Without resorting to research, I tried to remember ‘60s love songs I hadn’t heard in years due to their falling off the radar. Half of these I used to sing, the others remain stuck in my heart.
1. “A Woman is a Prism (And Not Made of Stone)” (Eric Andersen) This old folkie might be the first man on the planet with the courage to let a note of vulnerability into his voice. He was also a fine songwriter. He’s best known for the Blues Project cover of his “Violets of Dawn,” and “Thirsty Boots,” one of the enduring civil rights anthems. This love song can still slay any guy who’s had the fortune, then misfortune to fall for a certain kind of woman. “And speaking through her skin she does, the language of the leaves.” “She’s patient like a snowflake that’s falling to the sun”
2. “Young Girl Sunday Blues” (Jefferson Airplane) The last of the truly great Marty Balin songs, delivered as only he can, as though his life depends on it, with a tenor that drips desire and heartache on every note. Though it’s the only love song on “After Bathing at Baxter’s,” an otherwise overtly psychedelic album, the surprise modulation leading into Jorma’s fierce solo reminds us that these guys are desperately in search of more than true love. And so do these lines:
“The days are made of waterfall colors, couldn’t that make you stay.”
“Today is made up of yesterday, and tomorrow”
3. “How Can We Hang On to a Dream” (Tim Hardin) and 4. “It’ll Never Happen Again” (Tim Hardin) Two? By who? If there’s anyone who can pack more pathos into a sung note than Marty it’s this guy. He’s best known for “Reason to Believe,” and if you only know Rod Stewart’s hit version, you owe yourself Tim’s. These two songs are completely lost. He was a tortured soul, in such emotional pain that after his first album his genius quickly dissipated in a haze of booze and heroin. Though he outlived Janis and Jimi by ten years, it’s a miracle he lived even as long as he did. For a moment on his first album he transformed his anguish into some of the sweetest, saddest songs ever written. And he sang them like he meant serious business. When his voice cracks it’s by no accident. It’s him tearing a hole in his heart and letting the sorrow pour out. If that’s the medicine you need, there’s no stronger stuff to be found, and unlike booze or heroin it won’t kill you. I hope.
5. Sunlight (The Youngbloods) Now for an up one. Jesse Colin Young’s tenor is as sunny as this song, with only a hint of the shadows he’s unafraid to explore in his lyrics - “When you wake up screamin’, scared about what you’re dreamin’.” This is just a setup to let him drive home the potency of his love in internal rhymes that echo in the repeating sequence of the melody, an incantation to ensure that this love’s forever:
“You know she is there, she can share
You're aware she cares about you”
And speaking of poetry, the last verse:
“In the mornin' wake up laughing with the day
She will smile and ask you with her eyes to stay
Like the sunshine warms the sand
She will touch you with her hands now
Touchin' makes you understand
That's the way she feels about you”
6. “Night in the City” (Joni Mitchell) It’s from her first album, sometimes overlooked because it’s so overtly folky. But this song’s got a little rhythm section and her overdubbing herself in a round on the chorus. I don’t know that any musician has ever captured youthful innocence like Joni did on this one. It sounds like a demo for the better known masterpiece “Chelsea Morning.” (which in a recent listen revealed evidence of the effects of certain innocence-eroding chemicals).
7. “Andmoreagain” (Love) This is from the great album “Love Forever Changes,” which time has in no way diminished. In fact, the youtubes of Arthur Lee's concert re-creation of it in 2004 with a live orchestra make his recent death from leukemia all the more poignant. Unlike anyone else who survived the 60’s music scene as long as he did, he still had it. The lyrics are curious. The melody, the strings, his gentle, sweet singing of the word “Andmoreagain” make it sound like a girl’s name and the song sounds like a love song to her. But unwrap the lyrics from the music and you’ve got this:
And I'm wrapped in my armor
But my things are material
And I'm lost in confusion
'Cause my things are material
And if you'll see Andmoreagain
Then you might be Andmoreagain
For you just wish and you are here
Which suggests that the song shares the same pun as the group’s name: it’s about romantic Love, but on another level that mysterious, much broader entity that married Peace in that far away time. Whatever it is, it works.
8. “Yes It Is” (The Beatles) A little tough considering any Beatles song “lost,” but if you could, this would be it. It was the b-side of “Ticket to Ride,” and didn’t show up on an album until Beatles 6. Its memory haunted me for years until I found it on youtube. It’s a Lennon song, one he was deeply embarrassed by. Indeed, the lyrical concept is a little lame, and there are a few clunkers in the vocal harmonies, rare for the Beatles. But that’s because Lennon had twisted in about as much dissonance as you’ll find in a pop song, and with purpose: the song is a cry of unalloyed anguish. Even when his voice rises to its famous 5th gear on the chorus, “Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is!” in a crescendo of hope, he lands softly on a completely defeated, “Yeah.” (The song should be perhaps titled “No It Isn’t.”) This song is a fitting memorial to the talents of both John and George: George’s guitar part taught me to use the volume control to fade in notes.
9. 8:05 (Moby Grape) This ballad’s a gem by this underrated group. These lyrics, elegant in their simplicity, are just a teaser to get you to listen to their three part harmony, perfect in both tonal and emotional pitch.
Please change your mind, before my sunshine is gone
Do you think you could try?
Do you think you could try?
Do you think you could try?
See it through
Until I can prove it to you
Don't fill my world with rain
You know your tears
Would only bring pain in my heart
I guess you're leaving, goodbye...
10. Colors (Donovan) OK, I’ll contradict myself on more, more, more. Sometimes simple is best, especially when it comes to love songs. In the last verse, this one gently pulls the same trick as Arthur Lee above, stepping not away from, but beyond erotic love, to something wider:
Freedom is a word I rarely use,
Without thinking, m-hmm,
Without thinking, oh yeah.
Of the time, of the time,
When I've been loved.
And while you’re at it, you might give a listen to the better known “Catch the Wind.” Very nice.