A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.
Today’s subject: Earnest, infectious first single by bubblegum pop act made up of five Italian-Canadian siblings, led by 13-year-old Tony. A U.S. Top Ten hit this week 40 years ago.
And here’s why I like it:
1. I’m Roger Grimsby; here now the news. “Heartbeat” is famed among pop geeks for featuring a hyper-dramatic strings-and-harpsichord instrumental introduction. (So dramatic, I’m told, that some radio stations actually adopted it as the lead-in to their top-of-the-hour news breaks.)
It’s a little bizarre, and it has nothing in particular to do with the rest of the song.
But I see it as the spiritual heir of another totally unrelated instrumental intro that leads into a classic pop song. There’s a precedent for that sort of thing, if you look at it the right way.
Plus, the intro to “Heartbeat” connects thematically to a tense, dissonant 10-second swirl of music that links the Big First Chorus to the Catchy Second Verse. A lovebeat may be a good vibration, but it’s also turning Our Narrator heels over head.
For all the giddiness in its chorus, “Heartbeat” acknowledges the unfamiliar and disorienting effects of young love. Not bad for a song most people above 13 probably wrote off as pap back in ’73.
2. Tony the tiger. There’s a point about a minute into the song when sweet-voiced Tony DeFranco digs in and growls: “Can’t hold back any longer.”
That doesn’t make any sense either: It doesn’t really play convincingly as emoting. It’s like listening to the very earliest Stones records and hearing Mick Jagger try to enunciate like Chuck Berry (or Howlin’ Wolf).
Still, it comes and goes in a moment; and it’s endearing enough. I like to think young Tony was so eager to please the producer that he was digging everything he could think of out of his trick bag.
Three more takes, and he might have yodeled.
3. One for the JV team. I’ve seen clips of the Osmonds and Jackson 5ive in their prime. I’ve seen clips of the DeFranco Family, too.
And it’s my semi-studied opinion that the DeFrancos just didn’t have the same skills, magnetism and charm as the bigger names in the booming Seventies market for family-pop.
Check ’em out on Jack Benny’s show. They’re polite, winsome, but they don’t have that steamroller quality. Would Donny or Michael have pulled out the fist-pumping move Tony DeFranco whips out when he hits the chorus?
I see the DeFrancos’ relative shortcomings as charming, though.
The Jax 5ive and Osmonds come across like superstars — well-drilled, thoroughly professional performing units who could rock any stage, and who probably surrendered a fair portion of their childhoods to reach that status.
The DeFrancos, by comparison, come across as lucky hometown kids — the kind who maybe won a regional talent show on the night a Hollywood agent was in the audience, rode their Big Break as far as it would carry them, and then settled down (with the odd bump or bruise) back into normal life.
And, just like it’s cool to watch a No. 14 seed take out some favored opponents in March Madness, there’s something to be said for a bunch of kids from the gray anonymity of Ontario scoring the spotlight.
4. Let there be drums. For the most part, the instrumental backing to “Heartbeat” is standard-issue studio stuff, slick but not noticeable.
I tend to take notice of the drum part when I listen, though. It’s creative and propulsive without sticking out. (Perhaps that whipping motion Tony DeFranco makes is meant, consciously or unconsciously, to evoke the drummer’s shift to the ride cymbal.)
If the interwebs are to be believed, the DeFrancos worked with legendary session drummer Hal Blaine, whose resume boasts 150 Top Ten hits.
Blaine probably doesn’t remember this session, given all the records he cut. His performance here is a pretty good calling card for his talents, though.
5. Bad wordplay. In my days as a newspaper reporter, I delighted in slipping in-jokes and pop-culture references into my copy. Nothing salacious, mind you; just something for a giggle here and there.
(I have since learned that reporter in-jokes are annoying, and that no one anywhere ever bought a newspaper to check out the wise-ass reporter. I didn’t have that perspective then.)
Anyway, I used to write a twice-weekly column about retail development in the Lehigh Valley — new restaurants, store openings, store closings, what have you.
One week, news of two art-gallery openings landed on my desk. I didn’t get many of those, so I decided to lead my column with them, combining them into one item with info on each.
I wrote about one gallery; then segued into the other as follows:
While we’re on the art beat (it’s a lovebeat), Galleria Famiglia has opened at 12 XYZ St. …
I don’t think anyone in the entire Lehigh Valley got it; or if they did, they never told me. But, of all my self-conscious wiseassery, that’s probably the moment I’m least ashamed of.