This election’s making me tense. Isn’t it you? We all need to chill(axe), so for this mixtape I thought I’d give you some mellow jams. So turn off the FOX News (”faux noise” har har har!) and turn on these here tunes.
Today we explore a style of rock that emerged in the flowering and flower-powered era of 1966-1970: Baroque pop. The style is named after the period of Western classical music developed during 1600-1750, but as far as my admittedly classical-musically ignorant ass can tell, it’s more of a superficial reference more than anything. It basically meant that rockers were getting all classical and stuff.
But, to be fair, like the composers of the baroque era, baroque popsters were adding more complex arrangements and new instruments to the basic rock structure. The apotheoses of this new direction in pop are obviously the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966). The work in adding classical instruments to rock by producers and songwriters such as Burt Bacharach, David Axelrod and Phil Spector also helped shape the sound.
Baroque pop embodied much of the stereotype of the atmosphere in “Swingin’ London” and San Francisco. Less well-known artists such as the Left Banke, Love, the Millenium and the Merry-Go-Round perhaps created the defining records of baroque pop—these are bands whose legacies are inextricably tied to string, harpsichord and horn-filled songs, paisley and sunshine lyrics, arpeggiated, folksy guitars, and melancholy melodies. Those bands who are usually tagged with the baroque label as a sort of dated categorization, while bands who dabbled in the style but were far more popular, such as the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, etc., aren’t usually recognized as “Baroque ‘n’ rollers”.
The style curiously led to two of very different styles in the ’70s—progressive rock and power pop. The more poppy threads of artists like the Move and Emmitt Rhodes bled into power poppers such as the Raspberries, Badfinger, and Big Star, while the classical and experimental elements of the music turned into the classical aspirations of bands such as Genesis, Gentle Giant and the Strawbs.
On this mix I’ve got artists famous and not. I’ve even got more mainstream pop singers (Glen Campbell, Richard Harris) who flirted with the style. Some of this stuff goes hand-in-hand with what some call sunshine pop as well. Also, note that I wrote “Pt. 1″ above—I had so much fun doing this mix that I found way too many songs, so expect Pt. 2 in the next few weeks. And remember, there’s two sides—30 tracks in 1.5 hours! Enjoy!
Read on for link and tracklist …
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01. Richard Harris — “Paper Chase” This gorgeous track is from Harris’ first album, A Tramp Shining, which also contains his notorious hit “MacArthur Park”. Harris was better known as an actor (Mutiny on the Bounty, Camelot, and recently Unforgiven, Gladiator, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) when he released this album. The song, along with all of the others on the album, was written by songwriter/boy-wonder Jimmy Webb, who wrote and produced hits for many other artists of the time, including the Fifth Dimension (”Up, Up and Away”), Glen Campbell (”Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”), the Brooklyn Bridge (”Worst That Could Happen”) and Isaac Hayes (”By the Time I Get to Phoenix”).
02. The Beatles — “For No One” A delight from Revolver, supposedly written about McCartney’s ex-fiancé Jane Asher.
03. Scott Walker — “The World’s Strongest Man” Scott Walker’s records were incredibly ambitious and lush (overly lush for some tastes, but not mine!). This is from Scott 4, the album that ended a string of UK Top Ten albums, though certainly not because of its quality. There’s a documentary of Walker that I’ve been dying to see called 30 Century Man that still hasn’t been released in the US. What gives?
04. John Cale — “Paris 1919″ This song’s from a little after the true baroque pop period, but it’s clearly steeped in the essentials of the style.
05. Terry Reid — “It’s Gonna Be Morning” A soul song surrounded by strings and softly plucked guitars. As you can hear, Reid really was a fantastic singer.
07. Serge Gainsbourg and Bridgitte Bardot — “Comic Strip” Gainsbourg took advantage of the expansive sound of the era just like his English-speaking counterparts.
08. Harry Nilsson — “Me and My Arrow” From Nilsson’s soundtrack to the children’s feature cartoon The Point.
09. Graham Gouldman — “Nowhere to Go” Graham Gouldman was a hugely successful songwriter who wrote “For Your Love” and “Heart Full of Soul” for the Yardbirds and “Bus Stop” and “Look Through Any Window” for the Hollies. In the late-’60s he was basically a songwriter for hire, which is when he released this forgotten single (I found it on the excellent Tea and Symphony compilation) until he hooked up with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme to form 10cc. His solo album The Graham Gouldman Thing is definitely worth tracking down.
10. The Merry-Go-Round — “Time Will Show the Wiser” A cover of an early Fairport Convention song. Lead singer Emitt Rhodes would later become a cult favorite; his song “Lullabye” was used Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.
11. The Left Banke — “I’ve Got Something on My Mind” Perhaps the quintessential baroque pop band, the Left Banke, despite all appearances, was actually American. The band’s only hit was “Walk Away Renee”, but they clearly deserved a few others.
12. The Move — “Beautiful Daughter” Obviously a band who transcended styles, as I’ve discussed before, but “Beautiful Daughter” is a pretty example of the then-vogue baroque style.
13. The Kinks — “Two Sisters” A great example of the drums ‘n’ harpsichord style.
14. The Honeybus — “I Can’t Let Maggie Go” A great UK one-hit wonder. Mmm, a bus full of honey …
15. The Hollies — “My Back Pages” From the maligned Hollies Sing Dylan album. This is one of my favorite Dylan songs, and the Hollies definitely do it in great bubblegum form.
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16. Amen Corner — “(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice” Written by Italian singer/songwriter Lucio Battisti, it was this band’s biggest hit.
17. The Bee Gees — “World” From the Bee Gees’ first album.
18. The Box Tops — “Neon Rainbow” The group best known for its hits “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby” was also Alex Chilton’s first band. It’s amazing how much he changed his vocal style when he started Big Star.
19. Roy Wood — “Dear Elaine” Wood recorded this along with the rest of his first solo album, Boulders, in 1969, but it wasn’t released until 1973.
20. Love — “Andmoreagain” From the band’s essential Forever Changes album.
21. The Rolling Stones — “In Another Land” One of the only songs written by the Stones’ bassist Bill Wyman, it’s also one of the highlights of the band’s not-so-well regarded Their Satanic Majesty’s Request album.
22. Richard Harris — “MacArthur Park” The infamous, multi-suited “MacArthur Park” is really a delight in retrospect. Compared to the bloated proggery that would swallow many bands in the ’70s, it’s not that pretentious. And I don’t even think the line about leaving the cake out in the rain is that bad. I might have to write a hall of fame article about A Tramp Shining or its follow-up, The Yard Went on Forever; they’re really amazing.
23. Keith West — “Sam” Keith West was the lead singer of the psychedelic group Tomorrow. This was the b-side to his UK hit “Excerpt from a Teenage Opera”.
24. Glen Campbell — “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” Part country singer, part pop singer, Glen Campbell’s work with Jimmy Webb straddled the baroque pop line.
25. Scott Walker — “The Plague” A rare Walker single that’s now available on the In Five Easy Pieces box set.
26. Equipe 84 — “Tutta mia la citta” Though they were unable to crack the US market, the Move were huge in Italy, and this cover of “Blackberry Way” by Italy’s biggest beat group, Equipe 84, proves it. As far as I can discern, the band changed the lyrics totally. Weird.
27. The Turtles — “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” The Turtles were a great underrated pop group; this is one of their lesser known singles.
28. Love Affair — “Everlasting Love” They outsold every band except the Beatles in the UK in 1968, starting with this cover of Buzz Cason’s “Everlasting Love”.
29. The Zombies — “Imagine the Swan” One of the last records the Zombies made before breaking up.
30. Colin Blunstone — “Say You Don’t Mind” The former Zombies singer had a minor hit in the UK with this song, written by Denny Laine (Moody Blues, Wings).