Forgotten Pop Music

Since I’m now advanced enough in years to have sufficient rearward room to actually reflect on the things of my youth, it struck me that a number of popular songs, ubiquitous at that time, are almost as if they never were.

I’m sure there may be small devoted bands of followers who still cherish these now obscure tunes, but I haven’t heard some of them for several decades.

The first one I think of is Love Is Blue by the Paul Mauriat Orchestra.  You can listen to it here, although there are slight differences from the arrangement I can remember hearing night after night on the radio in 1968.  (This video is actually a medley that just begins with Love is Blue.)  Three teenage boys and their mother, living in a log cabin in northern British Columbia, at leisure after a day of chainsawing firewood or canning moose meat, spending long winter nights by kerosene lamp or hissing white gas lantern: we listened to the radio bringing in KGO from San Francisco or KJR from Seattle or KNEW from Spokane.  Love is Blue seemed to be everywhere on the air.

Something about the melody always grabbed your attention, even though it became a tune the radio programmers played to death, like one of those Sheryl Crow songs these days. 

Mauriat was a French orchestra leader and composer of light music.  Love is Blue is the only one of his tunes I ever heard on North American radio.  Sadly he passed away last November. 

Another nearly forgotten song, emblematic of that time for me, is Up-Up and Away by The Fifth Dimension in 1967 (which won five Grammy awards, for what that’s worth).  You can hear a sample of that and also their companion piece Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In from 1969 at this siteUp-Up and Away was another composition by Jimmy Webb who also wrote MacArthur Park and penned a string of hits for Glenn Campbell, among others.

The Fifth Dimension were originally known as The Versatiles before they settled on the catchier name just before their first real hit, a cover of the Mamas and Papas Go Where You Wanna Go, in 1966.  Their repertoire could be described as R&B, soul and jazz.  They continued to perform with various personnel up to the present day.

A popular movie in 1967,  To Sir With Love was a British film starring Sidney Poitier and the singer Lulu in her first movie role.  This was about a black teacher (Poitier) struggling to communicate with a class of white, cynical teenagers.  The sexual and romantic tension of the actually quite innocent relationships between some female students and the teacher was not the awkward thing verging on criminal that it might be judged today. 

I have to admit as a teenager being moved by the story and especially the song of the same name sung by Lulu.  (Get a glimpse of the movie and hear the song here.  The kids look incredibly clean cut.)

Lulu was the stage name of a girl named Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie who toured with the Monkees and married a Bee Gee… she’s had a successful career in British music and television.

I wanted to come back to Glen Campbell, who could never quite decide whether to become a rock, pop or country star, but was wildly popular in the late 1960s, early 1970s with his music and television shows.

His performance of Wichita Lineman, a Jimmy Webb song from 1968, still stirs me.  It’s been called the “first existential country song,” which may explain its appeal for a bookish, melancholic teenager:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

The slightly wierdo guitar instrumental group Friends of Dean Martinez do an evocative version of this.  But I don’t hear the original song much anymore… (here’s a small sample). 

Did you know Glen Campbell was a full member of the Beach Boys in 1964 and 1965?

Well, I could go on with this nostalgic journey, tuning in on Tiny Tim, perhaps, with his Tiptoe Through The Tulips, that unlikely falsetto with ukelele hit from 1968, or Helen Reddy’s 1972 hit I Am Woman, with the immortal line, “I am woman, hear me roar,” or even They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!, a catchy ditty on mental illness by Napoleon IV, from 1966.

But I won’t.

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15 Comments on “Forgotten Pop Music”

  1. emalyse Says:

    Lulu continues to pop up here in the UK. She had a strange but shortlived teaming up with David Bowie in the early 70’s where he took her briefly under his wing (I blame the drugs!) as she had a hit with a cover of Bowie’s The man who sold the world which Bowie produced and played Sax on. The B side was Dodo, another Bowie cover. Tiny Tim is a whole book on his own but always worthy of mention.

  2. fencer Says:

    Hi emalyse,

    Thanks for dropping by… That’s quite interesting about Bowie and Lulu! The names are kind of cool together too….

    Yes, Tiny Tim wasn’t just a singer but a cultural event of sorts.

    Regards

  3. qazse Says:

    fencer, were those radio stations AM? The reason why I ask is that the above songs were all AM staples. I remember when Jimmy Webb was big time. (Back then I would get thrown out of places because of my hairlength.) The Fifth Dimension covered several songs (Bill, for one) by the wonderful writer/ composer Laura Nyro (Stoney End, And When I Die, to name two).

    I miss hearing the folk music from those times such as : Circle Game, Thirsty Boots, Early Morning Rain, Changes, etc.

    Again, a great post.

    best

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Those were all AM powerhouses, especially KGO which I think always bragged about having 50,000 watts of power. And we could hear them best in northern BC in the cold weather during the winter, something to do with the ionosphere I believe. There were other stations, too, but I can’t remember many. These did play the more poppy end of the spectrum, rather than being exclusively rock. KJR from Seattle was the most rock ‘n’ roll oriented, I recall.

    I remember those songs, too… Stoney End and others. Couldn’t hear much folk music from where we were, but we were keen on it with our records: the Weavers, Limelighters, the New Christy Minstrels (I’m not quite sure what they were, and they weren’t either!).

    Regards

  5. qazse Says:

    I was fortunate to grow up in the suburbs of NYC when FM began to proliferate. I remember the first time I heard Layla, Suite Judy Blue Eyes, and Stuck inside of Mobile, among many others. On each occasion I was driving somewhere and listening to FM (which was close to commercial free). It seemed everyday brought something new by either an established group such as the Beatles, or someone superb you had never heard of before such as Leon Russell, the Band, Joni Mitchell, Santana and on and on…

    Oh, the ragman draws circles
    Up and down the block.
    I’d ask him what the matter was
    But I know that he don’t talk.
    And the ladies treat me kindly
    And furnish me with tape,
    But deep inside my heart
    I know I can’t escape.
    Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
    To be stuck inside of Mobile
    With the Memphis blues again.

    I think one of the saddest AM songs, yet a great one to sing , is Green Fields. It was written and sung by the Brothers Four. It is also very poetic. The metaphor is perfect and the melody is haunted with harmony and minor chords.

    Once there were green fields kissed by the sun
    Once there were valleys where rivers used to run
    Once there were blue skies with white clouds high above
    Once they were part of an everlasting love
    We were the lovers who strolled through green fields

    I believe groups such as the Lamplighters were among the first folkies to make a real living at it. For the privilege of not having to worry about your next meal, they had to produce a more commercial product . Then Peter, Paul, and Mary took it to new heights.

    Sorry to get so loquacious here, but listening, learning, and talking about music is a great joy. Thanks for providing these opportunities.

    best

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Oh, those days when you could hear entire albums on FM, and the DJs could select their own music! That was around the time I started going to university. In a way, early FM was like the internet, unfettered at first, then more and more commercialized.

    I’m sure there’s wonderful music and insightful songwriting being produced today, but nostalgic wretch that I am, there seemed to be an abundance of greatness and larger visions bursting forth then.

    “Stuck inside of Mobile” comes back to me very well…

    I don’t recall the Green Fields song, although I might well know it if I heard it. I will have to hunt it up via LimeWire.

    So many great bands and groups…

    Regards

  7. qazse Says:

    fencer,

    yes, your comparison with the internet seems quite valid. I am glad you got a big taste of it. They were heady times wherein the seeds were planted by the wise, creative, crass, and stoned. Regarding music I think it was the golden age of rock and roll. The amount of kids today who appreciate it, if not embrace it, gives testimony to this. While much great music preceded and followed this time, it was special.

    I am blown away most recently by an ensemble called Brighteyes which I saw on Austin City Limits. There seems to be an intelligent synthesis going on in the Indie genre which I also enjoy. Of course there is the garbage which has always been with us. Usually they are the knock-off corporate copy cats and the quirky tiny tims.

    best

    ps, do you know anything about organic red wine?

  8. fencer Says:

    Hi qazse,

    Yes there’s a lot of current indie, alternative acts that I enjoy. I will check out Brighteyes too…

    A couple I’ve run across lately that I enjoy are Midlake and Band of Horses. And of course The Silvermen, although they’re more retro, but they rock!

    About the only thing I’ve heard about red wine, organic or otherwise, is that in moderation, it’s good for you…

    Regards

  9. melbourne247 Says:

    Fencer,
    Lulu went on to marry John Frieda (since separated). My former employer. I had the wonderful opportunity to sit and talk with Lulu one office Christmas party we had. I can honestly say she was a genuinely nice person, quite down to earth and it’s always interesting to find out something new about her, her work, and what she has been in.

    Regards

  10. qazse Says:

    thanks for the suggested listening, I’ll check em out…

    the reason I asked about the wine is I’m thinking about starting an organic red wine blog. I am looking for writer contributers. I own the domain name rights to OrganicRed.com. If you know of any such people and they have an interest, please send them my way.

    Melbourne247, that is cool you got to actualoly sit down and chat with a celeb.

    Speaking of women singers from the past, I loved Dusty Springfield. Too bad she left us but I am sure she is somewhere where the acoustics are uniformly better.

    best

  11. fencer Says:

    Hi melbourne247,

    Not too many ‘degrees of separation’ there! That must have been a treat to talk to her… she’s definitely had an interesting life.

    ——–
    Hi qazse,

    I’m a little familiar with Dusty Springfield, and remember a couple of her songs. Read up on her in wikipedia… interesting and difficult life. Good luck with OrganicRed!

    Regards

  12. Eliza D Says:

    Hmm..I think my pop songs would be from the ’80s, but Lulu’s song and melody still plays clearly in the mind. That kind of reverence for teachers is hard to find these days, but I can relate.

  13. fencer Says:

    Hi Eliza,

    That’s amazing, given your youth, that you would know of that song!

    It was quite an idealistic movie…

    Regards

  14. bloglily Says:

    Hi Mike, Those are not forgotten pop songs! At least not on my ipod. I listen to Witchita Lineman almost every day on my way in to work. And To Sir With Love is one of my favorite songs — but what really gave me pause was Love is Blue, a song I remember listening to all the time when I was a child. Hearing it again was an enormous nostaligic pleasure. I’m just going to go and download it now to add to my playlist of songs from my childhood. Thanks for this wonderful post. xo, BL

  15. fencer Says:

    Hey Lily,

    Glad to refresh your memory about Love is Blue!

    Regards


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