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Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Waters of March.”

Continuing, ever so slowly, to trawl through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies output one song at a time.

I love the hell out of “Waters of March.” I love where it came from, and what it says, and how Art sings it.

That’s really all you need to know, but I’ll blow a couple hundred words expanding on img_2617littlethat in case anyone wants to know more.

The source: “Waters of March” was written by the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim, one of the fathers of bossa nova, possibly the coolest musical style this planet has ever birthed. I am a small-scale Jobim fan, owning a couple of his records, and thus far I have not heard much of anything that stands to his demerit.

If bossa has any shortcoming, it’s languor. There’s an exceedingly fine line between laid-back bossa cool and loungey schlockiness. (Think of the Blues Brothers taking that ungodly slow elevator ride to the tune of “Girl from Ipanema.”)

But, if you can trust anybody to keep you on the right side of the coolness line, it’s Tom Jobim.

The song: (Pretty much all of this next section is paraphrased from Wikipedia, which means it could be nonsense, but I find the story sufficiently marvelous that I support it without reservation.)

Jobim’s home city of Rio de Janeiro is, of course, in the Southern Hemisphere. There, the rains of March represent the end of summer, the coming of cold weather and, allegorically, the approach of death. Jobim’s original Portuguese lyric is a mosaic of images that evoke that.

(Supposedly, the imagery in the Portuguese lyric — some of which carries over to the English version — is inspired in part by the trash and waste that the rains of March wash through the streets of Rio.)

In the Northern Hemisphere, March represents the first delicate rising of spring — the first glimpse of what comes after the cold weather.

So the English lyric, also written by Jobim, includes nods toward life and promise, without abandoning the darkness of the original.

(Does “it’s the end of all strain / It’s the joy in your heart” refer to the first warm sunlight of spring, or to the release of death?)

“Waters of March,” then, is a marvelous musical ambigram — not just creative sleight-of-hand, not a parlor trick, but a thoughtful construction that works differently and well from two varied angles.

The English version lets in more sunlight than the Portuguese, perhaps, but it’s still a dark vision … a reminder that death can arrive at any time, even when the sun is coming out and the crocuses are blooming.

The performance: I’ve busted on Art before for underplaying his hand. Usually I prefer him when he’s in full voice, flying flags of crimson and vermilion.

That wouldn’t go well with bossa, though, and Art’s delivery of “Waters of March” is low-key and effective. He sounds gently bemused, like he’s presenting a mystery one clue at a time, turning each one over, not entirely comprehending how they all came together into a big picture.

Art’s take is modeled on Jobim’s own version from 1973. While I see the charm in Jobim’s, Garfunkel has better pipes, and I’d probably be more likely to bring out Art’s version to play for pleasure.

(The synth solo on Garfunkel’s version also sounds oddly like a European police siren — a further unsettling touch I don’t get as strongly from the Jobim recording.)

Unfortunately, Art would not return to the Jobim catalog until 2007’s Some Enchanted Evening, a journey through the Great American Songbook that included a side trip to “Corcovado.” I think he could have gotten away with one or two more bossas, myself, but I guess he didn’t feel it.

So the needle clicks up on side one of Breakaway, and we move to the stereo, weighing the images in our mind, wondering what it all means and hoping there’s something nearly as engaging or interesting on the other side.


“Disney Girls.”

Art for Art’s Sake takes up where it left off before the Gerald-Ford-and-theremin album dropped. Still on Side One of Breakaway.

Ah yes, Bruce Johnston. He wrote the songs.

His recent years as the perma-grinning “other Beach Boy” in Mike Love’s touring img_2617littlelineup have perhaps obscured his rightful historical status:

When the Beach Boys wanted to replace Brian Wilson — first onstage; then, increasingly, in the studio — they hired Bruce Johnston, and by all evidence were satisfied with what they got. (Johnston’s temporary departure in the Seventies, from all the stories I’ve heard, was Johnston’s initiative, not the band’s.)

In later years, Johnston took part in some truly disappointing Beach Boys albums as a producer and performer.

But his contributions to his first batch of Beach Boys records in the late ’60s and early ’70s establish him as a solid adult-pop musician, singer, writer and arranger — perhaps the Doug DeCinces to Brian’s Brooks Robinson.

Brian, for instance, would have been proud of (and I believe has spoken highly of) Johnston’s Pet Sounds-ish instrumental “The Nearest Faraway Place,” released on the 1969 album 20/20:

And then there’s the pretty, nostalgic “Disney Girls (1957),” first released on 1971’s Surf’s Up and covered four years later by Art Garfunkel. (Bet you were wondering when I’d work my way back to him.)

Garfunkel strips the song of its parenthetical subtitle and Johnston’s balky original phrasing (“Dis-uh-ney girls…”) and beefs up the Beach Boys’ arrangement with a few extra touches.

Beyond that, he doesn’t change Johnston’s blueprint much, nor does he need to. This waltz about lost and lingering romantic dreams fits Art to a T, and he does a lovely job with it.

For a few nice moments around 3:45, somebody — a choir of Garfunkels? — gets to do their best Beach Boys impression before giving way to a whistler. I would have liked just to hear the vocal beds.

The reference to “summer days / on old Cape Cod” gives me a moment’s pause. Based on some Googling, it seems an open question whether young Art and the Garfunkel family would have been rented to on Fifties Cape Cod. The image Johnston presents as an idyllic memory could have a bitter aftertaste to some listeners (and performers).

Art, of course, is a pro, and if he had any such feeling, it’s not audible; he navigates the line without hesitation.

“Disney Girls” wound up as the B-side to the “Break Away” single, and to my mind, could just as easily have been on the A-side.

The deciding factor might have been originality. According to Wiki, Art got the first cut on “Break Away,” whereas “Disney Girls” had already been recorded by a couple of other artists before Art took it on.

Looking at the Breakaway cover art as it displays in the YouTube embed below, I imagine “Disney Girls” playing in Art’s head; he looks like a man who wants to chuck in the hassle around him and go find the small-town girl who won his heart when he was 16.

Of course it’s never that easy … and Our Narrator’s relationship with his youth is more complicated than that. But we’ll get there in another entry or two.

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.


Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

“Break Away.”

Art for Art’s Sake, our trawl through Art Garfunkel’s Seventies recordings, returns. Still on Side One of 1975’s Breakaway.

There ought to be a club for people who have had at least three singles make the U.S. Top 40 between Nos. 30 and 40.

It would be an assemblage of people who are popular enough to keep scoring, but not img_2617littlepopular enough to climb off the lowest rung without bringing their A-game.

There’d be some pretty good company at that party, like the Ohio Players (“Ecstasy,” No. 31; “Sweet Sticky Thing,” No. 33; “Fopp,” No. 30) and B.B. King (“Rock Me Baby,” No. 34; “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss,” No. 39; “Ask Me No Questions,” No. 40; and “To Know You Is To Love You,” No. 38.)

Our man Art Garfunkel would be there too, in his Saturday suit.

I Shall Sing” topped out at No. 38 in the spring of 1974; “Second Avenue” reached No. 34 that autumn; and the subject of today’s sermon, “Break Away,” peaked at No. 39 in 1976.

Basically, Art spent 1974 through 1976 in much the same manner as Felix Millan — a couple of big hits, interspersed with a whole bunch of twelve-hoppers back over the mound and into center field.

Of course, that’s strictly from a Top 40 point of view; I am selling “Break Away” short by other measures. It was a Top Ten hit in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (not far from me as I write this) and Brunswick, Maine (too far from me as I write this).

More significantly, in February 1976, the song became Art’s second of five Number One hits on the Adult Contemporary chart, preceding a two-week run at the top by somebody named Paul Simon.

(There ought to be a club for people who’ve scored five Adult Contemporary Number One hits. Art is no Felix Millan in that club; he’s a regular Reggie Jackson, or at least a Nate Colbert.)

So what about “Break Away,” already?

Well, in between a wicked phased electric piano in the intro and David Crosby and Graham Nash singing backup on the (quite catchy) choruses, it’s got all the Seventies soft-rock mojo anyone could require.

And, like a lot of Seventies soft-rock, it’s a little bit patronizing and a little bit self-pitying.

Our Narrator tells his ladylove how hard it is to face the day now that she has repaired to Barcelona, or Mumbai, or Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!, or someplace equally foreign.

But, he assures, it’s “just a phase you’re going through.

Clearly, he’s confident that she just has a few Issues To Work Out, like seemingly everyone did in the Seventies. He’s OK with her working them out — “fly across your ocean,” he tells her, as if she needed his permission.

He seems confident that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere in the long run but cuddled up in a hot tub with him.

And anyway, what woman could resist a man with a lifetime membership and a poolside pass to the Nos. 30 through 40 Club?

“Rag Doll.”

After a brief pause, our trip through the Seventies recordings of Art Garfunkel resumes.

Things I have learned recently:

The Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll” was a Number One hit, and was voted by the listeners of img_2617littleone New York City radio station (oldies, presumably) to be the Number One song of all time. (My vote goes to “Sweet Jane,” but what the hell, maybe they’re right.)

Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll,” itself a Top Twenty hit, exists in a laughably bad stripped-down “rockapella” version consisting mostly of keyboard bass, vocals, and leering Trumpish sexuality. (Steven Tyler’s shtick became a lot less appealing when I learned he’d become a teenage groupie’s legal guardian in the mid-Seventies so she could move in with him.)

Maroon 5’s “Rag Doll,” which is neither of the above songs, was esteemed enough to be released as a bonus track on the version of Songs About Jane issued to the Asian market.

Ashlee Simpson’s “Ragdoll” … well, I haven’t heard it, and don’t plan to hear it ever, but the Wiki entry about its album is a hoot because it hits literally every single last cliche used by disposable pop princesses. (The working title of the record was Color Outside the Lines, ’cause it was, y’know, rulebreaker-y! It’s a “fun party album” with a “more soulful sound” that is “silly and quirky,” yet more “mature,” yet still remains “rock”! And need I mention that she co-wrote all the songs, because “this is my art, and it’s personal”?)

Art Garfunkel’s “Rag Doll,” which is neither as memorable or as goofily trashy as the above songs but was instead written by Steve Eaton and included as the second song on Breakaway, is a limp, self-pitying, tonally inconsistent mess (the second verse disintegrates into Kristoffersonianisms … and since when is Art Garfunkel a believable user of the word “ain’t”?); and is about as worthy of your consideration as last night’s dishwater.

Perhaps Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio simply wrung all there was to wring out of the song title “Rag Doll,” and there’s been nought for anyone else to discover since. I don’t recommend fishing off that pier, anyway.

“I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever).”

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The Art for Art’s Sake series of posts lurches into 1975, with the first track from Senor Garfunkel’s second solo album, Breakaway.

Here we are, then, in October 1975. Big month for Lorne Michaels. Carlton Fisk, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Muhammad Ali, also.

Amidst the celebrity merry-go-round, re-enter our hero, Art Garfunkel, from stage left, second album in tow.

From the looks breakawayof the cover, he is no longer the postgraduate babyface he was two autumns ago. He looks sated with food, wine and women, though his expression betrays no happiness.

(Perhaps he is dreaming of the titular breakaway. Leave some dead presidents on the table to cover the bill; excuse himself from the party for a moment; take the subway to the bus station; and catch a Greyhound upstate for a couple of weeks until his head clears. Get on the bus, Gus. Make a new plan, Stan. This is a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win. No, wait, bear with me — the signals from fall 1975 often get crossed at this distance. GENERALISSIMO FRANCISCO FRANCO IS STILL DAY-UD.)

The record comes out Tuesday, Oct. 14. The following Saturday, Art appears with old frenemy Paul Simon on the second episode of a new NBC late-night show, Saturday Night, to duet on two old songs and one new one. The episode consists almost entirely of musical numbers, so Art also gets a solo spot to perform the oldie “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

This highly visible evening of promo helps to lift Breakaway to the No. 9 spot on the album charts and bring Art three more U.S. Top Forty singles, further cementing Art’s status as a Successful Pop Performer of Significant Repute.

For one golden pre-Thanksgiving week, Breakaway even reaches Number One on the local charts in Columbus, Ohio, outmuscling such competitors as KISS’s Alive! (Check out the last of the four songs making their debuts in the New Music category that week. Kismet.)

We’ll get to all the hits in due time. For now, we’re limiting ourselves to the first song on the album, which finds Art covering a Stevie Wonder-Yvonne Wrightimg_2617little composition that first appeared on 1972’s Talking Book.

Whereas Angel Clare began with an unsentimental travelin’ boy getting his arse out of the hayloft and onto the road, Breakaway begins with a lip-quivering burst of romantic self-pity:

Shattered dreams, worthless years
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell
Life began, then was done
Now I stare into a cold and empty well

This would be completely insufferable coming from the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Dan Hill or Randy VanWarmer, and not even the golden patina of Stevie’s genius period can completely redeem it. (The line about “encased inside a hollow shell” always makes me think of M&Ms.)

Things get better from there, though, as Our Narrator begins to tell some off-camera dame about the lasting love he foresees for the two of them. And the chorus, which arrives mercifully quickly, is simple, uplifting and memorable.

(After I wrote my post about “Second Avenue” — which involved several hours of listening to nothing but “Second Avenue,” on and off — I went for a long walk on a rail trail. All I could hear in my head was, not “Second Avenue,” but the chorus to “I Believe.” It sticks.)

The musical accompaniment, meanwhile, is pretty much the soft-rock bearhug you’d expect — lots of strings, piano, drums coming in on the chorus, that kind of thing.

A sizable roster of superstars and first-call session players contributes to Breakaway, including the inescapable Klaus Voormann, but if any of them appear on “I Believe,” their contributions are too professionally generic to be recognized.

My overall feeling at the end of “I Believe” is rather like Art at his banquet. Much has been laden upon me, and sweet words have been whispered in my ear, but after swallowing it all, I am still left uninspired.

I suspect much of the rest of Breakaway will leave me in the same place … but I’ve promised to go through it song by song. So unlike Art, I can’t sneak out and get lost; I’m here ’til the place closes for the night.

As a side note: I learned during the writing of this post that “I Believe” was also covered by Mike + the Mechanics on their 1995 album Beggar on a Beach of Gold, which has a front cover you wouldn’t pay a high-school art student for. If I ever promise to review every Mike + the Mechanics song ever, come find me and shoot me.

“Second Avenue.”

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Technically, I shouldn’t write this one up. The Art for Art’s Sake project is a song-by-song rundown of Art Garfunkel’s Seventies albums, and “Second Avenue” was a single-only release; it didn’t appear on an album at the time. Still, scope creep has always been a friend to me, so I plow onward.

The summer of 1974 is turning to fall. It is almost exactly a year since Art Garfunkel img_2617littlereleased his first solo album; and, as it turns out, it’s just over a year until he will release his next one.

(Like Jack Frost and Frank Sinatra, Artie does his best work in the fall, the season of fading and regret.)

As if preordained, along comes a single that serves nicely as a bridge between Angel Clare and Breakaway — though its sound and subject matter position it more firmly with the latter than the former.

“Second Avenue” is the work of singer-songwriter Tim Moore, also known for writing the Bay City Rollers’ “Rock n’ Roll Love Letter;” for working Philly Soul sessions on guitar; and for being the second-most-famous person in the bands Woody’s Truck Stop and Gulliver.

Moore cut his own version of “Second Avenue” that, if Wiki is correct, was derailed on its trip up the charts when the distributor of his album went out of business. By the time he’d sorted that out, Garfunkel had released his version and claimed whatever market remained for the song.

(American record buyers of 1974 were willing to buy two versions of “The Americans,” but not two versions of this. Go figure.)

Art’s cover spent three weeks in the Top 40 in October and November 1974, peaking at No. 34; presumably that brought in a few bucks to ease Moore’s disappointment. The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows “Second Avenue” holding modestly in the mid-twenties at many stations, with a solitary peak at No. 5 in Dayton, Ohio, home of the Ohio Players.

Chart machinations aside, “Second Avenue” is a big self-pitying ballad of emotion, right smack in Garfunkel’s wheelhouse. A couple of lines particularly define Seventies Art as I like to imagine him — a smart, somewhat playful urbanite perpetually trying to unravel the complexities of love:

Since our stars took different paths
I guess I won’t be shaving in your looking-glass
Guess my old friendly grin
Must have started to dim somehow
And I certainly don’t need it now.

“Second Avenue” is a co-production of Garfunkel and Roy Halee — the duo’s last collaboration of the Seventies, as Art would go on to work with other producers on his remaining albums (or produce himself).

Unfortunately, they didn’t nail this one. It’s kinda leaden, especially the drums, which are so Big and Echoey they make Phil Collins look like Tommy Ramone. The song has an uphill trudging quality that doesn’t have to be there.

Maybe that’s why Art left it off Breakaway when that album was finally issued in October 1975. Or maybe it seemed like old news by then. Or, maybe it would have weighed the album overmuch toward ballads.

Whatever the reason, “Second Avenue” deserved a better fate than a here-and-gone single. It captures Art doing what he does best, and doing it well despite the instrumental trappings’ attempt to weigh him down.

(Edit: I’m reminded that “Second Avenue” was released on the 1988 compilation album Garfunkel, and it might be available on other compilations as well. But in 1974 terms it was here and gone; you had to find the 45 if you wanted to hear it again.)

Second Avenue could be in any one of a number of cities. But wherever it is, the wind is always blowing, the leaves are forever clogging the gutters, and Seventies Art is perpetually making his way under the streetlights, his collar turned up against the cold, pretending to smile.