Thursday, August 17, 2006

Relaxing on the Eve of Destruction

I love extreme juxtapositions, and it doesn't get much more extreme than the music found on Positively 4th Street and Other Message Folk Songs by The Living Voices. Just a few years earlier The Living Voices were happily creating beautiful music arrangements of stuff like Nat King Cole's "Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer," but by 1966 the pop music scene had changed and they had to cover "Like A Rolling Stone," "Universal Soldier," and "Eve of Destruction" in order to keep up with the times.

It must have been weird to be on the other side of the cultural divide in 1966. American popular culture was in the midst of a genuine, and massive, paradigm shift, and if you're the Living Voices Bob Dylan's music must have seemed awfully strange, if not downright awful. But I imagine the producers behind the Living Voices probably just figured, "this is what's popular now, so this is what we should be doing" without considering the extreme disconnect between the soothing vocal arrangements of Anita Kerr and the venom spewed by Dylan on "Positively 4th Street." They probably figured, sure "Eve of Destruction" might be a little dark, but the kids seem to love it and once we let Anita work her magic on it...presto! Something the whole family can enjoy! They were just doing what had worked for them in the past; smoothing out the rough edges on whatever was popular at the moment. What we are left with is a bizarre relic from the exact moment of a seismic shift in pop culture.

I have to admit to a secret, un-ironic, affection for beautiful music of this sort. I can remember my grandmother listening to the legendary beautiful music station WGAY out of Baltimore when I was a kid, so it's hard for me not to have some fondness for it. Up until recently there was a radio station on Cape Cod, WOCN, that mostly adhered to the old easy listening format. My wife and I always enjoyed tuning in to it when we vacationed on the Cape...they played stuff like The Four Freshman, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Nat King Cole...I genuinely enjoyed listening to it. Unfortunately they slowly switched over to the current "adult contemporary" format, and it is totally un-listenable for me today. I guess that makes me a complete geezer; The Four Freshman and Montovani are just fine by me, but I just can't abide by the music of these young upstarts like Carly Simon and Dan Fogelberg.

So here you easy listening version of "Eve of Destruction." Just because your country has gotten bogged down in a senseless war based on lies, and has set itself on a path of self-destruction doesn't mean you can't mix yourself a cocktail and relax after a hard day at the office. (Come to think of it, maybe these guys knew what they were doing after all.) And as the liner notes put it; "...they're all here, the milestones in message music; and with the Living Voices in charge, their appeal is every bit as musical as it is cerebral." As a special bonus I offer "Positively 4th Street" for your listening pleasure as well--you've never heard Dylan like this before. And just pray I never break out my copy of Chipmunk Punk, because you really don't want me to got there.


The Cruise Control Demonstration Team said...

I, too, have a great and genuine fondness for 50s & 60s light listening. No arch hipster irony involved, thank you. I think a lot of people whose parents owned (not a stereo, but...) a hi-fi feel the same way. "Theme From A Summer Place," is a good example, as is Andy Williams' "Canadian Sunset" and some stuff by The Association and Randy Newman and, heck, Van Dyke Parks. It shows up in odd places. "Forever Changes" could not exist without Ray Coniff and the same goes for "Soft Parade" (which I like and don't care who knows it.) The Four Freshmen were just as big an influence on The Beach Boys as were Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry.

Pete Bilderback said...

Excellent points. Obviously Herb Alpert's brass arrangements served as a model for those on Forever Changes as well. I think I remember Lee saying as much at some point.

At some point I want to say something about hi-fi too. I will probably present more of this kind of music as some point, and possibly some harder to find stuff from June Christy, one of my all-time favorite singers.