Winding up a fairly bizarre year, and starting one that’s sure to be only more so, let’s leave off from outrages and bottomless pits for a little while and consider something else. How about a style of music that is never made anymore? In this case we’re talking about moody, sentimental, possibly poignant pop songs of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
This category is sometimes dismissed with terms like “Soft Rock” and “Easy Listening,” both of which were official classifications in the music industry back then. Now, in the absence of any significant new songs in the style, those terms are almost always used derisively. They indicate music that is boring mush, devoid of creative excellence, and generally a weak, worthless waste of time due to its lack of furious, blood-streaked “power” and/or frothing animal sexuality. This wimpy sound is also decried for being “commercial.” Which means people bought it.
Whatever name you give it, this type of music probably faded into obscurity due to it becoming a formula that was done to death. They did churn it out back then, alongside classic rock, and plenty of it was dreary junk. What seems a shame is permanently losing a musical form that lets a mass audience experience moods of greater sensitivity and introspection than what we’re getting now. Which would not take much.
Here are three examples of this sound. Are they the all-time greatest examples? Maybe not, but they demonstrate valid emotional experiences that are rarely found in popular music anymore. These are being shared via Youtube videos. If the links don’t work you can quickly stream the songs from another source.
First is a movie theme. Come Saturday Morning, from the film The Sterile Cuckoo (1969.) Music written by Fred Karlin with lyrics by the great Dory Previn, this song conveys the feelings of someone having a friendship or other relationship with someone who is possibly mentally ill or somehow not entirely viable in life. (That was the premise of the movie.) The person who delivers the lyrics is having at least one final Saturday with them.
Anyone who has experienced a connection with such a person (who hasn’t?) will immediately catch the bittersweet feeling this song conveys. Come Saturday Morning was performed by the Sandpipers.
Sunday Will Never be the Same came out in 1967. The singer gives us a strong sense of the emotional complexity that comes at the end of a love affair. The word “wistful” comes to mind. It’s a very visual song. Groovy, you could say. The park with children feeding pigeons, and the paths she feels she can’t walk again because her onetime scene of vibrant love is now “cold and gray as ashes.”
Though she says she is heartbroken at the loss, there is no whining. She keeps a certain dignity about it. The song is up-tempo and her voice is strong and compelling.
Nice vocal harmonies in this hit from Spanky and Our Gang. Remember vocal harmonies? Sunday Will Never be the Same.
Last is the most haunting and enigmatic stop on this visit to the Easy Listening era. Though it also seems to deal with a lost love, these lyrics are more atmospheric and mysterious than the others. Like smoke from a cigarette, words that you soon forget, and night has no day. 1900 Yesterday. Liz Damon and the Orient Express. 1970.
Just a little something for those of us who remember the 20th century – and for those who weren’t around yet. Nobody wants to resurrect the 1960s. Those were tough times. But there is something to be said for having imagination and soul, and a style of some kind. Also good is the capacity to feel the widest variety of emotional states while you are alive, even some of heartache.