (who wasn’t exactly Leslie Gore herself): its rapid-fire lyrics, the urgency of the music, and the rumor that “Mary” was actually “marihuana” all sit uneasily in a bubblegum pigeonhole. Later songs like “Requiem for the Masses” and “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies” also indicate the the group had more serious themes in mind. One band member has recalled that they were criticized for being too “squeaky-clean”, which must have grated, though in the video below they’re all grinning like an “Up with People” ensemble; the smiles look painfully forced. But “Cherish”, whose overwrought choral grinding always got on my nerves, "Never My Love", which is sheer cheese to my ears, and “Windy” seem to be what most Association fans associate with the band.

My own favorite is “Everything That Touches You”, one of the first pop songs ever to move me close to tears. I don’t know which boy it made me think of; maybe none in particular, maybe just what seemed then to be the impossibility of getting as close as I wanted to any male. And even now that I’m a cynical old jade, the music of this song still gets me.

I think I must have seen this performance, since I watched The Smothers Brothers Show regularly, and I still remember seeing the Who, the Doors, and Cream there. But if I saw the Association, I don’t remember noticing the presence of an Asian guy (Filipino by ancestry, I now see, but born and raised in Hawaii), very unusual in American pop music, then and now. [P.S. The version I referred to has been removed from Youtube, and I couldn't find another copy of it there. For now, I'm replacing it with a video of the song with an album cover.]

I also stumbled on this performance of “Along Comes Mary.” They’re actually performing live here: it sounds distinctly different from the studio version, and it even swings a bit. Very nice, huh?