Saturday, December 09, 2006

There Was a Song That I Did Not Care For

The other day I heard a song on my XM that I first heard on an oldies station years ago. A lot has changed about my taste in music and my aesthetic sensibilities since then, but my reaction to this song has remained constant: utter disbelief. I can't believe that this song was ever written, much less recorded, much less released, much less became a top 10 hit in 1968. Paradoxically, though, I can't believe this song is not more prominent today as a novelty song.

The simply use of the word "groovy" today is enough to inspire either a cringe or a grin. A recursive chorus that claims "I think it's so groovy now/That people are finally getting together/I think it's wonderful and all/That people are finally getting together" is even more cringe/grin inspiring. But the first verse is unbelievable in its earnest, unironic, didacticism:

I knew a man that I did not care for
And then one day this man gave me a call
We sat and talked about things on our mind
And now this man he is a friend of mine

Wow. That verse defies commentary. The entire song, "Reach out in the Darkness" by Friend and Lover, can be heard here.

So how did such a song become a hit? I guess I have to offer an explanation. It certainly captures the 1968 zeitgeist, or at least an overly simplified version of the 1967 zeitgeist. 1967 was the "summer of love." The Beatles "All You Need is Love" was a huge hit that year and could be seen as a more sophisticated version of the same sentiment in "Reach Out in the Darkness." By 1968 the more artistically uninspired, perhaps commercially calculated, versions of "peace and love" songs would stand to enter a receptive, undiscerning public consciousness.

The song's easy scenario for reconciliation (all you have to do is talk about things on your mind) may have been tantalizing for a nation in the midst of Vietnam, assassinations, and riots. And, weirdly enough, the song might have been a hit because it appealed to nostalgia. With everything happening so fast in 1968, it could have hearkened back to the simpler time of...1967.

With the passage of time, though, this song's prominence has faded. Meanwhile, other songs from the era have stood in as shorthand for the naive "peace and love" ethos, namely "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" by the Fifth Dimension and "Get Together" by the Youngbloods. These songs are alternatively used to mock the hippie movement and to lament its passage. Why wouldn't "Reach Out in the Darkness" function just as well? Perhaps it is just a victim of timing. The former two songs were hits in 1969 and can claim a loose association with Woodstock. "Reach Out in the Darkness" boasts none of what I call "soundtrack credibility." There is not enough associative or evocative power in the song.

But all that can change with one movie. I guarantee that if any moderately successful movie features this song on its soundtrack, the song will re-enter public consciousness. It is the ultimate kitsch artifact, lying dormant and waiting to be re-discovered. If this song, rather than "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" were performed at the end of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," or sung by Jim Carey instead of "Somebody to Love" in "The Cable Guy," it would be back already.

Unfortunately, we can't count on "Friend and Lover" themselves to help with the process. According to Wikipedia, Cathy Conn is living in the mountains of New Mexico (as could probably have been predicted forty years ago). Jim Post, meanwhile, is doing Mark Twain re-enactments and putting out a music-phonics program to help kids learn how to read. Here is some information about the program:

There are 28 fun songs, rich in vocabulary and information-there's Mable the Milk Cow who starts the birth of the Moos and Luther the Cowboy who's too tough to brush his teeth, Delbert the Dinosaur who loves to dwaddle and dream, and Bugs who bring all their kin and just move in!!

I think it's so groovy when old hippies help kids learn how to read.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cathy Conn is sells real estate in new mexico. She's not a mountain woman if that's what you deduced from wikipedia.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous karl said...

perfect example of rhetoric and very funny
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9:37 PM  
Anonymous karl said...

9:37 PM  

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