Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Comeback of Folk Rock

A few years ago I got so fond of the Association that I still get a warm feeling just by thinking about the group's music. Even though I wasn't then swept away by much any other folk rock group, familiarizing myself with another California music entity has recently created a fairly similar experience.

The Grass Roots (also referred to as the Grassroots) were originally a title that songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri used while hoping to score folk rock hits. After a couple of albums Sloan moved on to other projects while Barri stayed. From the early days to the latest performances a few years ago, including the Happy Together tour, the Grass Roots have undergone so many personnel changes that I am not even going to try to make sense of it all. Sufficed to say, the popular early member Rob Grill still performed with the band's latest incarnation but unfortunately died in 2011.

I have mostly been focusing on the earlier material on the 1960s albums, although moving to the 1970s and to a more blue-eyed soul style the Grass Roots surely sounded great as well. Released already in 1968, a real white soul classic Midnight Confessions was the band's biggest hit by far. I think the song is so catchy that I still tend to listen to it at least twice in a row. If I wasn't so lazy I would also definitely practice the horn parts on my alto sax!

So, what is it that makes the Grass Roots so awesome? There are obviously fantastic jangly, sometimes psychedelic folk rock sounds. Also, it probably comes as no surprise that I very much enjoy P.F. Sloan's vocal renditions of I've Got No More to Say, Lollipop Train (You Never Had It so Good), and Only When You're Lonely.

Actually, I had pretty much no idea who P.F. Sloan was until I heard a great song called P.F. Sloan performed by the Association a few years ago. By now I have certainly become aware of Sloan being responsible for a multitude of 1960s classic songs performed by my favorites such as Herman's Hermits, The Searchers and The Mamas & the Papas.

When I first heard Let's Live for Today I thought it was the greatest song I had heard in quite some time. Then I found out that it had already been performed before by another band with different lyrics. The main chorus melody was even originally plagiarized from the Drifters! With all this said, the Grass Roots version is still fantastic, and really dramatic. At first it sounds like a very classy carpe diem song, but towards the end there is kind of a fascinating manic twist.

The Grass Roots represent so many of the greatest aspects of 1960s pop. Just listen to Wake up, Wake up and notice the awesome acoustic guitar, jumping harpsichord, melancholic yet hopeful mood, encouraging lyrics, soul-soothing vocal harmonies and a punchy chorus. Much the same can be said about Here's Where You Belong. Another huge favorite is Melody for You, which was written by Sloan (the other two by Sloan & Barri).

For a while ago there was a time when I couldn't stop listening to the Grass Roots. But that is what happens with this kind of music.

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