Thursday, February 9, 2017

SHG: Cher: "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)"

Cher: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”
Entered the chart on: 3/26/66
Peaked on: 4/23/66
Weeks at #2: 1
Song at #1: “(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers

Cher has become such a larger-than-life personality that her persona has rather eclipsed her artistic achievements. It’s hard to remember this time, when she was still the lanky, raven-haired, acerbic foil to diminutive, shaggy-vested Sonny Bono. Singing, comedy/variety, dramatic acting, Cher has done it all.

That said she wasn’t really a great singer. She set the mould for Madonna and others who pushed a strong character via limited talent. Which isn’t to say she’s awful, but there were definitely limits to Cher’s singing ability, and the results could be rather woeful when she pushed them too far (listen to her version of Janis Ian’s “Stars” some time).

To be fair to her, Cher’s throaty alto voice and twangy delivery was nothing if not distinctive and memorable. Coupled with her unforgettable appearance, one could understand why listeners reacted to her so strongly. It helps, in a way, that she was provided with unforgettable, if often kitschy, material. Her commercial (musical) plateau came in the early 70s with a hat-trick of #1 hits (“Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Half-Breed” and “Dark Lady”), each seemingly campier and more absurd than the last.

I’ll profess non-familiarity with this particular tune, but going by the title, it seems like a dry run of the delirious silliness to come in the following decade. In fact, coupled with her prior top 10 entry—“You Better Sit Down, Kids”—the titles suggest the plot of a soap-operatic potboiler. I’m getting Claudelle Inglish flashbacks just reading them.

Yeah, before her vocals even start, the overwrought orchestration—fronted by weepy violin, like something out of a Victorian melodrama—tells you what you’re in store for. My previous paragraph was pretty much right on the money with this. The lyrics are definitely in “kitschy story-telling mode.”

While it’s definitely cut from the same cloth as her later hits, it sounds like “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” in embryonic form. First off, the arrangement is a lot more old-fashioned. Her later hits had a modern pop flash to them, this is almost like gypsy campfire music with its violins, mandolins and fast fandango complete with shouts of “Hey!” in the middle eight. Also, she shows her age and inexperience with this, displaying almost a diffidence in her soft-pedal performance. She’d later gain an undeniable aura of confidence which made her irresistible to record buyers, but she still comes across as “girlish” here.

In short...pretty much what I expected. Inessential, but fun and more than a little silly.

Rating: 3

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SHG: The Lovin' Spoonful: "Daydream"

The Lovin’ Spoonful: “Daydream”
Entered the chart on: 3/12/66
Peaked on: 4/9/66
Weeks at #2: 2
Song at #1: “(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers

The Lovin’ Spoonful get my vote as one of the more underrated 60s “classic rock” acts. Their rootsy sound was sort of the lost, missing link between the Young Rascals and Creedence Clearwater Revival. And I rather prefer them to either of the aforementioned (though I like the Rascals fine, and rather regret that I won’t be reviewing any of their tunes). Unfortunately, in these “90% of acts from the past are reduced to one-hit wonder status” days of oldies radio programming, “Summer in the City” is the only tune of theirs that seems to get any airplay these days.

Not that it’s a bad song, but they have a lot more to recommend than just that. I imagine it gets a lot of love because it’s their “edgiest” song. In general, they were a bit laid-back and good-natured, which I guess doesn’t play as well in a world gone hard and cynical. I, for one, have a soft spot for this element of their sound, fondly remembering my mom’s copy of “Nashville Cats*.”

So...clearly these guys need a second appraisal. Let’s examine the first (of two) of the songs that brought them here to Second Hand Goods:

Wow, talk about stripped-down! All you hear at first accompanying John Sebastian’s voice is a banjo-sounding guitar. Eventually we get a full band of sorts, with some light, very legato guitar injections, saloon piano and bass. And is it my imagination, or are there no drums on this track? All I’m hearing are spoons! So that’s where Split Enz got it from!

Despite the country-fied sound, lyrically this comes across as very suburban. A song about the simple domestic pleasures of a day off from work, with his best lady. “Bundle of joy” suggests that she’s just given birth, too...or maybe that’s his pet name for her. In any case, in spite of the late winter release date, this conjures up images of lazy summer afternoons, sipping a cold drink while swinging in a hammock with one of your feet dangling over the side.

Really not much more to say about this. A modest pleasure, but one I sure wouldn’t want to be without.

Rating: 5

*on the Kama Sutra label, fact fans. I admired the label design, and because my age was still in single digits, the “suggestive” nature of the label’s name flew right over my innocent head. Incidentally, one of the first records I ever owned, which I’ll be reviewing some time in the future, was also released on Kama Sutra. I’ll let you ponder what that might be.