by Gary Pig Gold
Excuse me, but I think America had already produced a more-than-competent “answer” to that great big British Invasion quite some time before the Byrds and “Mr. Tambourine Man” ever reared their jingle-jangled heads.
I speak of the undeniably brilliant, once and forever Happy Hit Machine known as the Lovin’ Spoonful.
With long tangled roots deep within folk, jug-band music and the blues, this quartet somehow squeezed from its diverse musical lineage the deceptively simple brew they called, quite perfectly, Good-Time Music. In fact the band’s first monumental hit, “Do You Believe In Magic,” was no less than a musical manifesto – a Top Forty Call-To-Arms even! -- which instantly launched a solid three-year run of immense yet ** always ** innovative international hits.
The story began in New York City on the momentous night of February 9, 1964. At 8PM, on the corner of 53rd and Broadway, Ed Sullivan was introducing those four guys from Liverpool to a rightfully astonished nation. A couple of miles downtown, three under-employed folk singers named Cass Elliot, Zalman Yanovsky and John B. Sebastian were among the 73 million most definitely tuned in. Then and there, all three decided to form their very own rock ‘n’ roll combos, and after various incarnations and permutations – not to mention a recreational side trip or two (all documented in song and dance, by the way, within the verses of the Mamas & Papas’ “Creeque Alley”) -- it was John and Zal who, when the haze had cleared, were wowin’ em every night from the stage of the Night Owl Café with co-conspirators Steve Boone and Joe Butler in tow. Taking their name from a Mississippi John Hurt tune, the Lovin’ Spoonful soon numbered among their most loyal fans Phil Spector (who lobbied, unsuccessfully as it transpired, to be their producer), local boy Bob Dylan (getting ready to plug himself in at that very time), and a would-be Andrew Loog Oldham name of Erik Jacobsen, who quickly signed the band to the brand new Kama Sutra label.
Of course, you can safely call the Spoonful “bubblegum” (as just one look at lead guitarist Zal Yanovsky, a human cartoon if ever there was one, will attest), but they were in fact one of those rare bands who dared to – and were capable of – supplying a goodly amount of Substance with their Pop. Certainly hits such as “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” and especially the landmark “Summer In The City” laid the keyboard-crafted game-plan for much Super K gumness to come, plus the band’s on-stage penchant for brightly-striped T-shirts and over-sized cowboy hats make even the 1989 Musical Marching Zoo‘s stagewear seem downright demure by comparison. In fact, so potent was the Spoonful’s aura of goofy, glorious mayhem that they were briefly being considered for a starring role in their very own weekly television series! Lucky for Davy Jones though, the Spoonful seemed content instead to make a cameo appearance in – not to mention write the score for -- Woody Allen’s first (and by far greatest) film, 1966’s Japanese Bond spoof “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”
Yet beneath all this day-glo zaniness, the band remain widely respected and revered more for their musicianship, and in particular Sebastian’s songwriting, than they are for their happy-go-lucky mugging across Hullabaloo and Shindig. Tragically though, the luck began to run out in 1967 following the controversial arrest and subsequent removal of Yanovsky back to his home and native Canada (where, until his above-untimely demise in 2002, he continued cookin’ up storms as owner and proprietor of the legendary Chez Piggy restaurant); by 1969, all that seemed to remain of those once Good Times was the disturbing sight of John Sebastian, clothed from head to toe in tie-dyed denim, babbling about far-outness on the stage of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Yikes!
Nevertheless, the Lovin Spoonful remain a very vital part of 1960’s American Pop, and their early breakthrough period provided a veritable musical and visual blueprint upon which all manner of Bubblegum was shortly thereafter concocted. And as if that alone wasn’t ample legacy enough, may I now remind you all that the late, so great Zally’s 1968 solo album “Alive And Well In Argentina” just has to be one of the drop-down, most magnificent works of bubble-fried art ever created by man or beast, and as such should immediately be searched out and purchased by each and every person reading these here words.
LUV: The Über Abba? by Metal Mike Saunders
Having spent my entire life in the bargain bins, the junk bins, and the thrift store racks (and if you really want to go way back—the famous 1969-’71 mono LP 59¢/79¢/99¢ cutout bins), I don't have the kind of box-set archival access some folks do. Box sets? I've poked at a couple in my life (they weigh a lot). That's about as close as my budget (a frighteningly consistent fifty bucks/mo. for vinyl/digital/cassette/8-track product, all eras, for over twenty years now) has come to getting one to the ticket counter.
But once or twice a decade, my garbage bin study hall home hits paydirt. Summer 1998, it was in the unsorted back-wall cheapo floor boxes of a dopey San Jose “collector's store” (read: ten tons of overpriced stock) that was having a “must move” 75%-off four-week blowout. The record that stopped my flipping hand dead in its tracks was called: LUV’s Greatest Hits, a 16-song German/ Dutch pressing ©1979. My immediate thought: "Ohmigod... Could this be a Dutch ABBA-knockoff (one of my most beloved of all pop groups, all time)?"
It was, they were, and this is everything I've been able to dredge up on them in the ensuing 24 months.
Parenthetically, please note: they were big, in Germany/Holland at least. Six Top 5 singles, and four more Top 10's, over three years 1978-1980 (on the Dutch charts), with back to back #1 singles just three hits into the run. Big enough throughout Europe (never charted UK) that you can still get a greatest hits CD in the Bear Family mail-order catalog. And more often than not, they were utterly wunnerful, which is why I'm writing about them.
Except for the mysterious and slightly bizarre third LP True Luv, every single track on their four full albums was produced by famous Dutch producer Hans Van Hemert, arranged by Piet Souer (and 100% by the ABBA textbook I might add), and every single darned tune written by a Janschen & Janschens pen team ( = all 36 tunes for LP's #1, 2, and 4).
Anyway. Producer Hans Van Hemert's career starts over a decade prior, with a ton of sides by Q65, the Motions, and many other Dutch beat groups. By the ‘70s, his "international successes" were with rather un-beat-like things like Mouth & McNeal, so you can see this guy isn't one who was gonna be sitting around the house in 1976- ‘77 waiting for the “‘65 beat sound” to come back into vogue to pay the rent.
LUV's debut single "My Man" (#12 Dutch) is terrific faux-ABBA right out of the box, with the bonus of a daft soap opera lyric (her “man” was killed in a railroad-nightwatchman accident y'see, and the “insurance company” can shove their dirty money—she wants her man back!) and an arrangement right out of ABBA’s "Dum Dum Diddle." Back side "Don't Let Me Down" is, oddly, straight '74 glitter-rock and quite good, probably a leftover backing track of Hemert's from the year Mud/Suzi/Hello/Alvin Stardust scared everybody out of glitter rock forever.
The next single, "Dream Dream," is a rather dubious choice and only bubbled under (the Dutch Top 30). The next single broke the group when "U.O.Me" (#3 Dutch) was adopted as the intro theme tune for a TV show Waldolala.
Summer 1978's "You're The Greatest Lover" (#1 Dutch) topped the charts and continued a pattern where four straight Top 5's were actually the group's weakest, cheeziest (over towards the novelty side) tracks of the 1978-mid ‘79 period.
The ensuing album With LUV is pretty darned half terrific. Uptempo album cuts "Who Do You Wanna Be," "Life Is On My Side," "Louis Je T'Adore," "Get Ready," etc., are straight out of the 1976- ‘77 ABBA sound (i.e. their best set, Arrival) and the songwriting is dead on killer in that style, hook for hook (every tune but the #1 "Lover," and its B-side, is swell to excellent, and "Hang On" has a melody so perfect it could be a 1964 Jackie DeShannon composition). And unlike ABBA, you get this routine of all three girls chanting choruses and backing vocals that really works. Something about those soft-yet-snappy Dutch accents that is just perfect for melodic girlypop. Oh yeah, the somewhat annoying "Trojan Horse" followed "Lover" to #1 and was squeezed onto some later pressings of With LUV, depending upon the country.
The next album Lots of LUV is the reason I'm here. It's the Holy Grail of ABBA-Sound. And, unique in most rock history, it's all in reverse-mirror fashion. ABBA’s greatest parallel-universe hooks dumbed down to kinda-Germanic vocal chants, nursery rhyme lyrics ("Eeny Meeny Miny Moe," "I.M.U.R.," "D.J."), and backing tracks that are top to bottom punchier and less ornate than ABBA’s, one gigantic difference here being the far more rockin'/funkier/danceable rhythm tracks banged out by Holland's best studio musicians. As Brian Wilson will tell you, once you've got some hits goosing that studio budget, you can get the best—Hal Blaine (or the equivalent) if you got the dough to rock the house.
"Night Of Love," "I.M.U.R.," and "Shoes Off (Boots On)"—the album tracks where a new-for-'79 keyboard-synth gurgle sound accents the rhythm tracks with steady, throbbing 8th-note punctuation—in fact sound completely contemporary and danceable, 20+ years on. The songs are relentlessly hookier than any set Bjorn & Benny came up with, honest ta god. No slow songs. First time I heard this album (courtesy of Fun Records used mail order Germany, www.funrecords.de), I thought, "hey, this is pretty good!" Two plays later, I'm going, "wow, this is really good!" Fifty plays later, it's as ingrained in my skull as Beach Boys Today, Rubber Soul (U.S. version), or any other pop classic where melody, beat, and short tight songs ruled the world for thirty minutes or less.
"Casanova" (#6 Dutch) was followed by LUV's first classic-on-45, "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" (#11 Dutch), where melodic simplicity and stomp-beat and utter lyrical idiocy combine to—well, we're talking Revenge of the Archies here! This tune even worked in a recurring hook on acoustic guitar that comes off like Slade-plays-"Fernando"(ABBA)... genius.
Next album, True LUV (also 1979) and the songs are gone. Producer/ arranger Hemert and Souer have hijacked the songwriting, all but two tunes (which coulda been 2nd LP leftovers), and the whole ship crashes. Their ten tunes, ranging from okay to plain wanky, show none of Janschen/Janschen's ABBA-chops; boy, it's a downright debacle. The lead single "Ooh Yes I Do" (#5 Dutch) did some action (and was not criminally cheesier than their second through fourth hits), but its follow-up "Ann Maria" (#11 Dutch) had no redeeming qualities. The True LUV stinkbomb was only on the album charts (#11 LP, Dutch) one-third as long as With LUV and Lots of LUV (#6 and #7 Dutch) albums.
The final time around as 1980 starts a new decade, Forever Yours has LUV back (i.e. Marga Scheide, Jose Wijdeven, and Patty Brard, minus Patty and plus her replacement Ria Thielsch) with all Janschen & Janschens tunes. Like ABBA, the style and tunes have changed a bit. Lead single "One More Little Kissy" makes #9 even though it's the weakest of their cheesy-novelty A-sides ever. The next single "My Number One" did just swell (#5 Dutch), and deservedly so cause it's a catchy uptempo shuffle humalonger with wack faux-bagpipes sounds; cheerily reminiscent of Steeleye Span's hit "All Around My Hat" (1975, #5 UK), go figure. "I Win It," "Ooh I Like It Too" and a couple other album tracks are snappy old-school ABBA; "The Show Must Go On" is a pleasure in the newer, slower, more dramatic '78-'82 ABBA style, which shows you that Janschen & Janschens were nothing if not paying attention. The middle half of Side 1 sees two or three songs pile up with nice hooks, very pleasant, but not much toe-tapping and a long way from 1979 and old-school LUV/ ABBA. The real downside is J&J's replica of the new, boring ABBA sound—slow, aimless ballady things called "Song of Love and Understanding," "Some Call It Happiness," and "Mother of the Hearts" (I can't even type these titles without falling asleep) that don't get halfway to the finish line without someone yanking the needle. Think "Thank You for the Music," or whatever late-ABBA song that sends you to snoozeland as well.
Oh yeah, hey, then there's LUV's final single (track five here)—"Tingalingaling." Yup, their swan song is their masterpiece, fitting for an act whose career is such a compressed ('78-'80) blaze of glory and then disaster (the True LUV shipwreck not explained anywhere on the Web, not even in German). "Tingalingaling" is 2:29 (!!—this was 1980, remember) of everything that puts this group in my personal Pop Hall Of Fame (screw those “rock” museums anyway, d'you think they're ever gonna let any of Kirshner's finest in?). Gurgle keyboardsynth rhythm sounds, dead on nursery rhyme melody, idiotic playground lyrics, chanted choruses, and a beat that is utterly as contemporary and danceable as any of Year 2000's Cheiron/ Max Martin/ Stockholm hit monsters that deservedly rule today's pop world (the link between ABBA/LUV and 1997- ‘98's Swedish-conceived teenpop explosion being, of course, Ace of Base and their late producer Denniz Pop, at his same Stockholm Cheiron Studios).
“Tingaling" didn't hit Top 20 (#29 Dutch in summer '81), and that's it, boom, no more LUV.
Subsequent solo product and late ‘80s reformed LUV product is all inconsequential—an album by ex-LUV Jose Wijdeven The Good Times (1982, w/two Top 10 Dutch singles) that's somewhat girl group redolent (covers of "I Will Follow Him" and "I Can Hear Music" amongst the A-sides) but mostly ‘80s-dull; a German-language album titled Herinnering by Bonnie & Jose with all the material penned courtesy of, guess who, Bjorn & Benny (but as deathly dull as the Chess soundtrack in their early-mid ‘80s end-period ABBA dirge style).
A reformed LUV shows up on various 1989-1991 product, i.e. various CDs and CD maxi-singles of which large parts are in (some tracks even by) the Stock-Aitken-Waterman style but very average. In a fitting postscript, a LUV-hits "Megamix" single scratches Top 20 in summer 1993, and takes the LUV Gold hits collection into the Top 10.
So okay, I bite. If ABBA are (by many) in retrospect considered the touchstone ‘70s pop group...and if 1979's Lots of LUV by Holland's worst-attired (but most enthusiastic, not to mention wielding more convincing phonetic-English than Anna/Frida ever mustered) is very arguably the definitive Abba set... wow, that's the kind of conundrum that collapses entire universes. And they didn't even have to write one damn song to do it.