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Date: 21/03/23

An American Trilogy (almost)

Three music tracks here chums, just to keep you going while I'm busy. They're all tracks by American artists, one of which I knew from old, but two which have only recently come to my attention.

The first one comes from the tail end of 1966, and is by the Mamas And The Papas, one of the premier pop vocal groups of that age. It's a remarkable song, not so much for the music (wonderfully bouncy though that is) but for the lyrics. They tell the story of how the band came into being, tracing its antecedents from the Journeymen in the early-sixties flowering of the American folk revival. The trip name-checks many of the people who were to become the luminaries of what might be termed 'folk pop' in the mid-sixties: not just John and Michelle Phillips (née Gilliam), but Denny Doherty and 'Mama' Cass Elliot (who joined the couple in the Mamas And The Papas in due course), John B. Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky (later of the Lovin' Spoonful), Roger ( Jim) McGuinn (The Byrds), and Barry McGuire (the New Christy Minstrels).

There are few songs - especially ones deemed to be comparatively 'lightweight' - which have an entire web page dedicated to their exegesis. It's here, and I suggest you listen to the track once and then a second time whilst perusing the analysis:

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If the Mamas And The Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful, et al. were the sound of the middle of that extraordinary decade, the Everly Brothers had been the voices of its beginning. By 1968, however, their fortunes had declined, and their August 1968 single, Milk Train didn't improve things.

But it's the B-side I want to refer you to here (apparently, it's the side that Phil and Don wanted on top). The Lord Of The Manor has been interpreted as a song about a corporate executive knocking off one of his female subordinates whilst a male underling nurses a grudge against the big boss who's boning the girl he longs for. This is, I think, a misreading. I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that the lyrics are far less oblique and are actually about an actual lord screwing an actual serving maid at his actual stately pile whilst the actual young footman who longs for her lies awake in the actual attic cursing his actual employer. The reference to His Lordship getting the chauffeur to drive his wife away is not incongruous; the minor aristocracy would have had their own drivers, after all. And the reason I can be so sure about this interpretation is that the song was written by an Englishman, Terry Slater, who was a sideman for the Everlys and others at the time of the record's recording (hence the 'almost' in the title of this post).

The track itself takes a while to get going, and reminds us that by this time the brothers had moved towards more overtly country material. When the vocals start, however, you can hear that their unique style of harmony was still intact and as effective as ever:

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The final panel of my triptych comes from 1972, and features talents which - like the Mamas And The Papas - flourished in the field of pop in the mid to late sixties.

The Turtles were a vocal group who were enormous in the US from 1965 to 1970, although less so on this side of the Great Sewer. They are perhaps best known for Happy Together, a perfect piece of sunshine pop from the beginning of 1967. When the band finally split in 1970, its prime movers Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman went on - perhaps somewhat incongruously - to become live vocalists for Frank Zappa during his 'comedy music' phase. However, because of a restriction in the contract they had signed whilst in the Turtles, they were unable to perform under their own names, so created for themselves the characters of The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie (Flo & Eddie for short), under which moncikers they performed and recorded.

When Zappa was forced off the road in December 1971 (having been shoved off the stage at the Rainbow in London by a crazed man who thought that FZ was stealing his girlfriend), Flo & Eddie managed to get a recording contract of their own and went on to release four albums over the next eight years (the last one an LP of rocksteady with some luminaries of Jamaican music, including Aston Barrett and Augustus Pablo).

The track I'm going to point you at here is Just Another Town from their eponymous second album in 1973. It's a song which reflects with a wistful melancholy the life of a touring musician (probably reminiscences of their time with the Turtles) and the repetitive nature of such a life. The arrangement is simple - just vocals and acoustic guitar - and all the more beautiful for that:

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