Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849)
David Keltz as Edgar Allan Poe
A Poe Birthday Celebration Performance with David Keltz The Theosophical Society 523 N. Charles Street , Baltimore, Maryland Friday January 20: 8 pm ; Saturday January 21: 2 pm & 8 pm
The Poe Toaster may no longer raise a glass of cognac in salute and place three roses on his Westminster Church gravesite, but Edgar Allan Poe's birthday is still remembered and honored by countless fans and admirers in the city where Poe lived, courted his future wife, and found his final resting place (alongside his aunt, Maria Clemm, and wife, Virginia). Indeed, the Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration has been a perennial tradition in Baltimore since 1980. So, on Saturday, January 21, Poe groupie Amy Linthicum (wearing her stylish Edgar Allan Poe necklace) and I paid our belated best wishes to EAP by attending David Keltz's incredible one-man show (in costume and character, edited from Poe's very own words) at the Baltimore Theosophical Society. (A portion of the proceeds from his three performances were donated to the fiscally challenged Poe House and Museum to help keep it open.)
BTS is an institution that I know little about, but their mission statement says it is dedicated to investigating "the nature of the universe and humanity's place in it," promoting understanding of other cultures, and being "a nucleus of universal brotherhood among all human beings" (a designation that I suppose includes even Republicans and telemarketers), so it sounds like an entirely reasonable and admirable group to me.
By contrast, I know a lot about David Keltz. The Baltimore actor gave his first performance as Edgar Allan Poe on Halloween night 1991 at Poe's grave and has honed his craft in countless performances over the years (in addition to one-man shows celebrating D. H. Lawrence, H. L. Mencken, Captain John Smith and others), even essaying Poe as a bingo card player in Jane King and Jeff Alphin's charmingly clever 16mm film short The Bingo Caller (as pictured above left). And while I've seen many excellent Poe performances over the years by a who's who of outstanding local actors - from Tony Tsendeas and Mark Redfield to Mark S. Sanders (star of the one-man play "A Portrait of Poe") and John "Gomez" Astin's remarkable performance in Paul Day Clemens and Ron Magid's play "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary" - none tops that of David Keltz. His is the face and his is the voice I associate with Poe, as if it's indelibly stamped in my mind. That's why, when I see him around town in his street clothes shopping at Eddie's or milling about the American Visionary Art Museum's gift shop, it always throws me for a loop (you just don't expect to see Poe shopping for groceries or knick-knacks!).
Over the course of the next hour, David Keltz brought Edgar Allan Poe to life in stirring performances of "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "To Helen," "Annabel Lee" and, fittingly - since the Baltimore Ravens football team was playing the Boston Patriots for the AFC Championship the next day - "The Raven." (Though given their subsequent heart-breaking loss, the Raven's "Nevermore" quip may be the final word on Ray Lewis's quest for a second Super Bowl ring.)
Though Saturday's matinee ran roughly 60 minutes, Keltz can do up to five hours reciting and reenacting Poe's canon of poems, short stories, essays, literary criticism, letters, and reported conversations.
Immediately after Keltz's performance and a brief Q& A, a guitarist named Larry (Schectel?) played a song about Poe. Amy liked him right away because, like her, he was a lefty. Larry's song, which he stayed up composing just the night before, took the point of view of Poe's last day in Baltimore, wandering the streets and taverns of Fell's Point; he later apologized to Keltz if his verses about Poe imbibing various alcoholic beverages made him sound like an alcoholic. (No worries, didn't the bard himself once quip "Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today!"?)
After the show, the audience was invited to mingle with the performers to share light refreshments and this delicious cake from Herman's Bakery (a Dundalk culinary landmark according to Dundalk-native Amy):
Quoth the Raven: "Eat me, forevermore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Smalltimore": Guitarist Larry looked familiar to me; at first, I thought it was just his uncanny resemblance to British actor Bill Nighy, but then I realized I had talked to him before at my workplace across the street, the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Larry was a Jeff Beck fan, and before the show we had talked about Beck's tenure with The Yardbirds; Larry even played some Beck riffs on his acoustic guitar (though he admitted Beck sounded much better on his Stratocaster). And, this being Smalltimore, it turned out Amy had a connection to Larry as well. Larry was friends with her former Crabtree & Evelyn co-worker Lucy (a fact I learned two days later when both Lucy and Larry visited the library!).
Lefty Larry sang and played his toast to Poe
The cake was yummy, but we limited ourselves to small portions, as we planned to continue our tribute to Poe by having dinner later at Canton's Poe-themed restaurant The Annabel Lee Tavern, home of the famous duck-fat fries - not to mention David Keltz's favorite drink, the bourbon, ginger and bitters-laced "Spectacle". Keltz commented that the drink referred to one of Poe's lesser known humorous works, his 1850 story ("The Spectacles") about a myopic who's too vain to wear his glasses - and as a result ends up marrying his grandmother! (After quaffing a few Spectacles, I'm sure the mistake could be made again at the Annabel Lee Tavern - good thing it's not located near a nursing home!)
Annabel Lee Tavern
So, our appetites whetted, we bid our fellow Poe Toasters adieu - but not before Amy's requisite photo op with the day's star!
David Keltz and "Poe Groupie" Amy Linthicum
For more information about David Keltz, visit the links below or call 410-669-6582.
An early Fluxus-influenced installation by visual artist Amy Linthicum
Local filmmaker/criminal records clerk [it's a new combined major - check your local college catalogs!] Amy Linthicum is a master of cinematic haiku, creating brief but thought-provoking short videos using only her smartphone and small, everyday objects - such as wind-up toys and solar-powered plastic flowers. Though she claims to have no obvious aesthetic influence beyond her own collection of household tchotchkes, this reviewer sees a direct connection to the post-modern principles of the 1960s Fluxus Movement, specifically the films of the (pre-professional widow) visual artist, Yoko Ono.
As she prepares to submit a much longer work (perhaps, rumor has it, even a full-blown 60-second video installation) for consideration in the prestigious 2012 Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize competition, Ms. Linthicum has graciously uploaded the following videos to her YouTube channel amylization.
"Happy Squirrel Toy" evokes the spirit of German poet Friedrich Schiller's famous "Ode an die Freude" ("Ode to Joy") in enthusiastically celebrating the brotherhood and unity of all mankind, as here expressed by a tiny, plastic, mechanical representation of a carefree mammalia sciuridae playing with a tiny, plastic nut. This creature's joy is measured not in arbitrary mathematical units, but in kinetic leaps and bounds!
Heads up, Maryland Arts Council, attention Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. There's a new visual arts playa in town, and she's wound-up and ready for her six seconds of fame - maybe even 15 seconds by the time the Sondheim Award Finals roll around this July!
My MLK Day shopping score of the day (well, after nabbing the last two pairs of Medium 60-40 Cotton-Poly Blend Men's Pajamas at WalMart for my 7-fresh-PJs-per-week-wearing dad!) was this Rhino "D.I.Y." compilation of UK punk and powerpop singles from 1978-1979, which I picked up for $5.99 from the Soundgarden used record bins. I thought maybe I had it already, but he who hesitates is not only lost but also not worthy of the name "hoarder," so I took a chance and am glad I did because it turns out that all of Rhino's excellent 1993 D.I.Y. series titles are out-of-print and hence expensive and hard to come by except for used copies.
I have most of the tunes included here - as a card-carrying Punk and Powerpop enthusiast, I have everything by Buzzcocks and The Undertones and most of the other groups on vinyl 45s or albums (e.g., The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, The Jags, The Records, The Tourists - the latter featuring future Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) - so this was a score mainly for car- and boombox-listening convenience, not to mention the half dozen tracks that were truly obscure/rare and probably unavailable anywhere else but this compilation: Belfast's Starjets ("Schooldays"), Dublin's The Radiators (who no doubt resent being lumped in with "United Kingdom" bands and whose leader Phil Chevron went on to join The Pogues; "Let's Talk About the Weather"), Leeds' The Squares ("This Is Airebeat"), Manchester's The Distractions ("Time Goes By So Slow" - one of the first singles on Factory Records), Glasgow's The Zones ("Mourning Star"; Zones bassist Russell Webb and drummer Kenny Hyslop later joined The Skids), and London's Mod revivalists Purple Hearts ("Millions Like Us").
The Jags: "Back of My Hand" 45
And I really, really wanted a digital version of my Jags 45 "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number)" (UK #17) because not only is it a great powerpop song, it's also one of my favorite Telephone Songs (if only for the lines "I'm not a fuck machine, a 1960s dream" and "When I call you I get a stack of lies/You whip them out before you dry your eyes," the latter line sounding to my ears like "You wipe 'em out before you dry yer ass" thanks to singer Nick Watkinson's oft-indecipherable brogue).
You see, every pre-New Millennium pop band worth its salt either had a Girl's Name Song, a Car Song, or a Phone Song in their setlist and, yes, I compile those sort of playlists (especially Phone Songs - from The Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" in the '60s to ELO's "Telephone Line" in the '70s, and Tommy Tutone's "Jenny (867-5309)" in the '80s to contemporaries like Lady Gaga's "Telephone").
The compilation takes its title from The Records' bitter anti-Record Biz rant (set to possibly the most beautifully disarming jingly-jangly 12-string guitar chords ever) "Starry Eyes," but it's another Records' tune, Will Burch's "Hearts In Her Eyes" that is of greater interest here, because we get to hear it covered by an original, 1st Gen powerpop band (then just called "Merseybeat"), Liverpool's The Searchers.
And speaking of Merseybeat, there's even an answer song to Liverpool's famed beat group-inspiring river in this anthology: "This is Airebeat" by The Squares. The Aire river runs through Leeds and though no anthemic "Ferry Cross the Airey" song emerged to rival Merseybeat's place in history, "This is Airebeat" ("This is Airebeat for deadbeats/This is Airebeat for sound freaks/Airebeat it's so neat/Airebeat keeps me off of the street") amused John Peel enough to get played on his radio show, which led Sire Records to sign the Leeds lads - Paddy Hogan (bass & vocals), Brian Hogan (guitar & backing vocals), and Kev Bates (drums, maracas, organ) - in 1979.
Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams" is a great pop song that belongs on another Rock Songs List - to wit, songs about inflatable girlfriends. Add it to the short list alongside The Police's "Be My Girl Sally" and Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music paen to the emptiness of opulence, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."
"Girl of My Dreams": Cheap, portable, lightweight & never talks back!
And, lest I forget, there's the fun single "Where's the Boy For Me" by The Revillos, the band (named after a cafe in a Marvel comic) singers Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed after the breakup of (the Jo Callis-led) Glaswegian New Wave retro-rockers The Rezillos - whose Can't Stand the Rezillos has been called by some (OK, well, by one!) The Greatest Rock & Roll Record of All-Time. (I still rue missing The Revillos when they played Baltimore's Marble Bar back in the 1980s! What could I possibly have been doing more important than that?)
Needless to say, the all-femme post-punk Mo-Dettes are great fun as well, and years of enjoying "White Mice" on various punk/D.I.Y. compilations such as this led me to purchase their 2008 anthology The Story So Far, a digitally remastered reissue of their lone 1981 album plus some bonus tracks. These gals, fronted by Swiss singer Ramona Carlier (who sounds like she either has a speech impediment or is singing with a mouthful of food), were once London squatmates of Joe Strummer and Sid Vicious. Guitarist Kate Korus (nee Katherine Corris) was a Yank and an original member of The Slits, while bassist Jane Crockford went on to marry Daniel Woodgate of Madness and drummer June Miles-Kingston ended up playing with Fun Boy Three, Everything But the Girl, Thompson Twins, and The Communards. They also did a song about the Kray Twins, which would have made them OK in my book even without the gem that is "White Mice" (and its great chorus of "Don't be stupid, don't be limp!").
Besides all the great music on offer, the Starry Eyes liner notes are quite nice and accurately point out the massive late '70s influence of one Elvis Costello who, though not appearing on this compilation, clearly influenced the fierce rock, rapid-fire clever wordplay, and mumbly invective of The Jags and Joe Jackson. And I like the observation that the members of XTC (whose Colin Moulding-penned "Life Begins At the Hop" appears here) "grew up to make the most quintessential English records that are loved everywhere but England."
"Starry Eyes" Tracks and Artists:
1. Ever Fallen in Love? - Buzzcocks 2. Get Over You - The Undertones 3. Yachting Types - The Yachts 4. Is She Really Going Out With Him? - Joe Jackson 5. Schooldays - Starjets (bonus track) * 6. Girl of My Dreams - Bram Tchaikovsky 7. This Is Airebeat - Squares 8. Life Begins at the Hop - XTC 9. Up the Junction - Squeeze 10. Back of My Hand (I've Got Your Number) - Jags 11. Let's Talk About the Weather - The Radiators 12. Starry Eyes - The Records 13. Mourning Star - Zones 14. Millions Like Us - Purple Hearts 15. Time Goes by So Slow - Distractions 16. Hearts in Her Eyes - The Searchers 17. Where's the Boy for Me? - Revillos 18. White Mice - Mo-Dettes (bonus track) * 19. So Good to Be Back Home Again - The Tourists
Graham Gouldman The Graham Gouldman Thing (BMG-UK, RCA-US, 1968)
The Players: Graham Gouldman: vocals, acoustic and lead guitars John Paul Jones: bass Clem Cantini: drums
The Capsule Description Thing: The Graham Gouldman Thing was the debut album by singer and songwriter Graham Gouldman. Gouldman had already written hit singles for Herman's Hermits ("No Milk Today" and "Listen People"), the Yardbirds ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Evil Hearted You"), the Hollies ("Look Through Any Window," "Bus Stop") and Wayne Fontana ("Pamela, Pamela", "The Impossible Years") and on this album Gouldman delivered his own versions of some of those songs as well as other new compositions. Gouldman, who would later become a founding member of 10cc, recorded the album at Olympic Studios in London, a studio that would later be extensively used by Led Zeppelin. It was recorded with the assistance of John Paul Jones and Eddie Kramer, both of whom would also achieve considerable success with Led Zeppelin. All songs composed by Graham Gouldman.
"From behind the counter of a gents' outfitters shop in a grimy Manchester suburb to a place in the front rank of the world's leading songwriters in three years. This is the achievement of Graham Gouldman - six feet, rangy and dreamy-eyed...There are many great artists who have paid tribute to Gouldman by recording his music...Citations and reviews also pay tribute to the melodic invention and distinctive style of what has become known as the Graham Gouldman Thing." - Original sleeve note, 1968
Graham Gouldman entered the pop scene at age 19 with "For Your Love," a song he wrote while working behind the counter at Bargains Unlimited - a men's clothing store near Salford Docks in Manchester, England - and which would eventually make its way to The Yardbirds and provide them with their first (and biggest) hit. Bargains Unlimited was Gouldman's day job; by night, he was gigging with his semi-professional local band The Mockingbirds, whose drummer was none other than his future 10cc bandmate Kevin Godley (whom he'd met while rehearsing at the Jewish Lads Brigade in north Manchester). The other 'birds were the aptly named bass player Bernard Basso and guitarist Steve Jacobson.
"I was sleeping most of the time because I'd been gigging with the Mockingbirds the night before, and then during the day when I'd got any spare time I'd write in the shop," Gouldman recalled. He favored "soulful" minor chords, explaining that "Major chords seemed pale and white. We used to go to the synagogue which must have had some sort of influence, the melodies there were very beautiful, mournful and aching."
Gouldman explained, "I used to shut up the shop at lunch time and sit in the back writing. I’d sort of dabbled a bit in song-writing but I had a band and we wanted to make a record and so we went down to Denmark Street - Tin Pan Alley was Denmark Street, where all the songwriters were - in London, and went round all the publishers trying to find a song. And anyway we didn’t get any songs that we liked or we weren’t given any songs period and the Beatles had started and I thought ‘well, I’m gonna really have a crack at song-writing.’ I had dabbled a bit but they were really my inspiration and gave me and I think gave a lot of other people the courage to actually do it. We all wanted to be like the Beatles...most of us anyway."
Beatles-inspired fledgling songwriter Gouldman had written two songs for the Mockingbirds that he thought had potential, "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" and "For Your Love," the latter envisioned as their first single. The mental giants at the record company, however, turned down "For Your Love" and instead chose "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" to be the Mockingbirds' first single. "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" did nothing for Gouldman's band but Mockingbirds manager Harvey Lisberg - who also managed Herman's Hermits and would later go on to manage 10cc - was so impressed by "For Your Love" that he advised Gouldman to offer it to the Beatles.
"I said, 'I think they're doing alright in the songwriting department, actually'," Gouldman replied with considerable understatement. "What he was thinking was that they did covers of Motown songs and rhythm and blues stuff." The Beatles's publishing company passed but, undeterred, Lisberg gave a demo of the song to publisher Ronnie Beck of Feldman's, who took it to the Hammersmith Odeon, where the Beatles were performing on a Christmas show. By coincidence the Yardbirds were also on the bill at the venue and Beck played the song to their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, and the band.
With the lone exception of their guitarist, the Yardbirds loved it. "They were a blues band who wanted some chart success so they'd started looking around for outside material. It was a simple as that," Gouldman told Andy Morten in the liner notes to The Graham Gouldman Thing. "[Georgio Gomelsky] played it to them and it fitted into what they wanted to do."
In fact, the Yardbirds would go to parrot many of its unusual (for its time) songwriting traits - the minor chords, the slow-fast start-stop tempo changes, the droning (almost Gregorian) harmonies - in their subsequent chart efforts. The Yardbirds' recording of "For Your Love" peaked at No. 3 on the UK charts, selling two million copies worldwide and becoming their highest charting single in the US at No. 6. And it also famously caused their blues-purist guitarist Eric Clapton to leave the 'birds' nest and join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in protest at this new "commercial sound."
"That song, I think I read somewhere, was kind of responsible for Eric Clapton leaving the Yardbirds – he thought ‘I can’t play that, it’s too poppy’," Gouldman recalled in an interview with Alan Thompson for the BBC Radio Wales program I Write the Songs. "I think it was more like the last straw rather than any other reason, because the Yardbirds had wanted to get a hit record and they were playing rhythm and blues, and they were a fantastic rhythm and blues band and when they made this change to being commercial, Eric couldn’t take it and he left. And," he added facetiously, "they got another crap guitarist - Jeff Beck, and then Jimmy Page."
Rumor has it that another factor contributing to Clapton's departure was "Slowhand" having to recreate the song's harpsichord on a 12-string guitar when performing it live. It would later be handily handled by post-Clapton "crap" guitarist Jeff Beck, as shown in the clip below.
Though "For Your Love" may have been the final straw that caused Eric Clapton to leave the Yardbirds roost, it was undoubtably the song that helped propel the Yardbirds from being just another London blues-rock band into a chart-topping commercial pop presence, ushering in the sonic experimentations of new guitar whiz Jeff Beck and beginning what would blossom into a fruitful songwriting relationship with Gouldman.
"I saw The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and and he just blew me away. To me he was and still is the ultimate player, so it was very exciting to be working with them," Gouldman told Andy Morten. "They ended up doing two more of mine and another one they didn't finish. I wrote those with them in mind." Those two Gouldman followup hits for the Yardbirds were "Heart Full of Soul" (UK #2, US #9) and "Evil Hearted You" (UK #3).
And so began a two-year period when Gouldman had the "Midas Touch" writing hit songs for other pop groups. The next act to reap chart success from Gouldman's songwriting pen was The Hollies. Inspired by the the view looking out a railway carriage on one of his trips to London to peddle songs, he wrote "Look Through Any Window." "They had separate compartments then," he told Bob Stanley (a member of the pop group Saint Etienne who writes the fantastic blog Croydon Municipal), "a great environment for writing."
Hollies Hits in Transit
"Look Through Any Window" - co-written with Charles Silverman and originally offered to the Country Gentleman (a group fronted by Gouldman's friend and frequent musical collaborator Peter Cowap) - was "placed" with the Hollies by his manager and became a Top 5 hit for his fellow Mancunians. But it was "Bus Stop" - specifically written with The Hollies in mind - that became their breakthrough U.S. hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard Top 100. Gouldman also offered The Hollies "Going Away," which was ultimately recorded (though never released) by Manchester's Toggery Five.
1965 was a busy year for Gouldman, with his manager Lisberg placing "I'm Gonna Take You There" with Dave Berry, "A Little While Back" and "Why Say Goodbye" with The Shindigs, and several singles for Columbia recording artist Little Frankie.
By the time 1966 rolled around, it was the Harvey Lisberg-managed Herman's Hermits who started recording Gouldman gems, including the singles "East West" (#33 UK), "Listen People" (US #3), and "No Milk Today" (#5 UK). The Hermits would later look to Gouldman's "Ooh She's Done It Again," "It's Nice To Be Out in the Morning," and "The World Is For the Young" to use on their Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter soundtrack LP and '67 B-side "Marcel."
Bowled Over: Hermits Hermits tip their hats to Graham Gouldman's hits
Still later, Gouldman would even write a Yardley cosmetics promo jingle for Herman's Hermits, "The London Look," which they released as an EP in 1968: "See the country vicars and the city slickers, pearly kings and noble dukes. Everybody moving, everybody grooving. They've all got The London Look ..."
Country vicars and city slickers - all have The London Look!
But Noone's Hermits weren't the only musicos to cut their teeth on Gouldman gold that year, as Wayne Fontana took "Pamela, Pamela" to #11 on the UK charts, while the St. Louis Union recorded "Behind the Door," P. J. Proby and Toni Basil (yes, Toni Basil!) both recorded "I'm 28," Friday Brown cut "Getting Nowhere" (actually just a retitled version of "I'm 28"), The Downliner Sect added their rhythm and blues stylings to "The Cost of Living" (credited to Gouldman-Lisberp-Peter Cowap), and The High Society (a Gouldman studio concoction) released "People Passing By."
1967 saw Cher record what Gouldman would later deem a "great version" of "Behind the Door" and a post-Yardbirds, pre-Jeff Beck Group Jeff Beck recorded "Tallyman" - a title suggested by Gouldman's dad. "Because of my connection with [Herman's Hermits producer] Mickie Most," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten, "Jeff Beck ended up a song of mine after he left The Yardbirds. This is one ofthose songs where my late father used to help me with lyrics quite a lot. He should get a little bit of the credit."
The Shadows recorded "Naughty Nippon Nights" the same year, while (future 10cc bandmate) Eric Stewart's Mindbenders (who Graham would later join on a brief touring stint) covered Gouldman's "Schoolgirl" (which was banned by the BBC for its subject matter: teenage pregnancy), and Down Under rock star Normie Rowe (the "Ozzy Elvis" whose career was never the same after he was drafted for the Vietnam War) had a comeback hit with "Going Home," which rose as high as #7 on Australia's Go-Set chart listing. Gouldman also found time to release his own "Stop! Stop! Stop!" - a rare instance of him adapting a Northern Soul/R&B style.
Gouldman's own band The Mockingbirds were still around during this period (though by this time they'd left EMI to join Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label), but success still eluded them - even when Gouldman tried to emulate the style of more popular groups, like The Yardbirds. Encouraged by the commercial success of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," The Mockingbirds released the very Yardbirds-sounding "You Stole My Love" (with a young Julie Driscoll providing backing vocals) on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label in 1965; not surprisingly, it would later be covered by the Yardbirds themselves in 1966.
"You Stole My Love": Out-Yardbirdsing the Yardbirds
As Andy Morten characterized it in his The Graham Gouldman Thing liner notes: "One of Gouldman's best songs of the era, it almost out-Yardbirds The Yardbirds with its powerful melody and shifting tempo changes, beautifully rendered by a fierce Giorgio Gomelsky production and an ethereal Julie Driscoll backing vocal to boot. Despite being rightly recognised as a classic slice of mid-'60s Britpop these days, back then it merely became the third Mockingbirds single to do nothing." Or, as Gouldman put it: "It seemed that every song of mine we recorded failed and every one we gave away was a hit. I thought maybe that's the way it's going to be, although I didn't let it bother me."
Graham Gouldman relocated to the United States in 1968, where RCA Victor - encouraged by his hit-making track record for other artists - quickly signed him to a contract and molded him as a solo act. RCA let the maestro loose in the studio to record The Graham Gouldman Thing, wherein he played and sang his versions of the past hits he wrote for other artists, as well as some new songs like "My Father," "The Pawnbroker" and "Who Are They."
The album was originally intended to be produced by Peter Noone (whose Herman's Hermits had already reaped the benefits of numerous Gouldman-penned hits), but in an interview with Alan Betrock (reprinted on the CD), Gouldman explained:
"It was supposed to be something like the artist produces the writer, but he wasn't there on any of the sessions - though he is credited as producer. I did the whole thing with John Paul Jones who arranged the tracks, played on it and also helped produce it. It was an important project for me at the time; I put a lot of work into it." This concern is shown by listening to the album, which exudes tasteful arrangements and thoughtful production. Favourites are the hits like 'Bus Stop' and 'For Your Love,' but all the tracks have something interesting to offer. The orchestral arrangements on 'No Milk Today' and 'Upstairs Downstairs' are particularly refreshing. Strangely enough, the album was not released in the UK, and despite a heavy US promo campaign, didn't sell much to Americans..."
"I think Peter [Noone] came to the first session, had to leave early, and that was it," Gouldman remembered. "He never turned up for any of the sessions. He did us all a favour in the end because that left myself, John and Eddie Kramer [ominipresent engineer in-chief at London's Olympic Studios]. Clem Canttini played drums, John played bass, I played acoustic guitar and some lead guitar. That was the team that made the record...Some songs were made with just me, John and Clem, and some were done with a full orchestra, live. In those days you'd write the song, give it to the arranger, the arranger would write all the parts, you'd spend maybe an hour getting the sounds together and another hour getting a good performance, another hour doing the vocals and that was it. Because it was only a four-track it didn't take long to mix it. That's why these guys were so hot. I used to see John and he'd come in with his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other, plonk it down and say 'right, what are we doing?' and he'd be off. Then he'd go off and do the same thing in another studio. And we were all doing that, that's how records were made. Some of the best records ever made."
"Listening to it now," he later told Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, "the first thing I notice is how good it is to hear real instruments. (Arranger) John Paul Jones loved strings and woodwind - you hardly ever hear woodwind anymore...Some things worked beautifully, especially 'Bus Stop'...It got nice reviews, but didn't set the world on fire." (Indeed sales were modest, with Gouldman later commenting that the album sold more upon its reissue in 1974 at the height of 10cc's fame than it had in the previous six years combined.)
Stanley christened the album's orchestral rock sound "Baroque Majesty," one influenced in equal measure by both Bach and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." I call this sound "Chamber Pop," a late-60s fusion of classical and rock music prevalent in the songs of The Walker Brothers and bands like The Left Banke, Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Love, and The Beach Boys. And nowhere is this more in evidence than on the opening track, "The Impossible Years"...
The Graham Gouldman Thing - Side 1
1. "The Impossible Years" - 2:38
These are the impossible years A girl must endure, adrift on the ocean Left with her unspeakable fears The torture of doubt and pent up emotion New temptations, strange sensations A great new world for explorations
An interesting song in that it takes the unusual (for a youth-oriented pop song) narrative point of view of a father trying to understand his teenage daughter and "show her the way" through the "impossible years" of adolescence when "the young bud comes to flower." I mean, it's pretty clear what we're talking about here, with lines such as:
When does the young bud come to flower It's petals are plain with color exciting When does the one sun choose the hour To change the green shoot to beauty inviting Girls are growing And without knowing They're the seeds that we've been sowing
Musically, "The Impossible Years" clearly shows the "baroque" or "chamber pop" influence that became so prevalent on the British airwaves in the wake of The Beatles' "Yesterday."
Wayne Fontana - yet another Mancunian artist drawn to Gouldman's work - recorded a version in 1967 that only achieved minor success in Australia; Fontana had more success in 1966 with Gouldman's "Pamela, Pamela," which he rode as high as #11 on the UK pop charts.
Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say "Please share my umbrella" Bus stops, bus goes, she stays, love grows Under my umbrella All that summer we enjoyed it Wind and rain and shine That umbrella we employed it By August she was mine
Though the Hollies had already recorded Gouldman's "Look Through Any Window," they achieved their greatest chart success with "Bus Stop," a song he had written specifically with them in mind and which they took to #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.
"We were supporting The Hollies at Stoke Town Hall," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten. "They'd already recorded 'Look Through Any Window' and said that if I came up with anything else, they'd love to hear it. I remember playing 'Bus Stop' to Tony Hicks and Graham Nash in the loo there as it was the quietest place we could find. They said they loved it and told me to make a tape. In those days if they said they'd do it, they'd do it and they'd do it quick. It was recorded and was out just a few weeks later. Things were done much quicker because you weren't waiting for the artwork or the video. There was a quick turnover and things were much more exciting because of that."
Fellow '60s British songsmith Tony Hazzard claimed he was so impressed by "Bus Stop" that he was moved to write "Ha! Ha! Said the Clown" for Manfred Mann in 1967.
Behind the door of every house In every street, in every town A story is unfolding, a story is unfolding Of love and hate...remorse, love's fate Of hopes and fears and smiles and tears Of dreams that lie emoldering
GG's melancholy, minor-chord drenched "Behind the Door" - perhaps the first-ever song to rhyme "unfolding" with "emoldering" (much less use this obscure term for - um, what exactly is emoldering?) - was first recorded by Manchester "freakbeat" mod rockers St. Louis Union, one of three singles (the others were a #11 UK cover of The Beatles' "Girl" b/w their version of Otis Redding's "Respect" and "East Side Story" b/w "Think About Me") they released on Decca Records in 1966.
Originally called The Satanists, the St. Louis Union won a recording contract after winning a Melody Maker beat band contest (where they drubbed a fledgling Pink Floyd!). They would later appear in the Spencer Davis Group movie The Ghost Goes Gear (1966), in which they performed "I Got My Pride" and "Show Me Your English Teeth" (great title!). According to Wikipedia, St. Louis Union keyboardist David Tomlinson - rechristened as "Dave Formula" (pictured right) - resurfaced on the late '70s New Wave scene as a member of (erstwile Buzzcock) Howard Devoto's Magazine, new romantics Visage, Ludus, and Luxuria, and also worked with Tuxedomoon's Winston Tong. (So there you have it, punk fans: the somewhat tenuous connection between Graham Gouldman and Buzzcocks!)
Across the pond, a young Cher also covered "Behind the Door" in 1966 (#94 US Billboard Hot 100).
GG's version of the song is notable for its tempo change - two-thirds of the way into this orchestral maneuvers in the dark, it shifts gears and turns into a sprightly rocker - only to return one again to its somber fade.
4. "Pawnbroker" - 3:02
Under the sign of the old pawnbroker There rests a man with our past success All that I value is in his keeping He is the guardian of everything I possess Everything I possess...
In on Monday, out on Friday I'm the only one to blame Waiting for that Thursday's payday Every week it's just the same
Over Flamenco-style guitars and a sped-up Bossa Nova beat, Gouldman authors the best pawnbroker song until, well, until The Ramones' "Chinese Rock"! With incredible detail, Gouldman describes both the man and the trade in faded dreams...
Behind the grill wearing gold-rimmed glasses The old man values the cost of fears Trumpets, guitars, pearly concertinas Assigned orchestra, lamenting four wasted years
Until the song's final resignation to endless debt:
Under the sign of the old pawnbroker Trail all the losers in life's contest Some hurry back to redeem their pledges My promise, I'll redeem, the day that I'm laid to rest
Drip dry dress, unshrinkable Who can they be? They're you and me - they're we
Gouldman showed his social conscience on a number of his mid- to late-60s songs and "Who Are They" is no exception, lyrically concerning itself with the world of 9-to-5 squares - "the faceless mass on the merry-go-round" who are too busy "getting wed, going to bed/Two kids to feed and the mortgage ahead" to ever accomplish anything. "So much to do, yet nothing's done. What a shame," the song concludes. This one makes me think of the future that awaited Albert Finney and Shirley Anne Field at the end of Karel Reisz's 1960 "Kitchen Sink" drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
6. "My Father" - 2:47
My father knows more than I'll ever know My father's been places I'll never go I want to know - want to know all the words and phrases I want to show - want to show his fine airs and graces If only it were me
The greatest influence on Gouldman's mid-60s songwriting golden era was his father, Hymie Gouldman, aka "Hyme the Rhyme" in deference to his frequent lyrical assistance (Hymie was also an amateur playwright). "My father was a songwriter," he told Bob Stanley. "'No Milk Today' was one of his titles. He used to call himself 'the mechanic' - I'd bring him a broken lyric and he'd go 'D'you write them son? Ttcchh! Come back at five o'clock.' He used to say 'art for arts sake, money for God's sake' [later to become song appearing on 10cc's 1976 album How Dare You!]. I nicked that off him, too."
Though he sings of how much he'd like to emulate his dad, by the songs coda he realizes that "it's no use being somebody else":
On my own two feet, I've got to meet The world alone, I'm on my own Just me - independent and free The son of my father
Gouldman later referenced his dad's passing in the song "Ready To Go Home." Originally appearing on the 1995 (Graham Gouldman-Eric Stewart edition) 10cc album Mirror Mirror, it would later surface on Gouldman's solo album And Another Thing (For Your Love/Dome Records, 2000). Gouldman commented, "This was written not long after my dad died and it reflects my feelings at the time. I suppose I was trying to put a positive slant on his passing, remembering all the things we had done together and his artistic legacy to me. The last verse of the song best reflects my feelings on this. This song has been recorded by many artists and remains one of my favourites. Very emotional."
This is my favorite song on the album and one tied with Fire's "My Father's Name Was Dad" on my list of all-time greatest Pater Familias pop songs (narrowly edging out B-Rock & The Bizz's "My Baby Daddy").
No milk today, my love has gone away The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn But all that's left is a place dark and lonely A terraced house in a mean street back of town Becomes a shrine when I think of you only Just two up, two down, just two up, two down
Hymie Gouldman told his son that "No Milk Today" would make a good song title and Graham followed this sage fatherly advice to write what would become a Top 5 hit for Herman's Hermits. It was notable as the first Herman's Hermits single to feature orchestral arrangements and, in an interview with the "Forgotten Hits" newsletter, lead singer Peter Noone said, "Personally I think 'No Milk Today' is Herman's Hermits' best recording, and perfectly captures the moment and the feel of Manchester terraced houses and what was the end of a British era."
Herman's Hermits recorded "No Milk Today," "There's A Kind Of Hush" (US #4, 1967), and Ray Davies' "Dandy" (US #5, 1966) all on the same day at Lansdown Studios. "This was in the period where we had just stopped using The Hermits on the recordings and were using the best musicians available to us to try to keep up with what had suddenly become The British Invasion," Noone recalled. "We were supposed to deliver 48 tracks a year to MGM so we were always scrambling to catch up. I recall that John Paul Jones played bass guitars (an upright and a fender bass) on the tracks and was also responsible for the arrangements, which I dare say are brilliant on all 3 tracks but I know he liked 'No Milk Today' and I would suggest that his arrangement turned this perfect Graham Gouldman song into a hit."
Noone would later comment that, given all the great songs Gouldman wrote, he should have asked him to join Herman's Hermits in their heyday. Hindsight is golden...
Upstairs every night There's a boy listening to his radio Downstairs just one flight A girl waits patiently... Each one knowing that the other is there Each one hoping that the other will dare To climb the first stair
Another song covered by Gouldman fan Peter Noone and his Herman's Hermits, who included it on their critically lauded 1967 album Blaze.
Herman's Hermits: "Blaze" (1967)
This perky pop song finds Gouldman crooning like Paul McCartney as he recounts the story of a boy and girl living in the same building who keep waiting for one another to make the first move. A happy boy-finally-meets-girl ending is guaranteed...
No more lonely Girl and boy have met The upstairs room is Advertised to let Now these two have met
Though the Yardbirds wrote many of their own songs as a group, it was Gouldman who wrote many of their biggest hits, though he wasn't always sure when he had struck gold. As he explained to BBC Radio Wales host Alan Thompson, "I think sometimes this knowing you’ve written a hit single or not, I’ve never been able to predict it. I mean there’ve been songs I’ve either written or co-written and you’ve thought ‘that’s a hit’ and it hasn’t been, and vice versa. It doesn’t always, I mean you have a feeling about a song sometimes and sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong but I don’t know whether the writer or the artist is the best judge."
The Yardbirds were certainly sure. Drummer Jim McCarty recalled that Gouldman's songs "...were always very original. Very interesting songs, very moody, because they were usually in a minor key, the ones we did, anyway. 'For Your Love' was an interesting song, it had an interesting chord sequence, very moody, very powerful. And the fact that it stopped in the middle and went into a different time signature, we liked that, that was interesting. Quite different, really, from all the bluesy stuff that we'd been playing up till then. But somehow we liked it. It was original and different."
Yardbird Chris Dreja added, "We owe a lot to that song because it sort of pulled us out from national to international and set the template for us - that time change in the middle, the weirdness of it."
Gouldman's friend Paul Thomas had played bongos on The Mockingbirds' version and the Yardbirds copied his percussion verbatim. But Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith added a number of changes to Gouldman's original song, including the use of a harpsichord (replacing Gouldman's acoustic guitar intro), which was played by session muscian Brian Auger (later to achieve solo fame and with Julie Driscoll in Brian Auger and The Trinity, whose biggest hit was the Dylan cover "This Wheel's On Fire" - which, incidentally, later became the theme song for the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous). In an August 2009 interview with Uncut magazine, Gouldman admitted: "The harpsichord was an absolute stroke of genius. The record just had a weird, mysterious atmosphere about it."
As for Graham Gouldman's version, he nixes the bongos and harpsichord altogether in favor of piano and a stately Church organ that wouldn't be out of place on a Prociol Harum record. It's a clever "alternate" version that's kind of funky in its own way.
In 1965 Gouldman's band The Mockingbirds had a regular warm-up spot for BBC TV’s Top of the Pops, which was transmitted from Manchester and the songwriter recalled how odd it was to hear his song being associated with the Londoners: "There was one strange moment when The Yardbirds appeared on the show doing 'For Your Love'. Everyone clamoured around them – and there I was just part of an anonymous group. I felt strange that night, hearing them play my song."
Many others have followed suit to cover "For Your Love," including the pre-Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, who included it on their 1973 album Mystery to Me and even released it as a single.
This classic example of the period's "fringe psychedelia-meets-dancehall vaudeville" British Cup of Twee-ness namechecks everything from A.A. Milne to Laurel and Hardy. And Gouldman's vocal is delivered with vintage Donovan BBC Radio enunciation.
Oh, Pamela I remember so well When Laurel and Hardy were shown at the flicks With sticky red lollies on splintery sticks Pigtails and ribbons and crushes on miss Secret discussions about a first kiss But you were young And everything was new Impatient to do things you couldn't do
Gamine chestnuts modeling in Antonioni's "Blow-Up"
Somebody accurately described this funky instro as sounding like the kind of Swinging London party music they'd play in Antonioni's Blow-Up. It's great and, dare I say, downright groovy! As one critic astutely remarked, it would make Stax guitar ace Steve Cropper proud.
At one point the jam features Gouldman reciting a brief schoolbook elocution exercise that sounds like something the Bonzo Dog Band's Viv Stanshall would sing circa the Keynsham album:
If all of us were doomed to die when we'd lived a minute I think I know what Ann and I would wish to happen in it We'd let our 60 seconds run where chestnut blossoms harden Some early morning in Kensington when Spring is in the garden
The song then features a dueling flute sequence that would not be out of place on Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die LP.
The Graham Gouldman Thing catches our hero in a period of transition, between his stint as an internationally successful 1960s pop hit-maker and as a menber of a hugely successful 1970s art-rock band, when he was experimenting with any number of projects and saying 'saying yes more than saying no.' The album has gained an enviable reputation among '60s pop and psych fans as something more than just a curio in its creator's estimable canon. It's a jewel of late '60s chamber pop and worthy of reevaluation.
Gouldman himself reflected that "I did it and sort of forgot about it. Had it been more successful I might have paid more attention. But I enjoyed making it and it was great working with the people I worked with but then that was it. It was finished. Done."
And then Gouldman's two-year streak of hit-making genius hit a snag. "You're like a conduit when that magic happens," he told Bob Stanley. "You think, how did I do that? What happened there? In 1968 I was still doing what I did, but I was out of sync with what has happening."
Still, as Morten writes, 1968 was an eventful year in Gouldman's life. He and Peter Noone opened a short-lived boutique in New York called Zoo, and Gouldman helped get his friends Kevin Godley and Lol Creme signed to Giorgio Gomelsky's Marmalde label, where as Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon they released the (extremely hard to find) single "I'm Beside Myself" b/w "Animal Song" in 1969.
But after a short spell in The Mindbenders, Gouldman decided to move to New York and the Kassenetz/Katz hit factory, where the money was good and second-rate (by his standards, at least) trash like (future K-Tel novelty compilation fodder) "Simon Says" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" would be recorded under various group names.
"They wanted to legitimize themselves, find writers with more cred," he explained to Bob Stanley. "It was pretty horrible." He reached his creative (but not commercial!) nadir with a song he wrote for Freddie and the Dreamers called "Susan's Tuba."
"It was like [Mel Brooks film] The Producers - let's wrote the worst piece of shit imaginable!" The record sold a million in France. "I couldn't believe it. Where did we go right?"
And then Gouldman got the call that changed everything. Ex-Mindbender Eric Stewart was setting up Strawberry Studios in Stockport and wanted his friend to join him. Gouldman "boarded the next plane home, to join the ultra-successful band he'd always dreamt of," writes Bob Stanley. "I'd always wanted to play guitar in a band," he admitted to Stanley, "but I became resigned to the idea of being a writer. And then we started 10cc and that satisfied every aspect for me, everything I'd ever wanted to do."
Still only 23, the best was still to come for Graham Keith Gouldman. He still had plenty more tunes up his sleeve to make his father proud. He'd done what his dad had called "money for God's sake"; now it was time for the "Art for Art's sake."