The way it was in ’65.
Those of you who have been following along for a while here know I’m fond of Time Life’s year-by-year surveys of music from the fifties, sixties and seventies.
The foundation for it all is a handful of CDs a fellow at work gave me about twenty years ago in lieu of sending them off to Goodwill. They survived the great CD selloff of 2002 because the record store wouldn’t take them. First among those were 1965: Classic Rock and its companion volume 1965: The Beat Goes On.
With oldies’ radio now a distant memory in my market, these are my closest proxy. (Somehow, listening to “radio” on the internet, or my satellite TV package just isn’t the same.) And, while I almost always learn something when I listen close to any given volume, these are the ones that still startle me the most.
With the Beatles, Stones and Dylan all missing (due to their catalogs being jealously guarded), you could still pick any couple of the forty-four cuts on these two discs, where there is nothing close to a pedestrian side, and write a short history of the Universe.
Relax: I’m not gonna do that.
I’m just going to talk about the Supremes and the Shangri-Las, two of my favorite subjects anyway, and paired here on tracks 16 and 17 of The Beat Goes On.
Funny enough, I had never really noticed it before: “I Hear a Symphony” and “I Can Never Go Home Any More” set back to back. This…
which, given Diana Ross’s gift for finding seduction in the saddest, most desperate breakup songs and melancholy in the most joyous love songs, could just as well be about the guy who left Mary Weiss in this…
…the most wrenching tale in the Shangs’ own little universe, which has more wrenching tales than any universe I know.
It’s not implausible to think that, if Berry Gordy had grown up in Queens instead of Detroit, Wiess might have had a dozen #1s and Ross might have had one or none.
But it’s probably not that simple. Alternative universes never are.
Diana Ross would have been driven by ambition wherever she was born. Even before she was famous–or Berry Gordy’s squeeze–it’s fair to assume that each record was part of a larger plan.
Weiss’s genius was for making every song she sang sound like it might be her last. That’s not exactly a surefire formula for building a career.
These two songs running together on a comp made her and Diana sound like sisters who never quite got along and thus walked different paths that only crossed at commitment to something larger than themselves.
They used to call that culture and rock and roll existed to extend it, make it larger, let new voices from places like Queens and Detroit sing out and express whatever special quality they possessed. Culture is supposed to make the world larger.
Except when we’re fooling ourselves, we don’t call it culture or anything else now, because the essential thing that made these records possible has vanished like smoke. Not the technology or the musical training or the will or even the voices themselves. Just the belief that it matters to something more than the bank account.
These days, everyone has an eye on their career from the cradle to the grave, so no one gives too much away in any single moment.
Once you start down that path–where Mary Weiss can’t exist–then Diana Ross can’t exist either, because there’s nothing for her to measure herself against.
If you want to know what that sounds like, now that even the 70s are becoming a distant memory, you can turn on your car radio any hour of the day and let it run straight from the lowest number to the highest.
And if you think that’s depressing, just be glad I”m not giving you access to what went through my head concerning the Roger McGuinn picking vs. Jeff Beck shredding guitars on “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “I’m a Man!” because, except through a pair of cheap headphones, we can’t go back there either.