When Did Pat Most Get to You? The Smithereens, “Listen To Me Girl” & “I Don’t Want To Lose You” (1986)

smithereensFor Pat DiNizio (the sunglasses) 1955-2017

When did Pat most get to you? (Of course we’re talking about the band, not Pat alone.)

I bet some would answer, “The whole somber mass of Green Thoughts” (1988). I feel like that too. But for individual song highlights I go back to Especially For You (1986), and here my reach splits into two: for a lift and a ride, “Listen To Me Girl,” and for undoing my insides, “I Don’t Want To Lose You.”

“Listen To Me Girl” is all about triplets–that is, it makes extensive use of a simple polyrhythm of three notes evenly distributed across two beats. You get that triplet feeling that you’re skating over the groove at the end of each verse line (first heard at 0:20), nicely contrasting the stiff duple rhythm that prevails elsewhere, and in one or both halves of each verse lyric (“I’ve been so” at 0:22, etc.). (Compare the verse and guitar solo of “Drown In My Own Tears” [1988] for a similarly effective use.)

The bridge (1:28) is almost all triplets:

Some – times I
won   – der  just
what    she     is      (doing)

The best thing about this triplets song is that it delivers a triplet climax at the end. Starting at 2:18, the coda is all “Listen to me girl” repeating on relatively high notes, so that skating becomes flying. The primal plea becomes exultant. That’s the hook I wish to salute.

Now “I Don’t Want To Lose You” has that boom – bop-bop groove that moves us along happily, or would if the song were simply happy, which it’s not, though it’s not unhappy either. In the primary chord pattern I – bVII – V, we begin to be colored sad by the bVII but then we’re jollied by the good old dominant V (yet with the lingering knowledge that we didn’t go straight there).

At 0:30 we shift to a gorgeous secondary chord pattern. It’s the deeper-dark bVI of our original I, followed by the bIII of our original I, followed by the IV. In their own new scheme of things these chords figure as a bIII – bVII – I, treating that last chord as a I because we land on it so firmly.

This is where my knees buckle and I intensely wonder how I am feeling. I think it’s because there’s a swirl of bittersweet harmonic information in the superimposed identities of the chords.

That’s it. What a place to be.

Just as the first song makes me admit that “Listen to me, girl” is the thing I am always most passionately ready to say“I don’t want to lose you” is the thing I am always scaredest of having to say.

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Comfortably Together: Traffic, “Heaven Is In Your Mind” (1967)

A December 1967 release:


We’re sitting in Traffic’s living room and digging how the cozy ensemble isn’t trying too hard. The track speaks to us calmly and confidently like a jewel of a demo. Jim Capaldi’s unusual yet perfectly sensible drum pattern leaves shapely spaces.[1] The voices sound slightly tamped down. And yet there’s a lot of psychedelic stereo panning going on, and the piano is heavy-reverbed on the “heaven is in your mind” part. Actually, the track is very interestingly produced, with lots of little unassignable sounds crowding in (headphone review recommended). But it never loses that comfortably-all-together quality it has established at the start.

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[1] “She’s Not There” has a similarly simple and dominating drum pattern.

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The Phantom of the You: The Young Rascals, “How Can I Be Sure” (1967)

What an unexpected song!

As emblematic of the whole wonder, I admire certain unexpected low notes in the melody. They come at these places in the first verse:

Whenever I, whenever I am away from you (0:28)
I want to die, ’cause you know I want to stay with you (0:37)

And again in the second verse, setting up a special effect that will soon follow:

Whenever I, whenever I am away from you (1:03)
My alibi is telling people I don’t care for you (1:12)

The note of that you is a G, a step down from the easier choice, A. In the accompaniment we’re going back and forth here between an E-minor chord and an A major. The G note belongs to the E-minor, not the A major — that is, to the preparation for the A resolution, a step off from the A resolution itself — so even though it’s in harmony at that moment there’s something stubborn and backward about it. It’s one of the telltales of the unsure undercurrent of love.

This G has made such an impression that it haunts a later note that is fully three steps higher, the note for “who’s”:

Maybe I’m just hanging around with my head up, upside down
It’s a pity, I can’t seem to find someone who’s (1:27)
as 
pretty and lovely as you

“Who’s” is on C (backed by an F major chord), same as the C of “(some)one,” but it would make so much sense to go down to G again (and “who’s” does rhyme with “you”)  that my ear reaches all the way down for it. I’m aided by a blurring of the C and the F-major feeling by a lower harmony-vocal E note dropping in, strange reminder of the old E-minor (and making a spooky major seventh of the F chord, potentially a major ninth including a G). I may also be loosened up by the words “I can’t seem to find someone . . .” The result, for one or more of these numerous reasons, is a definite phantom G. Now that I concentrate fifty years later on hearing what the note actually is, I’m quite surprised it’s way up there at C.

I must now try to erase that knowledge. This is not a hook for which clarity is helpful. Sorry.

*

On the subject of songs we never expected, what about “Piece Of My Heart,” first sprung on the world by Erma Franklin in 1967?  Here’s an impressive 1992 performance:

It starts out very calm and ordinary, doesn’t it? But since when are you allowed to ratchet up so much more intensity in the second phase of a verse? And where’s the ladder that got us up to the “Come on, come on, come on, come on”? And how is it possible that we have yet another thrilling leap upward to “Take it!”

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Just Stay There: Beck, “Dreams” (2015)

This just in from Beck, re-issued on his 2017 album Colors: a wonderful simple chord trick in “Dreams.

The song’s main chord progression is stated right away (this forms the reference baseline for the trick that comes later). It’s a C-sharp to D-sharp to A, then E to F-sharp to C-sharp, which as we’re in the key of C-sharp could be written:

1…………………2……………….3………………….4…………….. [the beats in each measure]
I……………………………………II…………………bVI*………… [the chords]    *with added 2nd
…………Come on     out        of      your      dreams

bVI………………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………and

bIII………………………………….IV……………….I……………………..
wake    up     from    your       re   –   ve   –   rie

I……………………………………………………………………………………

There’s already a good trick here, starting each major segment a beat early on the 4-beat. It’s a common device for getting you to put down your foot hard on the 4, making more of an event out of each measure’s turnaround. But that’s not what rang the Hooks bell in this case.

The chorus starts for the first time at 1:16, and it mutates the verse pattern in two affecting ways. First, it drops in the sweetest chord we didn’t hear in the verse, the flat-seventh (bVII), to make an extra step between the bIII and the IV in the third line. Second, watch what’s done with that IV:

1…………………..2…………………3………………….4……………………
I………………………………………..II……………….bVI
Dreams

bVI………………………………………………………………………………..
……………d   –    d    –   d   –   dreams

bIII……………………………………bVII……………..IV…………………
……………………She’s                  mak – ing        me  high,

IV…………………………………………………………………………………..
……………………she’s                  mak – ing        me  high

See how we’re up there with IV for five whole beats instead of returning to I in the fourth line of the unit as we ought to have done? Prolonging the IV induces an unusual, slightly bewildering experience of staying high.

So yeah, stay there, don’t let go of your high; or, on the other model, don’t leave your dream yet: keep your eyes closed for a few more seconds. You can.

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Stepping Up: The Association, “Windy” (1967)

steps

Nothing in 1967 affected me more strongly, more transportingly, than “Windy.”

It’s true that the tune does not come out of the gate like three-weeks-at-#1 material. It’s stiff and slow, and the bass riff it offers is insipid (a simple pentatonic figure that the melody will pick up and drive into the ground). Our ears get interested, however, by the harpsichord buzz added to the bass line (first heard at 0:07, and prominent on the 1-2-3-4 turnarounds at 0:28 and 1:21) and the juicy sound of congas in the bridge. In the second verse we’re won over more deeply by background vocals in a nice ascending pattern that pulls against the descending bass line.

Let me explain. The verse bass line goes from F to Eb to Bb to C, and the first two of those moves are downward. That’s the way a I-bVII-IV-V progression usually feels (compare “Just Like Me”). But the background vocal notes are F followed by a step up to G (the third, rather than the tonic, of the Eb chord), then a step-and-a-half up to Bb, then a step up to C. It’s the lift (G to A) of a drop (G to F), a seriousness made a buoyancy.

If one knows The Association, one is optimistic at this point that some magnificent vocal effects are in store. Compare the spine-tingling massed background vocals in “You Hear Me Call Your Name”, especially from 1:42.

And guess what? Exactly at 1:42 “Windy,” too, goes into turbodrive with the new background vocal action of the returning second verse. It turns the long notes F-G-Bb-C that we heard the first time into purposefully enunciated steps upward: F-F-G-G-Bb-Bb-C-C. This little bit of further articulation and hastening adds enough energy to the verse to wrench it free from the pleasant lassitude of the sunshine pop experience. Suddenly we are doing something, trying to go somewhere, succeeding the way you succeed step by step on a stairway that’s well matched to your ascending stride. The blend of sound in the invigorated arrangement is as smoothly beautiful as ever. Felicity, stay a while . . . through four repetitions of the verse, almost enough to get us to the heavenly top of the stairs.

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Scary: The Who, “I Can See For Miles” (1967)

scary fish 2

Next in my series of fifty-years-late appreciations of music in the year of wonders, I turn to a September 1967 (U.S.) release.

Some tracks burst into your life sounding unnervingly good in a deeply unfamiliar way. (The uniqueness makes this a different phenomenon than the sounding-incredibly-good of “Bell Bottom Blues.”) You’re taken on a ride you had never come close to imagining and something of this shock stays with the experience. For me, “Purple Haze,” “Dreams,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” are among the supreme examples.

Slowly in recent years I’ve been regaining my ability to hear a song of this order that got beaten flat by overplaying on the radio when it was first a hit, “I Can See For Miles.”

Dave Marsh said rightly that “I Can See For Miles” sounded “so big it was scary” [1]. Scary-big is certainly what The Who were after. But now we can discriminate levels of scare. There’s the bombast. There’s how scary-good it is at what it’s doing—how pure its arrangement, how bracing its playing, how fat and sharp its sounds, so different from everything else around.[2] There’s (I almost forgot!) the menace of “I can see you.” And there’s something else in the song that’s so threatening I can barely voice the thought.

“I Can See For Miles” starts as an intro, or a tease, with an even 8/8 pulse dramatically inflected with drum crescendos, and it never stops being that. Its pulse never resolves into a rock ‘n’ roll beat with accents on 2 and 4. It’s not even a rock ‘n’ roll song—it’s all portentous prelude. It implies, negatively, You must live without rock ‘n’ roll as you have known it, or positively, Here is something greater. In the parts that should finally give us the beat, right after “miles and miles and miles and miles and miles,” the drums are just texture and it’s Townsend’s upward-bending guitar notes that mark the 2 and 4 spots so that you’re not completely bereft of a rock point of reference.

And it’s long, too, with no real solos–four minutes long, in 1967! It makes sure you get the point.

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[1] Dave Marsh, The Heart of Rock & Soul (New York: New American Library, 1989), p. 33.

[2] I didn’t know about “E Too D” by The Small Faces (1966).

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Too Beautiful: Small Faces, “Itchycoo Park” (1967)

Itchycoo
The year of wonders, 1967, is well-represented on the Hooks site, but I’d like to lift up one more wonder to mark its fiftieth anniversary.

I’ve always found “Itchycoo Park” (released in August 1967) tremendous, but to protect the experience I’ve long felt I must not think about the song’s cutesy title, dodgy subject matter, and most of its words. My objections have thankfully fallen away over the years. “Bridge of Sighs” (for Cambridge) and “dreaming spires” (for Oxford) now sound like canny references to a hypocritical old cultural fascination with getting high. “Why go to learn the words of fools?” now sounds biblically grand and redeems the school/cool rhyme in the line preceding. Perhaps I still would rather not feed the ducks with a bun, but that’s a minor issue.

The song has a quiet, gorgeous heart in the second and third chords of the verse. The four-chord sequence you might first guess for this verse would be A to E to G to D (I-V-bVII-IV), but it’s A to C# minor (I-IIIm), lovely in itself,[1] for “Sighs” and “spires” for example, and then the change from C# down to G becomes a daredevil use of the weirdest of all intervals, the flatted-fifth or sharped-fourth. It’s a real plunge, not in pitch but in harmonic logic; you land, however, on a polytonal bed of roses, the A chord of the melody’s notes hovering fragrantly over the G accompaniment while a droning organ G-chord-with-A held through that measure (“I’d like to go there”) assures that you’re aiming at a real place that is lush.

The great loud hook is the surprising rightness of Steve Marriott’s soulful shouts in the chorus–an element conspicuously missing in another chord-gorgeous psychedelic hit of 1967, “Incense and Peppermints.” Ian McLagan complained later that Marriott had made “It’s all too beautiful” too perky, but perky doesn’t describe it.[2] It’s sublime. (Consider how the very phrase “too beautiful” switches the aesthetic polarity over from the congenial Beautiful to the challenging Sublime.) Thanks to the eruptive yet precisely controlled high energy of the loud vocal, there’s nothing mushy or cobwebby about this climactic experience. It touches the sky.

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[1] . Two more points about the C# minor: (1) well, you generally can’t go wrong with C# minor; but in this case (2) it’s the relative minor of E major, sharing with E the notes E and G#, so the A to C# minor move is something like going up to the likely E chord (A’s “dominant”) which would normally be reached by dropping down from A–in that up, a sense of slightly questionable yet happy lift.

[2] Interview in Small Faces documentary @ 27:05.

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