Guilty pleasures, tunes edition

“Arizona,” Mark Lindsay. This song’s as bizarre as its back story. Before he went solo, Lindsay was lead singer for the gimmick band Paul Revere and the Raiders, whose members performed in frilly Colonial garb and tricorne hats. Lindsay wasn’t “Paul Revere,” a mistake many make. The real fake Revere was a crazed-weasel band mate who was born Paul Revere Dick. After tarting it up with

Mark Lindsay with the Raiders (top) and solo

the Raiders for a decade, Lindsay dropped the pantaloons in 1969 and ’70, when he cut “Arizona” (#10 Billboard, gold) and its follow-up, “Silver Bird” (#25 Billboard). Penned by a literate gentleman named Kenny Young – who must have been popping some tasty toadstools at the time – “Arizona” is one of the more curious songs ever to crack the Top 10. What to make of lyrics such as “Postin’ a poster of Pancho and Cisco, one California day/She said she believes in Robin Hood and brotherhood/And colours of green and grey” and “Strip off your pride you’re acting like a teeny-bopper runaway child/And scrape off the paint from the face of a little town saint”? I’m sorry, but wha?!? And what does any of this this have to do with Arizona? The answer is lost in the fog of Kenny Young’s fungi-shrouded mind.

None of it fazed Lindsay. He mustered all of his considerable talent and Tom Jones-style bravadoccio and burned that mutha down. 

“Far Away,” Snyder Family Band. Based on my admittedly limited exposure to the Snyders, I’d guess that 99.9 percent of this North Carolina bluegrass trio’s output is sacred music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just into music that’s more not-sacred. Speaking of which, the .01 percent is secular and special. Written and sung by then-teenager Samantha Snyder, the 2017 track “Far Away” is a heartfelt love letter to home (Lexington, NC, and Dixie). What sets it apart from similar odes to the Southland are Snyder’s marvelous vocals. She’s untrained, but takes to the mic like she was

Talented Southerner Samantha Snyder

born with a song on her lips. Her Southern inflections are charming (“Far away from the rushing laff/Where my heart can really take its own tam”) and her voice – deep down, under the main line – is warm like wood-fired backwoods spirits. Her vocals are augmented by her own stinging, super-aggressive fiddling and her brother Zeb’s ungodly good banjo and mandolin play. In a 2020 interview with the

publication Bluegrass Today, she indicated that she’d started appreciating rock music in college. The virtual issue features Samantha’s kickass cover of the alt band Garbage’s 1995 song “I’m Only Happy When It Rains.” 

“Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat,” DeFranco Family featuring Tony DeFranco. You’d think it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the 1970s “tiger beat” wave crested before beginning its inexorable fall to Earth, but I watched it die on live TV. The end began on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1973, when Ed said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the DeFranco Family featuring Tony DeFranco.” I remember giving little thought to the performance afterward other

than that the song was groovy, a real toe-tapper. Having been raised in a culture that celebrated orange shag rugs, I also saw nothing dubious about the DeFrancos’ hambone matching suits and white-boy ’fros, the shoe-gobbling bell bottoms, and choreography that today makes me want to stick a pin in my eye. Most significantly, 12-year-old me had no inkling that the brief performance had helped to nudge tiger beat over the precipice, spelling eventual doom for those who hoped to follow in the footsteps of the Jackson

5, the Osmond Brothers, Bobby Sherman, et. al. More of these teen dreamers would hatch, but Tony DeFranco was the last of the universally lionized cover boys. The DeFrancos themselves were irrelevant to the proceedings. Any of a thousand acts could have scored with “Heartbeat,” one of the catchiest tunes ever. In the grand tradition of tiger beat, the song’s not very good – repetitive and derivative and whatever other “ive”s you’ve got. But as with the best great and terrible pop songs, it asks for three minutes of your life, then proceeds to live forever. “Heartbeat” was written by Michael Kennedy and William Hudspeth.

The DeFrancos were irrelevant to the success of “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat.”

“One of Us,” Joan Osborne. So, Joan Osborne is riding on a bus, pondering her fate. The Devil’s on her left shoulder, the Almighty on her right. Coos Beelzebub, “Record the song, girlie! Riches and fame will be yours!’ Retorts the Lord: “My dear, you will have your riches and fame, but the song is crap, and its title will be chiseled upon your gravestone!” As usual, God was right, but the Devil won out.

NOT “One of Us”

Joan Osborne did record Eric Bazilian’s crappy song “One of Us” for her 1995 debut album, Relish. I don’t care what American consumers thought (#4 Billboard), nor foreigners (the tune stormed charts around the globe), nor the Grammy nominating board (three nominations). I’m with God here. Oh, sorry, I mean Slob.

What if God was one of us?

Just a slob like one of us

Oy. If you want what this song is selling, there are millions of better places to find it. It’s to her credit that Osborne was able to breathe life into the despicable thing; one can only imagine the. result in a lesser mortal’s hands. What we didn’t know then — yet — was that this singer had one of the most phenomenal sets of pipes in pop/rock history – all boomy and growly and true. With Relish, she seemed a fluke, much like The Song Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned Again. Today, Osborne remains an out-of-this-world vocalist who has successfully branched out into album production and political activism, and blues, R&B and soul — where she ought to have been in the first place, You’ll see if you watch the following video of Osborne, with Motown’s Funk Brothers, performing Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” 

Joan Osborne in Motown

“American Pie,” The Brady Kids. In this incongruous mating of good vs. facile, Greg, Marcia. Jan, Peter, Bobby and Cindy sound like a junior-varsity chorus singing very, very badly about The Day the Music Died. I nominate this atrocity for worst cover of all time. Worst song of all time? Greg Brady himself holds that dubious distinction with his solo effort “’’Til I Met You”: “Clowns never laughed before/Beanstalks never grew/Ponies never ran before/’Til I met you.” Other laughable covers by the Kids include Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” and Bread’s “Baby I’m-a Want You.” For nostalgia’s sake I maintain a love/hate relationship with the Kids’ songs “It’s a Sunshine Day” and “Keep On,” which were featured prominently on The Brady Bunch. To this day, I’m unable to avert my ears.

The Brady Kids

“Hard to Say I’m Sorry”/”Hard Habit to Break,” Chicago. The Windy City’s favorite sons were never a full-on rock ’n’ roll band, but before guitarist Terry Kath died in 1978, the group would occasionally unleash the horns and let one rip. Kath’s death left a

Peter Cetera as a normal person . . .
. . . and in the ’80s.

power vacuum that bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera moved to fill. By the early ’80s, Cetera had succeeded in neutering the horn section — “I don’t want horns on my songs,” he once said — and repositioning Chicago as a power-ballad juggernaut. If you want before and after proof, compare the videos for “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and either of these songs. Here, allow me.

Not to say a musician or band shouldn’t evolve, but ideally, one would like to avoid devolution. “Hard to Say” and “Hard Habit” are preening and painfully representative of their time, but underneath

Peter Cetera is the opposite of badass.

Johnny Lawrence, Cobra Kai

all the sheen and schmaltz, the songs have good, strong pop bones and smashing hooks. I’m honestly surprised that somebody hasn’t attempted to rehabilitate one or both. “Sorry” was written by Cetera and David Foster, “Habit” by John Lewis Parker and Stephen Kipner. 

NOTE: For a knowledgeable and entertaining take on the Chicago oeuvre — more correctly, oeuvres — check out this piece:

“Bandala,” The Partridge Family. It’s well-known that David Cassidy wasn’t a fan of his own show, that the wanna-be rocker felt trapped in his role of fancy-boy pop singer/heartthrob. It showed. Cassidy’s one-dimensional vocals and hypocritically cheery delivery made or broke the songs of the fake band, and only a few survived the Cassidy “touch.” “Bandala” was one. Written by Wes Farrell and Eddie

Singleton, it’s an idiotic pop song wrapped around a polyrhythmic song structure that was sophisticated by the standards of 1971 (white) pop. Makes sense, as the song’s episode, “Soul Club,” finds the Family lost in Detroit’s ’hood, where they encounter Richard Pryor, Louis Gossett Jr., some Black Panther-alikes, and afros and bell bottoms galore. When The Temptations (!) fail to arrive for a scheduled concert, the Partridge Family (!) steps in, backed by a bunch of street musicians. The performance calls to mind Paul

Richard :Pryor and David Cassidy

Simon’s Graceland project of the next decade – on a relative scale. (“Bandala” would be the proto “You Can Call Me Al.”) One of the reasons I like the song is that Cassidy liked it. Series lore has it that he had to wear a protective device on his right leg in later takes because he had been banging himself so hard with his tambourine. 

“Your Song,” Ewan McGregor (from Moulin Rouge). First reaction: Oh my freakin’ God, Ewan McGregor’s actually singing! Second:

Oh my freakin’ God, can he tone it down? I appreciate certain aspects of McGregor’s booming rendition of “Your Song.” I did not appreciate that, at times, McGregor seemed as if he had an alien hatchling lodged in his chest. As for the Elton John/Bernie Taupin

chestnut itself, the tune’s been mangled hundreds, if not thousands, of times since it was originally released in 1970, and McGregor merrily mangled it once more in Moulin Rouge. Thumb weakly up. 

Honorable mentions: “Chestnut Mare” (The Byrds), “St. Elmo’s Fire” (Jon Parr), “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (Jimmy Buffett), “Kyrie” (Mr. Mister), “If” (Bread)

Have your own opinions? Please send ’em on and I’ll include them here.

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